Archives for category: EZ

Today I’m kicking off the first of a six-part series of interviews I’ve conducted with selected designers from our new Wool People 8 collection. I’ll be posting the remainder of the Designer Conversations here on the blog throughout the next three weeks. I loved getting to know these designers better and hope you enjoy reading the interviews as much as I enjoyed conducting them! –Jared

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Hello, Sarah! So happy to have you joining me today on the blog, thanks for stopping by.

Thanks, Jared! It’s such an honor to be part of this gorgeous collection and always a delight to chat with you.

So lets jump right in – how did you come to knitting and design?

I like to think it was lurking in my DNA. I didn’t grow up around knitting, but my family is full of creatives. As a kid I was always making and building and tinkering, and I briefly learned to knit from my grandmother, but I only saw her a couple of times a year and it didn’t stick. (I think I moved into a woven potholder phase instead.) Then I got busy with school and college and intellectual work, as so many of us do. It wasn’t until I landed in New York City and made a start in editing children’s books that I realized I still had an innate drive to be working with my hands. So I bought a book, a couple of skeins of yarn, and some needles and taught myself to knit again. I had a partner who worked long hours and not many other friends in the city, so I went all in with my new craft. Fortunately it was the advent of the knitting blog era and I was able to get a great sense of possibility from following the work of talented knitters around the globe.

Sounds like a very familiar story to me! My own evolution as a knitter was forged here in NYC —starting with blogging—right around the same time. It’s amazing to see how the industry has changed online in just 10 short years. How did you use that period to hone your skills?

Mostly by reaching beyond my grasp. Learning is intoxicating, and knitting was just so much fun. I chose projects that taught me something new every time. I found Katharina Buss’s Big Book of Knitting, which has charts for creating basic patterns based on gauge, and that was a revelation: winter was coming, but I could invent my own mittens. I could even adapt a tuck stitch detail I’d seen on a sweater in another book to decorate the cuffs! And that was it. From then on I never doubted that I could knit whatever I could imagine. Soon after I found Elizabeth Zimmermann and she said I was perfectly right and gave me the education in the architecture of knitted garments I needed to forge ahead. She also introduced me to the great historical knitting traditions of Scandinavia and the British Isles, which are a bottomless well of inspiration.

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Oh yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you on those sources of inspiration! Flight is a product of those historical genres, as well as Zimmermann’s construction methods. Can you tell us about the genesis of this design?

I went to Meg Swansen’s Knitting Camp in 2008, and that’s where I first met with the beautiful Bohus Stickning designs created in the 1930’s-60’s.

Bohus sweaters are stunningly beautiful, aren’t they? Especially when viewed in person—I remember my own shock and awe the first time I was able to see Susanna Hansson’s collection of these amazing sweaters.

They’re international treasures. Totally breathtaking. Last winter I had the opportunity to take Susanna’s Bohus class at the Madrona Retreat and learned more about the incredible social history behind them. It only deepened my appreciation to know these amazing couture garments were knit by farm wives and daughters in whatever spare time they could find amid their duties to family and food production and animal husbandry, and to understand what those sweaters represented in allowing women to support their families financially in times of war and post-war hardship. And the Bohus designers were such visionaries, such rulebreakers. They probably originated the colorwork yoke, weren’t afraid to work with five colors in a round, intentionally embraced asymmetry, and uniquely incorporated purl stitches to enrich the texture and interaction between colors. Their innovations really fired my imagination. I wanted to play with some of those techniques, but at a larger scale. I have too much respect for the original designers to tread near the brilliance and complexity of the Bohus Stickning yoke designs, but I couldn’t resist the idea of a garment a skillful farm girl could knit and actually wear herself from day to day. A simple flight of chevrons in a palette of browns came quickly to mind. And I know of nothing so practical as Elizabeth Zimmermann’s seamless circular yoke formula. Her folded hems and cuffs were perfect for the clean look I wanted, too. So this sweater is as much an homage to EZ as it is to Swedish design.

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I think it works out to be a pretty perfect marriage myself! You did some updates to the shaping, though. Can you tell us about that?

I noticed years ago that I’m never very satisfied with the way sweaters fit me when the shaping is at the sides. I’ve been following the work of contemporary designers who place the shaping at dart points to customize the fit to women’s anatomy and I opted to give it a try for Flight. I weighted the waist decreases to remove more fabric from the back, where most bodies curve in, and then stacked the increases toward the front to accommodate the bust. Brief raglan shaping on the front removes the extra fabric above the fullest part of the bust and rebalances the stitch count. EZ’s decrease scheme for a circular yoke yields a fabric that ruffles gently at the first decrease round if you don’t give it a very stiff blocking. She and her daughter, Meg Swansen, later made alterations to the formula to correct that. But I find the effect sweetly feminine, especially at a fine gauge, so I kept the original proportions.

You and I are both Pacific Northwest natives – how have your roots in that distinct part of the country shaped your identity as a designer?

My island childhood instilled a firm belief that clothes are for keeping you warm while you’re out riding horses or climbing trees or catching minnows in the tidepools. I was lucky to have a lot of sturdy wool hand-me-downs, which must have lodged in my subconscious! Northwest natives know there’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s just bad clothing. And there’s a strong appreciation for artisans of every stripe, so it’s a great climate and culture for handknits. Now I try to knit and design garments with practical elegance that work in the city and up home. I’ll always find inspiration in the natural beauty of this part of the world, too.

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This has been wonderful, Sarah – thank you for taking the time to chat today and share more about the beautiful Flight.

Thanks to you for your help in bringing the design to maturity and for taking incredible photographs! And thanks to the BT editorial staff for their care with the pattern. It’s just tremendous to work with all of you.

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Curious to read more about this design or get your hands on the pattern? Visit Flight’s pattern page for details.

This has been the Part 1 of a 6-part Designer Conversations series with selected creatives from our new Wool People 8 collection. Stay tuned here for more; two interviews will be posted each week!

Amirisu released their fourth issue last week, which highlights Brooklyn Tweed as the magazine’s featured brand. We had a lot of fun working with Amirisu, contributing both design and written content throughout the issue. If you aren’t familiar with this online publication, it is the passion project of a Tokyo-based knitting/editing duo whose shared goal is furthering the online knitting culture in Japan. The magazine’s content is presented in both Japanese and English.

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Last Fall, editor Meri Tanaka interviewed me about US-yarn production and my history as a designer. Within the article I talk a bit about how I got my start developing  and manufacturing yarns, as well as my start as a knitter. See pages 50-57 for the full article (excerpts shown below).

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I also contributed a short written piece for the magazine entitled “Elizabeth For Beginners”. Though Elizabeth Zimmermann is a national icon to us American knitters, Amirisu informed me that her work is not well-known in Japan and requested I contribute a piece that would act as a sort of gateway to EZ’s work. Within the article I give a very brief version of Elizabeth’s story and suggest some of her most beloved patterns for folks who are just discovering her work (pages 68-71).

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Last but not least – patterns and yarn! Brooklyn Tweed’s own Michele Wang and Leila Raabe contributed designs to the collection using BT yarns. Michele’s Tsubasa Top is a fun, spring-ready pullover worked in Shelter (color Blanket Fort) with arrowhead lace panels and dolman-style cap sleeves. Leila’s Preble Hat is worked in Shelter (color Snowbound) and features a woven texture pattern and twisted-stitch cable insertion. Both patterns can be downloaded directly from Amirisu (pattern info is also available on Ravelry).

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Tsubasa by Michele Wang | Preble by Leila Raabe.

A big thank you to the editors of Amirisu for featuring our work throughout the issue!

– Jared

The knitting world has been all abuzz with the long-awaited release of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s posthumous Knit One, Knit All – and with good reason. I received my copy two weeks ago and have been savoring the freshness of each page. The book is very inspiring and I feel particularly touched by the ‘evidence’ of Elizabeth’s process that is included – scraps of paper with scribbled notes and half-drawn sketches, alongside landscape watercolors from her home or abroad. To me, this window into her thought process and inspirations is especially exciting.

Today, in celebration of her new publication, I have something very special for you. I’ve been sitting on some notable photographs for quite a while, waiting for the right time to share them with you, and this week the timing feels perfect.

Back in September of 2009 when I had the wonderful opportunity to photograph EZ’s newly discovered Green Sweater, there were a few other EZ artifacts that came along for the ride. Joan Morhard Smith, who as a child called “Betty” (EZ) the Crazy Knitting Neighbor Lady, had  been the recipient of plenty of EZ’s wool creations when growing up in New York City, and brought the Green Sweater to the public eye two years ago. As she was readying the Green Sweater for its trip to Brooklyn for our photoshoot, Joan found two wool hats tucked away with it. Both had been conceived and knitted by Elizabeth, and were brought along because Joan thought I “might be interested.”

The funniest part is that she pulled them out just as she was leaving, almost as an afterthought. “Would you like to see two hats Elizabeth knit for me?”

With a conscious effort towards self-control, I respectfully said yes (with minimal limb-flailing). She then pulled out two colorwork hats, worked in natural wools. In the waning afternoon light I asked Joan to hug the window so I could get a few quick photos of her wearing the hats before she left.

The first was a ‘pillbox’ style with a turned picot hem and simple, rhythmic motifs worked in cream and heathered grey. Just before beginning her crown shaping, Elizabeth worked a purl row to create an angled turn and flat top. The turned hem at the base of the hat was folded and joined with a three-needle bind-off, but purling the stitches together rather than knitting them. This created a simple ridge at the top of the doubled-hem which I loved.

The second hat is fantastic. A small hat with a tam-like shape, worked in cream, brown and grey.

The pattern alternates between grey stripes and brown floating ‘lice’ stitches, worked on a background of cream wool. The crown shaping is the most exciting part: a combination of round ‘yoke’ shaping  that transitions to a small 7-wedge decrease which incorporates colorwork for the brown star-like design. The beret ‘nub’ at the top of the crown is simply a loose piece of brown wool, or perhaps two strands felted together to create a slightly thicker piece of yarn that would stand up on its own.

Both hats are simple ideas, but have the imprint of a great mind. They were both so charming in design – utilitarian in purpose but with details that kept the knitting (which was most likely improvisational) interesting. I felt so fortunate to have gotten to inspect them closely, and now, to share them with you.

I’m grateful that we’ve been given more EZ to celebrate with Knit One, Knit All. If you’d like to grab a copy of your own, head on over to Schoolhouse Press, where I imagine they are going like hotcakes.

I’m a bit behind on sharing some of the wonderful experiences I’ve had in the past couple of months — like, oh I don’t know…. the day an original Elizabeth Zimmermann came walking through my door?

EZ's Green Sweater

Many of you have hopefully already read about the surfacing of this historic garment over at Twist Collective and, if you haven’t, don’t worry — I’ll be directing you to the good stuff in just a moment.

EZ's Green Sweater

Back in the spring, the lovely ladies of Twist came a calling with a question: Would I be interested in photographing an Elizabeth Zimmermann sweater that had recently surfaced through an old family friend in New Jersey? I paused momentarily to wonder seriously if I had slipped into one of my many knitting-fantasy-daydreams. When it seemed that, yes, this was actually happening, I mustered all of my self-control in an attempt to respond in a professional manner. “Yes. Yes, that would be fine.”

Juuuuust fine.

EZ's Green Sweater

The sweater, knit with a heathered green, firmly spun, single ply wool, entered the apartment with a palpable silence, and, upon immediate inspection I found myself admiring its industrious, masterful technique. Right away the sheer Integrity with which this sweater was achieved became evident: not just its obvious cleverness, or knitterly construction (EZ’s Hallmark) but rather the serendipitous balance of tenacity and care that is so clearly present as your eyes maneuver over mitered hems, prim buttonholes and directional details.

At that point I muttered to myself something colossally obvious yet seemingly so epiphanous: “Elizabeth could really knit!”

EZ's Green Sweater

Sunday Holm recreated the sweater after it was presented to her at a New Jersey LYS by Joan Morhard Smith, a childhood neighbor and friend of Elizabeth and Arnold. Read Sunday’s account of decoding and re-knitting the original here, and Joan Morhard Smith’s recollections of Elizabeth (“Betty”) here.

What a pleasure to spend an afternoon with this sweater and its re-incarnated version. I was truly grateful for the experience.

EZ's Green Sweater

The original sweater, so well-worn after two generations of love and adoration under Joan’s roof, is a testament to the lasting power of good materials, good technique, and a good home — all the ingredients for Knitting’s finest heirlooms. Elbow holes aside (which I find make the sweater even more endearing, if that’s possible) this garment has taken its ardent wearers through two lifetimes with strength and grace. What could be better than that?

EZ's Green Sweater

Among the other appreciations this garment conjured up that day, it incited me to reflect on one of our loftiest and most noble knitting aspirations — to spend a life making beautiful, lasting, technique-rich garments whose value and worth can never diminish.

Adding to the the thousands of times I’ve uttered these same words before in my life, both privately and publicly: Thank you, Elizabeth.

Ooh, this is going to be a bit all-over-the-place, but there are so many little projects needing updating here that I figured I’d just cram them all in. Between baby knitting and de-stress knitting, The Piles (you know what I’m talking about) have been growing growing growing.

First, I finished my Shetland mittens and due to all this schizophrenic weather we’ve been having, they’ve gotten a lot of play in the last couple of weeks. I think they may now be officially retired for the warmer months, but hey, we could wake up (again) to hail tomorrow and biting winds. You never know these days.

Shetland Mittens

I have yet to give them a proper photoshoot or a more appropriate blog-post of their own, but they were so quietly sitting in the sunlight this morning that I figured they warranted a little show-and-tell time.

And speaking of finished projects yet-to-be-photographed-or-written-about, I’ve finished a few more little baby knits. (As an update for those who have been asking, I’m going to be an official uncle (not a father) and I’m VERY excited about it!) Below is a charming little vintage-style baby bonnet – a free pattern from Larissa at Stitch Marker – that is sweet sweet sweet. I knit this with a linen/wool blend (stashbustin’) and loved the crispness of the wavy ridges and soft-yet-sturdy quality of the fabric. The eyelets around the neck are for ribbon but I worked up a nice sturdy I-Cord instead.

More for baby

I blocked this using pins and a blocking wire (pictured) to open up the fabric. I could go on and on about how much I love blocking wires. I find I use them for all sorts of things and they just give finished garments that extra OCD punch.

The stashbusting continues in the baby knitting arena: I had one skein of super-silky SWTC Bamboo – this stuff has great yardage (the skein feels a bit like a hockey puck – so weighty and satisfying) and I thought I’d challenge the skein to a duel. Is a one skein baby sweater possible? I believe so! I’m done with the yoke and body and just have the sleeves left – according to the weight of the remaining yarn (40g!), we should be golden for a newborn-sized EZ classic.

Bamboozled

The pattern is the ever-popular and always-charming February Baby Sweater from EZ’s Knitter’s Almanac (I made one a couple years back in green).

Lastly: Remember my ‘Reward Cone’ of School Products Cashmere Merino? Well I couldn’t wait until proper reward-time came around and felt a mindless stockinette pullover was in desperate need of conjuring. So I started. And it’s making for some gooooood tactile gratification.

I Couldn't Resist

More details on many of these soon – apologies again for the random project purge session!