JF: Hi Olga! Thanks for joining me today – glad to have you!
OBK: Hi Jared! I am really excited to join you and thank you so much for having me!
JF: You are well revered in our industry as an innovative designer with a signature style. Everyone knows when they are looking at “an Olga”, which I think is a great testament to both your vision and your skill. Can you tell us a little bit about your regular sources of inspiration?
OBK: First of all, thank you! These kind of statements always baffle me when I hear them from others, especially from well-established designers like yourself. I truly admire your meticulous work and your genius behind the BT brand.
Throughout the years I think I have found better ways of collecting and recording the inspiration sources via various means of modern technology, but I think a lot of my inspiration has to deal with my thought process. Being a highly observant person I see inspiration all around me, from the most mundane objects of every day life – tile patterning on the floor or the texture of a paper napkin – to other design cross-disciplines like architecture and industrial design.
Travel is also hugely inspirational. I like to think when we travel away from our regular environment our minds are more receptive to new information and new inspiration. This was the case for me when I moved to Japan over 4 years ago. Though every city is different, Japan filled me with so much inspiration, almost to the point of oversaturation. Their different “non-western” way of thinking had a profound impact on me and gave my mind a staggering wealth of ideas, which is proving well for filling my notebooks, even years later.
JF: As a designer, I often think about the balance between concept and utility – the purity of the idea and how it will translate into everyday use as clothing. Your work plays with geometry, architecture and form – how do you approach the conceptual side of your work in reference to the end user, or in our case, the finished pattern?
OBK: That is a really great question! I know we all have our own methods, but the way this process works for me is a bit backwards. Since a lot of my inspiration comes not from clothing or knitwear related areas, I usually start with the (often seemingly unrelated) source. The first step is to attempt to find or design from scratch a stitch pattern that resembles the actual inspiration in the most accurate and interesting way. This process probably takes the longest, at times even years and at least a dozen swatches. Some ideas work out, some don’t, some need more time to sit in my ideas bank or binder until I can look at it with a different set of mind.
JF: This all sounds so similar to my own process. Sometimes the best ideas have been sitting on your side table for months (or even years) and they all of a sudden seem new and exciting again.
OBK: You never know when you will get the right one. Call this the puzzle game I love solving (when I can). Once I am happy with the swatch, I think of the yarn and what fibers it needs to contain and what color and dye technique used for the pattern to complement each other. Only then do I start thinking of what this newly created fabric is going to be – an accessory or a garment or something else.
The planning for the actual item is the second biggest and time-consuming stage because there is a list of pro and cons for a certain design to veto. Maybe I take this part a bit too seriously, but the blueprint is such an important element. And the closer I get to finalizing the construction is when I start getting ideas for perfecting finishing details.
JF: What are you general thoughts about finishing?
OBK: I don’t like to over-complicate construction; if there is a certain technique I use here or there, it always has a list of reasons backing it up. I also love using techniques that can educate knitters; if you can learn a new technique from a pattern that is such an added value.
It turns out that, within the entire design process, knitting takes me the least time!
JF: I think that says so much about you as a designer, and is one of the reasons your work really stands out!
After the design is formed – then comes the pattern writing. How do you approach that?
OBK: The pattern writing is an entirely different dimension. I think every knitwear designer should be commended on their pattern-writing skills as it’s another facet to the job, as it is a mixture of creative and technical writing that needs to stay laconic yet clear.
JF: I completely agree – talk about double duty!
OBK: It has taken me years and yet still my patterning process is evolving as I learn new ways to perfect my writing (English is my second language, so that is a factor as well).
JF: “Coda” is such a cool pullover. I love that it looks like a classic raglan when seen from the front, and the arched yoke at the back gives you such a surprise when it is revealed. How and when was the seed for this design planted?
OBK: Ever since I saw the emerging trend for convertible clothing items several years back, it has been my goal to create more knitwear transformable garments when possible, or, as I call them, transforms. Versatility is the drive behind all of those for me. It covers a lot of present-day aspects – from downsizing one’s wardrobe to fewer but functional pieces, helping to reduce the need for more clothing, thus becoming environmentally conscious. And, since living in the Internet age we have less time to spend crafting, I think when you can style your finished knitted garment more than one way is a bonus. Same way “Coda” has emerged. The idea for front and back being interchangeable is what started this “Coda” puzzle. I love using Shelter, for it gives great stitch definition for cables. I was aiming for a minimalistic-style pullover with delicate cabled trim, the purpose of which was to accentuate the actual lines of the construction. Since this time it was a construction puzzle, I spent days agonizing about the best possible way of making it work. I believe I have gone through three possibilities, but the one that was actually used came to me almost in a dream. You know how they speak of the cusp of almost falling asleep but not dreaming yet? Afraid of sounding a bit like a cliche, but upon releasing the grip on my mind it sprung back with this idea of literal puzzle. So relinquishing control worked out great in this case. “Coda” consists of only two pieces that merge just like two pieces of a puzzle and connect with one continuous seam.
JF: The sweater is reversible, too! Do you have a preference for which direction it is worn?
OBK: I really love how you photographed Coda in a way that it is actually a surprise when she turns the back. I like seeing cable-accentuated raglan lines flanked by a tiny bit of the eyelet working almost as vents – it adds texture to the overall look. But having come across so many body types and knowing that some people just can’t wear raglan shaped sweaters and some do, Coda’s reversibility or interchangeability will work just great for that purpose. For example, from personal experience for those of us who are a bit chesty will benefit by wearing raglan as front, but others who have wide shoulders know that raglan only brings attention to that part of their figure, so wearing arched as front will not only take away the unwanted attention from the shoulders, but will visually soften the squareness of the shoulders, as well.
To me, this sweater gives the wearer options that can be chosen on both their needs and likes. That’s my hope, anyway!
JF: It’s always an inspiration working with you – thanks for your time this morning, Olga!
OBK: And it’s always exciting to be part of Wool People and work with such talented people as yourself! Thank you so much for having me over and giving me a chance to share my work and inspiration with your readers.