Archives for category: Writing

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 BT Winter 14 lookbook featured our first knitting-inspired essay.  Writer Sarah Pope of Portland, OR, penned this beautiful piece about the passage of knitting from one generation to the next. In case you missed it, I’m re-posting the essay below. I hope you enjoy! – Jared

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Winter Words

Essay by Sarah Pope; Images by Jared Flood

Knitters’ history begins in the cold, with mornings of snapping frost, fire in the hearth, breath smoking in the chill air, fingers numbly fumbling through the first chores of the day. Animals tamed and tended meant warmth in our ancestral crofts—wool on the doorstep to spin and fashion into cloth that might mantle the thin flame of our human heat. Knitting meant and still means a measure of comfort against the musts of the winter outdoors: ice to break on the water trough, firewood to split, nets to haul from the winter waves, provisions to fetch home.

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Personal knitting histories tend to spring from the cold months, too. Winter is the time to gather the clan, to snug loved ones closer, to wrap them in family lore and craft. We light the long dark with stories and music, with cider and soup and bread hot and fragrant from the oven, with candles on the windowsills, with color wherever we can find it—plucked from the hedges, forced from winter-blooming bulbs, wound into bright balls and heaped in a basket beside a favorite chair. Winter is the time to draw an eager child into the lap, to curl her fingers around the smooth wooden needles, to guide those first clumsy thrusts of tip through loop and catch and coax and whoops! try again.

This is how I began—the first of three beginnings before the craft caught my heart and clutched it for good—nestled against my grandmother in her blue chair in a house on a hill in the Connecticut woods, the winter I was nine. Granny was not the knitting grandmother of popular imagination, all ample lap and sugar cookies beyond the pointy sticks. She had no permanent wave, no gold-plated baubles, no lipstick or sweater sets or collection of porcelain angels. Granny was boldly original. She was devoted to modern design. She’d been to art school with the Eameses and Eero Saarinen and Harry Bertoia. Her house itself was a sculpture, a constellation of brightly painted pods cantilevered off a knoll and connected by sloping corrugated tunnels with carpet runners the orange of kabocha squash. She was fearless and opinionated about color—about everything, really. Her knitting bespoke her taste for clean shapes and simple but effective construction—garter-stitch Jaeger jackets for my grandfather, fine-gauge vests with Aran patterning, cross-front sweaters for her newborn grandchildren (orange for the girls, never pink), whole families of densely knit overmitts with vertical stripes. New England raised, Granny knew the worth of knitting as necessary protection against the elements. But her craft always served her family in taking to the frozen outdoors for pleasure, too.

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The Connecticut winter was a revelation to a child born to the drizzly evergreen of the coastal Northwest. I saw snow on skiing trips and in rare flurries deemed menacing enough to close school and commerce on our little island, so the very fact of it on the ground kindled in me a holiday high-heartedness. The bare trees were sky-raking sculptures with names that delighted my tongue—pignut, butternut, shagbark, mockernut, hornbeam, chinkapin—and if I watched patiently from the great glass alcove I might spy wild turkeys, deer, a fox, even a bobcat going about the business of survival amongst them.  Flashes of scarlet and sky blue lit the woods—a cardinal, a jay, outlandishly vivid birds we didn’t have at home. Such wonders demanded bundling into woolen layers and bounding out for a closer look. We tramped through the snow-covered garden, following the tracks of the turkeys and the dainty prints of the deer. Granny had appointed herself caretaker of every tree in the village, so we made the rounds to the venerable giants she watched for signs of disease and the tender saplings that might need insulation around the roots. Best of all, we followed the old railroad to the base of the slope where the ski jumpers came hurtling off Satre Hill, melding with the sky, soaring motionless as albatrosses and then touching gracefully down.

Back indoors, we hung mittens and hats sodden from snowballs to drip on the flagstones. We warmed ourselves with tea and a crackling fire. And Granny brought forth a ball of russet wool and a short pair of wooden straights and beckoned me near. Her hands were surprisingly sturdy for a small woman’s—hands that had raced sailboats and driven army trucks and turned numberless spadesful of double-dug garden earth—and now they deftly tensioned the yarn around my fingers and led my hands through the slow dance of finger tips and needle tips that dipped up loop after loop, each cunningly interlocked with its neighbor. Each day of our visit I worked a few more rows, finally producing a wobbly quadrangle of tipsy stitches, and then a second in cadet blue, this time with a purl side and fewer beginner’s singularities. Granny sewed up my little swatches, cinched the ends, and stuffed them with white fluff—a pair of soft toys for my kittens.

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This winter day it is as if that first ball of wool has rolled out of my grandmother’s chair and across the floor, across the country, across twenty-five years. I take my small daughter into my lap. My mouth is full of her curls as I cast on twenty stitches of good rustic sheep’s wool. She cannot wait patiently for her try; her little fingers pull more working yarn from the cake we wound together, dart out to touch the needle as it ducks amongst the strands. Her questions tumble and frisk like spring lambs. I anchor the new row with a few stitches, and then with her native confidence she takes the needles. Her grip is natural, neither tight nor tentative. We take in turns the work of needle holder and wool thrower so she doesn’t have to coordinate all the motions. We begin a swatch. As my new knitter grows dexterous enough to manage the needles alone, this scrap of fabric will grow into a richly cabled pullover for her father. It will warm him when he takes her to school on his bicycle on frosty mornings. Perhaps I’ll knit a matching one in miniature. It will take all winter, but we know how to make the most of the season.

 

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Sarah Pope is a writer, knitter, and wool lover based in Portland, Oregon. She logs her knitting adventures at whistlinggirlknits.com.


 

………… with alice starmore.

her book just came in at the library for me (finally!). i spent my entire lunch break drooling on the pages, with heart all aflutter. turning every page in wide-eyed wonder. i would go out and buy it, but it seems it has reached ‘rare book’ status in the world. i can’t seem to find a copy of it anywhere thats even kinda reasonable.

and yet… its almost worth it.

and now, i’m going to commune with alice. just think of the possibilities.

first things first… i dont love blogs.

i’m really starting this because i want to join the ny knit-ring.

i’m not completely anti-blog, but this is a stretch. its for motivational purposes. i guess i owe it to many of you whose knitting blogs i secretly stalk … lurking in the cybershadows, always seeking free patterns that a male knitter can somehow adapt or springboard from … deserve some reciprocity.

okay so there we have it. a little swatch of text just floating around insignificantly. i guess i’ll put up some pictures of my work. sometime.