JF: Hi, Kyoko! Thanks for joining me today on the blog for a chat about your new sweater design.
KN: Hi, Jared! Thanks for inviting me to this chat. I’m so excited!
JF: This is your first contribution to a Wool People collection (and I think it’s a great one) – can you tell our readers a little bit about your design philosophy? What interests you about designing for handknitting, specifically?
I also think of myself as a “creative puzzle-maker”, and it pleases me to think that those who knit my patterns will enjoy the making process, on top of creating something that they love to wear (or giving it to someone they care about).
I really enjoy using my creativity to come up with each unique, new design, then writing up the patterns in a way that is thoughtful for knitters.
JF: I think that is so key – to think of a design not only as an end product that looks good and fits well, but also as an experience for the maker. The experience should be thoughtful and appropriate. This is unique to handknitting design.
KN: Yes! My aim is always to pleasantly surprise knitters. First visually, when they see my designs, and then through the creative process of knitting them. I’m always happy and humbled to see how many people knit my designs – not just for themselves – but also for their children, relatives and friends. This is one of the key motivations as a hand-knitting designer.
JF: You started your brand of knitwear design for handknitters, Cotton and Cloud, in 2009. What would you say is your brand mission?
KN: My brand mission is to keep surprising knitters and provide fresh inspiration that fits with a fun, ethical and creative outlook. I want to design unique knits which are timeless in style. This could include incorporating unusual or novel techniques, adding some quirky new patterning, or designing a uniquely shaped garment.
In terms of my specific interests, I love to work with yarns from independent companies. I am deeply committed to contribute to a better future for our children, by supporting the independent suppliers of eco-friendly and ethical raw materials. In a world where there is so much cheap, mass-produced clothing available, I want to share and spread the idea of living a happier, ‘slow life’ – even in a busy city like London – by creating a garment you love stitch by stitch.
JF: That concept resonates strongly with me as well, and I am noticing a broader movement away from “fast fashion”. As handknitters, this already seems second nature, but it is a very important topic in our society at this time, don’t you think?
KN: Definitely. We live in the most ‘throw-away’ society in history. And this applies to many products from food to fashion clothes. But as a consumer myself, I know how hard it can be to resist the temptation to throw away stuff that’s cheap and easily available. As one of millions of global knitters, I feel very lucky to have the skill to design and make useful and stylish garments by hand from high-quality, eco-friendly yarns. I think the ‘slow life’ movement is very important in encouraging a happier and more balanced way of living for the individual and families; as well as having a hugely positive impact on society in general.
JF: You are Japanese born but live and work in London. Can you talk a little bit about how each of these places has shaped who you are as an artist and designer?
KN: Japan is such a beautiful country and the language we speak and write is, to me, very visual. I first learned how to knit as a small child, using Japanese patterns which are generally chart-based.
I came to the UK when I was 12 and have been living in England, more recently in London, for the past 15 years. Being away from my family from a young age has made me resourceful. Being creative in any subject was appreciated by those around me and I was given the freedom to explore novel and different hobbies, which I really enjoyed.
So the mix of experiences from my childhood, and then my adult life in Japan and London, have left me with a very versatile approach to designing.
I can mix logical and rule-based methods with my own original thinking, without being afraid to break new ground and create innovative designs that haven’t been seen before.
JF: Sounds like a knockout combination to me!
KN: Well, I hope so, because I try to offer knitters something fresh and interesting in my design collections.
JF: Rook is a pullover I’m sure a lot of women would like to wear, and also one that I think is very fun to knit. Can you talk a little bit about how the garment is created on the needles?
KN: When you first see the sweater it looks quite traditional. When you look more closely, however, you realize that the construction for the round yoke is a noticeable break from tradition.
This sweater is created with a top-down, seamless construction, knit circularly. In order to create a height difference between the front and the back neck, you use a ‘wrap and turn’ short-row technique to work more rows at the back and sleeves first, before eventually joining to work the remaining yoke in the round. This adds a subtle depth to the front neck which to me is perfect for a garment that is cosy and winter-proof, as well as versatile enough to style with different undershirts (like a crew-neck top or a collared shirt underneath, as pictured).
The increases for the yoke shaping are worked in between the cable patterns. The textured diamond motif is encircled by stockinette stitch instead of a vertical line of purl stitches, to keep the whole design clean and simple. In addition, the cable pattern never changes in size or placement during the yoke shaping and throughout the sweater, giving an attractive visual illusion.
JF: Any special tools needed in working this type of yoke?
KN: The use of stitch markers is essential in this pattern, as they will help guide your correct positioning within the pattern, especially during yoke shaping. Once the yoke shaping is done, the rest is straightforward and will be an enjoyable knit for everyone, I hope!
JF: It’s definitely a fun and different approach to knitting a pullover that I think knitters will enjoy. For me, good design is directly related to the amount of thought that goes into it – you clearly think a lot about your work as you are designing and that is much appreciated!
KN: Thank you, Jared! I do spend a lot of time on the planning stage of each new garment design.
First of all, I do a mental run-through of the ideas that I’m considering and then start to focus on one in particular.
I then think about the design from the point of view of the knitter, to ensure my patterns are always accessible and enjoyable to make. For example, when my design is going to contain a new technique that may be unfamiliar to most knitters, I try to shape the design carefully to ensure the new technique is only used at the beginning of the project. After that, I make sure the rest of the knitting pattern is straightforward to do, which is what I did for Rook.
When I was designing Rook, I had in mind the short-row neck shaping technique and a special pattern placement to create an interesting visual illusion. The texture and density of Shelter was perfect for the effect I had in mind. When all the technical ideas and the yarn were put together with a traditional sweater-shape with a double-folded neckline, it all seemed to come together really well!
JF: Thanks again, Kyoko! It’s been a pleasure getting to work with you and I hope to do so in the future!
KN: Thank you, Jared! It’s been great fun for me, too. And I’m looking forward to sharing more new designs through BT in the future!