JF: Hi, Bristol! We work together every day at BT, but it’s fun having a “public” chat about your design work – thanks for joining me here this morning.

BI: Hey Jared! My pleasure – I promise to keep my normally ridiculous emoticon usage to a minimum. :) (Okay, couldn’t help that one.)

JF: Let’s jump right in – you are obviously interested in exploring non-traditional construction methods in your designs, and Svalbard is no exception. Can you give our readers a summary of how this garment is created from a construction standpoint?  

BI: Of course! Svalbard technically works like a normal top-down raglan cardigan, with a slight tweak: the fronts are removed at the start.  So, if you were to take a bird’s eye view of a raglan, it would look like four wedges (front, two sleeves, and back) radiating from the neckline, with 8 increases every other row.  Svalbard looks like three wedges (two sleeves and back), with only 6 increases every other row.  Once those increases are complete, you pick up and knit along the raglan line at the front edges, and those stitches become the fronts.  You put the sleeves on holders, you add gussets under the arm, and the fabric naturally creates the wide swoop you see in the finished sweater.  It’s entirely seamless, and everything is finished off with a wide mitered border that ties it all together.  I’ve found this shape is a great way to create a bit of drama and drape while still maintaining some serious wearability.  The Wool People 6 samples were here at our office for a bit, and I kept snagging this one when I got cold!

JF: I agree that it creates a nice balance of “flare” and wearability. The shaping detail at the center back is a really special moment on this garment. Early on you told me that you wanted to play with some of the shaping ideas that you began exploring with your last Wool People design contribution, Thorn. How are these two pieces related?

BI: One of the things I love about designing my own garments is the ability to integrate shaping within a stitch pattern or to make one pattern flow into another.  I love those little couture moments in knitting, where a lace pattern flows directly from the ribbing, or the decreases at the crown of a hat flow seamlessly from the cables in the body.  I’ve had a LOT of fun exploring this synchronicity in terms of increases and decreases in my design work, especially in pieces like Winnowing, Thorn, and now Svalbard.

JF: Ah, yes! Winnowing is a great example of this as well.

BI: Haha, Winnowing is an increase dork-out to a crazy degree.

With Thorn, the increases that form the curve of the shawl are hidden within the garter rib of the body, rather than sitting on the edges as you’d see in most traditionally shaped shawls.  With Svalbard, I had originally planned to work the back with typical raglan shaping and have a small decorative increase motif in the center, but when I figured out I could build the increases needed into that decorative panel, all bets were off. The increases in the back use a chevron shape to gradually change the stitch pattern from stockinette, to 1×1 rib, and finally to cartridge rib to match the rest of the body, just as the ribbing in Thorn gradually widens over the course of the shawl as stitches are increased in a radial within it.  This motif is repeated in the underarm gussets, which give the fronts of the sweater the ease and drape they need.  It was a really fun challenge to design!

Left: The Thorn Shawl from Wool People 4  |  Right: The Winnowing Shawl from Wool People 2

JF: Do you feel like you make your best discoveries in the middle of the process? I think it’s interesting how different designers approach their work – some like to refine and think through every aspect before they start creating with their hands. Others seem to get the general idea formed, then jump right in and let themselves be surprised by the discoveries they make. Where do you fall on that continuum?

BI: I almost always have the majority planned out before I start knitting, but there’s often-times a lot of tumbling the idea around in my brain before anything is settled.  When I first started thinking about the construction on Svalbard, I was doing a lot of treadmill running and I used thinking about knitwear design as a way to get my mind off what my legs were suffering through! And even after that point, the final shift to the integrated back shaping happened when I was working up my grading spreadsheet for all the sizes prior to starting knitting (you know my love of spreadsheets!).  So there’s a lot of exploration of technique and construction in my designs, but the crazy ideas typically get hashed out in my head before the yarn even touches needles.  Then, if need be, I start peeling some layers away as I knit; lines will sometimes simplify and clarify as I work on the sample.  It’s funny what becomes clear as the knitting progresses!

JF: I know that when I stumble upon a design idea or motif that really intrigues me, I like to explore ways of using it differently across a range of pieces. Do you feel this way about the radial shaping that is featured in both Svalbard and Thorn? Is there still more experimentation ahead?

BI: Oh my gosh, I will never get sick of radial shaping.  There is still so much more I want to do with it! Each new project I do leads to another awesome “what if?!” moment, and is pushing the boundaries of what I thought was possible with knitting.  And while these light-bulb moments aren’t always viable, the fact remains that knitting is an amazingly malleable and organic art form, as well as a concrete and tactile method of exploring geometry and spatial reasoning.  It’s so inspiring, and it’s such a logic puzzle.  I’ll never stop loving that about it.

JF: You’re preaching to the choir…

BI: Knitting nerds unite!

JF: Thanks, Bristol! I know I’m not alone in being excited to see what you dream up next. Keep up the good work!

BI: Thanks so much, Jared – it’s a huge honor to be part of the Wool People collections!