JF: Hello Yoko! Welcome to the blog – so glad to have you (all the way from Tokyo!)
YH: Hi Jared – thank you for inviting me.
JF: You’ve led quite a long and successful career in Japan as a hand-knitwear designer – can you tell our readers a little more about your history as a designer?
YH: I started working in the early ’70s, when many women began entering careers in design, advertising and fashion. They looked so independent – it was inspirational to me. Eiko Ishioka (who designed many costumes for Hollywood movies), was becoming a well-known art director, and I wished that I could be working with a creative purpose like her.
I chose to study design for my degree at Musashino Art University, but my schooling fell amidst the middle of the major political movements among students at the time and I eventually dropped out of the program in hopes to pursue my creative vision on my own.
I always liked to make things with my hands, even as a young child. I began crochet & crochet lace-making first when I was very small, then picked up knitting in high school. My first knitted garment was a U-neck vest – at the time I could only knit and purl, so stockinette (or reverse stockinette) were the only fabrics I was using!
I began designing by making garments for myself, because my budget for clothing was small, yet I desperately wanted an interesting wardrobe, regardless.
After dropping out of college, I started making knitted garments and brought them to the boutiques in Harajuku. I also had purchased a knitting machine to make my garments more quickly.
After a while, one of my friends introduced me to a hand knit designer who was regularly publishing in pattern books and magazines. She put me in touch with her editors and shortly after I started publishing patterns for hand knitters – this was in 1973.
JF: When did you first begin publishing patterns in the US? Does your process change at all when designing for foreign knitters, rather than your design work in Japan? Do you think there are certain trends that are more popular in Japan than elsewhere in the world?
YH: My first design in the US was for “Crochet Today” in 2007, I think. After that I began gradually submitting more work for Vogue Knitting and other US magazines.
Nothing much changes about my design process for US publication vs. Japanese publication. The difference is mainly the yarns and colors that the editors choose, which can sometimes be unexpected, though it often turns out as a pleasant surprise.
JF: Do you study trends in Japan to inform your work?
YH: In general, I prefer classic and timeless design with high-quality yarns (to me these things are never out of style!). Especially when it comes to hand knitting, the yarn choice is the absolute key. If you choose quality yarn, your hands will be happy as you work.
JF: “Natsumi” is your fourth design for Brooklyn Tweed (you’ve also contributed “Ando” for WP3, “Tilda” for WP4, and “Fleur” for WP5). Can you talk a bit about your design inspiration for your new pullover?
YH: The main feature of this design is a sideways knitting construction and a curved hemline. The garment utilizes both increasing and decreasing concurrently to create the silhouette as you work. A wide cable stands out in simple stockinette stitch, and the zigzag eyelet gives a touch of lightness, which seems very appropriate for this yarn/fabric.
The garment is virtually seamless, as both sleeves and hemline are picked up and worked in the round directly from the finished body.
JF: You are an incredibly prolific designer. I’m always in awe of the amount of work you produce every season in Japan. Can you tell us a little more about what kind of design process is required for such high output?
YH: In Japan I regularly contribute to many different magazines, books, and yarn companies. This is only possible due to my highly capable and trustworthy team of knitters who help me create my designs after I get the concepts into a usable form.
I have several knitters who have worked with me for a long time – they understand my work and the fabrics I try to achieve – that is a huge advantage for me.
JF: Do you tend to lean more towards simplicity or complexity with your work?
YH: I always try to make pattern relatively easy to knit or crochet, though I do enjoy working on complicated designs for special occasions. To me it is important to find ways of making fashionable, quality clothing that is still accessible to a wide range of skill levels among knitters. I find that even people who can knit very complicated work often like to have something simpler to work on as well, if they need to really relax during their knitting. If I or my sample knitters don’t enjoy making something – I take that as a sign to really question if it is worth putting out in the world. The knitting experience is very important to the overall success of a garment.
JF: Yoko, this has been fantastic – thank you again for sharing with our readers more about who you are as a designer and your inspiring story!
YH: It is my pleasure – I love talking with other creative people. Thank you.