I love a good cabled scarf in the winter. If I had it my way, I’d wear them year-round, though I no longer live in a climate where that is possible.

Frieze is my newest scarf design from the BT Winter 14 collection. Named for it’s relief-like texture and staggered motifs, the fabric reminded me of the ornate marble friezes I studied as a young art student living in Rome. I remember being drawn to these decorative, patterned entablatures that adorned Roman and Greek temples, with their curved lines and repeating motifs. I was struck by how such delicacy and lightness could be achieved in carvings using a material as unforgiving and solid as marble.

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When I wear scarves, I prefer a bit of volume. When it’s really cold, I like being able to burrow into a scarf, and use it as a sort of face mask to block the windchill when necessary. To me the perfect scarf looks good worn alone (simply, over a shirt, blouse, dress, etc. as shown) or paired with outerwear. The addition of buttons and buttonholes along the top and bottom edges is a fun detail that adds versatility to the item. When buttoned, the scarf becomes a loop that can be worn in multiple ways. By playing around with how many buttons are used, or which button-to-buttonhole pairing you choose, a wide array of styling options becomes available. Why not have a little fun with it?

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Frieze incorporates three large medallion cables – each nested with smaller, wrapped eyelet crosses (commonly seen in Japanese stitch dictionaries) – which are staggered over the length of the piece. Traditional 4-stitch “rope” cables are used as separators between the larger motifs as well as trimming the selvedge edges; these four cables are also mirrored over the center line of the scarf (cable crosses lean away from each other for perfect symmetry).

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In terms of knitting geekery: the reinforced buttonhole method used within the pattern is relatively new to me, and an incredibly exciting technique that I learned from my friend Catherine Lowe. I’ve never seen this method anywhere else before, and am not sure if there is an official name for it. After working the buttonhole bind-off row, the return row has you cast on the number of buttonhole stitches + 4 to a spare DPN (or cable needle), then work the pair of scarf stitches preceding and following the buttonhole together with the first and last two stitches of the cast-on row by way of directional double decreasing. Difficult to summarize here, but not at all difficult to execute, and the results are so worth it! Finished buttonholes remain both flexible and stable (more deftly avoiding the common problem of stretching out of shape after continued use).

It’s a fun knit for cable lovers, and one that I look forward to wearing myself!

– JF

 

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Resources:

The Frieze pattern is available for download at Brooklyn Tweed or on Ravelry. The Shelter yarn used in the photographed sample is available here.

 

 

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.


 

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If you’re familiar with my past design work, you know that the Shetland Hap Shawl is a genre that I come back to time and again. I think this is because I am generally interested in the intersection between utility and beauty in design – and this traditional shawl style was born directly from that crossing. Worn by working women in the Shetland islands, the Hap Shawls’ primary function was to keep the wearer warm in the harsh conditions of the Northern Scottish Isles.

Over time, however, Shetland knitters developed a signature style for these shawls. They were generally square in shape and worked in garter stitch, with a plain central section worked in a solid color. The outer border almost always uses some variation of an Old Shale lace pattern and very often employs multicolored striping sequences, which were the perfect use for assorted oddments of shetland wool left over from former projects. (If you are interested in learning more about the history of Haps, Sharon Miller’s book “Shetland Hap Shawls” is the definitive source on the topic – I highly recommend it!)

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When we began concept sketches for the Winter 14 collection, the urge to design a new Hap Shawl was welling up inside me yet again. With this design, though, I wanted to think more about what types of shawls and construction methods appeal to the modern hand knitter, and apply those ideas to the traditional look of the Hap.

The first and most obvious choice was to create a triangular shawl, rather than the traditional square format. Triangles are faster to knit, easier to wear and more versatile as a styling item – so that decision seemed to make sense. After that, I needed to decide upon a construction sequence that would keep the knitting both interesting and efficient. I knew I wanted to keep the entire project seamless, so that goal was my starting point.

The diagram below maps out the knitting sequence, which begins at the base of the inverted central triangle. The entire project begins with just a single stitch cast onto your needle; the rest of the shawl grows out of that lone loop (I love that). The central triangle is worked back and forth, increasing one stitch per row by way of a yarn over at the beginning of the row. This type of shaping allows the garter stitch ridges to travel straight across the inverted triangle, which makes for an attractive contrast to the diagonal direction of the undulating border.

 

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Additionally, the yarn over selvedge conveniently provides open loops along the shaped sides of the central triangle, creating the perfect pick-up edge when you return to work the colorful lace edge.

You’ll see a dashed line at the top of the central triangle in the diagram above. When this point is reached, live stitches are placed onto waste yarn to be held until you work a contiguous top border that incorporates both the central triangle and the diagonal side edges of the Old Shale lace portion of the shawl.

After securing these live stitches with the waste yarn holder, stitches for the lace border are picked up along the diagonal edges of the central triangle (effortlessly, from those yarn overs along each edge). Upon completion of pick-up, the lace border is worked back and forth, with mitered increases at the triangle tip and side edges of the border (to maintain the overall triangular shape of the piece).

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I played around a bit with ways to modify the traditional Old Shale lace motif, and found that I liked working a row of elongated “drop” stitches between the colored eyelet rows. The photo above shows these rows clearly. These elongated stitches are created by double-wrapping the yarn as you knit across the row, then dropping one of the double wraps as you work into the stitch on the following row. The eyelet rows (worked in alternate colors) gently distort the fabric into wavy lines, which in turn effects the shape of the elongated rows nicely.

The project is also a fun excuse to play with color! In my version I used 5 different shades of Green from the Loft palette – but there are so many different ways you can use color in this border. It’s a perfect use for small amounts of leftover wool that you might have lying around. You can also keep it simple by working the shawl with only two colors (a main “shawl color” and a contrasting stripe color). The pattern includes yardage amounts for both a 2-color version and the 6-color version (shown) so you won’t need to do the extra math.

Traditional Hap Shawls usually employ a fancy knitted-on lace edging to finish the piece. While these edgings are beautiful, they can also be a bit fussy. In an effort to modernize and streamline the design, I liked the idea of keeping a clean bind-off edge – both from the perspective of finished appearance and convenience during fabrication. It is certainly a more concise finish than the traditional method – just remember to keep your bind-off row very relaxed so you don’t run into elasticity problems when blocking.

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After completion of the striped lace border, return to the top edge of the project, pick up stitches along the side edges of the lace border, and incorporate them into the same row as your held live stitches from the center triangle. Once united into a single row, work back and forth in garter stitch for a few ridges and bind off to complete the top border (a relaxed elastic bind off is advisable here as well).

All in all, it makes for quite a fun knit that looks complicated but is easier to create than you might think upon first glance. It’s also the type of project that you finish and immediately start thinking about what changes you’ll employ for your second one!

The best part for me, though, comes now – as I get to witness the creative variations you knitters will make! If you do choose to embark upon this shawl, I hope you’ll enjoy the process of not only knitting, but playing with color and striping ideas too. Have fun!

– Jared

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Resources:

The Kelpie pattern is available for download at Brooklyn Tweed or on Ravelry. The Loft yarn used in the photographed sample is available here.

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The first weeks of January can sometimes be difficult; the holidays have passed, and along with them, the romance of early winter. The weather is cold and dark, and we feel cultural pressure to make resolutions in an effort to craft better versions of ourselves. For these reasons, I like to schedule things for this period that are really worth looking forward to. Positive anticipation is always a great antidote for those “slump” times!

When working on the 2014 calendar, I thought early January seemed like the perfect time to release our Design Team’s winter collection, hoping it could be just the thing to chase away some potential post-holiday blues.

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Our yearly winter collection is one of my favorites. It seems like the most appropriate time to indulge in any and all types of knitwear design, be it classic, modern, traditional, heavy-duty or lightweight. Anything goes when everyone needs something wooly to wear outdoors (and even indoors for those of us in drafty historic buildings)!

For this collection, we created pieces for two different stories. The first – Elements – focuses on clean, modern knits in a palette of neutrals (three of which are pictured below). These knits are cool and comfortable wardrobe items that can be dressed up or dressed down with ease. Casual sophistication is the name of the game here – from boxy, striped “boyfriend” sweaters (Benton at center) to luxurious cabled scarves that – with the simple addition of wooden buttons – convert to stylish and toasty cowls (Frieze at right).

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Our second design story – Shingle and Copse – was inspired by walks on a winter coastline. While I love a beautiful summer day on the beach soaking up the sun just as much as the next person, a solitary walk on that same beach during winter is my true love. The muted color palette, the powerful winter waves, the atmospheric horizon line – these things make my introspective heart go pitter-patter.

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These knits are intended to be thrown on with other layers for a cozy, bundled-up style that is perfect for windy walks (be they city or country). Our creative team traveled to beautiful Cedar Point, Long Island for the shoot where both models and crew got to test the effectiveness of these knits in the brisk conditions of the coastal marshlands there.

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The full collection releases today, with each pattern available for instant download via Brooklyn Tweed or Ravelry. Our newest lookbook features extensive photography of the design collection, as well as detailed pattern diagrams and descriptions, a special essay written for us by Portland author Sarah Pope, and peeks behind the scenes from our days shooting in Cedar Point.

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Throughout January, we’ll be sharing more stories and details about this collection here on the blog, as well as our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, so stay tuned. For now, though, I invite you to pull up a chair and enjoy exploring the lookbook!

I hope this collection brings you inspiration as we look forward to the coming year.

–Jared

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Resources: The BT Winter 14 lookbook is now available for viewing on our website here, or download the free PDF for viewing on your tablet or device.

Each pattern in the collection is available for instant download here, or on Ravelry.com. Brooklyn Tweed yarns used in the collection are available for purchase online, or at one of our 16 flagship retail locations.

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!

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JF: Welcome, Dianna! Glad to have you on the blog today! 

DW: Thanks for having me!

JF: Your design work seems heavily inspired by Scandinavian traditions and culture. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Do you have a family history in that region of the world?

DW: There’s definitely a lot of Scandinavian influence, but I don’t have any family background in that part of the world! I’m just drawn to it, for whatever reason. I have several friends from Norway who I initially met online, some as long as a decade ago, and they initially got me interested in it. The language drew me in first, and then the more I learned about the culture, the more I fell in love with it. I’ve been fortunate to travel to Scandinavia several times now, and meet those friends who I still keep in touch with.

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JF: Can you give me some back story about the design of Sundottir? I know when we first started talking about a design submission you had an old, beloved version of the sweater that you were wanting to refine into a finished pattern. When and how did the idea begin?

DW: I knit that old, beloved sweater in 2010. I’d been working on stranded colorwork for awhile, but only on accessories. So I decided, being so into Scandinavian design and culture, I really wanted something along the lines of the beautiful traditional sweaters from Norway and Iceland. Looking back, I think I wanted something a little more modern, too, that felt more like me, because none of the patterns out there were jumping out at me. So I decided to come up with a design myself. It’s been a thrill to return to that design and work on how to turn that idea into a pattern.

JF: I am always a fan of mixing the modern with the traditional – I think that’s what works so nicely about this design. A classic yoke motif, fluffy wool and traditional color combo paired with a fitted shape that feels current. The other nice thing about this sweater is that making custom alterations is pretty straight forward. Any tips for knitters who might want to tweak the garment slightly to suit their own body types and ease preferences?

DW: Absolutely! The yoke chart begins on a multiple of 8 stitches, so as long as the number of stitches on the needle is a multiple of 8 when it’s time to start the colorwork section, almost anything else goes. Some folks may want to eliminate the waist shaping – I’d use the number of stitches after the bust increase section as the number of stitches to cast on. Others may want more defined waist shaping, in which case adding decrease rounds and increase rounds would be pretty straightforward. Knitters could also turn it into a cardigan by steeking and picking up stitches to knit button bands. Or you could use multiple contrast colors in the yoke for a more colorful sweater. There’s a lot of possibility there. Seeing the modifications that creative knitters make is one of my favorite parts of publishing patterns!

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JF: Are there any specific details in the pattern that you might like to point out to our readers? Anything that might not be immediately obvious from looking at the photos? 

DW: Like many of my designs, Sundottir is completely seamless, right down to the underarms. Everything is worked in the round, and when the knitting is done, the underarm stitches are grafted together using Kitchener stitch (there are instructions in the pattern for those who haven’t used Kitchener before). Fit-wise, one of the differences between the pattern and my original prototype was the addition of short row shaping to dip the yoke in the front, so that the neckline fits more comfortably.

JF: You live and work in Seattle, Washington – are you a native or a transplant? 

DW: I’m a transplant! I grew up in North Carolina and moved out here in 2009.

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JF: How does the weather and lifestyle of the city affect your design work?

DW: In general, I love the weather and the lifestyle of this city, and I can definitely see it influence my work. For one thing, some years you can wear wool year round!

JF: As a Washington native, I sometimes miss that! 

DW: Like many people in this city, I tend to gravitate toward clothing that’s practical and functional, and I see that in my knitwear, but I also want it to look good, too. I design things I’d want to knit for myself, because that’s how I got started, so I’m always thinking about how I’ll actually wear or use a design. I’m not always designing things I could wear on my bike commute to work in the rain, but it’s nice when my design work does fit that bill.

Being in Seattle keeps the Scandinavian influence up front, as well, because that’s a big part of this city’s history. There were so many Scandinavian immigrants to this city and this part of the world. My studio is in Ballard, which was historically the Scandinavian neighborhood, just down the road from the Nordic Heritage Museum (which puts on the Nordic Knitting Conference every two years). There’s a parade every year for Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day, and it’s the biggest one outside of Norway. Being in a community with that kind of heritage means I’m always thinking about it.

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JF: What was your dream job as a child? 

DW: I grew up in classical ballet and for a long time I wanted to do that professionally. I still take classes, from time to time, but I got really burned out by the end of high school. I think I gave up on that dream around the time I started high school, actually, which was around the same time I hit six feet in height. Most ballerinas aren’t anywhere near that tall, which makes it hard to be in a corps de ballet. I think I always had an internal struggle between my creative side and wanting to pursue creative pursuits on the one side and going a much more straight-laced stable route on the other. My mother has certainly always supported my creative pursuits – she started my hometown’s city arts program – but she also encouraged routes that would lead to more financial stability than a career in the arts. That’s a struggle that I still feel sometimes.

JF: This has been great – thanks for taking the time to chat a bit this morning, Dianna!

DW: Thank you for the opportunity! I’m truly honored to be a part of the collection.

JF: Good morning, Grace! Thanks for agreeing to chat with me today about Trestle!  

GAF: Thank you for inviting me! And, as ever, thank you for photographing my work so beautifully.

JF: It’s really my pleasure! I first encountered your work when I saw your book “The Fine Line” in a yarn shop in Austin, TX, in 2009. The book is packed full of amazing, colorful, mitered creations and had me immediately marveling at how your brain works. Having been following you since, and getting to know you personally, you clearly have a flare for geometry and clever construction in all your work. Can you talk a little bit about what sparks your inspiration when you are designing? 

GAF: I love a puzzle. Always have. Starting with jigsaws and then Tetris (which I would obsessively play as a tween to the point of dreaming about it!) and now the apps Dots and Strata. Sequences and tessellations inhabit my happy place. I have an unhealthy love of graph paper.

JF: I think we would’ve gotten along well during our teenage years! I was a Tetris fiend, too… and in my present-day life have more stacks of graph paper (in several varying gauges) than I care to admit!

GAF: Oh yes – grids feed my love of right angles and integers, which tend to draw me towards chevrons. They just have a logic that aligns beautifully with the concept of the knitted stitch. So I sketch and sketch and sketch. Which leads to unconventional, but hopefully knitterly, constructions that exploit the fact that we knitters make the fabric as we shape the garment.

JF: To me that is always the true essence and magic of knitting – the simultaneous creation of fabric and shape. The possibilities are just endless…

GAF: Yes! I feel like I could spend a lifetime exploring that. I need to dedicate some serious study to the knitters who have already grappled with it. Elizabeth Zimmermann comes to mind, especially since Trestle is garter stitch, though I have yet to conceive of anything that rivals her genius. My first successful Baby Surprise Jacket was game changing – such a great puzzle.

JF: Speaking of puzzles, Trestle is a brilliant one. Can you give us a quick summary on what kind of adventure knitters are in for who take this sweater on? (I’ll include a diagram below to help everyone visualize this process!)

GAF: It is an all garter project (no purls!) but full to bursting with unusual elements. Because the entire sweater is knit on the bias (technically two biases that form the main chevron), you don’t shape the sweater in the usual way. The front and back begin in the same manner – casting on at the corners and making two separate triangles that are then joined once they are half the desired width. Then the garment is worked “straight” which is to say with an increase for every decrease until the desired length, and placed on holders. This was that part of the sample that was truly meditative to knit.  The bottom hem is picked up and worked down with decorative stripes.

The sleeves are also worked on the bias (though there is a bit more going on at the beginning in terms of “foundation triangles”– as you can see from the diagram). I reworked this section a few times both on the needles and off. In the end I went with making the main part of the sleeve first with unbalanced increases (increases with no corresponding decreases) to shape the sleeve within the bias pattern. The decorative element at the sleeve cuff is picked up and worked after in the stripe pattern, then the cuff is picked up and worked down.

The yoke is done in one piece maintaining the bias pattern as established on both Body and Sleeves. If you have worked a traditional raglan sweater you’ll recognize the decrease rate, though I have shifted their placement to be aligned with the pre-existing biases. The stripe pattern that is echoed on the sleeves and hem is clearest here on the yoke.

I’ll admit that this initially seems like a lot of acrobatic construction, but I assure you it is more straightforward when you are knitting it! You will be knitting plain every wrong-side row and only ever doing 4 things at the most on the right side rows. Trestle is great when you are in the mood for garter stitch but need a little more to keep it interesting.

JF: Those are often my favorite types of projects.

GAF: I must admit to feeling very satisfied seeing it come together. Some designs, no matter the preplanning, require a leap of faith between casting on and casting off. To be honest, those are the designs I am most drawn to and find myself returning to again and again, so it is always satisfying when they work out the way you intended.

As an aside, when my husband (who is extremely conservative in his taste in woolens) saw the sample blocking he said that it would make a good man’s sweater. Though that was his thinly veiled request for a sweater, he does have a point. Thankfully you have published sizes up to 49″ at the chest/bust, so I only have to lengthen the body and sleeves for his version.

JF: You live and work in Los Alamos, New Mexico, but are a Philadelphia native – that’s quite a change of scene! How has your change in environment changed your knitting or design work? 

GAF: Completely! My relationship to woolens had to change coming from PA to NM. I don’t think that I considered shawls much at all while in Philly, but the changeable nature of the weather here makes them much more necessary. I think that I also am drawn to fine gauge knitting, more so than before. In Philly the needles in my hands got larger the colder it got, but in Los Alamos I almost never venture thicker than DK. So I really had a chance to tighten my focus to fingering – lace weight yarns and how garments made with them fit onto my needles and into my wardrobe. I was also thinking about these more graphic designs that you can see in “The Fine Line” while being drawn to the regional weaving traditions. For such a small town, there is a high density of Techs, Engineers, and Scientists here in Los Alamos because of Los Alamos National Labs that I am being exposed to ideas and images that I never considered before, having pursued an art-focused education. All of these elements inform my current design process.

JF: Sounds like a pretty inspiring place to be! I remember New Mexico as having such a mystical quality about it. 

GAF: Mystical! That is a good word for it. I don’t think that I understood “purple mountains majesty”  as more than colorful language until I moved here. I think I might be spoiled now to expect to always see a mountain range on the horizon; without them it would seem lonely somehow.

 JF: And for a bit of fun, my last question for the day: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

GAF: Rainbow Brite. Though I think that if I had known that creative jobs like ours existed I might have set my sights on a more reasonable target.

JF: Grace, this has been excellent. Thanks for letting me pick your brain this morning – take care and keep up the inspiring work!

GAF: Thank you, Jared! Working with you, your team and your yarn is always a pleasure.

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?

KN: I really enjoyed working on Rook for WP6. My core design philosophy is to offer unique knits which have timeless style.

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!

JF: Good morning, Leila! So good to have you on the “public” side of the blog today, rather than helping me proof my writing behind the scenes at BT! 

LR:  Thanks, Jared! I’m guessing this is what it might feel like when you find yourself on the lens side of the camera. And I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for any typos that have slipped past me.  ;)

JF: Bough is a really sweet hat and cowl set – I started my own Bough hat immediately after you submitted the pattern because I wanted one for myself! I love the mix of traditional motifs with modern shapes and styling – would you say that this mixing of new and old is a steady feature in your work?

LR:  It really is. I can (and will, often) just sit and pore over old knitting books and stitch dictionaries for hours. It’s cliché, but they’re my go-to source of inspiration and I return to them again and again. There’s something to be said for stitch patterns that stand the test of time and can be seen in designs from ten years ago, twenty, and even further back.

JF: I completely agree.

LR: Japanese stitch dictionaries and pattern books are also particularly fascinating, in large part because my favorite authors (Yoko Hatta, Toshiyuki Shimada, Michiyo, to name a few) seem to have as much of an obsession with the classic motifs as I do. And they’re masters at turning stitch patterns we’ve all seen over and over into something completely new.

JF: The Arbor Vitae (Tree of Life) motif is one of my favorite traditional cable motifs – I know you love it too. Was this stitch the “seed” that grew into the rest of the design? Or did you start from a different inspiration point? 

LR:  It was! I’ve come across different variations of it and have been wanting to include it in a design for years. I also wanted to change up the repetitive structure of the traditional motif a little bit —  making the progression slightly less stamp-like over the course of the knitter’s project –  and eventually, many swatches later, ended up with a shapely little tree. I  tend to start with one primary element or idea, and then have a lot of experimentation to figure out how to best support that element. The tricky part is balancing it all without going overboard with too many random details. I’m learning that restraint can make the difference between an okay design and a really strong one.

JF: It’s so true. Bringing an editing eye to your own work is essential. I think when we are creating knitwear by hand, because it takes a significant amount of time and effort, it is easy to try to pack too many ideas or details into a single design.

LR:  Taking a balanced set of motifs from one type of project (a hat) to its complement (a scarf) is an interesting exercise, too. Proportion and scale against the shape and dimensions of the finished piece is an important thing to keep in mind. I cheered when I read your blog post about striving for harmony in the details of your Bray pullover — music to my ears. We could probably talk about this for weeks.

JF: Because I work with you every day, I get the pleasure of witnessing the evolution of your design work in real time. I know you’ll often create prototypes, or multiple versions of something as you work towards a completed idea. Can you talk a little bit about this process? Do you feel that there is a sort of “searching” aspect that you require to bring out your best work?

LR:  Whenever I complete a project I think about all the million different things I’d change about it, if I were to knit it again. Bough started with a hat I made for a gift last year – that one featured the Tree of Life along with a few gansey patterns and small, squiggly cables. Still obsessed with the Tree pattern, I then cast on for a cowl, ditching the gansey and squiggles in favor of simpler seed-stitch columns and framing. I never finished that one, because I started another hat, which eventually became the final version of Bough. After completing the hat I decided to revisit the cowl to see how I could make the trees and cables work in a long, circular loop.

JF: It feels kinda like stumbling down a pathway in the dark, eh? You know you are headed in the right direction, but aren’t sure how many steps it will take to arrive. And once there, it also leaves you wondering “Could I take this further? Should I take it further?”

LR: If I showed you the number of Illustrator files of different chart “mock-ups” I have for this hat, you would probably laugh.

JF: It would be a laugh of solidarity, for sure! 

LR: And there are probably twice as many for the cowl. I’m grateful that we have tools like these at our disposal to help with the design process; otherwise, I’d have a bigger pile of unfinished prototypes than I already have, and meeting deadlines would be much more challenging.

JF: Yes, technology is so incredibly helpful for design. Do you work primarily in Illustrator when developing knitwear? Do you use any other programs?

LR: I have a strong preference for charts over written instructions in a knitting pattern, so Illustrator (which, as you already know, is my default program for creating charts) is always open during development of a design. I’ve also found spreadsheets useful, though I like to keep things on the simpler side—a lot of what I do builds off of pretty basic shapes and construction methods that don’t require a lot of number-crunching. I focus mainly on playing around with stitch patterns and motifs, and what I hope are pleasing combinations. I will sometimes use Photoshop to cobble images of my swatches together to help get a visual for how something would look over a larger area of fabric.

JF: This has been fun – thank you, Leila! 

LR: Thanks so much for sharing your space with me, and for including my design in this volume of Wool People! I hope knitters find their projects enjoyable to make and wear.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be presenting a series of designer interviews here on the blog that I have conducted with 6 selected designers from the Wool People 6 collection. I’ll chat with them a bit about their newest designs for BT, as well as what it is that gets their creative juices flowing. Today we start with long-time friend of BT, Gudrun Johnston. I hope you enjoy!  –Jared

JF: Good morning, Gudrun! I’m always glad to be able to chat with you about knitting – can you tell the readers where you are joining us from today?

GJ: Great to talk to you Jared! I am joining you from my home in the woods of Western Massachusetts!

JF: We’ve had the pleasure of working with you several times in the last two years that we’ve been publishing Wool People – you seem to have a knack for designing things with real wool that knitters love. Can you tell us a little bit about where you get your general design inspiration?

GJ: I find that ideas can strike from many directions but it is true that I often look to my Shetland roots first and foremost for inspiration.

JF: You live in Western Mass but are a native of the Shetland Islands in Scotland, one of the world’s great knitting “meccas”. How did your childhood in Shetland shape who you are as a designer?

GJ: Although I was born in Shetland I spent the majority of my childhood living elsewhere in Scotland. It has really been in the last decade that I have re-connected with Shetland, since my parents retired there. During that time I have had lots of opportunity to explore not only the physical beauty of Shetland but to also educate myself about the wooly traditions! As you already know my mother also designed knitwear in Shetland in the 1970′s. My siblings and I were clothed in her designs when we were very little. I even have a photo of myself as a baby in a traditional Shetland Hap (shawl)! So the connection to the rich knitting heritage was formed early on. My great grandfather was a Shetlander and I like to think some knitting mojo got passed on in the blood! It was only natural then for me to look to my Shetland background when I started to get into designing.

JF: When we first started talking about design ideas for Wool People 6, you had just finished knitting your son a beautiful prototype of Little Wave. How did the sweater come to be (before I begged for you to let us include it in the collection)?

GJ: Well it came to be because Sage (my son) was feeling a little put out that I hadn’t designed anything that he could wear! His sister ends up getting to wear a lot more of my work seeing as most of my designs are female oriented. So I promised him I would come up with something made especially for him! He LOVES it and looks very sophisticated when wearing it! [We've included photos below!] I ended up liking it a lot too so I’m glad that there will be another sample for me to wear. It also looks like I might have to knit one for David (my husband) too!

JF: David just might require one – I wore the men’s sample all throughout our September shoot (it was a foggy, chilly weekend – perfect for a shawl collar) and I have to say I got attached quite quickly! 

GJ: Well it’s true that David is also well overdue for a handknit garment from me, so yes, I think I will have to get one on the needles for him too! Although I have also been eyeing up your Timberline from the BT Men collection!

JF: You opted to design the sweater as a unisex garment, including graded sizes for both men and women. What kind of differences can knitters expect to find between the two?

GJ: The differences are fairly subtle to the overall design but I included a little waist shaping and adapted some of the measurements for a more feminine look.

JF: There are a lot of special details included in the sweater – it is one of those patterns that takes you on a bit of a journey. I know most knitters will learn at least 1 or 2 things as they are walked through. Can you elaborate on a couple of the details that might not be immediately apparent to people who have only seen a few images of the garment in the look book?

GJ: Well one of the first things knitters will encounter are the twisted stitches that are used to form that overall stitch pattern. I enjoy using textured stitch patterns that are worked a little differently from the norm but that aren’t necessarily complex to knit. The other detail that might not be obvious to many knitters is the construction of the yoke. I see it as part raglan, part set in sleeve and part saddle shoulder, but essentially it is Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Seamless Hybrid Method.  I think this was my favourite part to knit! Watching all the parts come together is truly like magic and extremely satisfying!

JF: I also have to interject that I love the knitted garter stitch “elbow patches”. They are a nice touch!

GJ: Thanks! Glad you like them! Of course they can easily be left out for those who prefer a simpler sleeve!

JF: What kind of design work are you plugging away on at the moment? Anything you can share that we can look forward to? 

GJ: Actually the current piece I’m working on will be for Wool People 7! After that the plan is to get going on a Shetland Trader Book 2 which I am very excited about!

JF: Great news for all of us – I look forward to seeing another self-produced book of knits by you! 

Well Gudrun, it’s been a pleasure – thanks for allowing me to bend your ear a bit this morning. Take care and thanks again for contributing this beautiful garment to our 6th installment of Wool People!

GJ: My pleasure! It was fun to chat!