Knitting designer series: I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.
Melissa is a knitting addict who lives in New York city. You can see more of her work at neoknits. I asked Melissa a few questions about her designs and background.
You studied fashion design and specialised in knitwear – can you tell us a little more about your course – sounds pretty exciting – how/why did you decide to specialise in knitwear?
I studied Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. FIT offers a 2 year AAS degree with an optional additional 2 years for a BFA. For the first two years, we concentrated mainly on draping, pattern making, and tailoring – very woven centric. In my fifth semester, we had the opportunity to take exploratory courses, one of these being knitwear. It was taught on old Brother knitting machines that sometimes felt as though elephants had trampled on the needles! Nevertheless, it was a fantastic class and I decided to specialize in knitwear for my final 2 years. It was refreshing to be able to not only design a garment, but develop the fabric it is to be made of as well.
And now you work as a knitwear designer – can you tell us a little about the process of designing for a large manufacturer vs designing for hand knitting patterns?
When designing for a large manufacturer, I’m definitely not as involved in the process as I am with hand knitting. I create a sketch and a spec (a set of measurements) and off it goes to a factory overseas. Once the garment comes back, unless corrections need to be made, that is the end of my involvement. Our sales and production team take it from there. Also, there are so many things to consider when designing a machine knit garment, most importantly, how much is it going to cost. There is a fine line between getting the look I want and the price the buyer wants to pay.
When designing hand knits, I have much more freedom. I can use more complicated stitches, more expensive yarns, and combine the two to my heart’s content! While I still may have a knitter in mind for my patterns, being less restricted is much more rewarding for me as a designer.
Can you tell us a little about your process of designing? Tell us about your thought processes as you design – how does fit and texture come in to your design process?
My design process doesn’t always follow the same straight line. Sometimes it’s a stitch that inspires me, sometimes a particular silhouette. It could even be a small little detail that I build an entire design around.
I suppose I try not to think about the process too much and let the ideas flow as naturally as possible. Sometimes I’ll sketch up 10 sweaters in one day and won’t sketch another for a few months. When I’m ready, I come back to my sketchbook, revisit the designs and choose one that speaks to me. From there, I polish it up a little bit, add a detail or two and decide on the fit, stitch, and yarn. My designs are typically a work in progress.
For example, here is the sketch and final version of Guinevere. My initial sketch looks a little different than the final sweater. While the general shape stayed the same, the stitch plan had changed once I started swatching in the actual yarn I was going to use.
You have just finished writing a book – can you tell us a little bit about it? The process of designing a whole collection, knitting them all in a short space of time and testing the patterns – it is just a little bit crazy? What is next?
My book is a collection of patterns inspired by New York City, mainly sweaters. It was a pretty intense process! Designing a whole collection came fairly easy due to my training and catalog of rough sketches. The hard part was not only selecting the perfect yarn for each project, but also making sure the colors I chose all worked together in each story. When you can’t dictate what color you need a particular yarn in, things become a little more complicated.
I had about a year to knit 20 projects and I managed to knit 18 out of the 20 projects myself. In fact, looking back, I don’t even know how I managed that! I had a printed calendar with a strict knitting schedule that I tried to follow. I think I ended up going over deadline by only two weeks. The key to keeping it all together was good organizational skills and maybe a little chocolate!
What’s next? At this point, I’m not really sure where my knitting will take me. I’m still winding down from the book, so I’m at the stage where having a deadline is just starting to sound reasonable again!
Your designs all have a little bit of a vintage / romantic flare to them. Can you tell us a little about your inspiration sources and how you incorporate these into your designs?
I design what I like to wear, but most importantly, things that can be worn season after season. I feel when choosing a sweater for knit, it’s important to think about the lifespan of the design. The more timeless the design, the more it will be worn. Between the cost of the yarn plus the time spent knitting the sweater, it’s always nice when your investment pays you back season after season.
I am definitely inspired by all things vintage, but reworked with a modern flare. My inspiration sources range from old vintage patterns, runway shows, museums, and the streets of New York.