Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Hard Work Behind Five Good Design Days A Year

For the third in my series of designer interviews for the 2015 Indie Gift-a-Long, I looked to my curated design ideas Pinterest board, and this choice became rather clear. Jenise Hope (nee Reid) designs things I (and a lot of other people, it seems) want to make. Personally, I have been in love, love, love with her Persian Dreams Blanket forever. For anyone thinking about designing or those newbie designers, I would urge you to read and really internalize this interview - Jenise gives it to you straight, no chaser! I am beyond thrilled to present:

The January Pullover designed by Jenise Hope

The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire with Knitwear Designer Jenise Hope

1.    Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you started to design knit garments and accessories?

Through my teen years (starting at 14!), I worked at my Dads accounting practice during tax season.  I was the receptionist, organizing and keeping everyone’s papers running through the system, and did bits of bookkeeping or the odd (easy) tax return on the side.  It was a small office and so I really got to see all the parts of what goes behind the scenes in a small business.  After I graduated, I began to study (sewing) pattern drafting and did custom work sewing.  I was honestly very devoted to sewing.  In the midst of that, I picked up knitting needles for what may as well have been the first time, and learned to knit.  It took a year or so, but soon I preferred knitting to sewing (even though, to this day, I still sew a good portion of my personal wardrobe).  It was a natural move to “write” my own knitting patterns. (For me, a knitting pattern only for myself is a page of paper with a stream of numbers and minimal explanation of what they actually mean, not a real pattern that someone else would be able to follow.) Once I was happy with what I was turning out, it was also very natural, not easy, but it just happened almost on its own, to write a handful of knitting patterns just for fun and put them up for sale.  Since I had experience working with exacting sewing patterns and all that, the technical and business side of knit design was relatively easy.  A lot of designers start into designing knit patterns while they work in a completely different day job and try to make it all fit.  My life more or less flowed smoothly to it, and starting at my age, before I was married or had a “real” job, I had the huge advantage of being able to jump into giving it a full time try.

2.    When was the moment you knew you wanted to become a knitwear designer?

When I was young, a lot of the parts of knitwear design were things I thought would be fun one day - photography, design, modeling – and I have always had a huge amount of patience doing fussy jobs.  My Mom has in her photo albums these pictures of my third birthday and this story about how I wanted to decorate my own cake that year.  She iced it and gave me a plate of candies to stick on top.  I only vaguely remember it myself, but apparently I didn't even ask to eat a single candy till the end and very carefully placed them on the cake.  From the photos, I can see that I made it symmetrical; it was a butterfly shape and the right and left wings match.  Truth be told, the only part I really remember is digging through the plate of candies and finding matching ones to place on each wing (I think I ate all the leftover single candies at the end).  I'm not sure why.  I am around a lot of little kids (my 12 nieces and nephews) and while it seemed normal to me before, thinking about all the 3 year olds I know, I can't imagine any of them doing that.  No wonder my Mom thought it so noteworthy that she bothered to write the story out, I seem to have an inborn sense of order. 

I don't think I ever specifically wanted to be a knitwear designer, it was more one day I realized I already was one and I loved it.  I don't mean I realized this the first times I made sweaters for myself – it finally occurred to me that this was what I was somewhere around my first 1,000 or 2,000 pattern sales.

Jenise Hope's X&O Cardigan
3.    Please describe your personal design philosophy?

For garments, I try to work out the simplest way to make a good fit.  This usually involves complex increase/decrease rates to make curves, and they are a pain to calculate and write, but I think the end result is worth the time.  It is such a relief when I finish writing a pattern and I can relax and just knit from the directions.  I like to design the kinds of garments I like to wear, generally in finer yarns (with the odd exception for really cold days), lots of stockinette, carefully fit, no/minimal seams, and precise finishing.  They probably wouldn't be my favorite to make, but I enjoy a challenge and I have learned to love mindless stockinette, grafting, and sewing.

For “fancy” stuff (like colorwork blankets or accessories with more decoration), I try to come up with a key element, and then enhance and elaborate on that theme through details everywhere else.  The hard part is predicting if something will enhance the central theme, or distract from it before completing the item, and don't look to my work for great examples of how this should play out.  I am still very much learning! The most beautiful things I have admired and analyzed all share this quality. There is much detail and texture, and yet what you see is one to three primary elements that are built up out of this mass of little unnoticed details.  If I am honest, part of the reason I like skinnier yarns is to give me more “resolution” for more detail.

4.    What is your greatest design memory?

Probably a year from when I started writing those very first patterns, standing in the kitchen with my Mom and one of my sisters.  Casually checking if I had any sales, as I did most days, there was this flood of sales of one of my few published patterns, I think around 60 that day.  If you recall from before, I wasn't thinking of myself as a designer, I did it just for fun not expecting any sales at all.  I was dumbfounded and hardly believed it, but I showed them and my mom was all excited and I realized I had actually made a pattern that other people liked and wanted.  It took a while to sink in!  The success of that particular pattern was the push I needed to decide that I would give this pattern-writing thing a serious try and see what happened.  Apart from that incident, I would never have believed it would be possible to do it for a living.  I was the only one shocked.  I had a year or two of coming to my friends or family in absolute awe and surprise when any pattern was doing unusually well, and them saying back to me things along the line of “well, I would be surprised if my pattern was doing well, but of course you can do it.  I'm not surprised at all.”

The amazingly wonderful Persian Dreams Blanket.
5.    If you could have dinner with any three designers, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

Since it wasn't specified, I am going to “cheat” and say Madame Vionnet (there is so much technical genius in the structure of her bias cut dresses), Paul Poiret (because I just love his harem pants and hobble dresses; turbans less so...), and any of the ladies who designed Bohus Stickning sweaters.  They all worked in ready to wear rather than patterns, but I take more inspiration from ready to wear than other knitting patterns/designers.

6.    Picker or thrower?

Is “Scrambler” an acceptable term to use?  Having taught myself to knit, sticking my fingers where ever made it easiest to get yarn through yarn and on the sticks, I don't follow either method!  I am working on learning to pick – I challenged myself to give it a try earlier this year to speed up my stockinette, so I sometimes pick in a long stream of stockinette.  Otherwise, fingers are everywhere.

7.    It’s your last object to design (or make). What is it, and what fiber do you use?

It is a colorwork sweater, in laceweight cashmere that I have to purchase in white and dye myself to get the exact shades I need.  I am picky about colors and struggle to find the ones I want. Alternately, I might be similarly satisfied with a rectangular lace stole in cobweb weight merino.  Hard to decide!

8.    What trait do you most admire in designers?

Fortitude.  If you are going to make it, you need to be willing to do the most mundane and picky jobs (like checking over your numbers again), you need to learn a variety of new skills, and you need to keep slogging at it for at least a year or two before you can expect any substantial reward for all the effort and cash you put into it.  The fun stuff of designing is something like 5 days a year, and all the rest of the days are hard work doing confusingly complex or painfully dull tasks.  Satisfying when done, but not necessarily the things you wake up wanting to do.

9.    What trait do you most detest in designers?

Impatience and carelessness.  Either will prevent you from moving on anywhere.  You need to take the time to learn to do it all well, and you won't be rewarded till you do.  Be that side things (which you could hire someone to do for you if you have the cash) like photography and writing descriptions, or the actual design itself (figuring out what yarn is going to say what your design is saying, working out proportions and balance to get the effect you want, and picking stitch patterns and how to use them)

10. You are recommending a design gift in response to a friend’s inquiry. Other than your own designs (which are quite lovely!), what would you recommend?

For adult stuff, Jenny F If only I had the time to knit it, I would love a shawl like Breezy Skies. For baby/kid stuff, Jenny WiebeThose are the cutest kid cardis ever!

And no, I didn't plan to choose two Jennys, they are just the two whose patterns I would knit if I had time.  Right now I don't even have time to knit all my own patterns, which is very sad; besides, I do get a lot of patterns designed and published, even if my knitting is mostly just swatching. :)

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