5 minutes with the Berroco designers
This week, we got a chance to catch up with the Berroco designers, Amy Christoffers, Emily O’Neil, and Alison Green.
Many knitters love Berroco patterns for their clarity, versatility, and innovation. I got to talk to the brains behind the knitwear, two women who definitely know their knits.
Hello Amy, Alison and Emily – could you tell us the story of how you both learned to knit?
Amy: I taught myself to knit in College. I was studying at a Fine Arts and feeling enormous pressure to be constantly creative and productive, all the time. Knitting was such a relief, a kind of escape or meditation. I really didn’t understand how to read knitting patterns at first but I found books at the Library and was inspired by all of the different ways to manipulate the stitches. My first scarf was a disaster, the second wasn’t bad and after that I was hooked. I began designing garments for myself soon after.
Emily: I went to an art and design school for college and was lucky enough to get into a machine knitting course my freshman year. When I began school, I thought I wanted to pursue painting, but suddenly realized that studying textiles involved all the things I loved about painting AND I would get to learn so many new skills and end up with soft fabrics piled up around me! I was hooked. In class we were asked to choose a knitwear designer we were influenced by. Myself and one other girl, Emma Ballentyne chose Sandra Backlund. Emma and I were so excited to make large scale projects so we shared a bulky knitting machine throughout the term. Emma gave me my first pair of knitting needles, pink metal Susan Bates, and taught me how to knit by hand. Ever since that class, she is one of my dearest friends.
Alison: I was a theater kid, and when I was around 15 I was cast in a play as an elderly woman who was knitting throughout the whole piece. Knowing even then how obvious it would be if I was faking knitting (and already being into crafts), I got a friend to show me the knit stitch and proceeded to make garter stitch scarves obsessively for about a year! Then my mom bought me a few knitting lessons so that I could learn the purl stitch and how to read a pattern. My first sweater was unwearable but I improved after that.
Above: Clem Cardigan free Berroco knitting pattern download, click this image to download
What inspires your designs?
Amy: Different designs begin from different places, sometimes its a certain stitch texture I want to pair with another, or it might be a shape I can’t get out of my head. I love surface design and pattern. I collect images from the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau and Art Deco as well as traditional motifs from various craft traditions around the world.
Emily: So many things! Of course nature is an inspiration, taking long walks outside is the best way for me to organize thoughts and I absolutely adore foggy days by the beach. Painting, sculpture and photography are also constant sources of inspiration. Mix that imagery with ready-to-where, whats on the runways and styled in editorial pages of magazines and my mind is racing with ideas.
Alison: I’m mostly inspired by what I want to wear and what I want to knit. I tend to like knitting fairly complicated things but I’m learning to simplify, and to enjoy the meditative nature of simple stitch patterns. Also, being on a design team is incredibly inspiring – one of my favorite designs from my time at Berroco is a piece called Agave that was assigned to me by Amy, who gave me a photo of a large, colorful necklace and asked me to design a yoke sweater based off of that.
What is your favorite thing to design, and what do you love to knit for yourselves?
Amy: I am a cardigan girl. I love that sweater construction involves so many different phases, I find I am almost never bored and cardigans are the most versatile garments to have in the wardrobe.
Emily: It is always changing! For a while all I wanted to knit were lace circles, but I just finished a sweater for myself that I never want to take off. So I think I’m back on a sweater kick.
Alison: I love cables, colorwork and lace. Particularly Fair Isle colorwork though – there is a wonderful rhythm to knitting with a color in each hand.
What is the process for creating a new design?
Amy: I try to design to the yarn. I begin with lots of swatches to learn what the yarn ‘wants’ to be. Then lots of sketching followed by more swatching.
Emily: Lots of drawing, swatching, graph paper, coffee, chocolate, and a walk to clear my thoughts. Then repeat until I’ve ended up somewhere good.
Alison: It really varies. Usually I start with a vague notion of what I want to make, then break out the stitch dictionaries and do a lot of swatching. Often the swatching takes me in a different direction from what I was originally thinking. Then when I know what stitch patterns I’m using, I’ll start making all the calculations. Usually I like to figure out all the sizes from the beginning using a spreadsheet – sometimes I’ll realize that something will work in some sizes but not others, and so that is good to plan for from the outset.
If you were a yarn, what would you be?
Amy: A nice natural 2 ply shetland-type wool. Something a little rustic but able to make all sorts of useful and beautiful things.
Emily: Maybe a curly soft mohair? I love any fiber that forms a halo. It always reminds me of a dreamy foggy day.
Alison: Probably something like Berroco Fiora, a blend of many different fibers, to represent my many varied interests.
Thank you both for chatting with me today! If you want to see all of these Berroco Designers’ patterns, click here.
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Last updated: February 25th, 2016.