Indie designer of the week: Jenise Reid
Jenise’s pattern, Crown Tee, was featured on our LoveKnitting designers launch banner and it certainly stole a few hearts. We just had to chat to Jenise and find out about how she designs such romantically, beautiful knitwear patterns. Click here to see Jenise’s full collection.
Hi Jenise! Tell us a bit about yourself.
I knit German style, and purl in a crazy modified German method. I prefer knitting in the round if at all possible because I hate (for no good reason!) turning my work around.
I love either very, very bright and crisp colors, or all the subtle shades between white, cream, charcoal, and brown. If you peeked in my closet, you couldn’t miss that almost half of it is white or cream.
Beyond knitting, I enjoy making (and eating!) complex desserts. I am enough of a geek to need to know how and why it works, and so I often read food science books. Anything by Harold McGee is fabulous.
A lot of people think I am a romantic from looking at my patterns. Not really! I tend towards a pretty and feminine style, but I am very rationally driven, and the math/administrative end of design is really enjoyable to me. I am excited when I go to do my bookkeeping.
When and why did you start knitting?
I started when I happened upon Knit Picks Independent Designer Program. I was already a fan of their wool, and decided to just send in a couple of proposals just for the fun of it. I did not expect them (all of them!) to be accepted, but I couldn’t say no. I didn’t know anything about the industry, and I slowly learned everything I needed to know as I went about doing it. I had to learn what a PDF was and how to create one. I needed to figure out how to write out a sweater with more than one size. I had to learn something about making charts. It was occasionally overwhelming, but satisfying and enjoyable.
I didn’t start off knowing nothing about making clothing – long before I knit anything I was sewing. And not just sewing, but studying (sewing) pattern drafting, drafting custom patterns and sewing for other people, and making a large portion of the clothing I wear day-to-day. A lot of those skills, like being able to make a good guess at how much ease I need to create a certain effect, and how to shape a sleeve to fit a shoulder, I already knew before learning to knit and certainly before I ever tried to write a knitting pattern.
Most of the design/writing process came very easily, it really fit what I can do and like to do. When I got my first cheque in the mail, I saw that there was potential to build a business and decided to give it a try. I don’t regret it!
Tell us about a typical day in the life of a knitwear designer…
There is no such thing! I love the fact that every day is different and has different work lined up for it than the one before. One day I will head out in the morning to do a photo shoot with a couple of friends, and then spend the afternoon editing and putting the photos online. I might spend a week knitting 8 hours a day because I need to finish knitting a big sample. Some days are full of bookkeeping or pattern-math. Occasionally I will have some design days when I am busy trying out ideas in yarn (these are particularly fun days!) and planning what patterns to make next. Sometimes I will have an exciting release day when I can’t keep up with the comments and messages. I generally have a couple goals for the week/month, but every day I do what seems the most pressing right then.
Above: The Crown Tee
One of the best things about working from home is that I can mix up business and housework. I will pause knitting and put a load of laundry in, or answer emails while I wait for the food in the oven to cook. When working out of the house, it was so annoying to have to remember to do things in the short window of time at home. Now I just pause to do it in the middle of my work so I don’t forget. So, design happens any and every time – I don’t keep any set work hours!
What is your most popular pattern? And which pattern did you most enjoy designing?
Persian Dreams is the most popular, which still sometimes amazes me because it is a serious commitment to decide to make it! It took me two months to get it knit, and lots of the ladies knitting it in the evenings are spending a full year on it.
Twigs Stole was one of the most fun. One of the ladies in my group on Ravelry actually asked me for the pattern. She loved a sweater I was making and really wanted that stitch in a shawl. I didn’t have time to knit it myself, but I did like the idea too. So I wrote the pattern, Mary-Ann knit it, a friend of hers was testing the pattern, and the three of us together made it happen. It was really fun to work with the two of them, and I love the finished shawl.
Where do you find your inspirations when sitting down to design a pattern?
Not sitting down! I usually have a number of ideas in my head, and I brood over them as I knit or when I should be asleep. By the time I make it to the sketching and swatching stage, I have worked out almost all the details. Swatches and sketches will tell me if the idea has any potential, and I will keep brooding over it for at least a couple days before deciding if I should do it.
I think calling myself a “designer” gives a false impression that I sit in a pretty studio all day with a sketchpad and dream about what to make. In reality, only a couple days a year will be spent like that. Like most Indy knitwear designers, after deciding what to make, I am the one to figure out what sizes to make, how to make them and relate them to each other. I write the pattern out, knit (and reknit as needed) the sample, draw schematics, make charts, check and recheck my work before it goes out for someone else to have a go at picking out errors. I am usually either a model or photographer on photoshoots (or both), I edit and work with the photos and pattern layout. Then when it is all done, I am the one getting it all online and letting people know, doing customer service, bookkeeping, and advertising. It might be more accurate to call myself a “pattern writer”! When I have more on my plate than I can do, I have been known to hire someone to deal with some of the uploading of information, and I hire sample knitters as needed.
Above: Leaves Skirt
Oh yeah, the question was about inspiration! I always have an eye out for things that look simple at first glance, but are actually very complex. Lots of natural things are so – like a pinecone (which is where the Pinecone Toque came from) or leaves (as in my Leaves Skirt). I sometimes find myself frustrated with knitting when I try to translate that complexity into a garment, the stitches are too bulky (even in fingering weight) to fit that level of detail. Once or twice I have literally woken up with an idea, and it grew from there, which was the case with Persian Dreams. Sometimes I just think “wouldn’t it be fun to _____” and work out of that, like when I made Twist Pullover or Wave Sweater and wanted to work the shaping into the stitch pattern, or Pull Toque when I wanted ear flaps without short rows. My friends will ask me about things too, “have you ever thought about making a ___?” and that can result in patterns too; I had never heard of a bootcuff till a friend asked me if I had ever made one. They looked so fun that I couldn’t resist making a collection of them!
Above: Twist Pullover
What is your absolute must-have knitting accessory?
Besides the basics like my beloved circular needles, definitely the measuring tape. I use it to check gauge like everyone should, but I also use it to keep track of my current body measurements, and to measure the sweaters in my closet for reference. I keep track of my gauge: I note the gauge before, right after, and long after blocking the swatch. This way, when I am knitting and I begin to doubt if my gauge is on track, I just check it and compare with the before-blocking gauge. When I block the item, I see if there is a difference between fresh-blocked gauge and “settled” gauge to know if I should block slightly larger than the schematic. If you want it to fit, keeping the gauge on track is essential.
I am light on knitting accessories; I cable without cable needles, I don’t use row counters. If I forget my scissors I don’t worry about it. I am careful to always have a pencil nearby, but that is so I can make notes/corrections on the pattern so I remember later to fix it. Usually it is just me, needles, yarn, and some sort of ruler/measuring device.
Where are you going with your work now?
I am moving towards more complex patterns – I love a long project! Right now I am working on a collection of fingering or lace weight sweaters, and they have been delightful to make. I like the odd fast knit here and there, but I mostly prefer to knit the same thing every day for a couple weeks at a time.
If you were a yarn , what would you be and why?
Classic Elite Firefly. Simple, elegant, but not typical!
What would be your three tips for someone looking to start designing his/ her own patterns?
1. Focus on quality. Whatever you are making, make it well. There is lots of room for different styles and needs – do what you love, but do it well. Whatever you make, it should “work” (fit well, keep you warm/cool, do whatever it should do) and it should be aesthetically appealing in whatever style you prefer.
2. Be patient, and work hard. Expect to need to work full time for a year (or two, or ten) before you start seeing a significant amount of income coming in. Only occasionally does a designer make it up there suddenly, usually designers make it by just keeping going. The best thing you can do to become popular and keep sales going is to design even when you are discouraged. The same holds true when things are going well. Knit design is competitive and if you want to stay up, you need to keep on working!
3. Learn from the best. I keep my eyes open all the time for clothing that strikes me as particularly beautiful or flattering, and consciously note the details. How exactly it fits, what color, what fiber, where the design lines are and how they are made. When I see a gorgeous fashion photo, I think about what kind of light was involved and how to recreate it. I examine the styling and pose. When I read a pattern, I think about how it is organized, and how they explain how to do things. Basically, whenever I see something that seems particularly well made or appeals to me, I like to take note of what details went together to make it so.
Thanks for joining us, Jenise! Click here to see all Jenise’s patterns.
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Last updated: December 1st, 2014.