Posted on | September 7, 2013 | 1 Comment
Recently, I had lunch with knitwear designer and author, Melissa Wehrle, where we chatted about knitting, designing, and her gorgeous new collection — Metropolitan Knits. Melissa was kind enough to let me pick her brain on what inspires her, the genesis of her book, and her insights into the industry.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that Melissa is a dear friend of mine. In fact, when I was gearing up to write this post, I did a quick email search to find our first correspondence, dated July 22nd 2006 (7 years ago!):
I bought your pattern a few weeks ago using my
I finally received the yarn that I intend to use
(Jaggerspun Zephyr) and would like to join the KAL.
The manner in which we met really speaks to her generosity as a knitter and designer. I fell in love with one of her indie patterns (Grannie Smith), bought it, and instantly ran into trouble with it because I was new to knitting sweaters and new to knitting lace. Because I didn’t know any better, I blithely emailed the contact on the pattern and Melissa responded within 48 hours and hand held me through how to block a lace gauge swatch, decreasing in lace, and the fit of set-in sleeves.
She’s continues to be the first person I go to for design advice and knitting encouragement. She’s active in her knitting community and really passionate about her craft. But I’ll let the rest of the interview speak for itself (my questions in italics, her responses in bold):
Your book is wonderfully varied — from textured stitches to lace to jersey and everything in between. Do you have a favorite fabric to work with? What are some of the qualities of hand knit fabric that speak to you?
I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite, every fabric speaks to me at some time or another. Although I must admit that I do love knitting lace and cable stitches, they keep the knitting interesting. I love designing hand knit fabric for the simple reason that I can start from scratch and get exactly the look I am going for, whether it is a slinky loose knit jersey cowl or a structured chunky cable cardigan. I am also drawn to rustic, woolly, sheepy yarns, something that you just can’t buy in any store.
I love how the designs in your book are very different and yet they totally work as a cohesive collection. You have very classic shapes such as the Magnolia Cafe Cardigan and Atrium Cardigan and then some very bold and dramatic pieces like the Carriage House Cardigan with its cinched back detail and free floating fronts. When you were planning the collection, what elements did you envision would tie the collection together?
When planning the collection, the overall idea of New York City and little details throughout my designs then acted as a larger umbrella in which each chapter fell under. For each chapter, I wanted to tie everything together in three ways. Sticking to a season (either Fall, Winter, or Spring), a loose feeling of uptown, downtown, and city parks, and a separate color story for each chapter. I felt as long as I stuck to these three ideas for each chapter, I was a little less restricted in developing the silhouettes for the book.
What do you like best about designing hand knits (and more broadly speaking, knitting)? What do you like least? How does your day job as a designer for a junior sweater company inform your work – or are they completely separate endeavors?
I love seeing other knitters make my creations. While knitting them for myself is quite enjoyable, it isn’t quite the same as seeing your sweater show up at a fiber festival or even Ravelry. With so many great patterns out there to knit, having a knitter choose to invest their time in my design is the ultimate compliment.
There isn’t really much that I don’t like about designing hand knits, although swatching for new designs isn’t exactly high up on my list. I have missed so many submission calls even though I had some great ideas because it involved knitting up a swatch. I don’t know why this should bother me so much, especially since I live for gauge swatches! When I can communicate my idea with only a sketch, yarn and stitch description is when I am happiest.
My full-time job as a sweater designer is pretty different from the hand knit side in regards to how the product gets made, but I do gain knowledge and inspiration from each that cross over. For example, I have measured and fit more sweaters for my full-time job than anyone would care to imagine! I then take this experience over to my hand knits to tailor a really nice fit for my patterns.
Like many designers working today, you share your work in a variety of venues. What is your favorite medium for show casing your work? What do you think is the future of hand knit design?
This is a tough question for the simple reason that I share my work in a variety of venues for different reasons. I think when it comes down to it, it is really the design that decides where it belongs. Every publication has a different audience and I try to cater my design work with this idea in mind. For example, while having a larger audience such as a magazine is always nice, sometimes a design is too unique to fit in and calls to be submitted to a smaller internet publication or be self-published. Also, diversification never hurts! Sometimes new fans are found this way.
Hmm, future of knit design…….if I knew, I’m not sure I would tell!
How did you come upon New York City as the overarching theme for your book? In what ways is the city represented by your collection? Do you have a follow up collection in mind? What’s next on your plate?
When I was offered the chance to do my book, without even thinking about it too hard, I knew New York had to be the main theme. There is just so much inspiration to be taken from the city and the people living in it. With 20 patterns, I felt this was the perfect venue to really let my the idea of the city shine. I tried to represent a different part of the city in each of the three chapters. In Heart of the City, the designs are a bit more polished and uptown in feeling. For Urban Bohemia, I went for a more casual downtown feeling. And finally for City Gardens, I was inspired by all of the different green spaces around the city from Central Park to the High Line.
I’m not really sure what will be my next project. I’m taking a little bit of time off to recover, promote the book, and fill back up the well after such a large project. I do hope to get back to publishing new designs soon though!