Back in 2013, I bought a knitting book that would change the course of my future. That book was Journey, by Jane Richmond and Shannon Cook. Journey is stunning. The photographs, the words, and of course the patterns. I found myself flipping thru those pages again and again. Every single pattern was one that I wanted to knit, and I wanted to be on that Journey. I wanted a suitcase full of hand knits as I set off on one of life's great adventures. In my own way - I did just that. I had been longing to design my own patterns and to submerse myself deeper into a creative life, and that book was like a whisper in my ear "what are you waiting for??" I set off on my own Journey and have never looked back. I am so grateful to Jane and Shannon for putting something so beautiful and inspiring out into the world. I have often wondered if they know how much they have impacted myself and others.
I was thrilled when they released Within, another collection of 6 breathtaking patterns, submersed in the pages of an inspiring book full of gorgeous photographs and a story of a strong, independent woman that I think speaks to many of us. Yet again, I want to knit EVERY. SINGLE. PATTERN! This is never the case for me, and I think a massive accomplishment on the part of these two talented women. Their work is truly admirable. I thought it would be amazing to gain a little more insight into Shannon & Jane and who they are, and I am happy to be able to share this little interview with them today!
How did you come to knit design?
Shannon: I started blogging after my daughter was born in 2007 about what I was making, sewing, knitting & so on and once that began to take off I started some themed knit alongs hosted on my blog. For one of the knit alongs in 2011 I decided to make up my own design to knit, and after that a cowl for my daughter. During all that I got bit real bad by the design bug! I was in love. I had already been designing sewing tutorials & patterns by this time so starting in knitting seemed really natural for me. I now design way more knitting patterns than sewing which is funny how things work out!
Jane: During my pregnancy and afterwards I found myself knitting a lot more than I ever had in the past. While on maternity leave I discovered Ravelry and that opened up an entire world of knitters to me. Although I'd been knitting since I was young, I had never had any knitting friends before. Creating my own patterns was just a natural progression and the encouragement from knitting friends and this newfound online community gave me the courage to share my work.
What is your comfort knit?
Shannon: My comfort knit is always shawls. I love them. They represent blank canvases to me. Fun open spaces to explore stitch patterns, texture and movement. I never get tired of them.
Jane: Sweaters are definitely my go to -- they are my knitting happy place. I love the process of knitting a sweater and the sense of accomplishment once it's finished. A hand knit sweater that fits well and is flattering is very rewarding.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Shannon: I find myself inspired for designs by music the most. I will hear notes in a song, or a special lyric and bam - inspired! I'm also inspired by tv/movie & book characters. There's always something so fun in the "story" behind the knits and I love designing things I adore that are inspired this way. I'm also lucky enough to live in a breathtaking city on Vancouver Island that provides an endless backdrop for inspiration.
Jane: I really just design for my wardrobe (or my daughters wardrobe!). My designs are just things I'd like to have and wear.
Can you tell us a bit about your design process?
Shannon: For my design process I usually always start with some sort of texture/movement that is representative of what inspired it. I then sketch and find the drool worthy yarn to make the project with and begin to swatch. After I'm happy with my swatch I formulate a plan and what I call a "loose pattern". I've found that as I've grown as a designer I love the freedom of thinking of my pieces as canvases to design on. Growing up I spent my days in school in art class and the darkroom and I think I work best thinking of each pattern as it's own blank canvas. I like to be able to knit what I feel if that makes sense, almost like sketching but instead with needle/yarn. I like to see how the fabric is making me feel, the movement in the stitches etc. Sometimes a swatch is not enough for me and I like to just go with it when working on the pattern design. I take copious notes and after following my "loose pattern" (this is for stitch counts, gauge, etc) I then type up the final copy after which then gets tech edited and then tested before release.
Jane: Inormally begin with lots of swatching! I will swatch to determine the general fabric and stitch pattern as well as to practice and test design elementsI plan to use. From there I'll work through the math using enormous spreadsheets. Once I have the numbers firmed up, I begin the written pattern. From there I can knit the sample. I like to work from a finalized pattern because it puts me in the shoes of the knitter and I can tweak the writing and format based on my experience during the process. The pattern also goes through professional technical editing and test knitting before being published.
What do you feel has been the most important factor in pushing your design career forward?
Shannon: Believing in myself and having confidence that there are people who also love what I love. I only design things that I'm passionate about and thoroughly enjoy making/wearing and I feel so blessed that other knitters/sewers have embraced my patterns and feel the same way. Without them I wouldn't be doing what I am lucky enough to do each day. They truly allow me to live out my dreams and to grow as a designer. I pinch myself each day that this get's to be my job.
Jane: I’m not sure if I can name one particular factor, it's felt very gradual to me as I've built and developed my portfolio over the years.
Within is absolutely stunning! How did you arrive at the focus for this book?
Shannon: Thank you! I'm so glad you are enjoying it! This is a tricky question..that doesn't actually have an easy quick answer....lol. Jane and I both have different ways that we approach design and when we put together new collections we have to marry our two styles and design processes. Within organically took shape based on what we were both going through in our lives over the past few years and also the story we wanted to show in the photo essay. We really wanted "Gryffin" to represent that one can truly be comfortable and at peace with oneself and in doing so - can then feel the same with that special person in her life. We wanted the pieces in Within to be cozy and comfortable - those key pieces you turn to again and again that are effortless to wear and relaxing/fun to make. They make you confident and comfortable in your own skin so to speak.
Jane: The focus for Within was on warmth and coziness -- deep winter and bundling up. That was our starting point, from there, is where I feel most of our decisions stemmed. We chose suitable yarns that were warm, woolly, and hard wearing. Our mood boards were full of snowy, deep winter scenes. The styling and photo shoot was a bit moodier and more seasonal. I think all of the pieces certainly work outside of deep blustery winter weather but it was fun to design with woolly warmth in mind, daydreaming of snow days and cozying up near a crackling fire.
If you could give one skein from your stash to a new knitter, which would it be?
Shannon: Brooklyn Tweed Shelter or Arbor. I would want to start a new knitter off with a wooly texture. I feel like as I've grown as a knitter this is my happy place. I love wool. I feel like sometimes new knitters get swayed by the "softness" factor and then don't appreciate the special nuances of wool as they get turned off by it or scared to work with it. I'd throw them in right off the start with wool and I think Shelter and Arbor would be great places to actually have them feel and experience both things. Wool, texture and softness and lightness.
Jane: I love this question! Quite honestly I would give the knitter a skein of Cascade 220! I love wool, pure wool, and this yarn is a work horse! It's smooth and soft for 100% wool, it's durable and hard wearing, economical and generous in yardage, and it comes in the most amazing heathered colourwars, Mustard is one of my faves but they're all lovely! It's a really versatile yarn suitable for so many projects (hats, mitts, sweaters, you name it).
You are both mamas - how do you balance motherhood and your work?
Shannon: Hahaha.....I wish I had an answer to that. I'm still learning and I think this is something all mothers work on and struggle with for life. It's a constantly changing lifestyle so you're always having to learn to adapt and move along with the changes. My girls are both in school now but my days are short. I typically work from 9am to 2pm. Then try to squeeze in an hour or so before dinner while they play. Most days though I work at night. I do a lot of knitting at night etc and I've been learning to save my weekends more for me and my family where in the past I had to work on weekends. I struggle with finding the time in each day to get all the things done I'd like to and also be a good mother and wife. Life's not easy working from home and the hours are hard but I've learned to work very well in chaotic environments am and I'm an ace at multi-tasking. It's the only way I've survived up to this point.....lol....that and my microwave timer (I use this for timing tasks etc).
Jane: For me, I really struggle with multitasking, and found working around Elsie very challenging. I felt I was doing everything marginally and it was hard for me to find balance during the first few years. When we reached a point where daycare was a necessity (I went back to working a day job in addition to designing), things really shifted for me in a positive way. I was able to set regular work hours and be more productive during my work day. During my off time I felt more present as a parent and turn off work mode, it helped me feel more balanced.
Do you feel that your creativity has helped to sustain your personal identity since becoming a mama?
Shannon: A HUGE yes. I'm a very creative person and always have been. Whether it's art, dance or making- I've been doing it since I was a little girl. Without creativity you don't have me. I felt lost after I had my first daughter and really struggled being out of the "typical" work environment. I'm very social and love people so starting to blog about my creative passions and what I was making helped me to nurture, grow and turn my passions into my career. I'm so glad I woke up in the middle of the night one night and just started blogging and reaching out to other moms who were at home and looking for a sense of "community" online. It's been a dream come true and a saving grace for me.
Jane: Definitely! Especially having a creative outlet that is shared with such a warm and responsive community like the one I've found among knitters. I feel so encouraged and supported.
What advice would you give to people out there wanting to follow their creative dreams?
Shannon: Do it - you never know unless you try and seriously - life is just too darn short not to just give it a go. Also research, research and research more. Ask advice and reach out to your peers. I learned so much from other people in the industry and have always been so thankful for the online and one on one support other sewing/knitting bloggers/designers have given to me. I suggest having a plan and slowly implementing it. The biggest thing is not to set too high of an expectation for yourself. For example do not expect to be able to sustain blogging 7 days a week for life....and so on. Be reasonable and realistic with your goals and plans - and expect super long hours and tons of hard work. It takes a lot of serious dedication and sacrifice but if you love it and it's in your soul it's all worth it <3
Jane: When I began designing, I did not have the luxury of jumping in feet first without any supplemental income or safety net. I worked full time and did design work on the side. It took years of doing both before I was finally able to leave my day job and pursue my dream job full time. Having another income while I was building my design portfolio relieved the pressure for my creative work to fully support me right away. I honestly felt that if the situation had been different, if it had been all or nothing, the pressure and obligation to succeed would have really dampened my creativity. It's hard to be creative out of necessity rather than just pure passion and love for what you're doing.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING WITH US TODAY, SHANNON & JANE!!
I hope you will go check out all of Shannon & Jane's books and that you will find inspiration, friendship, and warmth within their pages! I am stoked that I get to giveaway a copy of Within to one of you lucky readers!! Please leave a comment telling me about a turning point in your own life - whether it lead you to greater self love, a new career, or even just a new haircut that made you feel awesome! Remember to include your email address in the body of the comment so that I have a way to contact you if you win!
Congratulations to last weeks winner of the West Water Tunic - Amber!!!
Happy Knitting and Happy Holidays!!