Meet Ann Weaver! Ann currently works as a freelance developmental editor, copyeditor, and occasional project manager from her laptop while designing handknits, teaching classes in design and color theory, and transforming some warehouse space in Peabody, Massachusetts into Weaverknits Studio. She'll be teaching two classes at Knit Fit! this year: Color Theory and the Albers Cowl and Square and Rectangular Shawls From the Inside Out. Click here to register.
Check out her latest color explorations in the recently released ebook Twentieth Century Graphic and her Container Ships pattern club which is running now. You can see what else she's up to on her blog, and find her designs on Ravelry under weaverknits.
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Who taught you to knit? My mom and grandma. Neither was very good. I learned to knit and purl in a straight line. I taught myself everything else. My grandma, however, was an excellent crocheter, so I was making granny squares when I was about 7 years old.
What was the catalyst that took you from knitting to designing? From the time I started knitting I was designing my own things, mostly scarves. I didn't even know there were patterns for things like scarves; I just made up stitch and color combinations. I learned to knit sweaters from Rowan books when I was about 21, but after knitting two from patterns I started using the schematics in pattern books to create my own simple sweaters. After a while, I started looking at high-end sweaters at Neiman Marcus, take notes on their construction, and use the ideas to make my own, even better, garment. Submitting to knitty forced me to write out and size a pattern, so that's when I really became a designer rather than a craft worker making one-off pieces.
Tell us about your design process. Well, first I get an idea about the sort of thing I'd like to capture in a piece of knitting. It can be something simple and visual (like the Steve McQueen jacket after which I modeled my Le Mans baby jacket in Craft Work Knit), or it can be a vague idea ("The Whiteness of the Whale" chapter in Moby-Dick). I think about how it fits in with my other work, because I have a lot of themes I'm following and will continue to follow, and I think about the sort of garment that would best capture the idea I want to convey. For the White Whale books in particular, I don't approach them thinking, "This chapter will be a hat. This will be a jacket because it talks about a jacket." I think about the sort of yarn, textures, and silhouette that would be best. And the best size. At this point I usually have an idea of what I'm going to make. Then I start swatching like crazy to get the pattern, texture, gauge, and yarn perfect before I start the sample.
That's the more labor-intensive design process, when I'm thinking about a collection of patterns or a theme I'd like to follow. My simpler design process is based on experiments with texture, color, and creating different shapes and structures that are knit in one piece. I'll be teaching this process in my Square Shawls class at Knit Fit. I've done so much experimentation with these ideas over the past year that I like to pass on the knowledge so knitters who take the workshop have a base from which to start their own completely personalized projects (with no counting and no charts unless they want one)!
We love the way you talk about knitting as skilled work, a craft in a different sense that how we usually hear it. How did this perspective come about for you? How do people tend to react to this idea? A lot of people don't understand it, which is fine. The idea sank in when I was a bread baker and felt the satisfaction that comes from working in a skilled trade, producing something wonderful. My husband has worked as a mechanic, and interior painter, and now in facilities maintenance, and is always making things and fixing things. I realized that that's what I do with my knitting: I do skilled work and produce a wonderful product. Studs Terkel's book, Working, is also a HUGE inspiration. Some of the most fulfilled and content workers he profiled were those who made things, who could point to what they did and say, "See?" I think that's a blessing. I like looking at the things I've made and say, "See? I made that. It was nothing, and now it's something."
Do you have any tips for people just starting to cultivate their color sense? Here's a simple one. If your colors are looking really bland when you put them together and you can't figure out why, squint your eyes and imagine that they are shades of gray. If you're more meticulous, you can take a photo of your yarns and look at it in grayscale. If you're getting a blah vibe from your yarns, it's most likely due to the fact that they're very similar in value—that is, none are much lighter or darker than the others. Add a very light (stay away from WHITE white however; stick with natural sheep white) or a very dark color in place of one of your chosen colors. There! It's better, right?
Tell us about your new studio and grand plans for it. (when can we visit?!) The studio is LOVELY. I'm waiting on two more small parts for my HUGE Le Clerc floor loom, and then I'll be weaving. I'm looking forward to having some relaxing time there, weaving for myself—a hobby! I should be full steam ahead by the end of August. Right now I've been using it as a space to measure and examine the garments for which I check patterns (I do some tech editing and pattern checking) and to lay out my own garments and write the patterns. My home "office" is far too cluttered with editing stuff to spread out what I need to write knitting patterns.
In the fall, I'll be having some knitting nights and teaching some workshops. I'm also going to open the studio to other teachers who would like to use the space to teach on a very reasonable per diem basis. It can be difficult to find yarn stores at which to teach, and often this teaching doesn't pay very well, so I want to offer teachers an alternative space.
I encourage anyone in the Boston area, or visiting the Boston area, to contact me and stop by!
You seem to approach design sort of like painting or photography - can you tell us more about the conceptual phase of your design work? I think I put more thought about theme, mood, and references into my designs than a lot of knitwear designers do. When I started designing, I was working out my aesthetic and created a lot of patterns that I think are cool, wearable, and flattering, but that I probably wouldn't design now because they don't have enough meaning to me. I think there's a learning curve to becoming a proficient designer, and I'm getting to the point where I have enough skills in my toolbox to execute my bigger ideas. My process now includes more thinking, listing, researching, looking at new yarns, and swatching than it does actual knitting. The knitting part is the relaxing part, which is why I knit nearly all my own samples, because I love it.
Right now I'm finding a way to make books and collections that speak cohesively about a theme (Moby-Dick, color theory and graphic design, shipping and industry, and regional themes, to name a few of my current and upcoming projects—looks like it's going to be a three-book fall, which is crazypants), that are beautiful objects themselves (especially in a digital age), and that contain patterns that are appealing to a large range of knitters. I also want the individual patterns to be strong enough that knitters who aren't into whatever theme I'm exploring will buy one pattern because it's just cool. So far, so good.
What are some sources of visual inspiration for you? My current and ongoing obsessions include early punk style, rust, ships old and new, machinery and industry, athletic uniforms (the odder the better), the Bauhaus school, Ad Reinhardt's work, signs/flags/symbols, Edward Burtynsky's work, abandoned buildings, David Lynch. That's just a few. I'm always thinking about new things and making lists that usually get lost in the mountain of paper and clutter that is my life.
Tell us about your most epic knitting disaster. I've knit a lot of ill-fitting stuff, and I've knit with some unfortunate yarns, but the biggest disaster for several reasons was when I was knitting a new sweater design. I had a tight deadline and the project had a small gauge, but I was moving quickly. The sleeves were knit separately. When I blocked the pieces, I realized that one of the sleeves was INCHES smaller than the other. I had used a needle TWO SIZES SMALLER than I should have. I spent the evening trying to "block it out." (That did not work. Duh.) I am such an idiot.
Favorite recent project? Definitely Chittagong. The idea of a series of knitting patterns based on container ships and shipbreaking had been on my Unprofitable and Likely Unappealing Ideas list for a while (below the Ad Reinhardt Black Collection and above the Blank Generation sweater series inspired by Johnny Rotten and Richard Hell). I mentioned the idea on my blog and got a bunch of enthusiastic comments, so I decided to go for it. Chittagong was the first project, and the response has been far greater than I could have imagined. I LOVE the finished object, but more than that I love seeing others cranking out versions in different color combinations. Having a design you love, and that others love, and that others "get" is the best ever.
Show us some grellow! You've got it!