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Interview: Jenise Hope


This morning’s interview is with Canadian designer Jenise Hope of Feminine by Design, perhaps best known for her Persian Dreams blanket.

Jenise Hope

Jenise, modeling the January pullover

Who taught you to knit/crochet – How did you learn to knit/crochet?
My aunt taught me to cast on and work garter stitch when I was about 12. I knit a bit that summer, then forgot all about it. When I was 18 or so I taught my younger sister to knit using books from the library (even though I couldn’t really knit myself), and then from there eventually decided to give it a try myself, again using books to figure it all out.

How did you get started designing?
It was on a complete whim, just for fun, with the Knit Picks IDP program. When one of those first patterns became popular and sold quite well, I realized there was potential to build a business and decided to give it a serious try for a year or two. I never stopped!

What inspires your designs?
Everything! Right now, probably the most dominant source of inspiration comes from my own wardrobe – I like to make the kinds of things I like to wear.

Which comes first – the yarn or the inspiration?
Depends on the project, but usually the inspiration and then it’s a huge search to find an appropriate yarn. I prefer yarn-first, then I don’t have to find the right yarn, which can be a long and difficult search.

What characteristics do you try to incorporate in your designs?
I don’t enjoy finishing, so I try to minimize that. I like seamless when it makes sense, in part because I like to see the right side of my work at all times, and I have an irrational hatred of turning my work around. Beyond that, each design is its own creation and I love to experiment as I knit so you won’t find a lot of common threads through my work.

What is your favorite type of item to design?
The one I have planned to do next, always. It is more fun to think up ideas and plan than to do the hard work and math to get a pattern completed!

I get the most satisfaction out of my sweaters. Honestly, sweater patterns are usually the most complex and convoluted patterns to create, partly due to the complex construction, part to the fact that it needs to look good on, but mostly because I write them in 6 sizes and it is a mental workout to imagine how each detail will change or stay the same in each size and how to write them all together in a way that makes sense! Without fail, every sweater pattern involves some late nights and hours staring at a spreadsheet of numbers (the key measurements and stitch counts for each size) while I mentally knit each size and then place it on a body that size and evaluate how my choices will look on each body shape. All from a page of numbers, and there is plenty of doubt and double checking numbers while I go. If I seriously considered the time and headache a sweater pattern is to write, I probably wouldn’t have any. But I love knitting them, and love owning and wearing them, and that’s what I consider when I start a new sweater pattern. After the headache stage, when the pattern is basically complete, it is deeply satisfying to have worked through so many challenges.

Toques and cowls I design mostly for fun – I enjoy using them, and the patterns I could practically write in my sleep. It is such a relief to write a basic pattern after doing some difficult ones. I couldn’t only do them, though. I get bored and need challenges!

Tell me about your “Epic Projects”, what is the story behind some of these pieces?
Generally, my “Epic Projects” are the ideas I had that were so complex or time consuming that I never thought anyone else would ever want to knit them, but for some reason the idea was compelling to me and I did it just because I had to.

The most epic would probably be my Persian Dreams. I had this thing that I wanted to try making a modular blanket, with colorwork, in a Persian theme. I don’t like small blankets, so it had to be decently large. I had a fairly specific color palette I wanted to use, and thanks to that, I had to change plans from making it in sport weight to fingering as I couldn’t find the right colors in sport. Who would ever want to knit a massive colorwork blanket in fingering weight? I assumed no one else would, but I was completely wrong! It is my best selling pattern by far, having sold thousands of copies (even now, when I consider this it is hard to believe), and on Ravelry I love to hang out in the KAL thread and watch blankets in progress and complete. Just a little while ago I made a worsted weight version of the pattern, and I also have a completely different sport weight blanket with a similar construction. They are really fun to watch grow, though they are time consuming!

Second to Persian Dreams would be my Twig Sweater. Cobweb weight, all lace, and the shaping is in the stitch pattern. Nupps too. Ironically, this was actually the first sweater I ever knit (I was fairly confident in lace skills by then, and charting and adapting lace stitches came naturally), and the reason it is so complex is that I was deeply concerned about if a thicker yarn would be flattering to wear (this might be a good reason to use sport or fingering weight, but I fell in love with Centolavaggi in my LYS, and so ended up with cobweb. Also, it is a single skein project, and when you are worried that you might not like the end result, cobweb is very affordable, even in a lovely soft merino). Thanks to my fascination with lace stitches and basic skills altering stitch patterns, it seemed like an enjoyable challenge to work all the shaping in the stitch pattern. And it was. Ok, and I was also convinced that I would give up if I had to make it in stockinette because it would be too boring. I had yet to learn the joys of mindless knitting. After starting to design, I didn’t dare try to write the pattern – it took a couple years before my sizing and writing skills were up to the task of figuring out different sizes and making them work together!

After that, I have some lace and fingering weight sweaters. I understand the joys of a quick worsted weight sweater, but the truth is that my skinny yarn sweaters are the ones I actually wear in my real life. They fit in my wardrobe, they are not too hot to wear indoors. Most of them exist because I wanted to knit a sweater that I would actually wear on a regular basis, not the handful of days a year when it is cold enough to wear a heavy layer of merino and I am going to be outdoors for some reason. I love my worsted sweaters, but I wear my lace and fingering ones.

Do you have an aspirational knit/crochet – a complicated/challenging design that you want to knit “some day” when you feel ready?
No? Right now, pretty much anything I can imagine that I also think would be desirable to make I feel that I am up to creating. I guess my pattern writing skills caught up to the limit of my imagination 😉

That said, I do have some complex ideas that I really want to make, but the feeling ready has more to do with having time to do it than skills to do it. I mean, Persian Dreams was my first colorwork pattern, and it only scratched the surface of what is possible with modular colorwork. It’s not like making more complex variations of that is going to be quick and easy like writing another toque pattern, I know it will be a somewhat experimental and a learning process, but I feel better equipped to do that than I did when I made Persian Dreams!

What is coming next? What’s in your release queue?
A book! Last spring (while I was also in the process of getting engaged and married and moving, those were busy months) I had a publisher offer me a book contract and that is consuming the lion’s share of my time right now. It is slated to come out fall 2016, and those who are on my email list or members of my Ravelry group will hear all about it when I get closer to publishing time!

Your desert island yarn? (if you could only knit/crochet with one yarn from now on which would it be?)
Just one? The very thought makes me sad! If I am allowed unlimited choice of the colors of that yarn, Palette from Knit Picks, because I have a lot of favorites among those 150 colors, and I like using skinny yarns. If I am not allowed a large stock of all the 150 colors, I would probably pick a favorite color from Malabrigo’s Merino Worsted, though I also wouldn’t like to be limited to worsted weight (is the desert island cold at night? I might never wear anything I make if it isn’t). Can I cheat and bring my favorite yarnie along instead? Here is what I do when I need a particular color and can’t find it anywhere: I email Stephanie from SpaceCadet and start begging! It is definitely a designers perk, to request custom colors, and it is the most wonderful feeling to describe the color I need and then have it arrive on my doorstep a month or so later, exactly as it should be.

Which is your most under-appreciated design?
Haha, probably July Tee. It is one of my most-worn handknits, and I quite enjoy amazing non-knitters when I say I made it. However, it does take a certain level of, well, I won’t say stupidity, perhaps commitment is the better word, to take on a positive-ease top in slippery laceweight silk at 8 stitches to the inch (32 to 4 inches). I only knit about half of my samples (Too many ideas and too little time to knit them all, so I am deeply thankful to my faithful sample knitters) but July I knit all by myself and made it through all the emotional highs and lows of such a slow and slightly picky project. Just a tip, the first 3 inches are the hardest part. It only gets better from there.

Why all the fuss and time? Well, laceweight just looks so perfect (no one would ever guess you made it yourself). July is a favorite cut of mine – the boxy tee – but with a huge improvement for those of us with curves. Bust Shaping. If you are over a c cup, you might notice that boxy cut tops will glide out to your bust, and then continue gliding outward over your stomach into a sort of point that can make you feel as though you are wearing a tent. In addition to this, you may also end up with some funny wrinkles under your arms and across your back at bust level. Either of these fit issues means your bust is too large for the cut, and both are easily fixed with some short rows over the bust (or darts in a sewn top). Bust shaping will make the back lie perfectly flat, and the front will hang straight down after your bust instead of swinging out. The larger your bust, the more dramatic these issues will be, and I have yet to ever see a commercially made tee with darts to fix this. Handmade, we can add the perfect amount of shaping for our body, and end up with a level of perfection and flattery that can’t be bought. Why silk, since it is so slippery to work with? Fingers get used to it after a couple rounds, and it won’t seem slippery anymore. But if you are asking why, I can probably take it for granted that you have never in your life worn pure silk. Everyone should try it at least once, and that’s real silk, not polyester. You might be tricked by the appearance, but when you are actually wearing the garment, especially on a hot day, pure silk is the single most comfortable fiber I can imagine. Polyester is completely different – cotton or linen are more comfortable than it.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share with other knitters/crocheters?
Keep experimenting, and try things that make you excited! If you know the basics (knit and purl, in the round or flat), you can try anything you want – You-Tube any techniques you don’t know as you work and make the things you really love. You will be an expert before you know it!

Any knitting/crochet/designing New Year’s resolutions?
No, I make resolutions all year whenever I feel the need for them 🙂 Right now, the main one is to keep track of where my needles and scissors are. So far, I am only half keeping it. I don’t think it counts when I find the scissors the next day… the other resolution is to stop leaving needles in half-knit swatches. This relates back to resolution 1 since it is a place that needles disappear to (a yarn bin) and whenever I feel that I am doing pretty well keeping it, I find a needle in a half knit swatch.

It should be a resolution to keep all the yarn neatly contained in specific storage bins, but I have not made that particular resolution because I don’t think I could keep it anyways. It is like a mental disorder, the need to have at least 6 skeins lying out in the open where I can see them. Whenever I put them all away, I find myself pulling yarn out just so I can see it.

If you could have dinner with one knitting/crochet designer (living or dead) who would it be and why?
Elizabeth Zimmerman. If it wasn’t for EZ’s books, I would never have tried to knit anything. She gave knitting a certain fascination and it compelled me to just do it.

I seriously wonder if I would enjoy her personality live (not in writing), but it would be nice to take her out just to say thank you!

View all of Jenise’s patterns here. All photos copyright Jenise Hope. All images used by permission.

You can find Jenise on the following social media sites:

What is the Gift-A-Long? The GAL is a big knitting and crochet designer promotion with prizes and more than 5,000 people participating in a giant KAL/CAL. Come join the GAL group on Ravelry!

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