In an exclusive interview for KnitFreedom, the man behind the Brooklyn Tweed scarf, the Hemlock Ring blanket, and the Koolhaas hat, shares inspiration, design advice, and how he the developed unique color-palettes behind his new Shelter and Loft yarns.
Jared Flood is also giving away three free patterns to KnitFreedom readers! (See below to download the patterns.)
So: How did one of the industry’s most classic knitwear designers get started? How does he get inspired? Read on and get to know Jared Flood.
The Beginning of Brooklyn Tweed
KnitFreedom: How did you get involved in the knitting industry?
Jared Flood: My background is in photography, design and 2D media. I studied painting, illustration and photography in both undergrad and graduate schools.
I never had any formal knitting training, but did put myself through a rather immersive ‘self-training’ when my obsession with knitting began in 2003. My mother is an avid knitter and lover of wool, and I think I got a lot of my appreciation for knitting from her.
I was very interested in it as a child and did learn, though never stuck with any one discipline long enough to become specialized (I learned knitting, crochet, macrame, lanyard weaving, etc. before ever entering grade school – so ‘string’ art has always appealed to me).
In college I had a friend who began knitting simple chenille scarves for her friends over the holiday break.
She was from rural Oregon and had nothing to do when she went home for Christmas, so spent most of the time knitting with her mom.
When we returned to school and I saw her knitting, I was captivated. I hadn’t seen anyone knitting since my childhood and was overcome by the urge to learn right away.
I wanted to make a sweater first, which was not in my friend’s knitting vocabulary, so pretty much right away I started searching for good books that I could learn from. There was very little on the internet at that time in the way of tutorials, etc. If I had been trying to learn now, the internet would have been an incredibly useful (and efficient) resource!
Advice For Designers: Patience and Trial-and-Error
KnitFreedom: Many of your designs have become “classics” – instantly recognizable and always recommendable. What is your most recognizable original knitwear design?
Jared Flood: Probably the Koolhaas hat, which was my second-ever ‘official’ design.
It was published in Interweave Knits Holiday 2007. I was (and still am) really surprised and delighted at how well people took to the pattern.
I see them every so often when I’m wandering around New York City. That’s always a surreal feeling.
As a designer, it’s always a big guess as to which designs will resonate with people and which won’t. I’ve given up trying to predict that – or cater to it– since the results are usually unexpected! It’s really fun to watch the designs go out into the real world once the work is done.
KnitFreedom: Many of my male readers seem to be starving for knitwear patterns designed for men. Do you think it’s important to have men design patterns for men?
Jared Flood: Not necessarily. I’ve seen men’s designs from female designers that really hit the mark, and men’s designs from male designers that really miss it.
Because I think most designers create what they would like to wear, there is something to men designing for men, but I don’t think that it ever guarantees anything.
Jared Flood: Be patient, and be prepared to make mistakes! Designing for handknitting is a lot about trial and error.
I have learned the most by trying things out, failing, and assessing why the situation didn’t work and how it could have been improved (though I guess this is a valid learning technique for most things in life!).
Because handknitting is more labor-intensive than machine knitting for example, the process can be more frustrating and more time-consuming than people who are learning knitwear design for ready-to-wear, etc.
I think the important thing is not to rush. When you make a mistake and think about how much more time it will take to fix it before you call a design ‘finished’, the temptation to compromise starts creeping in. That’s a dangerous temptation, and one that should be ignored as much as possible!
Photography: From Film to Digital
KnitFreedom: Your photography accentuates the beauty of the patterns on Brooklyn Tweed. Have you always been a photographer, or did the skill develop organically as your blog progressed?
Jared Flood: I was trained as a photographer prior to the advent of my knitting (or my blog), though I only shot with film cameras then. When I started my blog I didn’t have a digital camera that could function in the same way as my film cameras.
The early days of my blog were all on a point-and-shoot, which is definitely noticeable if you go through the archives.
Interestingly enough, my blog has sort of tracked my transition from film to digital. Over the span of 6 years, the work has improved slowly as I’ve become more comfortable developing pictures in photoshop vs. a physical darkroom, and invested in better cameras and lenses.
It seems funny now to think about shooting film, since digital technology is so advanced and accessible to everyone. I miss shooting film, but it doesn’t make sense for most people now, especially those living in small urban spaces!
The Story Behind “Shelter” and “Loft”
KnitFreedom: Over the past few years, you’ve added “yarn designer” to your resume. What yarns have you and the Brooklyn Tweed team created, and what makes them unique?
Jared Flood: We currently offer two yarns at Brooklyn Tweed – both are completely US-grown and produced products.
Shelter is a worsted weight 2-ply yarn with a woolen-spun construction, and Loft is the fingering weight ‘sibling’ yarn (constructed in the same way, with a slightly lighter twist and less fiber to create a thinner yarn).
I think the story of the yarn make them unique – it’s rare to find yarns that are completely US-made (the wool is grown, scoured, dyed, spun and distributed here).
It is so much easier and cheaper to make similar yarns by sourcing fiber and labor from Europe, China or South America.
The yarns are also woolen-spun (rather than the more commonly seen worsted-spun construction) and requires a different type of machinery than many mills have.
There are few remaining US mills that can spin true woolen yarns (you can count them on one hand), so the yarn project was also conceived as a small way of supporting and helping to preserve a dying American tradition.
Working with the historic mill in Harrisville, NH has been one of the most rewarding parts of this whole experience for me.
I’m very hopeful that the US-made yarn trend will catch on and increase, but it’s hard to tell what direction it will go. It’s certainly a much more difficult path from a yarn-producer’s standpoint to pull off!
Jared Flood: Developing the palette is my favorite part of the entire process.
All the colors in our yarn palette are blended heathers – meaning we take several colors of solid-dyed wool and mix them together before spinning the yarn.
This creates rich, sophisticated color blends that have a beautiful cross-range harmony.
This is a more difficult process than dip-dying solid yarns, but also much more rewarding when you nail the perfect shade you were after!
Learning how the colors behave when you start mixing is really interesting. The first thing that struck me was how similar creating heathers is to mixing oil paints.
I ended up drawing a lot on my Color Theory training from school, which I was very grateful to have had! It helped tremendously.
I work closely with the colorist at Harrisville to get the final blends.
In the beginning, I’ll begin collecting samples of colors that are headed in the direction of my final vision – it can be snippets of other yarns, woven fabrics, and even, in a few cases, photographs – and give them to the colorist.
I’ll often provide notes with the samples like “I love this red, can we add a little more black?” etc. From there we create sample pads of fiber (like miniature bats) with 7-10 variations of the target.
I handspin each pad and then assess the nuances of each color all together, once they are spun. The colors do change their behavior slightly from loose fiber to finished yarn, so spinning the pads is very important.
With Loft, we expanded the palette to 32 colors, which was so much fun but also incredibly difficult! The more colors you get, the more colors you want. Editing becomes very important, and thinking about the range of the palette as a whole.
Sometimes I get stuck on a particular color family – like greens or oranges – and end up with 4 or 5 more shades of that color than is appropriate for the balance of the full palette. There are several colors that haven’t been seen yet by the public that I’m hoping to introduce in the future, as the palette expands.
Follow Jared Flood at Brooklyn Tweed
KnitFreedom: If a knitter is interested in learning more about your site, yarn, and patterns, where should he or she start?
Jared Flood: Our website – www.brooklyntweed.net – has the most information all in one place. If someone wanted to dig a little deeper, they could hit the blog archives (www.brooklyntweed.net/blog) and start working back chronologically. We can always be reached by e-mail at [email protected] as well!
Giveaway – Win Three New Patterns from Brooklyn Tweed
Jared is generously giving away three new patterns from Brooklyn Tweed, just for KnitFreedom readers!
To enter the giveaway, head to Jared Flood’s blog, have a look around, and leave a comment for him.
Then, come back here and leave a comment for me! Next week I’ll randomly choose three winners from among the commenters here – each winner gets all three patterns!
So don’t wait – visit Brooklyn Tweed and let him know that Liat at KnitFreedom sent you. Good Luck!
Update: The contest is over and we’ve selected our three winners, but please feel free to leave a comment if you liked this interview with Jared Flood.