I knew Alyssa Stoisolovich before I opened AGOS, she was a great supporter of Rabelais. So I was surprised when I met up with this person I had been emailing with about Machine Knitting and it was the smiling face I recognized from the store.... What a treat to learn about her background and her love of machine knitting and knitting machines. That's just the kind of cool connection you can make here in Portland.
So I am particularly proud to be able to announce our Machine Knitting offerings, all taught and led by this terribly talented lady. We are starting out with machine orientations that happen roughly monthly, on a weekday and a weekend day to accommodate all schedules. The orientation sessions are for those who already have machine knitting experience but want to work with our Singer Memomatics. You must take the orientation before you can rent time on our machines. You can read more here. If you have a machine that needs some TLC- maybe it's not working properly, perhaps it's never worked- you can register for our Machine Restoration workshop and spend a weekend taking the darling apart, cleaning it and putting it together, all under the watchful and informative eye of Alyssa, and with the help of the other workshop participants. Details about this one are here. We are still working through exactly what form the introduction to machine knitting workshop will take. If you want to learn how to operate these tools, stay tuned and we will be announcing that workshop soon... And in the meantime, I did a little interview with Alyssa. Enjoy!
Alyssa, a former knitwear designer for large American based companies, has experience working in knitting factories, spinning and dying facilities and knitwear studios the world over. She received her undergraduate degree from Northern Michigan University in Product Design, and a Masters in European Design from Köln International School of Design in Cologne, Germany. Currently she runs a small design firm which offers Strategic Design & Brand Strategy for businesses and startups. Her longest running obsession is color, which you can check out here www.couleurcouture.com.
• AGOS: What made you first take up knitting?
• AS: My background is in Product Design, when I received my undergraduate degree I was well versed in working with wood, metal and plastics but knew nothing about textiles as the school I attended didn't have a textiles program. After I completed my degree I realized that having knowledge in the textile field would make me better designer, more balanced in theory and application even if the project didn't include fiber. I decided to take the risk and instead of going back to school to learn, I applied for a job in the knitwear industry as an assistant designer. I was the only candidate who didn't have any textile knowledge. During the interview process I convinced the hiring team and designer that knitwear is a product and so the basic principles of design applied to knitwear and that they should hire someone with great design skills and thinking. I was a believer that anyone could learn to knit, but not everyone could be taught to be a great designer. I still believe this to be true. Needless to say I got the job, and learned everything about knitting in the first six months on the job.
• AGOS: Did you learn from someone dear or important to you?
• AS: I was incredibly fortunate to learn how to knit by hand from the Design Director I worked under. Originally born in Finland, she understood the value of the knit stitch and the impact on passing the skills onto other generations. She learned from the women in her family and went onto teach her son and daughter how to knit. She had worked for a handful of major fashion designers/labels in New York and excelled at designing. When she was teaching me I felt like I had the best of both worlds, learning to knit by hand for the technical aspects and the heritage but also connecting it to the design process. She basically took me under her wing and loaned me her entire set of needles to work with. I would stop by her office for mini lessons or whenever I dropped a stitch and couldn't pick it back up. I would sit during my work day everyday and knit between meetings, fittings, and sketching. My boss supported it as part of the learning and eventually I was asked to knit tension swatches for prototypes, and knit samples for the trend boards and presentations. It really turned into a form of sketching as we developed the knitwear lines. If you needed to communicate exactly what you were looking for in a stitch or tension in the yarn it was quickest to knit a sample instead of spending seven to ten days trying to communicate through email or wait to receive sample swatches from the factory for approval. I am full of gratitude for my mentors support and teachings, I have had some of the best in the industry. In part I try to share my learnings whenever possible and enjoy teaching for these reasons. Sharing of knowledge is powerful.
• AGOS: Do you have a favorite project/design/collection, something that you are particularly proud of?
• AS: Once I designed and pitched a limited edition sweater for valentines day. It was an intarsia, back before everyone was doing illustrative intarsias on the runway and at J. Crew. At the time there was no room in the planning or assortment for a limited run and typically the brand never did limited run offerings before so it was a real stretch to even pitch it. However my boss was very supportive and we pitched it to the directors and it was well received. In the end they reallocated the space in all of the channels to make it happen. The sweater was picked up in In Style magazine and it sold through in under two weeks. After that limited runs become a core strategy in the assortments across product categories. It was a win on many levels.
• AGOS: Why do you knit?
• AS: People always ask me this especially if they know about my history as a product designer. They wonder why knitting? When you design or build something in product design it is always three dimensional. Knitwear is exactly the same. It is one area in textiles that is built in the round, compared to the cutting and sewing of elements together. So in many ways knitting for me is a natural extension of product design, only with fiber. Knitting can be very sculptural in that way as if you were building in 3D and the design process is the same. Comparatively learning pattern making seems so foreign to me, as it is two dimensional in the construction process.
• AGOS: Who are your design influences?
• AS: I love looking at what is happening on the runways season to season in knitwear between label and label. I always feel like knitwear on the runway is really just an accessory to bridge the gap between the lines of what is happening in the overall form. What is capturing my attention these days is what is happening in the industry around events like Pitti Filati. What was once a industry standard twice a year for inspiration, access to the best yarn mills and overall networking seems to be growing into more opportunity for those in the industry who are looking to start their own labels or start something new in the industry all together. Right now I follow Orley pretty closely as they are gaining traction with their newly launched knitwear brand. I like their approach to bringing something new to the knitwear industry, it feels quite refreshing. In addition I have been enjoying S.E.H Kelly. Its not that their knitwear is so extraordinary in some of the values you might find on the runway, however the quality seems quite high. Its really about what they are doing to deliver the knitwear, by the means of working with the local knitting industry and leveraging the heritage and network of knitwear in the U.K. in which it is deeply rooted.
• AGOS: Do you have a favorite material or fiber to work with?
• AS: I love working in Merino or Cashmere as a fiber, but really love working in yarns that have other constructions. Like a chainette or a tape yarn. And then there is the color element in plying up the yarn. As part of working in the industry, developing yarns was part of the process. I love this over working with any one type of fiber. In this process you get design the yarn construction itself, should it be a blend of fibers, which fibers, what construction a boucle perhaps or how should the color be integrated into the yarn, with a donegal or melange? In this way you can design the yarn and design the knitwear around the yarn construction. If I am knitting for myself I will pull a handful of yarns together to achieve a certain look. For example a single end of cashmere boucle paired with a chunky cashmere end or two will work nicely in jersey to give a contrast in texture to the smoothness of the jersey stitch and provide some depth in an unsuspecting way that makes you look twice to see what is really happening in the stitch.
• AGOS: Tea or coffee?
• AS: Americano in America, Milchkaffe in Germany, Cappuccino in Italy, Flat white in Australia