To those not familiar with the knitting world, the mention of the craft often conjures images of gray-haired, spindly-fingered grandmothers hunched over bulky skeins of dull, pastel-colored yarn. This stereotype, one certainly perpetuated by generations of crafty, knitting memaws, is charming but not entirely accurate. While the grandma-knitter is no doubt a prominent member of the knitting community, knitting is by no means an age or gender-exclusive craft. On the contrary, knitting has seen a huge resurgence recently, thanks in large part to a younger generation of crafters seeking a handcrafted escape from a tech-heavy world. Today’s interview comes from one such crafter, Jared Flood, the founder of the yarn and knitwear company Brooklyn Tweed.
Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Flood began knitting in earnest as an undergraduate student at the University of Puget Sound. Although he was formally trained in photography, painting and 2D design, knitting would prove to be an influential force in Jared’s life. In 2005, he moved to Brooklyn for work and to pursue an MFA from the New York Academy of Art. “I knew no one and had a lot of time on my hands,” he says. “I also had a good neighborhood yarn shop, so I spent a lot of time getting deep into knitting. At the time I had an office job working in admissions at Juilliard and I was really starved to meet some people in the knitting/creative community, so I started my blog — Brooklyn Tweed.”
Like so many creative success stories in the twenty-first century, it was Flood’s blog that launched his career in knitting. After a short time, Brooklyn Tweed had amassed a steady readership, and Jared began receiving requests for design work. It was after visiting an industry trade show that he developed an interest in yarn production. “It was the first time I saw the knitting industry from the inside,” he notes. “That was where the seed was planted about developing an American-sourced/produced yarn. The majority of the world’s yarn is made in China, Italy and South America. I wondered if it was possible to create something completely done here — especially since the US once had such a rich textile history in the industrial era.”
Soon after, a friend introduced him to a family-run textile mill in Harrisville, New Hampshire, a historic town notable for its centuries of textile production. “The chemistry was immediate,” Flood says. “We collaborated on this project and have been working together ever since.” Today, Jared’s Brooklyn Tweed has expanded from a blog to a full-sized yarn and textile design company specializing in beautiful fibers made in the United States. One look at Jared’s ridiculously beautiful and oh-so-current knitwear designs, and it’s plainly obvious — knitting isn’t just for grandmas anymore. Now let’s put that idea to rest. Check out my full interview with Jared after the jump! — Max
Portrait by Julie Hoover. All other photos by Jared Flood.
Above image: My wall of Loft yarn — a cone of each of the 32 colors in our palette. I use this as my “paintbox” when putting together color stories for collections or combining colors within a design.
What are your craft room essentials? What sort of creative objects can you not live without?
I split most of my creative time between photography and knitwear design — both of which I do for my brand, Brooklyn Tweed. Each of these pursuits requires a pretty specific set of tools. My ideal workspace has all the tools I need to do my work in an accessible and uncluttered manner. For knitwear design, that includes plenty of beautiful yarns (in several colors — very important) and a wide variety of needles, notions and other knitting tools. Because I travel a lot, I also have specific “travel” tools that I keep all ready to go. I’ve learned how beneficial it is to create a portable “workspace” for trips.
My computer is also an absolute essential for all my work. I do most of my designing, illustration and project mapping with Adobe Illustrator, which I would definitely put on my “can’t live without” list. Having a large, crisp monitor is also an essential for me. Whether for developing photographs or charting out intricate garment pieces, I like to be able to “spread out” digitally as I work, and screen real estate is key for that.
What do you do to make your workspace an enriching and inspiring place to be?
I work pretty hard to keep my workspace as essential as possible — only keeping what I need and processing/cleaning out things that I don’t as regularly as possible. In a creative space, things pile up pretty easily — unfinished work, inspiration piles, notes for future ideas, stacks of books. I find that as things get backed up, so does my creative energy. When I can focus on the task at hand, without a lot of additional visual clutter around, I work more efficiently and more happily.
I think of this as an ongoing process. While I can certainly be better about taking on less, I think it is a pretty natural part of the process. It becomes necessary, then, to continually organize the space, question whether something is absolutely necessary and reassess the way I organize and use space.
In terms of decor, I have a thing for succulents and grow them on just about every window sill in my space. Over the years, I have grown to really enjoy keeping an active array of house plants. I see them as an analogy to creative work — they need steady, regular care over long periods of time and slowly reward you as they grow and thrive. I love that reminder.
My two French Bulldogs, Dante and Luna, keep me company in my space on most days. They bring a wonderful energy to my work, remind me not to take things too seriously, and offer plenty of free entertainment (Frenchies are little clowns).
Above images: My worktable and dress forms. This is my largest work surface and the place that I usually spread out when working on story boarding, pattern drafting, sorting garments, doing tabletop photography, etc.
Above image: My most commonly used tools — I like to keep it simple. I am a big fan of the Addi Clicks interchangeable needle set. They are high quality and super versatile for travel or when using multiple needle sizes within one project. Also of utmost importance: sketchbook, measuring tape, tapestry needles, markers and removable pins.
What sorts of things are inspiring you right now? Where do you typically look for inspiration?
I’m extremely inspired by street fashion/style. My design interests are primarily in classic knits with a modern feel; styling is a pretty major part of how I visualize and ultimately communicate a design idea or sample with the public. I love observing the ways in which people style and use their clothing — particularly their knits. I try to take a morning or afternoon off from time to time just to walk the streets in Manhattan or Brooklyn. It’s a great way to get a broad sampling of personal style and design ideas and shake me out of a slump.
I generally get more ideas when I change up my environment. I can easily slip into hermit mode, happily isolated from the outside world, letting myself get deeply involved in my work. That has some benefits but can also make me a little stir-crazy and “idea anemic.” I try to remember that it is good to travel or just get out and experience the city regularly.
When do you feel the most creative?
I’m definitely most creative when my mind is free from distraction. Especially in the last year or two, as my time has become more and more crowded with projects and responsibilities, I’ve had to learn how to carve out space in my schedule that I know will be completely interruption-free. I’ve always done most of my creative work very late at night, when the rest of the world quiets down. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a night owl.
That said, since my schedule now requires me to be slightly more “traditional” (I have more of a 9-to-5 schedule than I used to), I have begun to appreciate the very early morning as a quiet time to get creative work done before the bustle of the work day begins. I’m definitely not a morning person, but I have been learning to appreciate this time of day and what it has to offer.
Above image: My desk. I try to keep it as clean and minimal as possible. Sometimes better said than done! iMac, Wacom tablet and pen (used when photo processing and illustrating); swatches (they are usually just about everywhere); and notebook. Also pictured is some of the wonderful (original) ironwork in my space. My studio/office is in an Art Deco bank building from 1929. The interior architecture is modern, but several details have been preserved, like the iron work and ceiling moldings. They’re fantastic!
Above image: My side table, where things that are “waiting in the wings” usually sit, along with some inspirational objects — a knitted vase from Milan that I received as a special gift, antique wooden bobbin from our yarn mill in Harrisville, New Hampshire, one of my very early black and white photographs (taken while I was studying abroad in Rome in 2003), colored pencils (in a porcelain vase by my dear friend Lois Aronow) and of course, more yarn.
What do you do to keep yourself, your space and your time organized?
I am a pretty organized guy by nature — my workspace is usually clean and orderly (with the exception the week or two of crunch time before a big deadline!). Organization is really a key ingredient for my creativity. I like to know where things are when I need them and easily be able to have a check on the status of various projects at any given time.
I spend time keeping things in order and cleaning up when I am finished working. It sounds so simple, but a clean, open surface (desk, work table, etc.) has a huge effect on my creative well-being!
How to you combat creative blocks?
Most of the time, when I’m feeling blocked, it’s because I have too many other tasks and responsibilities taking up my time. When that is the case, I feel unproductive and uninspired even when I force creative time into my schedule. There’s not an easy solution to this problem, aside from generally managing my time better — something I’m constantly working at. Blockage periods usually are the worst when we are working on a deadline for a big project; once that project is complete, fortunately my creative energy usually shows up again shortly thereafter.
We live in such a mass-produced, buy-it-now society where everything is either a click or a short drive away. Why should people continue to make things by hand?
There are so many reasons! The most important one, for me, is that you have a real, tactile connection to something that you are doing. We so rarely “get our hands dirty” anymore, with the computer and industrial technology we have available to us.
While I’m the first to embrace and praise modern technology (without it, I certainly wouldn’t be able to do my job), I also see how it is damaging our collective attention span. It seems that we become impatient with things so quickly. Things that take time are more easily frustrating, which I find alarming.
Making by hand forces you to slow down and quiet your brain, to think about what you are doing, who you are doing it for, or ways in which you can improve. I personally love the satisfaction that comes after the long process of designing and making a knitted garment by hand. When you take the time to craft something beautiful and well thought-out, that sense of satisfaction comes back to you every time you put the garment on, or see it on a loved one.
I think of my knitting archive like a museum of personal history. When I spend time creating something by hand, the object retains an impression of my life at that time. Some of my favorite sweaters remind me of places I’ve traveled, people I’ve met, or spaces I’ve lived and worked in. To me, that is one of the best reasons to do this.
Above image: Just a few of Jared’s fabulous knitwear designs. More on Ravelry.com.