Vladimir Teriokhin confesses that his greatest design challenge is staying focused. "1 want to design a lot of things at once, and it often gets me into trouble," he laughs. In ballet, you learn to stay away from a certain spot on the stage because it's slippery—and I need to remember that!"
Vladimir frequently mentions dance and design in the same sentence, and it is no coincidence. In 1969, he was among 20,000 9-year-olds who auditioned for the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy School in Moscow—and one of only twenty selected. I le spent the next ten years studying and performing with the Bolshoi, during which time he met and married the world-renowned ballerina Elena Stepaneko. The couple had successful dance careers in the former Soviet Union, but decided to travel to New York City in 1989 and start a new life.
Vladimir continued his ballet career, dancing with the Los Angeles Classical Ballet Company, but after twenty years he felt it was time to do something else. "In Russia, 1 spent years studying art history and design, and had experience designing ballet costumes," he explains. Gradually, he launched a second career as a designer— with a focus on knitwear. "I have always found knitwear to be the most interesting aspect of fashion. I learned to knit from my grandma and have been doing it my whole life."
I le began working freelance and created commercial collections for a succession of top designers, including Donna Karan, OSCAR by Oscar de la Renta, Isaac Mizrahi and Ralph Lauren. "I did my first job for Ralph Lauren in 1998," he says. "They needed several sweaters for a fashion show and asked me if 1 could produce them in a week!" He met the deadline—and one design made the cover of Women's Wear Daily. Vladimir's ability to perform under pressure—and deliver an impeccable product—cemented a relationship with Lauren that continues today.
1 le opened his own company, Vlad Knitwear, in the mid '90s and discovered the joy and freedom of designing for himself. His signature hand knits are a reflection of his dancers aesthetic: elegant, fluid and often sensual in shape or texture. Ancient symbols and icons—from South American prints to Japanese characters to Egyptian hieroglyphs—serve as his inspiration, but his interpretations are uniquely modern. "Knitwear has a long tradition, and I like the challenge of trying to create something totally new," he says.
When creating a new piece, he always knits swatches first and then draws the instructions on graph paper before knitting a complete garment. To learn new techniques, Vladimir often copies motifs that other designers have created—and he advises knitters to do the same. "As I try to figure out how something was created, 1 learn something new. It's like in painting or fashion design, where students learn by-copying from the masters over and over."
Vladimir st rives for the highest standards of quality in every piece he designs and believes that knitters would benefit from giving themselves the same challenge. "All it takes to produce something beautiful is desire and experience," he says, adding that practice really docs make the difference. "When you are knitting and you reach a section you think is difficult, knit a few practice swatches first, then incorporate it into the design."
In addition to creating exotic patterns and textures, Vladimir is always looking for unique yarns with which to create them. "I love Japanese paper," he says, "and I decided that 1 wanted to re-create it in yarn." He searched for months and finally found an Italian paper yarn. "I used a crochet hook to stitch it, keeping it very loose and open, and then pressed it flat. It was perfect!" he says with childlike glee. He has worked with everything from satin tape to a yarn so hairy it looked like fur when knit into a coat, and he encourages knitters to take chances and experiment.
Vladimir compares the creative process to a flower slowly opening. "When I get an assignment from VfC, I usually put it away for a few days and let ideas come to me," he says. He then researches his ideas, often by visiting museums or consulting his "library"—a collection of books, magazines, fabric and color swatches that he uses for inspiration. In creating designs for this issue, he looked for traditional patterns with an antique feel. "Men's wear is always pretty conservative," he explains. "1 wanted to do something classic but give it a modern edge."
The former ballet star says that his work keeps him so busy he doesn't miss dancing. "Ballet gave me the discipline and training to be a designer," he says, and he's so devoted to his craft that he spent last New Year's Eve knitting a few last-minute samples—while on vacation in the Bahamas. "Designing a collection is just like performing," he concludes. "When the tickets are sold and the audience is in their seats, you can't say you're too tired or need a vacation. Somehow you find the energy and emotion to do your best."
In addition to giving workshops on knitting and colorwork throughout the world, Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably contribute regularly to numerous publications and knitwear collections. Fassett has authored several new books, most recently Kaffe Fassett's Museum Quilts (2005) and Kaffe Fassett's Pattern Library (2003); Mably's Knitting Color (Sixth&Spring Books), a collection of travel essays and original designs inspired by his travels, was published in October 2006. Vladimir Teriokhin continues to be the mastermind behind the knitwear collections of fashion luminaries such as Vera Wang and Oscar de la Renta. His designs appear frequently in Vogue Knitting.
fey John Birmingham
Its hard to imagine anyone who would seem to fit the phrase "born knitter" better than Meg Swansen. As daughter of the legendary Elizabeth Zimmermann, Meg learned to knit at the age of 6, literally on her mothers knee. By 7, she was beginning to master short rows. Throughout childhood, she was surrounded by wool and all the accoutrements of the craft.
Yet Meg did surprisingly little knitting while she was growing up. i was amply supplied with sweaters," she explains. "My mother kept churning them out, so I had no incentive to knit."
Before settling on knitting as a way of life, Meg traveled extensively. And that, too, seems part of her heritage. Her Bavarian father, Arnold Zimmermann, and her British mother emigrated from England to New York, where Meg was born. From there, the family moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania, and then to Milwaukee. After finishing high school, Meg ski-bummed for two years in Maine and California before attending art school in Munich, West Germany.
In 1964, back in New York, she married composer Chris Swansen, and soon her first
1 keep hearing about a return to traditional knitting. Of course, Ve never really left it."
This Meg Swansen design first appeared in the Special 2002 issue.
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knitting commissions came from celebrated jazz musicians like Gary Burton and Stan Getz. Later Meg ran a yarn shop in New Hope. Then, after moving again to upstate New York, she went into business with her mother, selling wool and knitting supplies by mail order.
Today Meg and Chris live in the rural setting of Pittsville, Wisconsin. They have a son and a daughter in college: Cully, a physics major, and Liesl, who studies languages (appropriately enough, since she was responsible for the family's rather cryptic nicknames, such as "Swand" for Meg). Over the years, the Swansens have expanded their home, a one-room frame schoolhouse, to include a "wool room" as well as hightech video and audio studios. But in other ways, their life remains enviably simple. Meg grinds her own wheat to bake bread. In the winter, she often goes cross-country skiing— right out the back door and onto the bluff.
Now that Elizabeth has retired, Meg has taken over the helm of their mail-order business, the Knitting Camp summer workshop, and Schoolhouse Press, which publishes her mother's books. Last summer she worked with Elizabeth on Knitting A round, both
the book and video series. Recently she has also begun collaborating with Elizabeth on her column for VK.
Of course, Meg Swansen has long played a prominent role in the knitting world. Through magazines and workshops, she has earned a reputation as a resourceful designer and an expert on technique. Not to mention one of the fastest knitters around.
JB: Do you remember your first knitting project.7
MS: My first actual project—aside from practice squares and things—was a scarf for Auntie Pete, who was my mothers father's sister. 1 was 6 or 7. I remember doing the scarf in garter stitch, but it wasn't just a straight garter-stitch strip. Instead, Elizabeth had me round it in the back so that it was shaped like a horseshoe. And I remember doing short rows—isn't that peculiar—for my very first project. Of course, we didn't know about wrapping in those days; we did it according to Mary Thomas, just slipping the first stitch on the way back. But I was very pleased with myself...you know, making this U-shaped thing that would fit organically around the neck of my aunt, whom I'd never met. Were you always passionate about knitting.7
No. As a matter of fact, 1 got exceedingly bored with it after that scarf. 1 don't remember knitting anything all through the rest of grade school. Then, in high school, I reached the stage where girls knitted sweaters for their boyfriends, and that rekindled my interest. After that, the word got out. Hand-knit sweaters were fairly popular, and I started doing swaps. Through my art teacher, 1 knew some painters in Milwaukee who were quite good. But 1 couldn't afford to buy their paintings, so we worked out barters. What about after high school?
Around 1961, I went to an art school in Germany to study drawing. Of course, the real reason for going to Germany was to meet my relatives, whom I'd never set eyes on before. I stayed with my father's sister, who lived outside Munich, and I commuted into the city to go to school.
At one point during that period, we had a holiday, and one of the other students invited me to her home in Reykjavik. So we took a freighter from Hamburg to Iceland, where we spent about six weeks. And that's where 1 stumbled upon this incredible Icelandic wool. It was unknown in America at the time and only sparsely known in Europe. I knitted a couple of sweaters while I was there, and sent wheels of wool back to my mother in Wisconsin. And she started importing it. 1 really got excited about the Icelandic wool. It was a fiber I'd never come across before, and the possibilities seemed endless.
The sheep of Iceland are unlike any other in the world. The staple of their wool is extraordinarily long, which means the wool doesn't need to be spun. So you get wheels—they call them "wheels" or "plates" or "cheeses"—of wool that is just drawn out into a roving. And you can knit directly from the wheel, which enables you to knit in a single strand or two, three or more strands together. You're a strict devotee of the circular needle7
Yes. That's partly brainwashing from my mother; it s been ingrained in me from the word go. Of course, it's also logical and makes sense. Its just the most pleasant way for me to knit.
What's your position on symbolcraft7
I love it. In fact, when I'm working a lace pattern from a book in which the instructions are written out, the first thing I do is chart it for myself. It's so much easier for me in the long run. When it's written out in lines and lines of text, you can't see where you are. Whereas, if it's charted on a graph, you can see the pattern. You can see where the traveling stitches are, and where the yarn overs arc. You can see where you're headed and where you've been. So, to me, it's become almost mandatory to take the time to chart it out. Do you take a systematic approach to design.7
Not at all. I'm simply in awe of people like Deborah Newton—as far as I can tell, from the things she has written about designing, she has the entire garment mapped out before she casts on. My approach isn't like that at all. When I cast on, I have a rudimentary idea of where I'm heading, and then all kinds of things occur to me along the way. Of course, not all of those ideas work out; I do a lot of ripping. But I get my best ideas while the work is in progress.
Can you think of a technique that really came to you as a revelation?
Knitting back backwards [see page 121]. This is a very useful technique for things like popcorns on an Aran, or the entrclac stitch, or putting in short rows across the back of the neck. When you're making a popcorn on an Aran, for instance, yoti have to knit five, turn, purl five, turn, knit five...and it's bothersome to keep turning around. So I purl back from the right side.
I discovered the technique as I was purling back, by peering over the top of the needles to see what happens on the right side when you purl back. How is the needle going into the stitch.7 Which way is the wool wrapping around the needle? Once you have that figured out, duplicate those moves on the right side, and you're knitting back backwards.
Now I do it at every opportunity. And since my discovery, Lizbeth IJpitis, the author of that marvelous book Latvian Mittens, has carried it even further. She made a Fair Isle, knitting the body in the round. And when she got to the armholes, she decided to forget about steeks and cutting and all that stuff. She did the front and back separately, but still never purled back in color pattern. She has completed a Fair Isle by knitting forward and backward from the armholes up. What trends do you see in knitting.7
I keep hearing about a return to traditional knitting. Of course, I've never really left it, so that's naturally what leaps to my eye whenever I look at books or magazines. On the other hand, the British designers are still going strong, with intarsia, flowers and that sort ot thing. So it seems that the two trends are running simultaneously—which is a boon for knitters. After all, the greatest thing is to have options, to have it all at your feet so you can pick and choose whatever appeals to you.
Obviously Elizabeth has been a great inspiration to you. What other knitters have influenced you?
I have a number of knitting heroines. Gladys Thompson is one. And Mary Thomas. And Barbara Walker. 1 also admire Alice Starmore. And 1 love Kaffe—first of all, bee ause he's a wonderf ul person, and then for his inspired use of color. His attitude toward technique is a lot more casual than mine; he doesn't care, for instance, if a knot pops through on the right side of his knitting. In order to knit a Kaffe Fassett sweater, you have to do a mental hiccup and adjust your whole attitude toward knitting. And I think that's wonderful; he's breathed new life into the craft for so many people.
She's the author of Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys and Arans, which is the classic book <>' its kind. There are now five or six books about Arans and Guernseys, but Gladys Thompson's was the first. She was the one who followed guys around the docks along the British coast and scribbled patterns off the backs of the sweaters they were wearing. She really made an effort to get these historic garments down on paper.
She and Elizabeth corresponded before Gladys died. Through that, we found out that the Aran part of the book—tor which ii was first famous—was actually stuck on as an afterthought. The publisher wanted more, so she added an Aran chapter Oh, and the patterns had all been written to be knitted in the round, which was the traditional mode tor making Guernseys and Jerseys. Then the British publisher made her rewrite the entire book with directions for flat pieces to be sewn up, because "that's the way the British knit nowadays." Lets hear it for history, huh? But this was so typical—to alter history according to the current fashion. What's your favorite aspect of knitting camp.7
The flow of ideas. We draw knitters from every corner of the United States, and without exception, each one is considered insane by her family and friends. Ostensibly they come to touch the hem of Elizabeth's garment; she has become a legend in her own time, and they just want to be proximal to her. But while they do learn a lot from us, 1 think they learn equally—if not more—from each other. How does your philosophy differ from Elizabeth's?
I think they're pretty much the same. 1 share her belief in knitting for enjoyment above all else...and trying to keep it easy. Because 1 do think that knitting is mainly a pleasure, and the fact that it turns out to be useful is just a wonderful bonus.
Meg's beloved partner, Chris, died in 1995, and Elizabeth followed in 1999. To deal with her grief, Meg submerged herself in work. Since this profile was published, she has authored a book with Interweave Press, Handknitting with Meg Swan sen, and produced twenty-two books through Schoolhouse Press, including reprints of all seven of Barbara G. Walker's indispensible books, which had languished out of print for years.
Meg has also expanded to four weeks per year of Knitting Camps, built an extensive new Web site, started offering a free electronic newsletter, converted her and Elizabeth's videos to DVD, and built a large new warehouse/office building just down the hill from the original Schoolhouse.
Karen Allen likes doing things in living color—and her way. She played feisty Marion Ravenwood opposite Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones in the blockbuster adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark and costarred in Starman, a sci-fi love story. She grows an eclectic mix of peonies, lilies, grasses and ferns near the converted Massachusetts barn she calls home, far from the frantic pace of city life. And she knits in living color, too, thinking outside the skein with unconventional palettes and patterns.
The sweater Allen is shown wearing below was machine-knit, inspired by a pattern she liked from British designers Jamie and Jesse Seaton, who are favorites of hers, along with Kaffe Fassett and Annabel Fox. "1 used [the Seatons'] graph and changed the colors ^ KS" 7 V 0U'1ta ~ extremely," says Allen. 411 love the look of antique rugs, whose colors slightly change because the dyes were inconsistent. Those rugmakers changed colors by necessity, but I do it by choice." She reversed the original pattern, which featured pastel designs on a dark field, by choosing off-white and beige colors as the background for dramatic
Actress Karen Allen followed her love of knitting from childhood to Hollywood—and now has her own dream-come-true knitwear design studio in the tranquil
geometric flowers. The striped cuffs are another addition. "I often do borders on cuffs," she says. uAs they say, God is in the details." She ticks off the colors in the scarf she is also wearing like a proud winemaker listing her winning vintages: "burgundy, a really brilliant red, tawny brown-gold and mcrlot," along with turquoises, olives and celery green. The repeating pattern reminds her of the melodies of the classic Hindu ragas she was listening to at the time it was knit.
Even Aliens scarf lengths and styles are surprising and unconventional. "I tend to knit one of two lengths: either a 6-footer you can wrap around yourself and make a major part of your wardrobe, or a 4M-foot shorty [like the one shown at left] to wear over a sweater." One of her favorite ways to wear the shorty is to hold it closed with a 4-inch hair pick instead of wrapping it. "A pick slides through beautifully and doesn't damage the yarn," she says.
Her bold, vivid knitwear designs, which tread where few have before, sport colorful names like Cat's Eye, Zanzibar, Flying Cloud and San Bias (named for the islands where Kuna Indian women appliqué fabrics). "Ideas rumble out one after the other," says Allen. tkI design the pattern and the name follows."
Sometimes, she would lug two big suitcases filled with yam to movie sets and knit for fV»l low rasf or rrpw mpmh/^rs «»^npriiilK? tkufiA ftyfwtina K-jkipc 4<I /wiofonf?1 u l^nir nn the set," says Allen. "I have an unbelievable amount of yarn in my possession that I've collected from all over the world." She was often reluctant to put down her needles when called before the camera. "Sometimes they would knock on the door and Pd think, Maybe Pm enjoying this more than I am being an actor."
Now she's pursuing her dream to do something she has loved with a passion since she picked up her first knitting needles at age 5, following in the footsteps of her grandmother Florence. Allen and her family spent summers at the family farm in the tiny town of Jerseyville, Illinois, where Florence would sit and knit happily. "My grandmother was a knitter extraordinaire, and I was very close to her," says Allen. "She constantly knit afghans, sweaters, slippers and scarves, and then sent them off to people."
As a little girl, Allen found fabric stores as appealing as most kids find candy stores. "I was always very, very interested in anything that had to with textiles and design. In a fabric store, it felt as though someone had dropped me off at Disneyland." Her family moved about every year (her Dad was an FBI agent), hopscotching around the country, from Illinois to Tennessee, New Jersey, Pennsylvania—one reason, perhaps, why the comfort and continuity of knitting have always been so important to her.
"Some people like to say knitting is boring, but it's such a calming, centering thing to do," says Allen, who also founded a yoga school. "And it's very portable, which is great because we're all on the move so much. It also creates a sense of generosity when you make things for other people. A baby sweater gets passed down and becomes an heirloom."
Speaking of baby sweaters, it's no surprise that Allen doesn't knit hers (including the ones she once made for her own son, now a teenager) in traditional baby blues and pastel pinks. She won't give up her visionary sense of color, even when making garments for tykes. "I'm not a pastel kind of girl—those colors just don't interest me," says Allen. "But I like heathery versions of pastels. I don't like pink, but 1 like rose. I don't like baby green, but I love olives and deep chartreuse. I don't like baby blue at all, but I love a heathery turquoise."
Allen started Monterey Fiber Arts, a textile and knitwear design studio, in January 2004 after studying machine knitting at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Her teacher and mentor there, Marian Grcalish-Forino, has come to the rescue several times since. "Marian has trekked to Massachusetts to help me when the machines are acting quirky; things go wrong mechanically or with the computer. But once you get the hang of it, it s pretty spectacular what you can do with them."
At her studio, Allen has five knitting machines (one of them named Flo) and is assisted by two women. "I work with 200 needles, the largest bed you can have on a Brother 910 home knitting machine," she says. Most of her pieces combine machine knitting with hand-finishing techniques. Her yarns of choice: Jagger-Spun and Igea merino wool, Loro Piana Italian cashmere, and Todd & Duncan s Scottish cashmere. "I like to knit with tine wools, not heavy, chunky ones," says Allen. Wherever she travels, she grabs a copy of the Yellow Pages first thing and looks under "Yarn." In New York City, she loves to shop at The Yarn Co., praising its selection, classes and sense ot community. At home in Lenox, she visits Colorful Stitches for its vast array ot high-quality fibers.
"When you knit by hand, your only limitations are your imagination and your palette. The machines have mechanical limitations, but Fm finding ways to turn those into strengths. I do not want to give up on color. 1 love it too much," says Allen. "The difference between hand and machine is that it s very, very difficult to make a living knitting only by hand. The sweater I'm wearing now would probably cost $1,000 even if 1 paid myself 10 cents an hour."
Whats next.7 More roles—and more work she loves. "I will always, for the rest ot my life, think of myself as an actor. But knitting was honestly my first love. How wonderful that I actually get to do something that makes me so happy."
In May 2005, Allen opened a store in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, called Karen Allen - Fiber Arts, also the name of her cashmere knitwear company. Her line of cashmere sweaters, scarves, hats and gloves is sold in stores across the country. See more of her work at karenallen-fiberarts.com.
Like the designer herself, Debbie Bliss's knits combine a great sense of humor with a discerning eye for detail. Her charming children's sweaters and knitted toys have earned her the devotion of knitting fans on both sides of the Atlantic—all of whom were delighted when she extended her talents to include adult styles.
Debbie began her love affair with yarn and needles while completing a Fashion and Textile fine art course at the N.E. London Polytechnical College in 1971. There, under the influence of her tutor, she concentrated on machine knitting for two years. Inspired by artist Claes Oldenburg's soft sculptures, she began using wire, plaster of Paris and yarn dyed to mimic gradations on a cane to create whimsical knitted plants and trees. The designs were sold at Christopher Strangeways in World's End—the hub of Chelsea's arts and crafts movement—where pop star Elton John bought one of her "cheese plants." The innovative "One Off' department at Liberty, London's famous Regent Street store, also began selling her knitted daffodils, arum lilies, irises and wonderful cascading Lurex
Two needles and a ball of yam are pure heaven for Britain's favorite children's knitwear designer.
This Debbie Bliss design first appeared in the Winter 2004 issue.
fuchsias. Debbie jokes that her labor-intensive work at the time was basically "nonprofit"—there were no grants available in those days to help aspiring artists and entrepreneurs.
Luckily, magazine editorials showcasing her designs soon brought wider recognition. In the mid*'70s, publisher Mitchell Beazley appointed Debbie contributing editor on a book project called Wild Knitting. Debbie designed the book jacket cover and contributed several of her whimsical designs, including cocktail hats, ties styled like sardine tins, a knitted garden and, perhaps the most innovative, a child's raincoat made from a bin liner and embellished with knit-in beads.
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