In the relatively short time that Alice of Knitburo has been designing, she’s managed to already have two of her designs featured in some of my favorite knitting magazines – Pompom Quarterly and Amirisu. I reached out to Alice because I was inspired by her design skills, as well as her clean and crisp style and aesthetic that is visible everywhere from her website to her ultra gorgeous Instagram feed. I also love the fact that she is an illustrator (check out her quirky self-portrait above!), and merges her illustration, design, and knitting talents all into one super cool and fun “color picker” that lets you experiment and try out different colours on her latest sweater design, Diesis!
Read on for a peek into Alice’s day to day life as a designer, her foray into knitwear design, and her perspective on old-lady stereotypes :).
1. How did you first get started knitting?
I started knitting my teens, I can’t recall exactly why exactly I wanted to learn but I just remember all of a sudden in high school my friends and I decided to start a knitting club. I learned the basics from my mum, who taught me to knit left handed and in the combination style, and the rest I learned on the internet. It took me a while to figure out the combination thing, but after that I learned to knit stranded colourwork, intarsia, cables, lace, circular knitting, grafting, and anything else I came across, all the while never finishing much besides a few of hats and mittens. I never even knit the quintessential beginner’s scarf! Eventually I started to get quite frustrated that I didn’t have access or the means to get proper patterns or nice yarns to make wearable things, so I stopped knitting altogether.
2. What led you to make the leap into knitwear design?
I got back into knitting almost six years ago. Again I can’t remember what exactly brought me to it, but right away I started knitting my first garment, Norah Gaughan’s Beatnik pullover. This time around, Ravelry was huge and I’d figured out online shopping, so it really felt like a whole new world opened up to me. Before the pullover was even halfway done I had already started knitting a cardigan without a pattern. From there it was mostly a slow wade into design, rather than a leap, I think! I just continued designing my own projects, trying out different techniques and filling gaps in my wardrobe. I learned the only way I was going to have matching sleeves or symmetrical shaping would be to write down more than cryptic notes, so I started writing my designs as patterns of sorts. I got curious about grading and thought it could help me knit for others as well, so took a grading glass online and started grading what I made. One day, I was browsing the amirisu website and I saw they had a call for designs and a beautiful mood board that I kept going back to look at, so I sketched up a sweater and sent in a submission. Ok, I just made that sound very casual, which it kind of was leading up to that moment, but sending that submission was a huge leap after all and it took me a long time to click the send button on that email.
3. Where does the name “knitburo” come from?
A design studio in Dutch is sometimes called a design ‘bureau’, which can also be spelled ‘buro’. Although I’m a graphic designer, I never officially started my own design studio or anything like that, so when I decided I needed a name for my knitwear stuff I figured I’d give it a design studio type name – the thing I never did do. So, a knitburo it became.
4. I am so impressed by the look of your website, your illustrations, and your ‘color picker’ feature! Tell us more about your background in design and illustration.
Thank you! After high school, I went on to study illustration at art school but pretty quickly switched to a graphic design major and dropped the ball on drawing a little. Drawing is my creative pursuit closest to my heart, and yet it’s what I’ve done the least of in the last few years, I think because it’s been with me for as long as I can remember so there’s more emotion there and find it harder to make myself practice and hone my skills, as I need to also truly feel like it. I actually feel I hardly draw enough to be worthy of the title, so I actively call myself an illustrator these days to hold myself accountable and make sure I do keep it up!
I love to dabble in all sorts of different crafts or techniques, teaching myself new skills or crafts out of curiosity, as I can’t help but wonder “could I make that?” when I see interesting things. I definitely don’t master all the things I try, far from it, but I think it helps me stay open-minded and not shut down ideas right away – like the colour picker, which started off as an idea that I couldn’t figure out how to realise, and in the end it actually worked. It’s not perfect or elegantly built but it was a fun experiment and I’m glad others have found it useful.
5. Describe a “typical day” in the life of Alice.
I’m a real homebody and don’t lead a very exciting life, so this might get a little boring! I do some work as a graphic designer at a small company so when I go into the office, I commute by train, where I might do a bit of knitting if I have a portable project on the needles. I’ve been knitting and frogging the same sock in the train for a couple of months now so it’s starting to feel Groundhog Day in the mornings though, haha. In the evenings I might knit some more or sew a bit if I have simple projects going. I also freelance from home so those days might start with a walk to the market, to get some fresh air, pick up some fruit and veg and have a look at the fabric and haberdashery stalls. If I have a deadline I’ll end up behind the computer all day, otherwise I might sit down for some knitting first before getting started. If I’m working on a knitwear design, the same process goes, except then I’ll be knitting behind the computer! I’m a night owl and it takes me a while to pick up steam so it’s nice when I can start the day slow as I tend end up working into the night, which is when I get the most productive and usually when inspiration strikes and I do the most sketching.
6. What are some of your favorite things to do when you knit? Or do you prefer to knit with no distractions?
I almost never knit in silence. Sometimes I’ll watch documentaries or listen to podcasts, but my favourite is to read (on a tablet, as I still haven’t worked out how to hold a paperback open and flip pages efficiently). If I’m on a complicated bit or tweaking the pattern I’m working on, I’ll just listen to some music. And sometimes I’ll knit on the train, which isn’t really doing something as much as just sitting, but it always feels very satisfying and productive.
7. What is the culture of knitting like in the Netherlands? Is it normal to meet other people who knit? Do people hold stereotypes against knitters?
I don’t actually know many Dutch knitters personally, although many people I’ve spoken to about knitting here do seem to have learned the basics when they were little, at school. Whenever the topic comes up, I always get told something like “it’s very hip these days!” but it seems people view it as just a simple hobby, a way to pass the time. The most common reaction I get when I tell people I knit what I’m wearing is surprise, because it doesn’t look handmade (well, to muggles), it just looks like clothes. I actually feel there’s hardly even room for the ‘homely’ stereotype to exist because so few people even consider it as a means to make actual clothing! The ‘granny’ stereotype definitely still exists, although this new ‘trendiness’ has helped banish it a bit. Not that I necessarily feel they’re bad stereotypes to associate with, I think making clothes at home is something to be proud of, and there’s nothing wrong with being an old lady either.
8. How do you see the future of yourself as a knitwear designer? Is this something you would like to pursue fulltime?
I’m not sure it’s something I’d like to do completely full time, even if I could work out how to make it a sustainable occupation – which I honestly wouldn’t know how to! It seems my happy medium is occupying my time with more one thing (the dabbler, again!). But I definitely want to keep going, designing more, trying different things. Every single time I wrap up a project and bind off those last stitches, I think about how I can’t wait to start something new, and how much I really, really love knitting.
9. What has been your biggest challenge so far with starting out as a knitwear design?
Indecision, momentum and planning! I think that’s why I’ve been enjoying working with magazines, with external deadlines there’s no choice but to just make decisions, do the work, and finish on time. On the self-publishing front, however, it’s been a struggle to see designs through to the end a timely (and seasonable) manner – there’s the designing, the knitting and the pattern writing but after that there’s photography, editing, testing, publishing. It’s a lengthy process, and when I’m the only one accountable, I begin to question all my decisions. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself about this.
10. What are some of your favorite things to do in your spare time (besides knitting)?
I’m really into sewing these days. I’d like to sew a more structured coat sometime soon, and maybe a pair of jeans as well. I’m also learning to draft my own patterns, starting with custom drafted blocks, which has been really fascinating. I haven’t officially committed to only hand-making my own clothes or anything, but it is something I’d like to work towards. Now that it’s getting colder again I’ve noticed I really need a couple of cardigans and I think I may have to sew them as I don’t have the time to knit any in the coming months, and it feels a little bit like I’m preparing to cheat on my main lover, knitting!
11. What’s next for knitburo? Do you have any upcoming collaborations or designs that you would like to share with us?
I have some designs coming out in the next few months in a couple of magazines that I’m super excited about. It’s been strange working on so many things and not being able to talk about them. The 2017 tab in my Ravelry projects looks so empty even though I feel like I’ve been knitting non-stop this year. There’s a pullover with some colour blocking as well as colourwork that I just finished the sample of, a rather feminine top that I’m currently working on, and a scarf pattern that I just finished knitting my own version of. The last scarf I knit for myself is looking quite sad as it’s 5 years old, if you’ll believe it!
Thank you so much for this interview, Alice! It truly has been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your creative pursuits! I cannot wait to see what designs (and knitting gifs) you come up with next. 🙂
You can find Alice around the web with the following links: