Interview with Erica Jackofsky

Erica is definitely a favorite around the Knit Picks office – she was one of the first designers we contacted for the Independent Designer Partnership Program after seeing her beautiful designs on her website and on Ravelry. And not only is she an wonderful designer, she’s an incredible musician as well!! I always look forward to seeing Erica’s new designs and very pleased she’s a big part of the success of IDP.

How long have you been knitting?
I guess that depends on how technical you want to get. I taught myself how to knit shortly after I graduated highschool (in 2002), but I didn’t stick with it. Knitting went on the back burner once I started college. Since I hadn’t really immersed myself in yarn, I wasn’t addicted yet, and thus promptly forgot about it once deadlines for research papers began looming. When I finished up college I suddenly had, what felt like, a large amount of free time on my hands again. I generally count this as when I really started knitting, so that makes it about 3 years give or take a few months.

I learned to crochet quite a bit earlier. My sister and I were both homeschooled (for musical reasons) from elementary school straight through highschool. Learning to crochet was included in the 2nd grade curriculum that my mom was following with my sister. (I’m the older sister, so I was 10 at this point.) Since nobody in the family knew how to crochet we went to out local library to scout out some books. It turned out that the Children’s librarian was an avid crocheter and she took us all under her wing. My Mom, sister, and I all learned the basics of crochet, but none of us really stuck with it for too much longer than it’s part in the curriculum. I picked it up on and off over the years to make things like doll clothes and bags, nothing from patterns. I figured out how to shape the fabric with a very “hit and miss” technique. There were a lot of misses. I have some very oddly shaped doll’s garments to prove that.

What motivated you to learn to knit?
A few related factors… Growing up I was notorious for altering my store bought clothes to fit my mood and attitude. I guess I always appreciated having something a little unique to wear. Another major factor in learning was my constant desire to be productive. Once college was over and free time started piling up I needed to do something, and that something had to end up giving me a finished product. Then I was struck by this crazy idea that I could [re]learn how to knit, which would satisfy my want for unique clothing and keep my hands busy. I think I really had a desire to learn to design right from the day I first picked up knitting needles.

I went with [re]learning knitting instead of crochet because I was more drawn to the knitted garments i was seeing in stores and pattern books. At the time I was under the impression that crocheting was really only used for blankets and little accessories. I wasn’t exposed to the online knitting & crochet community, which meant most of my opinions were based on what I saw in craft stores.

Who taught you to knit?
I did. I’m a self taught/book taught knitter. When the thought popped into my head that knitting might be fun I hopped in the car and made a trip to the bookstore to find a how-to book. I’m not the kind of person that likes to read instructions (which makes it very interesting to be writing them), so there was a good deal of trial and error on my part. I made sure to get books with plenty of drawings and photos because I have to admit I relied more on the visuals than the actual text. I still operate in much the same way. I enjoy figuring things out by observing and picking it apart in my head and then experimenting on how to get there.

Some of the first books I bought were “Stitch & Bitch” by Debbie Stoller, “Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book” bu Vogue Knitting, “A Treasury of Knitting Patterns” by Barbara Walker, and “Hip to Knit” by Judith Swartz. I still own all those books (and a huge amount of others, but we won’t go there…) and I still will refer back to all of them from time to time.

What was your first project?
I never finished my very first project. Because I was learning on my own, I didn’t have any voice of wisdom telling me that a tightly knit, black mohair scarf in seed stitch wasn’t the best choice. I got about 2 feet done and then packed everything away. That’s when I took my knitting break until after college. Once I went back to knitting I decided my next project would be a hoodie pullover, also in black. This actually did get finished, and it came out great, although a little large for me. Ok, a lot too large for me. I did everything perfectly, except check my gauge because I didn’t really understand why that was important at that time. I probably could have comfortably fit three of myself in that hoodie, and that’s not an exaggeration. Since the sweater was my first real finished project I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. It was lovingly (i.e. frustratingly) folded (make that stuffed) into my closet where it sat until I met someone that fit it.

What is your favorite fiber to work with?
Merino would win my favorite fiber vote hands down. I love the versatility of wool, and merino is such a wonderfully soft fiber to feel flowing through your hands. I do tend to enjoy 50/50 blends of cotton and merino as well. I find yarns with that fiber content to work well for spanning the seasons.

Is there anything in particular that inspires your designs?
Typically the yarn itself inspires me. Most of the time I start by finding yarn I like and then I’ll make a cup of tea and sit down and ponder the pile of yarn in front of me. I’ll start sketching out ideas and writing down different design elements that I can see the yarn being used for. Eventually all the pieces come together. During this process I typically end up with more than one idea that I want to follow.

Occasionally other things will also inspire my designing. People, places, and events have all played a part in one way or another. Music is a huge example and influences me both directly and indirectly. Sometimes I’ll be listening to a song and I start to create a scene in my head and I find an idea that way. Other times places I’ve traveled to perform will inspire me.

My boyfriend Chris is also another huge inspiration. A lot of designs that will be debuting in 2010 are influenced by him. Again, not always directly influenced, but the inspiration is there. Many of the masculine and unisex designs I have coming out were dreamt up with his style on my mind. Also, I do a good deal of knitting and designing in his company. Chris will be playing or arranging music and I’ll be knitting. That puts me in a perfect place mentally as it combines a few of the elements that inspire me. It’s very relaxing when the mood is right and the ideas are freely flowing.

Anything else you would like to add?
I find many similarities between the way I approach my knitting and how I approach playing music. A little history of my musical background might help to better understand my designing.

When I was 9 years old I began playing violin in the school orchestra. I wanted to learn an instrument right away, so the first year we were given the option I jumped at the chance. I chose violin –ready for this?– because 1) it was small and I figured I could carry it around easily (I had visions of taking my violin out and serenading everyone wherever I went) and 2) it was a lead instrument, so I could be in the spotlight. (Oh the reasoning of a 9 year-old.) My school district wasn’t exactly supportive of the string program and it didn’t take very long for me to start getting discouraged by the lack of learning and enthusiasm in the orchestra. I began begging my parents to let me quit violin. They weren’t so hot on the quitting idea, so we struck a deal. I would keep playing if I was allowed to drop out of the school orchestra and play the kind of music my dad was playing, which, at the time, was American Folk music. After 4th grade my sister and I were taken out of school to be homeschooled and thus allow more time to pursue music. With my family I traveled to different concerts and festivals listening to traditional American music and taking lessons from a wide variety of fiddlers. My dad had gone to college for music, and, although he didn’t play violin, began to teach me how to play and understand basic music theory. I gained what I call “a working knowledge of music” and started improvising melodies. I never took to reading music or learning set melody lines and to this day I still improvise everything I play. This attitude carried over to how I learned to knit and then design. Instead of following patterns (which in my mind equated to reading music) I was drawn toward writing the patterns myself.

Another very obvious connection between music and my knitting is how I name my patterns. In January 1997 my family formed a band, The Homegrown String Band (Dad plays guitar; Mom’s on Banjo-Uke, dulcimer, and doumbek; my sister Annalee is on mandoline and jawharp; and I play fiddle). In the years since then we’ve traveled around the US playing our brand of American Roots music. When it came time for me to start naming my knitting designs it seemed fitting that I choose titles of traditional fiddle tunes and songs. The naming process keeps the link between my musical background and inspiration very obviously in the forefront.

Thanks Erica! If you want to learn more about Erica’s designing process, check out her blog, where she is documenting the design of her new sweater pattern day by day!

And, of course, check out all of Erica’s Independent Designer Partnership patterns on our website!