Sarah Jo Burch {knitting designer interview}

I love to work with new designers for patterns here at Ewe Ewe. Sarah Jo and I met on Instagram and we hit it off. She has designed a huge range of garments – including the Refuge cowl which I went bonkers over – and I wanted to know more about her story and design philosophy. Read through her inspiring words and see her latest design in our yarn!

Tell us a little about yourself.
Name: Sarah Jo Burch
Ravelry: SarahJoKnits

How long have you been knitting? 
I learned to knit when I was 15 by taking a class at my local yarn store (shout out to Handheld in Fayetteville Arkansas!), then got a job there when I was 18. I really benefited from being around so many talented and experienced ladies who were so generous with their help and advice.

What was your first design?
My first design was my prom dress, just a few months after I started working at the yarn shop. It was a simple boatneck tank dress. I added some eyelets at the back to weave a ribbon through for waist-shaping and then I used increasing needle sizes to make the skirt flare. From the knee down I worked a leave pattern that became all lace by the floor-length hem. 

I was (and still am) captivated by the way that sticks and string can produce wearable garments. I love creating things with intuitive design that don't require an advanced degree in knitting to figure out. 

How did you turn knitting into a career?
A dream I had from early on was to learn about the design world from the publisher's perspective so that I could be a better designer. Then when I was 21, I had the opportunity to spend a summer in Cleveland interning with designer/publisher Shannon Okey, and the next year I spent about 4 months in New York City as the yarn editor for Soho Publishing (that's Vogue Knitting, Knit Simple, and Sixth&Spring Books) while their yarn editor was on maternity leave. 

Do you have a philosophy for your knitting and designs?
There's never a point at which someone can know it all, so everyone benefits from the collective knowledge of the knitting community, even the non-knitters. That community inspires my designs - it's a shared love of the colors and textures and techniques, combined with a desire to contribute something to those who've given so much to me!

In the twelve years I've been knitting, I've seen so much of knitting's potential for good like the way that learning to knit can empower someone. Whether it's by giving them an income, a creative outlet, or a way to give back, I love what knitting stands for and the community it creates. The generosity of knitters is constantly amazing, from those who donate finished garments to those who give their time to encourage others, and I am happy to be a part of it.

Now I'm blessed with two tiny models and a sweet husband who finds my knitting obsession endearing rather than annoying, and doesn't mind circling the parking lot one more time so I can finish my row.

My latest design is the Stacks children's sweater designed in Ewe Ewe's sport-weight yarn. I got the name "Stacks" from rows of library books. We love going to the library and bringing home piles of brightly illustrated pictures books – simple but something we can all enjoy. That's my hope for this pattern, something a busy mom can make and a busy baby can happily wear.

See the pattern here.

Elizabeth Smith {Knitting Designer Interview}

Say hi to Elizabeth. Hi, Elizabeth! Elizabeth is a knitwear designer and she has made some adorable projects with our yarn Wooly Worsted. Today we get a little peek inside her creative mind to see what inspires her to design such cute knitting patterns. 

The Stats, please:
Name: Elizabeth Smith
Company: The Brown Stitch
Are you on Ravelry? Click here to see my pattern index.

Let's get started. How long have you been knitting?
It’s been just about 10 years now. My mom taught me to crochet first, in my early 20’s or so, and then I picked up knitting a few years after that and haven’t really stopped since! My whole life though I’ve always loved doing different kinds of hand crafts. One of my first jobs as a teenager actually was at a rubber stamp craft store in Connecticut (making cards, scrap books, that kind of thing). There’s just something about creating something with your own hands that I’ve always been drawn to.

I agree! I love to work with my hands as all knitters do. So when did you become a knitwear designer?
Well I published my first pattern about 4 years ago on Ravelry, and since then have just continued to work at it. So it’s been a gradual journey where along the way I’ve learned a lot and I continue to learn so much with every design idea I pursue.

Design is a process and we really never stop learning. What got you started as a knitwear designer?
I was really drawn to designing knitting patterns first because I love knitting and it’s been such a passion in my life, but also because of the combination of creativity and math. I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to analyzing numbers… I actually love making Excel spreadsheets!

Wow, I can't say I do! Tell us more...

So being able to combine the creativity of designing with analytical math problem solving was something that really appealed to me and inspired me to learn how to create my own patterns. I started by learning as much as I could in my spare time—reading books like Sweater Design in Plain English by Maggie Righetti and Knitting from the Top by Barbara Walker were two of my go-to books in the very beginning. From there I just learned as I went along – I started with some accessories, then baby sweaters, then adult sweaters. There were (and still are!) a lot of designs I worked on that never actually made it into a published pattern. But I’ve tried to never let the “bad ideas” get me too disheartened. I’d just learn from it and then try again.

Your designs are really cute. What is your inspiration?
Yarn itself is a huge inspiration for me. And since I’m lucky enough to have one of my jobs at my LYS, KnitWitYarn Shop in Portland, Maine, I get to surround myself with wonderful inspiration every week. I have a bunch of cork boards hanging up at home in my office space with inspiration from everywhere I guess—fashion, different kinds of whimsical fabrics, swatches, home décor pictures. And now with Pinterest I have lots of virtual corkboards too! In general I love a combination of rustic, retro and modern. Anything visual that combines those things is usually something that inspires me. It’s one of the things I really like about your Wooly Worsted yarn actually—although your colors are very modern there is something kind of retro about them as well.

I love that our yarn inspires you! Color is my favorite and it inspires all my knitting designs. Do you have a favorite pattern you designed?
Hmm, that’s a tough one! Usually whichever pattern I’m currently working on is my favorite in that moment, so it’s always changing. My Little Coffee Bean Cardigan, although I wouldn’t consider it my favorite design I've done, I’d probably consider a favorite pattern, just because it was one of my first patterns and it’s been enjoyable to see on Ravelry how many people have enjoyed knitting it up (it’s at about 1850 finished projects now-that’s so crazy to me!). It’s also been really nice to read how many knitters have used this pattern as their first sweater project. I know how intimidating knitting your first sweater can be so it’s nice to know that this pattern helped some people reach that knitting milestone!

Congratulations! The Little Coffee Bean Cardigan is a great basic sweater and it looks so cute knit Wooly Worsted. Do you have a favorite yarn?
It would be too hard to pick one yarn as my absolute favorite because it’s always changing! I do tend to lean towards worsted or heavier yarns and natural fibers like merino or alpaca.

I guess it's good that Wooly Worsted is a worsted weight merino. We're a perfect match. :) What have you knit with Wooly Worsted?
I’ve knit a slouchy hat (one of the samples in my Hat Season pattern) and the Easy iPad Sweater. I love how your yarn looks with stripes so that has been one of my favorite ways to knit with it.

I love the Easy iPad Sweater! Your color combo is so fun and sophisticated. Plus I love that it's sized for the iPad and iPad Mini! What else are you up to? Do you have any new patterns coming out?
Earlier this week I just released Lilac Trail, a DK-weight vest and a week or so before that I released NewCanaan, an infinity-style cowl with instructions for fingering, sport, DK, worsted or bulky-weight yarn. I’ve been busy swatching a lot lately and experimenting with a new asymmetrical vest idea but we’ll just have to see what happens with that!

Are you wearing NewCanaan Cowl in your photo? That would look great in Wooly Worsted! Those all sound great. So one last question, I love to swag out my knitting. What's your favorite knitting accessory?
Definitely knitting project bags! I have all kinds of bags in different sizes and I usually wind up using my knitting bags as regular everyday bags too. I have a "Zuma" Namaste knitting bag that my mom gave me years ago that is definitely a favorite of mine. I also recently got one of the new large tote bags from Yarn Pop that I really love. They have some great, whimsical fabrics to choose from and I just can't resist a bag with owls on it...

Thanks for the chat, Elizabeth! It was great to meet you and happy knitting! 

Click here to visit The Brown Stitch.