A few weeks back, Julie Weisenberger was gracious enough to send the office a few copies of her new book, The Cocoknits Sweater Workshop. After pouring through it one day at lunch, I wanted to know even more, so asked Julie if she would be willing to do an interview with me. She was kind enough to say yes. The result of our conversation is below. Enjoy!
KGO / I have fond memories of meeting you in California - what now, 7 years ago? - and always seeing you at TNNA (and possibly attempting to steal a sample or two...) I love, too, that every time we connect I find out something new! In the case of your new book, The Cocoknits Sweater Workshop, it was having your own knitwear company in the 1980s. Can you share a few more details about this "past life"?
JW / Ha, sure! It made sense at the time - I was just out of college and obsessed with knitting. I sold some hand-knits on the side and asked some shops if they'd be interested, and they were. So I found knitters in Ireland who used domestic knitting machines to create my designs and I sold them in shops like Nordstrom, Henri Bendel and lots of smaller boutiques across the country. And then manufacturing in China became popular and the business was no longer viable...which is okay because that's when I switched to designing for hand-knitters.
KGO / How did your previous experience having your own knitwear company and then designing for yarn companies in the 90s inform your original designs for Cocoknits? Was the evolution to the Cocoknits Method a result of this past experience, or as a result of something else?
JW / It was designing, but also, very importantly, always teaching. So I was working with women of all shapes, sizes and ages and really paying attention to what they were comfortable wearing and what worked and didn't and why. It's not so difficult to design something that looks good on a tall, flat-chested model. It has been humbling and rewarding to work and work to design things that make women with "normal" bodies feel good about wearing what they knit.
To that end, I have long used English Tailoring - it moves the shoulder seam from the top of the shoulder (avoiding the extra bulk there) to the back and creates the vertical lines of a set-in sleeve which is flattering on most women. The Cocoknits Method came into being when more and more knitters wanted fewer or no seams, which makes perfect sense to me! Unlike my early life, I now prefer pretty mindless knitting that I can do while half watching t.v. - it's like meditation. So I combined English Tailoring, top-down and seamless with my tracking system (the Cocoknits Sweater Worksheet) to make knitting as easy, enjoyable and successful as possible!
KGO / As we previously posted, Hillary is one of the "More Cocoknits" designs featured in the back of the book you are releasing separately over the next few months. The book itself is jam packed with a ton of really excellent information and patterns for five classic sweaters (and a ton of additional modification options). Why did you opt to have these sweaters featured in the book, but published separately? Do they differ in unique ways from those published in the book?
JW / The book was becoming bible-sized! I wanted a book that was soft-cover and easy to carry in a knitting bag - but I had around 20 designs, in addition to all the other information. Our first thought was to publish 3 volumes - but I hear from knitters that they don't like to buy a whole book when they only want 1 pattern - so we decided to put the core, simplest patterns in the book and then allow knitters to buy individual patterns after becoming familiar with the techniques in the book. Each of the follow-up Cocoknits Method patterns still use all of the techniques from the book so knitters really do need to start with the book before diving into the individual patterns.
KGO / One of the main features of the Method sweaters is their top down seamless construction. How they differ, though, from many seamless sweaters, is the additional structure that the shoulder construction provides. Does this specific construction affect the yarn or design choices you make? Have you decided to include (or not include) a garment design specifically due to the lack of seams?
JW / The Cocoknits top-down, seamless sweaters differ from anything I've seen in that they are a set-in sleeve. You build each part of the shoulder, then get everything on the needles; Fronts, Sleeves and Back stitches, and knit seamlessly down from there. The good thing about this very firm shoulder construction is that you can use a drapey, open fabric, if you like, because the shoulder area is not going to stretch out (unlike a raglan). Whenever I design a traditional, set-in sleeve garment, I use these techniques but that doesn't mean it's the only way I'll ever design...anyone who knows Cocoknits knows that I like some unique shaping, ha! So I'll be doing designs in the future that don't use the Cocoknits Method, as well.
KGO / Not just a pattern collection, the Cocoknits Sweater Workshop has an entire chapter devoted to "Flattering Fit and Style". Some of the designs - such as Emma's 3 versions - demonstrate how vastly different a sweater can look on different body shapes with just a few tweaks or altering yarn choice. You know I absolutely love any pattern or publication that has a teaching element. Why did you think it was important to include fit into a book such as this?
JW / Well...back to all that teaching! With over 30 years of working with women and designing and doing trunk shows, I see women wearing my designs and have worked to understand what lines are important and why, a few tweaks can make all the difference in the success of a garment. I wanted to share everything I've learned along the way. I wanted to make sure the book was not only a pattern book, but a great resource for knitters - whether or not they use my patterns - to help them understand fit, flatter AND techniques.
KGO / What is next for Julie/Cocoknits? (And, when can I steal that Tallulah sample?!)
JW / I have more fun tools and products coming so stay tuned for that! Also working on getting a traveling trunk show together- so while you are stealing samples, I'll be over stealing yarn for that! And we are also doing a Video Class for yarn shops to help them teach the Cocoknits Method since I can't get everywhere to teach it myself - so be watching your LYS for that! And then...I'll get back to doing more designing!