We’re working on the final touches for the Swans Island Fall 2015 pattern collection. Today we’re excited to feature an interview with talented designer Melynda Bernardi, who has designed two pieces for the new collection in a new sport weight version of our All American Collection Worsted Weight yarn.
Growing up, Melynda never found a wardrobe problem that could not be solved with some fabric, a needle, and thread. This early proficiency eventually led to teaching herself knitting in high school, as a way to keep her ever-creating hands busy. A few years later, when the day to day stresses of a job pressed in, her creative needs burst forth onto the internet as French Press Knits.
What started as a simple Etsy shop that sold hand knit goods quickly shifted focus to a new market- knitters who were interested in Melynda’s designs to knit for themselves. Soon after this, Melynda discovered Ravelry and the world of knitting expanded beyond what she ever imagined!
How did you get started knitting and then make the transition into designing?
I learned how to knit in High school at some point, but probably just the most basic of stitches. I know that when knitting became “cool” in college I felt super cool, because I was the one who already knew how to knit. Little did I know, at the time, I knew basically nothing about knitting. Years later, when I became an aunt, I decided it was time to get serious about knitting and learn how to read a pattern so I could knit my nieces and nephews gifts beyond just lumpy, (unintentionally) triangular shaped scarves.
I bought a book about knitting and started to learn. The stitches began to make more sense with every new skill I tried, and before I knew it, knitting ‘clicked’. I had ideas for patterns, and fully jumped in without a ton of knitting knowledge. It’s been a learning process ever since!
Can you give us a peek into your day-to-day as a designer? Do you design full time?
Oh my, if I can fit more than two hours of knitting in a week, that’s a good knitting week. I started French Press Knits right before I had children. I worked full time then, but my evenings were free for designing/knitting and it’s how I loved to spend my time. Now, five years later, I still work full time but also have three children. Now, knitting/designing is how I long to spend my time! One day I do plan to pursue knitting as a career, but for now, knitting time is limited to stealing a few minutes during a teleconference or long car ride.
What inspired your designs for Swans Island?
The Paige Mitts and Frances Hat were both inspired by a trip ‘Up North’ we took with our friends this past fall. Early fall is my favorite time of year. The first night chills we feel in September always gets my fingers itching for some quality knitting time. On our car ride to Northern Michigan, I was swatching with my Swan’s Island yarn as the colors changed around me. The farther north we traveled, the more the rich autumn colors came in to view.
What excites you most in knitting?
There are certain techniques that I long to become more familiar with: Brioche, steeking, and double knitting were all on my ‘knitting goals’ list for 2015. I am always excited by colorwork- playing with different color schemes, watching colors blend and pictures form as you knit with different colors; it’s my favorite type of knitting. But ultimately, the thing that excites me most about knitting is the hope that someday there will be more of it in my life!
How has your designing changed over time?
I would say that I try to approach designing in a much more professional way than when I first started. I realize now how much goes in to it- it’s not just the designer. There’s sample knitters, tech editors, graphic designers, and photographers. It’s a team that really produces professional work. That being said, I am much more willing to pay for a good pattern than I was when I first started knitting/designing!
Today’s Legacy Story comes from Swans Island Legacy Contest Winner, Carey from Nashville, TN.
This Peter Rabbit quilt was made by my mother in 1982 when she was pregnant with me. I can only imagine the patches were sewn while she was daydreaming about days, months, and years to come with her first child. I have loved this quilt my entire life and it has accompanied me through many adventures! Growing up in Nashville, TN, my college years in Charlottesville, VA, young adult years in New York City, and finally back to Nashville where I am raising a family of my own. It lived through over 11,000 days and had become tattered and worn, many of the patches shred.
When my mother asked me what I wanted as a gift during my pregnancy with my daughter, I told her that all I wanted was for her to repair my Peter Rabbit quilt so it could be passed on to Campbell. She did a beautiful job reworking the quilt and I know those days at her sewing machine were filled again with daydreams of her first granddaughter. Campbell and I have already spent many precious days wrapped together in this special quilt and I only hope it will accompany her on adventures of her own!
I am sure you also notice her beautiful Swans Island blanket! This has become a tradition in my family after my parents stumbled upon the company while visiting Maine several years ago, before they had any grandchildren. During the tour, my father decided he would purchase a blanket to bring home- a baby blanket he would give to the first grandchild born. Unbeknownst to him, I was pregnant at the time with my son! Oliver received the white and yellow baby blanket purchased on that first trip. Since then, my parents have visited again and now my nephew and baby girl have also been lucky enough to receive their own Swans Island blankets!
Today’s post comes from the President of Swans Island, Bill Laurita.
I own a lot of Swans Island Blankets. After all, I am the head of the company and truly love sleeping under a Swans Island Blanket. It sound’s crazy, but I actually enjoy making the bed in the morning and watching my blanket float over the sheets and settle in with its rich texture and gorgeous color.
A summer weight indigo queen, is my favorite. We made that blanket in the first couple of months after we moved the company from Swans Island to the coast in Northport. My wife, Jody, was our first dyer. We decided that we would do all of the indigo dyeing for the winter, summer, and indigo throw blankets at once. This proved to probably be not the best idea. Indigo is almost a separate art form from other natural plant dyeing. There have to be many protocols in place so that things do not become a complete mess. Well, we hadn’t developed those systems yet. Jody dove into dyeing what for us at the time was a huge amount of yarn: 100 pounds.
It was not long before indigo was everywhere. It was on our clothes, smudged on our faces, we were walking it all over the weaving studio, the showroom and our apartment (at the time we lived on top of the showroom). It started to feel like the wheels might be coming off the bus, we couldn’t seem to tame the indigo. In every serious endeavor there seems to come a point where the existential question, “can we do this?”, presents itself. This was it. We looked at each other, wiped the indigo off our faces, which only smudged it more, and decided then and there that we were not going to let indigo defeat us.
We scrubbed the place from top to bottom, organized some better protocols for the next go around, and realized that despite the mess, Jody had dyed some stunningly beautiful indigo yarn. Out of that batch came the our indigo throw blanket – still just as beautiful as the day we brought it home. When I fold that blanket back to hop into bed at night, if I’m still awake and alert enough, I get just a slight tinge of that feeling of being overwhelmed and of not giving into it. That experience is in my blanket.
I continue to be inspired by the challenge and beauty of creating hand crafted blankets each and every day. Our newest endeavor, the Whitecaps Throw, was inspired by living on the coast of Maine. Every day I come into work I drive through Lincolnville Beach, right on Penobscot Bay. Very often the seas are churning, producing white caps amidst the deep blue waters. Sometimes, when the sky is overcast the sea takes on a more charcoal hue. For years I had wanted to somehow capture the impact that compelling view had on me in a throw blanket. We tried several versions over the years, but nothing really captured the right feel. Last year Jackie, our everything fiber expert, was working with some roving. Roving is fiber in a state after raw and before yarn. Everyone at Swans Island loved the quality and feel of Jackie’s roving. Laura, our floor manager, decided to use a little of it in making her employee blanket (everyone at Swans Island gets to make their own blanket once a year). When I saw that woven into Laura’s blanket I knew I had found our whitecaps!
We placed our naturally dyed indigo yarn on a grey warp to help get across the quality of the light hitting the water on Penobscot Bay, with the roving artfully placed here and there as whitecaps licking up on the surface when the wind is whipping around. We decided to make a second version with our charcoal yarn to better capture this effect when skies are grey. Each piece is woven to the weavers sense for how best to convey these sentiments.
Today’s touching story of how items can carry on the legacy of our loved ones comes from Robin:
I grew up in my mother’s yarn shop. All of my memories of my mother are tied to her knitting or crocheting something for someone.
She had a “signature” baby sweater she made for anyone who was having a baby she called, “the owl sweater.” It was the cutest little sweater with a row of small cables at the yoke that formed what looked like a row of owls and small buttons sewn on for the eyes.
She died when I was 17 years-old and never lived to see me married, know her grandchildren, or get to knit them one of her owl sweaters. When I got pregnant with my son Ryan, 32 years ago, I was overwhelmed by sadness that my own son would never have anything made by my mother.
One day, right before I gave birth, I received a package in the mail. When I opened it, I found a number of owl sweaters made by my mother! My sister, 12 years older and with no children of her own, had called all of her friends for whom my mother ever knit a baby sweater and asked them if they still had them if they could send them to her. She had them all cleaned, packaged them all up, and mailed them to me for my son Ryan and 4 years later, my daughter, Sara.
Now, Ryan’s wife is pregnant. And while Ryan, Sara nor any of their children will ever get to feel my mother’s arms around them, they will get to be wrapped in her love when they are wearing these very special hand knit baby sweaters.
I am now attempting to knit again after many, many years, despite the arthritis and the carpel tunnel I am trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps. I have purchased Swans Island yarn and am hoping to make a baby blanket that will have the lasting quality of love that my mother’s sweaters have.
We’re accepting entries to the Swans Island Legacy Contest through June 9, 2015. Click here and share your story and a chance to win the limited edition Swans Island Whitecaps Throw.