This month I'm presenting a designer with really founded experience and history in knitwear design, Tina Whitmore.
Raised in both England and the USA, founder and lead designer, Tina Whitmore, draws from over 20 years of design and 6 years of professional teaching experience to create original patterns and corresponding knitting and crochet kits. She writes patterns for all levels of knitters and crocheters, with an emphasis on intermediate level patterns.
Her unique color sense and creative inspiration come from an extensive background and degrees in both fine arts and textile design, as well as a lifetime of global travel and an appreciation of diverse cultures and history. Knitwhits/Freia Fibers is based just outside of San Francisco in Emeryville, California.
Worsted Knitt (WK): What got you into designing in the first place?
Tina Whitmore (TW): I’ve always designed knitted garments - starting from when I was in my teens. I had done design work for private clients for a number of years. For my regular job I was a freelance graphic designer. After the dotcom bust I had more time for personal knitting and decided to see if I could make a career of it, or at least do more on the side to supplement the graphic design income. The knitting took off just as the graphic design slowed to a crawl. The timing was perfect!
WK: What are your favourite things to design?
TW: Whatever I’m working on now!
WK: Ha, great answer! What are your favourite materials to work with?
TW: Well, I’m a big fan of my own handpainted yarns (freiafibers.com) which is what I use exclusively now. It comes in a variety of weights and fibers so I can knit pretty much anything with it. I have a nice squishy worsted wool that is scrumptious and I’m currently testing an assortment of silks and silk blends which show great promise.
WK: Who or what was your earliest inspiration that started you on your way to being the designer you are today?
TW: Rowan magazines/books have always been my favorite knitting books. I was really into needlepoint for a while and I’m a big fan of Kaffe Fassett and his wonderful use of color.
WK: How do you usually design – how would you describe your designing process?
TW: It’s usually the yarn that “tells” me what it wants to be. I usually design on the fly, maybe with a couple of quick chicken scratch sketches to flesh out shaping or the stitch pattern, then I knit, taking LOTS of notes. I’ll flip back and forth between knitting and pattern writing. If I have time I will reknit the pattern to see if anything is glaring at me.
WK: How do you conceptualize your designs?
TW: Half the time, when I get an idea for something I’m still working on two or three other ideas. This gives me space to see if the idea sticks. If a few weeks later it’s still burning inside me to knit that certain project then chances are it’s a good idea. However, the other half of the time, something will come to me, everything gets put aside and the world pretty much stops turning till it’s done!
WK: How does your “typical day” when designing look like?
TW: There is no “typical day” in what I do. I spend most of my time dyeing my handpaint yarns for stores. I find the most mental space for designing on a quiet Sunday afternoon and evening at home.
WK: Where do you get your inspiration?
TW: I think inspiration is all around, but I deliberately don’t look at other designers work. I will quickly glance through Vogue Knitting to see what they’re up to, and occasionally surf the web to see what’s going on in the fashion world, but really I’m not interested in trends. I’m interested in designing items that stand the test of time, so trends don’t motivate me much.
WK: Where do you do your best design work?
TW: At home in my living room!
WK: How do you nurture your creative spirit ?
TW: Well... that’s a good one. My work keeps me busy up to about 90 hours a week depending on the time of year, which gets fairly draining after about 3 or 4 months. At those times I just focus on getting done what I need to and my creative spirit goes fairly dormant! But then, once I can get my head above water I go back to my favorite non-knitting past time which is American Tribal Style Belly Dancing.
WK: Wow and wow - 90 hours and belly dancing! Sounds intense! What do you think is your "that one thing" that makes you a great designer?
TW: Great is a big word! I do see what I often come up with as not the “standard” stuff. I don’t lean to basics, though I really do try! I always end up needing to shake up the shaping or structure of a piece.
WK: What advice would you give to aspiring designers?
TW: Learn to manage your time. If you like to party, learn to cut back so that you focus on work, if you are a workaholic, make sure you take time to stop and smell the roses. Love what you do. If you don’t love it, find something else, because if you are successful, you want to be sure you feel good about how you are spending your time. Have good business sense. Learn the difference between breaking even and making a profit. You may be making art, but it’s still a business and you will still have bills to pay.
WK: Thanks for the interview, Tina!