Designer Q&A: Jennifer Dassau

Jennifer Dassau is the talent behind The Knitting Vortex and author of the best-selling book Knitting Short Rows: Techniques for Great Shapes & AnglesGrab a warm cuppa and join us as we chat a bit about knitting, designing, and writing . . .

knitting short rowsKerry: Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me, Jennifer. I’m excited to dig in and learn more about you! My favorite question to start with: how did you get started knitting?

Jennifer: Thirteen years ago, when my son was a baby, I decided I wanted to learn how to knit. I had always been a maker and sewist, but I needed a more portable activity that didn’t require having to work in a certain place and use a stationary machine. I picked up a “learn to knit” booklet from the big-box craft store, with straight needles and a wool-blend yarn, and taught myself.

Kerry: Oh, I tried so many times to learn to knit that way but it never stuck! I needed a friend to hold my hands (literally) through the process. Well done! When did you make the transition from knitter to designer?

Jennifer: Like so many current designers, it happened organically. As soon as I mastered the basics, I was thinking about different or better ways of working the patterns that I was following. In particular, I wanted to work seamlessly whenever possible; I didn’t like binding off and sewing up, and trying to attach or shape things separately. So I began designing accessories and sweaters for myself, the way I liked to knit things, and I casually released some patterns for those things on Ravelry. In 2012, after the surprise (to me!) hit of my slipstitch shawl pattern Sundry, I decided consciously and deliberately to put on the pattern-designer hat and develop a collection of five short-row garter shawls. That’s also when I first started designing for Interweave and some other publishers. I really enjoyed creating those pieces, and also the process of writing the patterns, and I’ve been pursuing indie and commercial publication pattern design ever since!

Kerry: I’m right there with you—seaming is not my favorite thing. I often adapt patterns to not have to seam. And it sounds to me like short-rows have been a staple in your design career for some time. I’m so glad you’ve shared your expertise in Knitting Short Rows. In the book, you go into detail about each of five short-row techniques. Do you have a particular technique you favor, or is it really about choosing the best technique for the project?

Jennifer: While it’s always about choosing the best technique for the project, with short-rows you can often substitute methods successfully. Wrap & turn used radialraglan_2to be my go-to, and often it still is, especially for garter stitch. But my new favorite is the German method, which is just so simple—it’s basically worked the same way all the time, is easy to see, and gives a generally great result.

Kerry: I’m going to try the German method for the first time when I knit your Buttonside sweater in January. I seriously love that sweater and can’t wait to cast on. Speaking of favorites, do you have a favorite project in the book? Can you share more about the vision behind it and the process of knitting it?

Jennifer: I do have a favorite project; the Radial Raglan is my ideal sort of sweater, with an easy shape and unusual construction. It’s worked top-down and seamlessly, but with interesting modified construction, where stitches for the fronts are picked up from the front raglan lines and united with the back at the time the body and sleeves are divided. Increases add a swing shape to this angled orientation of the fronts, and the short-rows that are worked between the decorative garter ridges add even more shape to the semi-circular back hem. I like a project that’s not knit in a completely typical way, and I’m a bit of a construction geek; this worked out perfectly the first time, exactly as I’d envisioned it. I like to wear it with skinny pants and heeled boots.

Kerry: That sounds like a fascinating project to knit. Did any of the projects or techniques really challenge you? I think oftentimes people assume it’s all smooth sailing through the book writing/knitting process.

Jennifer: The biggest challenge was writing the technique tutorials for the five methods, because each step had to be clear, concise, and correct. My major goal for the book is making short-row techniques accessible to knitters, because I think there are a lot of people out there knitting who want to explore new methods and add new skills to their repertoire. I knit swatches over and over again, writing out the steps and then testing them. And then there was more swatching to discuss adapting the techniques for different situations, like working in the round or in pattern. All of that was happening concurrently with designing and knitting the samples, so it was a busy time.

radialraglan_3Kerry: I think you achieved your goal and then some. Knitting Short Rows is a fantastic guide to each technique and it’s jam packed with must-have reference info for readers. (Virtual high five, my knitting friend!) With all the hard work of testing, writing, and editing behind you, what’s next for you? Now that the book is out in the world, will you be teaching or traveling to visit any particular yarn shops?

Jennifer: I’m enjoying having the time to focus on my indie pattern line again, as well as submitting designs to magazines, and I have a couple of exciting collaborations with dyers coming up in 2017. I want to delve more deeply into some other knitting techniques and expand the tutorial-plus-pattern model. After a great trunk show and talk about the Knitting Short Rows designs at Twist in Lahaska, Pennsylvania, I’m planning some additional appearances for the future, which I’ll definitely announce on social media. In the best of all possible worlds, soon everyone will be knitting short-rows.

Kerry: With Knitting Short Rows as their guide, I’m sure everyone will be.

—Kerry Bogert
Editorial Director of Books

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