Her designs are always stylish and impeccable with a great sense of color.
Here is Jill herself, answering questions for DS.
1. When did you start knitting (crocheting) and who taught you?
I learned to knit when I was 6 as a tag-along with my sister Susan’s Brownie troop. My mother was the leader and arranged for the Brownies to learn at the local yarn shop, The Knit Wit Shop. I was brought along because there was no sitter available. The owners looked at my hands and proclaimed me qualified. I did not like it at all. The yarn chosen was blue (not a color I like) and the rib slippers seemed incredibly difficult. When finished they were too large for my father’s foot! Lessons in gauge would come later.
2. When did you begin publishing your designs?
My first design was published in a magazine in 1995. It was a machine knit piece. It wasn’t until 1997 that I started doing hand knits.
3. What is your most favorite knitting (crocheting) technique?
I really like whatever I am currently working on—I am a generalist. I do love vintage lace and finding ways to use the stitch patterns that are fresh and new. I don’t love intarsia and stranded knitting so do those in small amounts, but everything else is on my list of favorites.
4. When you are thinking about some new design, what inspires you the most? Is it different every time? Could you give us some examples on inspiration for some of your designs?
I am trained as a fashion designer so everything comes through fashion. Ideas come from yarn, from stitch pattern, from silhouette, from art, from anything I see or am thinking about.
5. What does your studio look like?
My studio looks more like an office than a studio. Kind of a messy office, overfilled with things in progress. I always have lots of paper—the pattern writing part of my business, work in progress, swatches, yarns, inspirations, plus all the stuff related to computers and programs and running a business. In reality, it is a bedroom!
Surprisingly, I rarely knit during the day. I almost always have a bit of knitting in my purse although I rarely get a chance to pull it out. There are no cosy rockers in my life! I like to listen to books while I knit, or we watch TV. My husband and I bought a coffee table that has huge leather boxes underneath one side of it with my side being a project box. Turns out he doesn’t really love having knitting projects lying around the living room. I have supplies, paper, yarn for experimenting, unfinished projects, etc. in there for easy reach.
7. Do you spin your own yarn?
I am happy to leave spinning to others.
8. Do you belong to a knitting group?
I have had a small group that I knit with once a month in the past. The past couple of years haven’t left me with much time for that sort of knitting.
9. Are you in touch with other designers and how do you communicate with the knitters who knit your designs?
I have designer friends. I love talking to them because we understand the challenges we each face without first having to explain what the heck it is we do!
I work with one knitter who I communicate with directly through email and phone calls. She is fabulous and keeps my feet to the fire even when she could easily figure out the problem, she knows it is important that I get it solved as-we-go so that it is properly written into the pattern.
I have other knitters I work with, generally through a wonderful knitter who I pay to manage my knitting projects. I sometimes have six to eight knitters working on projects, so all communication comes through Robin. This helps me stay focused, and simple questions can be answered without my help so I spend less time on that and more on the big picture which is what I do best.
10. Where can we see your published designs?
Except for a few things that are not available right now, my work can be seen on Ravelry and on the Y2Knit site. I have a new site called Jill Wolcott Knits.
11. Do you teach classes? If yes, where do you teach?
I have mostly taught at Y2Knit Events and Retreats for the past 10 years. I also do online classes (primarily geared to knitwear designers) and hope to have knitting courses online in the future. As I quit doing Y2Knit Events I may have time to do LYS or guild classes.
I teach 42 weeks of the year at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco. I teach technical design and portfolio classes. One type of class is very technical and the other is very creative.
12. What would you like to tell knitters who are timid and do not believe they are skillful enough to knit some of your designs?
My patterns seem complicated because they are long: average pages for a garment is 12 to 16 pages. In reality I’ve done all the work for you, so you can enjoy the knitting!
I provide charts, schematics and complete written instructions, set out in a way that allows you to just follow along without having to do a lot of interpreting or calculating. I provide instructions for shaping and all finishing and other maneuvers I might call for in the pattern, as well as having an online database of technique descriptions for any technique I use. Due to constraints of time and space I do not always provide shaping charts.
I attempt to make every project so that as much as possible can be done “on the needles.” I think getting pieces put together is the biggest challenge for most of us because we love to knit, but find the sewing and other details less appealing. I give you complete instructions for everything, but you may find that parts of any pattern a bit of a challenge, requiring practice or concentration. This is a wonderful opportunity to for you to gain knowledge as you move through a project.
I am a huge proponent of doing a gauge swatch, and I like to add a shaped half-neckline (small) to my swatch. This allows me to practice picking up for trims and doing other finishing that I may need to perfect before doing the final piece.
13. What are your plans in the near future?
My future plans involve a lot of change. After 10 years of being a partnership I am striking out on my own. I plan to have a much more comprehensive techniques database on my new site, more instruction, blog entries on patterns and what goes on behind the scenes, and more design collections. I will continue writing the Style Guide for Creative Knitting and am working on a book.
14. Can you share with us some of your latest designs?
The most recent collection I have designed is the Powder River Collection
15. Would you like to add anything about yourself?
What I love about designing knits is that I get to create both the fabric and the silhouette. I’ve been designing as long as I can remember, and I don’t think there is much of my time that I am not thinking about design. I want knitters to be proud of what they knit—whether a scarf or a complicated garment—and to enjoy the process as much as the product.
Knitting is so awesome because it is basically simple but can be as complicated as you like it to be. Like every knitter, I have lots of projects going to satisfy my varying desire for complexity. I love that there are always new things to be learned, and also rediscovery of old favorites. I think garter stitch is a revelation: in the beginning it seems so ordinary, and later on it becomes incredibly sophisticated. I am fortunate to be able to do something I love and am really good at. Thankfully my husband sees that I am clothed, fed and housed because every penny I earn goes into my business!
FG: Jill, thank you so much for taking your time to answer my questions. It is always great to know how other designers work. Besides your amazing design line you are an example to many of us how to do this business right. I am looking forward to all your changes and good luck with your book.