The Knitographer Interviews... Just Jussi

Recently I fell in love with a sweater. It was all I ever wanted in knitwear - raglan sleeves, simple stocking stitch to go with everything and a great fat cat intarsia motif on the front. Sadly, the pattern only comes in kids' sizes, but the awesome designer, Justine Turner of Just Jussi, was kind enough chat to me about her work! 

You design some really cool kids' stuff. How did you become a knitwear designer?

Thank you! I started knitting at five and right from the start I had trouble sticking to patterns. I think I had an innate understanding of how knitted pieces fit together and was not scared to deviate from instructions - I often took a sleeve from one garment, neckline from another and stitch pattern from another.

When my daughters (now aged 27, 23 and 22) were little I would sell knitted hats at a local market and when the eldest two went to school I enrolled in the Certificate in Knitwear Technology and Fashion at the then AIT (Auckland University of Technology). This was a one year course for knitting machine technicians with a bit of fashion design thrown in for luck. I enjoyed the class and learnt a lot, but life took one of those sudden turns and design was no longer a career option.

Fast forward 12 years and lots of changes, but knitting was always a constant. Finally I had an opportunity to start selling patterns and when Ravelry came along it totally revolutionised self-publishing. Throw in an empty nest and total disillusionment in my other career combined with a wonderfully supportive husband who said, "just do it" I started designing at the beginning of this year.

What do you think makes a good pattern design?

Good pattern design, ooh, I have learnt that you cannot please everyone, so you may as well please yourself! I try to design garments which are simple to knit (in the main) that do not necessarily follow a standard construction method, but do have a logic to their construction. Just this morning a test knitter questioned me on a neck shaping, because this is not the way the patterns she has used before do it, when I explained WHY I was doing it that way she immediately understood and was happy to continue. A good pattern design will most importantly look good on the wearer, use the simplest methods to achieve all elements of the design and hopefully stretch the knitter just a little further.

Some of Justine's stash.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Inspiration is an interesting subject, in the class I teach in Knitwear Design I show the class how to grab those flashes of inspiration and store them away for later, I use Evernote to collate photos of things I see, sketches I draw on napkins, colours, ideas I have whilst waiting at the doctor, so that when I sit down to design I have lots of potential to springboard from.

My greatest source of inspiration though, is knitting. I keep a notebook right beside me when knitting as the ideas come thick and fast "this garment I am knitting would be great with this kind of sleeves, and if I did this there and with that other yarn..." that is typical of the internal conversation which runs constantly while I knit.

For the longest time I refused to look at children's fashion or other knitwear designers’ work because I didn't want to be influenced, but now with my baby granddaughter I am finding the new ways of constructing baby garments for wearability interesting and they are giving me food for thought.

How long does it generally take for you to take an initial concept to a completed design and finished pattern?

I usually narrow down an idea, write a rough draft in one size, knit it and change a lot of things as I go. This takes up to a week, but usually two to three days. Once the sample is knitted the graded pattern is usually written within a day, and then its a couple of weeks for test knitting, and depending on the type of edit I need another week to month for editing. The average pattern is now taking me a month from start to finish, but some do take a lot longer. I usually have a few patterns on the go, all at different stages of production.

What are your favourite tools of the trade and yarns to use?

I wouldn't be without my Addi interchangeables, both nickel and bamboo. I decided that the expense is worth it as they should last the rest of my life, with care. A well organised, well stocked tools bag is always at my side, I have a small portable version and the bigger bag which contains everything: tape measures, needle sizes, stitch markers, scissor, cable needles, handcream, you name it!  

I have a terrible time sitting still, I'm always leaping up to do something or other, so having my tools at my side is vital, otherwise I would never get my knitting finished!

My favourite yarns to work with vary according to the project, but basically for babies I love Debbie Bliss Cashmerino baby, it is washable, soft, comes in a myriad of nice colours and is reasonable accessible, it also knits up quickly without being bulky. For toddlers Malabrigo Rios is a dream, fun colourways, soft enough (always important - yarn doesn't have to be powder puff soft, but definitely not scratchy for kids) washable (for obvious reasons) and it is lovely to work with.

New Zealand is very lucky to have the wonderful online mill shop Skeinz, their DK yarns especially are perfect for children, the prices are amazing and they have nice colour ranges. 

More stash! You can never have too much!
Any advise for knitters who want to start designing their own patterns?

If you want to design patterns learn from other designers, buy the best instructional books on the types of garments you want to make, "Sweater design in plain English" by Maggie Righetti and "Knitting from the top down" by Barbara Walker are excellent,  "The principles of knitting" by  June Hemmons Hiatt will assist with developing new skills and giving you ideas of better ways to do things. Craftsy has some amazing classes which will teach you to design, grade sizes and write patterns. If you decide to self publish your patterns then Ravelry would be the best place to start, they make it very easy to set up a store, market your patterns and interact with knitters, the forums contain a wealth of information, even if you don't actively participate. Oh and also read Shannon Okey's book "The Knitgrrl guide to professional knitwear design" it is invaluable.

Do not undervalue your work, if you want to post free patterns that is fine (it's great, everyone loves a free pattern!) but if you plan to make some of your income from pattern sales it is best to have one or two free patterns to showcase your pattern writing abilities and to price the remainder of your patterns in line with the market. The experience of most designers I know is that you will spend much more time answering peoples questions about your free patterns than you will ever spend answering questions on your paid patterns, and time is money.

When you're not knitting for you own designs, what do you like making?

This is sad, I looked through my projects page to see what I have made in the past year, and there are a few hats for my daughter and myself, a pair of mitts, a cardigan for myself (rare) some simple socks and an Aranami shawl. The rest of the projects are for babies as my granddaughter was born in January and my eldest daughter has a baby due next month, I suppose that is a good enough excuse! Currently I have a Colour Affection on the needles (though I'm not too enamoured with it) and big plans to knit myself a sleeveless top and a cardigan in time for KAN.

I like the idea of following someone else's pattern just so that I don't have to think, but the reality is that I still always change something, its in my nature and I love it when people alter my patterns - I love to see what they come up with.

I recently took up crochet, and I have a huge crochet blanket which I work on after I finish my knitting work for the day, it is a way of saying to myself "stop now and relax", every now and then I start designing crochet in my head, but that is never going to happen!

What's your favourite knitting technique?

That’s like asking which is my favourite child! I like slip stitch patterning, as we work with so many handpainted yarns these days and slip st patterning seems to bring out the best in them. I love garter stitch for its simplicity. I do not stick to any one construction method, there are times when bottom up is better than top down, when seams are necessary and separate pieces just make more sense.

I have fallen in love with Magic Loop, it frees us from the tyranny of having to switch from DPNs to various lengths of cable as we knit a sweater in the round, and watching two socks grow on one needle is brilliant! 

I've seen a nice picture of your studio on your blog - how important is it for you to have a creative work space?

Thank you! The studio is a necessary luxury, when our last child left home I moved my workspace from the family room and the move has helped my design process no end. I am surrounded by my yarns and books, everything is organised and has a home - the only thing I need to do is sit down and work! I can have my music playing, the cats visit from time to time, family members pop in for a chat and I can watch my garden through the windows. I am very lucky.

What are your design plans for the next year or so? Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

My plans for the next year are to publish at least one design per month (on average), I have regular commissioned work which always has to come first as it pays best. I'm planning to build up my printed pattern range as there are a lot of knitters who do not buy patterns online. At present  I'm working on a simple little jacket named Sakura, it has very little shaping and I think it will be a good pattern for the adventurous beginner, it is a bit of a tasting plate of new techniques like provisional cast on, intarsia and applied i-cord.

The other garment in testing at present is Izzie, a sweet little tunic dress with big bold stripes. I came up with this idea while dressing my granddaughter, it is easy to get on, stays on, keeps her warm, looks cute, easy nappy changes, all the good things! I have designed it all the way up to 10 years, I think it will look amazing with leggings, boots and a merino skivvy!

Some of your designs would make awesome adults' clothes (I'm thinking the Fat Kitty Sweater for myself....). Is designing for grown ups something you're interested in doing?

I am always being asked to design for grown ups, but seriously there are so many talented designers already doing this, I like my niche!

A lot of kids designs look like they would be nice on an adult, but you have to start from scratch with the garments because adults are shaped so differently from kids. Maybe I should publish a booklet of my intarsia charts so that knitters can put my charts on adult size garments...hmmm!

I did promise to upsize Evie. It’s on my to-do list because it would translate easily. I have published a couple of free designs for adults, and the Mister Man vest is in 20 sizes from baby to huge man, but designing for babies and children is the thing that makes me happy.

All pictures courtesy of Just Jussi.


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