Born in Sydney, raised in Austin, Texas, lives in Ubuyama, a small village on the Japanese island of Kyushu, surrounded by rolling hills, mountains and dairy farms. If there’s a citizen of the world, Françoise Danoy from Aroha Knits quite possibly encapsulates it, with her Franco–Maori, American–Australian heritage.
It’s always a pleasure to find new-to-us designers whose work is simple, stylish and accessible, made even more meaningful when each piece incorporates a little of the maker’s cultural history.
Beyond knitwear design, Françoise is also finding a way of turning her passion for craft into a viable, sustainable business. Her website is a treasure trove of resources for fibre lovers, offering inspiration, ideas, yarn reviews, giveaways, techniques and lots of practical, hard-won advice that may spark your own creativity.
What is your background?
I graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2013 with a double degree in International Relations and French.
I had always planned on going into graduate school for a Masters in a related field and pursue teaching, but then I discovered knitting. In late 2013 I had to go to the US from my teaching job in Japan to apply for US citizenship or risk not being able to move back (immigration laws are a pain). I picked up knitting during my down time between jobs and to keep my mind off of things like missing my then fiancé (now husband) who was still in Japan. It was during that period when my life path really started to shift.
Tell us how Aroha Knits began.
Aroha Knits was founded not long after I started knitting, in August 2014. By that time, I had already published several basic patterns on Ravelry under the name ‘Frenchie Knits’ and was preparing to move to Japan. I started thinking about what I wanted to do while I was in Japan with my husband, since I couldn’t work. I decided that since I enjoyed knitting and designing so much as a hobby, I would turn it into a full-time career and see how far I could go with it.
I knew that I would want to incorporate Maori motifs into my work at some point so I changed the name from French Knits to Aroha Knits. Aroha is Maori for ‘love’ and is also my middle name. I thought the name more fitting as it reflected my culture and heritage, my love for knitting and how knitting has become a part of me.
How important is incorporating Maori culture into your work?
It is very important to me. Growing up, I never got the chance to learn about my mother’s heritage and living in the States didn’t help much either. Knitting has given me the strange opportunity to learn more about my culture as some of the designs lend themselves well to knitting techniques such as fair isle and intarsia.
So many of us fantasise about days spent dreaming up designs and making, making, making! What does a day in the life of Aroha Knits look like?
I have a set structure to my day that helps me stay on track and meet deadlines. The mornings are dedicated to photography, emails, social media and connecting with the knitting community. After lunch until my husband gets home from work, I use that time to knit, knit, knit any project I’m working on.
On average, how long does a piece take from first swatch to publication or upload?
There are a lot of factors that determine how long the process takes, but it can take anywhere from two to three months. I give myself a week to flesh out the design, make some swatches, chart out the stitch patterns, choose the yarn, etc.
The next week or two is dedicated to knitting up the sample.
The test knitting is the longest stage in this process so my testers have the time to knit up their samples and give me feedback – I know that many of them don’t have the luxury of being able to knit all day and I am a fast knitter.
Then, after the test deadline, I take another week to make the final edits. Projects like the Puaka Shawlette took only about two months to get published, but garments like the Maia Tee or Whakamarie took about three months.
The Huatau Cardigan takes the cake for the longest amount of time to get published: four to five months! And that was because I hired a tech editor and grader to look over the pattern for me and write up the different sizes, as it was my first garment.
Do your patterns come to you resolved or does the success of the piece lie in the countless hours of finetuning and working with test knitters?
Because I am a monogamous knitter, I always try to get a new project on the needles as soon as possible. Sometimes I’ll have a design idea pop into my mind that I will start sketching out, but usually I start by doodling in my notebook and let the ideas come to me.
I’ll flip through my stitch dictionaries and browse through Ravelry and Pinterest for inspiration, but once I have the final ideas down, I start knitting the sample and try to stay as close to my initial concept as possible. I do allow myself to make changes to the design as I work through it though.
The test-knitting stage is mostly for testers to make sure the math checks out and the instructions are clear. However I do encourage them to make suggestions to the design to make it a more enjoyable knitting experience, say, by changing the type of increase, switching the design from being knit flat to knit in the round.
What are the challenges to running your own business? How do you reconcile the business and the creative aspects?
One of the biggest challenges I face as an independent knitwear designer is that the industry is pretty unpredictable. I can spend weeks working on a design, taking good photos, executing a good marketing strategy to gain interest, but when I release it, it’s crickets.
Sometimes my creative vision isn’t what knitters are interested in at the moment, but that’s OK. I’m still building my portfolio and ‘failures’ are only really failures if you let them kick you out of designing. I just have reconcile what I really want to knit with what knitters really want to buy. And it’s not a hard compromise since the knitting community is so diverse. I just have to accept that not every pattern is going to be a hit.
How do you choose the yarn for your creations?
I spend a good amount of time picking the right yarn for my designs. I usually sketch out my ideas first, fleshing out what types of stitches I would use in the design, determining if I want the project to focus more on drape, stretch, memory, etc. Because each fibre has its own strengths and weaknesses, I seek out the ones that would best compliment and work well with my design.
What and who inspires you?
I think everyone that I’ve talked to and met in the knitting community has inspired me in some way, whether it be long-time designers and yarn makers who have worked for years nurturing and growing their craft, to those who are just starting out and making that great and scary leap to get their careers kicked off … Everyone has a story to share that drives me to continue what I love doing most.
What can we expect from Aroha Knits in the future?
Obviously more pattern releases! That is my prime focus for Aroha Knits – always creating fresh, unique and creative designs that knitters will enjoy knitting for themselves.
I am currently working on multiple projects: an ebook aimed towards aspiring designers that will take them through the steps of successfully releasing a self-published pattern.
I am also working on some mini e-courses to compliment the book release, focusing on some of the content that the book touches on: for example, how to take flattering photos of your knits, managing and running social media accounts such as Instagram and Facebook.
I also have a design collection collaboration with a fellow knitter who is also living in Japan that will heavily focus on the fusion of modern knitwear and Maori taniko. I have a very busy year ahead of me!
Thank you for your time, Françoise! We look forward to following more of your knitwear adventures in the years to come!