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Meet the Maker: Françoise Danoy of Aroha Knits

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.

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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.

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Puaka Shawlette.

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. IMG_0909_medium2

Hutu Scarf.

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.

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Hihiko Hat.

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.

Maia

Maia Tee.

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.

HuatauCardigan

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.

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Iraira Shawl.

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.

WhakamarieTop

Whakamarie Top.

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.

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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!

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Kumara cowl.

Thank you for your time, Françoise! We look forward to following more of your knitwear adventures in the years to come!


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Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Never mind the packing or who’s collecting the mail. For crafters who knit every day and about to embark on a road trip or an overseas holiday, the first consideration many have is what project to bring along.

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Pierre Desceliers’ World Map (1550), British Library

The sage advice (where carrying capacity is not an issue and the travelling not too peripatetic) is usually something to finish, something to start and one more thing Just In Case. You never want to run out, do you?

To which can be added other considerations. The something to finish, for instance, cannot really be anything too big, like a blanket – too much yarn to lug, especially if you’re flying. And for some of us, neither can the piece require laser-like attention every row (bye, lace, complicated cables, stranded knitting with multiple colour changes) since the traveller may have to look out for turn-offs and navigate canals.

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You’d likely want to keep the garment as seamless as possible. And unless you are prepared to pack sweater quantities of 8-ply or worsted-weight yarn, the yarn has to be between laceweight and sportweight. You can see why socks and shawls are so popular.

Kirsten Johnstone from Assemblage actually designed and knitted her Ryoko while holidaying abroad with her family for three months. It’s a design that checks many boxes for travel knitting: it is knit in a lightweight yarn, so it’s portable and squishes down easily enough. The shaping is subtle, but interesting enough to hold your attention.

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Whilst knitting needles are mostly once again allowed on planes, there are still enough stories of confiscated needles at random destinations to suggest caution.

So, if you don’t want to run the risk of having to cut the tips off your Addis, use wooden or bamboo needles. Circular needles are easier to manage in the confined space of a plane or train. Ensure there’s some knitting on the needles already.

Choose projects where you can ‘read’ the knitting instead of having to check off rows as you go. Or pick an easy enough pattern. Have the pattern you’re using in three spots: on your phone, tablet/laptop and, always, as a hard copy. If you have Dropbox, park it in the cloud. You never know. Use a nail clipper in place of scissors.

Be prepared for conversations with strangers. Knitting is one of the best ways of meeting new people.

And when you return, you’ll have a piece that you can look at and remember, I did that sleeve in Cairns or finished the shawl border in Estonia. Now, that’s priceless.

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In store news, we still have some places available in our upcoming classes on using Ravelry, knitting short rows, managing knitting charts, finishing touches and Christmas decorations. Just call or email us to book your place. Detailed outlines and information are on the Classes 2015 link at the top of the page, or here.

Knitting’s high season has begun in the northern hemisphere with the arrival of fall/autumn. There are lots of gorgeous new patterns on Interweave Knits and Knitty. Check them out if you’re looking for a project. Many of the patterns make excellent gifts and are ideal for trans-seasonal wear.


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In focus: Elizabeth Zimmermann

Of all the knitting books in the shop, some of our favourites- the ones we return to again and again- are those of Elizabeth Zimmerman. With their homespun styling and outside-of-fashion designs, they may not look as promising as some of the prettier, more modern collections when you first pick them up but inside each cover is a wealth of knitting treasure… Elizabeth Zimmermann (1910-1999) was a British-born, Wisconsin-based knitter who revolutionised modern knitting through her books and instructional series on American public television. Her approach to knitting was wholly unconventional for the times, encouraging knitters to work to their own body measurements and shape, rather than relying on commercial patterns, which also allowed them to experiment and develop their own ideas and patterns. With this in mind, she developed Elizabeth’s Percentage System (EPS), a system for creating a custom-fit garment knitted in the round from the bottom up based on a series of measurements. This system is still used by many independent hand-knit designers and many of our favourite patterns on Ravelry have their core in the EPS! The EPS is referred to in most of Elizabeth’s patterns but is described in detail in Knitting Around and Knitting Without Tears.

Elizabeth's Percentage System or EPS

Elizabeth’s Percentage System (EPS)

Understanding that the body was tubular, rather than flat, Elizabeth also popularised the traditional practice of knitting in the round, which had been central to folk knitting for hundreds of years but had fallen out of favour in the twentieth century. However, being in many ways a thoroughly modern woman, she knit on circular needles, instead of the long double-pointed needles used in Shetland and other parts of the world. She was so convinced by seamless knitting that, annoyed when one of her publishers rewrote her design for a seamless Shetland yoke jumper to be knit flat, she started publishing her patterns herself- and Schoolhouse Press was born! Elizabeth also helped to reintroduce the continental style of knitting (which involved holding the yarn in the left hand) to the US, after it fell out of favour after World War 2 because of its association with Germany- inherently practical, Elizabeth felt it was quicker and more efficient that the English style of knitting. As you’d expect, her books are full of other tips and techniques for  interesting details and good finishing, such as the phoney seam that allows a garment knitted without seams to sit flat:

Phoney seams

Phoney seams

And many of her designs have becomes rites of passage of generations of knitters; the Baby Surprise Jacket (from the Opinionated Knitter and the Knitters Almanac) is a piece of phenomenal engineering that only Elizabeth could have come up with! How does a piece of knitting like this…

The Baby Surprise Jacket

The Baby Surprise Jacket

… end up looking like this?!

Baby Surprise Jacket

Baby Surprise Jacket

The many thousands of Baby Surprise Jackets on Ravelry pay homage to Elizabeth’s legacy. These are a couple of our favourites- sewnancy’s lovely, simple version makes it all about the shape and mitred shaping, whereas helloyarn‘s is all about the gorgeous variegated yarn:

Sewnancy's BSJ

Sewnancy’s BSJ

Earlier this year, we ran a two-part class on seamless knitting and much of the content for that class originated in Elizabeth’s books, including the EPS; if you are at all interested, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to hear about newly released classes, as we’ll definitely be running classes on seamless, custom-fit knits next year… Although her innovative spirit had enormous influence on modern knitting, she underplayed her contributions to modern knitting, calling her innovations ‘unventions’ and saying of them: “One un-vents something; one unearths it; one digs it up, one runs it down in whatever recesses of the eternal consciousness it has gone to ground. I very much doubt if anything is really new when one works in the prehistoric medium of wool with needles. The products of science and technology may be new, and some of them are quite horrid, but knitting? In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep. Seamless sweaters and one-row buttonholes; knitted hems and phoney seams – it is unthinkable that these have, in mankind’s history, remained undiscovered and unknitted. One likes to believe that there is memory in the fingers; memory undeveloped, but still alive.” ― Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitter’s Almanac If you are interested in learning more about Elizabeth Zimmermann, you can find all her books in stock at Sunspun. You may also like to visit Schoolhouse Press, which was established by Elizabeth and carried on by her daughter (and designer in her own right) Meg Swansen, which sells many of her patterns, DVD’s and associated yarns and products.