Monday, November 24, 2014

Gift-a-long Designer Interview: Ashwini Jambhekar

I think I mentioned last week that one of my favorite parts about the GAL is getting to know other designers. We interact a fair bit in the designers groups on Ravelry, but usually our discussion tend to me about design-specific stuff -- how to word something or how to represent something in a chart, for example. During the GAL, though, we're all chatting as we're working on a holiday knitting, so it's almost like a vacation from the design business.

One of the designers I knew a little bit through our earlier interactions on the forums is Ashwini Jambhekar (she's AshwiniJ on Ravelry). I was delighted to get to interview her for the blog and learn a bit more about her background and design process. I think you'll enjoy getting to know her as well!

How did you start designing? What inspired you to start? Tell me a little about your first design.
I started designing when I was in grad school in San Francisco. Up to that point, I had mostly shopped only in big box yarn stores, and had worked only from patterns published in women's magazines or LeisureArts leaflets. Needless to say, none of these was particularly attractive to a young 20-something, and I actually didn't do a whole lot of knitting in college or early grad school. In San Francisco I discovered a wonderful LYS called Artfibers (which sadly closed about a year ago). Their yarns were amazing, the staff was helpful and knowledgeable, and the shop samples were to die for. And if you purchased their yarn, they would use their sweater design software to help you create a pattern for anything you could dream up! Kira Dulaney (kirakdesigns on Ravelry) was the manager then, and I definitely picked her brain about the design process. This was the first time I realized that knitting didn't have to be frumpy sweaters sized to fit the whole family! I finally found the freedom and skills to create what I wanted. That being said, I don't even know what to call my "first" design, because I started by gradually adapting existing patterns. One of the early "designs" just involved substituting one lace panel for another in the center front of a sweater. I gradually started substituting yarns with different gauges and recalculating the pattern, or changing the construction method, until I was finally making truly original work.

My first published design happened by fluke. One of my fellow dancers discovered that I knit (I had posted some photos on Facebook), and she referred me to her mother-in-law-to-be (Vicki Stiefel, LaidBackKnitter on Ravelry), who was working on a knitting book. After a chat with Vicki, I agreed to recreate an existing design for 10 Secrets of the LaidBack Knitters. It took me a while to discover Ravelry after that, but I did eventually. And it even took me some time after that to start designing more regularly. But I'm very glad to have finally stumbled upon this path!

Cranberry Brioche Sweater
You have an interesting background in that you're a scientist and also have done professional ballet dancing. How do you feel that these interests have influenced your knitting and designing?
I think in all three areas -- science, dance, and designing. What I enjoy the most is using a defined framework to create something unique, interesting, and possibly beautiful. So far these three areas haven't melded together in any tangible way, but one of my dreams is to design a ballet-themed ebook, with dance shots interspersed with garment photos. I discovered that garments don't photograph well in actual dance shots, so I'll probably keep the two separate. I just have to find the time to make it happen!

My science background has definitely helped with the technical aspects of pattern writing. I've become proficient at writing complex instructions in a rigorous manner, and making sure all math is correct. I'm also proficient enough with image editing and graphic arts software (mainly the Adobe Suite), so that also helps. I see how much of a struggle writing and photo editing can be for other designers, so I'm always grateful to have had formal training in these areas. Getting good photos in the first place, however, has been the most difficult aspect of designing for me (and my husband, who plays photographer).

What is your favorite type of item to design and knit?

Sweaters for sure. I like my creations to be front and center, and to steal the show! Additionally, I like that sweaters provide a huge canvas to explore a variety of ideas, such as different types of shaping and the interplay between different stitch patterns.
What (if anything) are you knitting for gifts this year?I always make something for my mom and for my husband (my mom generally supplies my dad with a hand-knit, so she has that covered). This is the first year that my holiday gifts are coming from other designers' patterns. My mom is getting Lingerie socks (designed by Maria Naslund), and my husband is getting a Sandpoint Pullover (designed by Elizabeth Morrison). I originally knit the socks for myself, but they fit my mom so much better that I'm giving them to her. In both cases, the recipients know what to expect. In fact, my husband practiced casting on and knitting for the first time with the pullover, so he has actually contributed to his own gift! The socks are finished, but I'm not sure the pullover will be done in time for the holidays -- I'll be knitting like crazy during the last week of December to try to make it happen.

What can we expect to see from you, design-wise, in 2015?

I think I'd like to try out different sweater constructions. All my sweaters are worked flat, bottom-up, and seamed, with set-in sleeves. There are so many possibilities to explore in this format that I don't think I'll ever run out of ideas. But I do want to try some other types of construction, like top-down or sideways. It will involve stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit, but I think I'm ready to tackle a new design challenge!
Thanks so much for taking take to answer my questions, Ashwini!

You can see all of Ashwini's published designs on Ravelry here. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

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