Who’d have thought that a young art student’s blog, originally started in 2005 to encourage knit sharing and community in New York, would be the beginnings of the world-famous yarn brand, Brooklyn Tweed. Now settled in Portland, Oregon with his partner Luigi and French bulldogs Dante and Luna, founder Jared Flood caught up with us in early 2016 to tell us his story of a love of yarn, a yearning for well-constructed garments and a passion for quality.
Tell us about your knit beginnings…
“I was raised by a textile junkie. From a young age I remember my mother doing all sorts of handcrafts. I was always very interested in ‘string arts’ and spent a lot of time learning crafts from my mother.
“It wasn’t until I was in college, however, that I found knitting again. I re-learned the craft from a friend who’d knitted me a scarf. I remember having this sudden urge to make and design my own clothing and to take the simple knit and purl stitch to a deeper level of understanding. Between the library and the internet I was pretty much re-self-taught. When I discovered both knitting and photography later on I developed a deeper connection with them and realised I preferred my creativity to have a technical element. I loved that both knitting and photography are tactile, artistic pursuits, but both demand a certain level of technical proficiency and comprehension.”
How did Brooklyn Tweed come about?
“Brooklyn Tweed began as my personal blog in 2005. I worked a nine-to-five office job when I first moved to New York and noticed that I had a difficulty keeping up my creative work outside of my day job, partly from a lack of community to share with. By 2008 I was back in school studying for my Masters in Fine Art. While there I attended the TNNA trade show in the US and got my first glimpse of the knitting industry from the inside. It was a real eye-opening experience, and one that got me thinking about manufacturing a small batch of yarn here in the United States. I spent the next year and a half trying to figure out how that would work and in 2010 launched Shelter, our worsted weight Targhee-Columbia Wool yarn in 17 heathered colours.
“I hadn’t planned on starting a yarn company at that time. Shelter was more of a creative experiment, but I wasn’t expecting the demand it received. Since then I’ve taken an organic, step-by-step approach to developing Brooklyn Tweed into what it has become today, five years later. Obviously there is a more long-term approach to the planning of the business now, which feels great. I never dreamed that my blog would grow into the career that I currently have. It has been a wonderful roller coaster ride!”
What’s Brooklyn Tweed’s ethos?
“We are passionate about wool, knitting and design. We develop and manufacture yarns that support domestic textile production – designing, sourcing, dyeing and spinning our yarns within the USA. We are always striving to raise the bar in the industry in terms of the quality and aesthetic that people expect from a hand-knitting pattern. We believe that knitting design can be beautiful, fashionable and modern, while retaining its link to traditional and historic roots. I love when old and new come together, and that’s a driving force around here for sure.”
How are the pattern collections designed?
“We start planning design collections about a year before release. The first part is coming up with a concept, story or inspiration point for each collection. Sometimes it’s a historic knitting genre – fisherman sweaters, ganseys, traditional lace, Icelandic – and sometimes it’s a broader concept – geometry, simplicity, art. I always begin by creating an inspiration board of words and images to submit to the designers in order to get their creative gears turning.
“Most of the collections we produce come from our in-house design team – Véronik Avery, Norah Gaughan, Julie Hoover, Michele Wang, and myself. The five of us have a four-day design retreat once each year, usually in a remote location where we can focus on the work in a beautiful, quiet setting (this year we rented a mountain house on nearby Mount Hood in Oregon). Once a collection is decided upon, we prepare the designs for pattern writing and technical editing, which can take about eight weeks.”
How do you create your beautiful yarns?
“This is truly one of the favorite parts of my job. For the first five years we had two core yarn lines – Shelter and Loft – and concentrated on creating patterns for both of these yarns. Now we’re focusing again on creating original, breed-specific yarns manufactured here in the US. We’ve just launched chunky-weight Quarry and have more yarns in the works for 2016.
“When it comes to colour I’m most inspired by nature. Shelter, Loft and Quarry are all dyed-in-the-wool yarns, which means the colours are heathered blends of shades that mimic the colors from nature. My favorite yarns are Shetland yarns from Scotland, which are clearly inspired by the palette of the landscape there.
“In 2016 we are introducing some solid-coloured yarns which is very fun for me. Although my ‘happy place’ is always soft, tonal shades (I have a healthy love of greys and neutrals) I love a good pop of colour too.”
What does it take to launch a yarn?
“In the beginning it takes a lot of research. Learning hand-spinning and having an interest in the wool breeds was very important for me when I first started to figure out everything that would go into the process.
“I’m a pretty strong believer that hard work is the key ingredient to achieving just about anything and that short cuts don’t really exist. Having a good idea, a solid plan, and talented people to help you are all key ingredients of course, but none of that really makes a difference if you’re not putting in the hours. If I didn’t really love yarn, design, and fibre, I think the work would be much more difficult to sustain.”
What’s the future for Brooklyn Tweed?
“We’re focusing our efforts on developing more unique, breed-specific yarns that are made in America. I’m really excited to be crafting some new yarns to diversify the types of projects and fabrics we can create, as well as the expanded list of US manufacturers and ranchers we will be able to support.”
Tell us about your new book launch…
“All of our patterns are offered individually and directly to knitters through our website as downloadable PDFs but one of the most common requests has been for printed materials, particularly knitting books. We’ve been chewing on this idea for several years, trying to find a way to present our work in print, selling entire design collections which often include the work of several different designers, without compromising our designer-friendly ethos. Our new Capsule series is the result of that search.
“Capsule gives a single designer the opportunity to design a small wardrobe of knits that will be available as a printed knitting book (as well as via individual pattern downloads, like the rest of our pattern archive). We launched this new series in November 2015, leading with a collection by the very talented Olga Buraya-Kefelian. I’m a print-book-lover and I’ve selfishly longed for the day when we take our work onto paper. This first Capsule book has been a real joy to create. I’m really pleased with how it has all turned out and am anxious to work on our next one!”