Luce Design Series: Five Questions with Tanis Gray, Knitwear Designer
August 21, 2014
This Saturday, August 23rd, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., the Luce Foundation Center's Design Series will host a talk by Tanis Gray, local knitwear designer and publisher of numerous knitting books. Public programs coordinator, Katie Crooks, had a chance to talk with Tanis about her work.
Eye Level: How old were you when you started knitting?
Tanis Gray: My mom wanted to knit me a sweater when I was 8 years old. She had knitted in her youth and wanted to get back into it but it had been a long time and she needed someone to help refresh her skills. While she re-learned, she taught me. With the help of her, a knitting neighbor and my LYS (local yarn shop) owner, I quickly became obsessed and fascinated that I could make something that was both beautiful and useful. I never looked back!
EL: How long does it take you to design something to knit?
TG: It depends on what I'll be designing. If it's something that has a fairly specific surface area (like a hat or mittens) I know the parameters I have to work within. That doesn't mean it's always easy. There are thousands of stitch patterns, a lot of math, gauge, silhouette and aesthetics to work into the equation, but working on something small like that takes less time than a sweater, shawl or cowl where the possibilities are endless. Sometimes a design that you think will work simply doesn't when you get to the actual knitting stage, even if you swatched it out. Yarn is a factor as well, especially if it's tricky to work with. It can completely change a look or idea.
EL: What do you look to for inspiration?
TG: Inspiration has never been an issue. I'm fortunate enough to live near DC, where the architecture, landscape and museums we have at our disposal are bursting at the seams with inspiration. My mother is a painter and pastel artist and has taken me to museums my entire life. She taught me to always be on the lookout for inspiration and I do my best thinking and working out of patterns and ideas at night when I run.
EL: How does one, and you specifically, become a knitwear designer?
TG: Anyone can design! Just like anything in life, practice, practice, practice. I got started because I couldn't find mittens that I liked, so I designed and knitted my own at age 8. I always tell people that I've ripped out more than I've knitted and you need to be able to do that, not get attached to your knitting and not be afraid to make mistakes and go back to the drawing board. Take classes to learn new techniques, speak with other knitters, find your own voice and aesthetic and do what makes YOU happy. I stumbled into designing while working at Vogue Knitting. I never thought I'd be able to design something as beautiful as what was in the magazines, but it takes a little faith, a little experimentation and a good idea. I find a lot of knitters to be perfectionists and they get frustrated when they can't make something work. I tell them to remember when they first picked up knitting needles and had no idea what they were doing and look where they are now! In the digital age we live in, anyone can start a blog and publish a pattern.
EL: Are there other types of crafts that you'd like to learn how to do or that you do on the side already?
TG: When our son was born I got pretty heavily into photography. I took a lot of classes and read a lot of books and now photograph knitting books for other people as well as my independent patterns. I also love to sew and tend to sew and quilt late into the night while everyone else is asleep. I am fascinated by all sorts of crafts and techniques and will try anything at least once!
EL: What did you do before you started designing knitwear?
TG: After I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, I worked briefly at Martha Stewart, HBO doing animation for their family station and in TV and film in the art department. I left the film industry after the hours got to be too much and worked at Vogue Knitting for years. I never thought something I had enjoyed most of my life that I had just seen as a useful hobby could turn into a career that I adore!