Today, I’m excited to have Shannon and Jason Mullett-Bowlsby (aka, the Shibaguyz) over for an interview! This dynamic duo form an awesome design team, designing knit & crochet wear (Shannon) and putting it together in lovely photography and design (Jason). They’re the designers of Urban Edge (previously chatted about here), a new book called Moonstruck and oodles of other designs. Oh, and they’re wonderful guys, too!
So, hang out with us and peek into our chat. Be sure to check out the Shibaguyz website for all of their designs!
All photos courtesy of the Shibaguyz
I love your new book, Moonstruck: Ten Sensuous Knit Patterns Sized Small-5X. All ten designs are beautiful. How do you begin the process of putting together so many designs? Does the theme strike you first? Does the yarn speak to you? Do tell!
Thank you so much! We’re happy you like Moonstruck. The process of making this book started over a year before it was published. I began rolling ideas around in my head right after we finished up our last book. I knew I wanted to do a collection of knit garments, and I knew I wanted the yarns to be something really special. Since we had been doing so much work with Mango Moon Yarns, we approached them with the idea of doing a co-published book and, fortunately, they were as excited about the project as we were!
As far as the actual designs go… let me start by saying that I sketch a LOT when I am putting together a collection of designs. Basically anything goes and will find myself sitting there with 50, 60 or even a 100+ concept sketches. It really can be overwhelming sometimes. In this case, I knew Mango Moon’s yarn line very well and started pairing up my design sketches with the yarns I thought would create the best fabrics.
Then the hard part started. Going through my sketches and picking some while leaving others behind is such a gut wrenching experience for me. Sometimes I just sit for hours and stare at sketches without moving. The Shibakidz come in and out of the studio and give me odd looks and Jason does a lot of running up and down the stairs (his studio is one floor down from mine) helping me decide which neckline looks better with this or that sleeve length. After the first cut, we were able to narrow our choices down to around 30 or 40 designs. We let that set for a while… like a few days I think… then narrowed it down again to the final 15 or 20 designs we wanted to present to Mango Moon. This final decisions making part of the process can sometimes be a little touch and go too because the “designer ego” can get in the way and I start having a conversation in the back of my mind about why the client didn’t like that neckline that I thought was FREAKIN’ GENIUS!! Fortunately, in this case, we were all coming from a very similar design esthetic and the folks at Mango Moon know their product intimately so the whole process was a lot of fun. There was yarn being thrown around from shelves across the room and there was some general mayhem… but what happens in production meetings stays in production meetings so I can’t tell you any more than that… just sayin’… We knew we wanted a collection of designs that were modern without being trendy, classic without being stuffy, and, generally, garments that would make women feel good and look FAB when they put them on. Four of us sat down, talked about fabrics and shapes, laughed a lot (a LOT), and the next thing we knew we were headed out for a celebratory dinner!
After we returned home and we had the overall feel for the collection, I had the daunting task of picking which yarns I wanted to work with. As I said, we had been working a lot with Mango Moon’s yarns and they know their yarns very well. My hardest job was swatching with all of the yarns at my disposal in all of the different stitch patterns I wanted to use to create the fabrics I needed to create the garments in my sketches. Generally, we knew which yarns would work the best for some fabrics but there are always a lot of decisions that have to be pried out of me because I just can’t let any of them go! It’s a good problem to have… I suppose… but it is what keeps me up at night sometimes… that and the occasional odd craving for fish and chips at 1:30am.
The theme of a collection is actually a critical component when it comes to anchoring all of the workflows of creating a book. From final design choices to the photography and layout off the books, if I don’t have that anchor to come back to, I could easily spin out of control and be overwhelmed with ideas and concepts. In the case of Moonstruck, the theme just seems to follow the flow of my sketches. Generally, as we put together groupings of sketches that work well together and balance well, it sometimes becomes immediately obvious. In the case of Moonstruck, the overall theme emerged as the collection was narrowed down to the final design choices and really became clear as we sat and talked about fabrics. Once that anchor was set, we were able to really move forward pretty quickly. That said… I’m not saying I never move my anchor… there has to be some give and take there or I would feel boxed in and my designs would be flat and stale with no life at all. For the most part though, a strong sense of what I am trying to achieve in a book is a vital part of what I do.
Does the yarn speak to me? Why, can you hear the voices too?? Oh… nevermind…
Jason put it best when he said the yarn might speak to me but I have to interpret what it says. That’s a really beautiful way of saying I do a lot of swatching and we do a lot of staring at swatches and pinning swatches to dress forms, and, sometimes, going back to the drawing board and picking a new yarn or tweaking a design. There have been times when a yarn is so inspiring to me that I will design pieces that show off it’s best qualities and I feel like my pre-knowledge of Mango Moon’s yarn line really gave me an edge when narrowing down which designs to present for this collection.
Each pattern is sized from small to 5x, which is really rare in patterns, mostly because it’s a lot of work to calculate such a wide range of sizes. Folks may or may not know, but you can’t just add an inch to a small to get a medium… there’s a lot of complicated calculations involved to make sure that an item fits *the shape* of a larger size. Can you tell us a bit about that process, and why it was important to you to include such a range?
Sizing and fit were a MAJOR theme in this book and, as we talked about earlier, that theme guided all of final choices for all of us. In that first meeting, all of us, Jason, me and Laurie and Sue from Mango Moon, really felt strongly that this book shouldn’t be a book of designs that fit one narrow range of sizes… that meant it would not cater specifically to one size range more than any other. We all knew this was a big ol’ hunk of work to chew on but we all felt so strongly about it that we were willing to put our time and money where our hearts were and produce a book we felt really great about. I was quoted in Moonstruck: “All women deserve to look FAB and feel special in their clothes.” That about sums it up.
As I said, this is a major undertaking. From the designs themselves, to the patterning, to the sample making, photography, book layout. The time, effort, and cost of doing type of a project is why most folks can’t or won’t tackle it. Designs have to look good on all the sizes presented in the pattern, twice as many samples have to be made, twice the models, and the book layout has to be modified. One of the reasons we capped the number of designs at ten was because we knew we needed the extra space in the book for the additional pattern writing and for the additional photos. If we had gone with as many designs as we wanted to, the book would have been too expensive to produce and sell. We had to find a balance if we wanted to do this the right way.
Sizing and grading are one thing, but to preserve the true fashion, fit, form, and function of a garment over eight sizes was critical to this book. You’re right, you can’t just make the numbers bigger or smaller and expect the design of the piece to remain true. Here is where our tech editor, Kj Hay, was vital. We had been working with Kj for a little over a year when we started this project so she knew our design esthetic very well and she also knew how to interpret my designs and pattern writing when it came to grading the sizes and making them fit. Kj understands garments and how they fit on the body and we did a lot of back and forth over different elements of the designs to determine what would fit best where and how. This part of the pattern writing was so crucial… if folks couldn’t make the sizes and have them actually fit… we would be in big trouble.
Garments get a bad rap for being ‘hard’. What are the skills a knitter should have before attempting a garment. Any tips for success?
I think the reason folks think garments are so hard is because if this whole “advance” versus “beginner” thing we use to describe our stitching skills as crocheters and knitters. Someone who was born with a hook and needle in their hands but has never made a garment before, has no better chance at achieving success that a person who just picked up their hooks and sticks a few months ago. Basically, if you can read a pattern and make the stitches happen, you can make fabric. One person can certainly be better at making that fabric than another but that has little to do with making a garment.
But, yes, this thought that making garments is “hard” does ring with a bit of truth. Heck… nobody has this innate knowledge of how to make a piece of clothing. Those of us who do it had to learn how to do it at some point. I have to say, though, it really isn’t any more difficult than taking a hook or a set of sticks and some string and making beautiful objects with them… just sayin’… Truthfully, every time we write a pattern it is of the utmost importance to us that someone can sit down and, with some figurin’, work it all out in the end… otherwise we don’t feel like we’ve really been successful.
In Moonstruck, short of actually being a text on how to make and construct garments, we have supplied stitchers with every little piece of information we could get into those pages to help them have a positive experience whether this is their first or fiftieth garment.
The first thing I would tell folks to do is look at the garment they are wanting to make and read the entire pattern through from start to finish. Make sure they understand all of the terminology, stitches, increases, decreases, and generally make sure they can read the pattern through without getting too lost.
If they do have questions as they read through the pattern, we have supplied a very detailed Stitch Guide in the front of the book as well as sections on best practices for increasing and decreasing, and some notes on finishing. Also, for any of the patterns stitches that might be a little tough to figure out, there is a chart supplied with the individual patterns where they are needed. We wanted to write in these parts of the book so completely because we wanted folks to be able to easily access the information and advice without having to do an internet search right away. Certainly, people don’t have to do everything using the exact techniques that we did, but, if they need the help, it is there.
Next, if the stitch pattern for a particular garment looks a little daunting, each pattern has the pattern stitches used in that garment laid out in full detail just like you would see in a stitch dictionary and, again, there are charts included where applicable. Each of the patterns also has detailed info on the Blocked Gauge for each swatch. This information can definitely be used as a guideline for making your swatch and then can be used for checking to see if your fabric is going to be the same as my fabric in the finished garment. Make the swatch as a way of practicing the new skills you need to be able to complete the garment. If you work your way through the swatch first to get the techniques for that particular stitch pattern down, you can then use your swatch to practice any other skills like increases or decrease or slopped bind offs that might come up in the written pattern that you haven’t done before. We all know it’s all about the practice when it comes to a physical skill like crochet and knitting. If we don’t practice… we ain’t never gonna get it right… right?
Once you feel confident with the stitch pattern and you know you can meet the gauge the fabric is written for, just start with Row 1 and work through the pattern one row at a time. I know that sounds overly simplistic but that’s the great thing about these patterns. If you go along step by step and check the Stitch Guide and technique notes, you can, most likely, get all the way through your garment without a lot of the wailing and gnashing of teeth we hear folks talk about.
Finally, for assembly, each one of these garments has a detailed schematic with the piece of the garment clearly marked. Basically, they fit together like a big ol’ puzzle. Take a close look at the clothes you have in your closet right now and you will find the same basic components of a front, a back, two sleeves, and, maybe, a collar. If you’ve not had a lot of practice sewing this kind of fabric together, that’s where your swatches come in handy again! Use them for sewing practice!
Basically, if this is your first garment, take it a step at a time. Read through the instructions thoroughly, PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE any stitches or techniques that might be new to you, then really get into the pattern and work through it a step at a time.
It’s not as easy as falling off a log, but you’ll be sooooo happy and sooooo satisfied the first time someone comments on the beautiful piece of clothing you are wearing and you can tell them YOU made it! Really… it’s worth the effort.
Can you talk about how the characteristics of the yarn work in a garment? As an example, can you pick one pattern and describe how that yarn’s characteristics contribute to the drape/stitch pattern/vibe?
I could spend a week on this subject! Don’t test me… you KNOW I could! Hehehe… In fact, I teach two different classes on it the subject of hand crochet and knit fabrics. The yarn and stitch you use will create the “fabric” for your garment. That is the very core of crochet/knit garment construction. We get to create our fabric instead of having to buy it on the bolt! How uber cool is THAT?!? The way we create this fabric is with our yarn choices and the stitch patterns.
You would not walk into a fabric store and buy a heavy canvas cloth to sew a spring skirt. Why would you then use a bulky yarn in a thick heavy stitch to make a summer jacket? You just wouldn’t.
I spend a lot of time swatching and blocking different yarns in different stitches for each pattern I release. I look for the way the fabric drapes and hangs, the way the color works up in pattern, and I picture the final product in that exact yarn. Mind you, I’m talking about minimum swatch sizes of approx 6×6”. Anything smaller and I can’t even begin to get a sense of what type of fabric that yarn is going to produce.
A great example of this in the book is “Chandra” the drape front cardi in Moonstruck and Portia, the tunic length vest with the toggle closures. Chandra uses Mango Moon Nirvana which has a content of 84% recycled viscose, 11% acrylic, and 4% nylon. Portia uses Mango Moon Mantra with has a content of 30% recycled viscose, 67% cotton, and 3% spandex. Basically, these two yarns are sisters! They have a similar colorway and look very similar but MAN-OH-MAN was there a big difference when I worked them up for these two garments.
I love both yarns… I really do… and I was waffling back and forth and back and forth on which yarn to use for these two garments. I did probably a dozen swatches in each yarn for both designs because I really needed to see how they both acted when worked up into the different stitches.
Chandra is all open work stitches and needed to move and drape and feel comfy and soft and Portia is all stockinette stitch and needed structure and body to the fabric without being stiff. As I said, I did a lot of swatches in the different stitch patterns I wanted to use and using different needle sizes. I needed to see how each fabric was going to act when it was worked in Stitch A with Needle Size X versus Needle Size Y. I did this in combinations of yarn, stitch pattern, and needle size until I finally was in a happy place and I was confident the fabric would do what I needed it to do to meet each of these garment’s design requirements.
It really is that FAB thing of creating our own fabrics! As a cut and sew designer, there are just so many fabrics out there to choose from then you are done. If you want something custom made for your designs, you have to pay the big bucks to have it custom made. As crochet and knitwear designers, we really do have a luxury not all designers have.
This is probably a funny question… but what’s it like to be a guy in the world of woman’s fashion design? Do you get surprised looks? I would suspect that you have a broader base of opinions, since you’d be forced to chat to women about issues like fit (instead of relying on your own views on fit… which is tempting for women!)
I have been dressing and designing for women for over 20 years now. I understand and have studied (and continue to study) how women’s bodies fit and move inside their clothes. You have to understand this in order to design garments… at least garments that women will actually wear. When someone gives me a “surprised look” when I say that I design women’s garments I just smile and secretly look for their Jimmy Chu Shoes, Marc Jacobs skirt, Calvin Klein Blouse, or Michael Kors Jacket. Then again, mostly if they are giving me a surprised look it is because I look like a lumberjack most of the time… but that’s another story…
Men have been designing fashion for women since we were sewing pelts in caves… as have women been designing for men. Nowhere is it written that you must be a woman to design for women any more than you must be a Poodle to design dog clothes. HA! Sorry… I made myself laugh there… Designers design… it’s the nature of who we are whether we are men or women.
And yes, I have very strong views on fit and fashion. I am always developing my design eye and feel like I am always learning more and developing those view on making clothes. I have my own views… not everyone agrees with them… but they are my views. Which is the way is should be. I have my voice in my designs and that voice grows strong with every piece I design and with everything new I learn. It is an exciting business and I feel like there is plenty of room for men and women to design with many different voices for any gender. Some women are drawn to the Chanel style, others love Betsey Johnson’s flair. The same goes in the world of crochet and knit design. It would be a very dull world if we all dressed identically.
What’s next for you?
We’ve just signed on to do a new book of designz! WOOHOO!! That is as much as I can tell you… no… really… don’t ask anymore (It’s a crochet book)… I shan’t be persuaded.
Thank you so much for coming by, guyz!