Some of my favorite Scandinavian-type knitting books come from Japan, for example, this one and this one. Appreciative as Japanese knitters are of traditional western knitting, however, Japan has its own (recent) knitting heritage as well. Notably, the sweaters of knitwear (and crochet) designer michiyo. Her pieces reflect the clean, minimalist aesthetic most of us associate with certain Japanese traditions: Gardens, pottery, tea ceremony, etc. Michiyo’s many pattern books are popular in Japan and increasingly knitters here seek them out. (You can find them here.)
michiyo began designing for handknitters and crocheters in 1998, after designing knitwear for apparel manufacturing companies, Since then, she’s published nineteen handknitting and crochet pattern books.
Today, we publish her first Quince & Co pattern, Dubro. We thank Jun for the following interview with michiyo.
How and when did you learn to knit and what prompted you to try?
I learned to knit from my mother when I was eight. I was so intrigued that a single strand of yarn could transform magically into stitches and make a form. I knitted and knitted garter stitches without stopping.
What was your first project?
A yellow, garter stitch short scarf.
What was your first design? What prompted it?
My first design was a vest with crochet motifs. It was a school project from my home craft class in junior high school. The assignment was “making something you like with crochet motifs” It was also my first completed project.
Tell me a little about your process—where do your ideas come from? Pictures, stitches, swatching, and/or color? Other?
When I sit in a cafe, in front of the window, looking outside...I often imagine a design from an eye-catching silhouette of someone passing. Also when I look around in small, girlish stores and find some cute fabrics, or while preparing a meal, sometimes suddenly a new knitting pattern comes to me in a flash. I get ideas from movies too.
But the best way for me is always to think about something that would coordinate with my clothes, or clothes I’ve seen and liked in a shop. I like to imagine knitwear that would suit them.
You do a lot of designs for publications. Do you knit things for yourself as well?
Actually, I can hardly find time to knit for myself, one or two garments a year, at best.
What do you wish you had time to knit?
A colorful Tilden sweater, bulky long coat, simple but deformed pullover...I cannot decide which one. I need six hands.
What’s your knitting routine, your favorite time to knit? Morning? Afternoon? Midnight?
I like knitting at midnight, when it’s silent time.
What is your favorite kind of yarn? Weight? Fiber?
I love tweed yarns. And my favorite yarn weight is dk and sport weight.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever made?
A long Cowichan coat--for myself.
Hardest thing to master when you were learning to knit?
How to write down a crochet lace pattern.
What do you think is the difference between American and Japanese knitters?
As knitters, I don't see many differences. But I am surprised that more American knitters don't crochet. In Japan, generally knitters can crochet as well as knit, so my designs sometimes include both for a garment.
One of the things I love about your work is how simple and straightforward many of the pieces are. They often rely on unusual or unexpected use of shape and stitch for interest. Is your ‘style’ something that has evolved with time?
Since I was a student in apparel school, I’ve liked to find ways to make difficult things easy, and to also design things that are a bit different. I was lucky to meet an extraordinary book editor who was aware of my design traits. She gave me difficult assignments to solve and that helped me to evolve as a designer. I feel my books are the result of this collaboration.
Words of wisdom for new knitters or any knitter, really.
My favorite things about knitting is that you can make something with a single strand of yarn. That means you can always rip and start over again. Even now, everyday I repeat trial and error. If I don’t like something, I start it over again. And again. But as long as you try, you can forge ahead. So don't ever give up, just knit on.
I love my Clover interchangeable needle set.
Favorite antidote to knitting? What do you like to do when you’re NOT knitting.
I like watching movies and walking. But even in my spare time, I organize knitting together with other knitters, so I am always neck-deep in knitting...