If you’ve been following KNITSONIK for a while, you’ll know that earlier this year I went to the USA. I stayed with my friend Janine in California, and then we travelled together to Wisconsin to Knitting Camp. I loved every single moment of this magical adventure but today I want to talk specifically about staying with Janine Bajus AKA The Feral Knitter.
Janine is every bit the angel of colour that this image suggests, and she has a magical ability to translate almost anything into glorious, shimmering knitwear. She lives in Berkeley, and the home she shares with her family is a colourful, nurturing paradise filled with wool, projects and books. A lush Santa Rosa plum tree presides over the garden and in its shade grow dye plants which Janine uses in her textile projects. Janine’s home is infused with an atmosphere of creativity and curiosity; there are beautiful things everywhere and I loved staying there.
One of the things I miss most of all about being in full time art education is seeing other people’s creative workspaces. Glimpsing other people’s desks and wall-spaces was one of the best bits about being enrolled in an arts department. I get a fantastic kick out of seeing what other artists collect; watching fellow creatives’ projects-in-progress; and perceiving how peers are solving problems and evolving ideas. In art school I adored the creative ferment of group sessions. The frank discussions we used to have about our work are what I miss most of all. Nowadays I work almost entirely alone at home but I get the same feeling enjoyed during my former art-student life when I spend time in the workspaces of fellow creative practitioners. Staying with Janine was a feast on this score. It was fascinating and inspiring on every level to see how she brings her stranded colourwork garments from concept through to fruition.
I particularly enjoyed seeing the little booklets she creates for herself for each design she knits; staying in the same room as her vast and wide-ranging library; and exploring her precious piles of knitting – a practical, living archive of stranded colourwork theory and practice.
Translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork is a rather niche area within knitting and it just blew me away to see the unique way in which Janine approaches what is also my passion. I will treasure forever the memory of pulling all Janine’s work out of the shelves and onto the bed, and hearing her speak about the details and memories of each one.
Janine seems to turn everything into sweaters (and hats and shawls and vests but mostly sweaters). These are breathtaking sweaters that glow and glisten in the light. Every evening when I was falling asleep in Janine’s craft room I would peep at the folded wonderment. I was desperate to haul all the sweaters out and see them in all their glory, and I know you will want to see them, too.
This is the first sweater Janine ever designed. It’s called Dragon Fly Vest and is a stylised and spare celebration of one of Janine’s favourite watery landscape. I just love how those bands of greens, golds and blues suggest the strata of water, land and flora.
Her Acorn Sweater has a much more autumnal palette, based on a photo of curry spices! The sweater was devised for John – Janine’s lovely husband – and the photo helped them to settle on a palette that John would like to wear and that Janine would like to knit. It’s so clever, because John wanted a brown sweater. As per the brief, the sweater does certainly – from a distance – give a brown impression…
…but, when examined closely, you can see many other colours sitting around and speaking to that central hue.
Janine’s Rainforest Vest also has a sort of brownish tint when regarded as whole…
…yet when you peep more deeply into the fabric, you can see there are glorious purples and golds in there as well.
THAT PURPLE! My heart.
I love how Janine’s endless creativity is not limited to experimenting with colour; she’s also fascinated by shapes. Her sweater collection contains many differently shaped garments and is full of sartorial ideas about how to wear stranded colourwork. I really love the neat silhouette of this tee with its unfussy dark edges and understated, moody palette…
…and this glorious jacket, which draws its inspiration (in part) from Japanese sashiko stitch dictionaries. Janine designed it with princess seaming and waist shaping “to wear with black pants when going into the city.”
Yellow Island is a gloriously wearable cardigan with a cosy marled shawl collar and sleeve edgings; it’s exactly the kind of cardigan you want for chilly autumnal days and I love all its details from its palette to its chunky edges, and to the innovative treatment Janine has given the raglan shaping around the shoulders and the side seams.
Janine’s attention to detail and experimentation with construction seem to spring from the same curiosity that informs her amazing approach to colour. “Why does everything have to have corrugated ribbing” she shrugged as I commented on an especially lovely sleeve cuff on one of her designs. After hearing her say this, I could see her working the question over in all of her designs.
Why not finish a neckline like this one, in Janine’s Sea & Sand sweater?
Why not place a detailed pattern band around the bottom of your cardigan, creating a facing to stabilise the fabric?
Why feel compelled to stick to corrugated ribbing for sleeve openings when you could finish them like this instead?
Janine’s work just takes my breath away. I can’t stop showing you photos of it.
I mean… just look at that. It’s a vest inspired by a storm in New Mexico, and I think the colours are so amazing, really speaking to that moody, threatening quality of the sky when it is both the colour of a bruise, and lit golden from within. It’s perfect.
And who can argue with the magnificent exuberance of Starburst Shawl with its bold, oversized motifs, and radiant palette, inspired by a photo (taken by Meg Swansen) of magic lillies?
Seeing these garments in Janine’s home was very special to me. I only have a bad photo of this, but my abiding memory is of Janine ensconced in her knitting chair either knitting, laughing, or commenting on the news via Twitter and her iPad. When I think about Janine, it is this that I picture, and it’s a magical thing because it’s from this space that all this incredible knitting has ultimately come.
Sadly not everyone can have the same opportunity as me to spend time with this wonderful woman in her glorious palace of dreams! But, having been lucky enough to have had such an experience, I can really see how much of herself Janine has poured into her magnificent tome, The Joy of Color.
I really appreciate how she and her designer Kate Godfrey have worked together to create a layout that reflects Janine’s magpie-like approach to design. The images of workbooks, of swatches, of little pieces of torn paper taken from here and there are friendly and inspiring, and reflect the way Janine collects and organises resources. The book feels friendly, too, and is – like its author – incredibly encouraging, and chock full of bit-sized nuggets of wisdom.
In life and in print, Janine is extremely generous with her knowledge, and shares the stories of her creative process with candour and wit. I loved reading The Joy of Color when it first came out, because it was full of glimpses into a creative process parallel to, but not the same as, my own. It made me see topics with which I am really familiar in fresh and different ways and from a different perspective… from Janine’s perspective.
When I went to stay with Janine, we had only met the one time. But I had an idea it would be wonderful, because when I read the following passage in her book, it made me cry (in a good way) and I knew I had found a kindred spirit:
Wear your sweater whenever you can – don’t save it for special occasions. Let it become your signature in the world, a quiet symbol of intelligence, skill, persistence, and the power of individual beauty in an over-commodified world.
Revel in its warmth, privately thanking the thousands of people who helped you bring your vision to life: the shepherds, the veterinarians, the fence builders, the shearers, the mill workers, the truck drivers, the dyers, the label printers, the shop owners, the teachers, the needle makers, the book publishers, the designers, the editors, your knitting friends – in the deepest sense your sweater is an expression of your place in an interconnected web spanning time and place whose strands are too numerous to name.
– Janine Bajus, The Joy of Color
All of which is a very long preamble to the announcement that I am now stocking Janine’s book in my online shop. I am extremely excited about this as the book is one I truly believe in.
The Joy of Color contains instructions and templates for a cap, a tam, fingerless mitts and a scarf, but it’s not exactly a book of patterns… rather, it is a book of process stories and enabling colourwork knowledge. There is also a genius – nay, Janinius – method for speed swatching shading sequences that I think all lovers of stranded colourwork design will find inordinately useful to learn. The stories shared throughout this book include the process behind each of Janine’s sweaters, as well as those made by some of the many students who have enjoyed her renowned classes. The goal of making beautiful knitwear from the things you love runs through the book like a golden seam, the case-studies continually reassuring that it’s an achievable one. As in Janine’s creative practice, the book is rich with variety, curiosity and, like Janine herself, JOY. I feel very lucky to have been able to sit down with Janine and knit and, having had that experience, can say with total confidence that reading her book is the next best thing.
Like Janine, the book is supportive; inspiring; colourful and full of wonderful ideas, and it will make you want to knit All The Things. I have thought for a long time that The Joy of Color and the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook are natural friends, and it’s really wonderful to be able to say that Janine and I are, too. I’m so thrilled to bring her book to the UK because I just know that you will love her knitting as much as I do.
Yours in THE JOY OF JANINE,