Interview with Lee Meredith
Mari Luke: Do you design full time?
Lee Meredith: Yes! I pretty much do nothing else but design now. I do a little bit of teaching which is related to design. I used to do freelance photography but I don’t do much of that anymore. I used to seek out more freelance work and now I focus on design.
ML: How did you get into knitwear design?
LM: I learned to knit in college and got into it more after college. After I graduated I had a lot of time on my hands and so I taught myself a lot of knitting. I didn’t really understand the point of patterns. I just learned techniques and when I learned how to purl I made a hat with ribbing. Then when I learned how to cable I made a hat with cables. I just kept teaching myself techniques and improvising everything. Then I became more and more complex with my improvising. Then I learned that patterns were a thing, and that I could write down what I was doing, and other people could do it too! I taught myself how to write patterns by reading them on sites like Knitty, and through reading them I learned how patterns worked and started writing them.
ML: When you were working as a freelance photographer what kind of work did you do?
LM: I did some product photography, mostly for a collective in Portland that sold online, with all different Portland makers. I also did some music photography but that was way back, a long time ago. I’ve shot a couple weddings, I picked up random jobs.
ML: What’s your least favorite part of designing?
LM: [laughs] I think at the end when I’m trying to address all the different little things my test knitters give me for feedback and make everything really perfect. It stresses me out how things are worded. If ten different people test knit something and only one person has an issue with one sentence, [I think] “oh but if one out of ten test knitters has an issue with that sentence then one out of ten knitters will have an issue,” so I have to figure out how to change it. All the little super perfectionist details stress me out and I feel like it’s never ending. I have to give myself a deadline and say “no matter what I’m releasing it tomorrow” and then I have to be done or else I could just keep proof reading it over and over for days and drive myself crazy.
ML: Do you not use a tech editor?
LM: Not really [laughs]…oh this is public! I use a LOT of test knitters. With the kinds of patterns I usually design it makes more sense to have 15 different people test knit it and give me detailed feedback on what makes sense and what they had a problem with and I figure out how I can change the wording. I did have my Adventure Knitting book tech edited because that was a different thing with lots of small patterns all combined into one big pattern and I wanted to make sure it was all cohesive. I’m willing to use tech editors for certain things but usually I just use lots and lots of test knitters.
ML: What’s your favorite part of being a knitwear designer?
LM: The few days when I do actually get to sit and knit all day, which is what people think you do every day. Once every couple of months you get to have a few days where you have to get stuff knit and you just get to watch a lot of TV and knit. That’s like the highlight. I do like all the nerdy stuff - the problem solving, how to make the construction work with the stitch pattern and all the puzzle-y math-y stuff. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like those parts, but I do like the sitting and knitting part.
ML: So this is a question I think about personally, and I haven’t really asked any other knitwear designers this question…where do you see your career going?
LM: Something I don’t think a lot about. I feel like I have so much on my plate all the time and the next six months are insane and I don’t know how I’m going to get done everything that I want to get done. It’s just kind of as far ahead as I can see. So I quit my day job five and a half years ago and I’ve slowly gotten to be a tiny bit more successful each year at being able to design full time and make some kind of living. I feel like every year I’m growing a little bit so I’m doing something right, if I continue to keep growing. If a couple years went by and I wasn’t growing at all I’d have to figure out some other better five year plan but as long as things seem to keep going in the right direction I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. Keep self publishing and trying to get my stuff out there as much as possible.
ML: Relating to your Bagsmith project…What did you like about working with the yarn and designing with such a different yarn? Had you knit with yarn that big before?
LM: No. I kind of thought it was just going to be like a super bulky yarn which I’ve knit with plenty of times, and it’s not like a super bulky yarn! It’s way beyond. I’d never knit with anything like that. I’ve knit with weird materials, and I’ve done some weird things so I thought, “oh good this is a challenge I can handle. I’ve got a grasp on this.” It turned out that it was much more of a challenge than I thought and I had two completely failed designs before I got something that worked, so it was difficult but it was fun. I like a challenge…to be forced to think outside the box and to think outside my own self publishing ideas, when somebody gives me a theme or a prompt that’s outside my own head. That yarn was definitely outside of somewhere I would usually go.
ML: Would you design with it again?
LM: I’d have to give it some time. I designed three patterns all the way through before finally getting one that works so I need a break. It was really fun and I’m really happy with what it turned into in the end. I think all the failed tries led me in the right direction and I’m happy with what it turned into. I don’t really have any other ideas in me right now, it would take me some time to come up with something again…to recharge.
ML: What’s it called?
LM: Superduper. Because I would describe the weight to someone and say “It’s not super bulky weight, it’s like super duper bulky weight”. Then I thought it was a good pattern name!
ML: Was it gratifying to work with such big needles and big yarn and to see fabric come together so quickly?
LM: Yeah! It’s really fun to just knit for a few hours and have a giant piece of fabric. It was fun.
ML: Anything else we should know about the cowl?
LM: It’s really warm! I went up to the mountains in the snow to take wintery photos and my hands and feet were freezing and my neck was soo warm! So it works! It functions!
ML: So is this something you would wear?
LM: I think so…We took the day trip to do the photo shoot, and we walked around in the snow and went up to the lodge, and I kept it on all day and it was great.