My first job in publishing was at an early childhood educational publisher. We created books and newsletters for parents and preschool teachers, and one of our products was a newsletter about children’s books. That’s when I was introduced to the amazing Jan Brett. Any of you who have kids or grandkids probably know her work, too.
She is a magical artist who tells folktales and illustrates them with the most intricate, beautiful paintings. Just gorgeous. And many of her books feature knitting, whether it’s gorgeous sweaters or stitch pattern borders.
In the brand new issue of Interweave Knits Holiday, we feature a couple of really special holiday knitting kits inspired by a couple of Jan’s books—the Little Badger Girl Pinafore Kit, and the Hat Stocking Kit.
PieceWork magazine published an article about Jan and her work and her process,
and I thought I would share some of that with you.
Stitching with Paint: Jan Brett’s Magical World
By Kathy Augustine
If it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then Jan Brett has “written” thousands of words beyond the story texts in her children’s books. She has more than three dozen children’s picture books to her name, and her exquisitely detailed illustrations draw the reader deeply into the stories. Her books are set in different places and cultures around the world, and they introduce textiles and other crafts through the illustrations of the tale and through the pages’ borders. One border might show exquisite knitting motifs, another beadwork, and a third decorative rope. Patterns, designs, and colors abound; they become part of the world each book creates.
During a telephone interview earlier this year, Jan discussed many aspects of her work. Inspiration for a story can arise from any source, she said, and just like a shooting star, it can appear at any time. After Jan has formulated her plan and has devised an intriguing plot twist to solve a problem, the story can begin to become a book. It will take a year-long work cycle to develop the concept into a final manuscript. Jan likens her creative process to the meditative and repetitive qualities of knitting and needlework (she has knitted since she learned as a child), and she finds it easy to get lost in her work.
Jan envisions an abundance of possible scenes for her stories, describing herself as a “person who puts down ideas, then has to subtract or edit.” Often her books have more than one tale being told concurrently. Her intricate sidebar illustrations add depth to the main plot and may even provide a glimpse into upcoming events. “I have been so inspired over the years by the beautiful traditional folk work, embroidery, and fabric arts,” she says. She uses the sidebars and page borders to reflect her inspiration and admiration
Jan further explained the motivation behind her style, “It is amazing to me how observant children are and how much they take in of the world around them. My wish and my hope is that when children see [the detailed colors and designs of a culture], it will permeate their frame of reference, will soak into them. I feel this is the way humans learn—visually. And the next step [will be] that they will create something beautiful as well.”
Throughout her books, Jan’s admiration of textiles is strikingly evident in the details of her illustrations. Every knit stitch and embroidered motif is clearly depicted. In addition to drawing and painting, Jan explores other creative pursuits as time allows.
Often, she relaxes with fiber. She is currently knitting an Alice Starmore Fair Isle cardigan with the golden yellow and mauve colors reminiscent of The Turnip. She has drawn and stitched the needlepoint designs on her dining room chairs and is presently planning a three-panel decorative screen with great blue herons. Her Russian punch-needle embroidery patterns embellish special garments in her wardrobe. But because she needs to meet deadlines, her handwork is usually relegated to airports, waiting rooms, and car rides.
Jan has created an enchanting world of imagination and discovery for her readers. These beautifully illustrated stories have stood the test of time and have become treasured pieces in children’s literature.
—Kathy Augustine, from PieceWork, Sept/Oct 2016
Isn’t Jan amazing? I love a peek behind the curtain, and this one was certainly illuminating. Become part of Jan’s world—get your Little Badger Girl Pinafore and Hat Stocking kits today and cast on some holiday knitting!
P.S. Are you a Jan Brett fan? Leave a comment below and share your favorite book!