The knitting history and career of designer Grace Akhrem is fascinating. Her journey took her from humble beginnings of chain crochet stitches, to the Russian knitting method her grandmother taught her, to her own fantastically creative vision of knitting design.
A collection of her work is featured in the Summer 2014 issue of Knitscene; her Morro Tee went into my queue immediately! The assymetry and the contrasting colors are wonderful; these summer tops are real winners.
I enjoyed Grace's story very much, and I know you will, too.
Grace Akrem: In Search of a Better Way
"In the beginning, I didn't know how to bind off. I just took a tapestry needle and threaded it through the stitches, pulled it so it would be tight, tied it in a knot, and then cut it." It was a tragic bind-off gone terribly wrong, but the only obvious technique to a teenage Grace Akhrem. "I knew there had to be a better way."
Switching from the tapestry needle technique, she tried to transfer the stitches to another needle and lift one over the other, but she knew it still wasn't right. Three years and countless projects passed before she picked up Knitting for Dummies and learned the right method. But this was Grace's way: a guess, trial and error, and the ever-lingering thought of, "There has to be a better way."
Grace, a Los Angeles native, first got the knitting bug when she was in college. She watched as one of her friends knitted—quickly growing a beautiful variegated scarf between her needles—and was instantly enamored. She hit the craft store in search of a yarn she could love as much as her friend's, but with zero knitting knowledge, she had to lean on a once-learned crochet technique: chain-building. With her hook and yarn, she began making loops, over and over again. It was an approach that would inevitably mirror her future bind-off strategy.
She eventually tackled double crochet, but longed for something more, something that would look like her friend's scarf—the lumpy yarn, that braided look. So she turned to her grandmother, a combined continental knitter, who taught her to knit clockwise, the way of her Russian descent. It took Grace two days just to figure out how to work the knit stitch; it just didn't make sense. But then something suddenly clicked. The stitches may have been twisted, but the stitches were forming, and the garter-stitch scarf she tackled as her first project was moving. Until she got to the bind-off.
Her grandmother had moved away by the time she reached her last row, leaving Grace to her own devices. The bind-off was one thing, but her stitches were another. Curious and a little lost, she began making up stitch patterns, guessing as she went along. Many turned out to be legitimate; others not so much. She carried on anyway, improving with every piece and winging it as she went.
Years of creating passed before Grace discovered patterns. She was visiting a local shop and admiring a scarf on the table, when she asked one of the employees how to make it. She was astonished when the employee said the pattern could be purchased for $5.
"It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. A pattern? I didn't know people did this for a living. Here I was just looking at pieces and knitting them." Aware of the fact that she was different, Grace took a job in a Los Angeles knitting store and began writing and selling patterns for the shop-a scarf here, a hat there. She was having fun, but her career didn't truly pick up until she moved to another shop and really threw herself into design. It was during her time there that she successfully sold her first pattern to yarn manufacturer Blue Sky Alpacas. And with that, her design work snowballed into a full-fledged designing career.
Grace's design process lends itself to an aesthetic that is body-conscious, wearable, and, above all, perennial. For the summer collection, Grace employed a theme of pleats and overlapping-structural elements that create feminine, yet architecturally interesting, pieces that are not only great for layering but also beautiful on their own.
|The Toulumne Tank, the Kaweah Tunic, and the Petaluma Tee|
The Tuolumne Tank is a garment that will be flattering for every shape and size. The mattress-seamed front panel creates a vertically slimming line, while the intarsia pleat under the arm controls the shaping in this garment.
The Kaweah Tunic was born out of Grace's imagination in 2010, but was never fully executed until this issue. Grace's use of short rows along the back created a coattails-inspired bottom edge that would look cute thrown over a bathing suit, tights, or even paired with a leather jacket.
The Petaluma Tee is a lightweight raglan-sleeve tee with another intarsia pleat detail. The additional volume needed to use the pleat creates a natural flared sleeve that will keep your shoulders breezy on those hot summer nights.
Finally, the Morro Tank was inspired by a Project Runway project gone wrong. This asymmetrical piece is knitted in four different panels and seamed together with a two-inch overlap. Decorative buttons add an element of surprise to make any head turn.
Grace is now a one-woman show, creating her own knitting empire one creative whim at a time. She turns out designs to publish on Ravelry while knitting in standstill L.A. traffic. She teaches classes both locally and nationally while lamenting over the math needed to resize her patterns. And she attends trunk shows while tackling work-in-progress projects that are five (or more) years old as a nod to her resolution to clean up her stash. You could say she's still winging it, but she's really just looking for the "better way."
—Robin Shroyer, Knitscene Summer 2014
The Petaluma Tee might have to go on my list, too. The A-line shape and simple but effective intarsia inserts are so eye-catching!
I really need to go into my queue and update it with all the projects that I currently love. I'm a little scared, though. One of the not-so-terrible side effects about working at Interweave is that I see hundreds of patterns, and I fall in love with many of them.
There's not enough time for me to knit all of them, but I do add them to my queue so I won't forget them. I'll knit some of them, for sure!
I've been loving Knitscene lately. It's always full of fun, fashion-forward knitting patterns, and interesting articles like this one about Grace and her designs.
If you don't subscribe to Knitscene, now's your chance!