Interview: Sweatshop of Love

Allyson Dykhuizen of Sweatshop of Love, striking a pose in her version of ‘Beatnik’

This week I had the opportunity to interview Allyson Dykhuizen, knitwear designer of the Sweatshop of Love! Aside from designing patterns, she’s been published, splits her time living in Chicago and Minneapolis,  teaches knitting, designs patterns for charities and sticks up for Entrelac! It goes without saying, she’s one awesome lady!

I was surprised (and somewhat relieved) to learn Allyson is no yarn snob. She shops at Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts, knits with Lion Brand and yes, even Knit Picks! (If you listen to my podcast / follow my blog you know I’m no stranger to these places) Don’t get me wrong. I love art yarns, but sometimes it’s all about color and the excitement of knitting; Something Sweatshop of Love is ALL about… and then some!

That being said, let’s get on with the interview!

I love the name “Sweatshop of Love!” How did that name come about? Thanks! In high school my friend Theresa (the founder of the WORK+SHELTER project I’m designing for) and I were crocheting bags and sewing linings for the girls at school. We were up late and nowhere near completing all our orders, so we made a joke about how we were the only workers in the tiniest sweatshop in the world. But because we were watching movies and having a great time, it was a SWEATSHOP OF LOVE! I came back to the name after college when I started my business.

What usually inspires your designs?

I try to make knitted versions of clothes and accessories that I see hot, stylish girls wearing. I think there is a disconnect between the things modern, fun, and fashion forward girls wear and what we are knitting, and I want to fill that void.

How would you describe your design style? What knitting techniques do you you find you use most in your patterns?
I use a lot of texture in my designs! I love cables and fun stitch patterns. I like to make my designs fun to knit, so lots of texture and interesting construction is necessary for me in what I design, knit for myself, and what I wear.

The Loop Entrelac Tank Top by Allyson Dykhuizen

I noticed a few of your designs incorporate Entrelac– including one of my favorite patterns, Loop Entrelac Tank Top… a technique and style that’s in some way, dare I say… an acquired taste? What is your opinion on Entrelac?
I LOVE entrelac! But I know it’s like my ugly baby. I love it to death, but other people are like, ‘… oh! isn’t that… fun? Gee, I’ve really got to run!’  The Loop Entrelac Tank is mostly stockinette stitch, with a little fun entrelac detail. I’ve got a pattern coming up in Knitscene that has a pop of entrelac, too. I just want people to love my ugly baby!

What’s the best part about being a knitwear designer?… And the most challenging?
I love everything about being a knitwear designer. It’s hard work, and it really sucks when you design something you love and then no one likes it. I’ve given up trying to guess what other knitters are going to like and knit, because I’m almost always wrong. Now I just design for me and hope that other people like what I like. It’s been working out a lot better since I started trusting my design sensibilities and style and stopped trying to design THE NEXT AMAZING PATTERN.

You also created a few patterns for charities, including WORK + SHELTER– an incredibly noble cause. What is your take on knitting for charity?
I’m a huge sucker so I say “yes” to everyone who asks me for anything! I’ve been working with Theresa as a designer of the patterns, the women living in her shelter in India will be knitting, and will continue to produce patterns for her shelter for as long as she needs me to. We are going to come up with a summer line of products in a few months, and add in some garments, depending on what the shelter gets orders for. Theresa and I went to high school together, so it’s easy to say “yes” and want to help someone you are friends with doing something amazing. Another friend of mine is building a hospital in Africa, and whenever her organization, Ivory Coast Mothers and Children, has a fund raiser I donate a hand knit as an auction piece. Since I don’t have the cash to help the causes my friends are involved in, it’s really nice to be able to donate my time by creating auction pieces or designs.

WORK+SHELTER Hand Warmers by Allyson Dykhuizen

What is it about a pattern that inspires you to knit it?
It’s got to be something wearable that I’ve never really seen before. I love stripes, texture, and buttons, so whenever those things are put together I’m usually powerless to not cast on. I also love unique construction, so I’ll knit something just to see for myself how it comes together.

What fibers and color ways do enjoy using most?
I’m not a fiber knitter. I use Knit Picks and Lion Brand and shop Jo-Ann and Michaels for sale yarn. It changes with the season, too! I love chunky wool and blends for winter and soft cottons in the summer. I knit constantly all year round, so I’ve got to be fiber flexible. I love all color! It totally just depends on the project. I wear a ton of color, so I knit with a ton of color.

Where is your favorite place to knit?
Curled up in the corner of a couch or buried in a ton of pillows; under a blanket and at least one kitty.

When at home, please describe where you knit… What about the space makes it yours?
I’ve got two very tiny apartments right now that are both about 70% full of yarn and other crafty supplies. Because I move around so much, and because I purposely try not to own a lot of things, every inch of the tiny spaces I occupy are covered in yarn, sketches, knits, books, fabric, and just general crafts. ALL of my space is my knitting space because I’ve only got about 900 square feet divided up in two cities.

Caitlin’s Cardi by Allyson Dykhuizen

Any words of wisdom for storing one’s yarn stash?
I sort my yarn by weight and store them in big laundry bags! Whenever I buy anything that comes in a bag with a zipper or pull string, like bedding, I start putting yarn in it. I’ve got one of those over the back of your closet door shoe organizers full of yarn and needles. I’ve got a collapsible hanging closet shelf organizer nailed to one of my walls full of yarn! In my house, pretty much everything that could have yarn it in does.

Current knitting obsession?
I’m in the process of designing and planning my new site, Holla Knits, so I’ve been experimenting with umber striping and short row sleeve caps for the first issue of Holla Knits. I’m knee deep in hot knitwear design over here!

I want to thank Allyson again, for taking the time to do this interview. After reading through, editing, adding links and all that good stuff… Not only do I feel more inspired, but I also feel like I’ve gained a new knitting friend. I hope this and future interviews make you feel the same way. If you haven’t checked out Sweatshop of Love by now, you can follow Allyson’s blog here. She is also SweatShopofLove on Twitter and Ravelry.

Happy Knitting!