Studio Visit: Annie Larson

Photos: Maggie Shannon

October 25 2015

The popular categorization of knitting remains throughly in the camp of craft – hobby of the elderly and for a brief period in the mid aughts, Madonna. The idiosyncratic approach of Brooklyn based Annie Larson demands a refreshing of this fusty image of knitwear. Her bright and exuberant designs are known collectively as ALL Knitwear, and feels just as much brand as it does art practice. We spoke with the designer about her processes, and equating knitting to playing music.

How did All Knitwear get started? What were you doing before? 

I started ALL Knitwear after working as a designer for Target, based in Minneapolis. I became interested in knitwear after designing men’s sweaters for Target and purchased my first knitting machine in 2009, just as I was about to leave my job. Over the next six months, I taught myself to use the machine and launched my first online shop in 2010. Knitting came into my life as I was trying to figure out how to make my designs real and presented itself as an incredible vehicle to develop ideas.

Your aesthetic seems so singular even within the context of a cosmopolitain city like New York, yet you grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. Is there a particular source or influence you can point to (family/environment/internet etc)?

I grew up in a really small town and there wasn’t much to do, so I started altering and making my own clothes out of boredom and experimented with different styles of dressing. Growing up in a rural area was culturally isolating—we were kind of in our own world, especially before the internet. But there were a lot of people around me being resourceful, inventive and genuinely strange which was inspirational in a different way. Midwestern style is honest and slow, I think about that a lot in conjunction to my work.

The work seems to be heavily influenced by graphic design and fine art–did you come to fashion design from another discipline? Or do you reject the silo-ing of disciplines?

I studied apparel design in college and have been interested in fashion through every phase of my life. I haven’t practiced any other disciplines professionally, but I did study the piano for 12 years and considered going to college for piano performance before committing to design. There are a few strong similarities between my practice as a pianist and my practice as a knitwear designer, specifically the idea of mastering an instrument. I am influenced by art but not always aesthetically–sometimes it just changes my mood or raises questions to consider in my own practice which can be just as potent as the visual information.

Who/what do you find yourself returning to for aesthetic inspiration?

I love to look at vintage clothing on eBay and Etsy, mostly American sportswear from the 1980’s. Esprit, Guess, Liz Claiborne. I hunt for heather gray sweats from Norma Kamali. I really like the spirit of classic sportswear, there’s something very trustworthy about it, and it’s not cynical. Observing personal style in friends and strangers is also inspiring. I love to see how people do themselves, it offers perspective on basic pieces of clothing that are stylish because of personality, not because of fashion.

Can you walk us through the process of designing a piece? The pattern, production, etc.

I generate patterns through a software program on my computer and upload them to my knitting machine. I usually try to design motifs that can be used in a few different ways–isolated as a stripe, or as a full repeat. Once I have a pattern I want to work with, I make swatches to determine the layout and colorway. I make all of my design decisions based on a physical swatch, so there’s a lot of development that happens during this time. After I have a set design I want to use, I map it out by hand so I know how to repeat it and make a prototype so I can see the design as a full garment. Most ideas don’t make it to this phase. Once the prototype is made, I make adjustments and record the final pattern.

You’ve collaborated with a few fairly well known artists—can you speak to the process of developing knitwear as an artistic process or collaboration?

I’ve worked on a few design collaborations and have also done some freelance work developing ideas for other companies. It’s definitely different to work with other people creatively, but that’s what makes it interesting. Collaborating is something I’d like to consider more in the future.

Any artists particularly inspiring to you at the moment?

I loved the Jim Shaw show at the New Museum!

Whats next?

I have a new set of designs launching on my site! 2016 will be the year when I begin to introduce non-knitwear items to the label.

Maggie Shannon is a photographer based in Brooklyn.