YARN ALCHEMIST SPOTLIGHT SERIES - JACLYN SALEM

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The Yarn Alchemist Spotlight series on the Aroha Knits blog was started up by Ash Christine. She wanted to use the Aroha Knits platform as a way to shine a light on the hidden gems in the community and give them the opportunity to share their story.

 Yarn Alchemist Jaclyn Salem - side-project queen, craftress behind the Brooklyn Knitfolk podcast, and designer of a few knitwear patterns!

Yarn Alchemist Jaclyn Salem - side-project queen, craftress behind the Brooklyn Knitfolk podcast, and designer of a few knitwear patterns!

1 - Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started knitting.

Hi! I’m Jaclyn: side-project queen, craftress behind the Brooklyn Knitfolk podcast, and designer of a few knitwear patterns! You can find me on Instagram as @jaclynsalem.
 
Making has been a part of my life for as long as I remember. My parents always encouraged creative pursuits. Sewing—quilts in particular— was my first fiber craft. I made my first quilt when I was 8 years old (with lots of help from my Mamaw and my Dad!), and from there I sewed, off and on, throughout my life, but mostly for functional purposes (curtains for the apartments, fixing clothes, hemming thrift store skirt finds into mini skirts, etc.).

I discovered knitting much later in life, and will you hate me if I said it started out so that I could impress a guy? :) I studied graphic design at the University of Tennessee School of Art, and worked at Borders bookstore all through college (I still maintain that Borders is probably the best job I will ever have.). This is pretty mortifying to admit, but basically I taught myself how to knit because there was this guy that I worked with (and was not-so-secretly in love with) who mentioned to me in passing that he wanted a girlfriend who would knit him scarves and talk about books with him. The romance didn’t go as planned, and I never did finish that scarf, but I got a pretty great hobby out of it!

2 - What type of Fibre Muse are you?

Turns out I’m the “Dreamer,” which is interesting because the word “dreamer” has never been a moniker that I typically gravitate toward when describing myself. I find that the word “dreamer” is usually associated with too much passivity or inaction (and not enough doing!), which is not me at ALL, but the description of the Dreamer Fibre Muse is actually spot on.
 
As the description points out, making is definitely a form of self-expression for me, and I absolutely do feel limited by the options presented to me by commercial brands. This is the part that makes my profession as a graphic designer so interesting—I get to work with brands to help them understand how society and consumers are changing, and how their brands can better serve us.
 
One of my favorite parts about the Dreamer Fibre Muse is “she likes engaging in meditative projects where the finished result looks more complicated than it is,” because this is something that is absolutely central to the way that I design knitwear patterns. If you’ve knit one, you know!
 
The only thing that I disagree with is the emphasis on boldness of color. Don’t get me wrong—I love color!—but I think there is a confidence that comes with letting subtlety and texture speak for themselves.
 

 Irving socks

Irving socks

 Birch hat

Birch hat

3 - How did designing your own patterns come about?

Designing my own patterns was born from a myriad of factors. For me, personal growth occurs when I push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. People frequently call me fearless, but if you know me, then you know that I don’t believe in the existence of failure. To me, setbacks and challenges are just a part of life, and merely a step in the process to something eventually working out. 

In addition to this, I also find the dialogue around a finished object/piece of work to be vastly uninteresting compared to the process of how you got there. This is why I love design (in all forms) so much—it’s always a work in progress. It’s a puzzle that needs solving, but relies so much on the factors of the environment, which are always changing. Designers create and influence culture, which is rewarding and fun. The way I see it, I have two options: I can rework and modify an existing pattern beyond recognition, or I can just design what’s in my head myself. Lately, I’ve started choosing the latter.
 
Although I definitely consider creativity a driving force in my life, I’m also quite analytical (my graphic design job revolves around designing infographics and data visualization!). Designing really feeds that analytical, Type A side of my brain. I find the entire process of designing interesting. Not to mention– it’s fun to be known for something! It’s a privilege to know that what I’m doing resonates with people.

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4 - What was your initial thought process when starting the Brooklyn Knitfolk podcast?

Moving to New York City was one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done in my life. I moved here without ever visiting before! In many ways NYC is so wonderful, but for a city that is so exciting and has so much to offer, it’s incredibly difficult to build community here as a newcomer. As an outsider, it can feel like the groups are already so established, the cliques so entrenched—almost like they don’t want you here. To this day, it’s still such a culture shock from the south (I’m from Nashville), particularly when I go out to bars and restaurants. People stand in little groups and don’t interact with anyone—that would never happen in Nashville! I went from being the big fish in a little pond, to a small fish in an ocean. I definitely consider myself an extrovert, but there’s a culture here that really stamps out organic interactions, compared to where I’m from. So I thought, if I can’t come to the community, I’ll create the community instead.
 
This brought on a whole new set of challenges though—especially when it came to knitting. My entire life, I’ve flowed among many social circles: athletics, design, newspaper editor, crafty person, podcaster, literature snob, music festival goer—you name it, I’ve done it. And because of that, I’ve always found it challenging to find close friends who I connect with across different facets of my personality; most of my friendships revolve around a shared activity. 

Not many people know this, but when I started posting on Instagram a few years ago about all this knitting, I felt so self-conscious! Each Instagram post I made about knitting, I would think about specific people in other friend groups…what would they think? Would they think I was lame? For about a year, I felt like I had to balance knitting content with other, “cooler” graphic design, and illustration work so that people wouldn’t put me in a “grandma” box. But as a trained designer, I know this is a death sentence to building a brand and finding both your audience and authentic self. Building this community means embracing the sides of me that I’m not always confident sharing in other circles (I’m still not good at sharing my personal life on Brooklyn Knitfolk). It can be scary to put yourself out there for others to judge you. But if there’s one thing that Instagram Stories watchers-list has taught me, it’s that there are a lot of tough guys in the Brooklyn Kickball League who are way more interested in knitting than you would think. :D                                                                                                              

5 - You’ve talked before about drawing inspiration from where you live in New York. How does that process work for you—does something inspire the design first or does the design remind you of something around you?

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One of my favorite observations that a former boss of mine told me was this: “No matter where you stand in New York City, there are at least a hundred different pictures you could take.” This has really stuck with me since the day he said it. Inspiration is everywhere in this city. Some cities, like Chicago for example, project a fairly strong, unified visual language. New York City isn’t like this at all. Every neighborhood has a very distinct vibe. There are positives and negatives to this, but it definitely makes for an infinite amount of creative fodder.
 
In terms of your question, BOTH for sure. Sometimes I’ll see a really pretty subway station tiling and wonder how I could translate it into a knitting pattern. Other times, like in the case of the Clark Socks, a neighborhood’s architecture and urban planning transports me to a different era. What would they have worn then?
 
For the Irving Socks, every day on my walk to the subway, I pass this hideous, metal fence that has this art deco feel to it. The Irving Socks look nothing like this fence at all, but it planted the seed…if I were going to design an art-deco inspired sock, what would it look like?
 
Overall though, as diverse as New York City is, it really doesn’t matter where I am. I was trained as a designer in Tennessee, in a rigorous program that emphasized process, mind-mapping, and critical thinking, rather than teaching us anything practical like how to succeed in the real world. In some ways this was really frustrating. Complicated tasks like learning design programs, production, and building a portfolio and a website were done on our own time, but looking back I can see now how teaching someone how to think critically is so much more valuable in the long run. Creativity is a habit. The more you practice creativity, the stronger and easier the habit gets. I could talk at length on this subject, but I’ll save that for a different time!

6 - How do you see your work making an impact in the knitting and fibre community?

The main idea that I want to impart to others is that they are capable of so much more than they believe themselves to be. A key feature of my work is to demystify, break down, and simplify the process of knitting and sewing to make it feel approachable to others (My Brooklyn Knitfolk Quilt Along #BrooklynKnitfolkQAL tutorial series on YouTube is a prime example of this). Most of the time, the hardest part of starting something new is getting past that mental hurdle of just starting.
 
As a graphic designer, I think about function just as much as form. As a knitwear designer, this means I’m definitely thinking about the knitter’s experience as much as the design itself. For me, it’s not enough for something to be beautiful—it has to be practical as well.

7 - What’s your favorite object to knit?

Socks and sweaters for sure!

 Irving socks

Irving socks

 Clark socks

Clark socks

 Clark socks

Clark socks

8 - What do you have in store for the future year of Brooklyn Knitfolk and your design work?

In terms of knitwear designs, last year I started on a path that I hope to continue following! My word for the year is “prioritize.” Anyone who knows me knows how challenging it is for me to think about the big picture—I’m such a details person! But prioritizing everything means I’m prioritizing nothing, and giving everything equal attention has made it difficult to make any significant progress on longer-term goals.
 
I (happily) work a full-time job as a graphic designer, so I have to be realistic about what’s possible, but this year in addition to designing some new patterns, I really want to prioritize positioning my knitwear designs as a brand—including a visual identity, a website, and more brand collaborations. When it comes to knitwear design, sometimes I deal with imposter syndrome (the idea that I’m not qualified to do this), but being successfully entrepreneurial means having the confidence to call your work by its name.
 
I throw myself so whole-heartedly into my projects, and while knitwear design is definitely a priority this year, it’s good to remind myself that anything worthwhile takes time.

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Where can we find you and your work?

Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/@jaclynsalem
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl_o_ptXlmrnhUR4J0f2aWQ
Ravelry designs/shop: https://www.ravelry.com/designers/jaclyn-salem


Giveaway

Want to win one of Jaclyn's patterns? It's easy! Just follow her on Instagram and/or on YouTube, then come back here and let us know which of her patterns is your favourite. Also make sure to leave us your Ravlery ID - that's how we'll contact you if you win!

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