This month I’m introducing you to Janine Bajus, aka The Feral Knitter, she’s an author, designer, teacher, online shop owner, and all around a Fair Isle colorwork enthusiast.
These monthly features of other creative businesses are a way for all of us to get to know these wonderful businesses; it has been a long-time interest of mine to explore how other creative people make their way as professionals.
Introducing Janine Bajus – The Feral Knitter
Hi Janine! I know Janine from a group of hopeful knitting-related authors we both belong to. Janine Bajus has now written her book! I sometimes share a room with Janine and I can tell you she gives great advice and feedback. I don’t know that I do, but I make great coffee!
If I remember the story correctly, The Feral Knitter was born when someone misunderstood what she said she did. She said Fair Isle Knitter. The person heard Feral Knitter.
Q: Welcome Janine Bajus. How did you find the VIP that lead you to being the business-owner, author, and designer, you are today.
A: I earned the moniker The Feral Knitter because of my love of Fair Isle knitting, but I didn’t start out thinking that I could knit a stranded garment, that’s for sure.
In 1998 a chapter in Knitting in America changed my life: when I read the profile of Meg Swansen I realized that here was the teacher/mentor I was looking for. She said that, once you learn the basics of knitting you are free to make anything you want. I understood then that knitting could be used as a creative medium, and I wanted in! I read everything she and her mother Elizabeth Zimmermann had written, watched every video tape they made, until I felt confident as a knitter.
I met Meg in person soon after I read this eye-opening interview—she was warm and knowledgeable and encouraging. I was able to attend her annual Knitting Camp in Wisconsin, where she introduced me to Fair Isle knitting. It took some time for me to believe that anyone could, with patience, knit a stranded garment. But in Camp I learned how to handle the yarns—from there my obsession blossomed quickly. Meg published my first Fair Isle design in her Sweaters from Camp book!
Meg’s curiosity about the different ways a knitter can approach a given problem was inspirational, and her enthusiasm for the innovations I devised was like a gift. Meg’s generosity has given me a road map for how to be a good citizen of our fiber world: share information freely, attribute any borrowed elements or techniques to their source, and never underestimate the value of our craft.
I think you are a good Knitting citizen! You are always helpful and thoughtful. I like that you make beautiful things, and do not have false modesty about that.
Q: What propels you? I know your projects take a lot of work, and you have written a book, The Joy of Color, to share your process. Tell me more.
A: I am convinced that people have a deep need to express themselves creatively. This expression can take many forms—for me, it’s always involved working with fiber: spinning, weaving, sewing, embroidery, and knitting. Over time this led to a deep exploration into multicolor knitting in the Fair Isle tradition.
When asked to share my process I developed a step-by-step method to design personal, unique Fair Isle garments that I have shared with hundreds of students. It pleases me no end that people who thought they were “no good with color” have been able to create lovely designs.
To support Fair Isle knitters in the US I opened an online shop — Feral Knitter — to make Shetland yarns, patterns, and color tools widely available. Operating a business has been a challenge!
Last year I took everything I had learned from designing and teaching to write The Joy of Color: Fair Isle Knitting Your Way, a workshop in a book. The skills needed to write and publish a book stretched me even more.
As I wrote in my book, your sweater will not change the world, but the process of making it will change you. That first design, the Dragonfly River Vest that Meg Swansen published, was the start of an amazing journey that I never could have envisioned.
These photos really don’t show the breadth and depth of the work you do, although I think they make it seem possible for knitters to do it. I love that you have a “beginner’s” fair isle hat pattern.
Q: I know that place is important to you. Do you have a place that is meaningful to your work, or how you work?
A: A number of years ago I was hiking on Mt Rainier, in Washington state. When I reached Panorama Point [here’s a link to some images—which I think say a lot. jw] I pulled my knitting out of my daypack and cast on for a yoke sweater. It was such an idyllic setting, all alone on the rock outcrop with glorious views in every direction. I felt such a sense of competence, that my skills now allowed me to make a sweater with the knowledge in my head—and it became clear to me that this is what I wanted for my students.
As for me, I work sitting in my green chair in the living room—my operations center, as the family calls it—but my mind is on the particular place that inspired the design I’m working on. If I’m away from home I have to simplify, but I’m always happy to follow the patterns of other designers!
That sense of competence is so cool! Thanks for putting that into words. The journey of creativity is so awesome, but it is good to have a comfortable seat.
Q: Please tell me what is going on in your business now, and any exciting projects you have going on or coming up.
A: I published my workshop-in-a-book—The Joy of Color: Fair Isle Knitting Your Way—last September. The last couple of years have been taken up with learning many new skills: writing, publishing, marketing, shipping, and advertising. I’ve also been writing up patterns, another different skill set. These demands of self-publishing differ greatly from the skills required for designing and teaching, so this has been a big stretch, and not always comfortable. In fact, I found myself unable to pursue my own designs for several months.
Although I was inspired to teach and publish by a desire to help others explore their creativity, I’m now trying to make sure that I still have time and energy to immerse myself into my own projects. I began keeping a studio journal that includes snippets of poetry, song lyrics, photos, and ideas. This is helping me identify the themes and images I want to explore and has been key to sparking joy in fiber work again.
I’m looking forward to traveling in England this spring, and I’ll be co-leading knitting tours next September in Scotland and the Shetland Islands, where Fair Isle knitting originated. I’m looking forward to the next designs—already I feel the stirring of something new!
Thanks Janine! As you know, I a huge fan and look forward to see what is still to come.
Find and Follow Janine Bajus aka The Feral Knitter
Designing your own Fair Isle sweater is within your reach if you pick up Janine’s book The Joy of Color. It will walk you step-by-step through the whole design process, demystifying the process of color work for you. This is a book you will love to own even if you don’t use it for anything but inspiration. Get your The Joy of Color here.