Our First Designer Spotlight is on Lena Skvagerson, lead designer of Annie’s Signature Designs. You may know her as one of the experts on the Annie’s television show, Knit and Crochet Now!, which airs on PBS.
Lena passionately designs everything from exquisite knit shawls to adorable crochet booties. She draws her creativity from more than 25 years in the European knit and crochet design markets. She grew up with her mom and siblings on the west coast of Sweden. She went to Gothenburg Textile Academy and studied pattern construction, and after that to Berghs School of Communication where she earned degree in Marketing. Her father is from the San Francisco Bay Area, California, where she visited many times over the years, and always had a dream to live in California one day.
Nine years ago this dream became reality, and she now lives with her husband and children in San Luis Obispo, a small city on the Central Coast of California. She works mostly remotely for Annie’s but does visit the head office in Indiana several times a year, as well as their branch office in Texas.
Lena has published over 350 knit and crochet patterns over the years, in major European magazines as well as US magazines like Creative Knitting, Crochet World, and Crochet!
In addition, she has produced over 250+ tutorial videos for DROPS on You Tube, which collectively receive more than 20K+ views per day. She has an upcoming new video class for Annie’s in Continental Knitting, set for release in this October 2016.
As if all that weren’t enough, she also currently serves as Associate Producer and Crochet and Knit Expert on the most recent two seasons of Emmy-nominated PBS television show, Knit and Crochet Now! working with show host Deborah Norville. Season 7 is on air at PBS and Create TV right now.
Bonita Patterns Blog caught up with Lena for a chat and to pick her brains about Crochet, life, and the secret of her success.
Questions marked with * were suggested by our wonderful Bonita Patterns friends on social media.
Who taught you crochet?*
Lena: Unlike many other Scandinavians, I was not taught by my grandmother or mother, as none of them were crafty. I was taught by my kindergarten teacher to begin with and then my development was pretty much self-taught by trial and error.
Many, including our Bonita Patterns friends, like to learn about designers’ inspiration. So, what inspires you?*
Lena: Through my own experience and personal sense of style, I gather inspiration from all that I see around me in the world. I’ve worked extensively in the European and Scandinavian fashion markets, and derive much of my knowledge from this time of my life. Throughout my life I’ve been passionate about being in and experiencing nature. Nature is my playground to experience with family and friends. With this in mind for this new autumn collection I turned to the roots, rocks and sky of west and southwest as my inspiration.
It is impressive you were part of Drops/Garnstudio for 25 years. Share with us what it is to be working for so many years for the same company. How would you summarize your years there?
Lena: During all these years with DROPS I got to be part of many different phases and was happy to see the company grow and getting into new markets. The company was small to begin with and as it grew I was able to wear many hats and develop several skills over the years. I was initially in sales being in charge of the Swedish sales office, played an active part of product development and marketing, developed DROPS first website in the early 90’ies and set up the different social media platforms as they came along, created designs with the design team and was the tech editor for 40+ collections. After my move to US I managed the 16 translators working with the patterns and website texts, and created 250+ tutorial videos.
For the last two and half years you have been working for one of the most popular Crochet publishers in the U.S. , Annies, how is to be the “big cheese” in-house designer there? Are there any major differences in the designer work and style in the US vs Europe?
Lena: Haha, I wouldn’t say I feel like a big cheese. It’s a truly great feeling taking the step to work for such an honorable company as Annie’s and to be given all the trust and tools to build up our own in-house design department. The collections we have launched so far has been a team effort. I am lucky to have a fantastic team at Annie’s with experienced and talented people; editors, photographers, marketing, tech editors, graphic artists and more. As far as the way I work creating the designs, I would not say there are many differences that is related to US vs Europe. Since I am building a new department, I am bringing my skills and my way to work into Annie’s.
How do you see the crochet industry now versus when you started out 25 years ago?
Lena: Back in the ’80s and ’90s crochet was not big in Scandinavia, it was pretty much limited to doilies, table runners and Christmas decorations. I have learned that it was different in US with crochet being a very popular craft, and hardly not a home without a couple crochet afghans.
In Europe crochet started to show up in fashion I would say during the last 15 years, and today it’s bigger than ever on the run ways. Historically, Annie’s has been known for traditional crochet patterns. Knowing and honoring this core customer, I have been compelled to take a calculated risk and envision something modern and in line with what I have seen in my experience in the European fashion industry. So far it’s looks like Annie’s customers were ready for this experience, as several of the crochet garments are showing up on our top list, and a jacket part of the new autumn collection is the no 1 seller ever since it was launched.
What are your favorite things to design? Hats? Sweaters? Scarves?
Lena: That’s a tricky question, since I love most everything I do. However if you ask me to pick something for my next project I would pick a shawl. A shawl will always fit, and in my opinion you can’t have enough shawls and scarves in your wardrobe. Every outfit can be paired with a shawl. Also it’s a great shape to try out exciting and interesting stitches without having to many issues with shaping and seaming. A shawls is a great sized beginner project too, and I love seeing new enthusiasts joining our world of crafts.
What skills you consider essential to any crocheter?*
Lena: I would say the 4 basic stitches. If you know how to make a slip knot, chain, single crochet and double crochet then you have unlocked the door and the possibilities are endless.
What are the three (or more) pearls of wisdom you would share with an aspiring crochet or knitting designer?
- It’s fundamental to have the technical skills to back up the creative passion.
- Make sure you understand garments construction.
- Be just as passionate for the numbers so you can write great patterns.
- Think about your strengths, and make sure to team up with people who are great at what you are not so good at.
How many patterns you have published in 25 years of career? Give us an estimate guess if you don’t have the number.
Lena: I do not have a number haha. I would say approximately 350 in my name. Many more if we would count all the ones created as a team member, which don’t have my name on them.
… and hopefully many more to come.
The number of patterns of your collections are impressive. As a designers myself I would only dream to produce one-third of what you are showcasing on the Annie’s Signature Designs Autumn Bliss Collection, a compilation of 40+ upscale knitting and crochet patterns. As your title announces, you are the lead designer, is the collection a cooperative effort? If so, how many designers in your team created these works?
Lena: In the new collection there are a total of 47 different garments, and I designed 35 of these.
For the remaining 12 beautiful and unique designs, I worked closely with a group of 9 designers.
Some of them talented in-house colleagues, and some designers that we know and admire for their great work and also with a style in line with mine. Each one did an amazing job interpreting the vision and collaborate with me. I must say there’s something truly magical when a group of like-minded thinkers come together to make something that can be enjoyed by needle arts enthusiasts.
You design both crochet and knitting patterns. What are the advantages of being a “bi-stitchual” designer? Would you advise crocheters to also learn knitting?
Lena: There are of course many advantages to be bi-stitchual. Some designs and styles just works better in one of the techniques and also some yarn suits better for a project based on drape or sturdiness. In Scandinavia people in general are skilled in booth, and you see many designs mixing these crafts. So far I have stayed away from mixing the skills in my designs for Annie’s, as I am not sure if it would give the design to much of a limit. People in the US still seem to be doing either crochet or knit. Personally I do love adding a crochet edge to knit pieces for many reasons. So my first wish would be to teach a knitter some crochet, but I also think it would be a fun challenge and a way to take your skills a step further for a crocheter to learn some basic knit.
What do you like the most about being a designer?*
Lena: I love being able to work with my hobby. After all these years, I am still as excited as a child on Christmas Eve, every time I get to start working on a new project. I feel so unlimited, I am allowed let all my feelings and wishes transfer into my designs.
What are your big pet peeves about patterns? What is a must in all your patterns?
Lena: Numbers for sure! I am a math and number person and also a perfectionista. Mistakes, especially with the numbers, are super annoying to me. I look over my numbers a gazillion times before I hand off my patterns, and then I am so grateful for all our amazing tech editors, that I can trust to double check everything a couple more times.
If you couldn’t have been a designer, or if you had another career before designing, what would career would you have pursued?*
Lena: Great question! Growing up I wanted to be a doctor or an actor haha. Already during my high school year though I started dreaming of being a designer, but ended up studying marketing and advertising on college level. If I didn’t get to work as a designer, I think I most likely had gone into marketing and I believe that would have developed into working within social media. Something creative and result driven.
If you were stranded in a desert Island, which size hook and yarn you’d take with you?*
Lena: I would bring a size H (5mm) hook and a linen/cotton blend. I would make garments that would make me warm when it’s cold at night, and keep me cool and protected from the sun during the days.
Also these fibers are strong enough to be used as a fishing line, and to create ropes to build things with. I could even crochet myself a hammock to tie between the palm trees where I could just chill.
Haha, I hope we are talking about a tropical Island, and not a Island near any of the poles.
Do you ever have time to crochet or knit anything for yourself and family?*
Lena: Nope, not really, but that’s not a problem at all. There are pretty much already enough sweaters and scarves in all our closets to last a life time. Also I can usually keep one of my designs when done with it, when there is something I fall in love with and have a hard time parting with.
Which designers from the past and now you admire and helped you shape your style? Can you tell us your top five favorites?*
Lena: Ohh this is a really hard one. I honestly have never really followed any particular designers within the industry. I rather tend to follow the work of my for the moment favorite fashion brands. I do admire the designers that I have worked with on the Signature Designs collections. I also do think there have been some amazingly talented Scandinavian girls on the Drops team over the years, and I stay in touch with several of them. Trine Lise Høyseth, Che Lam and Kristin Pedersen Flesland to name a few of them. The brands I love right now are Free People, Anthropology, American Eagle & Peruvian Connection, also I pay close attention to the collections from Odd Molly, H&M, Zara, Mango and other fashion forward European brands.
You can see more of Lena’s designs at Annies Signature Designs. Follow her on:
Annie’s Signature Designs Autumn Bliss Collection, a compilation of 40+ upscale knitting and crochet patterns