November 01, 2023

Interview: Julie Weisenberger

インタビュー <br> Julie Weisenberger Founder of Cocoknits
featured by Julie Weisenberger

▲Julie Weisenberger holding her book Cocoknits Sweater Workshop, wearing a Verena cardigan


There are many great designers and companies out there in the industry, but Julie Wisenberger is one of the people we truly admire. She set herself apart from others with the way she designs her garments from the top down, using the Cocoknits method she developed, and the knitting tools she created to support this method. We have been dying to interview her for years and this is a dream come true.

- How did you get started knitting?

I had always been creative, growing up I did a lot of pottery and painting, and sewed many of my own clothes, but my grandmother was a prolific knitter and knit me anything I wanted, so it never occurred to me to try it.  During college I was studying at the University of Salzburg in Austria, far from my grandmother, and people were knitting everywhere. I wanted sweaters, so I decided to try knitting for myself.  I was hooked immediately!


- What is the story behind the launch of Cocoknits?

I designed for the ready-to-wear (fashion) industry in the late 80’s, early 90’s and did not find it fulfilling - too much other work and not enough creative designing!  Around the time I had my first child, I realized I could design knitting patterns for magazines and yarn companies from home - “Work From Home” before the internet! 

I took a break for a few years due to medical issues with my second child, and when I came back to knitting and design, I had less time and mental capacity for complicated knitting projects.  I also wanted to knit simple garments that were missing from my wardrobe and that I  would actually wear.  I decide to put a few simple designs on a website wondering if many knitters would want to knit so much stockinette stitch.  Ravelry launched around the same time and I think that helped.  Knitters found me and responded favorably to a more “ready-to-wear” look.

▲Left: Julie with a stack of her Cocoknits Method sweater designs.

 Right : Quinn cardigan.

- How do you balance work and private life? Did you have any ideal career image?

Thank you!  Honestly, my work has saved me.  My younger daughter is disabled so I had to put aside any notions of an ideal career.  I had to think creatively about what work I could manage because I needed to do something for my own fulfillment.  If I can bring joy to others and focus on creativity, beauty, and good design, it distracts me a bit from worrying and caring for her.  It is both my sanity and sheer delight. 

- Please tell us briefly about your Cocoknits Method. Why and how did you create it?

I personally don’t like how raglans and round yokes fit me.  On my body, there is always excess fabric up in the yoke when I don’t need that fabric until the bust area, so they are always unflattering on me, but knitting a traditional, seamed, set-in sleeve sweater is a lot of work! 

One day I found a very high-end designer sweater in a thrift shop that was constructed using English Tailoring. I researched it and started to explore how I could use it.  It’s really magical, it creates a 3D, almost sculpted shoulder, and is a much cleaner way of tailoring because it drops the shoulder join toward the back of the sweater and keeps it off the top of the shoulder, reducing bulk in a very visible spot. 

I kept working at it until I engineered a way to knit the designs top-down and seamless.  Then I realized the easiest way to track the increases happening in each sweater section (the fronts, back and sleeves) was to put them on a worksheet, which was inspired by having knit Japanese patterns!  Each section, Fronts, Back and Sleeves, are separated by colored stitch markers - and these correspond to colored lines on the worksheet which make it much easier to track the increases. 

This also allows for a complete custom fit, once you understand how it works.  You can start with your shoulder fit.  Once you get the shoulders fitting perfectly, then you can choose the bust size and sleeve size that works for you.  These may all be the same size, but for many women, this may be 3 different sizes.  For instance, you may need the size 1 for shoulders, the size 3 for bust, and the size 2 for sleeve circumference.  You fill out the worksheet accordingly and knit away, working increases as you have marked on your worksheet, to come out at the end with a sweater that fits your unique shape! 


▲Sections 1-3 of a Cocoknits Method sweater in progress.

- What do you enjoy about teaching?

My greatest joy is helping people (mostly women) who have never knitted a sweater that fits them well.  I show them how to fit their shoulders, then separately work on the fit of sleeves and bust, so in the end they have a sweater that fits them the way they want it to fit.  It is so satisfying to help people in this way!  And just being around other knitters is so inspiring - it always sparks my creativity and inspires me to keep designing. 

- We often see cases where a designer launches a brand and also produces yarns, but why did you choose tools instead of yarns?

Yes, there comes a time as a designer when you realize you would have to design at an amazing volume to keep up - and it’s overwhelming.  I saw other designers going into yarn but I knew how sad I would be if I could only knit with my own yarn!  For me, one of the most enjoyable things about designing is getting to use so many different yarns and work with the most wonderful yarn companies - and I didn’t want to change that! 

At the same time, I was really frustrated by the knitting tools that were largely the same as the ones my grandmother had been using in the 70’s - and most of them were cheap plastic.  This did not match my aesthetic or the beautiful yarns I was knitting with.  I also felt like these tools were not invented by knitters to reflect the respect knitting deserves.I wanted to change that. My father’s hobby is woodworking and he values the tools of his craft and no one questions that.  If we value our craft, our tools should reflect this. 

It was also extremely important to me that the tools could be sold in yarn shops.  At Cocoknits one of our main goals is to do all we can to help sustain the local yarn shops of the world!  They are an invaluable resource to communities and need our support!   So we try our best to strike the balance between affordable and precious - because we all want to spend money on yarn, not tools - but investing in a few quality pieces, and supporting your LYS, will make the whole experience of knitting more beautiful and enjoyable!



▲Cocoknits tools and accessories.


- Cocoknits tools are cute in both color and shape. What kind of commitment do you have to your products?

Thank you!  Every tool is born from a need - I don’t design tools for no reason.  And because we are a small, independent company, I can release designs - both patterns and tools - when I am inspired to create them, not on a set schedule or agenda.  As I teach, I hear from knitters about what they need, or sometimes I have a problem with my knitting that needs a solution, and I go from there to find a solution that is clean and innovative and really useful. I think about traveling with and storing knitting so I make things compact and use a lot of magnetic components so tools don’t get lost easily.  Of course it helps if it is also cute and it must be eco-friendly.

I never want a Cocoknits product to wind up polluting the earth.  We almost exclusively use Polylactic Acid (PLA) instead of regular plastic, it’s made from the waste of processing plants like sugar cane, bamboo or corn, and is used as biodegradable medical implants in 3D printing - so is very safe and free of any petroleum products.  Everything is metal or recycled paper or fabric - even washable kraft paper fabric - and we ensure our packaging is recyclable or reusable.  We always want the products to be high quality, and bring joy to the user!

- What is a future challenge?

I have a wonderful little team of (all women) co-workers who help me keep the wheels turning at Cocoknits.  So keeping this company going with new product and sweater designs is the first goal.  We are also working on getting some classes on our site to help people learn from wherever they are in the world! Beyond that I hope we can continue to promote the use of natural materials and to lessen dependence on fossil fuel-derived materials like polyester, acrylic and plastic.  We are a tiny voice, but maybe we can convince more people to knit, crochet and sew - and to understand how their fashion and shopping choices can make a difference in reversing the destruction of this beautiful, spinning blue ball we call home.  And we should have some fun and creative fulfillment at the same time.

- What kinds of things do you knit as a hobby, not as a job? We would like to know what kinds of items and yarns you like to use!

My hobby and professional knitting have really merged - even if I try to knit just for fun, it always winds up as a Cocoknits pattern!  For instance, I thought I would knit a baby onesie for a friend’s baby - and when my co-workers saw it, they said you MUST write it up, we want to knit it, too, and that became the Baby Bear pattern.  I knit myself a kerchief with some luxurious naturally dyed yarn from my favorite (and local to me) dye studio, A Verb For Keeping Warm, and the same thing happened! That became the Milli Kerchief pattern.  I am often surprised that people want patterns for the funny little things I knit for my own amusement!  I have also knit lamp shades from Habu fibers - and am about to knit some pillows with Bread & Butter yarn. I look around and think what can I knit - for me, my home, even my plants (like Knitted Nests and Felted Pods!).  After 40 years, I still love to experiment with knitting!




▲Julie wearing an indigo dyed Sarah cardigan.


All photos by Elysa Weitala, courtesy of Cocoknits.