Like so many knitters I know, I was very much looking forward to the new season of Gilmore Girls that premiered on Netflix November 25th. I tried valiantly to avoid spoilers on social media as I was waiting until after I came home from a post-Thanksgiving business trip to Chicago to start watching.
Instead of plot spoilers, my social media feeds blew up with photos of, and links to, two scarves worn by Rory and Paris in the first episode. I soon learned that two Chicago-based designers — Lisa Whiting and Lucia Blanchet of lisa lucia — had connected with Brenda Maben, the Gilmore Girls costume designer, who commissioned the designs, Dots & Dashes and Eponymuff. I had to learn more.
Since I was, coincidentally, in Chicago, I thought I’d be able to meet Lisa and Lucia for coffee at
Lukes somewhere in the city last Monday, but they were busy launching kits for their patterns that evening. So, instead, I emailed them some questions and they filled me in on their whirlwind experience, with a written back and forth reminiscent of GG creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s rat-a-tat dialogue.
Tell me how this collaboration came about. How did you meet Gilmore Girls costume designer Brenda Maben?
Lucia: Lisa met her first — she was a regular at the LYS Lisa owned in Chicago, Sifu Design Studio & Fine Yarns, which is also where Lisa and I met as well. I don’t remember exactly when I met Brenda, but I hadn’t been teaching/working at the shop for long before I began to look forward to buckets of tea and yarn talk with Brenda around our scarred green work table.
Lisa: I remember exactly when I met Brenda. It was at my first Sifu location in Andersonville. She came in wanting help with a project and she sat down at that same green table and we got to chatting. She was in town for a family gathering. At this point she was living in LA working on several different TV shows. We hit it off immediately. She was mostly living in LA at that point but when she made the permanent move to Chicago, Brenda started visiting us regularly at our Edgewater location.
What was it like to see your designs on the small screen?
Lucia: Oh, it was pretty exciting, but not as surreal as it was to see them on the actors on set. Lisa has a good story…
Lisa: We were on set standing outside Luke’s diner waiting to be seated in our spots and up walks Liza Weil and I gasped. Not because it was her, but because she was wearing our scarf and it looked so good on her. Then I realized that she was smiling and nodding at me. I was so embarrassed thinking she might think I was some weird fangirl that I turned to Lucia with my face all beet red. Later, Brenda told me that she was acknowledging me as the designer of the scarf. I was bowled over!
Lucia: I’ll add that I also got a real thrill out of seeing our pieces hung up and labeled with our brand name in the costume department, because at that point, they were the very first products that “lisa lucia” had ever sold. We were really in just the planning stages of creating the business in the fall of 2015 when Brenda said she wanted to feature some of our stuff in the show. We still hadn’t even closed Lisa’s yarn shop yet! So things got super-accelerated all of a sudden because the show started filming in February immediately after the store closed so during that January, I personally knit four of the six pieces commissioned for the show myself while Lisa dealt with most of…everything else, including making sure I ate regularly.
Lucia: So anyway, while it was indescribably cool to see our pieces on the set and on-screen, I’m also really looking forward to seeing finished objects of these patterns knit by people we’ve never met.
Did the characters of Rory and Paris inspire the designs and the colors you chose?
Lucia: Well, it was more like the pieces were inspired by the show aesthetic in general, because they didn’t all end up where we thought they would. “Dots & Dashes,” for example, was originally supposed to be Lorelai’s, I think, though it totally makes sense that it would end up on Rory in that case. Brenda picked pieces out of our portfolio, some of which we came up with before we heard about GG, some of which emerged in the weeks immediately after we got that news, and in at least one case (Dots), Lisa first drew it up on scrap paper while Brenda was in the room.
Lisa: We had a very grammar/language-themed collection because of the quick witty banter that happens on the show. “Dots & Dashes” was because of the telegraph style speech patterns between characters. And “Eponymuff” was named in honor of Lorelai naming Rory after herself. And seriously, how could we not do a giant coffee mug on a sweater? We both are fueled by caffeine so we relate heavily to the necessity for coffee in one’s life!
Lucia: Oh yeah, and we also picked the color scheme for the “Jumbo Coffee Sweater” based on the interior set of Luke’s Diner and made it an intarsia raglan as a nod to Lorelai’s fondness for baseball tees. While the sweater I made for the show was knit out of Cascade 220 that we had on hand, some of those colors are now discontinued and since we’re also invested in supporting other independent fiber artists, for our upcoming (mid-December) kit we commissioned Michelle Kaston of Essential Fiber to custom dye yarn for us. Something else that’s great about this collaboration is that since three of the colors are used only for the duplicate-stitch detailing, Michelle is making mini-skeins for our kits to reduce waste and bring down material costs for both us and the consumer.
Lucia: The timing was all so whirlwind, and didn’t always match up, so things happened like we came up with a bunch of cute, food-themed pieces inspired by Sookie before it looked like Melissa McCarthy wasn’t going to be in the Revival, but by the time she signed on, it was too late to get those into production in time. And Brenda was considering this one really fitted, vintage-inspired sweater of ours for Rory, but Alexis was pregnant up until really soon before shooting began so we couldn’t get accurate measurements in time. As a result of things like that, a fair amount of what we’ve got upcoming will be Gilmore-inspired to some degree, since as other knitwear designers will probably agree, having the image of something in your mind – or even on paper – is just the bare beginning of all the work it takes to translate that into an actual garment much less a fully fleshed-out knitting pattern.
Do you know if any members of the cast or crew of Gilmore Girls are knitters?
Lucia: Well, Brenda, obviously.
Lisa: Alexis Bledel’s mom.
Lucia: She’s not a crew member obviously, but one of the sweetest things that happened while we were on set was when Alexis came up to a table where Lisa and I were knitting and asked to take a picture of us and our knitting to send to her mom. We are actually going to be doing an interview with Brenda soon specifically about the knitting episode so we’ll find out more then, but she has told us that that episode was basically a gift to her from the producers and that a bunch of the “knitting extras” in that episode were her friends.
Lisa: I would love to do a video interview of all three of us knitting.
Who are each of your favorite Gilmore Girls characters?
Lucia: This is a hard question! Hmmm, my favorite character whose last name isn’t Gilmore is probably Paris. I love “difficult” female characters and complicated, nuanced relationships between women in my fiction (Sookie, Lane and Mrs. Kim are also in the running).
Lisa: I actually didn’t watch GG as religiously as Lucia did. I watched it if it was on but I didn’t have two different VCR players recording Gilmore Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the same time like Lucia did.
Lucia: Heh. Yeah, I was not messing around. Side note: I actually wrote my undergrad thesis about serial television narrative and the emergence of DVD box sets and Netflix back before streaming video.
Lisa: NERD. Anyway, I would say my favorite character now is Paris or Sookie. As a big girl, I tend to gravitate toward actresses who are bigger because it wasn’t always socially acceptable to be thickums. I like hearing the voices of beautiful funny rubenesque women.
Lucia: Me too, sweetheart.
Um, what else? My answer to the question that always comes up when people talk about GG – who should Rory end up with? – is multipart: a) I don’t really care, because the primary relationship for me on the show has always been between Rory and Lorelai; but, b) If I did care, I’d say Paris! In a different way, my favorite “character” is actually the town of Stars Hollow, because I grew up in a really small New England town (Marlboro, VT, population: 978) filled with eccentric weirdos and Gilmore Girls started airing the same year I moved across the country to go to the University of CA, Santa Cruz, so it was kind of a weekly tonic for my homesickness.
Lisa: Hence the videotaping!
Tell me about your design partnership and how it works.
Lucia: That’s evolving as we transition from the roots of our friendship and how we worked together in the store. It’s definitely entwined with both similarities and differences in our aesthetics, personality, strengths, etc.
Lisa: We both have ADD/ADHD and for me specifically, I find working with another person increases my productivity because I am distracted less. We bounce ideas off each other. I have a fine art degree and have been in the creative pursuits my entire life. Lucia is, on the other hand, more academic. She is a literary genius and the best pattern editor I have ever met in person. Our aesthetic sensibilities are very similar and really meld well together. I tend to do a lot of colorwork and pieces that are technically challenging to knit. Lucia likes clean, interesting shapes that are relatively easy to knit but challenging to design.
Lucia: But even though one of our designs might be more “Lisa style” or “Lucia-esque,” we both have a hand in every piece we put out, whether it’s creative input or technical implementation.
Lisa: There is just so much to do when creating patterns. It isn’t just about putting some math down on paper and putting it up on Ravelry. We are committed to consistency, uniformity in our pattern drafting, and providing easy-to-follow, simple-yet-informative instructions so that any knitter at any skill level can pick up a pattern and feel confident they can do it. We are also writing our patterns to be a FULL range of sizes. It is hard to find beautiful designs that are outside of the range of Medium. There are a few designers who are doing a great job of this. Ysolda Teague is one of them and we really admire her for plowing that field!
To sum up, I couldn’t do this without Lucia. AND I WOULDN’T WANT TO. She is my best friend and even though we have some challenges in working with our disabilities we really are necessary for each other. She is one of my favorite humans!
Lucia: And now I’m blushing. Knowing Lisa has changed my life. In an alternate reality, I’m using my degrees to teach college kids about intertextuality and fanfiction; in this one, I knit sweaters for my favorite teevee characters, research the history and evolution of knitting pattern notation, and wrack my brain trying to figure out how to knit a cable that forms the shape of interlocking knit and purl stitches. I’m still the same flavor of nerd, but working with Lisa has helped me branch out beyond the sphere of language and analysis. Her way of being in the world reminds me that if you want to Make Something, you might as well just go ahead (and you don’t have to do it alone). We also have a larger community of knitters and artisans to help and inspire us, which includes people like Brenda. I’m so grateful for that.
In terms of the nitty gritty, there are very few practical aspects of pattern production that we don’t both take on to greater and lesser degrees, depending. Plus, even though Lisa draws all our sketches and diagrams, I have input on what a given image should look like; likewise, while I generally draft the final text of our patterns, Lisa is always involved throughout. The way we went about responding to these questions is a pretty good example of our working dynamic, actually: we both worked in the same Google doc on two separate computers, often at the same time, while also communicating with one another over email, phone, text, and in person. We talk to each other a lot when we’re physically apart, and can also spend vast amounts of time in the same room doing different things.
Lisa: IT’S ALL SO META. Because as we are finalizing this for you, we are also on the phone talking about how to end it. So I think this is where we say, THANK YOU!
Lucia: Yes, thank you! So much!
Lisa: We really have enjoyed doing this questionnaire for you and we are excited to share more of our work in the very near future. See you all on Ravelry.