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Anna Johanna: Combining Skills with Playfulness

Author, Designer, designers, Knitting

Anna Johanna: Combining Skills with Playfulness

Anna Johanna comes from Jyväskylä, central Finland. She is one of the most loved Finnish knitting designers at the moment. Her colourwork knits charm, especially with their technical genius, but their playful patterns also make you smile. Anna Johanna’s brand-new book Strands of Joy Vol. II includes 17 colourwork patterns: cardigans, sweaters and accessories. Read on to learn more about what inspired the book and Anna Johanna’s path to being a full-time knitwear designer. 

Your new book is a sequel to your first book, Strands of Joy. What similarities and differences do these two books have?

“Both books are about my love for colourwork knits and nature. Most of the patterns in both have been inspired by plants and animals. My first Strands of Joy book was a slightly more random collection of different colourwork knits. I had just gotten into the complexities of grading and shaping colourwork designs into various sizes and wanted to explore that. There is a more specific idea behind the second book. In it, I wanted to experiment with different ways of bringing larger patterns into colourwork knits. It was an interesting challenge in terms of grading.”

Each design in the book is connected to a little story from your youth at the turn of the millennium. Why did you want to return to that specific time?

“The main reason is just pure nostalgia. Despite all of the hormonal turmoil, the teenage years are probably the most carefree years in one’s life; therefore, there’s always a certain longing for them. Back to the time when the most important thing to do after homework was to cycle to the beach with a friend or wait for that specific 80s Hits collection commercial on TV!

As I am now edging towards middle age, I am at a point where I don’t remember a thing about yesterday’s grocery shopping, but memories from my childhood and youth are clear in my mind. In their mundane ordinariness, they are also a way for the reader to get to know me a little better.”

You have studied statistics but currently work as a full-time knitting designer. Could you briefly share how you came to be where you are now?

“I have always dreamed of being a fashion designer, ever since childhood, when I watched The Bold and the Beautiful, a soap opera set in the fashion industry. I loved to draw dresses and plan fashion shows. However, after high school, I wanted to study a field with a high employment rate. Most of the jobs were in the capital region, so I stayed at the University of Jyväskylä and continued all the way to a PhD in statistics. I enjoyed being a researcher, but also found it stressful. Knitting gave me a space where I had room to breathe. 

I started writing a knitting blog in 2011, and it was then that I began to dream about a career in the knitting industry. I finally found my thing in designing knitting patterns because I greatly enjoy solving the mathematical problems of grading. At the university, the research projects lasted for a few years at a time, and after my contract came to an end in December 2019, I decided to take the brave leap into full-time entrepreneurship.”

It seems your background has helped with learning the math needed for knitting patterns?

“Even though designing requires creativity, I always see myself more as an efficient, engineer-like equation solver than a creative artist. The mathematical and programming skills I’ve learned in my career at the university are very beneficial in creating knitting patterns. Many designers grade patterns one size at a time and check the pattern repeats, etc., for each size separately. I grade my patterns by programming a general 'recipe' of how to grade any size into my software. Then I put in a size chart and the gauge, and the software calculates everything for me in one go.”

Many of the designs in your book are also playful and humorous. Is this something that describes you as well?

“I am one of those people who grow old but never grow up. I can, of course, behave appropriately in serious situations, but I still view the world through child-like eyes, and playfulness is an integral part of me. Years ago, I said to my husband that I hoped he doesn’t expect me to suddenly grow up if we have kids. I wasn’t wrong…”

In your book, you use mostly untreated wool yarns. Why do you want to favour them?

“I simply love wool! Untreated wool yarn smells and feels like a sheep. You can feel the characteristics of different sheep breeds in them, and it is wonderful to sink your hands into them. In addition to being more environmentally friendly than superwash-treated yarn, untreated wool yarn is also better in colourwork knitting. When the yarn isn’t coated in plastic that can handle machine washing, the scales of the wool fibres stay open. This helps to create an even surface in colourwork. When you soak the finished knit, the wool scales open and fill out all the little gaps and uneven spaces in the fabric.”

You are known for your beautiful colourwork patterns. Could you share a practical tip for knitting colourwork?

“You need to practice to get an even surface. But using yarn guides can help a lot. It keeps the yarns in order, and when they aren’t tangled, the yarns run parallel in your knitting, and the floats at the back of the work stay the right length. With bigger patterns, you need to catch your floats frequently – I always do it every five stitches by knitting one stitch from below the yarn and another from the top. Alternatively, you can use the ladder technique.”

What would be the best possible feedback you could get from your book?

“The very best feedback can only come years from now. It is wonderful to see and hear that one of the designs has been so well loved that the knit has been worn so much it shows.”

Is there still something you would love to achieve when it comes to knitting and designing patterns?

“My main wish is simply to be able to continue to do this full time – making it as an entrepreneur is not a given. There are two knitters living inside me: one wants to conquer the world’s knitting stages, and the other wants to just sit in my corner of the couch and knit in solitude. Could we agree it is possible to conquer the world from the couch?”


Learn more:

Strands of Joy Vol II
Strands of Joy