You may know Olgalyn Jolly as the textile designer behind O! Jolly!. But long before she got into designing machine-knitted fabrics, she had a career in show business. “I used to be in the performing arts,” says Olgalyn who lives in New York City. “I sang. I danced but I knew it was something that I didn’t want to do forever.”
I chatted with Olgalyn last week via Google Hangouts about how she launched her line of machine-knitted fabrics. During our hour-long conversation, I discovered that Olgalyn had always loved fashion and when she was still performing, she began exploring fashion as her next career.
I’ve also purchased O! Jolly! cotton and wool sweater-knit fabric from Olgalyn’s shop. They are oh-so-soft and pretty. And you, dear reader, will have a chance to win this lovely sweater knit kit! Olgalyn’s special giveaway for my blog readers includes knitted fabric, ribbing, fusible tape, and thread. Instructions on how to enter the giveaway are towards the end of the interview. (It’s open to all – but if you live outside the U.S., you will get a gift certificate valued at $90.)
When Olgalyn was still performing, she bought a knitting machine, which she took with her on the road. After she retired from show business, she produced a fashion line for two seasons but she soon realized that “it wasn’t fashion so much, but how garments were constructed, and the textures that interested me.”
Then she focused on creating one-of-a-kind art coats, such as the ones pictured below, and projects to hang on the wall. Along the way, she married Ken Schafer, a physiological psychologist, designer and maker of music synthesizers, gave birth to their son, and took many years off to home school him.
When Olgalyn got back into textiles, she wanted to focus on creating fabrics. “Someone I worked with years ago contacted me because she wanted some wool jersey fabric she couldn’t find,” says Olgalyn. She knitted it, her client really liked it and she told a friend. Word spread and she began doing custom yardage.
Then she decided to go beyond custom orders and produce machine-knitted textiles to sell to home sewists. Here’s how she expanded O! Jolly! and opened an online shop in April 2015. (For links to her shop, blog, and gallery images, visit her website here.)
After you made the decision to produce and sell knitted textiles to the general public, what were your next steps?
I contacted mills and either they wouldn’t return my phone calls or the amount I wanted was too small. I investigated mills outside the U.S. but their minimum was 250 pounds [113 kilograms] of yarns. Also, the turnaround time was long for everything. [Note: A sweater/jumper is about 1 pound (about .5 kg).]
Then I saw a YouTube video of a new sweater line in Ohio and the designer said he worked with a mill in New Jersey, Fleck Knitwear Company. Peter Fleck, [the president of the company], was willing to work with me. Later through an associate I found another knitting mill even closer to me – American Sweater in the Bronx, which is owned by Adam Endres. Now I’m just a train ride away. I can see it on a machine very easily. And the people are a delight to work with.
Your first knitted fabrics in your shop were sustainable cotton. Tell me more about sustainable cotton.
Sustainable cotton mainly has to do with the growing process. The sustainable cotton I use is grown on farms in California that use a biological pest control method, which means they don’t treat it with pesticides. They use other insects like ladybugs to deal with pests.
The farms are part of the Sustainable Cotton Project, which doesn’t use the toxic chemicals that conventional farms use. They also use less water to irrigate the crops. They use even less water than is used with organic methods. Farmers are more willing to grow sustainable cotton rather than organic because it’s not as much of an initial investment.
Can you describe your design process?
I sometimes try to see a design in nonfabric items. The example I always give is wood grain. I love wood grain. There are ways I can imitate wood grains. Window gratings are an inspiration for design. I like to find designs in things outside of nature as well as motifs in nature. I most likely won’t do a flower. I have done them in the past but I usually like something a little more abstract or geometric.
I like to find designs in things outside of nature as well as motifs in nature.
How long does it take for you to design a knit fabric?
It depends, but from start to finish, from inspiration to when I have the specs it probably between 8 and 80 hours of work, depending on how complex it is and how smoothly the design and development processes move forward.
Does your past career as a performing artist influence your textile designs?
Yes, I would say that it does. Fabric doesn’t stay still. You move, the fabric moves. So I’ll take yardage and put it over my arm and move it around. I see how much drape there is. When I’m working with more than one color I look at how the folds go around the body. The fabric changes when it’s folded or draped. If I can’t do this – [Olgalyn holds her arm in front of her bent at the elbow and sweeps it back and forth] – it’s back to the drawing board.
What advice do you have for people who haven’t sewn any sweater knit fabric?
Relax and have fun. The first step is zigzag or serge the raw edges before you wash it. You can even use a straight stitch. The next step is to wash the fabric. Then it will have less of a tendency to run. Washing it and drying it will make the fabric a little more stable.
My next bit of advice is to always practice your stitches on a piece of scrap fabric. It’s especially true with sweater knits. One sweater knit is not like the other. Each has to be treated differently. [Check out her blog Crafting Fashion for more tips on sewing sweater knits.]
One sweater knit is not like the other. Each has to be treated differently.
How do you finish your edges?
Binding your edges is a wonderful way to finish the edges. The edges of a sleeve don’t have to be finished with a rib, it could be a hem. [Read Olgalyn’s blog posts for more info on adding rib bands, part 1 and attaching rib bands, part 2.]
You can hem it, put a band on it or bind it with self-fabric or maybe another knit fabric or add a facing. My recent post is about stabilizing cardigans – using bias fusible tape on the neckline and shoulders to prevent stretching.
How should you wash these fabrics?
You can put the cottons in the washer (cold or warm water) and dryer. For the wool, I use regular detergent and lukewarm water, never warm or hot. I do not recommend drying wool in the dryer. If you washed it in a tub or something you can put it in the washing machine in the spin cycle to get excess water out of it. But I don’t recommend doing the agitation part of the wash cycle unless you’re trying to felt it.
What’s ahead for you in the coming year?
I have been slowly working on some winter fabrics. I still haven’t decided on the yarn. I’m hoping in the next few weeks I can start talking to a mill about producing it. I decided I’m not giving myself a firm deadline for it. When the wool comes, it comes. Believe it or not, I’ve sold wool to New Zealand. Sewing goes on year-round and I have a lot of international customers, too.
Tell me about the great kit you’re offering for the giveaway, which is open to everyone.
The kit has one of my favorite knits – a textured sustainable cotton along with it a plain rib, which can be used as a band, binding, or maybe an insert. It comes with bias tape and thread so you can get a nice big cardigan out of it or a pullover. It’s all nice and soft.
Here’s what’s in the O! Jolly! kit:
- 2 yds Saratoga Rib fabric (50 inches/127 cm wide)
- 0.75 yd 2×2 matching rib
- 1 large spool matching thread
- 1 yd fusible bias tape
The total retail value is $90. Olgalyn will pay shipping to U.S. addresses. Winners outside of the U.S. will receive a gift certificate with a value of $90 USD. Thank you, Olgalyn!
To enter the giveaway, please answer the following question in the comments section of this post by Friday, November 4, 11:59 pm, Pacific/California time:
“What do you imagine is the most challenging about working with sweater knits?”
The giveaway is over so any additional comments are not eligible for entering the giveaway.
I put all the names/comments in a hat and picked a winner. Here’s the video on my Instagram feed (@csews).
The winner of the sweater knit kit giveaway is Josie! She said, “I am worried about maintaining the shape of the desired garment. I have read about zig zag stitching over the unfinished edges to prevent unraveling and it works. But maintaining the shape is intimidating.” Josie – please send me your contact info. Go to my contact page to send me an email.
Thanks to everyone who shared their comments! Olgalyn will read all your comments and attempt to answer your concerns about working with sweater knit fabric or direct you to helpful links on her blog Crafting Fashion.