Initially, Véronik Avery made her living as a costume designer. Fate (and biology) had other plans, however: she got pregnant. Because she and her husband, an actor, were both theater professionals, day care for their wee bairn proved logistically impossible. Most centers were closing for the day just as she and her spouse were heading to work.
“Something had to give,” she says. “At some point in 2002, I picked up a knitting magazine and became curious as to who was designing these sweaters. I thought: I can do that. I already knew how to make patterns. For me, it was just creating the fabric as well as the pattern. Plus, design was convenient.”
That baby is now 20 and is more or less on her own. Avery’s husband is still a working actor whose schedule continues to be nuts. And Avery? Her plan-of-convenience has turned into a long-lasting and prolific career.
Before moving to Montreal, Avery, who was born in Quebec, lived in the Arctic, and then Africa before coming back to Canada. You can hear French-Canada in Avery’s English, especially when she says the names Melanie, Ann, and Kay, which sound smokily exotic when she explains how the Hadley sweater came to be.
“When Melanie [Falick, who edits the Field Guides] called, she knew Ann and Kay wanted a circular yoke sweater that was not steeped in any particular tradition. They had been looking at one of Melanie’s books and I had done a yoke sweater for her many years ago. That sweater had been inspired by a photograph of a wreath. She asked me to go back and look at that. I said I don’t want to do the same thing I did before.”
Avery picked up a copy of Handknit Holidays and looked at Sugarplum, the design that had caught everyone’s eye. After some talking and thinking and sketching, Hadley was born. The sweater that we are all banging out is one of Avery’s more approachable designs, especially for a knitter who is not yet comfortable with stranded color.
“It’s not a hard sweater,” Avery says. “It’s got a big gauge. You don’t have that many rounds of color to do—and if it is not working, you only have a few rounds to undo.”
(Hadley, our VÉRONIK AVERY sweater of the hour. Photo by Sara Remington.)
Fighting with a Design
This approach of always being able to rip out and re-knit is one that Avery brings to all of her design work. She views herself as more of a technician than some designers and says she isn’t one who can be a lot more “off-the-cuff and creative.”
“I care very much about the pattern-making aspect of it; how it will fit the body, how to grade it. That’s my particular bête noire. It has to be graded properly. My experience is completely different from other people, just based on discussions I’ve had over the years,” she says.
“Some things are going to be more difficult for me because I’ll have these existential crises and just be having a fight with a design for several days,” she says. “There can be a lot of angst. Thankfully my husband’s an actor, so he understands. He goes through the same thing. He’s doing a play right now and he’s allowed a few days for angst. Same with our daughter. So everyone in the house says, ‘Here. Have some tea.’”
Design in a Cold Climate
While Hadley is not particularly inspired by her French-Canadian home, Montreal itself does influence Avery’s knitwear career, just maybe not in the way you might think.
“It’s not so much the cobblestone streets,” she says, “or the architecture. It’s more an influence of functionality. My current house is not as old as other houses I’ve lived in but, for many years, I was always living in these old apartments that were very drafty.”
(Stick with Avery and you will be stylishly not-freezing. From the top: Pinion, Spinnaker, Wake and Pleated Chevrons. Photos courtesy of veronikavery.com.)
Cozy knitwear is one of the better balms against a chilly house, no matter if you live above or below the 49th parallel. Still, not all winter weeks are bleak. Hopefully, a recent winter warm snap won’t dent Avery’s productivity.
“It’s barely below freezing,” she says. “For a Montrealer, it’s like being in the Caribbean.”
Even those who live in the tropics, however, need warm, well-designed winter gear and Avery plans to keep providing.