French-Canadian duo Vincent Deslandes and Maxim Cyr are the founders of Les Garçons, an online showcase and shop featuring a burgeoning collective of talented knitwear and accessory designers. The couple have been knitting for around six years, after learning their techniques online: “We wish we had a sentimental story about learning from our grandmothers,” confesses Vincent, “But our teacher was YouTube!”
Since their first taste of knitting, Vincent and Max have each brought something to the craft, from designing must-knit projects and dyeing yarn ranges to creating cool notions and accessories. We caught up with them from Montreal, Canada, to discover more about their yarn-related adventures.
How did you make the jump from your non-yarn-related creative backgrounds to what you do now?
Max: I’m a children’s book illustrator. I always loved to draw and I’m quite lucky to do this as a career. I’m best known for my French series Les Dragouilles. So far, more than 20 books have been published in this series. It’s a mix between a documentary and a comic book. Each book explores a different city, so kids learn about different cultures around the world. The series is actually what brought me to knitting: while trying to find a crafts activity for the book on Reykjavik, I took an interest in Icelandic sweaters. I first tried to make a pin loom, but then ended with straight needles and acrylic yarn making the wonkiest scarf you've ever seen!
Vincent: I wouldn't say my background is very creative, hehe! I’m a translator-editor. I worked for about five years for the federal government, then eight years for a translation agency. It’s not as creative as anything yarn-related that I’m doing. I’m happy to be able to express that side now though through designing and dyeing yarn.
We’re excited about Les Garçons! Can you explain more about why you decided to start this venture?
Vincent: We were trying to bring together – under one brand – all the stuff we would like to buy if we went to an event: beautiful objects that have a story and that represent us. We were supposed to launch our brand at Knit City Montreal, a big yarn-related event. This was supposed to be our first event as vendors. But, as you know, everything got cancelled, so we decided to host a virtual booth on the day the event was supposed to be happening. I had dyed a lot of yarn for that event, so luckily they found a new home online.
Max: If you’ve ever browsed through one of our printed patterns, you know that we go to great efforts to make them aesthetically pleasing – I’m lucky enough to have studied graphic design at university. In each of our patterns, I draw one little character that wears the garment. At first, this was just for fun. But then people were asking us to do prints and enamel pins with these little characters on it. So we listened! We’ve also decided to use this platform to highlight the work of various Canadian makers. We’re lucky to be surrounded by very talented people.
Who are the cute bear and fox characters that feature on your pins and progress keepers?
Max: The fox comes from my first-ever pattern, the For Fox Sake sweater. It was the first time that I got to draw a character wearing one of my knits. And I found it so fun!
Vincent: Max decided on the bear to represent me for whatever reason; I hope that’s because he finds them cute! And, like me, the little bear can’t go on without a coffee, and he’s travelling with his knitting everywhere he goes…
What is at the front of your mind when you first start to create a design?
Vincent: I’m a problem-solver. I love to come up with different constructions or find the technique that has the best result. I feel like I’m always learning something different while I’m designing. I started designing because I couldn't find sweater patterns that I would like to wear. Sure, there were and are some out there, but I had an idea of what I wanted to make (a hoodie) and made it!
Max: I love to bring my illustration side to my knitting. I’m all about patterns with a simple construction but that has an interesting and graphic yoke. So you get a high impact with less effort.
Max, your Snuggle Is Real cowl has really taken off – do you have any plans to knit any matching accessories or similar designs?
I do, something secret is coming in autumn. Shh..!
Vincent, your Dyed by Delz yarns feature particularly thoughtful colour palettes and fibre combinations. What does creating and dyeing your own yarn mean to you?
About a year ago now, I made the decision to dive fully into the yarn world. We had just come back from the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and I had so many ideas. I wanted to do it all: design, edit and translate other people's patterns, but mostly, I wanted to dye yarn. I was fascinated by the process. You will start to notice a common thread here... the colours and the bases I choose are colours and bases that I would want to buy; this is why one of my first colours was a warm grey, quickly followed by a neutral khaki. This is also why all my colourways are semi-solids; this is what I like to knit.
As we have discovered recently, knitting and creativity are an amazing support when life gets tough. What aspects of the craft help you in troubled times?
Max: I find that knitting something simple, like a stockinette socks, to be soothing. So I always have one project like that on my needles for when I feel anxious.
Vincent: I like the social aspect of knitting, bringing friends together. These days, I love that we get to gather around and do knit night via Zoom. And dyeing yarn is very meditative. I put on my headphones and some music, and I get lost in my thoughts. It allows me to reflect on what is happening, in my day, in my life.
Who are your favourite designers?
Max: I love the way Julie Hoover thinks. She has such a different approach to garment design. They all look so perfectly done and well-thought-out. Also, I can’t deny Stephen West is the designer I’ve knitted the most patterns of. He brings such a quirkiness to the knitting world, it’s fantastic.
Vincent: My favourite knit is Wool & Honey by Andrea Mowry that I adapted for myself. It’s such a strong pattern that looks good on everyone. I really like what she’s doing, and her photos are always beautiful.
Which fibres do you prefer to work with and why?
Max: I’m obsessed with Suri Alpaca, I want to put it in every project!
Vincent: I like trying new things. I’d like to work with more non-superwash yarn in the future (designing and dyeing), as well as knitting and designing with more commercial yarn. Hand-dyed yarn is beautiful, but it can get pricey. I want to show knitters that you can do beautiful objects with commercial yarn as well.
Which techniques are you yet to conquer?
Max: I think my next step is to steek a project. I know that cutting through knitting is scary, but game on! I’m ready.
Vincent: I've recently found out about vertical stranded colourwork. I can't wait to try it!
What advice would you give to newbie knitters looking to expand their skills?
Max: Take your time. It’s okay to not get it on the first attempt.
Vincent: My advice is this: do it! Don't overthink it and go for it! But do some research on YouTube first. It's your best teacher. And watch more than one video. Different people have different ways of explaining the same thing; if you don't understand the first one, you might have an easier time with someone else.
Finally, what can we expect from Les Garçons, as well as you both individually, this year?
Max: We have more surprises coming soon and we’re always looking for wonderful people to collaborate with! I’ve also just designed a second project with Vincent’s yarn, a big camo sweater. I had a lot of fun doing that!
Vincent: Now that our big event is behind us, I’ll be able to get back more into designing! We will soon launch our first mini collection, with three sweaters that are part of a collection that are designed by both of us.