These Summery Hand-Knits Can Be Made to Order via Instagram

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The isolation of lockdown has fostered a knitting renaissance, giving the rather old-fashioned activity new creative gloss. It’s big on TikTok, where Gen Z types embrace a DIY vintage aesthetic close to the sustainable values they favor. (When a video of Harry Styles wearing a patchwork cardigan by JW Anderson went viral on the platform, #CraftCore enthusiasts rallied to make their own hand-knits.) 

But beyond its cool cachet, knitting is essentially a solo act, one with therapeutic properties. Miki Zanini, a Swedish-Italian model-turned-stylist, calls knitting her “happy place.” It’s “always been my cocoon of tranquility which gives me peace of mind, like meditation,” she explains. Zanini just launched a line of handmade sweaters of her own design on Instagram. Getting a new business off the ground in the midst of a pandemic seems risky. Yet Zanini radiated confidence on a Zoom call from her home in Milan. I asked her how she managed to turn her lifelong passion into a budding yet promising enterprise. A year-long enterprise now that she’s added summery hand-knits like marinière tanks, shrunken vests, and bandeaux to her repertoire.

Zanini learned to knit from her Swedish grandmother. Photo: Courtesy of Miki Zanini

Photo: Courtesy of Miki Zanini

She uses only cashmere, alpaca, and yak yarns for her hand-knits. Photo: Courtesy of Miki Zanini

Photo: Courtesy of Miki Zanini

Where does your passion for knitting come from?

Since I was a teenager I’ve always loved to make little handcrafts, cross-stitching and embroidering. My Swedish grandmother taught me basic knitting techniques, which I’ve improved by watching YouTube tutorials and making lots of experiments.

My family and friends have been my guinea pigs; through the years they’ve modeled and worn my handmade sweaters, bonnets, and scarves. That’s how I started getting requests from outside my inner circle, so I took the courage to launch myself into Instagram’s unknown land of opportunity, to expand my reach and see what it could bring about. I opened my account @mikiknitshandcrafted in January 2020, posting a series of pictures of myself wearing a few of my creations, but after just two months we were in the first, super tough lockdown in Italy. I was quite desperate. I thought, this is the worst possible moment to launch a business really, what an idea! But actually it turned out to be a blessing. Being in isolation triggered a fantastic response from women who needed a mood-boosting moment of creativity and participation, as I was offering a made-to-measure experience in which I actively involved them in a collaborative effort.

Each sweater is made following their specifications, choosing together the yarn and the color combinations. We made specific adjustments to the fit and to each customer’s body proportions. Their requests have actually helped me shape my business the way I wanted it to be. It has been such a terrific journey, so personal and human, so rewarding. I’ve made lots of new friends, I still chat and keep in touch with most of my customers.

It sounds like quite a sustainable business model, both from a personal and professional standpoint. How does it actually work?

I’m proud of the way all the pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place. Everything is completely homemade. After envisioning the design, I chose the yarns, which are 100% Made in Italy and truly luxurious: only cashmere, alpaca, and yak. I buy just small quantities of deadstock, which allows me to minimize waste and to offer one-of-a-kind pieces. I take care of sewing the logo-ed cotton bags in which I ship the knits; I always include a small lavender sachet which keeps them delicately perfumed—for me it’s important to put lots of TLC in everything I make.

The pictures on my account are made by my boyfriend. We like shooting in the countryside and my creations look great in nature—it’s their perfect habitat. I wanted the images to have a very natural, simple feeling about them; being a former model and a stylist, I could’ve asked one of my fashion photographer friends for help, but I didn’t want the pics to be glossy, but rather spontaneous and real and close to who I am today. Also, women can relate to that, they understand my world and my values.

Your sweaters are sophisticated and stylish but have a true ease about them.

I’m half Swedish, so Northern European knitting styles and techniques feel instinctive to me. I love traditional Fair Isle sweaters and Icelandic patterned jumpers. They’re kind of madeleines, they bring back memories and sentiments. My Italian flair for luxe and sophistication does the rest, obviously. Yarns have to be precious and soft, not as rough and dry as in the traditional rural renditions. And I don’t want my creations to be fashionable, but timeless, something warm, affectionate, and sensuous—a sort of a Linus’s blanket that embraces you and keeps you company for a longtime.

Zanini collaborates with clients to choose yarn colors and adjust fit. Photo: Courtesy of Miki Zanini

Photo: Courtesy of Miki Zanini