Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

Australian multi-crafter Victoria Pemberton is one of those people I fell for on the Internet before knowing she was a knitter. A year or two ago, a bunch of Aussies I follow on Instagram were suddenly all talking about a really amazing sounding pop-up that was happening, and it involved repeated mentions of one @vic_pemberton, whose shibori home goods were really beautiful. After following her for a little while, I was thrilled to discover that not only does she dye and sew, she knits! And I’m happy to be able to give you a glimpse into her world today. Thanks, Vic!

Be sure to check out Vic’s blog and her gorgeous wares at Bind | Fold.

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I knit for pleasure, and also for the resulting product. I had three goes at learning to knit, and the third time is the one that stuck. I was 6 months in to being a mother, and I wanted to knit my son a jumper. I just went for it — I was so determined that this time I was going to ROCK at knitting. I was very slow, and I knit an awful sweater, and it was a struggle. My finishing was pretty rubbish, but then I learned about all these great things like mattress stitch, and kitchener stitch and knitting in the round, and OMG continental knitting! Switching my yarn to my left hand was the clincher for me — I could suddenly knit 3 times faster, with better tension, and I could hold both needles up at the same time.

I am also a sewer. I had wanted to sew a quilt for a really long time, and one day I borrowed a sewing machine from a friend and I made a quilt! And it was amazing! After that I got really into it — I bought my own sewing machine and made a few quilts. These days I sew mostly items for sale, but I also like to sew clothes for myself and my son when I can. I’d really like to learn how to make jeans and jackets. I love both of those things very much.

Finally, I am also a dyer. This is my work, my life, and the craft I pursue more than any other. I work with indigo and I have what feels like a living relationship with my work. I took up dyeing when my son was one year old (I seem to measure everything by his age), and it was summer and I wanted to give it a shot. I’d been thinking about quilting again and textile design, and dyeing looked like a good start. It was immediate and hands on. I used cold water dyes for awhile, but I became interested in traditional dye techniques, discovered shibori and then moved to natural dyes.


Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

For knitting, I use knit pro bamboo circulars. A woman I met on the internet put me onto them quite early on in my knitting journey and I’ve never used anything else. I really like that I can just change the tips and I’m good to go. I do need to look into getting metal ones for smaller sizes, though. I must have freakishly strong hands because I keep snapping them.

My sewing gear is quite limited. I have my trusty Bernina, my universal or microtex needles, and either cotton or poly thread depending on what I’m making. I don’t really deviate outside of that. Oh yeah, and scissors. Everyone get ready to cringe: I
cut paper with my fabric scissors all the time!! Arrgh!! Sorry internet.

For my dye tools, I love a good C clamp, a pipe and a well-twisted piece of cotton string. I’m also quite partial to bathroom tiles for using as a resist — it’s always interesting when you clamp them too tight and they crack. It can do really cool things.

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

Ok, my secret is out. I am an extremely organized disorganized person. I suffer from what I call “organizational fits.” These usually come about after “creative fits” where I have so much going on in my studio that I can’t find or do anything.

With my knitting, I’ll put all my needles, cables, tapestry needles, and stitch markers and string and tiny scissors in a basket. Then over the course of a few weeks, that basket gets full, so I reorganize into smaller baskets of stuff, grouping similar objects. This then deteriorates to stuff just being everywhere in random baskets, bags, cases and surfaces as I use things, change needle tips and start new patterns. My needle tips just end up everywhere, most recently I’ve been putting them in my random tool jar on my desk.

My sewing and dye tools are pretty much stored in the same way. They all have specific homes, it’s just they don’t get to live in them all the time.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

Ah, I’m not too bad with this one. I’m a one-project-at-a-time woman, most of the time. For knitting I used to just “store” my WIP on the back of the couch, and stuff the pattern pages down the side of the arm where I sit. But we got a puppy a few months ago and she is obsessed with my knitting, and she steals it and eats it! So now I have a basket up high next to the couch, and I only keep the project I’m working on and the tools I need for it in it, until it’s done. All within arm’s reach at the end of the day, ready for my next knit marathon. So far the dog has left it alone under threat of being forced to sleep on the floor.

My sewing works-in-progress get piled (neatly) all over the studio, on the ironing board, my desk, the back of my chair, and they just get moved about from all these really visible places. I leave them out to remind myself to “do some work!”

My dye works-in-progress just get to hang out in buckets with lids on them until they’re washed out. Then they join the piles in my studio. These then get organized into cupboards and shelves during one of my “organizational fits.”

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

No :( I should get some. I do love all my tools, though — they’re so useful. I’ve just asked a farm where the owner is also a spinner to hand spin me some top that I’ll dye first for a jumper. So that will be a splurge and it’s going to be a great project once it happens. It kind of makes me want to learn to spin too!

I suppose I do have one thing that is special. I visited Hiroyuki Shindo recently and I bought a new little pouch from him, made from his dye work. It’s my new knitting bag.

Do you lend your tools?

Well I haven’t so far, but that’s because I’m a bit of a solitary crafter. I do let my students use my tools when I’ve got a workshop on, does that count?

I’ve been trying to convince my husband we should do a “knowledge swap.” Where once a week, we teach each other something about things we love doing. I want to teach him to knit, and I said he could teach me computer programming, but he doesn’t seem that keen. I don’t think he has any faith in my geek abilities. I don’t know if I could lend anything, though; What if I
need it? Maybe I’ll buy my husband his own set of needles. Now I know what to get him for his birthday.

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/crochet/whatever?

My fave place to knit is on the couch, in front of the telly, or while listening to an audiobook. I have it all set up, with a little lamp so I can see my knitting late at night. My feet are on the coffee table. I have a cup of cocoa, and my basket of knitty things is beside me. On weeknights our dog curls up and sleeps beside me, and on weekends if I’m lucky my son comes and
sneaks in under one arm and we’ll watch a movie together. It’s pretty special actually. I sew only in my studio, and I dye only in the yard. If it’s really really pouring rain and I have to work and I only have small things to dye, I’ll work in the laundry. I don’t like to though, because there isn’t much room and it’s a white room. Every time I drip dye on the floor I freak out a little that it will stain. It hasn’t yet, but I still worry that it will.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I knit almost all year round. Last year I took maybe a two-month break around November. I think because it was quite hot, I was busy with work and next winter seemed so far away that I just stopped! I guess I sew more in summer, I’m obsessed with short sleeve tops made out of linen and other lightweight breezy fabrics.

I do like to knit in summer though, I feel like I’m preparing for winter. I like to have at least one sweater finished by March/April because that’s when it starts to get cold here. Sometimes to get me into the groove, I’ll watch movies or TV shows that have snow in them. It totally works! It just makes you want to get cozy.

I sew and dye all year around, since it’s for work, but boy, dyeing outside in winter can really be brutal. Last week I had three work days in a row where I needed to be outside dyeing, and we’ve just had what is being referred to as an “antarctic blast” — kind of like the polar vortex you had in the US, but milder I suppose. It wasn’t mild for us though, it was 2 degrees outside the other day! I spent all day with my hands in cold water in 2 degrees!

In summer though, gosh it’s great. It’s sunny, warm, and just relaxing. I think I could definitely get into being a seasonal crafter. I never used to like summer until I became a dyer, but now I kind of love it.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

When I first started sewing, I felt like building a stash was really important. I was really into quilting, and I loved all the great quilting fabric you could get, so I amassed quite a bit of it. The thing is, though, I never sewed with it. I ended up selling it, because I’d always find a different project that it wasn’t right for. I do have some amazing linen that I just bought in Japan, which totally makes me a hypocrite, but I have very real things to make with them, they’re not just for a future not yet thought of project.

So I guess I don’t really believe in having a stash! The same goes for my knitting. I like the immediacy of picking a project and the yarn at the same time. It makes it exciting. It’s a thrill. More of a thrill, I think, than finding a great pattern and then thinking “Dammit, now I have to use up some of the yarn I have, and it’s all BORING.”

No guilty secrets or quirks for my dyeing. However, I do really enjoy the different scents of most natural dyes. Is that weird? Some of them just smell like a warm hug.

What are you working on right now?

I am just sinking my teeth into the new Koto pattern by Olga Buraya-Kefelian. I love how structural it is; I’m really excited by it. It reminds me of Japanese architecture, concrete slabs and minimalism. I find it organic, geometric and soothing. Hopefully that makes sense! The yarn I’m using for it is from a farm called Tarndie, about two hours drive from Melbourne. It’s an amazing place and the owners are the descendants of the family who bred Australia’s first sheep, the Polwarth. It’s amazing yarn and I actually love it so much that my last three projects before this used their yarn. It’s incredibly soft and warm. For dyeing, I’m doing some new exciting stuff too, actually. I’ve been keen to try out some new ideas for awhile and I’m finally getting around to it. At the moment I’m trying out different resist techniques on different fabrics. Hopefully I’ll have something to show for it soon!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Marlee Grace

Will you show me yours if I show you mine?

What's in your Fashionary? (enter to win)

I get asked a lot about Fashionary and how to use it — either how I personally use it or how one would/should/could use it. Simply put, Fashionary is a faint template onto which you can easily draw clothes, which means there are millions of potential applications for it — designing garments, planning outfits, deciding what to pack for a trip or to wear for Halloween. I find myself extremely curious to see what everyone’s been drawing in all the stacks of them that have been bought from Fringe Supply Co., so I thought I’d put the question to you, and then endeavor to piece together a post about all the many ways this tool is actually being used by this community. You interested?

I’ll start: I use both the Fashionary sketchbook and the perforated panels all the time. For me, the larger templates and loose-leaf nature of the panels makes them perfect for working out ideas that may wind up getting tossed. I might sketch out sweaters or sewn garments I’m thinking of concocting, but I mainly use them for wardrobe planning — as a way to see how (sometimes imaginary) garments could work together, and whether I would like them. A while back, I used them to draw up variations on the basic outfit types that work for me, to try to guide my sewing and knitting plans. And I also occasionally flip through those in the morning if I’m having a hard time getting dressed! Being loose, they’re easy to shuffle around, pin to the wall, clip to my Knitters Graph Paper Journal where I might be working out the specs to go with whatever it is. I love the portability and impermanency of those sketches.

The notebook, on the other hand — being bound and all — has become a semi-permanent record of my knitting. It’s literally a visual representation of my queue. So when I decide I’m going to knit a certain item, I draw it into the lineup. If it’s an existing pattern, I’ll write the name of it and the pattern gauge. If I have specific thoughts about what yarn I’ll use, I note that, too. If I decide against something I simply erase it, and eventually something else will get drawn onto the same figure. And once I’ve knitted something, I make a check next to it — so satisfying! In this way, eventually a spread will only contain things I’ve already knitted or still intend to. So it’s both a planner and a diary, and I love love love looking at it and I wish I could go back and draw in all the things that came before it.

For those reasons — the perpetual erasing and redrawing — I only use pencil. And not only do I not put anything in pen or add color, I don’t even do any fancy shading or anything. Strictly pencil line drawings and chicken scratch for me. (Although maybe I should ink in the finished ones, huh? I’ll have to think about that.)

So how about you? Are you a designer or a recorder? Free-spirited or high-concept? Do you draw in pencil or pen? Tack yarn or swatches? Color or shading? Fun or utility? The notebook or the panels? I want to see what you’re doing in there! To give you a little incentive to share, here’s what I’m gonna do: (Assuming there’s a critical mass of shares) I’ll round up a variety of responses and put together a post here on the blog. I’ll also pick one winner at random from everyone who posts, and that person will get a $100 gift certificate to the webshop. By giving you the basic outline to follow, Fashionary makes you look like you know what you’re doing, but drawing skills are really beside the point here. What we’re all interested in is what you’re drawing, not how professional those drawings look. (Although we want to see those, too!)

Here’s how to enter: Take a nice (new!) photo of your Fashionary sketchbook or panels and write a couple of sentences (or however much you like) about how you use it, however straightforward or conceptual that might be. Post it to Instagram, mention @fringesupplyco and hashtag it #fringefashionarypeek. Or blog about it, including a link to this post, and then leave a comment below with the URL. You do not need to have bought your Fashionary from Fringe Supply Co. to participate, but if you don’t yet have one and want to play along, we are of course happy to sell you one.

Share anytime between now and the end of July, at which point I’ll pick and announce the random winner!

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you back here next week—

The day camp of my dreams

Kids' Fiber Camp

Sorry for the unexcused absence on Friday. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that my sister and niece (age 8) and nephew (10) were visiting all last week. Well, Thursday night I chose family time — a somewhat comical group attempt at sewing four double-sided napkins for them — over blogging. They were in town so Miss Nina could attend Fiber Camp at Craft South, taught by my friend Rebekka Seale, while my nephew attended robotics camp at Vanderbilt. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is terribly jealous that Nina got to spend a week of her summer doing this, so I asked her if she would like to write a guest blog post about it. She declined, saying writing isn’t her best thing. So we decided on a brief interview instead—

When your mom first told you about Fiber Camp, did you think you’d died and gone to heaven? Did you know what to expect?

Um, no. I had no idea what to expect, but it sounded fun.

Kids' Fiber Camp

Walk me through your week — what all did you do at camp?

The first day, we watched Rebekka spin and we dyed yarn with Kool-Aid. And then we went to the park to collect branches. At the end of the day, I got to spin on the spinning wheel.

Was it hard?

It was pretty easy. The next day I used the yarn that I spun for my branch weaving — you find sticks and you take your yarn and you weave on the stick.

But you did more than just weave on yours, correct?

I embroidered a tree and clouds onto it. And birds. The tree trunk is bark from a tree — I kind of weaved it in there with some of the yarn. And then we knitted with our yarn that we dyed. On the fourth day, we felted. We took a scrub brush and some felt pieces and used this little needle tool and we poked the felt into the sheet of felt and made pictures. And we made pompoms to hang off it — that yarn is so soft!

How much of that was new to you? Do you have an amazing aunt somewhere who had already introduced you to some of these pursuits?

[Giggling.] I have an aunt. [More giggling.] Felting and spinning were new — I had never heard of felting before. I’d seen spinning before but I never got to do it.

You also did a little bit of sewing with me, made a miniature black jacket with a colorful tulle brooch after seeing the Italian Style exhibit at the Frist Center, and visited the studios of several Nashville makers, including my friend Allison the amazing weaver. And then saw Caleb Groh’s incredible felted animals at the festival. It was a pretty crafty week — what did you like best of it all?

Felting. And Allison’s giant looms — that was pretty cool. I want to do it again.

Kids' Fiber Camp

Top photo courtesy of Rebekka Seale

Q for You: How do you store your yarn?

Q for You: How do you store your yarn?

I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but we’re talking about moving again. (Insert see-no-evil emoji.) Not cross-country — just across town. But still! It means I’m giving every single thing in the house the hairy eyeball and asking whether I really mean to own it and if it deserves to be packed up and moved. As well as imagining what our new space might look like and how this time, surely, I’ll finally get everything perfectly organized. And of course you know what I’m really talking about here is yarn.

We’ve talked around the notion of yarn storage before, and I know it’s everyone’s favorite subject. Cabinets or drawers, specialized furniture or industrial bins. All of which I love to hear about. But I also want to get to the real nitty gritty here in today’s Q, which is: How do you store your yarn? The underlying question being: What is the safest way to store yarn?

I know it should be stored in loose skeins and only wound when it’s time to use it. But like everyone I’ve got assorted yarn cakes that were wound for something that wound up not happening right away. I love seeing beautiful shelves full of full of skeins (I mean) but I can’t help wondering about dust and moths and other hazards. My stash started out in four little rubbermaid-like bins that were supposed to be my limit, but then came this giant basket (from my wedding) stuffed with various loose skeins, a few tucked into muslin bags, and multiple sweater quantities in ziploc bags. Keeping the yarn safe from pests? Or keeping the yarn from breathing? I’d love to do what’s prettiest, but I really want to do what’s best for the yarn.


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: What tests your love of knitting?

My weekend with Liesl

My weekend with Liesl

I had the most remarkable weekend and want to tell you guys all about it, but it’s big jumble of a story about friends and family and bust size and handmade clothes and … I hardly know where to begin. So let me start here:

When I was at Squam last June with lots of people asking about our decision to move to Nashville, several said, “Have you heard about Anna Maria Horner’s thing, Craft South?” I hadn’t, and I knew the name Anna Maria Horner only as someone big in the sewing world, which I wasn’t especially tuned into at the time. When I got home and looked it up, I discovered that Craft South was a yarn and fabric store that was nearly a year from birth, but in the meantime it was a series of weekend-long workshops, one of which was three days with Liesl Gibson, a pattern designer I’d been following on Instagram (where she’s @lieslgibson and @oliverands). This was around the time I took a solemn vow to get past my Lifetime Beginner status as a sewer, and I wanted desperately to sign up for that workshop, but it coincided with the move in a way that just wasn’t possible. Plus it was crazy expensive and we were already taking on quite enough crazy for one summer, thankyouverymuch.

Shortly after we got here, I got a long and very sweet email from Anna Maria out of the blue, introducing herself and welcoming me to town, and her friendship has been one of the great blessings of the move. As Craft South got close to opening a few months ago, they sent out their workshop schedule for the new space, and I was thrilled to see Liesl’s class on there again. There was still the hard-to-swallow matter of the expense and it wasn’t entirely clear what it was about, other than something to do with fit, but I figured whatever she was teaching I wanted to learn it, and I didn’t want to miss another chance. So between Friday night and yesterday afternoon, I spent a total of 22.5 hours holed up at the shiny new shop with Liesl and Anna Maria and another 15 talented women, having a complexly wonderful and challenging time.

My weekend with Liesl

A few weeks ago, we got an email about what to bring to class and the main thing was “a fitted dress sewing pattern with either princess seams or a basic bust dart.” In other words, the last garment you’d ever expect to see me in! But whatever — I want to understand how sewing works at least as well as I understand how knitting works (so I can be free to modify or improvise in the same way I do with knitting), and if that meant learning the mechanics of bust darts, I’m game! So Liesl — who is utterly lovely in every way — taught us how to do a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) and its more applicable counterpart, in my case, the Small Bust Adjustment (SBA). She taught us how to make a Muslin like a pro, and we all spread out with our tracing paper and muslin and deliciously old-school carbon paper, and we sewed our first drafts. For the rest of the weekend, we took turns putting on our muslin, being pinned in by a friend, and having Liesl go over it with us inch by inch, explaining and marking tweaks to be made to get our bodices to more perfectly match our bodies — or in some cases, instructing us to start over, for whatever reason.

I started out thinking it was a slightly abstract exercise for me — that I was absorbing pattern theory to be applied in other, as-yet-undetermined ways — but somewhere along the line I got hooked. The main reason I’ve never worn a lot of fitted garments is that fitted garments don’t fit me. (You’ve all heard this song: If they fit my giant shoulders, they’re huge in the torso, and if they fit my torso, I can’t move my arms without ripping out the seams.) But it slowly dawned on me that here I was on the brink of having markings on a piece of tissue paper that I could translate into a closet full of garments that actually fit. Exactly the sort of total control I live for.

It didn’t hurt that I was just plain having a ton of fun, 100% absorbed in the activity, and happy in the company of these women. I was also riding a wave of nostalgia. We’d all talked on Friday night about how and when we learned to sew, and Liesl said something about her mom that rang so true for me but that I’d never specifically thought about — as hers had, my mom taught me at a very young age that patterns are modular and adaptable. And what an enormous impact that has had on me.

My mom is always with me when I’m sewing, as is my sister, in a sense. Each time I wind a bobbin or watch for the right seam allowance marking as I feed my fabric through the machine, I still hear my mom teaching me how, and I also hear myself teaching my sister, which I hope to finally do one day soon.

When we were little and shared a hideous inherited bedroom — our Holly Hobby bedspreads (made by mom) plunked down in a room with two bright yellow walls and two that were papered in a wide black-and-white stripe — my sister and I used to take my mother’s tracing wheel and run it all over our hand-me-down dresser, entranced by the constellations it carved in the soft old wood. Using Liesl’s carbon paper and tracing wheels, which I haven’t done since my mom first taught me how, I couldn’t help but think of them all — my mom and sister and my dad, who got so mad at us about that dresser — and the fact that they were together at a family reunion I was missing in order to take this class. There was some kind of Old Country radio show playing on the shop’s sound system, and in the afternoon it was a vintage recorded performance of Merle Haggard’s. I died the moment I heard him tell the audience the next song would be “Corrina Corrina,” the song my dad sings to my mother, Colleen, as “Colleena Colleena.”

On my drive home late Saturday night, I found myself elated at the prospect of being back there at 9:30 in the morning to start over. At that point, I had a pattern that fit me perfectly across the chest and shoulders, which I knew I’d be able to adapt to all sorts of sleeveless garments the likes of which I’d been unable to draft for myself before. But Liesl had marked a change to the armhole on my muslin that would make a sleeve fit me correctly. (In theory — I still have another draft to attempt.) I was savoring the notion of getting out my tracing paper again, tracing over that first draft (eliminating all the extraneous markings from the SBA in the process), making the armhole change, and marking up a new muslin. The prospect of seeing myself in a “garment” that fit me simultaneously in the torso and the sleeve was compelling enough all by itself, but the fact is, I had fallen in love with the process. It dawned on me that it has everything in common with what graphic design was when I was in art school in the ’90s, all the aspects I loved that were lost when it became a computer job — rulers and mark-making devices and meticulously annotated layers of tissue.

So I loved every minute, and walked away with three priceless slips of tracing paper and all the magic they contain.

My weekend with Liesl

Special thanks to Kay Gardiner, who happened into the shop on Saturday afternoon to my great delight, and who snapped the pic above of Anna Maria and me, wearing my first draft.


Our Tools, Ourselves: Marlee Grace (Have Company)

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

I had the pleasure of making Marlee Grace’s acquaintance last summer at a shopkeeper’s retreat she co-organized, and she’s since become one of my very favorite people — daring and real and hilarious and imaginative. Her newest bold move is to turn part of her beloved shop, Have Company, into Grand Rapids’ only yarn store. She’s been gradually adding small-batch yarns and basic tools to her lineup, and now has the opportunity to become a Quince and Co stockist (for which she’s currently raising money through a Kiva Zip campaign — go have a look). It’s been great fun watching her expand her knitting and sewing skills over the past year, and I’m pleased to share a peek behind the scenes today at her life as a maker.

You can find Marlee on Instagram and her blog, and don’t miss her podcast!

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

My personal passion is for knitting, although at Have Company I hold space for and am happy to participate in all of the above. Except crocheting. I tried twice, and it feels so unnatural to my body it might be my least favorite thing I’ve ever tried. Other than drawing. I am very bad at drawing.

It wasn’t until this last year that I broke through to knitting things that aren’t rectangles and squares made out of acrylic yarn. I first started knitting at age 12 for a brief time and immediately loved it and how it soothed my ADD. My life shifted toward a dance career and going to college to get my BFA, and I didn’t pick up needles again until 2011, around the time I decided to give up a nasty drug and drinking habit. I’ve stayed sober ever since, and my knitting practice has been a huge part of that journey. Not just the miracle of having something to do with my hands, but lessons in messing up, making mistakes and pushing through to the end, and holding a beautiful garment made from scratch.

I love sewing patchwork and hand quilting and especially passing on this tradition in the form of my blanket making crash course: Improvisational Quilting, or How There is No Messing Up.

My latest discovery is making CLOTHES! I jumped in with Dress No. 1 by Sonya Philip and hosted a sewalong on Instagram. I have found that jumping in to other people’s knitalongs and sewalongs, and hosting my own has been an exceptional way for me to stay accountable to projects that I would otherwise not finish, or more importantly never start.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

Bamboo circular needles from Clover are my jam, and I just started using (and carrying) birch needles from Brittany Needles. I recently finished the first part of the Moto Vest using those and was really pleased with the smooth, buttery feel of knitting with them.

Since I still consider myself very much a novice knitter I’ve been thinking of trying some metal needles of some sort. I saw a friend knitting with some steel ones recently and was wildly impressed with her speed. To be honest, the first time I ever picked out needles wood ones just looked prettier, and I never looked back or thought much about it.

In terms of sewing tools I have ONE very sacred tool which is the THE IRON. That’s the next tool I’d really like to upgrade and invest in. The iron I have is just a good ole $13 one, but it’s incredible what a little steam and heat can do to a garment or quilt top, changes everything and is so satisfying.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

I store my circular needles on a nail in the wall. Not glamorous by any means but incredibly inexpensive and efficient. Easy to find and grab. My straight needles I have in a mason jar and in a vase made by my friend Kate Lewis.

I store all of my notions in a variety of vintage containers — an old blue tool box, and this coral set of lil drawers is my absolute favorite that I got at a vintage flea market in town. I find that having designated places for things is a huge help in putting them away when I am finished using them. I also use a vintage bar cart and old wooden crates to store my fabric.

I also carry around everyday tools in a small Bookhou pouch I got from Fringe Supply ;) The waxed canvas is perfect for my tapestry needles, measuring tape, pens, tiny scissors, stitch markers. The things I use every single day do not leave my tote bag.

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

Baskets, bowls and sacks. I carry whatever I’m working on in a little hand-sewn project bag I made out of hand-dyed napkins, and when I am working on something at home I put it in a basket next to the couch. I have other baskets and picnic baskets in my studio that hold yarn yet to be used.

I use the top bin of a lil Ikea cart I have to hold bigger WIPs that have been set aside. I usually don’t do that, but lately I have been starting projects and not finishing them, partly because I don’t know how to do the next thing (short rows help me plz someone help). So now they have a pretty place to go that I can see them. I am afraid if I tucked them away they might be lost forever.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

Lately my biggest splurge or investment is on nice yarn. I visited Oakland this month and went to A Verb For Keeping Warm and picked up 5 skeins of Pioneer yarn from Sally Fox’s farm. I have to say it almost feels a bit intimidating to have such a beautiful straight-from-the-flock yarn like that.

I also really value my “non-making” tools, like my flower essences, tinctures and stones I carry around for protection. Not to get too woo woo for y’all but I find that taking pause throughout the day to recalibrate is an integral part of my practice.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

Do you lend your tools?

I feel like I lend my iron and ironing board out the most. It’s incredible how few of my friends own these things. I also LOVE gifting Frixion erasable pens to people. I always carry a few around just because they change people’s lives. You can draw all over fabric and then all you have to do is iron over it and it disappears!

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/crochet/whatever?

My couch. Alone. Watching TV. That is my happy place to knit. If I’m sewing I like to be in my studio (which I feel so lucky to have a whole room to myself in my home!!) and listen to podcasts and sew, or sometimes knit. Part of why I like the couch in the living room is that John (my partner) works from home, so if he is cooking or walking around the house it feels like I am sort of alone but not really. I like to call that “alone time with others.”

What effect do the seasons have on you?

Oh, you mean like seasonal dark sadness? No but really, the seasons are a huge reason why I stay in Michigan. I love them. The winters here are no joke — cold and dark and so much snow. And the summers and fall are some sort of paradise that you wouldn’t believe. I’ve really enjoyed building stamina over the last 27 years to get through the winters and emerge into summer. I can see it reflected in my creative practice. I definitely knit and sew and do all of the things in all of the months. I think there is a different … care or something that happens. In the winter I am reflective, tending to hone in on reading and research, and then in spring and fall I tend to really crank out a lot of work, and in the summer I share it. Or jump in Lake Michigan.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

My guilty pleasure is continuously adding to my vintage craft book collection. I have so many quilting, sewing, embroidery, etc books in the basement of Have Company. We had a show last fall called Quilt Mountain and we set up the Quilt Library. It was incredible how many old crochet magazines and funny knitting books we found. I love to cut them up and make flyers for events at the shop or just look at the old photos.

Another quirk is that I do this weird tick with my hands when I finish a row. I click my rings together and sort of flick my wrist. I’ve never told anyone that, so you’re welcome blog world.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I am knitting Farmhouse by cabinfour with Shelter by Brooklyn Tweed. I also just ordered a kit from Wool and The Gang to knit the Lola Cardigan, I have had such intense sweater fear and feel like this will be a good place to start.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Whitney Ott


Photos © John Hanson

Let’s have a Slow Fashion October

Let's have a Slow Fashion October

Ever since my post the other day (well, since last Me Made May, actually) I’ve been thinking about the need for another sort of month. I believe this is perfectly clear but let me repeat myself just in case: I think Me Made May is awesome and important and completely wonderful — I support it fully and do not wish to detract from it in any way. It was created by and for sewers, though, and it just so happens that it’s not especially well-timed for knitters. (Unless you live in Denver, where it’s still snowing!) So I’ve long been pondering a month better suited for knitters, but the world doesn’t need another me-made month, per se. And besides which, I’d like the scope of this to be different and broader. I’d like us to be able to celebrate not only our own makes (although definitely that!) but clothes that have been made for us by others; worn over the course of years or decades; handed down or rescued from thrift shops or attics; mended; handcrafted in the small studios of slow fashion designers and/or from ethical fabrics; and so on. I want it to be about responsible and sustainable fashion in all its splendor, in other words. An opportunity to discuss and explore the wide range of topics that are at the core of slow fashion. Fall is undeniably peak fashion season, and by October there’s pretty sure to be a bit of a chill in the air in most of the US (a bit colder up north!), while hopefully still a bit of a chill lingering for our friends down under as well. So it seems perfect to me.

I’ll have a lot more to say between now and then about ways to participate and contribute (beyond IG selfies), but I wanted to publicly put the idea forth in the meantime. So who’s in?

Photos from my Amanda cardigan and my Make, Knit, Mend post, which I hope you’ll read if you haven’t before