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.
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Whitney Ott
Photos © John Hanson