Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

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: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

All-around talented lady and founder of the wildly popular Grainline Studio — a sewing blog that grew into a bustling pattern business — Jen Beeman is one of my heroes. She sews, she knits, she blogs, she Instagrams, she runs an amazing business, and I just love her spirit and her style. (Did you know that before she releases a new pattern, she personally sews one garment in every size?) She holds degrees in both photography and fashion design, and is one of a dying breed of professionally trained pattern drafters, which you can listen to an interview about at Marketplace. And I’m super thrilled she’s agreed to give us a peek at her space and talk about her habits and her tools. Thanks, Jen!

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

I’m both a knitter and a sewer. I always joke that I learned how to knit about a year or so too early. Back in college, I had a friend who worked at the photo checkout window with me who knit, and seeing her make these sweaters left and right made me want to learn. So when a friend and I decided to drive to NYC in the fall of 2001 to check out a few other art schools (we were thinking about transferring) I figured it would be the perfect time to teach myself. At that point I don’t even think the website Knitty was a thing, and I definitely couldn’t find any good books at the bookstore. I bought a really poorly designed and super basic knitting pamphlet at the local Champaign IL craft store, some metal needles, and what I’m sure was either Red Heart or Lion Brand yarn and took that on the road. By the end of the trip I had learned to knit!

I went about learning to sew in a bit of a more orderly fashion. My mom always sewed and made a lot of our clothes when we were younger and I used to love helping pick out the fabrics and patterns with her. When I was 12 she finally taught me to sew, and eventually signed me up for a sewing class with a friend.

In high school I stopped, but after getting a photography BFA I decided that I should go back to school to become a patternmaker, so I did. I then worked as a patternmaker until recently when I realized I couldn’t handle my work load between a job and my pattern business, so I began working on Grainline Studio full time.

I’ve tried crocheting, weaving, spinning, and dyeing but none of them really stuck with me. I’m absolutely unable to hold any sort of tension while crocheting despite help from my master crocheter mom. My hand just turns into one cramped up little claw. It’s horrible because I really dream of making a chunky black and white wool zigzag afghan. Mom, if you’re reading this, hint hint ;)

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I think I might be kind of weird about tools — I really have so few of them and they’re all pretty basic, in both knitting and sewing.

For knitting I mostly prefer wooden needles. I’ve always felt like they’re easier for my usually painful hands to deal with. I used to only use straight needles — I think because I already owned them — but recently I’ve been getting more into the circular needle. I think it’s easier on my wrists to have the weight of the sweater sitting in my lap rather than stuck out on the end of a straight needle. Besides needles, I have the same knitting kit I’ve had for about ten years. While I’d love to upgrade to some fancy tools, I can’t ever seem to justify spending money on a version of something I already own that works perfectly well. I’m now thinking about purchasing a swift and some blocking tools, though, so I’ll be adding to my tool collection soon.

In sewing, the same is true. When drafting patterns by hand I have a pretty basic tool set, things like steel rulers, an awl, pattern notcher, steel weights, Japanese punch and a really nice Japanese mechanical pencil that rotates the lead slightly while you draw so you’re never stuck with that one sharp edge. Mechanical pencil nerds will know what I’m talking about. I use 90lb kraft paper for my personal patterns and manila for any production patterns. I also have recently started using Optitex which is a CAD pattern-drafting software, in order to streamline my process, which is really helpful in getting patterns out more quickly without the kind errors that require going back to the literal drawing board while your pattern is in progress.

All of my sewing machines (sewing, serger and coverstitch/chainstitch) are Bernina home machines. While I love professional industrial machines, I feel that it’s important that I’m working on the same equipment that the people buying my patterns will most likely have. I don’t really have many special feet. The only feet I ever use are my 1⁄4″ foot, my invisible zipper foot, the buttonhole foot, and the button foot. That’s it really. Oh, and the walking foot when quilting!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

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

Like my tools, my knitting storage is also pretty basic. I keep my needles in an old animal cracker tin I got at a neighbor’s yard sale growing up, and my tools are kept in a small leather pouch I made.

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

My project bag is, embarrassingly, a clear plastic drawstring top bag that a fabric purchase from Drygoods Design in Seattle arrived in, and I keep my finished sweater pieces in the dust bag from a pair of shoes while I’m working on the rest of the pieces. Oddly they’re both the perfect size for what I need. All of this sits on a bookshelf next to our couch. I’m really not very fancy. I always have dreams of getting one of those beautiful baskets with the expanding tops that people love, but in reality I know that it will just turn into an expensive cat bed.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

Not really any in my tools since they’re all just basic things I bought myself. I do like them a lot, though — we’ve done a quite a bit of knitting together! I splurged on some Brooklyn Tweed Shelter to knit the Stonecutter by Michele Wang and I’m really glad I did that. It’s been a super fun knit so far.

Do you lend your tools?

I don’t typically lend my tools because I don’t really have extras of anything to lend or anyone to lend it to!

I do give away a lot of stuff I don’t need or use anymore, though. I just gave my assistant, Kendra, a basics book on knitting and a bunch of yarn I wasn’t using, and she’s already made slippers, a scarf and is now on to a hat. It’s great when you can give someone something to get them into a new hobby, plus giving them something rather than lending it doesn’t come with the stress of the “Am I keeping this too long? Do they need this back soon?” questions that I always get when borrowing something.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

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

My favorite place to knit is after work on the couch hanging out with my boyfriend and cat. It’s a great way to just relax after a day of work, though often my cat thinks I’m just dangling yarn there for her enjoyment.

I also like to knit on road trips because it gives me something to do while stuck in the car. During the warmer months (and the cooler with a blanket) I like knitting out on the back porch with a cup of tea.

As for sewing, I sew at my studio during the day, so that never comes home with me. I was a little worried about this at first but I really like leaving my job at work (because sewing is my job) and coming home to work on my hobby, knitting, or just doing nothing at all. It’s wonderful! Since moving to my studio I’ve finished a sweater and I’m about to block and seam my second, it’s been super productive on both the knitting and sewing fronts!

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I sew year round, since it’s my job, but I find that I do mostly want to knit in fall and winter. This summer I went against my natural tendencies and did a fair amount on road trips, which was nice. I like the idea of knitting something over the summer so that it’s ready for fall, but in reality I’m not keen on wool in the humid Chicago heat.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

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

I think I have a few quirks. I almost always prefer knitting sweaters with seams rather than in the round, which I think has to do with the fact that I sew and also that knitting pieces is lighter on the wrists than knitting an entire sweater at once. I hate knitting with cotton — it makes my hands hurt because there isn’t much give. Oh, and since I taught myself to knit from that weird old pamphlet I mentioned up above, a lot of the time when people see me knitting they think I knit really oddly, which I’m sure I do but it works, so I’m fine with it. I also don’t use a row counter, instead I make lists all over my pattern of what part I’m working on and tally off the rows. I’ve tried the clicking counters and ones on my phone and I just find I can never remember to click them off like I can with a pen and paper.

As far as dark secrets I think I’m in the clear. I do have a knitting machine under the bed though…

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m about to block my Stonecutter and after that’s done I need to knit a new winter hat. There are about 4000 sweaters I want to knit, and I swear, every time Fringe pops up in my blog reader I add at least one more to that list.

As for business, just working on new patterns and posts and, fingers crossed, the first pattern collaboration, which I think people will totally be into!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)


Photos © Jen Beeman

WIP of the Week, week 5 (and other juicy bits!)

WIP of the Week, week 5

This was by far the hardest round for picking the #fringeandfriendsknitalong WIP of the Week. I can’t even tell you how much time I spent going through the Ravelry images and the Instagram hashtag — scrolling back and forth and forth and back and back and forth. Again, if I had three or four prizes to give it still wouldn’t be enough! But the image I kept coming back to was @idafwl’s WIP, above. Ida’s been a contender every week. She’s one of two known people frogging a sweater and turning the reclaimed yarn into a Hawser. (She’s frogging her Beatnik; Erica Smith is frogging her Stonecutter. And my utmost respect to the both of them.) So it’s been a joy watching Ida’s Hawser grow. But I just love this photo, captioned “Getting big enough to fold”, because that’s a tipping-point moment I think we can all identify with. We start every project with a skimpy little slip of stitches, and we turn those stitches into rows, and eventually those rows start to look and feel not just like a piece of fabric, but like a thing. You have that, “Hey, this is about to be a sweater!” moment. (Or hat, or sock, or whatever.) And if you’re like me, that’s when the adrenaline really starts to kick in. So this photo got me excited for Ida and for myself and for everyone who’s got a WIP on the needles that’s soon to be an FO.

Congratulations, Ida — you’ve won a $150 gift certificate to the freshly launched Tolt Yarn and Wool webshop! And huge congratulations to Anna and company on the launch of that shiny new web presence. Y’all should go check it out!


- If you are going to Vogue Knitting Live in Chicago this weekend, don’t forget to show me your tote on Instagram! Since I don’t get to go. Take a pic of yourself at the event with your High-fiber or Knit and Let Knit tote, tag it #fringeinthewild #vklive, and mention @fringesupplyco @karentempler. Some lucky person(s) will win a gift certificate from Fringe Supply Co. If you don’t already have one, or you do and someone asks you where they can get such a wonderful tote bag, they are for sale in The Yarnery’s booth, #221/223!

- The following Saturday, November 1, I will have a booth at Fiber in the ’Boro in Mufreesboro TN! If you’re anywhere near Nashville, hie thee to the show! You’ll get to meet my trusty sidekick, Amazing DG. And shop the movable Fringe shelves, of course.

- After that, I am headed to Seattle/Carnation WA for a little business and then a visit to Tolt Yarn and Wool. Anna and I are planning some kind of Q&A/meet-and-greet sort of thing, where you may ask me anything you want — about my background, the blog, knitting, blogging, whatever I actually know anything about — and I will do my best to be interesting and/or informative. It will most likely be Thursday evening, Nov 13, but I will confirm that date (and time) when it’s pinned down. Just wanted to give you a heads-up! I’d love to meet any of you who are in that beautiful area.

- And last but not least, there are some marvelous new gems to be had at Fringe Supply Co today: the prettiest little Italian scissors and the ever-popular Doane notebooks, now in striking colors! Go get’em.

New at Fringe Supply Co.

Have a great weekend!


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: The button band conundrum

WIP of the Week, week 4

WIP of the Week, week 4

One of my favorite #fringeandfriendsknitalong moments last week was the day @rhiowens and @clairemueller posted back-to-back photos of their twin Ondawa WIPs on Instagram (here and here). Not only did they happen to post them in sequence, they appeared to be on the exact same row of the pattern. It was a little spooky! And both were so beautiful they made me take another look at that pattern. Claire’s caption was about having organized the multiple charts into one plastic sleeve to keep it portable, but it was hard to imagine anyone actually taking this on public transportation. This week, I chuckled at this picture of her with her sweater and her page protector on the train. Have yarn, will travel indeed, Claire! So congratulations, you’ve won this week’s amazing prize, which is 3 hanks of delicious, cream, 10-ply Cormo from Tonofwool at the birthplace of Cormo in Tasmania. There’s a reason it’s called @tonofwool: those skeins are huge! Can’t wait to see what you make of it. And thank you, Ms. Gusset, for the lovely prize!

I also want to say congratulations to Audrey, who as far as I know is the first knitalonger to complete her Amanda (which coincidentally happens to be knitted from Tonofwool). Great job!


IN TINY SHOP NEWS, a few big baskets and big totes arrived this week!

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone! If you need a good chuckle, read through the hilarious responses on yesterday’s Q for You. I love you people.


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: Amanda panel progress report: Let’s see these sweaters!

Q for You: What are your odd habits?

Q for You: What are your odd habits?

Do you do stuff like this? When Lauren (aka @suskandbanoo) sent me this photo for her Our Tools, Ourselves feature last winter, I laughed out loud. This is so me. Anytime I’m knitting with DPNs or a cable needle, I inevitably stick whatever I’m not using in my bun. The other night I was knitting with my hair down (this apparently never happens) and I was at a total loss as to what to do with my cable needle when it was not in use. It’s a handy trick; the problem is I often forget I’ve done it and go wandering out into the world. Like when knitting in airports, or the other morning in a busy waiting room. I had a double-point in my hair all day on Tuesday without realizing it.

Likewise, I used to keep one of those white rubber stitch markers on my ring finger at all times. You never know when you’re going to need a stitch marker, right? But while it was invisible to me (unless I needed it and was happy to have it), I got asked about it so often I had to stop doing it.

So here’s my Q for You: Do you have weird fibersmithy habits like this? Do you leave a trail of yarn wherever you go. Have your houseguests found skeins hanging in your shower, or a pair of embroidery scissors on every surface? You’re safe here, you can tell us.


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you store your patterns?


Photo © Lauren of Süsk and Banoo, used with permission

I’m three!

I'm three!

This weekend was my third knitting birthday — 3 years since that fateful trip to Nashville to visit friends, who taught me to knit while I was there. Er, here. Now not only does my life revolve around knitting — with this blog and Fringe Supply Co. — but I also live in Nashville! Life is strange, ain’t it? If you were reading last year, you’ll remember I spent the month of October doing a series of posts aimed at new knitters and those wanting to expand their skills. This weekend, in honor of the anniversary, I organized it all neatly onto one page (along with a couple of other applicable posts), so you can now find it all right here: Beginning to Knit.

There’s general guidance — from how to learn to knit to how to gradually expand your skills — along with some very basic techniques and then a set of posts revolving around pattern recommendations for those wanting to give something new a try, including cables, colorwork and pullovers for first-timers. I’m always saying my favorite thing about knitting is how little you need to know to expand your knitting abilities exponentially. If all you can do is the knit stitch, learn to join those stitches in the round and suddenly you’re making a stockinette tube. Insert your needle into two stitches instead of one (knit two together, or k2tog) and you can decrease, which means you can turn that tube into a hat. And on and on — such incredibly simple little maneuvers turning your knitting into cables and then lace. But I also I love that I still have so much to learn — new tricks, techniques, construction methods, and on and on. Knitting is a neverending opportunity to amaze yourself, the way I see it. So if you’re a new knitter or you’ve been knitting for ages but haven’t quite gotten past basic knitting and purling, I hope you’ll find encouragement and enlightenment in those posts.

I’ll be continuing to add to that page over time. But for now, can I ask you for a little knitting birthday gift? If you find Fringe Association valuable, will you take a minute to tell your friends and/or followers about it? Pin your favorite post, tell your Facebook friends about the Beginning to Knit page (there are no doubt people wishing they could knit), whatever the case may be. It means to world to me.

And thank you so much for constantly egging me on and making me a better knitter!


p.s. Pictured above are a sampling of my own projects, clockwise from top left: my first (of two) Orlane’s Textured Shawl (June 2013); my Acer Cardigan (Jan 2014); some simple stockinette armwarmers (Feb 2012) (at sport weight, still the finest gauge thing I’ve knitted!); and giant lace in the form of my State Street Cowl (Jan 2013). Most of my FOs from the past three years are documented at Ravelry.

WIP of the Week, week 3 (plus new buttons!)

WIP of the Week, week 3 (plus new buttons!)

Oh, you guys, it was SO HARD to pick a #fringeandfriendsknitalong WIP of the Week this week. I wish I had at least four prizes to give out, and I’m certain it’s going to keep getting harder every week. But in the end, I decided this week’s prize goes to Catherine Wendland, who goes by “wendlandcd” both on Instagram and on Ravelry. Catherine’s Amanda has become a Flat Stanley of sorts, and I’ve been enjoying seeing it at the hardware store and on a city bench and, in the case of the above photo, at what does appear to be a very lovely park. So Catherine, you’ve won a $150 gift certificate to the brand new Fancy Tiger Crafts online store! Please let me know how we can get in touch with you about redeeming your prize.

Congratulations to Catherine and to the wonderful Fancy Tiger ladies on the launch of their beautiful new site! (Make sure you update your bookmark or RSS for their blog, by the way.)

I want to make sure everyone knows how to see all of the amazing sweaters that are happening as part of this knitalong. Photos are mainly appearing at Instagram and Ravelry. If you’re in the Instagram app, you can search on the hashtag #fringeandfriendsknitalong. Otherwise, it’s been brought to my attention that there are third-party websites that will allow you to see hashtagged Instagram pics (since their own website does not), e.g. Websta. (It ain’t a pretty page, but at least you can see the pics.) And for Ravelry, you can see all of the tagged project pages right here. If you’re blogging about your WIP, please remember to link to it from the comments here!

Keep those photos comin’! There’s another awesome prize to be awarded next Friday.

. . .

NEW! Buttons worty of your handmade garments

In Fringe Supply Co. news, I have a bunch of buttons that have been patiently waiting for me to photograph and post them, so this week I picked out four varieties that happen to come in Amanda-appropriate sizes. I know none of us are anywhere near the buttonbands-and-buttons stage, but I love having buttons picked out in advance — it’s like the carrot on the end of that stick! Clockwise from top left, they are: concave cream bone, a beautiful tea-stained looking bone; soft concave corozo, in ivory, navy and black; concave horn disc in horn (obvs), bleached horn and extra-bleached horn; and narrow rim grommet corozo in navy, crimson, black and plum.

I’m thinking of pale buttons for my ivory Amanda, and am debating between the concave cream bone and the soft concave corozo in ivory, both of which would be gorgeous. But it would also be amazing with the contrast of the horn or the black with the gold grommets! Right? So many great choices.

And of course, lots of options there for all the other projects of the world, as well. I also received a few baskets this week — natural and patterned. And the cable needles are finally available in ebony again.

Have a stellar weekend everyone! I’m planning to get my clothes out of the suitcase finally, hopefully look for a couch, and then I shall KNIT!


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: In pursuit of sleeve perfection

WIP of the Week (and other fun stuff)

WIP of the Week, week 2 — #fringeandfriendsknitalong

Last week, the knitter known as “waldorfmanufaktur” (on Instagram, Ravelry and Flickr) was a veerrrry close runner-up for the #fringeandfriendsknitalong WIP of the Week. I was crazy in love with her simple, beautifully lit photo of her swatch for Ondawa. But this week you might say she wins the prize for sheer enthusiasm. She is working on two sweaters and a scarf all at once! All cable-y goodness, and all of them promising to be gorgeous. (Specifically: Amanda, Ondawa and Guilder.) Congratulations, Simone, you’ve won a prize package from Kelbourne Woolens including a cable-print project bag, knit check and keychain knit check, and three skeins of Knightsbridge in the color Black Pool.

Keep those photos coming, friends — next week is another killer prize! And I have to say, while this week’s winner didn’t wind up coming from that pool, I loved all the shots of what you’re doing, listening to, and drinking while knitting — including the multiple Amandas at the beach. So plenty more of those, please! (By the way, Kate helped me figure out how to see all the tagged photos on Ravelry — if you tag your project page fringeandfriendsknitalong we’ll all be able to see it in the tag search results, seen here. Really wish web users could see the hashtag results on Instagram — it is an awesome sight to behold: over 200 photos and counting.)

IN OTHER NEWS: There’s a little interview with yours truly on the Madesmith blog about Fringe Supply Co. and how it came to be. (I swear I got my hair cut since then! Blame that rat’s nest on the move. And the heat.) And speaking of Fringe Supply Co., another big bunch of your favorite things got restocked this week: Cable Fashion Drama and Macrame Pattern Book, repair hooks, bone DPNs, rosewood crochet hooks, bonsai scissors and a bunch of sizes/colors of bento bags. Go get ’em.

Happy knitting this weekend!


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: The secret to a truly great-fitting sweater