Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

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: Julie Hoover

Julie Hoover has been one of my favorite designers from the very beginning of my tenure as a knitter, and I’m happy to have learned from her and developed a friendship with her over the years. In October of 2013, I asked her if she’d be interested in answering my Our Tools, Ourselves questions and giving us a peek into her world, and she responded that she’d love to … in six months or so. She and her husband were embarking on building their dream home, most of her things were in storage, and it would be better, she thought, if she could show us the new space when it was done. We all know construction projects never go as planned, but this look into Julie’s space and process is well worth the wait!

You likely already know Julie’s designs for Brooklyn Tweed and under her own name, but make sure you’re following her on Instagram, @jgourmet, where she is a constant source of awe and inspiration! She’s also half of the team behind the Kniting with Company retreats. (Which I sorely hope to attend one of these days!) And if you haven’t listened to her Woolful interview, make sure you check that out, too.

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

Being a fiber addict (with a BA in clothing & textiles), I’ve tried just about everything you can imagine at least once. I didn’t develop the skill until 2008, but knitting is my first love—hands down. I was living in Anchorage, Alaska, transitioning from a being a full-time art director (ad agency) back to freelance work and had recently given birth to my 3rd boy. I needed something selfish. My sister-in-law is a knitter and we scouted out the local yarn shops during a visit she made that summer. I picked up some baby llama and a pair of lovely wooden needles, and proceeded to knit a blanket. The rest is history.

Given my love for thread-weight yarns, I suspect I could easily go down the rabbit hole of weaving.

I also love sewing. For the past few years we’ve had most of our belongings in storage (due to moving and building a new home), including my sewing and overlock machines. I haven’t felt the immediate urge to start any sewing projects, but I suspect I will. My time is limited these days so I stay focused on knitting — and I’m good with that!

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

The needles I love most are my Lantern Moon straight needles in a mix of Rosewood and Ebony. I also have a full range of their circular needles. I absolutely love the feeling of the wood in my hands, but I found my tension wasn’t always perfectly consistent. In my design work gauge is critical, so I began using Addi circular needles instead and have come to rely on them. My favorite are the Rockets which have a wonderfully sharp tip.

Besides needles, my list of essential knitting tools is pretty simple: a swift and ball winder, cable needles and mini crochet hook for repairs (also Lantern Moon), blunt tapestry needles, scissors, tape measure, collarless/bulb pins, metal stitch markers (sourced from Fringe Supply Co.), t-pins, blocking wires and EZ-Sew blocking boards.

Other tools I consider essential in my design process are: sketch books (dot grid and Fashionary are my favorite), fine tip mechanical pencils and pens (.3mm or less are my obsession), Adobe software (I couldn’t live without Illustrator, inDesign, Lightroom, Photoshop), and of course the workhorse that they run on—my iMac. My Nikon and iPhone are also never far from reach.

I’m a minimalist at heart, so if there’s something not in use, it will get donated or given to someone special.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

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

Uh oh, here’s where I have to confess I’m a total organization neat-freak. Ideally, the more I can put out of sight when not in use, the better. I have a generous storage room downstairs from my studio space where I keep my back stock of patterns, shipping supplies and yarn/fabric stash. In my studio, I keep things in drawers or in bins. My needles are organized in DellaQ cases in natural muslin (and kept in a drawer). I don’t mind having things out and handy as long as they’re neatly arranged on a shelf, in a basket or in various wooden trays that I’ve collected over the years. I can’t stand dust collecting on things and there’s nothing worse (to me) than having to constantly move things out of the way to clean This practice applies to my entire home, not just my work space.

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

If I have something on the needles and know I’m not coming straight back to it, I will keep it in a project bag and tucked into a tote bag so I can easily grab it on-the-go. I’m currently using a few favorites: a leather Baggu zipper case and a couple of Ambatalia Bento Bags.

For me, part of “works-in-progress” means swatching, and I have piles of them. I organize them in containers labelled by yarn brand, so I can easily dive in and check on a gauge or reference a particular stitch pattern.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

Hmm, not particularly amongst my knitting tools. I might categorize my Pfaff sewing machine that way, not because it’s unusually special but because of the memories it evokes of living in Germany during the time I purchased it. And I still treasure the Gingher dressmaking shears and tailor’s point scissors I purchased in college, decades ago.

Do you lend your tools?

Not generally, no. I am happy to lend them to someone I trust, but I’m hardly ever asked. I suppose it’s because I don’t do a lot of social knitting, and the people I do knit with are very well-equipped!

What is your favorite place to knit?

Obviously, I spend a lot of time in my home workroom/studio, but I do everything except knit in there. My favorite place to knit is definitely at home, and preferably when I’m home alone!

If I can tune out everything and everyone, I’m most happy and productive. I have two places where I usually camp out for knitting. One is in my living room in a chair by the windows (also happens to be close to the fireplace). That room is a big open-concept living/dining/kitchen area and is surrounded with floor to ceiling windows. I love the open/airy feeling of being in that part of my house, especially when I have it to myself. You can be sure I have music coming through the speakers, too. The other place I often find myself knitting (usually late in the evening or a lazy weekend day) is my bedroom, which is located next to my studio. I have a chair in that room as well, but I’m more likely to stretch my legs out on the bed. My dog Amando likes it when I choose that spot as well.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I’m definitely a four-season person. I love each one almost equally, and thankfully living in Michigan gives me the best of all of them. If I had to choose a favorite season (the one I most look forward to), it would be Autumn.

There’s no season that keeps me away from working with wool, which is a good thing because the busiest production time is during the summer months, preparing for Fall and Winter publications.

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

That’s a great question, and I wish I had a scandalous answer!

I do have a serious guilty pleasure for linen fabric. Aside from just collecting yards of it off the bolt, I have a ridiculous amount of vintage linens (sheets, table cloths, giant napkins) I collected from flea markets around Europe during the years we lived in Germany. I would get up at 3am and drive many hours to scour around, and I was rewarded with the most beautifully crafted linens you can imagine … hand-hemstitching, hand-monogramming, etc. For the most part, I don’t often use them — I just love having them.

Quirkiness comes with the territory, and I don’t know if this counts as odd, but after I knit a few rows/rounds, I can’t resist stopping and feeling the fabric with my fingers. (I can’t imagine I’m the only one who “pets” their fabric!) The other thing I’m very particular and methodical about (quirky or not) is wet-blocking my projects. I let pieces soak forever and use blocking wires on every single edge/corner possible. I treat my swatches in the same way. No short cuts.

What are you working on right now?

The “actively knitting” list isn’t too long at the moment. Currently on my needles is a second sample I’m knitting of my Cohle turtleneck in Shibui Pebble. A few of my Instagram followers are doing a very low-pressure #CohleKAL with me, and anyone reading is welcome to join in. Also on my needles is a design I’m working on using mYak. I should have two patterns in that yarn (100% baby yak heaven) ready for publishing by March.

Lots of other things are in progress, in different phases. I’m hoping to self publish 3-4 designs in Shibui yarns around TNNA [the trade show in June]. There’s plans for some Woolfolk and another yarn brand (not at liberty to say just yet) I’m going to dive into, and of course my Brooklyn Tweed designs are always high on the list, as well!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

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Photos © Julie Hoover

Q for You: What’s your favorite step of the process?

Q for You: What's your favorite step of the making process?

While watching the Iowa results on Monday night I declared my own small victory, binding off Bob’s sweater. (Which fits like a dream.) First thing Tuesday morning it went onto the blocking board, and by afternoon I was happily plotting out my black raglan. You know, taking measurements, doing calculations, drawing my funny little cast-on diagram I always draw for every top-down. Cast-on-itis is clearly a thing with knitters — we all love to start new projects (some of us too much) — but I think my favorite step is actually the one before cast-on, or before cutting into fabric. I love love love the planning, from sketches or pattern research to yarn/material selection, working out sizing, the whole enchilada. Of course, I also love casting on, but nothing gives me quite the same creative buzz as the planning phase. So that’s my Q for You today: What’s your favorite step of the process — from dreaming through wearing — and why?

(My used and abused Knitters Graph Paper Journal, Fashionary sketch paper and Bento Bag are all, of course, from Fringe Supply Co. The heathered black Lettlopi Icelandic yarn I bought from Tolt.)

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My First Sweater: Marlee Grace

My First Sweater: Marlee Grace

I’m kicking off a new interview series today that’s been on my mind for a bit. My favorite thing I hear from you all is “I got up the nerve to knit my first sweater because of your blog!” That’s a momentous occurrence in any knitter’s life that I want to encourage in any way I can! So I thought it would be fun to talk to a wide variety of knitters about their first sweater — from seasoned vets who might have knitted their first one decades ago to newer knitters who’ve just cast off. When my good friend Marlee Grace of Have Company finished her first sweater two weeks ago, I knew I wanted her to go first. So here she is! Hope you love this, and thanks Marlee!

If you’re still contemplating your first sweater, check out Pullovers for first-timers for my overview and recommendations. And if you missed Marlee in Our Tools, Ourselves, take a look at that too!

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How long had you been knitting when you decided to cast on your first sweater? And what drove you to do it?

I’ve been knitting on and off since I was 10 or so, but always rectangles — ya know, just scarves really. About a year ago, I bought some Lopi from Tolt Yarn and Wool and made the Nordic Wind shawl by cabinfour. That was the first pattern I ever knitted, first ever non-rectangle. It was part of what drove me to want to carry yarn in my shop, which certainly helped drive me to want to make a sweater. In the past year I was able to make hats, socks, more shawls, but the idea of a sweater was still so scary.

What pattern did you choose for your first sweater (if any), and how did you choose it?

I chose the top-down version of Lila by Carrie Bostick Hoge, I was pretty in love with the sloped nature of the bottom and was encouraged by the hashtag on Instagram, #lilakal — it’s inspiring to see so many rad people making the same sweater but with their own yarn/color/style choices. BUT that was scary like HOW WILL I MAKE A SLOPE, what if I mess up, how will I learn the skills needed?!

I also chose top-down because it felt the most intuitive to me. I knew I could decrease and increase, add stitches, pick up stitches, a lot of the language made sense to me after having made socks and shawls.

What yarn did you use, and why?

I used Quince & Co. Lark (worsted weight) in the color Petal. Have Company (the shop/artist residency/gallery I own) started carrying Quince & Co. last July, and it’s been staring at me, whispering ‘turn me into clothes Marlee‘ and I’ve especially wanted to make a sweater out of it. I love their colors, patterns, USA-sourced wool magic, and feel grateful to have a lil shop filled with it.

What size did you knit? And did you feel like you knew how to choose the right size, with regard to intended ease and all that?

Definitely still navigating this side of knitting, and was part of why I was always so hesitant. I am a pretty loose knitter, often needing to go down one to two needle sizes from what is suggested on a pattern. The pattern called for size 7 needles and I made a swatch with size 6 and was right on! I even knit it in the round and blocked it like a pro, but once I got into it and started knitting I was off [gauge]! I had 20 sts per 4″ instead of 19. However I like things baggy and picked a size with a lot of room, so knowing it would be a tad smaller [due to my smaller stitches] was fine. And in the end the fit was literally perfect so I guess it worked out!

Lila is knitted in the round. Had you knitted your swatch flat, or did you know to knit it in the round? 

I did knit it in the round.

My First Sweater: Marlee Grace

Was there anything that surprised you about the pattern or sweater along the way? What was the most challenging or interesting part for you?

I think the most challenging part was that the sweater didn’t match my swatch, even though it was literally the exact same yarn, needles, etc., that I swatched with. It made me feel a little defeated, like come on universe I finally did this thing you told me to do and it wasn’t really right.

The other part that’s hard for me, partly I think because I knit so loose and because it’s new to me, is when you go to pick up stitches to make the sleeves. It felt like I was going to have huge holes in the underarm, so I picked up a few extras and then just knit them together. This definitely seemed to help, but in terms of construction/technique that was definitely the most awakward part for me.

PRO TIPS: 

1) It’s not uncommon for your sweater gauge to vary slightly from your swatch gauge — especially with top-down where you have so much fabric on the needles. It could be that, your stress level, lots of things. It’s always a good idea once you’ve knitted a few inches to stop and measure your sweater gauge so you can make any adjustments if needed. Also, hopefully you blocked your swatch before measuring it, whereas you haven’t blocked your sweater yet.

2) Gaps at the armholes are perfectly common in seamless sweaters and thumb gussets. What Marlee did intuitively is the standard fix: Pick up an extra stitch at each end and then decrease them out on the next round. When you weave in your ends, use them to do any further cinching up that might be needed.

Did you make any modifications, or did you knit the pattern exactly as written?

I did! I cropped that baby up! I prefer to wear high-waisted pants or dresses, so I like to wear my sweaters short. I cropped it maybe 2 or 3 inches. The cool part about making the top-down version of Lila is you can just try it on to see how long you want it.

Also holy empowerment to make a sweater and have it be the EXACT length you want it to be.

Were there any particular people or resources you leaned on in tackling this sweater?

To learn how to pick up the stitches for the sleeves I used YouTube — my go-to knitting teacher. And I was lucky to be finishing it when Jaime Jennings of Fancy Tiger Crafts was in residence here. Jaime has an incredible collection of handknit sweaters and is just a generally beautiful and encouraging friend. She was working on a sweater while she was here and kept helping me stay excited. Once you finish that first sleeve it’s easy to feel bored knowing you still have another one to make :)

And I had trouble reading the part of the pattern for the sleeve. Like you knit normal 7 times, then do an increase round, then you repeat that series 9 times, but I just increased 9 times in a row and had this funny little pleat and a sleeve made for a doll. Jaime set me straight.

How did you feel when you finished — and how did it turn out, as compared to your goals and expectations for it? Do you wear it?

Finishing my sweater was a powerful moment in an otherwise really difficult week. My dad was in the hospital (he is home and healing now) but it was really scary, and I was hanging with him a lot and knitting in his hospital room. His mother, who passed away before I was born, was an incredible knitter and I’ve always felt a connection with her spirit through my own knitting and quilting practice. She knit dozens of sweaters, cables galore, some of the most immaculate garments I’ve ever seen.

So casting off sitting with him was exciting for both of us. I got to try it on and spin around and show it off, and we both relished in this legacy passed through her blood to him and into me.

AND it fits like a dream! Like I said, I knit for the 40.5 size but it ended up being 38, which was perfect! So see, no mistakes, just the universe looking out.

Would you recommend this pattern to other first-time sweater knitters?

YES! The pattern is well written and easy to follow. Plus it’s simple, knitting and purling, and learning Sunday Short Rows is WAY easier than expected and makes you feel like you are a brilliant and fancy knitter.

I love Sunday short rows. So do you have your next sweater picked out?

Yes! Since I finished this one while Jaime and Lizzy House were residents we decided to all cast on the same sweater and host a knitalong together! We’ll be casting on the Agnes Sweater today [February 1st] in Quince and Co. Puffin. Folks can join in and follow along with the hashtag #havefancyhouse — and there will be prizes ;)

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Thank you, Marlee! For anyone wanting to read more about how top-down sweaters work, see How to improvise a top-down sweater.

My First Sweater: Marlee Grace

Q for You: Did you make 2016 resolutions?

Q for You: What are your 2016 maker resolutions?

I’ve come back from vacation with a sinus infection, a dead laptop, and multiple overflowing email inboxes — plus I’m one sleeve short of where I wanted to be by the end of our road trip — so I feel like I’m starting off the year already desperately behind! But I have a little Q for You today about your 2016—

I mentioned during the 2015 recap that I’m not setting any specific goals for this year where my knitting and sewing are concerned — but I do intend to carry on with last year’s goal to simply make good choices. Not to cast on or cut into anything without asking myself Will I wear this garment? How does it fit into my wardrobe and lifestyle? Does it fill a gap or is it redundant to things I already have? That sort of thing. But I always love hearing about the goals and challenges you’ve all signed up for or set for yourselves, so that’s my Q today: What are your 2016 maker resolutions?

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New Year’s news

New Year's news from Fringe Supply Co.

Hey, happy new year! I had decided not to make any sort of blog or knitting resolutions this year, as it’s always depressing to go back and see where I fell short. But then I went and looked at last year’s new year’s day post, and this was the nut of it:

So my goal for this year is to choose wisely. I feel like I’ve gotten much better about picking projects and materials that are worthy of my precious making time. I want to make better, not more. And now that I have the space to do it, I want to really, truly sew. The biggest personal shift for me this year was the crystallization of a desire to know where my clothes come from, whether I’ve made them myself or bought them from small-batch producers. But most of all, I want to make them — to the extent that life will allow.

What do you know! That part I think I can feel pretty damn good about. Although, remember that whole fantasy about how this week was gonna go? How I’d work a few hours in the morning, sew all afternoon, and knit in the evening? Yeah, HAHAHAHA! I did sew a lovely muslin last Saturday, worked all day Sunday, then put in the usual 12-14 hour days all this week. My making has amount to 4 rows of Bob’s sweater. Oy! So this week has been a bit discouraging, but I’m proud of all I sewed and knitted this year, and how much of it has resulted in truly useful garments.

Anyway, no resolutions this year, but I do want to give you some news — a few different heads-ups. First: You guys really surprised me and endeared yourselves to me with your enthusiasm over the army green Field Bag. I thought I was ordering that one for me and DG and a few other weirdos, but it wound up running neck and neck with the gorgeous grey throughout the holiday season. Unfortunately, last week when I placed an order for more of the army green canvas, I was informed that it’s deadstock. My order that day cleaned them out. So we’re down to the last two batches of army green bags:

1. The penultimate batch is mid-progress — half of them are at Fringe Supply Co. right now for you to jump all over, and the other half of this batch will be listed at the beginning of next week.

2. The final batch will be sewn up (if all goes as planned) in time for me to take them to Stitches West in February! I wasn’t planning to do West this year, but Veronika Jobe at YOTH asked me to set up a Fringe pop-up in her killer booth, and I’ve said yes to that. So the last of the army green bags will be with me at that show. If any survive the weekend, I’ll put them in the webshop the following week.

So basically, if you are going to Stitches West, plan to hit me up first thing! If you’re not, do what you can to nab one from the webshop now.

And in addition to West, I also want to let you know DG and I will have the full-blown Fringe booth once again at Stitches South here in Nashville the first weekend of April. I’d love to see you at one or both shows!

Thankful

Thankful

It’s Thanksgiving today in the US and I know a lot of you are celebrating with your families and friends. As you may have seen on Instagram the other day, we managed to get our house spruced up and looking lived-in just in time for my whole family to descend on us, so that’s what I’m doing today! But I wanted to take a minute to say to you all how thankful I am for you. Four years ago, I had no idea how to knit. Because you are interested enough to read this blog, come see me at events, and support what I’m doing at Fringe Supply Co., today my whole life revolves around it. I’m exceptionally blessed, and I owe it all to you. I can never say enough how thankful I am. So whether you’re in the US or not, eating turkey or not, I’m wishing you a warm, cozy and happy day!

Q for You: What do you knit the most of?

Q for You: What do you knit the most of?

One of the most interesting observations for me when I was a new knitter (hey, I just passed the four-year mark!) was that knitters tend to fall into camps. Sock knitters and shawl knitters seem to be the two most entrenched breeds — a sock knitter knits socks sometimes entirely to the exclusion of all else. Same for shawl knitters. Some people make so many hats they are always on the lookout for new places to donate them. In the beginning, I was chiefly (although not exclusively) a fingerless mitts knitter, and I didn’t really know anyone else who was as rabid about mitt knitting as I was. A rare breed? A weirdo? Dunno, but I lived in the Bay Area, where fingerless mitts are useful or necessary about 360 days of the year. They were quick and only use one skein of anything. There were lots of different ways to construct them, and I liked trying out all the varieties, along with different stitch patterns and whatever else. I made a lot of them. Then I got more and more serious about sweaters, and I now basically have to trick myself into knitting non-sweater things — they’re really all I need and all I want to knit. Talk about variety of methods! Every sweater can be a whole new knitting adventure. Plus there’s that whole mission-to-make-my-own-clothes thing. So me, I’m a sweater knitter who occasionally dabbles in accessories.

And that’s my Q for You today: Do you have any strain of knitting monomania or do you like to spread it around? And what is it about whatever you knit that makes you so devoted?

Pictured (clockwise from top left): Acer, Cowichanish vest, Amanda, Olsen turtleneck

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