Our Tools, Ourselves: Leigh Wells

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

Leigh Wells knitting needles and sweater in progress

LEIGH WELLS is an illustrious illustrator and fine artist. Her studio also happens to be about 10 steps from mine, so you can see I kept this installment of OT/OS very close to home. In addition to being my first local knitting friend, Leigh hosts a monthly creative women’s gathering you may have heard me mention before, where these days most of the group of graphic designers, photographers and artists whip out their knitting needles. So to the extent that I have a knitting social life, I pretty much owe it all to Leigh.

You can see Leigh’s artwork at the Gregory Lind Gallery in San Francisco, and she’ll also be in a show at Portland’s PDX Contemporary Art opening June 6th. She’s only nominally on Ravelry and somewhat new to Instagram, so be sure to friend her up.

Are you a knitter, crocheter, weaver, spinner, sewer … ?

I am a knitter, in a remedial sort of way, thanks to having gone to Ecuador as an exchange student in high school. The dear mother in my host family taught me her technique, and people sometimes comment on how strange it is. I have no idea what they are talking about. My first project was a huge acrylic lavender pullover made of four rectangles. It fit over my body that had been dietarily enhanced by all of the cheese-filled, fried plantains I had eaten over the course of the year. I know how to knit and purl. That is my skill set, virtually unimproved over thirty years.

Oh, and I have been sewing for longer, and making all sorts of other things from collage, to sculpture, to soap and preserved lemons.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

Much of my equipment is by default. I inherited all of my former grandmother-in-law’s knitting needles, crochet hooks and her thread stash. (Still haven’t used those four spools of lime green thread.) I use from that supply and usually borrow or buy second-hand what I don’t have. Given how I like to purge unnecessary possessions, it’s strange that I have many, many size 0, 1, and 2 needles from this inheritance. I would rather gnaw off both of my hands than do a project on those needles. I probably should ship them to that rad hat dude. What’s his address?

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

I keep my collection of straight needles in a paintbrush holder I found on sale at the art supply store. After I bought it, a bunch of other friends ran out to get one. Black nylon. Looks like a piece of camping equipment. Very unglamorous. And speaking of poor taste, I only just recently organized my tangle of circulars in an IKEA bin using little Ziploc bags with Avery labels on them. Disgusting.

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

WORKS!? Can’t deal with the idea of more than one at a time. Keep it in a little bucket I made out of found industrial felt.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools? 

See above … Oh wait! My little beaded pouch for my sewing needles and stitch markers. Gift from my dear friend, found at the Chelsea Flea in NYC.

Leigh Wells sewing machine and stitch marker pouch

Do you lend your hooks or needles?

But of course. Anyone want to borrow these 0’s and never return them?

What is your favorite place to knit?

In the rain.
In the dark. On a train,
In a car, In a tree.
In a house. In a box.
With a mouse. With a fox.
Here or there.
Pretty much anywhere!

Other than that, I savor the four stitches I knit, then eventually rip out, when I host the monthly STITCH night at my place.

What effect do the seasons have on your knitting/sewing productivity?

Probably knitting a deep winter project in the heat of summer and vice versa because I am so slow?

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

I know that Fringe Association probably considers my knitting behaviors “odd quirks,” but I swear that I am a completely normal knitting dilettante.

What are you working on right now?

Knitting some royal-blue French cotton yarn into a summer pullover. You taught me to do top-down knitting, and now I feel like I can rule the world. Not so, however, since I have ripped out a particular portion of this sweater five times and am now afraid to proceed. [Editor’s note: This one is not top-down, FYI!]

I found this yarn on a shopping trip to a certain second-hand crafty shop in Sonoma County. Until that moment, I had been strict about NOT having a knitting stash. Leaving the shop that day, I knew I had so much yarn that some lucky person would inherit much of it someday along with all of these knitting needles.

Leigh Wells Ikea bin with circular needles

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Nicole Dupuis

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14 thoughts on “Our Tools, Ourselves: Leigh Wells

  1. Love the Ziplocs. Put your creative energy where you feel it, or at least for when you feel it. :)

  2. I am from the Netherlands and learned to knit from my grandmother. I never achieved her beautiful style, but created my own way of holding the needles. I still have most of her needles, but only look and them and smile. I keep them because they make me have happy memories. Then I moved to the States as an adult and found people hold their yarn and needles much differently than I do. Results are about the same though and in our knitting social group we are too busy talking, nobody pays attention to my unusual handeling of the yarn and needles.
    I now live in Ecuador and wanted to learn how to weave. The local yarn store gives excellent instructions, sells decent yarn and also has a knitters group, which ofcourse I joined. Now we are really talking about different styles of needle and yarn position. However they do it, they are fast!!! And if you need a place for those tiny, tiny needles, Ecuador would be the place. They make more progress in our 3 hour get-together with their size 2 needles than me on my 5’s!! I am now learning to speak “knit spanish” and having a blast stumbling along. I was even asked to teach a class, although I am not sure why. They all seem like extremely accomplished knitters. They do like branching out and make some more modern designs. We will see. Preparing for a trip to the States to see my daughters and buy some yarn to take back to Ecuador.

    • I might have to shoot a little video of the way Leigh knits sometime. It really is impressive (continental with an almost machine-like flicking of the working yarn), and I wonder if it’s the same as you’re seeing — I imagine it is.

  3. Great post! I love reading comments from like minded people. I think you can do anything…as long as you have the right tools and a bit of confidence!

    • For so many people, all they need is a little more confidence. I recently sat down with an acquaintance (at Leigh’s Stitch Night, actually) who insisted she was incapable of knitting (can’t remember if I’ve talked about this) — said she’d tried it in the past and was a total failure — and I knew she couldn’t be incapable. Turned out all she was doing was wrapping her yarn the wrong way around the needle. Once I got her wrapping it the right way, she knit a few perfect rows of garter stitch. Then I showed her how to purl, etc. An hour later, she had a big swatch with garter, stockinette, ribbing!, and she knew how to tell her knits from purls. She was like a savant, but she’d been utterly convinced she was incapable. Makes me wonder how many others are out there …

      • Thank you for sharing…it’s similar when I hear people say they are not creative…huh? We are all born, right! I’m looking forward to more interviews!

  4. What an interesting post! Leigh made me laugh, and left me wanting to know more about her. I’d put those needles to good use if there are any leftovers, I adore old needles, especially those with a story. :)

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