I first met Christine Chitnis while at Squam Art Workshops last summer. She teaches a class at Squam and online about how to get your work published (whether it’s writing or patterns or photos), called Pitch Perfect, which I didn’t get to take. But we somehow met at the beginning of the weekend and hung out a bit, and I’m not sure how I would have pulled off my table at the Squam Art Fair without her hauling me and the goods around the campgrounds and generally being a delightful and helpful person. In addition to being a talented writer and blogger, Christine is a great photographer, so I was curious to see what her creative space looks like and hear about her relationship to her tools, and I’m so happy she obliged — it’s not often I run into someone so tidy they make me feel like a slob, so I enjoy the experience!
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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
My two great loves are knitting and sewing, though I do occasionally crochet. I learned to sew from my mom and for that reason sewing will always hold a special place in my heart. She was such a patient teacher and I have so many wonky little doll quilts to show from my early years. My mom has never been a knitter, so when I expressed interest in learning she took me to the sweetest little knitting shop in our town and there I learned. I was twelve years old. Because, you know, that’s what most twelve-year-old kids are dying to do! Let’s just be honest here — I was not a part of the cool crowd, but I’d like to think I’m super cool now to make up for it ;)
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
It’s funny: I’m really picky about the yarn and fabric I use, but I am not very particular when it comes to tools. I’ve always used whatever I have on hand. For example, I bought my sewing machine off Craigslist for $35. It is a decades-old Singer and has no bells or whistles, but it gets the job done and I love it. It’s similar to my mom’s sewing machine, which she inherited from my grandma. Newer machines, with all their fancy parts, tend to scare me! As for knitting supplies, when I started I would just buy the needles I needed for the project I was making so I have a hodgepodge of different needles. One day I’ll invest in a really nice set … maybe once I get my two toddlers through college and they stop using my needles to sword fight!
I love collecting vintage sewing notions — old spools of thread, interesting scissors, and scraps of old quilts. One of my favorite places to find bins of this stuff is at Brimfield, the huge annual antique show in Massachusetts. These tools and notions serve more as inspiration, though I do use them in my crafting.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
I am a bit ridiculous in my organization. I don’t like clutter, so I keep my supplies and studio space very clean and well organized. I have a tiny stash. (I pretty much buy for projects, which means I only ever have little odds and ends of yarn and fabric left over.) I keep all of my supplies on a large, open Ikea shelf that lives in my studio, and for all of the unsightly supplies, I keep them in white storage boxes that fit perfectly on the shelves. I like my supplies to be visible, but in an organized fashion. I keep my yarn in a small basket, and my fabric stacked by color. I keep my thread organized by color on a thread holder, and I keep my needles arranged by size in a fabric roll. Typing that out I realize how anal retentive that must seem, but the truth is, I just like how it looks when everything is in its place. It gives me clear head space to focus on my projects. I am definitely someone who needs a clean desk/studio before I can get down to making.
It’s also worth noting that I share my home with three boys: my husband, a 4-year-old, and a 2-1/2 year-old. My studio is my happy place — everything is clean, white and free of little fingerprints! The rest of the house … not so much. The boys are welcome to join me in the studio — the only rule is we wash hands first!
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
I don’t like having a lot of unfinished projects lying around. There’s such joy in seeing a project through from start to finish, so once I begin a project, I usually finish it before starting another. That being said, I always have at least 3-5 projects in rotation at any given moment. I keep my sewing projects laid flat, with all the necessary trims and buttons, in an Ikea 6-drawer rolling unit. I love this system because when I want to pick up a project I don’t have to hunt around for the thread I was using, or the bias tape that I need. It’s all right there. My knitting projects live in separate bags and fabric buckets that I keep all together in a large woven tote. It’s pretty enough to act as decor in my studio, and I like to have it out so I can grab a project whenever the urge strikes. The knitting project that I am actively working on lives in a small, silk-lined fabric drawstring bag. It comes along with me everywhere, except once a sweater grows too large!
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
A small zippered pouch, which I use to store my knitting tools, and my little fabric-covered notebooks are some of my most favorite tools. I bought them in India — I love the colors and patterns, and every single time I pull them out, I am reminded of my trip (which was the trip of a lifetime).
Do you lend your tools?
I LOVE teaching people how to knit, and so I am always loaning out my supplies and giving away skeins of yarn. I think that is another reason I have almost no stash — if I don’t have a specific project in mind for a skein of yarn, it’s most likely going to a friend so they can learn to knit. I think one of the greatest joys of crafting, whether it be knitting or sewing, is teaching others.
What is your favorite place to knit/crochet/whatever?
With two young kids demanding my constant attention, I’ll knit anywhere I can. Often I hunker down on the couch and knit in the playroom while the boys play. I knit while waiting for water to boil while making dinner. I knit once the kids are in bed — by then I’m usually in bed too, watching Netflix.
Sewing is a bit different. If I’m hand sewing a small project, I’ll take it along with me, but most of my sewing happens in my studio or in the studio of my dear friend and sewing guru Sarah. Her studio is the real deal as she designs and produces her own children’s clothing line. She has a serger and a couple of nice sewing machines, and she is just a wealth of knowledge. Plus it gets me out of the house, which is always nice. Her studio is basically my promised land! I’ve become so much better at sewing garments under her tutelage.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I love all four seasons. (Well, I’m pretty over winter this year but aren’t we all?) I definitely ramp up my knitting in the fall and winter. We live in a 100+ year-old home with no air conditioning, so sometimes knitting in the summer months is unbearable. I feel like I turn my attention more to sewing garments in the summer. I am obsessed with the Scout Tee and Wiksten Tank, which are my summer standbys. I can’t wait to make a few Purl Bee City Gym Shorts this summer. I’d also love to draft the perfect tunic pattern this summer. I’ve sewn so many tunics, and they are never quite right. This summer is the summer of the tunic — you heard it here first!
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
My dark secret, which is almost too shameful to admit, is that I don’t swatch, or gauge, or whatever you call it. Ahhh! How can that be? Now, I am a smart girl. In fact, I majored in science, which involved a ton of math. But for the life of me I cannot understand how to gauge. It boggles my mind. So for all of my knitting, I literally just take a stab in the dark and go for it (usually using the suggested needle size and a close match to the suggested yarn)! Isn’t that insane? It’s nothing short of a miracle that my sweaters all fit. My goal for the coming Squam session in June is to find a willing teacher/glutton-for-punishment who will finally break down gauging for me once and for all. Any volunteers?! [Editor’s note: Ahem.]
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently testing a children’s sweater pattern for Nadia. It is the most adorable knit, very vintage-inspired. After that, I promised Elizabeth I would knit her a sweater. We’re both pretty keen on Westbourne or perhaps Antler, which is my favorite.
On the sewing front, I’m busy finishing up a quilt for my nephew and I have plans for a few more Scout Tees, and a tunic or two before summer hits. But honestly, my closet it pretty maxed out and I’m super happy making for others right now. My ultimate crafting goal is to get my boys to wear something I knit for them. A girl can dream!
PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)
Photos by Christine Chitnis and Forrest Elliott