One of my favorite people I’ve met since moving to Nashville is Alexia Abegg. Best known as a fabric designer and cofounder of the immensely popular Cotton+Steel line, she’s also half of Green Bee Patterns (with her mother), worked with Lotta Jansdotter on the patterns for her book Everyday Style, and is a fantastic knitter. As you can imagine, what with her being a surface-pattern designer and all-round colorful person, there is a lot of colorwork and striping and freewheelingness in her knitting. (I love this note about the cardigan she’s wearing in the photo above.) So naturally I thought it would be fun to get a peek into her process, her tools and her studio.
Speaking of tools — one quick bit of business I need to get out of the way before we get started, which is I’m excited to tell you we now have individual Lykke needles available at Fringe Supply Co., both straights and fixed circulars!
And with that, here is Alexia! —
. . .
Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
If it is a fiber-related craft, I have at least attempted it, but my passions in that realm are for quilting, sewing and knitting. I also paint and draw almost every day. My mother taught me how to knit when I was eight years old. We were traveling all summer with my dad’s band, and my mom taught all of the kids on the tour how to knit and embroider. I think we hit around twenty states on that tour, we celebrated my youngest sister’s first birthday, and by the time we were back home I had almost finished what I think many knitter’s have in common as their first project: a garter-stitch, worsted-weight scarf!
I have loved making things since I can remember existing, and watching my parents paint (Dad), and sew (Mom) taught me to value creating something with my hands at a young age. I started sewing much later, and didn’t love it from the start — pre-teen impatience and sewing do not combine well. A few years later, when I was in high school, my mom let me borrow her machine and I created quite a few haphazard projects, including some little patchwork bags, and my love for sewing and quilting was sparked. My approach was often messy, and free from any of what I viewed at the time as perfectionist rules I thought my mom was unnecessarily imposing on her sewing projects. Over the years I have, of course, realized how much joy my mom takes in practicing patience and careful precision in each and every project she sews. I’m still a bit haphazard and love to work quickly, but I have learned how to corral my energy and patience.
I love quilting because it is easy to just begin. Pieces of fabric, destined to stay two-dimensional even when pieced, are free from the level of commitment I feel when sewing garments. I feel a looseness and relaxation when quilting that allows me to stay more in the process and less focused on the end result. Garment sewing is a passion, but it is more about finishing the garment I desire than about relaxing into the process.
My daily fiber fix is knitting, because it is portable and meditative, and I can still read or hang out with my husband and our two dogs in the evening while knitting. Knitting is the process I feel the most connection with in process alone. I almost don’t even need the desire for a finished object when knitting. I just love the feeling of moving my hands, touching the needles and yarn, and enjoying the colors and texture of wool yarn.
The passion for painting and drawing, and all of the fiber things, have developed into my career. Everything I do for work is directly related to the combination of these creative pursuits.
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
Oh boy, I love tools. I really, really love having just the right tool for every job, and I love discovering what those tools are. My most used and valued tools: my collection of circular knitting needles (I like wood for some projects, Addi turbo metal for others, and I hate straight needles — I just can’t seem to hold them as comfortably) and my 10″ sewing shears. My mother grew up moving all around the world — my grandfather was Air Force — and her family lived in Japan during her high school years. She was given a pair of these very same shears when she lived there, and years later she gifted me a pair and they are the best and only shears I will ever need. They are lightweight and super sharp, don’t pinch on my hand, and are perfectly balanced.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
My sewing tools are scattered in many drawers, bins and baskets in my studio. It is somewhat chaotic and I certainly find myself searching for things in different places. I am not an organized person in my workspace, and as many times as I try to create places for things, and put things back after use (it sounds so simple when I write it out!), I am just not a tidy maker.
My knitting tools are fairly organized, probably because I mostly keep those at home, and there is less space to be messy in our small, one-bedroom home. My knitting needles are logged in my Ravelry and stored in folding needle cases, and my tools are in a zippered pouch in my WIP basket on the bookshelf in our den.
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
My knitting WIPs are in an enamel wire basket on an Ikea bookshelf in our den, and I keep track of everything knitting related in a notebook and on Ravelry.
I don’t tend to have very many sewing WIPs because I usually set out needing to finish a sewing project very close to when I begin it, and that means more complete projects than WIPs. I do however have tons of fabric stash in limbo and stored waiting to become a garment, and that requires a ton of space in my studio.
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
My sewing shears I mentioned earlier are my most prized and used tool. Second to those are probably my sable paint brushes, which I actually probably take care of more carefully than any other tool I own, even my shears.
Do you lend your tools?
It depends on the tool in question, but generally speaking yes, I love connecting with my friends and family that are makers, and there is a real economy to lending each other the things we need when we need them.
What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye/whatever?
I love to knit absolutely anywhere, but my favorite spot is probably on our front porch in Spring when the weather is nice, before the terrible humidity hits in the summer.
I love sewing in my studio, which has plenty of room to spread out and make a mess!
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I’m a pretty year-round maker, but all of my making energy probably peaks two times a year: once at the beginning of spring, and again just after Thanksgiving. Those two times of year give me a lot of energy and creativity.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
When I was growing up my mom had a bumper sticker on our Toyota station wagon that read “the one who dies with the most fabric wins.” I am a shoo-in.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on my next fabric collection for Cotton+Steel at the moment. It is due at the end of March and I really love to immerse myself in each work project I take on. Whether it is a book, a new sewing pattern or a fabric line, I like to schedule time to focus deeply on that one goal for at least a couple of weeks in a row. I find I am able to break through to new ideas and creativity in ways I just can’t when I’m juggling multiple projects on a daily basis.
PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais