I first met Denise Bayron on Instagram about a year ago when she had just learned to sew and was wowing everyone with her skills. No doubt her experience in knitting and the fashion industry were factors, but it was mind-blowing how quickly she was drafting her own inventive jumpsuit, for instance. And have you seen her knitting patterns? Last year’s chic Cardizen has just been joined by a clever cross between a head kerchief and a bandana cowl, the Hatdana. (Straight into my queue!) With more in the pipeline.
On top of her immeasurable talents, Denise might actually be the friendliest person I’ve ever met. I’ve loved getting to know her better in recent months and am excited to be able to share more of her story through this q&a. To keep up with Denise, follow @bayronhandmade.
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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
I knit, crochet and sew. I learned to crochet from a neighbor when I was 4 years old. I practiced frequently and enjoyed doing it immensely but lost the habit as I grew into my teens. I’ve picked it up again in recent years.
As a young woman living in New York, I worked in the fashion industry as the VP of a public relations agency for many years. The corporate hustle didn’t allow for much making. Even worse, I absorbed the conflicting message that quality clothing is both expensive and disposable after a season. Fast fashion diminished my self-worth because of unattainable expectations. So I quit my job to pursue more meaningful work in the personal wellness industry. Ironically, leaving the fashion industry opened me up to making clothes by hand.
A few years later, I moved from New York to Madison, Wisconsin. I was in a new city, and I had no friends. Within days of moving, I attended a fair-trade festival. The first person I met was a woman who was a knitter and the manager of a local fair-trade organization. I asked her if I could volunteer at her company. I also asked her if she would be my friend. I’m surprised she didn’t run in the opposite direction! I worked part-time for that organization for about 5 years. I was surrounded by items that were made by artisans and farmers from around the world. I grew to appreciate the beauty of handmade things, their longevity, their intrinsic and sentimental value, and the cultural lessons that can be passed down through craft.
Through my volunteer work, I was granted a visa to work with an artisan partner in Thailand. The partner ran a cooperative business comprised of women from the northern Thai hill tribes. My assignment was to teach the women English and marketing strategies so that they could compete in a global economy. These women made magic with their hands. I had much to learn from them too! After our classes, I stayed on to watch them sew, knit and embroider beautiful things. I continued traveling through eight countries and had similar exchanges in Myanmar and Indonesia too. The time I spent learning handicrafts from experienced artisans changed my life and point of view.
When I returned to the US, I continued to develop my knitting skills. Sewing, however, was still on the back burner. This all changed when I moved to California four years ago. I found myself in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a rich and diverse maker community. I searched for a local yarn shop and found the most charming shop — A Verb For Keeping Warm! It was within walking distance from my home. OMG, two steps away from heaven, right??!! The shop hosts a monthly maker meetup called Seam Allowance. The meetup is a sew-and-tell of sorts where participants pledge to make 25% of their wardrobe by hand. I was floored by the quality of the projects shared in the group, and I was incredibly inspired. I was determined to try my hand at sewing. I walked out of the shop with a pattern by Sonya Philip, the designer of 100 Acts of Sewing. Sonya’s clear pattern instructions and tutorial videos helped me complete my first sewing project — a pair of pants! That success gave me the courage to keep sewing and later try my hand at drafting.
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
In a dream world, I am a monogamous knitter with one set of wooden needles and only enough yarn to knit the project that I am currently working on. In the real world, I do, in fact, have only one set of interchangeable needles. However, I need more cables to hold multiple WIPs.
In a past interview I vocalized my dislike for the clicking of metal needles. Never say never, because I’ve had to eat crow after working on a recent lace project. I found myself searching online for Addi Turbo Rockets. I didn’t buy them, but my little heart wants them so badly.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
I try to keep my tools to a minimum and buy the best quality and most beautiful tools I can afford. As far as organizing, I keep my yarn stash in two baskets on my sewing table. I also have one bookshelf where I store my fabric and hand knit projects. Next to that bookshelf I keep a couple of bolts of fabric standing upright on the floor. A local friend and shop owner offered to sell me 120 yards of tencel for $100! This offer was a no-brainer, so I immediately broke my own minimalism rules and rushed to her home to pick them up. She also gave me some garment-quality cotton, linen and wool as a gift. It was a total score!
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
I live in a tiny apartment in Oakland. I don’t have a dedicated studio for my work. My bed is two feet away from my workspace. I’ve placed two long Ikea desks side-by-side to make one long surface along the wall. That’s where I cut fabric, sew, knit, work on my laptop and drink hot coffee. Multi-tasking sometimes means that there is fabric on the dining table, yarn in baskets under my favorite armchair, and scrap paper on the bed. It’s not always pretty, but stuff gets done. I have to thank my partner who is the most organized person I know. He does the cleaning and sorting while I cuss at the dropped stitches on my needles and grade my patterns.
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
The tools I use the most are my Lykke interchangeable needles, Gingher shears, and Merchant and Mills snips. I love the Cocoknits stitch stoppers. I also use the black Magpie stitch markers that look like big safety pins as progress keepers. This year I also invested in a new knitting bag. It is the Twig and Horn crossbody project tote. I have the Fringe Supply Co. Field Bag in a matching toffee color and the Fringe leather tool pouch. Now everything is matchy-matchy and beautiful.
Having said that, I used to keep my projects in a Ziploc bag inside of a ratty Fjallraven backpack. Although I love a pretty bag, and sharp shears are essential for cutting fabric, I want to avoid repeating the negative messages I received from the fast fashion industry. More isn’t always better.
Do you lend your tools?
Not really. Not because I’m cheap, but because it has never come up. My maker friends all have beautiful tools of their own!
What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye/whatever?
I do most of my making at home. My home is tiny but cozy. It’s clean, quiet and smells nice. My new favorite candle is Teakwood by Wax and Wool. I’ve tried knitting in cafés and in the park, but really, my home is my haven.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I knit year-round. Some knitters complain about working with wool in the summer, but I live in California. We get chilly coastal winds at night which is the perfect climate for knitting. I tend to sew mostly in the spring and summer. This year I want to try my hand at sewing a swimsuit. I have my eye on the Sophie Swimsuit by Closet Case Patterns.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
No dark secrets. Quirks? Loads of them! I love neutral colors and work with them almost exclusively. If there is a pop of color in my stash, it is probably for a gift. I also look for yarns and fabrics that don’t shed much. I am careful to avoid lint because my hair is styled in locs. As a result, I stay away from mohair and alpaca. I realize I’m missing out because the “halo” is beautiful, but I don’t want fibers to get stuck in my hair!
What are you working on right now?
At this very moment, I am editing how-to videos for a new knitting pattern called the #hatdana. The Hatdana is unique and versatile accessory that is both practical and beautiful. It works as a bandana to hold your hair away from your face, but it is slipped on like a hat. It can also be worn as a cowl with the bandana in the front like a kerchief. I’ve been sharing sneak peeks on Instagram every day this week in anticipation of the release. I am so grateful for the positive reception it has gotten so far.
I’ve just wrapped up testing for another pattern, and I have several other designs in the queue. My proverbial plate is full, and my heart is happy. Thank you for allowing me to share my ideas with you.
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Thank you, Denise!
PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Izznit
Photos © Denise Bayron, used with permission