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.
I’ve sung Anna Maltz’s praises before, and if you follow her on Instagram — where she’s well-known as @sweaterspotter, originator of #fairislefriday — you already know she’s a true original and a yarn fiend par excellence. (If you don’t already follow her, be sure to take a stroll through her colorful feed.) I love the way the world looks to her, so naturally I wanted to hear her responses to the Our Tools questions and get a closer look at her London creative space, and she did not disappoint. Thanks so much, Anna!
Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
All of the above! I am constantly picking up new skills from other people, books and online – I love it! I also learn a lot through the teaching I do: by coming into contact with the skills, enthusiasm and imagination of my students. It is inspiring to work alongside experts and newbies, as both push creative boundaries in quite different ways. Of all the craft skills I use, I am most committed to knitting. I learnt from family and friends when I was 5 and took to it seriously in my mid-teens, half a lifetime ago.
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
I am very project specific about the knitting needles I use. It doesn’t just depend on the shape and construction of what I’m making; colour, temperature and location all factor in. Circular needles are especially great for travelling, as it’s easier to not have the stitches escape en route – they pack well. However, I actually find a good pair of straights more forgiving on my wrists. I have a big collection of vintage ones and I do like to have the colour of my needles compliment my yarn choice. I generally prefer metal needles, except if I plan to knit at the cinema (or in a lecture or meeting), where wood, bamboo or plastic is a must. Metal would just be downright anti-social!
Those little removable stitch marker clips that Clover makes – the ones that look like stumpy plastic safety pins in turquoise and orange – LOVE THEM! They used to be unavailable in England, so I’d stock up on my travels. And I love their pompom makers.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
I share a studio. It’s my biggest extravagance, even though it’s an essential. It’s my main organisational tool as it is where I store all my other tools. The temptation to organise and archive runs strong through my veins, so much so that it can steal time away from making things. I try to go easy and admit that colour sorting my button collection is for the greater part a pleasure, rather than a necessity.
I like to use what’s at hand rather than spend lots (money and time) in the quest for perfect solutions. That said I couldn’t live without shelving, drawers and boxes. My circular needles are stored in recycled envelopes by individual size, marked on in mm/US/UK. Crochet and latch hooks are stored in reclaimed tins (aka cans) either with the paper labels ripped off, or ideally tins that have a nice print on. I keep my regular and short DPNs by individual size in little cases I got in Ifugao. They are sewn from fabric woven by local women who are now friends.
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
Only my WIPs are allowed in the flat, everything else stays at the studio. It’s small and cosy, so we need to stay on top of tidying or else it gets crazy. I have rescued a number of woven wicker baskets from the bins that conveniently fit under the couch and two armchairs; that is where my projects go.
I annotate my WIPs with little swing tags (like for prices or luggage). Invariably when I return to a project after a few weeks (having thought I wouldn’t put it down till it was done) I won’t remember the details I thought I would never forget. Notes really help. They are quicker than reverse engineering.
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
I keep a beat up old Texas Instruments calculator in my Take-With-Me-Tools Pouch. I have had it since secondary school. It has a holographic sticker on it, applied by a friend, from a guarana cola bottle (words well worn off by now). I’m not quite sure I would call it ‘prized’, but I would miss it and it would be weird without. I bought myself a proper knitting calculator, but haven’t actually started using it.
Items that truly are prized … I have a filing cabinet with letter-sized drawers from my New York grandparents. It’s where all my buttons, ribbons, rikrac, dyes, glitter and googlie eyes are kept. My Dutch grandmother’s loom is in pieces right now, but I hope to set that up and use it one day. She was a professional weaver.
Do you lend your tools?
Yes. I try to keep track of what’s out on loan with a sort of library card system. Of course I need to be pretty sure I won’t need whatever it is until it’s returned, but hey, I know where you live … . The quality of what I lend will be based on what I think your skill level/need is and how much I like you/likelihood of you returning it. When I lived in San Francisco for 5 years, it was really nice to know my sewing machine was being used by a good friend, rather than gathering dust. These things are all made to be used and often hold up better if they are.
What is your favorite place to knit/crochet/whatever?
A big part of the reason why I started using knitting at art school was the fact that it is an inherently social practice. Rather than being an archetypical artist, suffering alone in a garret with my paintbrush and at most a naked lady or vase of flowers to keep me company, I wanted to do something that was portable and social. Knitting is generally taught to us by friends and family and worked on in good company over juicy conversations. What we make is often for someone else.
I have measured the increase in my knitting skills over the years by where I can knit – starting with needing to give it my full attention, I’ve risen through music to talk radio, then television and on to subtitled films at the cinema. Of course it depends on what I am knitting, not just because of how complex it is. What I take on the bus or train will be something I am happy to answer questions about. I don’t always feel like explaining it’s a gorilla, or lying that it isn’t one. If I am knitting in company, I will try to work on something that requires less attention: no counting through big repeats. For this reason I think of garter stitch as the social stitch: it is fab for when the conversation flows thick and fast.
All that said, if I am working on a pattern, I do need some quiet.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
Temperature is definitely a consideration — a giant hot fluffy pile in your lap is ideal in the winter, but a major sweaty drawback when it’s sunny. I still love knitting in the summer, when I can take it out to sit on a park bench and people watch. If I’m lucky, someone will sit next to me and pull out their knitting.
I love doing stranded colourwork in cotton, or open knits in linen. Dyeing is also something I prefer to do in the summer, when I can splash it around outside.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
I really don’t like following patterns, but I love looking at the pictures.
What are you working on right now?
Where to start!? I am trying to wrap up loose ends on all the patterns I have half complete, so that I can publish them and start on new things with a clean slate. I am thinking about the next patterns for Ricefield Collective, excited to be working on a music video with Nina Miranda, looking forward to writing regularly for PomPom magazine, and … I really should start blogging.
PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Noelle Sharp (Aporta Textiles)