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.
Julie Hoover has been one of my favorite designers from the very beginning of my tenure as a knitter, and I’m happy to have learned from her and developed a friendship with her over the years. In October of 2013, I asked her if she’d be interested in answering my Our Tools, Ourselves questions and giving us a peek into her world, and she responded that she’d love to … in six months or so. She and her husband were embarking on building their dream home, most of her things were in storage, and it would be better, she thought, if she could show us the new space when it was done. We all know construction projects never go as planned, but this look into Julie’s space and process is well worth the wait!
You likely already know Julie’s designs for Brooklyn Tweed and under her own name, but make sure you’re following her on Instagram, @jgourmet, where she is a constant source of awe and inspiration! She’s also half of the team behind the Kniting with Company retreats. (Which I sorely hope to attend one of these days!) And if you haven’t listened to her Woolful interview, make sure you check that out, too.
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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
Being a fiber addict (with a BA in clothing & textiles), I’ve tried just about everything you can imagine at least once. I didn’t develop the skill until 2008, but knitting is my first love—hands down. I was living in Anchorage, Alaska, transitioning from a being a full-time art director (ad agency) back to freelance work and had recently given birth to my 3rd boy. I needed something selfish. My sister-in-law is a knitter and we scouted out the local yarn shops during a visit she made that summer. I picked up some baby llama and a pair of lovely wooden needles, and proceeded to knit a blanket. The rest is history.
Given my love for thread-weight yarns, I suspect I could easily go down the rabbit hole of weaving.
I also love sewing. For the past few years we’ve had most of our belongings in storage (due to moving and building a new home), including my sewing and overlock machines. I haven’t felt the immediate urge to start any sewing projects, but I suspect I will. My time is limited these days so I stay focused on knitting — and I’m good with that!
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
The needles I love most are my Lantern Moon straight needles in a mix of Rosewood and Ebony. I also have a full range of their circular needles. I absolutely love the feeling of the wood in my hands, but I found my tension wasn’t always perfectly consistent. In my design work gauge is critical, so I began using Addi circular needles instead and have come to rely on them. My favorite are the Rockets which have a wonderfully sharp tip.
Besides needles, my list of essential knitting tools is pretty simple: a swift and ball winder, cable needles and mini crochet hook for repairs (also Lantern Moon), blunt tapestry needles, scissors, tape measure, collarless/bulb pins, metal stitch markers (sourced from Fringe Supply Co.), t-pins, blocking wires and EZ-Sew blocking boards.
Other tools I consider essential in my design process are: sketch books (dot grid and Fashionary are my favorite), fine tip mechanical pencils and pens (.3mm or less are my obsession), Adobe software (I couldn’t live without Illustrator, inDesign, Lightroom, Photoshop), and of course the workhorse that they run on—my iMac. My Nikon and iPhone are also never far from reach.
I’m a minimalist at heart, so if there’s something not in use, it will get donated or given to someone special.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
Uh oh, here’s where I have to confess I’m a total organization neat-freak. Ideally, the more I can put out of sight when not in use, the better. I have a generous storage room downstairs from my studio space where I keep my back stock of patterns, shipping supplies and yarn/fabric stash. In my studio, I keep things in drawers or in bins. My needles are organized in DellaQ cases in natural muslin (and kept in a drawer). I don’t mind having things out and handy as long as they’re neatly arranged on a shelf, in a basket or in various wooden trays that I’ve collected over the years. I can’t stand dust collecting on things and there’s nothing worse (to me) than having to constantly move things out of the way to clean This practice applies to my entire home, not just my work space.
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
If I have something on the needles and know I’m not coming straight back to it, I will keep it in a project bag and tucked into a tote bag so I can easily grab it on-the-go. I’m currently using a few favorites: a leather Baggu zipper case and a couple of Ambatalia Bento Bags.
For me, part of “works-in-progress” means swatching, and I have piles of them. I organize them in containers labelled by yarn brand, so I can easily dive in and check on a gauge or reference a particular stitch pattern.
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
Hmm, not particularly amongst my knitting tools. I might categorize my Pfaff sewing machine that way, not because it’s unusually special but because of the memories it evokes of living in Germany during the time I purchased it. And I still treasure the Gingher dressmaking shears and tailor’s point scissors I purchased in college, decades ago.
Do you lend your tools?
Not generally, no. I am happy to lend them to someone I trust, but I’m hardly ever asked. I suppose it’s because I don’t do a lot of social knitting, and the people I do knit with are very well-equipped!
What is your favorite place to knit?
Obviously, I spend a lot of time in my home workroom/studio, but I do everything except knit in there. My favorite place to knit is definitely at home, and preferably when I’m home alone!
If I can tune out everything and everyone, I’m most happy and productive. I have two places where I usually camp out for knitting. One is in my living room in a chair by the windows (also happens to be close to the fireplace). That room is a big open-concept living/dining/kitchen area and is surrounded with floor to ceiling windows. I love the open/airy feeling of being in that part of my house, especially when I have it to myself. You can be sure I have music coming through the speakers, too. The other place I often find myself knitting (usually late in the evening or a lazy weekend day) is my bedroom, which is located next to my studio. I have a chair in that room as well, but I’m more likely to stretch my legs out on the bed. My dog Amando likes it when I choose that spot as well.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I’m definitely a four-season person. I love each one almost equally, and thankfully living in Michigan gives me the best of all of them. If I had to choose a favorite season (the one I most look forward to), it would be Autumn.
There’s no season that keeps me away from working with wool, which is a good thing because the busiest production time is during the summer months, preparing for Fall and Winter publications.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
That’s a great question, and I wish I had a scandalous answer!
I do have a serious guilty pleasure for linen fabric. Aside from just collecting yards of it off the bolt, I have a ridiculous amount of vintage linens (sheets, table cloths, giant napkins) I collected from flea markets around Europe during the years we lived in Germany. I would get up at 3am and drive many hours to scour around, and I was rewarded with the most beautifully crafted linens you can imagine … hand-hemstitching, hand-monogramming, etc. For the most part, I don’t often use them — I just love having them.
Quirkiness comes with the territory, and I don’t know if this counts as odd, but after I knit a few rows/rounds, I can’t resist stopping and feeling the fabric with my fingers. (I can’t imagine I’m the only one who “pets” their fabric!) The other thing I’m very particular and methodical about (quirky or not) is wet-blocking my projects. I let pieces soak forever and use blocking wires on every single edge/corner possible. I treat my swatches in the same way. No short cuts.
What are you working on right now?
The “actively knitting” list isn’t too long at the moment. Currently on my needles is a second sample I’m knitting of my Cohle turtleneck in Shibui Pebble. A few of my Instagram followers are doing a very low-pressure #CohleKAL with me, and anyone reading is welcome to join in. Also on my needles is a design I’m working on using mYak. I should have two patterns in that yarn (100% baby yak heaven) ready for publishing by March.
Lots of other things are in progress, in different phases. I’m hoping to self publish 3-4 designs in Shibui yarns around TNNA [the trade show in June]. There’s plans for some Woolfolk and another yarn brand (not at liberty to say just yet) I’m going to dive into, and of course my Brooklyn Tweed designs are always high on the list, as well!
PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton
Photos © Julie Hoover