Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

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.

You can find Alexia on Instagram as @alexiamarcelleabegg and on Ravelry as alexiastitches.

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

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.

For fun I am knitting some socks, swatching an Ondawa in Junegrass, and making a baby sweater for my friend Sarah’s baby.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

In recent months, Beth Thais — I mean, @beththais — has become one of my very favorite Instagrammers. You may recall she was also one of the WIP of the Week winners last summer. I don’t really know anything about her other than that she’s an incredible sewer and knitter, takes beautiful photos and lives in the Bay Area. Since encountering her online, I’ve wished I had made friends with her while I still lived there, and having asked her to answer my Our Tools, Ourselves questions — reading her answers and seeing these photos — has made me wish I had moved in with her. Forgive me if that sounds creepy, but I think you’re likely to feel the same way. ;)

In addition to her Instagram feed, you can find her on Ravelry as beththais. Thanks so much for doing this, Beth!

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I knit (14 years running), sew (five years) or quilt (two years) almost every day. I enjoy spinning and crochet on occasion. I dyed my first-ever skeins of yarn last month and I liked it.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I get attached to the potential tools bring, and their sentimentality. Like fabric on the bolt, it’s easy to pick up a tool and picture all things you could make with it — that sense of possibility is so heady and hard for me to resist.

I do most of my sewing on a modern Bernina and a Brother serger that I researched and bought deliberately. And my rotary cutter and mats and my first good pair of sewing scissors were the same. Most other things I use, including the 1950s Gimble sewing machine I learned on, are things I’ve stumbled across online or at garage sales, or I am lucky to get them as gifts from family or friends.

And I know it’s bizarre, but I just don’t care that much what kind of needles I knit with. Metal, wood, circulars, DPNs — I care about the yarn and the pattern, everything else is background.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

I have a big cabinet for yarn and another for fabric. The fabric cabinet was pulled out of the dining room of a 1920s home in Burlingame, California, before demolition and came to me by way of Craigslist years later. My husband restored it and installed it in the spare bedroom I use as a workshop. He did such a beautiful job — it looks like it’s been a part of our house for a hundred years.

My yarn cabinet is a 1930s kitchen cabinet with stove burner etched glass that I bought from a woman downsizing her home in Oakland. She had used it for many years to hold painting and ceramic art supplies, so it’s on a second tour of duty storing tools for making. My rolled sewing patterns are in a ceramic umbrella stand I found at a garage sale. Boxed patterns are in two baskets in an order I can pretty much recite but has no real organization behind it.

I have a yellow standing sewing box that I treasure. It’s a bizarre little piece of midcentury furniture built entirely with making in mind: pin cushions on the inside of the lid, dozens of little pockets lining the inside for your tools and notions, a deep curved bottom for your sweater or hand sewing project in progress, and little wheels so you can drag it all around the house with you. It is incredibly useful, but also so specifically built to my purpose that I can’t help having an affinity. We share interests, it and I.

When my projects leave the house, I have little tool kits to go with them. Tasa Gleason came to a monthly Seam Allowance meeting at A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland with a Sew Together bag she had made. We all loved it and kept after her until she agreed to teach a class so we could each sew our own. I have a full-sized one for hand sewing and the mini size for knitting. They have built-in pin cushions and needle stops and a million pockets and I know by heart what goes in each one.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

With exceptions for gifts made on a deadline, I give myself freedom to work on what inspires me. I use a big bulletin board to plan projects obsessively when it suits, but also wait for that idea that bewitches me out of nowhere. Some of my most euphoric makes are completely unplanned and heady with that sense of giving into a wonderful whim.

My Snoqualmie cardigan sent me on a bus to buy yarn on my lunch break, and I cast on during my commute home despite not having the right size needles to do a tubular cast-on properly. So one sleeve starts with a long-tail cast-on and it looks a little different than all the other hems, and while I completely get that most people think that’s totally nuts, I don’t know … it’s never bothered me. I look at that cast-on that doesn’t match and remember how much I loved that sweater when I first saw it, and how thrilling it was to turn around and suddenly be making something so beautiful and complex with my own hands.

This approach begets many active projects. I have a drawer for sleeping or misbehaving WIPs, and an accordion wall rack that has the ones I’m rotating between more frequently. I’m a huge fan of the Stowe Bag for active projects — if I end up with more WIPs than bags, I can always make more. There is literally a Stowe on the project rack that has pieces of other Stowes-in-progress inside.

I’ll pick the project that speaks to me and head to my little rolling sewing box if I’m working around the house, or grab the right travel bag if I’m headed out the door. It’s a system that works surprisingly well, and I’m grateful for the freedom to have most days start with thought and a decision about what I’ll spend time with.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I inherited a beautiful blue spinning wheel that has been in my husband’s family for generations. I spin on a modern wheel, but think about restoration.

I have a small gold thimble from my husband’s grandmother. There’s a scissor case that looks like a pizza slice that I made on a whim that I’m bizarrely attached to and take everywhere. My husband is a geologist and my pattern weights are all rocks he’s brought home over the years.

I have a standing mirror that was the mirror my mother-in-law shared with her sisters in their room growing up. The table that holds my sewing machine and serger is an old oak desk built for two people to use facing each other. The drawers open in either direction, which I adore, and it’s full of weird little corners and drawers that I fill with patterns and notes and books and tools.

Do you lend your tools?

About two years ago, a woman at an improvisational quilting class who was much better at improvisational quilting than I was gave me a 12 x 12 ruler because she had a spare and I didn’t have one yet. It felt like a validation of the skill I was trying to learn, and support of the work I had left to do. I will lend anything and give most things if you need them; I believe in our community and the support we can give each other.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye/whatever?

I work away from home and I have young children who don’t nap anymore, so nights are my creative time. And I’ll get up much earlier on weekends that I ever do during the week, and have the sun come up while I’m cutting out pattern pieces if I’m feeling ambitious, or sit on the couch with sleepy pets and knit and think about the day. It’s a meditation, a beginning and end of the day I always recognize.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I’m consistent in my inconsistency; seasons tend not to change my approach.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

I knit everywhere, I sew everywhere, but I only feel like spinning if it’s 75 degrees and breezy and I can sit outside, listen to music and have a glass of wine. It happens maybe four times a year and it is transcendent.

I take a project with me everywhere; it’s like a comfort object. The one day I leave the house convinced that bringing a WIP is silly will be the day I get a seat on the train and that train will break down and spend 45 minutes stuck in a tunnel. If you happen to meet me in the supermarket, know there’s at minimum a sock-in-progress somewhere on my person.

What are you working on right now?

I have a crocheted afghan that lives in a basket on top of a cabinet. Knitting feels the best to me, but I’ll crochet a square every few weeks just for the feel of something different in my hands. There’s a Furrow Cowl by Jared Flood that’s been my project of choice for a few weeks and is nearing the finish line, knit off a treasured cone of Sally Fox’s naturally colored cotton.

My most ambitious undertaking is an English paper pieced quilt called Patchwork of the Crosses, designed by Lucy Boston. It’s my first hand-sewn quilt, my first English paper pieced project. Weaving, crochet and spinning are enjoyable, but I’ve never found them captivating the way I do knitting and sewing — and I think I assumed I had found the two types of making I’d love most. But I folded the two first little fabric scraps around paper templates and stitched the edges together and I knew immediately that I’d do this forever. It’s such a surprise and a gift, to find another thing to fall in love with.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Photos © Beth Thais

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer (that’s me!)

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Today is the 5th anniversary of my first post on this little ol’ blog of mine, originally known as Yarnover.me. I’m not sure I’ve ever really introduced myself properly (although there was the “welcome” post when I changed the name to Fringe Association a year later), but since I get regular requests to feature myself in Our Tools, Ourselves, I thought today might be a good day to do it. In many ways, I’m a completely different person than I was when I set up the blog and made that first post. At that moment I was working as a web producer in San Francisco — I had a good job I was miserable in, had recently lost my garden and had no real creative outlet, and then I learned to knit. Five years later, this blog and Fringe Supply Co. are my full-time jobs. My husband and I now live in Nashville TN, where we are blessed to be able to own our home, and one of my oldest and best friends, DG, works with me at Fringe, which occupies a big studio space in a crumbling old building in the rapidly “gentrifying” Germantown neighborhood. It’s impossible for me to interview myself about my tools and organizational systems without it looking like one giant Fringe Supply Co. promo, but really it’s the opposite. Fringe is a reflection of my life. The things I sell in the shop are there because I either love and rely on them and want to make them available to you, or I designed them to fill a want or need of mine, and get to share that with you, too. So here’s how it all plays out in my world—

In case there’s anyone not already following along, I’m @karentempler and @fringesupplyco (and @slowfashionoctober) on Instagram, and karentempler and fringeassoc on Pinterest.

Before I get started, whether you’re brand-new here or have been reading the whole time, thank you for being here!

Oh, and! if you’ve asked someone to get you a Porter Bin as a gift, make sure they know they have two chances today: 9am and 12pm CST. (Along with another surprise ;)

Ok—

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I’ve at least dabbled in all of the above except for spinning, but knitting and sewing are where it’s at for me. While I’m fascinated by spinning and weaving, I’m happy to support the amazing yarn-makers and weavers in the world and spend my own time turning the fruits of their labor into clothes.

I crocheted and sewed as a kid — hadn’t crocheted since, and sewed only very sporadically over the years — but didn’t learn to knit until the Fall of 2011. Obviously that had a huge impact on me, since it’s now the thing my universe revolves around. When I began knitting garments for myself, it brought me back to sewing and into the Slow Fashion movement, and really changed everything about how I approach my wardrobe. (See Why I make my clothes for more on that.)

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I’m a purist and a minimalist, in all aspects of life — I like natural materials, things that are the color nature made them, and not very much of anything. I try to keep it clean and spare and utilitarian, so that’s also what I look for in my knitting tools and accessories — and how Fringe Supply Co. came to be.

I only knit on circulars and DPNs — don’t own straight needles. When I was first knitting, I didn’t want to buy an interchangeable set because I was sure my preferences would evolve beyond bamboo and I didn’t want to commit to any one set, so instead I spent a small fortune buying new circs in every size and length every time I started a new project. Then I fell in love with Dreamz, asked for interchangeables for Christmas one year and wound up with two sets, and have been building up my parts and DPNs collection. But given what I said above about natural and undyed and all, you can imagine how I feel about the color-coding. :/ Now that I’ve found Lykke, I’m switching over! They’re the needles I’ve always longed for and I’m thrilled.

Other than needles, my tool kit is pretty basic: stitch markers, scissors, tapestry needles, a ruler and tape measure (wish I could find one I truly love that isn’t a cheap plastic giveaway sort of thing), pencil, eraser and Knitters Graph Paper Journal. Basically one of everything from my Tools collection! Lol. I use a DPN for a cable needle (if anything) and annotate my work (if needed) rather using a counter.

But I have to say, my very favorite “tool” is Fashionary templates. I’m literally addicted to the perforated sheets. Any time I pull them out and start sketching, I fall into a sort of trance of happiness, and they are all over my workroom — stuck to the wall, stacked on tables. In addition to enjoying the act of sketching and thinking through ideas, and paging through my drawings, they are the thing that has had the single greatest impact on my ability to envision and make things that are really smart and useful additions to my wardrobe. You can see how much I rely on them (and how I use them) if you look at my Wardrobe Planning series. I love them more than I can say.

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

All those individual circs and my DPNs are kept in a vintage 4-drawer metal file cabinet thing — like a card catalog, I guess — that I got at the flea market. Rarely touched these days. My interchangeables are in the case they came in, along with extra cords and stuff. I usually stick a pair of scissors in every project bag, and the other tools are next to my knitting seat, on little metal trays so it looks a little less random or messy. All of the needles plus my blocking supplies, a bin of not-in-use project bags and totes are all kept on the shelves under my worktable.

I don’t own very many sewing patterns, so they’re just stacked into an old soda crate on the shelf. Traced-and-cut pattern pieces are hung on S-hooks on a rod on the wall. And a Turkish tire-rubber bin holds rolled large-format patterns and tracing paper, oversized rulers, and so on.

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

I’m a fanatic about this, as you might guess. I mean, I’m an organizational freak to begin with, and I take project bags so seriously I built a business designing what I wanted, right? I’m very fortunate in our current home to have an extra bedroom I’ve made into my little workroom. There’s a desk that’s shared between my computer and sewing machine, a little Ikea worktable in the middle of the room, and a wall of Ikea Ivar shelving for storage, and that’s where my WIPs live. In the past, they were sort of floating around our loft with no good place to go, in a random array of bags. Which made me want to minimize the number of WIPs at any one time, but that’s also when I was the most profligate about casting on. So it all felt very out of control to me.

The shelves in my room now hold everything — books, patterns, WIPs, yarn and fabric — and they’re my portion control system. I’m not allowed to exceed the capacity of this wall — truly, if it doesn’t fit in there, I’ve gotten carried away. There’s one row of shelf that’s designated for WIPs; it fits four Porter Bins and two Field Bags, so I can have four sweaters (or sewing projects) and a couple/few smaller projects in progress, which is more than I actually care to have going at any one time. (There’s a Porter prototype at one end of the row, full of fabric scraps, that prevents me expanding the WIP container count any further!) But I LOVE this system. When it’s time to knit, I love going in and pulling a project off the shelf, and then I love replacing it on the shelf when I’m done. It’s so tidy! (This is how big a nerd I am.) And it really does keep my cast-on-itis in check. In reality, or ideally, I have one or two sweaters in progress in the Porters and the other two are just holding yarn for whatever’s next.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

The things that are my own creation are obviously special — the Field Bags, the Porters, the leather stitch marker pouch. My pouch feels like an old friend at this point. It’s darkened with age and use, but I’ve also spilled wine on it, etc., so it has a lot of character. I also have a couple of little bowls that were made by friends: two ceramic ones from my studio neighbor Morgan at Handmade Studio TN, one of which holds back-up stitch markers (I get itchy if I don’t have a lot of stitch markers around the house) and the other of which holds my sewing pins; and a little wooden one by my friend James of Handy Dandy Productions that also holds stitch markers and sits in the metal trays next to my knitting seat. He made us some of those for the shop this holiday, which made me really happy. Hopefully he’ll do it again sometime!

Yarn-wise, I have a number of treasures. Small-batch yarns made by good friends or that I’ve found on my travels — like the Sawkill I bought from an awesome farm couple on my first trip to Rhinebeck. Having special yarns like that makes me think really hard about what to do with them that will both honor their characteristics and take up long-term residence in my closet. Likewise, the fabric my friend Allison made for me, which I have yet to come up with the exact right project for! I take a long time to decide what to do with my treasures, and that feels entirely appropriate to me.

Other than that, my cousin recently sent me my eldest aunt’s dress form from when she was much younger. We are not a family with a lot of heirlooms — I have two things in my house that come from my family, and this is the third. It’s teensy (maybe size 4?) and in a little bit of disrepair. So I plan to treat it more as a decorative object than one for use, but I am really touched and happy to have it. (By the way, I get asked a lot about my dress form — the one pictured here. It’s just something I got by searching “collapsible dress form” at Amazon.)

Do you lend your tools?

I never really have occasion to! I do have that little cabinet full of all those old bamboo circs that I would be more than happy to lend out or give away! If you’re local and in need, hit me up.

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye?

I knit either curled up in the corner of my couch or in one of the hanging chairs on my screened porch, weather permitting. And there’s nowhere on earth I’d rather be than knitting in the hanging chair on my porch. But I also love knitting on my brother-in-law’s boat. When we visit them in Florida, we go out deep-sea fishing and I don’t really fish. But I love being out on the ocean, no civilization anywhere in sight, camped out on top of the cooler box under the bridge (in the shade) with my knitting, watching and cheering.

And I sew in my little sewing room, although that’s what I dislike a little about sewing — it makes me feel a bit trapped. Although obviously there are worse places to be trapped!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

What effect do the seasons have on you?

When we lived in Berkeley … well, there really are no seasons there (it’s just always chilly), and I could never understand why people with seasons didn’t knit year-round anyway. Don’t people in hot places have air conditioning? Don’t you still want something to do with your hands while watching a movie with your spouse or whatever? But now that we live in the South, I kind of get it. I still knit in the summer but there’s no urgency about it so I get a lot less done. And there are times, even with a/c, where the idea of touching wool is just unthinkable. Fortunately, it’s brief!

By contrast, I feel much more motivated to sew in the summer — both because it’s what I can do to make the clothes I need and want for the warm seasons and because the kinds of things I can sew (at my skill level, I mean) are more likely to be warm-weather clothes. Little tops and skirts and stuff. In the cool seasons, I’d way rather be curled up working on a sweater.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where you fiber pursuits are concerned?

I guess my dark secret is sort of like Monica’s hall closet nobody wondered about until near the end of Friends. I’ve just told you all about my nice tidy wall of shelving and how everything is required to fit into that. But there is a big basket in my bedroom (like the size of a cooler) full of abandoned WIPs and ball ends and who knows what — stuff that predates my current system. I swear here publicly today, for all to see, that I will have it cleaned out before Spring. And I’ll have reclaimed about a dozen Bento Bags in the process!

My quirk is that I knit cross-legged or with my feet tucked under me, so I find it awkward to knit in public or a classroom or anywhere I have to sit in a chair with my feet on the floor.

What are you working on right now?

Right now all of my attention is on my Channel Cardigan. I’ve been on about that pattern for years now, and it has finally made it to the number one position in my queue. I just finished a small-gauge (for me) stockinette pullover and had major project fatigue by the end of it, despite absolutely LOVING that sweater. (OK, I still have the seaming and ends to do.) But Channel is reminding me just how much I love to knit.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

Photos of me, tool tray and hanging chair by Kathy Cadigan

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

I met Ashley Yousling in person for the first time when she came to a Sit Knit Shop Sip gathering I had in the original Fringe studio back in Berkeley in late 2013, after we’d been online acquaintances for awhile. Since then she’s gone from @ashleyyousling to @woolful, launched her beloved Woolful podcast, and moved from San Francisco to a ranch in Idaho, where she and her husband are raising a son and a whole bunch of fiber animals, and aiming to one day build a mill. She’s been featured here multiple times in the past (don’t miss her guest post about her first sweater) but, especially given the major changes in her life/style — going from Silicon Valley graphic designer to yurt-dwelling Idaho rancher — I’ve been eager to get a closer look at her increasingly fiber-rich life. I’m so glad she agreed to answer my Our Tools questions, and know you’ll all enjoy this — thank you, Ashley!

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

Knitting is my first and forever love. It made several appearances throughout my childhood and teenage years, but never gripped my attention for good until the birth of my son. The needles haven’t left my hands since.

There are so many gifts that come from knitting — calming my mind, keeping my hands busy (fulfilling my desire to always be productive), exploring ingenuity in existing designs or your own, and the gift of the finished product whether for yourself or someone else. In my opinion, it’s one of the ultimate physical expressions of love, knitting for someone. The amount of thought, care and time put into the piece, every stitch, every row. Everything I’ve knit could tell a story of its own, its role in my own personal and fiber journey. The Mysig cardigan I co-designed and knit for the Tolt Farm to Needle book last year … knitting that design saw me through a very painful time in my life. Gosh, if stitches could talk.

I am very new to spinning and it’s coming in as a close second to knitting. I didn’t expect this at all — in fact, I was nervous to give up any of my sacred knitting time — but it’s actually filled a gap that knitting hasn’t. There’s a cadence to spinning that’s highly entrancing in a very giving way. I get a lot of calming energy out of spinning with lightweight focus and little energy put into it. A wonderful way to wake up in the morning. I’m getting to explore the fibers in a completely new way as well, learning their unique personalities and qualities. At the start of the year I began chronicling my spinning journey in a project called 52 Weeks of Wool. Each week I spin a different breed of wool or fiber from a fiber farm somewhere in the world, and I then share about my lessons in spinning, the specific wool and the farm it came from. It’s a lot of fun.

A couple years ago I began naturally dyeing, and it quickly became a fun hobby and way to explore the plants around me. I host a quarterly natural dye club through my little online shop, where I pick a small farm yarn base and then dye it with plants foraged from our property here in North Idaho. While I do love naturally dyeing, it’s a tremendous amount of work, and I’m learning I prefer to incorporate this as a Spring/Summer activity rather than a Fall/Winter one. My husband David and I are taking a mushroom workshop this Summer, and I’m really looking forward to being able to better identify mushrooms in and around our land, and eventually dye with them. It’s incredible how many colors you can get from mushrooms.

I do also sew, although not as much as I’d like to. I learned to sew when I was 6, when my mom had me attend a Summer sewing camp. We were taught how to sew three garments from patterns, and then at the end of the camp we had a fashion show for all of our families. My maternal grandmother is an amazing quilter, as was my great grandmother. My paternal grandmother was a maker and sewer that I can only hope to be one day, and together they’ve all instilled in me this strong passion for textiles and fiber. I have a strong desire to replace and add pieces to my wardrobe with garments I’ve made, but I haven’t yet been successful at carving out time to do so. Now that we’ve moved away from the city and have more space, I’m looking forward to upgrading my sewing machine and making use of the fabric cupboard, which is full of amazing colors and textures I’ve collected, just waiting to be used.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

My go-to needles are Knitters Pride Karbonz circulars and Brittany DPNs. I love the pointy tips of the Karbonz and smooth grip of the carbon. Brittany needles are so smooth and are a joy to knit with, I hope they’ll carry circulars one day.

Once I find I really like something, I stick with it. I knit continental, and I often find my gauge is on the larger side and have to go down a needle or two. I’ve been considering trying wood circulars again to see if I can remedy this, as I tend to knit tighter with wood needles. But in all honesty, I’ve tried very few brands of needles. Maybe I should get adventurous and try others, and see if there’s something else I love more.

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

My tools are organized in two bags: one I bought at your studio in Berkeley and one David got me from a little shop in the Dogpatch. I keep my DPNs in a prototype roll-up case I made. But if I’m being honest, these three are often haphazardly organized. I let Coltrane play with all of my needles and notions — it’s a way to keep him busy and feeling involved when I knit. David lets him explore his cycling toolbox, and I let him explore my knitting “toolbox.”

We converted an old milk parlor on our ranch to a charming little studio for my dyeing and other making. I love to work out there during the Spring and Summer, but it’s not equipped for the colder months. Soon we’ll be installing a little pot belly stove and electricity. Right now it houses a workbench with shelves for tools, a double burner propane camp stove, a table we made from a slab of Madrona, some crates we made into shelves and some wooden toolboxes and trays we’ve collected at antique shops over the years. One of the walls has a growing collection of fiber-related finds. It’s a welcoming and rustic space.

All my spinning takes place in front of the wood stove in our yurt. I store my fiber along with my yarn in a large cedar chest David bought me a couple years ago. My wheel lives next to the couch.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

I used to be a monogamous knitter, but I have since graduated to multiple WIPs. I have a handful of Ambatalia Bento Bags, a Field Bag and, my absolute favorite, the large black canvas tote from your shop. Every project has a bag — usually my most active project gets the Field Bag, and the large canvas tote goes with me everywhere, whether I’m working from a cafe in town or traveling back and forth to SF for work.

We have yet to unpack all of our wonderful antique wooden bowls and baskets since our move to the ranch, but I’m looking forward to having my “catch-alls” back. I like to keep my largest wooden bowl by the door for whatever pleases me. I treat it like you would a key catch-all, but for yarn and WIPs.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

The first thing that comes to mind is the large black canvas tote — it’s the thing I never knew I needed, but now can’t live without.

I’m really blessed to receive some wonderful things from listeners of the podcast, and each touches me so much. Someone sent me a beautiful collection of vintage natural dye books along with natural dye sample cards from the ’70s, I love those.

All the wool and fiber that folks are sending me from their flocks and fiber animals for my 52 Weeks of Wool project has been some of the most beloved gifts so far. From their farm and loving care to mine … it’s pretty special.

It’s such a shame that tote is history — I love it as much as you do. Do you lend your tools?

I love teaching or encouraging people to knit, and helping ignite a passion in fiber arts, so I will oftentimes give them a pair of needles or yarn to get started with and grab a replacement pair of needles online or when I’m in the city. A good friend of mine and I often talk about one of our primary goals in life is to be experiential philanthropists. I see fiber arts and Woolful as this, so anything I can do to encourage the gift that keeps on giving, that’s where my heart is at.

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye?

Currently I do my most productive knitting while traveling — whether in the car, in an airport, in a hotel or on a plane. However, my favorite place to knit is at home in our quiet off-the-grid yurt, on my couch or bed, as cozy as I can get, with a cup of tea, some dark chocolate, and watching what’s going on out in the pastures.

I haven’t done a lot of knitting in groups, but I’m starting a local fiber night in our small town so I soon will!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I love all seasons, but Fall and early Winter have a special place in my heart. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, so I’m used to the rainy (read: cozy) days and making the best of them with my knitting. Since moving to Idaho, I’ve been enjoying the more defined seasons and all they have to offer. Amazing dye plants during the Spring/Summer and woolly inspiration in the Fall and snowy Winter.

I knit year round, and nothing stops me from knitting with wool, even in the couple hot months we get during the Summer. There’s a renewed fervor with each season, to start new projects and finish others. This will be our first Summer where we’re caring for livestock and a large greenhouse, so it will be interesting to see how that affects my making.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

I have a habit of bringing 4-6 WIPs with me when I travel, for fear that somehow I’ll run out of things to do, or because I think I’ll actually make it through all of them.

My guilty pleasure is collecting antique and vintage fiber-related items. Primitive yarn winders, spools, bobbins, shears, hand carders, drying racks … and anything with a sheep on it or made to look like a sheep. The local shops know me as the sheep lady.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a few designs for a collection coming out this Fall by one of my favorite brands, along with wrapping up a couple of self-published designs for Little Woolens.

I just counted how many WIPs I have, and I think I’m at 6:

1. Just about to finish the Morning Glory cardigan by Pam Allen in Swans Island Natural yarn, for David’s grandmother’s birthday in a couple weeks
2. Portland Pullover by Carrie Hoge from Taproot Magazine in Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter, for the Woolful Knitalong
3. Lucinda sweater by Carrie Hoge in Moeke Heritage yarn
4. Rikochan shawl by Melanie Berg in Quince Owl
5. A sample of a hat design for Little Woolens
6. A sample of a mitten design for Little Woolens

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

Photos © Ashley Yousling

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

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.

. . .

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

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!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

Photos © Julie Hoover

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

Australian multi-crafter Victoria Pemberton is one of those people I fell for on the Internet before knowing she was a knitter. A year or two ago, a bunch of Aussies I follow on Instagram were suddenly all talking about a really amazing sounding pop-up that was happening, and it involved repeated mentions of one @vic_pemberton, whose shibori home goods were really beautiful. After following her for a little while, I was thrilled to discover that not only does she dye and sew, she knits! And I’m happy to be able to give you a glimpse into her world today. Thanks, Vic!

Be sure to check out Vic’s blog and her gorgeous wares at Bind | Fold.

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I knit for pleasure, and also for the resulting product. I had three goes at learning to knit, and the third time is the one that stuck. I was 6 months in to being a mother, and I wanted to knit my son a jumper. I just went for it — I was so determined that this time I was going to ROCK at knitting. I was very slow, and I knit an awful sweater, and it was a struggle. My finishing was pretty rubbish, but then I learned about all these great things like mattress stitch, and kitchener stitch and knitting in the round, and OMG continental knitting! Switching my yarn to my left hand was the clincher for me — I could suddenly knit 3 times faster, with better tension, and I could hold both needles up at the same time.

I am also a sewer. I had wanted to sew a quilt for a really long time, and one day I borrowed a sewing machine from a friend and I made a quilt! And it was amazing! After that I got really into it — I bought my own sewing machine and made a few quilts. These days I sew mostly items for sale, but I also like to sew clothes for myself and my son when I can. I’d really like to learn how to make jeans and jackets. I love both of those things very much.

Finally, I am also a dyer. This is my work, my life, and the craft I pursue more than any other. I work with indigo and I have what feels like a living relationship with my work. I took up dyeing when my son was one year old (I seem to measure everything by his age), and it was summer and I wanted to give it a shot. I’d been thinking about quilting again and textile design, and dyeing looked like a good start. It was immediate and hands on. I used cold water dyes for awhile, but I became interested in traditional dye techniques, discovered shibori and then moved to natural dyes.

otos_vic_pemberton_crafts

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

For knitting, I use knit pro bamboo circulars. A woman I met on the internet put me onto them quite early on in my knitting journey and I’ve never used anything else. I really like that I can just change the tips and I’m good to go. I do need to look into getting metal ones for smaller sizes, though. I must have freakishly strong hands because I keep snapping them.

My sewing gear is quite limited. I have my trusty Bernina, my universal or microtex needles, and either cotton or poly thread depending on what I’m making. I don’t really deviate outside of that. Oh yeah, and scissors. Everyone get ready to cringe: I
cut paper with my fabric scissors all the time!! Arrgh!! Sorry internet.

For my dye tools, I love a good C clamp, a pipe and a well-twisted piece of cotton string. I’m also quite partial to bathroom tiles for using as a resist — it’s always interesting when you clamp them too tight and they crack. It can do really cool things.

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

Ok, my secret is out. I am an extremely organized disorganized person. I suffer from what I call “organizational fits.” These usually come about after “creative fits” where I have so much going on in my studio that I can’t find or do anything.

With my knitting, I’ll put all my needles, cables, tapestry needles, and stitch markers and string and tiny scissors in a basket. Then over the course of a few weeks, that basket gets full, so I reorganize into smaller baskets of stuff, grouping similar objects. This then deteriorates to stuff just being everywhere in random baskets, bags, cases and surfaces as I use things, change needle tips and start new patterns. My needle tips just end up everywhere, most recently I’ve been putting them in my random tool jar on my desk.

My sewing and dye tools are pretty much stored in the same way. They all have specific homes, it’s just they don’t get to live in them all the time.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

Ah, I’m not too bad with this one. I’m a one-project-at-a-time woman, most of the time. For knitting I used to just “store” my WIP on the back of the couch, and stuff the pattern pages down the side of the arm where I sit. But we got a puppy a few months ago and she is obsessed with my knitting, and she steals it and eats it! So now I have a basket up high next to the couch, and I only keep the project I’m working on and the tools I need for it in it, until it’s done. All within arm’s reach at the end of the day, ready for my next knit marathon. So far the dog has left it alone under threat of being forced to sleep on the floor.

My sewing works-in-progress get piled (neatly) all over the studio, on the ironing board, my desk, the back of my chair, and they just get moved about from all these really visible places. I leave them out to remind myself to “do some work!”

My dye works-in-progress just get to hang out in buckets with lids on them until they’re washed out. Then they join the piles in my studio. These then get organized into cupboards and shelves during one of my “organizational fits.”

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

No :( I should get some. I do love all my tools, though — they’re so useful. I’ve just asked a farm where the owner is also a spinner to hand spin me some top that I’ll dye first for a jumper. So that will be a splurge and it’s going to be a great project once it happens. It kind of makes me want to learn to spin too!

I suppose I do have one thing that is special. I visited Hiroyuki Shindo recently and I bought a new little pouch from him, made from his dye work. It’s my new knitting bag.

Do you lend your tools?

Well I haven’t so far, but that’s because I’m a bit of a solitary crafter. I do let my students use my tools when I’ve got a workshop on, does that count?

I’ve been trying to convince my husband we should do a “knowledge swap.” Where once a week, we teach each other something about things we love doing. I want to teach him to knit, and I said he could teach me computer programming, but he doesn’t seem that keen. I don’t think he has any faith in my geek abilities. I don’t know if I could lend anything, though; What if I
need it? Maybe I’ll buy my husband his own set of needles. Now I know what to get him for his birthday.

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/crochet/whatever?

My fave place to knit is on the couch, in front of the telly, or while listening to an audiobook. I have it all set up, with a little lamp so I can see my knitting late at night. My feet are on the coffee table. I have a cup of cocoa, and my basket of knitty things is beside me. On weeknights our dog curls up and sleeps beside me, and on weekends if I’m lucky my son comes and
sneaks in under one arm and we’ll watch a movie together. It’s pretty special actually. I sew only in my studio, and I dye only in the yard. If it’s really really pouring rain and I have to work and I only have small things to dye, I’ll work in the laundry. I don’t like to though, because there isn’t much room and it’s a white room. Every time I drip dye on the floor I freak out a little that it will stain. It hasn’t yet, but I still worry that it will.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I knit almost all year round. Last year I took maybe a two-month break around November. I think because it was quite hot, I was busy with work and next winter seemed so far away that I just stopped! I guess I sew more in summer, I’m obsessed with short sleeve tops made out of linen and other lightweight breezy fabrics.

I do like to knit in summer though, I feel like I’m preparing for winter. I like to have at least one sweater finished by March/April because that’s when it starts to get cold here. Sometimes to get me into the groove, I’ll watch movies or TV shows that have snow in them. It totally works! It just makes you want to get cozy.

I sew and dye all year around, since it’s for work, but boy, dyeing outside in winter can really be brutal. Last week I had three work days in a row where I needed to be outside dyeing, and we’ve just had what is being referred to as an “antarctic blast” — kind of like the polar vortex you had in the US, but milder I suppose. It wasn’t mild for us though, it was 2 degrees outside the other day! I spent all day with my hands in cold water in 2 degrees!

In summer though, gosh it’s great. It’s sunny, warm, and just relaxing. I think I could definitely get into being a seasonal crafter. I never used to like summer until I became a dyer, but now I kind of love it.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

When I first started sewing, I felt like building a stash was really important. I was really into quilting, and I loved all the great quilting fabric you could get, so I amassed quite a bit of it. The thing is, though, I never sewed with it. I ended up selling it, because I’d always find a different project that it wasn’t right for. I do have some amazing linen that I just bought in Japan, which totally makes me a hypocrite, but I have very real things to make with them, they’re not just for a future not yet thought of project.

So I guess I don’t really believe in having a stash! The same goes for my knitting. I like the immediacy of picking a project and the yarn at the same time. It makes it exciting. It’s a thrill. More of a thrill, I think, than finding a great pattern and then thinking “Dammit, now I have to use up some of the yarn I have, and it’s all BORING.”

No guilty secrets or quirks for my dyeing. However, I do really enjoy the different scents of most natural dyes. Is that weird? Some of them just smell like a warm hug.

What are you working on right now?

I am just sinking my teeth into the new Koto pattern by Olga Buraya-Kefelian. I love how structural it is; I’m really excited by it. It reminds me of Japanese architecture, concrete slabs and minimalism. I find it organic, geometric and soothing. Hopefully that makes sense! The yarn I’m using for it is from a farm called Tarndie, about two hours drive from Melbourne. It’s an amazing place and the owners are the descendants of the family who bred Australia’s first sheep, the Polwarth. It’s amazing yarn and I actually love it so much that my last three projects before this used their yarn. It’s incredibly soft and warm. For dyeing, I’m doing some new exciting stuff too, actually. I’ve been keen to try out some new ideas for awhile and I’m finally getting around to it. At the moment I’m trying out different resist techniques on different fabrics. Hopefully I’ll have something to show for it soon!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Marlee Grace

Our Tools, Ourselves: Marlee Grace (Have Company)

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

I had the pleasure of making Marlee Grace’s acquaintance last summer at a shopkeeper’s retreat she co-organized, and she’s since become one of my very favorite people — daring and real and hilarious and imaginative. Her newest bold move is to turn part of her beloved shop, Have Company, into Grand Rapids’ only yarn store. She’s been gradually adding small-batch yarns and basic tools to her lineup, and now has the opportunity to become a Quince and Co stockist (for which she’s currently raising money through a Kiva Zip campaign — go have a look). It’s been great fun watching her expand her knitting and sewing skills over the past year, and I’m pleased to share a peek behind the scenes today at her life as a maker.

You can find Marlee on Instagram and her blog, and don’t miss her podcast!

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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

My personal passion is for knitting, although at Have Company I hold space for and am happy to participate in all of the above. Except crocheting. I tried twice, and it feels so unnatural to my body it might be my least favorite thing I’ve ever tried. Other than drawing. I am very bad at drawing.

It wasn’t until this last year that I broke through to knitting things that aren’t rectangles and squares made out of acrylic yarn. I first started knitting at age 12 for a brief time and immediately loved it and how it soothed my ADD. My life shifted toward a dance career and going to college to get my BFA, and I didn’t pick up needles again until 2011, around the time I decided to give up a nasty drug and drinking habit. I’ve stayed sober ever since, and my knitting practice has been a huge part of that journey. Not just the miracle of having something to do with my hands, but lessons in messing up, making mistakes and pushing through to the end, and holding a beautiful garment made from scratch.

I love sewing patchwork and hand quilting and especially passing on this tradition in the form of my blanket making crash course: Improvisational Quilting, or How There is No Messing Up.

My latest discovery is making CLOTHES! I jumped in with Dress No. 1 by Sonya Philip and hosted a sewalong on Instagram. I have found that jumping in to other people’s knitalongs and sewalongs, and hosting my own has been an exceptional way for me to stay accountable to projects that I would otherwise not finish, or more importantly never start.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

Bamboo circular needles from Clover are my jam, and I just started using (and carrying) birch needles from Brittany Needles. I recently finished the first part of the Moto Vest using those and was really pleased with the smooth, buttery feel of knitting with them.

Since I still consider myself very much a novice knitter I’ve been thinking of trying some metal needles of some sort. I saw a friend knitting with some steel ones recently and was wildly impressed with her speed. To be honest, the first time I ever picked out needles wood ones just looked prettier, and I never looked back or thought much about it.

In terms of sewing tools I have ONE very sacred tool which is the THE IRON. That’s the next tool I’d really like to upgrade and invest in. The iron I have is just a good ole $13 one, but it’s incredible what a little steam and heat can do to a garment or quilt top, changes everything and is so satisfying.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

I store my circular needles on a nail in the wall. Not glamorous by any means but incredibly inexpensive and efficient. Easy to find and grab. My straight needles I have in a mason jar and in a vase made by my friend Kate Lewis.

I store all of my notions in a variety of vintage containers — an old blue tool box, and this coral set of lil drawers is my absolute favorite that I got at a vintage flea market in town. I find that having designated places for things is a huge help in putting them away when I am finished using them. I also use a vintage bar cart and old wooden crates to store my fabric.

I also carry around everyday tools in a small Bookhou pouch I got from Fringe Supply ;) The waxed canvas is perfect for my tapestry needles, measuring tape, pens, tiny scissors, stitch markers. The things I use every single day do not leave my tote bag.

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

Baskets, bowls and sacks. I carry whatever I’m working on in a little hand-sewn project bag I made out of hand-dyed napkins, and when I am working on something at home I put it in a basket next to the couch. I have other baskets and picnic baskets in my studio that hold yarn yet to be used.

I use the top bin of a lil Ikea cart I have to hold bigger WIPs that have been set aside. I usually don’t do that, but lately I have been starting projects and not finishing them, partly because I don’t know how to do the next thing (short rows help me plz someone help). So now they have a pretty place to go that I can see them. I am afraid if I tucked them away they might be lost forever.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

Lately my biggest splurge or investment is on nice yarn. I visited Oakland this month and went to A Verb For Keeping Warm and picked up 5 skeins of Pioneer yarn from Sally Fox’s farm. I have to say it almost feels a bit intimidating to have such a beautiful straight-from-the-flock yarn like that.

I also really value my “non-making” tools, like my flower essences, tinctures and stones I carry around for protection. Not to get too woo woo for y’all but I find that taking pause throughout the day to recalibrate is an integral part of my practice.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

Do you lend your tools?

I feel like I lend my iron and ironing board out the most. It’s incredible how few of my friends own these things. I also LOVE gifting Frixion erasable pens to people. I always carry a few around just because they change people’s lives. You can draw all over fabric and then all you have to do is iron over it and it disappears!

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/crochet/whatever?

My couch. Alone. Watching TV. That is my happy place to knit. If I’m sewing I like to be in my studio (which I feel so lucky to have a whole room to myself in my home!!) and listen to podcasts and sew, or sometimes knit. Part of why I like the couch in the living room is that John (my partner) works from home, so if he is cooking or walking around the house it feels like I am sort of alone but not really. I like to call that “alone time with others.”

What effect do the seasons have on you?

Oh, you mean like seasonal dark sadness? No but really, the seasons are a huge reason why I stay in Michigan. I love them. The winters here are no joke — cold and dark and so much snow. And the summers and fall are some sort of paradise that you wouldn’t believe. I’ve really enjoyed building stamina over the last 27 years to get through the winters and emerge into summer. I can see it reflected in my creative practice. I definitely knit and sew and do all of the things in all of the months. I think there is a different … care or something that happens. In the winter I am reflective, tending to hone in on reading and research, and then in spring and fall I tend to really crank out a lot of work, and in the summer I share it. Or jump in Lake Michigan.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

My guilty pleasure is continuously adding to my vintage craft book collection. I have so many quilting, sewing, embroidery, etc books in the basement of Have Company. We had a show last fall called Quilt Mountain and we set up the Quilt Library. It was incredible how many old crochet magazines and funny knitting books we found. I love to cut them up and make flyers for events at the shop or just look at the old photos.

Another quirk is that I do this weird tick with my hands when I finish a row. I click my rings together and sort of flick my wrist. I’ve never told anyone that, so you’re welcome blog world.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I am knitting Farmhouse by cabinfour with Shelter by Brooklyn Tweed. I also just ordered a kit from Wool and The Gang to knit the Lola Cardigan, I have had such intense sweater fear and feel like this will be a good place to start.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview with Marlee Grace (Have Company)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Whitney Ott

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Photos © John Hanson