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.

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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!

. . .

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

Our Tools, Ourselves: Whitney Ott

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: Whitney Ott

A couple of years ago, I became Instagram friends with a photographer named Whitney Ott — whose feed features exquisite photos of food and flora and her awesome dog, Scout, among other things — not knowing at first that she was a knitter. Eventually that became apparent, and I also found out that her mother even owns a yarn store (which soon thereafter became a FSCo stockist). We got into a big email exchange about all sorts of things, and I asked her at one point if she’d be interested in doing Our Tools, Ourselves, but it got lost in all the other chatter. Two years hence I renewed the invitation, and today — at long last — my wish for a peek into her knitting life has come true! (My motto for the week seems to be good things are worth waiting for.) Thanks, Whitney!

You can find Whitney at her website and on IG as @ohhellowlo.

. . .

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

When I was around the age of 12 or 13, my mother taught me how to knit. She’s been a knitter for as long as I can remember and I am glad that she decided to pass on her knowledge to me. Knitting is such a therapeutic activity for me that I can’t imagine doing anything else. The rhythmic click of two needles, luscious yarn and a comfortable chair are so very rewarding.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I have been a fan of the Addi Turbo circular needles for a long time, and I think I own duplicates and triplicates of most sizes. I tend to mainly use circular needles regardless of the project. When I use DPNs, I like to use wood because it tends to bend a little with my knitting movements.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview: Whitney Ott

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

Every part of me wants to tell you that I have everything very neatly organized inside some kind of beautiful wooden chest. However, this is sadly not the case. To be fair, most of my yarn is in a designated area and either stored up in canvas bags or in a bin. My knitting patterns are the most neatly organized of the lot. I keep all of my knitting books together on a bookshelf and all of my loose leaf patterns are kept in a giant binder.

It’s the needles that seemed to be scattered everywhere. True story: After a day of running errands, I came home and saw something weird coming out of one of my rolled up sleeves. It was 24″ Addi Turbo connector. I have also walked out of the house wearing a set of needles around my neck by accident. Such is my life.

My husband and I are in the middle of moving from a loft to a house, and I am embarrassed by all of the stitch markers, loose DPNs and other accoutrements that I have found scattered everywhere. I am going to try to be better about my storage system in the new place.

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

I have many canvas bags that have permanent homes by the sofa. Some of those bags have smaller bags inside them that have the smaller projects in them. Do knitting chests exist? If so, I want one.

I used to be that person who had five to ten projects going on at the same time. I started to notice that projects weren’t getting finished, and some were being forgotten. So, the last couple of years, I have been making a concerted effort to have no more than three projects going at the same time. It’s really difficult to do because I am like every other fiber enthusiast and want to knit everything.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I’m going to count my ability to knit as my prized possession. Like I mentioned already, my mom taught me how to knit, and I am just so glad she did. Her mother and her mother’s mother were also knitters. You could say that knitting is part of my lineage. I never had the chance to know my grandmother, so for me knitting is like having a connection to her.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Whitney Ott

Do you lend your tools?

I’ve never had to lend my tools to anyone, but if I did, I would probably only lend things to my mom or someone that I really trust.

What is your favorite place to knit?

My preference is to either enjoy knitting by myself or with my mom and/or aunt. Like I mentioned earlier, knitting is more of a therapeutic activity, so being part of a knitting group wouldn’t be too relaxing for me. I like to focus more on the knitting and tending to light conversation. I also tend to zone out when I’m knitting, so I probably wouldn’t make for good conversation.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I would say that I’m an all-seasons knitter. Even though I live in the south, I will still knit with wool in the summer.

Our Tools, Ourselves interview: Whitney Ott

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

The first fair isle sweater I knit, I didn’t do a proper job of checking my gauge. What I really mean to say is I didn’t check my gauge at all. I was too stoked to be starting such a fun project! The finished size is perfect for a small child instead of an adult. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too upset by the outcome. The joy of knitting it far outweighed the final piece.

I’ve obviously learned from my mistake and force myself to do the gauge swatch, but if something doesn’t work out, I don’t go crazy. I don’t feel like all of my knitting has to be perfect, so I am very forgiving of minor mistakes or errors I make. It’s probably a cliché to say it, but I kind of like having a small “mistake” in my knitting. It makes it unique!

What are you working on right now?

Currently, I am working on Slope, from Shibui’s newest pattern line, and also my husband’s first hand-knitted sweater, which is the Rift pattern from Brooklyn Tweed’s BT Men Volume 2. We’ve been married for almost two years, so I figured it was time he got a sweater. However, I have a lot of projects I want to start! I’m trying to pick yarn for some pillows that I want to knit for our first house together. I’ve got some friends who are having babies, so I am having fun picking out sweet little hat, blanket and animal patterns. I also want to knit an afghan. The list never ends!

Our Tools, Ourselves interview: Whitney Ott

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

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Photos © Whitney Ott

 

Our Tools, Ourselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

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, Ouselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

When I was first knitting and trying to make friends on Twitter — in the days before the knitting community migrated largely to Instagram — one of the first people to follow me (back?) was called @pinkbrutus, a rather memorable name. Her real name is Courtney Spainhower, and in the Instagram era, hers has become one of my very favorite feeds. Courtney is one funny lady, and I’m happy to have her in Our Tools today. By the way, I asked her where the name comes from and she said she and a friend were brainstorming her rockstar name for one of those web quizzes one day, putting random words together, and they settled on Pink Brutus — not knowing that was apparently the name of a professional wrestler once upon a time. That was enough to seal it.

You can find her on Instagram, Twitter and Ravelry, as well as at her website.

. . .

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

I am a knitter straight to my marrow, but that wasn’t always the case.

I learned to crochet first, at age 13, taught by my aunt on a quiet afternoon. She was doing her duty and passing the craft to the next generation, just as my great-grandmother had handed the hook off to her. I dabbled a little with crochet until my oldest was born and I lost interest entirely. I have also tried my hand at the dye pot (my oldest still says she smells yarn every time the twang of vinegar is in the air), and at the drop spindle, and the spinning wheel. In fact, I purchased a very inexpensive drop spindle soon after I learned to knit and began practicing day and night. I ordered a spinning wheel soon after because with my degenerative autoimmune disease I just couldn’t hold my arm in the air any longer! It took me three hours to figure out how to assemble that spinning wheel. During those three hours, my children were wailing in agony from boredom and possibly because in all the excitement I had neglected to fix dinner. Needless to say, my husband was thrilled to come home from work to find two half-starved children on the floor and a “little house on the prairie looking thing” in the living room. I’ve even had a go at sewing, quilting, cross stitch, and embroidery. However, none of those endeavors ignited me in the same way knitting did. Though I really enjoyed dyeing and spinning, I knew I could easily buy expertly dyed yarns from a passionate yarnie and be far happier with the result. The same rang true for spinning — however, especially in the warmer months when knitting becomes more laborious, I still enjoy the meditative whirl of the wheel.

So, to the knitting. When I was expecting my youngest in 2006, my mother-in-law took a knitting class at a local craft store. I begged her to teach me but she only knew how to cast-on and work the knit stitch. I learned what I could from her and the rest on my own from books, online tutorials, and of course, many YouTube videos. There are a few reasons for my continuing love of the craft: Knitting is portable and takes up very little space (until you make career of it, but that’s another story) and I create via process and was a ceramics major in college with a printmaking minor. Process is where I feel most at home, and knitting is the ultimate process craft — from swatching to knitting, ripping, frogging and blocking (not to mention all of the extra when we throw design into the pot) that I’ve never become bored or felt I’d learned all there was learn. It’s an expansive craft, perfect for my restless little soul.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I love my circular needles. I have two interchangeable sets — one plastic, one metal — and a random collection of wooden points. Because of the nature of the design cycles I have many duplicate sizes so that I can knit two or three samples using the same size needles without having to pull tips and cap cords.
I have whittled down my tool collection over the years, but I’m by no means a tool snob. I do prefer my wooden points to all others simply because I love the way the points feel against my fingertips as I work. I have little knitting ticks, like running the point lengthwise on my index finger at the start of every row, and so I am in fact searching for a third set to round out my collection in wood.

I use double points only as necessary but I have two sets of those also, and a set of tiny 4″ DPNs that are just the cutest.

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

This is probably the single most difficult part of the craft. Storage. I have a small work area that houses the bulk of my yarn and tools including sewing machines, the spinning wheel and blocking tools. A picture of my storage area went viral a few years ago when I first decided to hang my hanks on two inexpensive, adjustable curtain rods. I still use this system — it’s practical and lovely. For my double points and hooks, I have two large glass jars for quick access, and a tall, slender floor basket holds my blocking wires. I think circular needle storage is the toughest for me to settle into. I’ve tried dozens of methods; bought the little needle holders, made my own, thrown them into a storage box, hung them from rungs … . There has to be a better way. Right now, all my circulars, spare cords and point sets are tossed in a storage box with a needle gauge. HA! It works for now.

Our Tools, Ouselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

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

This is a tale of two baskets. One is a lovely chicken-wire basket with two hinged handles gifted to me by my mother, which lives in my workroom. The other is a large rice basket that I purchased from Fringe that lives next to my couch or chair or anywhere else I have settled in for work. The rice basket houses the most pressing projects with the nearest deadlines. I will keep swatches and all the yarn needed to complete the projects in a large plastic zipper bag in the basket, along with the needles I’ll need, and a pouch of notions, needle gauges and snips. This gives me little reason to break concentration in the midst of a particularly productive session to grab those double points I need for the sleeves or the tape measure to check the body length. Any WIPs I take on the go are tossed straight into my Bento Bag. I was lucky enough to receive the bag as a surprise gift from the mother of one of my closest friends. She’s an amazing woman who has actually become the queen of surprise knitting gifts around here.

The chicken-wire basket houses the “next” or “recently wrapped” projects. If I have a self-published piece in full swing and receive yarn for a publication sample, the self-publish goes right to the chicken-wire basket. Any yarn left over from a sample I finish and don’t need to return will also get tossed into this basket until I’m ready to sort and store it.

This system was born from necessity after wrapping up the dozens of samples for my book. For that undertaking, with maybe fifteen samples with the same deadline, I invested in a large system of racks with sixteen wire drawers. Each drawer held the yarn and sketches for one sample with the swatch pinned to the front. When the sample was not in-progress, or after it was finished, it went straight back to the drawer. When I no longer needed those massive organization strategies, I honestly couldn’t break from it completely to return to my previously less organized non-system.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I don’t feel like any price tag on yarn or tools is a splurge at this point (it’s all for the sake of progress, right?) but there are a few things I hold dear. For any sketches that need to be submitted, I go to my Micron pens and Fashionary templates, and I use Stitchmastery software for all of my charting. I don’t use much else in the way of software, though I am diving into the depths of Illustrator so that I can produce my own schematics (for self-published work). We’ll see how that goes!

Other than that, my swift and ball winder are my most valued tools outside my needles, of course. I made the mistake of buying the ball winder first. I knew I wanted to be able to wind hanks into cakes quickly and jumped to the conclusion that the ball winder would do that for me. Don’t most people make that jump, or is it just me? Well, it does its job very well if you have a method for holding the hank. For anyone considering one or the other, since they can each be pretty pricey, please do yourself a favor and start with the swift. You can happily hand-wind a ball from a swift and may never even need to invest in a winder!
No one told me that, so I would often post pictures on Instagram of my hank holding methods during a ball winding session — draping the hank over a chair, around my knees, and my most trusted, on my husband’s outstretched arms — and cried out to the universe one day that I needed a swift. A few days later a mysterious package appeared at the front door. It was long and thin and very heavy for its size. My husband saw the shipping label from Amazon, sighed, and slapped his forehead in dread. (Remember the spinning wheel story?) I swore up and down that I was innocent! I hadn’t purchased anything and I couldn’t begin to guess what treasure was sealed inside. When I pulled the beautiful wooden swift from its bubble-wrap cocoon, I declared a knitting fairy was responsible. I posted a picture on Instagram asking if anyone knew how this lovely swift magically appeared and my dear friend called me soon after. She said her mother had seen the picture and called her to asked what a knitting “swiffer” was, then ordered one for each of us. See? Queen of surprise knitting gifts.

Do you lend your tools?

I don’t tend to lend my tools out and, now that I think about it, I don’t even lend my tools to my students when I teach classes. I have duplicates of everything for practical purposes, and I suppose I may be more attached to my systems and my tools than I previously thought!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

What is your favorite place to knit?

I’m surprised there isn’t a crater in my couch where I spend most of my mornings and afternoons! Because I’m normally writing or charting as I knit, I sit squarely on my couch with my laptop and notebook within arms reach at all times. I would love to be able to knit in groups, abandoning this reclusive life! It can be tricky though, since I’m rarely just knitting along or following a pattern and so conversation is the enemy. Many times I’m working on something for an upcoming publication and I tend to feel a bit strange about answering that big question in every knitting group: So, what are you working on?
I miss the early days when we had a large group that would get together weekly and all the kids were small — we would knit little hats for each other’s children and laugh to tears sharing our recent knitting fails. Even though those days weren’t destined to last, as kids started school and many of us had to return to the work force, I’ve come to know the distinct line that forms across the threshold from knitter to designer.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

Other than having to crank the air up in the summer so that my yarn isn’t sticking to me, the seasons make little difference. With most design work, schedules dictate that you’re knitting all summer for patterns featured over the holidays or whipping up summer frocks while snow drifts down in heavy flakes. This used to really mess with me, especially when you consider social media. It’s not always easy to be knitting off schedule from the rest of the western world, but like anything else, eventually it becomes the new normal.

Our Tools, Ouselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

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

I do not condone “start-itis.” I fell under its spell early on, as many crafters of any kind do. The banishing of multiple projects sprouted from a new year’s mantra “multitasking is the enemy of progress.” I dumped out every basket, bag and corner of my life with a WIP stuffed inside it, and I began frogging everything. That included old sewing, spinning, crochet and cross-stitch projects also. Any yarn I didn’t love I tossed into a donation bin, and the rest I washed and re-hanked. It was one of the smartest decisions of my crafting life. The determination to purge, focus and cleanse with wild authority opened me up to moving forward rather than turning back and wondering why I had started those socks, remembering the frustrations I had with that cable panel, or cringing at the cheap, old yarn I bought on day one of my knitting journey. It freed me from the guilt of not finishing what I had started and instantly provided me with thousands of yards of beautiful yarn that had literally been tied up.

At this point you may be scratching your head because I talked previously about how I manage my various WIPs. This is something that was actually very challenging for me when I slipped into a designer role and had multiple, sometimes overlapping, deadlines that needed to be met. I had to take a step back and visualize the differences between multiple deadlines and “start-tis” which may be very clear to an outsider (professional vs personal), but I had re-wired my brain to only allow myself one project on the needles at a time. In fact, I had spent the previous five years working one project at a time because I was finishing projects more quickly, having an incentive to do so (especially if I found another project I was itching to start). I still prefer to work up a single project or design from start to finish before moving on to the next — I believe it is the root of why I tend to not only meet but exceed my deadlines.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, the biggest project I’m working on is my book. The knitting and writing is done, but that — I’ve come to learn — is the easy part. There is a thick mash-up of excitement and anxiety churning inside me as I sink into the process of approving edits and facing promotion schedules.
If you’re an independent designer, you have to hustle — always. So, I’m also working on various pieces for book contributions right now — two for an upcoming Interweave book along with another Knit Picks pattern. I’m also working with editors on final reviews for three additional patterns. I can’t share any details of those, of course! That’s why I’m always excited to see pieces I worked on ages ago reach publication dates — and it’s about that time for Pom Pom summer (eep!).

Self-published patterns are about as close as I get to personal making anymore. I can share at my discretion and I design to fulfill a knitting itch. If I feel like knitting a long cardigan with pockets, I’ll design one! So, right now in addition to the book and the publication work, I have one sweater queued up for self-publication and one that I just released last week. The Adrift Pullover just came out of testing and became available on Ravelry last Wednesday. It’s a really sweet little sweater knit using Malabrigo Rastita, from the bottom up, in the round, seamlessly, with set-in sleeves (also knit seamlessly), and some really different yoke shaping. It’s comfortable and casual but has a lot of detail packed in. The other is the Freya Cardigan. If you follow along on IG, it’s the dove grey piece with spicy orange mosaic work and pockets. I absolutely LOVE this sweater. In fact, I’ve hardly taken it off since pulling it from the blocking board. This one is worked up in Northbound Knitting MCN, from the top down with a gorgeous circular yoke. It’s also completely seamless, about hip length, and features mosaic front panels along with front pockets. I need to send it out for full testing yet, so this will be a fall release. Hopefully I won’t wear holes into the sample before then!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Courtney Spainhower (Pink Brutus Knits)

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Photos © Courtney Spainhower