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

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.

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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.

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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)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Christine Chitnis

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Photos © Courtney Spainhower

Our Tools, Ourselves: Christine Chitnis

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: Christine Chitnis

I first met Christine Chitnis while at Squam Art Workshops last summer. She teaches a class at Squam and online about how to get your work published (whether it’s writing or patterns or photos), called Pitch Perfect, which I didn’t get to take. But we somehow met at the beginning of the weekend and hung out a bit, and I’m not sure how I would have pulled off my table at the Squam Art Fair without her hauling me and the goods around the campgrounds and generally being a delightful and helpful person. In addition to being a talented writer and blogger, Christine is a great photographer, so I was curious to see what her creative space looks like and hear about her relationship to her tools, and I’m so happy she obliged — it’s not often I run into someone so tidy they make me feel like a slob, so I enjoy the experience!

In addition to her blog and class, you can find Christine on Ravelry as lavenderlime.

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

My two great loves are knitting and sewing, though I do occasionally crochet. I learned to sew from my mom and for that reason sewing will always hold a special place in my heart. She was such a patient teacher and I have so many wonky little doll quilts to show from my early years. My mom has never been a knitter, so when I expressed interest in learning she took me to the sweetest little knitting shop in our town and there I learned. I was twelve years old. Because, you know, that’s what most twelve-year-old kids are dying to do! Let’s just be honest here — I was not a part of the cool crowd, but I’d like to think I’m super cool now to make up for it ;)

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

It’s funny: I’m really picky about the yarn and fabric I use, but I am not very particular when it comes to tools. I’ve always used whatever I have on hand. For example, I bought my sewing machine off Craigslist for $35. It is a decades-old Singer and has no bells or whistles, but it gets the job done and I love it. It’s similar to my mom’s sewing machine, which she inherited from my grandma. Newer machines, with all their fancy parts, tend to scare me! As for knitting supplies, when I started I would just buy the needles I needed for the project I was making so I have a hodgepodge of different needles. One day I’ll invest in a really nice set … maybe once I get my two toddlers through college and they stop using my needles to sword fight!

I love collecting vintage sewing notions — old spools of thread, interesting scissors, and scraps of old quilts. One of my favorite places to find bins of this stuff is at Brimfield, the huge annual antique show in Massachusetts. These tools and notions serve more as inspiration, though I do use them in my crafting.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Christine Chitnis

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

I am a bit ridiculous in my organization. I don’t like clutter, so I keep my supplies and studio space very clean and well organized. I have a tiny stash. (I pretty much buy for projects, which means I only ever have little odds and ends of yarn and fabric left over.) I keep all of my supplies on a large, open Ikea shelf that lives in my studio, and for all of the unsightly supplies, I keep them in white storage boxes that fit perfectly on the shelves. I like my supplies to be visible, but in an organized fashion. I keep my yarn in a small basket, and my fabric stacked by color. I keep my thread organized by color on a thread holder, and I keep my needles arranged by size in a fabric roll. Typing that out I realize how anal retentive that must seem, but the truth is, I just like how it looks when everything is in its place. It gives me clear head space to focus on my projects. I am definitely someone who needs a clean desk/studio before I can get down to making.

It’s also worth noting that I share my home with three boys: my husband, a 4-year-old, and a 2-1/2 year-old. My studio is my happy place — everything is clean, white and free of little fingerprints! The rest of the house … not so much. The boys are welcome to join me in the studio — the only rule is we wash hands first!

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

I don’t like having a lot of unfinished projects lying around. There’s such joy in seeing a project through from start to finish, so once I begin a project, I usually finish it before starting another. That being said, I always have at least 3-5 projects in rotation at any given moment. I keep my sewing projects laid flat, with all the necessary trims and buttons, in an Ikea 6-drawer rolling unit. I love this system because when I want to pick up a project I don’t have to hunt around for the thread I was using, or the bias tape that I need. It’s all right there. My knitting projects live in separate bags and fabric buckets that I keep all together in a large woven tote. It’s pretty enough to act as decor in my studio, and I like to have it out so I can grab a project whenever the urge strikes. The knitting project that I am actively working on lives in a small, silk-lined fabric drawstring bag. It comes along with me everywhere, except once a sweater grows too large!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Christine Chitnis

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

A small zippered pouch, which I use to store my knitting tools, and my little fabric-covered notebooks are some of my most favorite tools. I bought them in India — I love the colors and patterns, and every single time I pull them out, I am reminded of my trip (which was the trip of a lifetime).

Do you lend your tools?

I LOVE teaching people how to knit, and so I am always loaning out my supplies and giving away skeins of yarn. I think that is another reason I have almost no stash — if I don’t have a specific project in mind for a skein of yarn, it’s most likely going to a friend so they can learn to knit. I think one of the greatest joys of crafting, whether it be knitting or sewing, is teaching others.

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

With two young kids demanding my constant attention, I’ll knit anywhere I can. Often I hunker down on the couch and knit in the playroom while the boys play. I knit while waiting for water to boil while making dinner. I knit once the kids are in bed — by then I’m usually in bed too, watching Netflix.

Sewing is a bit different. If I’m hand sewing a small project, I’ll take it along with me, but most of my sewing happens in my studio or in the studio of my dear friend and sewing guru Sarah. Her studio is the real deal as she designs and produces her own children’s clothing line. She has a serger and a couple of nice sewing machines, and she is just a wealth of knowledge. Plus it gets me out of the house, which is always nice. Her studio is basically my promised land! I’ve become so much better at sewing garments under her tutelage.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Christine Chitnis

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I love all four seasons. (Well, I’m pretty over winter this year but aren’t we all?) I definitely ramp up my knitting in the fall and winter. We live in a 100+ year-old home with no air conditioning, so sometimes knitting in the summer months is unbearable. I feel like I turn my attention more to sewing garments in the summer. I am obsessed with the Scout Tee and Wiksten Tank, which are my summer standbys. I can’t wait to make a few Purl Bee City Gym Shorts this summer. I’d also love to draft the perfect tunic pattern this summer. I’ve sewn so many tunics, and they are never quite right. This summer is the summer of the tunic — you heard it here first!

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

My dark secret, which is almost too shameful to admit, is that I don’t swatch, or gauge, or whatever you call it. Ahhh! How can that be? Now, I am a smart girl. In fact, I majored in science, which involved a ton of math. But for the life of me I cannot understand how to gauge. It boggles my mind. So for all of my knitting, I literally just take a stab in the dark and go for it (usually using the suggested needle size and a close match to the suggested yarn)! Isn’t that insane? It’s nothing short of a miracle that my sweaters all fit. My goal for the coming Squam session in June is to find a willing teacher/glutton-for-punishment who will finally break down gauging for me once and for all. Any volunteers?! [Editor’s note: Ahem.]

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently testing a children’s sweater pattern for Nadia. It is the most adorable knit, very vintage-inspired. After that, I promised Elizabeth I would knit her a sweater. We’re both pretty keen on Westbourne or perhaps Antler, which is my favorite.

On the sewing front, I’m busy finishing up a quilt for my nephew and I have plans for a few more Scout Tees, and a tunic or two before summer hits. But honestly, my closet it pretty maxed out and I’m super happy making for others right now. My ultimate crafting goal is to get my boys to wear something I knit for them. A girl can dream!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Christine Chitnis

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

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Photos by Christine Chitnis and Forrest Elliott

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

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: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

Among the many people I’m looking forward to seeing in Seattle this week is Tif Fussell, better known as dottie angel, who is utterly unique and one of the funniest people I’ve met in the craft world. She’s also responsible for my using the British expression “pants” as often as possible in conversation lately, as in “I realize I have been most pants at actually answering what you ask and could in fact have a very good career as a politician ..​. .” You can find her on her blog, Instagram and Facebook, and be sure to take a peek at her crochet patterns on Ravelry. Thanks for doing this, Tif!

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

I am crafter who likes to sew, hand embroider, appliqué, crochet and dabble in knitting, being particularly fond of working with recycled and vintage fabrics alongside of yarn. I cannot recall a time when I did not make something with my hands. If I am not making with my hands, I get quite ‘not nice’ to know. I am a self-taught crafter — my limitations therefore created my style of patching and piecing things together in a pleasing way to me, and in turn became the crafting style of dottie angel. From there I have evolved into applying this method towards a multitude of makes. I tend to be much happier making things up as I go along rather than following a pattern, for if I do end up following a pattern, chances are quite high I will go off the path or, at the very least, add a bit of bling to the end result. I am also rather fond of rectangles and squares when it comes to yarny matters. They truly can become something quite glorious when all is said and done.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I love wood or vintage tools; I love the look, the feel, and the history which comes with them. However, nine times out of ten I do not find they work so well for me, and I end up using tools which do the job brilliantly but, to my eye, look quite pants compared to handmade or vintage tools. Oh but saying that, I do have a lovely pair of scissors which I found at Tolt Yarn and Wool and another, larger size on a pottle in Portland. They are beautiful and I blinged them quite happily with some frayed fabric on the handles, just so they knew how much I loved them.

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

I have a drawer of shame when it comes to knitting needles and hooks. I tell myself it is okay because the drawer belongs to a fabby midcentury cupboard but alas, they are scattered in there willy nilly, and now that I have circular needles too it is getting out of control. I wish this were not the case but it is. However, I am delighted to report I am more organized with my sewing notions, preferring to use old vintage colanders, cook pots and baskets to keep things where they should be. Everything has its place; it’s just that some places are sadly more messy than others.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

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

My yarny works-in-progress live in an enamel bowl which is easy to pick up and take to stitch circle at Tolt Yarn and Wool if need be, or live by the fireplace ready for when we have a few moments to spend quality time together. It also pleases me greatly should I glance upon my bowl during the day. My fabric works-in-progress are laid out in my ‘atelier of sorts’ where I can pottle past and ponder en route to doing domestics or procrastinating. Quite often I have to return to the scene when I am working on fabric creations to discover it was not a crime after all which was being committed, but something rather peachy.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

Without a doubt, that would be Miss Ethel, my trusty sewing machine. She is a workhorse with no bells or whistles, she knows how to get the job done and she does it well. Without her steady influence I would be lost. In a fire, she would be the one I would grab alongside of my recently embroidered mittens, of which I am smitten. You could point out my mittens are not tools as such but I must include them, for Miss Ethel and my mittens are equally highly prized by me.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

Do you lend your tools?

I have never lent a tool and now I am wondering why this is? I wonder if I give off the vibe of “do not ask Tif, for she would never lend”. I have my granny in my ear from when I was a small being saying “never a lender nor a borrower be” and perhaps all these years I have carried that invisibly about my person, thus no one has asked to borrow a tool of mine, thus I have not lent. When my clan of 4 were small and compact, living in England at the time meant we did an awful lot of rainy day crafting, which required lots of pairs of scissors. I would make sure my fabric scissors were clearly marked with a fabric tag for fear they would be used on paper by a little one. Was it Shakespeare or some ancient bod who wrote “hell have no fury like a woman scorned noting her fabric scissors have been used on paper”? Alas I fear I give off a ‘not a lender’ vibe which I will add to the top of my new year’s resolutions, to rectify promptly.

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

If I am knitting then it takes all my concentration (sometimes with tongue sticking out), therefore I must knit solo — unless it is squares, then I can relax a bit. If I am crocheting, I am much more social and carefree. If I sew with Miss Ethel (my trusty sewing machine), once again I fly solo for I am in my happy place, just her and me doing what we do best. If I am hand embroidering, I am happy to be in company but again, I am muchly happy to be on my own. It would appear I like to craft alone, at home, for crafting is my therapy. I put the world to rights in my head and I cannot do that unless I am alone. Perhaps it is a fall back to the days when our home was filled with noise and small beings and I would retreat to my crafting for quiet at the end of the day. However can I just say, whatever or whenever I am crafting at home, my constant canine companions are always close by, they are terribly good at listening without judgment, not talking back and admiring my creations however dodgy they may be turning out to be.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I am a lover of the seasons, having only ever lived where seasons come and go. I go into full-on nesting mode which involves many a cunning plan to knit or crochet when the chilly days appear. And when the sun becomes my friend again, I find it most tricky to give yarn any consideration. Fabric on the other hand is a year round creativity for me, not in the least affected by the seasons. Therefore it would be true to say, yarn can fall out of favor, whereas fabric is always in favor with me.

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

Can it be a confession? For I must confess, as I have carried it inside for donkeys years: My trusty crochet hook is just not a handsome chappy yet he does a fine job at stopping the old aches and pains in my joints. However, I am ashamed to admit, his non-aesthetic ways do not please when it comes to taking photos, and I will lay out my natty bit of crocheted goodness and heartlessly toss him aside for a ‘staged’ bamboo hook for the photo opportune moment. Yes I am a rotter of the worse kind, and just confessing this sin has me weighed down even more in guilt for my Mr Hook and not feeling in the least bit lighter, as I had hoped.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

What are you working on right now?

Like so many makers, I have a fair few things I should be working on or deadlines looming yet I have mastered the fine art of procrastination, resulting in many hours spent making and doing what pleases me, rather than what is of priority. I have tried in more recent times to pull up my crafty knee socks and get a better balance, thus I work on the must-dos, and give myself a pat on the back with a day off pottling about my crafty space without agenda. Recently my bonce (head) has been filled with notions of:

1. embroidered knitted mittens and fingerless friends
2. macramé oversized, cascading down the wall, made with leftover threads and yarn
3. vintage hmong strings of happy
4. doilified dream catchers with beards
5. 1930s knitted neck warmers
6. oversized pom poms made from a variety of leftover yarns
7. making another set of knitted sleeves proving to myself second sleeve syndrome does not have to be for life
8. plump roundie crocheted cushions made from the gigantic yarn cone I bought back from my travels to Marrakech earlier in the year
9. adding to my granny trousseau. I am not yet to be a granny but I am planning for the future as my knitting of small garments is slow going. I will make it a lending library of sorts for my clan, to love and to use and then to return for the next small being in line
10. publishing my dottie angel frock pattern in the late spring of next year

Yes, that is what my head is filled with, day and night, some of which I am working on, some of which is in the pipeline for a rainy procrastinating sort of day to come along, and all bar one are personal, hence proving my knee socks have not been pulled up after all and my ability to become a professional crafter is still a long way away.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Tif Fussell (dottie angel)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

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Photos © Tif Fussell

 

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

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: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

All-around talented lady and founder of the wildly popular Grainline Studio — a sewing blog that grew into a bustling pattern business — Jen Beeman is one of my heroes. She sews, she knits, she blogs, she Instagrams, she runs an amazing business, and I just love her spirit and her style. (Did you know that before she releases a new pattern, she personally sews one garment in every size?) She holds degrees in both photography and fashion design, and is one of a dying breed of professionally trained pattern drafters, which you can listen to an interview about at Marketplace. And I’m super thrilled she’s agreed to give us a peek at her space and talk about her habits and her tools. Thanks, Jen!

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

I’m both a knitter and a sewer. I always joke that I learned how to knit about a year or so too early. Back in college, I had a friend who worked at the photo checkout window with me who knit, and seeing her make these sweaters left and right made me want to learn. So when a friend and I decided to drive to NYC in the fall of 2001 to check out a few other art schools (we were thinking about transferring) I figured it would be the perfect time to teach myself. At that point I don’t even think the website Knitty was a thing, and I definitely couldn’t find any good books at the bookstore. I bought a really poorly designed and super basic knitting pamphlet at the local Champaign IL craft store, some metal needles, and what I’m sure was either Red Heart or Lion Brand yarn and took that on the road. By the end of the trip I had learned to knit!

I went about learning to sew in a bit of a more orderly fashion. My mom always sewed and made a lot of our clothes when we were younger and I used to love helping pick out the fabrics and patterns with her. When I was 12 she finally taught me to sew, and eventually signed me up for a sewing class with a friend.

In high school I stopped, but after getting a photography BFA I decided that I should go back to school to become a patternmaker, so I did. I then worked as a patternmaker until recently when I realized I couldn’t handle my work load between a job and my pattern business, so I began working on Grainline Studio full time.

I’ve tried crocheting, weaving, spinning, and dyeing but none of them really stuck with me. I’m absolutely unable to hold any sort of tension while crocheting despite help from my master crocheter mom. My hand just turns into one cramped up little claw. It’s horrible because I really dream of making a chunky black and white wool zigzag afghan. Mom, if you’re reading this, hint hint ;)

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I think I might be kind of weird about tools — I really have so few of them and they’re all pretty basic, in both knitting and sewing.

For knitting I mostly prefer wooden needles. I’ve always felt like they’re easier for my usually painful hands to deal with. I used to only use straight needles — I think because I already owned them — but recently I’ve been getting more into the circular needle. I think it’s easier on my wrists to have the weight of the sweater sitting in my lap rather than stuck out on the end of a straight needle. Besides needles, I have the same knitting kit I’ve had for about ten years. While I’d love to upgrade to some fancy tools, I can’t ever seem to justify spending money on a version of something I already own that works perfectly well. I’m now thinking about purchasing a swift and some blocking tools, though, so I’ll be adding to my tool collection soon.

In sewing, the same is true. When drafting patterns by hand I have a pretty basic tool set, things like steel rulers, an awl, pattern notcher, steel weights, Japanese punch and a really nice Japanese mechanical pencil that rotates the lead slightly while you draw so you’re never stuck with that one sharp edge. Mechanical pencil nerds will know what I’m talking about. I use 90lb kraft paper for my personal patterns and manila for any production patterns. I also have recently started using Optitex which is a CAD pattern-drafting software, in order to streamline my process, which is really helpful in getting patterns out more quickly without the kind errors that require going back to the literal drawing board while your pattern is in progress.

All of my sewing machines (sewing, serger and coverstitch/chainstitch) are Bernina home machines. While I love professional industrial machines, I feel that it’s important that I’m working on the same equipment that the people buying my patterns will most likely have. I don’t really have many special feet. The only feet I ever use are my 1⁄4″ foot, my invisible zipper foot, the buttonhole foot, and the button foot. That’s it really. Oh, and the walking foot when quilting!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

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

Like my tools, my knitting storage is also pretty basic. I keep my needles in an old animal cracker tin I got at a neighbor’s yard sale growing up, and my tools are kept in a small leather pouch I made.

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

My project bag is, embarrassingly, a clear plastic drawstring top bag that a fabric purchase from Drygoods Design in Seattle arrived in, and I keep my finished sweater pieces in the dust bag from a pair of shoes while I’m working on the rest of the pieces. Oddly they’re both the perfect size for what I need. All of this sits on a bookshelf next to our couch. I’m really not very fancy. I always have dreams of getting one of those beautiful baskets with the expanding tops that people love, but in reality I know that it will just turn into an expensive cat bed.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

Not really any in my tools since they’re all just basic things I bought myself. I do like them a lot, though — we’ve done a quite a bit of knitting together! I splurged on some Brooklyn Tweed Shelter to knit the Stonecutter by Michele Wang and I’m really glad I did that. It’s been a super fun knit so far.

Do you lend your tools?

I don’t typically lend my tools because I don’t really have extras of anything to lend or anyone to lend it to!

I do give away a lot of stuff I don’t need or use anymore, though. I just gave my assistant, Kendra, a basics book on knitting and a bunch of yarn I wasn’t using, and she’s already made slippers, a scarf and is now on to a hat. It’s great when you can give someone something to get them into a new hobby, plus giving them something rather than lending it doesn’t come with the stress of the “Am I keeping this too long? Do they need this back soon?” questions that I always get when borrowing something.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

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

My favorite place to knit is after work on the couch hanging out with my boyfriend and cat. It’s a great way to just relax after a day of work, though often my cat thinks I’m just dangling yarn there for her enjoyment.

I also like to knit on road trips because it gives me something to do while stuck in the car. During the warmer months (and the cooler with a blanket) I like knitting out on the back porch with a cup of tea.

As for sewing, I sew at my studio during the day, so that never comes home with me. I was a little worried about this at first but I really like leaving my job at work (because sewing is my job) and coming home to work on my hobby, knitting, or just doing nothing at all. It’s wonderful! Since moving to my studio I’ve finished a sweater and I’m about to block and seam my second, it’s been super productive on both the knitting and sewing fronts!

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I sew year round, since it’s my job, but I find that I do mostly want to knit in fall and winter. This summer I went against my natural tendencies and did a fair amount on road trips, which was nice. I like the idea of knitting something over the summer so that it’s ready for fall, but in reality I’m not keen on wool in the humid Chicago heat.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

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

I think I have a few quirks. I almost always prefer knitting sweaters with seams rather than in the round, which I think has to do with the fact that I sew and also that knitting pieces is lighter on the wrists than knitting an entire sweater at once. I hate knitting with cotton — it makes my hands hurt because there isn’t much give. Oh, and since I taught myself to knit from that weird old pamphlet I mentioned up above, a lot of the time when people see me knitting they think I knit really oddly, which I’m sure I do but it works, so I’m fine with it. I also don’t use a row counter, instead I make lists all over my pattern of what part I’m working on and tally off the rows. I’ve tried the clicking counters and ones on my phone and I just find I can never remember to click them off like I can with a pen and paper.

As far as dark secrets I think I’m in the clear. I do have a knitting machine under the bed though…

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m about to block my Stonecutter and after that’s done I need to knit a new winter hat. There are about 4000 sweaters I want to knit, and I swear, every time Fringe pops up in my blog reader I add at least one more to that list.

As for business, just working on new patterns and posts and, fingers crossed, the first pattern collaboration, which I think people will totally be into!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

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Photos © Jen Beeman

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

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: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

So if you read this blog, you know what a huge admirer I am of Jared Flood, his knitting designs, and his illustrious company, Brooklyn Tweed. And I’m obviously far far from alone in that. I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with Jared in recent months, first at Vogue Knitting Live in Seattle and then again at Squam, where he was the “knitter in residence.” (My new goal in life is to be dubbed “knitter in residence” somewhere other than my own illusory front porch.) While those encounters were just brief conversations in crowded venues, I was struck by what a pleasant and genuine person he seems to be, as I’m sure you’ll see by his answers to my Our Tools questions. I also hope you’ll love the photos (Jared had the clever idea to photograph his worktable at various moments over the course of a few weeks) and that you’ll join me in wishing him HAPPY BIRTHDAY today. Thank you, Jared!

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

Yes, I have some experience with all of these things, but my primary interests are knitting and sewing. Knitting is obviously my main “bread and butter” — both as a hobby and now as my career! Sewing is something I’ve picked up later in life, particularly after falling into a career path as a knitwear designer — learning to sew has been a natural outgrowth and feeds my interest in shape, textile architecture and fabric. Slippery slope there …

I’ve dabbled in weaving and dyeing, but would not consider myself anything other than an amateur in each area! I recently took a card weaving class, which was completely amazing. Add it to the growing list of hobbies I wish I had extra time to pursue!

I got bitten by the spinning bug in 2007 and was very actively spinning during that year. It taught me a lot about yarn (a subject that I am very passionate about!), and was probably one of the first steps toward my future as a yarn producer.

I would consider myself a pretty good crocheter, but I tend to gravitate to this hobby more for the structural nature of the craft rather than the resulting fabric/garments. I love crochet as a sculptural medium. I also have a very geeky interest in Japanese crochet charting. (If you’ve never seen these charts, they are beautiful works of art in their own right!) I’ll admit to much of my crocheting being an excuse to study and appreciate those charted illustrations!

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

The tools I regularly use for knitting are very simple — my general preference is to use as few tools as possible to do the maximum amount of tasks. I do 90% of my knitting work with interchangeable circular needles (I am an Addi devotee!), a tapestry needle, rust-proof (coilless) stitch markers, a large gridded blocking board and blocking wires (I absolutely adore my Handworks NW hand-burnished blocking wires – couldn’t live without them) and my smartphone (calculator and camera are in regular use!). I may have occasional use for an odd tool like a pom-pom maker or sharp scissors for steeking, but in general this simple list of tools gets all the work done that I need.

I’m probably a little bit more obsessive about the tools I use for design. I have been a lifelong lover of pens and notebooks, and my notebook collection is one area where I probably seem like a hoarder. Though in recent years, I’ve found a specific brand of Japanese notebook that I use religiously: spiral binding, hard plastic cover, perfectly sized sheets and — most importantly — a dot-rule grid. I love working on grids (which thankfully I need to do often in knitwear design), and a dot-rule grid allows me the presence of the grid without a large amount of visual clutter coming from traditional gridlines on graph paper. It’s the perfect marriage of graph paper and blank sketching paper — again, the more versatile the better.

I’m also very particular with my writing and sketching tools. I like precision tools, so tend to use Japanese writing utensils — both pens and mechanical pencils — with tip fineness in the range of .3 to .4 mm. (Now my inner geek is really coming out!)

The other tool area that I remain uncompromising about is software. I spend a lot of my time doing design and photography work on-screen, and over the years have honed in on those tools that are most well-designed and efficient for my own workflow. I spend a lot of time working in Adobe Illustrator (an absolutely amazing piece of software!) working on design mock-ups, pattern drafting, chart and schematic illustration, etc. Illustrator is seriously powerful, and having spent the time to figure out specific ways it can work for my needs has been totally worth it over the years. For digital photography, I am completely reliant on my Wacom tablet, which transforms photo processing (at least in my own head) from something mechanical to something much more painterly. It allows digital photography to feel more like hands-on work in a darkroom, which I really love.

A few other pieces of software that I can’t live without are PathFinder for Mac (a browser replacement for Finder that is incredibly feature-rich and geared towards power-users who manage a wide variety of files, folders, directories, servers, etc.), OmniPlan (a beautiful solution for project management, which I rely on for all sorts of project planning, most notably scheduling for all of our overlapping collection schedules at Brooklyn Tweed), and Curio (a “mind mapping” software that I use for visual planning and organization — when curating or putting together a design collection, color story or pattern roster, for example).

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

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

I’m a very organized person in general, and I like for my tools and supplies to have a good system of order. First, I am constantly trying to whittle down my tools to only the most essential things I need. If I haven’t used a tool for a year or more, I most likely will donate it or give it away. I find the constant process of editing my tools very liberating – and a sort of meditative practice, like constantly reassessing yourself and your needs for your current situation.

For the tools that I do use regularly, I like compartmentalized organizers or other custom-sized vessels. (I have a weakness for the Container Store.) I keep my circular needles organized in hanging case with sizes clearly marked. Circular needles are by far my most beloved tool for knitting.

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

With my knitting, I’ve been working hard for the last few years to minimize both my stash and the number of unfinished, outstanding projects that I have languishing. It’s certainly been an exercise in self-control, as any avid knitter can probably understand — but it’s been a very rewarding payoff. For the first time, I have only a handful of in-progress projects in my life, and as such can store them in very simple ways. I love woven baskets, so store most of my projects in various corners of my living space in baskets that I’ve been collecting over the years.

My ultimate goal would be to have 1-3 projects “in-process” at any given time. I haven’t gotten there yet, but it’s a goal that I’m slowly but surely moving closer to.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I inherited my mother’s sewing machine — a Japanese machine from the late ’70s that works wonderfully. I love knowing that I’m working on the machine that churned out tons of awesome, neon children’s clothes for my brothers and me in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Do you lend your tools?

Not usually — but I think that has more to do with the fact that I am a very solitary maker; my crafting pursuits and social life don’t intersect much. (Aside from my day-to-day interaction with my team at Brooklyn Tweed, which provides plenty of creative stimulation!)

When it comes to lending tools, I usually prefer to give something away instead — it’s all part of my constant effort to pare down my tools to only the essentials. As I get older, I notice that I tend more and more towards a minimalist approach to my tools and possessions in general.

What is your favorite place to knit?

I like knitting really late at night when the world has gone silent. I find that this is the best time to let my mind wander and to really enjoy the process of making stitches.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I am a fall and winter creature to the core. I have a quiet, pensive personality – and I find that my innate personal traits seem more at home in the colder months, when the weather forces us to slow down, stay indoors, and contemplate the inner workings of our lives.

Spring and summer can be lovely, of course, but as a Pacific Northwest native, I am severely ill-equipped for East Coast heat and humidity in the summer, even after almost a decade living here!

I do, of course, knit year-round — and very happily. I don’t discredit the role my air conditioner plays in my ability to knit with wool even during the hottest days of summer, however.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

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

While I don’t think it should be considered a “quirk,” I absolutely love swatching. I know I am in the minority of knitters with this, but there it is!

I love spending time and care on my swatches, getting a feel for a new stitch pattern and a new fabric, studying the behavior of the yarn at a certain gauge, and getting to know the essence of my garment before I begin work on it. A lot of people seem surprised or shocked that I finish my swatches with the same care I do any other knitted item (charting them, wet blocking, weaving in ends, squaring all the edges, etc.) but to me it just seems like good sense. Plus, I love having perfect little swatches around me — they give me inspiration and help fuel new ideas.

What are you working on right now?

For Brooklyn Tweed, I am working on my designs for our Winter 2015 collection, scheduled for release in January of next year. In my personal knitting, I’ve been playing around with some linen yarns, and am working up an open-gauge linen pullover for myself that will be a great summer “knock around” item. I absolutely love linen — and especially love that I can throw it in the washing machine and it will get softer and more worn-in with time. It’s also such a huge contrast to my true love — wool — that it feels nice to change it up and explore new fibers when I have the time.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed)

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Photos © Jared Flood