The big, dumb spinning wheel refinishing project

So I’ve been working on this project.

I got an Ashford Traditional spinning wheel a couple months ago. Me being me, instead of starting off with something easy and approachable like renting a few wheels and taking some classes until I could make an informed choice, I decided I’d just buy one! And not just one off the rack, but a used one! A cheap one that most people would overlook, that I could fix up myself!! And that I’d eventually use to spin whole fleeces from start to finish!!!

A raw light moorit Merino fleece in all its complete, barnyard-smelling glory.
Example: A raw, light moorit Merino fleece in all its complete, barnyard-smelling glory. I kinda got ahead of myself.

And the whole project would have to end up amazing because I am so amazing and ambitious and talented!!!!

Which is how I ended up with an Ashford Traditional that someone had started painting black and ditched halfway through.

Look at this poor Harvey Dent bastard.
Side one …

Which is understandable. Painting, staining and finishing is painstaking work if you want to do it right. It takes lots of scraping, sanding, care, assembly, disassembly, reassembly, tarping, cleaning, vacuuming and fussing. Not to mention turning things around, a step that didn’t seem to happen here.

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… and side two. The poor Harvey Dent-looking bastard.

Goofy paint job or no, someone enjoyed this wheel, and you don’t need a nice paint job to spin. It’s pretty new and in fantastic shape, and I’m lucky to have it. So over the last couple months I’ve been researching furniture finishing, slowly removing as much of the stain as I can, and probably driving the neighbors crazy with the noise from my little power sander. I did the finish sanding by hand over many nights sitting on the living room floor by the TV and working my way through Parks & Rec with the cat curled up purring on the couch behind my head. By the time I was done the wood was silky smooth to the touch, and the entire living room was blanketed in a thin, fine layer of settled sawdust.

And because I can’t let well enough alone, I decided I didn’t just want to refinish it, I wanted to make it completely!! amazing!!! and would decorate it before applying an all-natural Danish oil. I had plenty of time while I sanded to think about what art I wanted. I finally landed on the work of one of my favorite illustrators, Arthur Rackham, and decided I’d use a wood-burning pen to apply it.

Only thing is, it’s been more than 20 years since I last used one of those. I loved the one I had as a kid, but the usual short attention span of children (plus my undiagnosed ADD) meant my technique had never gotten very far. So every time I picked up my new pen, I’d find another excuse to delay getting started: Maybe I should sand the hand carders again! Maybe I should polish all the metal fittings! Maybe I should google “wood burning tutorial” again! Maybe I should print out copies of the art I want to use, cut it out and arrange the pieces on the wheel so I know where they should go! Maybe I need backup art arrangements!

I am not chicken about crafts by nature, so the second or third time it happened I figured out that oh, duh, I was nervous. By this point, I’d sunk hundreds of dollars and hours into the wheel and I was scared of making it look clumsy and amateurish. So I walked down to my neighborhood’s newly opened craft store — in the last couple years it’s picked up a craft store and fancy ice cream; gentrification is real — and picked out a large basswood box to practice on. It’s perfect: just the right size to hold my hand carders; big enough I can use it as a test run for staining and finishing; and at twenty bucks, cheap enough that mistakes won’t make me cry.

Because I’m gonna make mistakes. They’re inevitable, and learning is just a matter of getting your mistakes out of the way. I’ve already made a couple just doing the first panel of the box. Hot tip (ha!): If you’re trying out a new kind of nib, don’t use it anywhere near detail areas until you know how it works at every angle; and don’t hold the pen at such a low angle that the metal collar scorches a line right through the middle of your deer.

By the time I’m done with this box, I hope to be so damn bored of it that I’m falling all over myself to get started on the wheel.

Wood burning test run
One side, one new nib and two shading techniques down, and five sides to go.

I went to a wool festival and all I got was a ton of photos and four pounds of raw fleece

So I have a couple new favorite things: my new 50mm lens, and wool festivals.

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A couple friends and I went to the Casari Ranch wool festival last weekend. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew it was on the ranch itself, so it’d have ranch-type stuff happening and not just fiber-type stuff. Not that I mind fiber stuff, it’s just much easier to find in craft-happy Oakland than things involving actual sheep. So a couple friends and I piled into the car and headed three hours north to Point Arena.

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Dancer the bummer, who was so tame she’d run to the fence so you could pet her.

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Like every sheep farm probably is, it was liberally decorated with sheep skulls.

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This is decor I can relate to.

We got to peer at the machinery for the wool mill, handle lots of raw fleece from different breeds and at different stages of prep, and get a feel for how to skirt and grade fleeces. I loved that part. Nothing helps you understand fiber terms like pulling on a lock of wool with a break in it and watching it dissipate into a cottony cloud, or holding a wad of lanolin-greasy wool still warm from the sheep, or watching second cuts fall like dandelion fluff through the skirting table. In the vendor area, I got to sift through whole raw fleeces and wool in every state from fleece to garments, getting a little more of the tactile knowledge you can’t get from googling. I even had a moment when I was handling a marked-down Corriedale-cross fleece and worrying that I might be missing a bargain if I didn’t buy it when it dawned on me that Oh, I can’t separate the locks at all over here, I think … I think the tips are pretty badly felted, and put it back.

Personally, what really drew me in was the shearing and its combination of force and finesse. As someone who’s always had office jobs I know it’s way too easy to romanticize hard physical work, but after years and years of pushing pixels for a living, it’s easy to get pulled in by tasks that have real, tangible results. (My favorite parts of learning to weld were testing seams by tossing a just-finished piece onto the cement for with a huge, resounding clang to see if the weld held, and bending pieces of metal by wailing on them with a hammer.) Some days it feels like my job could be easily replaced with spell check and a computer, something that’ll never happen with shearing.

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As for wool, well … I brought enough cash that I could buy a decent fleece, not that I’m that great yet at knowing what “decent” is. I’ve done some spinning with a drop spindle, but I’m still a raw novice. (That didn’t stop me from getting a spinning wheel recently, which is still in pieces as I slowly sand and refinish it.) I figured, if I’m gonna do something, why not do it in the over-the-top, sink-yourself-into-it-until-you-know-how-to-do-it way I inherited from my mom? Besides, it’s shearing season! That’s how I talked myself into my first fleece, a Jacob that’s been slouching in a chair at my kitchen table like a slightly smelly dinner guest until I have time to wash it.

All I knew before going to Casari was I wanted something that was different from a Jacob, and that it probably shouldn’t be merino, since it’ll probably be awhile before I can handle such a short staple length. I gingerly dug through bags, teased apart locks, listened for the ping of sound wool as I tugged on it, happily exclaimed over the texture of what turned out to be wool skirting that the vendor told me was really only fit for felting, worried, waited, and anxiously eyed shoppers who’d arrived earlier as they carted away fleeces of their own.

And then, of course, came home with four pounds of raw merino, which I parked in the kitchen, in the other fleece’s lap. Together in the chair, they make a pile that comes up to my shoulder when I sit at the table next to them.

I’d say I’m off to a good start.

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The lighthouse at Point Arena, which we visited after the wool festival.

New pattern: Lake Merritt

I released a new hat pattern the other day! World, meet Lake Merritt:

Lake Merritt
It was Cristina’s first time modeling, so we were still working our way up to not having her hide behind her hair.

Lake Merritt is a real, live lake (well, estuary) right in the middle of my town, Oakland. I’ve lived within a mile of the lake for six of the years I’ve been here, so I’ve had plenty of time to get acquainted with its sights (and smells — it can get sort of brackish sometimes) throughout the year and at different times of day. I’ve climbed its trees, played pétanque near its shores, picnicked on its lawns, jogged its circumference a zillion sweaty times, startled its geese, gawked at a pelican in the bird sanctuary turning his throat pouch inside-out for cleaning, had cocktails on its piers, watched gondoliers pole across its surface, seen jellyfish swim in its waters, stared out at it from a window seat at the restaurants that face it, watched the sun set over it — everything but wade in it. (It’s very shallow and very full of bird poop, so that would be a terrible idea.) Once I even saw someone taking their six-foot albino ball python for a walk its the lawn.

And like a lot of people, my favorite is the look of the Necklace of Lights reflecting on the lake at night. They were installed in 1925, went dark in World War II and have been back up and glowing since the late ’80s. At night when the water is still, its surface throws back light from the Necklace and from the streetlights, traffic lights, headlights and houses surrounding the lake. It’s pretty gorgeous.

Oakland Localwiki: The Necklace of Lights
Photo from the Oakland Localwiki.

Since the hat is based on such a beloved local feature, I wanted to pick out yarns for the samples from my favorite local dyers: A Verb for Keeping Warm and Pigeonroof Studios. (Unfortunately, it took so long for me to get this pattern out, Pigeonroof up and moved to Portland by the time it came out. Ah, well.)  The colorway I chose for the dark version of the hat above, “Railroad Stake,” comes the closest of any yarn I’ve ever seen to the dark but colorful shimmer on the lake at night.

Lake Merritt hat
See what I mean about the colors?

As for the nitty-gritty of the hat: The hat is double-thick, with a lining for the colorwork section and the crown worked with two strands of yarn, so it’s warm for a sock-yarn hat. There are two cast-on options that make the hat either medium-easy or medium-difficult, depending which you choose. The medium-easy one uses a provisional cast-on and is super quick. The more difficult one is a a sideways double i-cord cast-on I came up with; I call it a “centipede” cast-on because it’s got live stitches on either side of it that look like little legs. And I know I’m not exactly subjective, but it is awesome. I’ve spent a really long time trying to find a truly polished-looking hat edge that’s stretchy and won’t flip or curl and doesn’t stick out all funny like a traditional i-cord trim, and this one finally, finally fits the bill.

You can check out Lake Merritt on Ravelry, or for five bucks you can just jump in and buy it now.

Bowie

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I didn’t find out from Facebook that David Bowie had died — I found out from friends texting me: Bowie dead, cancer, not a hoax, not wanting me to find out from Facebook.

It’s not like I was totally unprepared. I’ve been a fan since I was 14; I knew he’d outlive me and that the day would come up eventually. I guess I thought I’d be older and more prepared when it happened, but the day finally came, and I was just older.

I could draw some long, complicated link between Bowie and making and knitting and art and fulfillment and some kind of personal creative ethos, but but honestly right now it still feels like that stage of grief where you don’t feel properly sad yet because you’re still trying to puzzle out how it feels to have a chunk of your personal landscape go missing on no notice. I never met the guy but having someone along secondhand for so much of your life, for so many highs and lows, you end up feeling like they’re a part of it.

Bowie, man. If I couldn’t have forever, I’m glad I got what I got.

Photography, and a swatch not long for this world

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Swatching feels good. I ended ripping out this entire thing once I figured out what it had to tell me. I’m the kind of person who sketches things out almost entirely in my head and on paper, and swatches purely to check the numbers.

It’s been nice turning my sketches from the last few weeks into something real, and having a schedule that’s reasonable enough that I can innovate again. Work got so bad for a long time that I couldn’t knit anything beyond what a pattern told me to.

I also got to flex some different creative muscles recently, on a photo shoot in Joshua Tree for some chosen family in bourbon and cowboy boots, Outlaw Soaps, complete with burritos at sunrise and hasty costume changes in an open field and sand in just about everything.

The outlaws themselves

It was nice remembering that, right, I do know my way around a camera. Danielle’s and Russ’ pure joy as they proofed photos together meant a lot. She’s one of those people you hear about who quits a fancy tech job to relentlessly pursue a dream, so company photos that make them feel happy and excited aren’t just marketing material — they’re fuel that helps keep a dream running.

Anyway, back to swatching and writing up some patterns that have been a long time coming. Also, I’m trying out posting from my phone with this updateand lemme tell you, it’s cool, but pretty inconvenient.

Here — until next time, have some pure, high-proof Joshua Tree sunrise.

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The big dumb sock project: Two down, but not really

So far, project Replace My Falling-Apart Commercial Socks with Handmade Socks is going … hm.

Good: Made two pairs of socks!
“Silver lining” good, i.e. not actually good: Learned a valuable lesson about selecting yarn for socks that are durable and not just well-fitting.
Bad: I’ve been knitting for years and years, and I know tons about selecting yarn for durability: yarn composition, plying, gauge — all of it! I knew when I started that the yarns weren’t great for socks; I was just too impatient to stick it out and wait until I had more appropriate yarn before casting on.

The first ones (100% not-superwashed merino; come onnnnnnn, Arlette) popped a stitch on the first wearing, but I love them, so they now live on the family’s run-down little boat in Sausalito as part of my stash of warm boat clothing. (The boat sounds way more glamorous than it is; I call it “the RV of the Sea,” which gives you an idea of its size and mustiness.) It gets cold right on the water, so the socks are actually pretty perfect for wearing around there, but they didn’t get me very far toward replacing everyday socks, which are only getting more holey.

The second socks looked damn good.

They held up better than the first ones, but after a day of wear, the heels were fuzzy and haloed something fierce. They do a little better with shoes that don’t grip my feet too tightly, so they’re now my “don’t have too walk too far today in these cowboy boots” socks. I got to learn how to match self-striping yarn, but since almost all my commercial socks are plain black, I think I have to admit that dark solid colors are what I’ll actually wear and love.

Unfortunately, after accidentally knitting two pairs of warm and delicate socks, I’ve gotten all spooked. Lately when I go to a yarn store to scope out sock yarn I end up anxiously haunting the aisles looking up reviews on Ravelry and desperately scanning for the words “pilling” and “felted,” and remembering the sweaty-verging-on-soupy feeling in my shoes when I wore the second pair in the current crushing heat wave. That’s right about when I give up and buy something that’d look good as a hat, since that’s both figuratively and literally as far from socks as you can get.

There’s hope, though. The last sock yarn skein I got mostly because it was too hot to think straight and the yarn was a relatively plain and desaturated blue, but it turns out it’s actually a pretty well-rated yarn for socks. Once I manage to finish the thick, cabled boot sock I’m working on — WHY?! it’s like 80 degrees out! — and if I can stop losing my empty circular needles by hanging them around the back of my neck when I focus on something and then having them fall off somewhere mysterious after I forget about them, maybe I’ll make some real headway!

The big, dumb sock project

I kinda have a sock problem.

These are not the trouble

Usually when people have a something problem, it’s shorthand for I have way, way, way too much of something. I understand that: I’ve got the beginning of a yarn problem, something of a coat problem and a definite boot problem. (Current count: two pairs of cowboy boots, one pair of motorcycle boots, one pair of knee-high lace-up lineman boots, one pair of knee-high red Fluevogs and a pair of roper boots I just picked up today from the cobbler’s.)

My sock problem is the opposite. I’ve got some socks. Not long ago I had more socks, but then I got rid of almost all of them in a mad quest to have only one kind of sock. Then I bought about a dozen pairs of what I thought were OK basic socks — solid black; the right size, sort of, not too long for my short, wide feet; not a zillion bucks; and more cotton than polyester (it’s damn hard to find non-polyester socks at the department store, so my standards were pretty low). Everything was great!

Then I wore the socks.

They disintegrated.

Not, like, “I wore them for a few months and they fell apart.” The first time I wore them, wherever they were trapped between my foot and some part of my shoes, they literally dissolved in a cloud of hazy black fuzz. I found this out when I took my shoes off at a friend’s house and left inky, fuzzy footprints wherever I went. The remaining sock was worn down as thin as pantyhose. I think those cheap damn socks were polyester netting, with cotton not woven in but sort of … stuck on, somehow.  They weren’t the perfect socks, and they were so bad I couldn’t even feel good about donating them. I threw them out and swore, a lot.

I’m trying to make do with my few remaining pairs of socks while I find the new gold standard in socks, and it’s pretty disheartening. Unless I can find amazing-quality kids’ socks, everything’s too big, and I’m tired of having sock heels that land so far from my own heels that they creep up over the backs of my shoes.

So I’ve been making socks. And it’s great, except the part where converting the awesome There & Back Again socks to knee-high made me so sick of them that I can’t bring myself to fix the too-tight bind-off that is the only thing keeping me from wearing them, other than the fact that they’re knee-high socks and it’s hot in July in California.

And also the part where I’ve ripped out the ankle of the same Skew four (five, since I started this post) times thanks to my chronic distraction and stress over work. The first time I made it, I totally nailed the directions, but I still ended up with a sock that bagged around my heel; I could pinch a clean inch of fabric away from my foot before it could even begin to fit. I ripped back and shortened the foot, but it was still too short. I started again with a dramatically shorter foot that I’m pretty confident will fit, but I’ve still had to rip out like crazy because even after carefully counting stitches and memorizing the pattern to where I feel like I could do it in my sleep, I keep turning up a few stitches short or a few stitches over and have to rip back to the last place where I had the right number of stitches and felt like I understood how the world worked.

This is not unlike what’s currently happening with my development environment at work, where fixing and re-fixing and re-re-fixing the same files still gets me the same crazy security error.

I will get there. I will fix this environment issue, and one day soon this work project I’ve spent the last six months on will be over and I’ll be able to do laundry and wash the socks I already have instead of wearing the same sockless loafers every day for weeks.

Maybe by then I’ll have some real, live knit socks, too.

Thrift stores, second chances

I’m lucky: There’s a really, really good thrift store around the corner from my work. Since it’s non-denominational and benefits AIDS treatment and research, San Francisco skips Salvation Army and brings the good stuff here. Like any thrifting, it rewards time, luck, a knack for recognizing quality, and an eye for interesting detail. It also makes a decent excuse to head out of the office and give yourself a few minutes to walk off a frustrating problem or temporary coder’s block. It’s also a great spot to look for unusual knits.

I wish I could adopt them all.

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I’ve spotted a number of handmade sweaters there. Many are worsted-weight acrylic cardigans, since those are easy to make and sturdy enough they’d probably survive WWIII, and I often find wooly ones that make absolutely no sense in the generally mild Bay Area climate. I always feel a pull to rescue the all-wool ones, but have to remind myself that I have small closets, not much storage, not much need for heavy winter gear, and a lot of well-loved clothes already. If I don’t absolutely love the color, the fit and the materials, I snap a photo of any interesting labels or design features, put it back on the rack and give it a hopeful pat. Maybe someone else will be as charmed as it by I am — someone who actually likes purple.

The littlest yoked handknit, hiding in the racks at the thrift store today

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Every once in awhile, I find something worth breaking the rules for. A few months ago, I felt the rough scratch of wool on my hand as I flipped through the sweaters. I shoved back several screechy hangers’ worth of unremarkable cotton and found gold: a handmade, slightly shaggy, absolutely classic lopapeysa, the round-yoked Icelandic sweater. I actually smiled at it, like you’d smile at a lost-looking friend.

I wasn’t sure about the fit. I hated the buttons. I didn’t like the single-crochet trim, which looked clumsy compared to the perfect knit stitches and made the ribbed collar fit really strangely. Hell, I didn’t like that it had a ribbed collar. But it was lovely. It was made in three colors of thick, unplied, undyed wool. It was mended in a couple of places, neatly, if not the way I’d have done it — I’m good at mending knits because I’m even better at accidentally breaking, snagging and ripping them — and I liked that someone had cared enough about it to fix it.

All that for five bucks? Sold.

It lived in my closet for a few months, next to my snow boots. It missed its big chance at a winter trip to snow country since it took up too much room in my carry-on. I shuffled it from room to room, trying to figure out how to wear it and what to do with it.

If I wore it around Oakland with my knee-high logger boots, I looked like either someone’s joke version of a Portland hipster, or someone who’d stumbled out of the deepest backwoods in 1915. That second one is a look I don’t mind a bit, but the sweater’s squishy bulk made me feel like a yeti, and I’d sweat immediately if I wore it in direct sunlight. It hung for awhile in my bedroom, where I’d pick it up from time to time and think about how I could modify it to suit me a bit better. Maybe a zipper instead of buttons? Definitely a better edging, preferably one that could stretch. Maybe re-do those mends, and fix the yarn in the places it had worn thin? Then I’d hang it back up and smile at it again. I just liked it. I’d figure it out.

Then a week ago, it got cold. Like, really cold. Not freezing, but weather near the bay follows no rules. When you live in an old building with barely any insulation and huge, single-pane windows, it’s as cold inside as it is outside. I was just fine, since I was wearing leggings and another thrift-store find: an oversize men’s sweater, three sizes too big for me and with a small hole in the back, that I’d bought for a buck for the classic tweedy wool yarn and hadn’t gotten around to taking apart. My boyfriend, shivering in his cotton hoodie, kept making big eyes at me and pleading with me to make the weather warmer.

“Um … I can lend you a sweater,” I said.

“Whatever! Just make it warmer.

“How about this?”

I handed him the lopapeysa, which I’d left hanging over the stair rail on top of some drying laundry and a four-season tent. He put it on, making some skeptical remarks about the fairly feminine buttons but too cold to really care.

The sweater finally made sense. What I thought was the collar landed just so around his neck. The broad, dark band of the yoke motif swung perfectly around the widest point of his shoulders. The body of the sweater fell just right, narrowing toward the waist and landing at the same spot as his favorite hoodie. With his beard and long hair, he looked like he’d wandered right out off a windswept hillside in a ’70s Reynolds pattern brochure. No wonder I felt confused when I tried to wear it: It wasn’t meant for me.

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(Pardon the low-resolution iPhone photo and the wadded-up, half-frogged sweater on the countertop. Don’t mind the goat skull in the window basket; That’s normal.)

The only tricky part would be proving that it’s made for him. I have a much higher interest in and tolerance for unusual clothes than he does. The rustic wool and natural colors make the whole look veer toward “grandpa.” There isn’t much call for subarctic wool outwear in the generally sunny Mission District where he works.

But there’s hope: His verdict is “a little hipstery, but maybe.” I’m pretty sure most of his issues would be solved by trading the old-fashioned buttons for a zipper. Only one way to find out …

Howdy from back-from-the-mountains

For the last couple of years, if a band I like is playing somewhere interesting, I’ll pick up a ticket and plan a cheap vacation around it. Airfare is easy if you pack light, and distances seem short when you’re from California, a state that takes days to drive across. So that’s how I ended up in Laramie, Wyoming last month to see Iron & Wine and Gregory Alan Isakov.

I spent a few days first in Fort Collins, Colorado, nursing a cold before I headed up to Laramie. On the way back down toward Denver, I swung by Gypsy Wools in Boulder, which carries print copies of Flatirons, and saw their store sample on display.

Flatirons at Gypsy Wools
Flatirons store sample at Gypsy Wools – See it on Ravelry!

The last time I’d been in the store, it was still in progress, but this time it was hanging right there in the store, next to one of the print version of the pattern. I *think* I managed not to hop from foot to foot with excitement when I saw it, but I was definitely glowing when the owner, Barb, shook my hand and told me they’d sold out of the pattern. I’ve really got to work on my habit of getting squeaky-excited and holding both hands to my mouth when cool stuff like that happens.

I left with a light step and a slightly lighter wallet, thanks to my “I don’t buy souvenirs, but local things I can’t get at home don’t count” policy. That’s why I underpack my luggage by a few pounds on the way in, and make up the difference in yarn, whiskey and local beer on my way back.

It’s hard to resist yarn when I’m out there. I keep finding yarns from Colorado, Wyoming and thereabouts with muted, deep colorways clearly inspired by the colors of the landscape, and they really speak to me. Please, someone make yarn that looks just like a storm rolling up over the prairie:

On this return trip, loaded down with yarn from Palouse YarnsMJ Yarns, Mountain Meadow, Your Daily Fiber and Gypsy Wools, not to mention a handle of bourbon from Dancing Pines, I came in just half a pound under the limit at the airport:

(Fifty pounds seems like an incredible amount of luggage to me. I usually fly with a tiny carry-on bag that fits under the airplane seat in front of me,   but on this trip I’d brought gear for several days of camping in potentially snowy winter weather. Only once I got there did I learn I can cheaply and easily rent camping gear all over notoriously outdoorsy Colorado. Whoops.)

Indie interview: Carolyn Kern of Carolyn Knits

Howdy! Today on the blog is another indie designer interview, this time with Carolyn Kern. (Her blog is here, if you’re interested.) (Funnily enough, like me, she also has a pattern named Double Dutch!)

You may’ve seen her patterns before, with Interweave Knits, Blue Moon Fibers, or Quince & Co., and I can totally see why: she’s a natural for their styles, which heavily favor timeless patterned and color accessories.

… But I know what I like best! (The answer to that is nearly always “stripes” or “herringbone,” if it’s a context where the answer can’t possibly be “bourbon.”) This one has both. (Not bourbon.)

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Equilibrium cowl. I bet you a dollar I’ll end up knitting it this winter.

Her blog’s fun to read — I especially liked this breakdown how Alabama Chanin influenced the pattern choice and color inspiration of her Rosebud hat. And she has tutorials!

Anyway – to the interview! (I hope you read that last sentence in your best “To the Batcave!” voice, like I did.)


How did you fall for knitting? What kept you casting on after that first wonky scarf or potholder?

I grew up in a “crafty family”. All the women in my family learned how to sew, knit, crochet and embroider. Some, like my mother, and my father’s mother, worked more at the needle-arts than others. They were the greatest teachers I could ever have had, and, of all of my sisters and cousins, I was their most willing pupil. I just always liked “to make stuff”.

My first knitted object was a rainbow-colored (from a worsted weight yarn, dyed in a way that was then called “ombre”) garter stitch square. I folded it diagonally and made a kerchief type hat for my Barbie doll. I guess you could say that it was my first design. (I was seven years old.)

What kind of project do you never get tired of, and why? (Mine’s hats. I have a whole fishbowl full of them. They’re fast and easy, and they don’t get tons of hard use in the Bay Area, so they don’t wear out.)

I have been knitting sweaters for myself since I was a teenager. I love sweaters and I wear them a lot.

I still make most of my sweaters from other designer’s patterns (sometimes heavily modified). Even though I know that I want to, and probably should, create my own sweater designs, it is like comfort knitting to me to work to a pattern. I appreciate that a sweater must be made over time –that there is plenty of time to think and modify – and I actually enjoy the finishing – it can be both challenging and rewarding.

My knitting now is a balance between my original accessory pieces, and my slow and steady sweater knitting. It works for me.

Are there any particular themes to what inspires your designs – texture, color, nature, a particular time or place?

Color and texture are big with me. I do love stranded colorwork. I enjoy using my simple knitting chart software (Stitch & Motif Maker V3) to make charts and knit to them. I have always loved color and enjoy putting colors together. I also love knitting that is full of texture, and have been exploring more kinds of textured stitch patterns over the last couple of years.

A source of inspiration for me can be found in fabrics [my Equilibrium Cowl and my Tartan Mitts] and traditional hand-knits [my Rosebud Hat]. I love to combine color and texture [as in all of my Playground Shawls].

I have also recently been inspired by modern textile design and the stitchery work of Alabama Chanin, and I hope to work on some pieces that involve embroidery in the not too distant future.

What’s your favorite part of designing?

I have, so far, designed accessory hand-knit designs. Though I originally thought that I would be better at designing garments because of my long history of sewing and knitting them – I try not to worry about that for now.

What I really enjoy about designing accessories, is going online and browsing what are current fashion design trends in accessories. There is so much to see when you google something like “Fall 2014 Accessory Designs”. I get a lot of inspiration from the internet and even from occasionally leafing through fashion magazines.

I am also always on the lookout for “Calls for Submissions” from knitting magazines and yarn companies. These can often be found online (designer groups on Ravelry are a good source of links).

More and more, the editors of magazine are putting together mood boards and even Pinterest pages, to inspire designs around the pre-planned themes of their future issues. I love these! I print the ones that I like best, and tack them to a wall (near where I work at my “day” job). Even when I do not submit something for a call, they can still inspire me later on.

What was the hardest thing about designing when you started out, and what part of designing challenges you the most now?

I found putting together design proposals for magazines quite difficult at first. No one will exactly tell you how to present your design idea and what to include. And you always want to make a good impression.

This has gotten a lot easier, now that I have done it so very many times (and have grown to accept the many rejections that come as a part of the process.) Besides visually showing what your idea is, you need to provide enough detail on how you plan to execute it, so that the editors know that you are actually capable of making it.

My biggest challenges are now in my Indie design patterns. I have a hard time taking photos that I really like. I also know that I need to spend more time on marketing, as in selling myself, and using social media to promote my work. None of that comes easy for me.

Do you collect anything, other than yarn?

I do have quite a collection of yarn! I can’t really say that I collect anything else except maybe knitting needles and knitting books.

Do you have a favorite “underdog” knitting technique – grafting, seaming, weaving in ends, something that most knitters seem to hate — that you think doesn’t get enough love?

I already mentioned that I really do not mind finishing. To an extent that is something that many knitters hate, but if they could take the time to learn what they need to know, they would come to love the pride that goes along with making and completing something beautiful.

Is there a technique you can do that you’re really proud of, maybe because of its difficulty or how well you do it?

I don’t mean to be redundant, but my answer would have to be similar to my answer to the previous question. (In the coming months, I am not sure exactly when, I have plans to post a series of finishing tutorials on my blog.)

Say you’re stranded on a desert island in a very improbable shipwreck that leaves you with tons of knitting needles an infinite source of one particular yarn. What yarn would it be?

A very tough decision! If I could have every color possible (there are over 100, I think), I would say Cascade 220 worsted. It is, to me, a great workhorse of a yarn. I love it for stranded colorwork and it has great stitch definition for textured and cable knitting.


I’m with her on Cascade 220. What a workhorse. Plus, you could probably pick apart the individual plies and get a decent laceweight! Check out Carolyn’s patterns on Ravelry!