Louisa Demmitt and I met on the set of Knitting Daily TV, way back when we were filming season 12. Louisa was my ride to and from, well, everywhere, and we met at the airport sight unseen as if we were on a blind date. We hit it off right away and from that time on have never run out of things to talk about.
Somehow in our conversations in those first few days of meeting each other, the film Lars and the Real Girl came up. An interesting movie about a lonely man and a blow-up doll (sounds like we’re gravitating close to porn here, but firstly, get your mind out of the gutter and secondly, not even close) and how the town embraces them both, this movie has so much heart. The first time I saw it, I thought “wow, I need to watch this again.” Louisa felt the same way and we talked about this movie extensively. She said, “The most charming part of this movie is how Lars’ family and community rally around him. They come up with a schedule for Bianca, the not so real girl, to really make a full life for her. People take her places and treat her with great care, as though she was alive. Which is really all for Lars, and I think is probably the best expression of love and friendship that I’ve ever seen.”
Lars, the main character, has a blanket his mother knit for him as a child. With his mother long gone and having lost her at a young age, he clings to this blanket like any small kid would – it’s more or less the only link he has to his mom. The blanket shows up here and there in the film and the knitter in me always looks at it with eagle eyes, mocking up the stitch in my brain, thinking about the yarn they used and about who made it. During a conversation about the film I said to Louisa, “wouldn’t it be fun to knit that up and put it up as a free pattern?” The idea clicked and before we knew it, we hatched our plan – I would design it, supply the yarn and photograph it and Louisa would knit with abandon. We parted ways after filming ended, both excited to get started.
As soon as I got home from filming in Ohio and had unpacked, I pulled the DVD out and watched it again with my husband. Every time we watch it I feel another layer of emotion, I cheer and cry with the characters, I look for the blanket, I move my way through the story and love how it ends. I swatched up what I thought would be a “pretty darned close” version of the stitch and had done the math and written out the pattern by the time to credits were rolling.
Digging through my stash, I came across 8 balls of Be Sweet Bamboo in a sage green (not exact, but certainly close to the original color in the film). Sending off both the yarn and pattern to Louisa in Colorado, we agreed that we would take this project at our own pace, get to it when we could and above all else, enjoy working together on something fun and interesting. Time rolled by and the project would occasionally get pushed aside with real work, life and for Louisa, wedding planning!
A couple of weeks ago a large box landed on my doorstep. Opening it up and shaking out the amazing knitting Louisa did, having it look just like we wanted and being able to put it up for fellow Lars and the Real Girl knitting fans like us was magical. She says, “I loved working this pattern because it was therapeutic and soothing. Once you did one repeat, it was easy to remember what you were doing and to get into the rhythm of it. I had also never knit with bamboo for anything larger than a scarf, so it was nice to see how bamboo creates such a great drape, and infinite cuddle-ability.” It was fun working on a tag-team knitting project together! Lousia says, “There are knitting inspirations everywhere, and if you keep your eyes and mind open to them, your creativity can really have a chance to run wild. I wouldn’t have thought of knitting this blanket if Tanis hadn’t pointed it out. I’d always thought, ‘oh, that’s cool, he’s wearing a knit blanket as a scarf.’ But I never would have taken this realization any further. Sometimes you need a jolt to your creative system, and that thing that you think looks cool turns out to be totally knittable if you give it a try!”
I’ll admit that part of me is sad to see our project together end, but who knows what else we’ll cook up together in the future? We hope you enjoy this blanket pattern and if you haven’t watched the movie, Demmit and Gray give it 2 thumbs up!
Download the free Lars & The Real Girl Blanket pattern here.
Not long ago I had the chance to work with Our Back 40. Our Back 40 develops, produces and sells yarns which bring together the finest alpaca fiber produced in the U.S. with discerning consumers who value its quality and provenance. They achieve this by cultivating direct, Fair Trade relationships with small American farms to access their finest grade alpaca, and working closely with an artisanal mill in this country to produce yarns of distinct beauty and authenticity.
I’ve worked for years with other fiber companies involved in Fair Trade practices. What does that mean exactly? Fair Trade goods are just that. Fair. An organized social movement whose stated goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions and to promote sustainability, members of the movement advocate the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as higher social and environmental standards. The movement focuses in particular on commodities, or products which are typically exported from developing countries to developed countries, but also consumed in domestic markets most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers, gold and 3D printer filament. The movement seeks to promote greater equity in international trading partnerships through dialogue, transparency, and respect. It promotes sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers in developing countries.
I love the idea of Fair Trade yarn coming from our own backyard around the United States. Small farms that may not be able to have their alpaca milled into super soft yarn for us knitters now have a chance to do so. When Our Back 40 approached me after reading Knit Local to come on board and curate a collection of patterns in their luxury alpaca yarn, I was immediately interested when I heard their story.
Now all of the patterns are available for individual download and I’m excited to share my two with you – the Lockwood Shrug and the Lady Slipper Shawl! The Lockwood Shrug is knit as a simple rectangle, turned horizontally, seamed to create armholes and topped with a lace collar. I like that you can wear it with a tank top in the summer or over long sleeves in the winter and that the lace pattern mimics rolling hills. Use some fancy schmanzy yarn to make it appropriate for evening attire or keep it simple in superwash and wear it every day!
The Lady Slipper Shawl combines two traditional lace patterns and is an interesting and fun knit. Started with a provisional cast on, the length of the shawl is knit, then the two leaf lace borders are knit on at the end. I pictured this as a wedding or fancy attire shawl (especially when presented with the white yarn), but would love to see it knit up with a punch of color… Magenta perhaps?
I’ve stood on my soap box made of fiber for years, shouting about the importance of knowing where your fibers come from. We are in tune with what goes on our bodies and in our mouths, where things come from and how they are grown. I 100% believe that it should be the same with what we put on our needles.
Download the Lockwood Shrug pattern here and the Lady Slipper Shawl here.
Julie Jackson is the mastermind behind the popular “subversive cross stitch movement.” You may have seen her book Subversive Cross Stitch (2006), thumbed through it and thought “yup” to make of the designs (check out her website here for kits and other goodies). Julie has a new book coming out TODAY and it’s even better than her first! She was kind enough to sit down with me on her book release day and answer a few of my questions and share a few previews of her new book for you, dear readers…
Tanis Gray (TG): I’ve been a big fan of your work for years now and love the modern (and sarcastic) way you’ve taken a hobby that some people see as “fuddy-duddy” and made it hilarious and truthful. What are the usual reactions to people seeing your work for the first time?
Julie Jackson (JJ): If I’m lucky, they glance and dismiss the genre, but once they realize what the words are saying — classic double-take and laughter. I’m the youngest of seven kids, so I’ve been working my whole life to get a laugh! It gets pretty competitive with so many funny siblings, so it’s good practice. Also, my 90-year-old mom once said, “I love your book, I keep it under my mattress!”
I know we have some younger readers here in our community, so I have blurred out any “naughty words.”
TG: I want to make so many things from your new book. Are all your projects inspired by real-life situations or do people give you suggestions?
JJ: Both. I get so many suggestions I can’t use, there are so many things I won’t touch. It’s hard to get it just right, you never know. Sometimes I create a design from a phrase I really love and it’s just a dud. I have a book of phrases scribbled down, so I just try again. I’m hoping to get a lot more PDF patterns up this year. They’re less of a time investment for me than the kits, and I can experiment with those more to see what people like.
TG: Tell us about your new book and the process of making it.
JJ: Well, a fabulous woman named Sharyn Rosart was the book packager with my first book which they sold to Chronicle. I’ve had chances to do a second book, but I really didn’t want to work with a craft title publisher since my stuff appeals to a base beyond the craft world. Sharyn started working for powerHouse and had the idea for a second book, but they mostly do art and photography books. We waited a few years for the time to be right, for them take a chance on something they hadn’t done before. I kept hanging on because I really felt I’d found the right publisher. They’ve been great to work with and kind of let me do my own thing, which I love because so many publishers would put limitations on what I do or put their own spin on it. I hired a few stitchers and upgraded our initial agreement so that there would be a total of 50 patterns. Then I rewrote most of it, upgraded the way the patterns are printed, added stitch counts and a couple more alphabet charts, and a great photo of my mom in the back. It’s bigger than the last book and I think it’s a helluva deal for the price, I tried to make it a valuable reference tool since so many people have told me they picked up cross stitch because of my first book and still keep it on their shelves.
TG: Do you have a favorite project in it? I like the “Cheer up, loser.”
JJ: I’m in love with so many of the vintage frames I found — especially the frame for “Because F*** You, That’s Why” . It works so well with the piece, it’s almost distractingly glamorous. I think the combination of glam and shock makes that one my favorite.
TG: How did you get started? Were you always labeled as “subversive” in your crafting?
JJ: I started working at home as a freelance copywriter in 1996, I had just HAD IT with working for other people. I took one last job after that, and it drove me to start stitching the “F word.” It was definitely art therapy and a way to stay enthused as I was kind of forging a new meme.
TG: What’s your advice for someone looking to get into subversive cross stitching?
JJ: Buy the book and try it–it’s so easy and surprisingly therapeutic. Plus, once you do a few of mine you might want to branch out and create your own pieces. I really encourage people to make it their own, no two stitchers are alike in their ideas and execution.
TG: What was the first thing you cross stitched? Were you instantly hooked?
JJ: I took a wedding sampler from a craft store and stitched the word “f***” very small right in the center of an ornate floral border. Traditional wedding samplers usually come with font charts so you can stitch in the couples’ names. This was just a bunch of detailed flowers and a tiny f-bomb. It delighted me to no end.
TG: This is not your first book! Tell us about you other work and your kits. Where can people find them?
JJ: I did one other book of Subversive Cross Stitch about 10 years ago. Then I did a book based on my other company, Kitty Wigs, called Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs. That went viral, so it got a lot of coverage. I basically sold wigs to take photos of your cats in, then found a great photographer (Jill Johnson) to make a book with. My first cross stitch book is now out of print, but Glamourpuss is still going strong. It was reprinted in Japanese and Korean! It’ll be out there on Amazon and bookstores everywhere in late February, or you can also pre-order online. On my website, I sell two types of kits, instantly delivered PDF patterns and the best cross stitch supplies I can find. Kind of a one-stop shop so you can avoid a trip to the craft store.
TG: What are you working on right now?
JJ: I just did a series of embroidered tins with blueQ. I had the idea of printing stitching on these metal tins and we ended up doing a series of four with different stitchers. Mine are on the way to me in the mail, I can’t wait to see them in person! They’re for sale at blueQ.com
TG: What are you doing when you’re not creating? What hobbies do you have?
JJ: It’s gotten so busy that my husband has been able to join me and help the business grow. I’m actually working on setting up another work area because we were crammed in this little office together throughout the craziest holiday season ever. It’s ideal, we have so much fun and he has always has brilliant ideas. I wish I had more time for hobbies, I have a few projects lined up but they’re just not happening yet.
TG: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
JJ: I used to intern for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when I went to grad school in Pittsburgh. It was a dreary year, so I basically just weaseled my way in and talked them into letting me work for them–they didn’t have an intern program or anything. It was the last season of filming, too, so I got to know all my childhood favorites: Mr. McFeely was my boss, Bob Dog was my favorite pal and Fred would make microwave popcorn for everyone. Getting a glimpse into what work could be when it was at its best impressed me even more to create work I love. That place was the real deal, truly magical.
Me with my “Bite Me” kit!
TG: My “Bite Me” cross stitch sits on my desk and I often look at it and just nod. I love it!
JJ: Thank you so much!! Yeay!!
Thanks, Julie! If you’re into cross stitch or always wanted to try it, get yourself a copy of Julie’s new book, out today!
This article was written by a female Bulgarian knitter (original post here) in response to an article making it’s way around the internet. It’s a pretty interesting read, and definitely food for thought regarding knitting for profit and pleasure.
An article has been circulating that has fueled a lot of discussion among knitters, entitled “Never Say This To a Knitter. Really, Just Don’t Do It.” What exactly are you never supposed to say to a knitter? You might think it’s a remark about him/her having too much time on their hands, or an ageist joke about who, stereotypically, is “supposed” to knit. It’s neither of those. The author, Anne Miller, argues—and many knitters agree—that the comment she least wants to hear (and does hear, often) is “You should sell your knitting!”
The first thing I noticed is that the article was published by Yahoo! Makers, which is apparently a thing that exists (neat, I guess). The headline is classic clickbait, designed to compel and stir up discussion. But the article’s thesis, that knitters are tired of hearing well-intentioned randos insist that they should commodify their craft, is familiar and resonant. I’ve heard, and felt, the same sentiment many times.
When someone tells me I should sell my handknits, I take that for what it is: a compliment. But sometimes the complimenter persists, and wants to know why I haven’t pursued this brilliant business plan already. This might be someone who, earlier, told me they never spend more than a few dollars on a t-shirt, or that they think $100 is way too much to pay for a pair of jeans. Since textiles have become one of the cheapest commodities on earth, and the people who make our clothing are increasingly denied living wages or safe working conditions, I don’t know where someone would get the idea that making clothes, by hand, is a smart moneymaking venture. That’s when it veers into uncomfortable territory, when I have to explain how much money and time actually goes into a handknit item, and how much such a thing would have to cost in order to bring in even a small profit. When I explain that I do sell patterns for my designs, and that I’m happy to teach anyone to knit who wants to learn and will pay for my time, that’s usually where the conversation ends.
So I very much relate to this piece, as did plenty of people on the WEBS Facebook page, where I first saw the article posted. Most people who comment on my knitting are not interested in having a conversation about their role, and moral responsibility, within the garment supply chain. Knitting, like any textile art, draws you closer to the beginning of that chain. Making a garment changes your perspective on clothing, and about how much of yourself you’re willing to invest in something you love.
However, sometimes we’re a little too comfortable in the assumption that knitting for fun necessarily challenges consumerism, instead of being another expression of it. I worry about this when the conversation turns, as it always does, to the costs. As Miller says, “The glorious yarn a stranger admires easily costs $20 or more per skein.” Add to that the cost of finding and buying, or creating, a pattern design, and the countless hours of actual knitting, and knitting starts to sound less like a practical vocation for plucky senior citizens, and more like a status hobby for the rich, like windsurfing.
I’m not disputing Miller’s cost calculations. I’ve spent more than $20 on a skein of yarn myself, plenty of times. Especially since I’ve had a glimpse into what it takes to run an ethical fiber farm, process wool responsibly, and bring a low-volume, niche product to market, I’m happy to pay the price for quality yarn, thoughtfully produced. But there is plenty of very serviceable yarn that costs much less, and a handmade item shouldn’t have to be expensive to be cherished.
Certainly, a knitter has a right to refuse to sell her work. She also has the right to spend as much as she wants on yarn and supplies. But if we only talk about those who knit purely for pleasure, and spend top dollar on materials, we leave most crafters out of the conversation. We create a false binary of “regular” clothes, which are supposed to be cheap and fast, and “handmade,” which are costly and slow. This binary excludes most people from access to well-made clothes, and more importantly, from developing the skills to make clothing themselves.
Like many knitters, I’m not rich. At some point, almost any crafter who doesn’t have an unlimited budget will start looking for ways to make their habit as economical as possible. Not every project can — or should — be a treasured heirloom made from expensive yarn. I’ve knit sample items for yarn stores and yarn companies; I’ve knit slippers and hats from leftovers; I’ve knit socks for babies I’ve never met. I’ve even sold some of my knits. None of this has cheapened knitting for me, nor has it lessened my enjoyment of knitting. Rather, I’ve been able to learn new techniques, experiment with new yarns, and take on fun projects that I might never have otherwise.
I live in Bulgaria, a country where handknit slippers, socks and hats are not yet luxury items (another pro-tip for knitting on a budget: move somewhere cheap). Greasy wool yarn, grown and milled right here in Bulgaria, is sold by the kilo. Older women spread out their handknits, to sell, on tabletops and sidewalks all over Sofia. A pair of one-of-a-kind slippers can go for as little as 3 euro, while an elaborate lace tablecloth (something that would take me a month of uninterrupted work, and takes these women two weeks) might fetch no more than 40 euro. These women knit Balkan-style, picking their stitches impossibly fast, with their working yarn thrown over the backs of their necks. They are absolute master knitters. But, rather than living a hobby knitter’s dream, they sell their knits to eke out whatever extra income they can, to supplement pensions of 200 euros or less per month.
You might think that, because they have to rely on their knitting skills for survival, that these women don’t “knit for pleasure.” Most artists or crafters will attest that selling the things you make changes your relationship to them, and your relationship to your craft. But when I talk to these women, they seem to love what they do as much as any hobby knitter. Like the Americans I know, they describe knitting as therapeutic, fun, and creative. They take no less pleasure in their handiwork just because they sell it to strangers. In fact, many of them are proud that they can make money from a skill that their daughters and granddaughters often don’t bother to learn.
Here, handknits are widely available, and consequently, not treated gently. When I knit in public, no one suggests I should sell my work. Instead, people remark that their grandma makes new socks for them every winter, or that they buy all their slippers from a prolific neighbor. At the market, I like to compliment anyone I see wearing a handknit sweater, or a garment that’s been visibly mended. Usually, the wearer will beam and tell me who made or mended it for them, or if they did it themselves.
As robust as Bulgaria’s crafting culture is compared to countries more firmly entrenched in capitalism, chances are it won’t be around for much longer. Fast fashion, and cheap, imported clothes have penetrated the market here, and tastes are changing in response. High-quality garments that are meant to be mended and worn over several years are seen as a clunky remnant of communism. Like Americans, modern Bulgarians expect to pay little for clothes and throw them out when they’re tired of them.
Meanwhile, as our wardrobes become cheaper and chintzier to the point of being disposable, handmade items are increasingly commodified as luxury trinkets instead of durable necessities. The handknit slippers and socks of Bulgaria are holdovers from a generation when workers could take a day off to can their vegetables or pick their grapes (things that still happen in many villages). It wasn’t a luxury to wear handknit socks, because you or someone in your family had the time to knit them. Instead of consumers, people were crafters, and had access to quality because they had the skills and time to make it themselves. At some point, the forces of capitalism decided that we were better off devoting those crafting hours to waged labor instead, and that in a society with no personal, unmonetized time, quality would be available to those who could pay for it. As wages fall and jobs become more competitive and demanding, many people are too busy to even sit down for all their meals, let alone pursue creative, fulfilling activities. Handknit clothing is becoming a luxury item, because the time it takes to make is a luxury. As Miller says in her piece, “not everything can be bought or sold — nor should it.” Yet, that’s exactly the direction we’re headed. When skills like knitting become merely costly hobbies, then most people are priced out of something that’s useful and fulfilling for anyone, not just those people who can afford high-end yarn.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to spend $50 on yarn to make an intricate scarf for a friend. But wardrobes are not built of intricate scarves alone, and knitting will only further disappear into the fringes if that’s all we knit. On the other hand, we can’t expect knitting (or sewing, or any textile-craft) to be valued as a skill, when we live in a society that has so shamefully devalued the people who make our clothing.
You might think it’s an anachronistic treat to wear clothing that somebody made for you. In fact, the clothes you’re wearing as you read this were made, by someone, for you. Even today, all clothing is handmade, to some degree. Millions of people work in garment factories all over the less-industrialized world, making the clothes you buy (oddly, these people aren’t the ones being complimented on their craftiness). Any conversation about the value of handmade clothing is incomplete without including these workers and the items they make as well.
Ultimately, the magic of knitting, for me, is not determined by what I knit, who it’s for, or whether or not I receive money for it. The magic is that I’ve developed a skill that decreases my dependence on consumer culture, that I can practice anywhere. Imagine opening your purse and taking out a little machine that doses you with tranquilizers and spits out perfect-fitting mittens and sweaters; that’s what knitting is for me. I’m convinced that, without it, not only would I be cold, I’d be a less functional, less sane, and much less happy person. The feeling I get when I knit is something everyone needs in their lives, not just those who’ve acquired enough capital to pursue an expensive hobby. This is what I love about teachingknitting, as opposed to selling my knits: sharing that skill with others, and hopefully giving someone else the inimitable satisfaction of having created something no one can buy.
UPDATE 2/13/15: Congratulations to winner Ruth! Ruth, check your email!
Acorns are pretty unassuming little things. We kick them, we step on them, we watch squirrels thieve and pillage them… I did a lot of research on them before setting out to design an acorn-inspired hat and oddly enough, what I read was pretty interesting stuff.
The acorn, or oak nut, is the nut of the oaks and their close relatives (genera Quercus and Lithocarpus, in the family Fagaceae). It usually contains a single seed (rarely two seeds), enclosed in a tough, leathery shell, and borne in a cup-shaped cupule. Acorns vary from 1–6 cm long and 0.8–4 cm broad. Acorns take between about 6 and 24 months (depending on the species) to mature. It is known for its circular shape.
Acorns are attractive to animals because they are large and thus efficiently consumed or cached. Acorns are also rich in nutrients. Percentages vary from species to species, but all acorns contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and the vitamin niacin. Total food energy in an acorn also varies by species, but all compare well with other wild foods and with other nuts.
My mom is famous for her quotes. Yes, she has some pretty good ones that came directly from her, but she has a talent for passing on particularly good ones she knows I’ll like. My grandmother (who would have been 104 last Saturday and was a very talented crocheter) was a treasure trove of fantastic quotes, many of which pepper my conversations today. After going through a rough patch at a thankless job years ago, my mom sent me this gem… “Don’t worry if your work is hard and your rewards are few. Remember the mighty oak was once a nut like you.” I printed it out and taped it to my computer monitor. Whenever things get rough, that quote runs through my mind and I buck up and dig in. It’s a mantra of sorts.
With that in mind, let me introduce you to the Acorned Hat, modeled after oak leaves and acorns. Knit in the fabulous Patapsco yarn from The Knitting Boutique ( 100% Falkland wool), it’s made entirely of fleece from the Falkland Islands. Located off the southern tip of Argentina, this region is known for its cultivation of exceptionally fine wool. Falkland is a regional blend of fleeces rather than a breed of sheep. The environment in which the sheep are herded results in naturally white wools that need little chemical scouring or processing, resulting in a deliciously soft, crisp yarn. Falkland is a soft, durable, worsted weight yarn that has beautiful stitch definition.
This hat combines corrugated ribbing with Fair Isle work around the crown. Topped with a meaty multicolored pom-pom, this hat will be sure to keep you warm until spring comes and new acorns start popping out. I like the balanced color combination of a neutral and a bright, popping color. I love that it reminds me of my Grandma Myrt and my mom, mantras, being positive, and spring being right around the corner.
Let’s give a copy of the pattern away, shall we? Leave an answer to this tricky trivia question in the comments section (open to readers worldwide) and you’ll be entered to win:
What famous Spanish novel is this quote from, “They tell me there are big acorns in your village; send me a couple of dozen or so, and I shall value them greatly as coming from your hand…?”
Want to see something amazing? Check out the story below that was up last week over at Bored Panda…
Sew Wanderlust: Designer Embroiders Her Travels On-Site Instead Of Taking Photos
Most of us bring a camera to our travels, capturing the images of anything that interests us, while annoying the local residents. Designer Teresa Lim decided she did not want to look like an average tourist, so she thought of a very unique way on how to preserve the memories from her trips.
Anywhere Teresa goes, she takes the time to make an embroidered souvenir, depicting the landscape or landmarks that she visited. As of now she has brought these little souvenirs from such places as Vietnam, Tokyo, Prague, Germany.
On her website Teresa explains how and why the project began: “I started the project late 2014 after I realised that with today’s state of the art technology, taking pictures becomes so easy. I wanted something more from my travels, to be able to take back a part of that place with me. When I’m done with a piece, I actually feel like I KNOW that place, and that gives me a huge sense of satisfaction that I think just taking a photo wouldn’t give.”
If you liked Lim’s “Sew Wanderlust” series, be sure to check our her website for more of her amazing works.
UPDATE 2/6/2015: Congratulations to Monica! Check your email…. 🙂
What is it about Jane Austen? Why is she so beloved so many years after her works were first published? Why have her novels been brought to life in so many different incarnations on both the large and small screen? Her books reprinted over and over? I’ve always been a fan of her work, Sense and Sensibility (1811) being my favorite, followed closely behind by Pride and Prejudice (1813). Her strong female characters, problems back then that have similarities to our modern-day lives, the pressures of being a woman… It’s interesting to lose yourself in a book written over 200 years ago and find a character dealing with issues similar to your own. I imagine she must have been smart-as-a-whip, have a great sense of humor and felt trapped in the day-to-day life of a woman living in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s without the freedom we have today.
Like so many knitters, I was ecstatic to see the first issue of Jane Austen Knits hit the shelves of my LYS in 2011. 200 years after my favorite Austen book was published, suddenly we have something new to celebrate her life with! Of course the special edition magazine was a success, and since the first issue came out, we’ve had 4 more. Interweave decided to pull together a collection from the first 4 issues and put them into a new book, The Best of Jane Austen Knits. Editor Amy Clarke Moore was kind enough to sit down with me and answer a few Austen-themed questions for us.
Tanis Gray (TG): I loved the approach of your introduction in the book pairing knitting with literature. Can you expand on that idea?
Amy Clarke Moore (ACM): Knitting and literature go well together because they can be both meditative and quiet activities, but also provide a way to connect with others. When you are reading or knitting you can make space for yourself, go inward for a bit, and relax. But knitting and literature can also provide a way to commune with people—by reading the thoughts of another person and discussing those ideas with friends, and through the making of objects for the people you love or gathering to knit with friends. Knitting and literature are both good for nurturing yourself as well as connecting with your community—both things this world needs more of.
TG: Why do you think so many people today still turn to Jane when they want to read a good book, especially women?
ACK: Jane Austen’s work has proven to be timeless—it is still relevant two hundred years later. Her work has so much depth that we’re still mining the riches she gave us in only six completed novels and a few fragments. I find it is her ability to capture the nuance of human relationships and the importance of the seemingly small moments that make up a life the most compelling part of her work. That said, I’m captivated by all that I’ve read about her allusions to local and global politics in the subtlest ways that are mostly missed by todays readers, but would have been obvious to her contemporary readers. She was absolutely brilliant—using the guise of a romance novel to voice her opinions in a time when she wasn’t allowed to speak freely because she was a woman. I don’t know if this is why so many women gravitate to her work, but I know plenty of men who also enjoy it.
TG: With 5 editions of Jane Austen Knits, how did you narrow down which projects would be showcased in the book? Was it driven by popularity or do these projects speak to you for other reasons?
ACM: We drew from the first four issues of Jane Austen Knits because the fifth issue hadn’t been made yet when the book was in production. It was hard to select the projects for the book from the many that had appeared in the first four issues, but we wanted to bring together the projects that best illustrated the concepts: capturing an aesthetic inspired by Jane Austen’s writing and the Regency era but wearable today, representing a range of garments for women, men, and children for the mostly skilled knitter (but offering something for beginning knitters as well), and drawing on the wide variety of knitting techniques offered in the magazines.
Barton Cottage Shrug
TG: Do you have a favorite project in the book (mine is the Barton Cottage Shrug!)?
ACM: I made my own version of the Barton Cottage Shrug using my own handspun yarn—I love wearing it (you can see it on Ravelry)! It’s hard to pick a favorite, as I love so many of them for a variety of reasons—for capturing the concept in a book beautifully, for the use of a knitted stitch, for the way a pattern showcases a yarn . . .
Cottage Tea Cozy
TG: I really enjoyed the articles peppered in throughout the book (about where Jane lived, knitting in her writing, how accomplished she was and dressmaking) that really gave modern knitters a brief glance into life during Jane’s time. Do you think you would have liked living then?
ACM: I think there are aspects of living in England during the Regency era that I would have enjoyed, but others that would have been hard to endure as a modern woman who has had the freedom to think, work, travel, and write as I see fit. I enjoy drinking tea, spinning, and knitting while watching my favorite adaptations of the books and imagining life back then without having to live with the realities of no indoor plumbing, constraining social strata, and frightening medicine.
TG: This collection has a nice mix of garments and accessories and it was shot with an “English countryside” look. Can you tell us about the photo shoots and working behind the scenes?
ACM: We were working on a shoestring budget, which required a lot of creativity for photo shoots. We found nearby museums, book and antique stores, B&Bs, and also asked to use the yard of friends with amazing gardening skills for our locations. Working several months in advance of the publication date (meaning that we were shooting the Spring issue in December and the Fall issue in June) and recreating an English Garden in the arid climate of Colorado was not always easy, but it was fun to come up with solutions that helped set the stage. To work within our budget, we did not hire professional models, but asked people we knew to model. In one case, I spotted a young woman buying coffee at the coffee shop across the street from our offices and worked up the nerve to ask her to model for us! She was thrilled for the opportunity and did a great job.
For the clothing under the knitted garments, in many cases we were able to find great items at local thrift stores. Liz Good, the managing editor of Jane Austen Knits was particularly skilled at finding perfect thrift store finds. Ann Swanson, our photo stylist, was able to make each image look perfect, and our photographer, Christa Tippmann was especially gifted at using natural light to create a mood. I was lucky to work with such a great team. I hope the new editor of Jane Austen Knits, Anne Merrow, had as much fun as I did working with this team—they are all so talented.
My favorite part of the photo shoots was gathering the props—I would scour used book stores for copies of Jane Austen’s books with interesting covers, as well as literature that Jane might have read. I also brought in a lot of the china my grandmother gave me to use as props (as well as her opera glasses). I also enjoyed introducing other crafts as part of the supporting props—such as spinning, embroidering, and sewing.
Georgiana Darcy’s Fancy Shawl
TG: How did putting the book together differ from putting together the special editions of the magazine?
Working on the magazine issues was an exhilarating experience—I don’t think I ever had so much fun working on a concept for a magazine as I did with Jane Austen Knits. Creating the balance between modern-day knits and honoring the traditions from 200 years ago in England was challenging in the best of ways.
I left Interweave in January of 2014 to pursue a new career in Montessori education—so most of the work that I did on the book was pretty minimal—I wrote an intro and made suggestions for what articles and projects should be included, but the amazing and talented book staff at Interweave did the bulk of the work reformatting the magazine articles for the book pages.
Hetty’s Sunday Cuffs
TG: What do you think Jane Austen would think, seeing so many wonderful knitted garments and accessories inspired by her writings?
ACM: I imagine she’d find it a bit odd, but amusing. She’d have something witty to say about it, that’s for sure.
TG: Which is your favorite Austen novel?
Pride and Prejudice as it was the first one I read (in high school) and at first despised (because I tried to read it in one evening), and then later fell in love with and have read so many times (nearly every year) since then.
Love and Loyalty Pin Ball
TG: Jane died quite young (41) from tuberculosis in 1817. Do you think her work is more popular today or back then?
ACM: I’m not sure folks have decided for sure that she died of tuberculosis—I’ve heard a number of theories as to the cause of her death (illness, for sure, but new theories as to what illness come out nearly every year). While she did have some recognition while she was alive for her writing, it has gained popularity as the years go on. I anticipate that it will continue gathering followers as the years progress. I can’t imagine Jane Austen ever becoming irrelevant.
Marianne Dashwood Stockings
TG: If you picture Jane in your mind knitting by the fireside, what is she making?
ACM: We know she must have knitted (as the daughter of a clergyman and a spinster, she would have had to knit to help clothe her family)—and I hope she took pleasure in it, though I imagine it was her writing that occupied her mind whenever she had to sit down to make things. I imagine her making socks for her many brothers and mittens for her beloved sister, Cassandra.
Thanks, Amy! The new book is a truly grand collection of projects from the first 4 issues of the magazine. Now for the fun part! One lucky reader will win a copy of The Best of Jane Austen Knits. Answer this trivia question (open to US residents only) in the comments section.
What was the order of Jane Austen’s 6 completed published works in chronological order?
One winner will be chosen at random on Friday, February 6th.