Readers, meet Rachel! Rachel is one of my favorite people and my absolute favorite knitwear model. She’s one of those rare people who are kind, generous (remember a few posts back when a violin showed up on my doorstep after I told everyone about my lifelong dream to play? That was from Rachel!), funny, smart, beautiful, a wonderful friend and a great mom – basically one in a zillion. Rachel was good enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us. I thought it’d be nice for everyone to get to know this awesome person I am privileged to call friend since her face graces my blog and knitting designs on a regular basis.
Rachel and I at a recent Sunday morning photo shoot
Tanis (TG): If you look on my designer page on Ravelry, your face is everywhere. People are sometimes surprised when they meet me when I travel for workshops because they think you’re me and I’m your photographer! We are in fact, two different people. Do you find this as amusing as I do?
Rachel (RL): I think this is so funny, especially considering the first time I met you. I had been aware of you and your work for a while before we met, but we met for the first time when you toured the school where I teach. After you knocked on the door, I opened it expecting to see a model you frequently used! I think I was momentarily confused, and most likely incredibly awkward when I introduced myself to you because of my visual expectation of you. You were so gracious and warm though, and I couldn’t help but admire the knit shawl you wore, so I assume you forgave my awkwardness? Hi, my name is Rachel, and I am in fact not Tanis Gray.
My favorite image I’ve taken of Rachel, modeling the Voluptuous Cowl I designed for Imperial Yarn
TG: You teach preschool in Alexandria, VA and we met when you became my son’s first teacher a few years ago. Did you always want to be a teacher?
RL: So, I’ve always had an inkling that I would be a teacher. I mean, there was a bit of time there in childhood when I was going to be a ballerina/journalist/botanist/neo-natal intensive care nurse, but yes, children and teaching have always been passions of mine. At the school where I work as Director and teacher, we incorporate many different educational philosophies and we especially find inspiration in the Montessori philosophy. I cannot extol the Montessori philosophy enough. It’s a child-centered approach to education that considers children to be hungry for knowledge and able to initiate their own education within a well-prepared environment. The Montessori method values children as unique individuals and, most importantly, follows the child as they explore the world. What’s so fantastic is that the Montessori method can be incorporated in the home environment as well as the school environment, giving children independence, self-motivation, the ability to self-correct, and the support to become active knowledge seekers. I’ve incorporated as much Montessori into my home as I can with my 3-year-old son, and it’s become a way of life around our home.
Rachel in one of her favorite TanisKnits designs, the Acorned Hat
TG: Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself.
RL: I’m originally from San Diego. I was born and raised there, and lived there until I moved to the DC metro area 8 years ago. I was actually in the process of preparing to move to Japan to teach, but met my husband, fell in love, and moved here instead. My husband, Vance, and I have been married for almost 7 years, and we have a 3-year-old son named Theodore, Teddy for short. I love my family, crafting, food, and binge-watching tv shows on Hulu and amazon prime. I’m kind of a linguistics nerd, and have a healthy obsession with onomastics (the study of names), natural health, and educational philosophies. In my time off from school, I love going on nature walks with my family, exploring the history and the hidden spots in the DC metro area.
TG: In addition to being a wonderful teacher and a fantastic model, you’re a knitter, too! How long have you been knitting?
RL: I’ve been knitting for 14 years. Because my father was in the military, we lived on the opposite side of the country from our extended family. This led to only seeing my grandparents during their visits to San Diego or on summer trips back to northwestern Pennsylvania. One of my earlier sensory memories is of my grandmother knitting on a visit to our house in California. I remember sitting on the arm of her chair watching her as she peered through her glasses at the knitting in her hands. I remember just watching her as she quickly worked her yarn from one needle to the other, her concentration intent, but willing to answer my questions about the loops on her needles, the coarse yarn she used, and what it was that she was making. Attached to this memory, I also remember my love/hate relationship with the packages she would send of oversized ponchos and stiffly crocheted collars. From the former memory though, my fascination with yarn and needles was born. I knew I wanted to learn, but unfortunately she passed away when I was young, and I didn’t have the opportunity to learn from her. When I was in my freshman year of college, I decided that I wanted to learn how to knit in her memory. My mother taught me a basic single cast on, and garter stitch, and from there I self-taught. I still have a few knitting and crochet needles from my grandmother that are largely impractical, but I use them sentimentally.
Even in the humid, buggy woods, Rachel looks great modeling the Nyra Cowl!
TG: What’s your favorite thing to knit?
RL: Lately? Small things. I have many half-started, never-finished projects in queue that have been calling my name. Maybe because I’m always around them, I love knitting children’s clothing. I love that so much detail can go into such tiny works. I also enjoy a good challenging sweater. There is so much satisfaction in seeing your completed work. The first “big” project I ever knit was a sweater for my father. The left shoulder seam is so crooked that it drives me batty every time I see it, but he wears it proudly to this day.
TG: Our sons are friends and Teddy has modeled once for me. Are you going to teach Teddy how to knit?
RL: Yes, most definitely! He’s already shown a bit of interest, and by that I mean, he’s repeatedly swung my circular needles around like a lasso. I may be wearing an eye patch the next time you see me.
Only a true friend would model the 100% wool Polarized Hat in over 100 degree heat!
TG: What’s your favorite thing I’ve designed that you’ve modeled for me?
RL: Oh my goodness, where to begin? There are so many to choose from! Most recently, I loved Bad Kitty! Although I’m terribly allergic to cats, I loved the design and colors of the cat-inspired cowl. Your Emporia Cowl was so soft and warm, because hello, cashmere. The Acorned Hat is stunning, as is the Nyra Cowl. I fell in love with your Warrior Shawl pattern, and finally felt like I could pull off a shawl.
TG: Favorite fiber? Book? Color? Artist?
RL: Okay, I’m probably the most indecisive person I know, so… Favorite fiber: cashmere, hands down. Merino comes in a very close second, followed by silk maybe? Gah, too many to choose from! Book: Well I mean, besides your books, I actually really enjoy Knitting America by Susan Strawn. It isn’t so much a pattern book as it is a history of knitting in America. Color: Green, or blue, or gray. Earth tones? Jewel tones? I like ’em all. Artist: I saw a few pieces by Rania Hassan in 2007, and enjoyed her art, but as far as designers go, there is so much talent out there to name just a few. I’m inspired by so much of the work that you all do!
An impromptu photo shoot for the Luce Cowl at the zoo with our sons!
TG: You are a very patient, calming personality. Does this come from teaching little ones all day or copious amounts of knitting?
RL: Haha. Well, thanks. I guess it comes from a lot of deep breathing, knitting, prayers, imagining that every one is just a giant toddler, and more deep breathing.
TG: Do you prefer to knit for your son/family members or yourself?
RL: I have a couple of drawers filled with beautiful yarn I’ve bought for myself over the years, and I really do plan to use it on myself one day, but I mostly stick to knitting for others. As I knit for family and friends, it’s so nice to really focus on the person I’m knitting for and send out all that good energy and love when I deliver the finished product.
I hope you enjoyed meeting Rachel, dear readers! Stay tuned for many more new TanisKnits designs modeled by my amazing friend!