Kristen in her knitting nook
Today I am delighted to present an interview with Kristen Orme of kristenmakes. Kristen's was one of the first knitting blogs I started reading and if you follow her blog you'll know she's been a busy bee of late, with an internship-turned-design assistant job with knitwear designer Di Gilpin. Not to mention her recently completed MA in Fashion &Textiles Design (now you see what the post title means, eh!).
I met up with Kristen last weekend for some yarn and fabric shopping - the first time we had met in real life! We had a lovely time and were very disciplined in our purchases, with only a modest spend each in the fabulous Yarn Cake. Without further ado, let's find out more about Kristen:
Please can you tell us about when you learned to knit...
My stages of learning in knit seem to align with the different phases of my life. The first time I learned how to knit was while I was in high school. After the success of my mother’s teaching me to sew, I requested she teach me to knit. Being a knitter who jams the needle between her arm and her side, my mother’s way of knitting (and as far as I knew at the time that was the only way of knitting) was no fun for me.
A year or so later in my college years, my aunt re-taught me, and that time it stuck but still I only dabbled, making a few scarves here and there but not more beyond that. When my husband and I married and moved to Pennsylvania, being away from friends and family in a colder climate (we’d come from Florida) was very conducive for knitting, and I picked it up much more heavily, teaching myself new methods and trying out tricky patterns. It was a few years later that we moved to Edinburgh that I began to experiment in designing and writing patterns.
Why do you knit what do you enjoy about it?
Originally I really loved making things, taking a written pattern and making it my own, to suit my own uses. However, now I have so many knitted hats/scarves/mittens/jumpers/shawls that I don’t really need any more woolly items. As such I’ve begun to focus on and appreciate the process more than the ‘end-product,’ although a newly-blocked item still gives me great joy. My hands are addicted to being kept busy. More so, I love learning new techniques and methods.
I’ve really come to appreciate the organic quality of knitting in which fabric and garment are made simultaneously. With the right shaping calculations and fabric design, you do more than just create material: you create item. I love seeing a seamless garment growing beneath my fingers. It is incredibly satisfying. Investigating this, my most recent hand-knit design is a jumper that can be turned inside out and also worn back to front. Playing around with the idea of right and wrong side of the fabric, there is no one right way to wear it.
Multi Way Jumper designed by Kristen
What are your favourite things to knit items/garments and techniques to use?
I was gobsmacked when years ago I first stumbled onto Elizabeth Zimmerman and circular/seamless knitting as it was so efficient. While I still love that aspect, I also developed an affinity for sock-knitting. Portable, easy, quick, I always have a pair of socks on the needles somewhere.
Specific techniques that still get me in a tizzy are the provisional cast-on and Judy’s magic cast-on; and of course, nothing beats the way a woollen garment response to a steaming iron. I’m not sure if that counts as a ‘technique’ however.
How do you feel about knitting for friends and family? Do you love it, dread it, or somewhere in between?!
Somewhere in-between. If someone requests something specific, even if I’m keen to knit it, the fact that the item is requested and expected stress me out as an obligation. That being said, I LOVE surprising people with knitted goods. For my sister-in-law’s birthday this year, I told her I was going to knit her a jumper and gave her a few options of patterns I thought she would like. She was super excited and chose Kate Davies’ Owls. I enjoyed every minute of knitting it, knowing how perfect it was for her and how I was able to surprise her with this. Even though she knew about it, since the knitting of it for her was my conception I was more than happy to make and give it to her. You can see how excited she is about the completed jumper below and the look on her face makes me want to do it all over again!
Kristen's delighted sister-in-law in Owls
What knitting resources do you find invaluable - books or online (or people!)?
Online videos for sure. That is how I added loads of different techniques into my knitting arsenal in Pennsylvania. Knittinghelp.com
Do you have any knitting triumphs and disasters you'd like to share?
My disaster was a necessary but painful learning experience. My first ‘real’ knitted garment has long since been handed off to the charity shop circuit. All was wrong about that project for me: fibre choice (acrylic), colour choice (bright orange), design choice (although a lovely shawl collar cardigan, it did not suit my warm Florida needs), pattern choice (being that it was not as clearly written as a novice knitter might require), and of course swatching for gauge and checking for consistent gauge (I ended up with arms that did not fit armholes and longer fronts than back). I learned a lot from that mess and realised after two desperate attempts to wear it and prove to myself it was a success I gave in and let go. I still wonder where it is and whether it found someone else to love it more than I.
The orange cardi
I also have had an accidental knitting triumph where my second or third knitted garment – although knitted and fitting perfectly – wasn’t really something that felt that rewarding. However, perhaps because it was a good specimen of my growing knitting skill, I could not discard it like I did the last disaster. And somehow over the years, that jumper has become one of my favourites. I grew to love the blousy fit and cream colour that I once was bored by, and I am so glad that my instincts forced me to hold on to it.
You've recently completed an MA in Fashion & Textiles Design. Can you tell us about your studies, and how it has affected/developed your knitting?
My MA studies drew me to sustainable and slow fashion. While I read more about waste in fast fashion, it made me recognise another reason why I love knit: to make and have a unique, quality item that has been planned for and suits your wardrobe needs perfectly. As a result, I am much more critical in my knitting choices. I step back from starting the next whimsy that I fancy, and take some time to plan and evaluate how it fits into my life.
I would also say that I was surprised at how rather my hand-knitting affected my MA work. I didn’t initially think much on what my focus would be at uni and even pondered dabbling with weave for a change. I ended up unable to give up knit and wanted to learn more about machine-knitting. My obsession with shaping and seamlessness in my hand-knitting infiltrated my thought process when approaching the world of machine-knit. In many ways you can do more with hand-knitting than machine-knitting, and my approach was to figure out how to translate a hand-knit technique into machine-knit. I kept asking ‘is this possible, and how?’ As such I experimented with a lot more different techniques that I would have done if I were learning without the basic understanding of the structure of knit. What resulted in my submission was one re-workable knitted garment concept. I wanted to prove how knit is so well-suited for slow design, as there are so many things you can do in it, how it can create a meaningful garment with multiple purposes.
Reversible Dress designed by Kristen as part of her MA
What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started knitting?
I don’t think I would change anything about the drawn-out process that got me where I am now in my knitting. Every mistake was a lesson learned. I think the foibles and discoveries along the way cause me to appreciate the craft more.
I'd like to say a big thank you to Kristen for taking part in November Knit Week. Aren't her multi-way designs fantastic?!