Last year I had the pleasure of meeting my long-term online friend Andrea Rangel. It's a funny old world when you can have a pal that you've never met in person, isn't it? Needless to say, I was super excited to meet Andrea, finally, in the flesh. I was even more excited to see and hear more about the project she was working on at the time. Andrea's knitting at the time of her visit consisted of swatches for her recently released book, AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary. It was so nice to hear the story of Andrea's book (it's a good one). And now that I've seen the stitch dictionary, I can so empathize with how much work went into knitting each swatch - there is quite a range and some of them are both quite beautiful, and quite complex. Today I'm sharing the story of AlterKnit with you, via a blog interview with Andrea herself.
Me: Andrea, I so loved hearing about the collaboration between you and your husband Sean (?). Would you tell us a little bit about how the idea for this book came about, and the role that Sean played in it's creation?
Sean has helped me with colorwork designs for years. He has a background in fine art and has always been interested in my projects. It was actually his idea to create a stitch dictionary that was just colorwork motifs. He helped me develop the concept for the book, and once it was approved by the publisher, he designed all two hundred of the motifs and helped me decide on colors. The whole project was definitely a collaboration!
Me: Since this book is a collaboration with your husband, maybe you could tell us the story of how you met?
We met on a school bus in Tucson, Arizona when we were in high school. We were going on a drama field trip and ended up sitting next to each other. It turned out that he was friends with a lot of my friends, including being the drummer in my friends’ band. For some reason, I found a sudden desire to learn to play the drums, and after a few lessons, we started dating. We’ve been together ever since!
Me: Do you envision any future collaborations?
I often ask for help when I’m working on colorwork designs, so yes! I’m not sure if we’ll do another huge project like this, but I’m not ruling it out.
Me: Quince & Co. is a favorite yarn company of mine, so of course I love that you used it for the book. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you chose the yarn and palette for the book? I love how thoughtfully curated all the colors are!
After experimenting with a few different yarns for swatches, I realized I wanted a yarn that would have a smooth, sharp character to it. I wanted the colorwork to be as clear as possible, so even though more classic options like Shetland woolen spun yarns are more forgiving in colorwork since they tend to bloom and obscure tension inconsistencies, I chose to go with a smooth worsted spun to get that clarity. Quince and Co. Finch is a balanced worsted spun fingering weight American wool that comes in a great palette of saturated colors. I chose which ones to use by cutting up my color card and swapping out different colors until I had a palette that was basically just full of my favorite colors.
Me: Do you have a favorite motif in the book?
They’re all so different that it’s really hard to name one that’s my favorite! But Hippos comes to mind as one that just makes me happy.
Me: Do you think it's possible to estimate how many hours it took you to do all these swatches? I would love if you shared more about the process of knitting so many different swatches!
I did all the math for this when I was prepping to create the swatches, but I can’t remember what my calculations were! Each swatch took me between three and six hours, and I was knitting at least two a day for about six months. Each swatch is the same number of stitches and rows with garter edges and some steek stitches for cutting (they’re all worked in the round.) I had a spreadsheet with all the colors planned out, so each day I would check my list and make whatever was next. I knit far more than two hundred swatches because we eliminated a bunch that didn’t work or that we didn’t both love. I was very relieved when I sent the last batch off to Interweave
Me: Tell us a little bit about the patterns! I love that the Bikey Beanie and Skull & Bones Pullover can be adapted by switching out a different motif from the book! What do you envision knitters doing with these?
The book patterns are there to give just a few practical examples of how colorwork can be used in knitting patterns, and I hope that knitters do just knit the patterns as they find them. But like you said, I also encourage folks to swap out motifs and explore their own ideas! There’s a section on how to do that, including a bit of math, so knitters don’t have to guess how it’s done. I envision the patterns as a bit of scaffolding for knitters’ creativity. I hope that they’re inspired by just flipping through the book and that they just start adding colorwork to everything!
Me: When I saw you last summer, I think you mentioned hopes for the book - that it would inspire other designers. I can tell you that my mind started spinning immediately when I got the book and started flipping through the pages. What would your dream for the book be?
We’d love to see a whole lot of new colorwork patterns and projects in the world! Our dream is that designers get inspired to make things with colorwork - that they use the charts in the book in their own patterns, and that they’re inspired to modify, adapt, and create their own! And I hope that knitters are encouraged to take on challenges and get excited to expand their knitting skills. My goal is that the book gives an extra confidence boost and a bit of enthusiasm to knitters and designers to use colorwork in their knitting.
Me: Do you have any plans for classes or events where folks can see the swatches and samples in person?
I’ll be teaching at Vogue Knitting Live Chicago March 9-11, 2018, and at Beehive Wool Shop in Victoria March 24 and March 31, 2018. You can learn more about upcoming events on my website and stay in the loop by subscribing to my newsletter.
Thank you Andrea!