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Today, I’m interviewing Tanis Gray about her new book, Knit Local: Celebrating America’s Homegrown Yarns. Her publisher, Sixth & Spring Books, sent me a copy to review, and I’ll also be hosting a giveaway for my review copy.
Tanis is an accomplished knitwear designer. She is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and was the former Yarn Editor at Soho Publishing. Like many yarn crafters, she shares her love of the craft through her volunteerism, and teaches knitting at a women’s shelter and also donates Snuggles to pet shelters. She can be found at her website or her Ravelry designer page. All photographs are used with Tanis’s permission, and credited appropriately below.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to knit?
Tanis: My mother taught me when I was 8 years old with the help of a family friend. Both my grandmothers were knitters and crocheters. I can’t wait to get knitting needles in my son’s hands! I think everyone should knit and am a big believer in knitting being taught in schools. I’d love to see it taught in every single school in America. It teaches concentration, basic math, self confidence, a sense of accomplishment, color skills, and the simple act of being able to provide for yourself. If you’re cold, make yourself a hat! (UC comment: This is so true! I’m always impressed when people tell me they learned knitting and crocheting at school “back home” before coming to the U.S. – and they all seem to have a better understanding of math than our students here!) People are too plugged in nowadays. We need to break that cycle with the new generation and knitting could be instrumental in that.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Tanis: I had always designed my own mittens, hats, and scarves. I was in a serious mitten phase for many years and pretty much anyone I knew got a pair at some point. I started looking for certain things in stores and could never find exactly what I wanted. That led me to start designing, but I didn’t get serious about it or have the confidence until I worked at Vogue Knitting to try designing beyond accessories. Seeing my first sweater design published was a thrill. I still get a tingle of excitement when I open a magazine or book and see something I designed and knit on the page.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Tanis: Everywhere! There are so many museums where we live in Washington, D.C., and my mom and I spent so many weekends at the art museum growing up. Looking in magazines, reading books, seeing something on the street, in a dream… Inspiration is all over, you just have to keep your eyes open.
UC: Your new book, Knit Local: Celebrating America’s Homegrown Yarns, has just been published. What was the design process like for this book?
Tanis: I had worked on so many books for other people while working at Soho Publishing. Being in charge and working on every single aspect where it was all on me was interesting. I wrote the entire thing on my kitchen table and at a few local coffee shops and it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up and last thing before I went to sleep. It was so much writing, talking on the phone with the yarn companies, emailing, fact checking, photo gathering, and patience.
My husband is a green mechanical engineer and he was a big inspiration. When we first started dating he changed all of my lightbulbs to energy efficient (long before it was trendy), investigated my recycling, and opened my eyes to living a more enviormentally-friendly lifestyle. Getting a bunch of designers together to design for this book who understood what it was I was trying to convey was a tough process, and I think the end result speaks for itself. The designs are beautiful and I am so proud of everyone who contributed.
My soul is in this book and I hope people love it as much as I enjoyed making it.
UC: You have held many roles in the yarn industry, including working as a designer, editor, and now author. What advice do you have for aspiring needlearts professionals?
Tanis: Never give up. Designs get rejected all the time but it’s not necessarily because the design was bad. It may not have fit into the issue or been what they were looking for that time around. Keep trying and keep designing. Don’t be married to a certain idea. I’ve seen people submit the same design over and over again because they loved it so much but it wasn’t what the magazine was looking for. Self publish it on Ravelry, get it out of your system and start again. Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before being published! Where would we be without Harry Potter? That’s a fantastic example of determination and not giving up.
UC: What are your favorite knitting books in your collection (besides your own, of course)?
Tanis: I have so many knitting books. When another one comes in the mail, my husband always asks “do you really need another knitting book?” The answer is YES! I especially love older knitting books that are very straightforward. There are no bells and whistles, just the knitting. But on the other hand, I love glossy, full-color, beautiful books also. It’s interesting to have books from the Victorian era that are falling apart next to the most popular of today sitting side by side on my shelf. I’m a big fan of historical knitting books because I think it’s so important to know the history of a craft if you love it, especially if you do it as a career.
UC: What are your favorite types of yarn to work with?
Tanis: I’m an equal opportunity fiber lover. I love cotton, which many people don’t like knitting with, but a nice springy wool, a soft alpaca, a beautiful hand dye… I love it all! I think you should try every fiber at least once. Sometimes I’m surprised at how much I’ll love a yarn that I may have been unsure about.
I was very excited about reviewing Knit Local: Celebrating America’s Homegrown Yarns, and for the most part, my high expectations were met.
The concept of Tanis’s book is great. The target audience is confident knitters in the United States who are environmentally conscious and/or interested in knowing more about how the yarns they love are produced. Tanis encourages you to learn about where your yarn comes from, and introduces the reader to U.S. based companies who produce yarn in an eco-friendly manner. By promoting these companies, Tanis aims to encourage us to be more environmentally conscious consumers, who buy products locally to reduce the carbon impact from transportation. To this end, the book is arranged regionally, and includes a profile of twenty-eight yarn companies. Each company’s profile is followed by a pattern using one or more of its yarns.
What I like about this book:
- As someone who has always live in an inner-city, and who occasionally fantasizes about living on farm, producing my own super awesome yarn, I was thrilled to read about people who’ve actually lived this dream.
- The stories of the different companies are really interesting. (Full disclosure: I find entrepreneurs and their stories interesting – if you don’t, this could bore you to tears.)
- It was helpful to read the business philosophies of the different companies and to know more about their products. I learned a lot about the philosophy behind some of my favorite yearns.
- I enjoyed learning about new yarns, and especially about those produced by small, independent yarn companies. The profiles feel more intimate than reading about the yarn company on a website – almost like being introduced by a friend.
- The resources section in the back includes information about knitting notions made in the U.S., as well as information about the yarn companies profiles in the book.
- The book is graphically attractive and has excellent photographs. It definitely qualifies as “eye candy.”
- Unlike many books, which have no defined target audience and include beginner tutorials along with advanced patterns, this book aims squarely at the experienced knitter. Two patterns are done in crochet, and the rest are in knit. About half of the projects are advanced difficulty, with the rest being mostly intermediate. There is one easy pattern.
- There is a broad range of projects by many different designers.
(Side note: My favorite knitting patterns were the Big Man on Campus Hoodie in Green Mountain Spinnery Alpaca Elegance by Josh Bennett, the Cabled Car Coat in Farmhouse Yarns Andy’s Merino by Sauniell Connally, the Maritime Hat and Mittens in Swan Island Yarns Worsted by Jil Eaton, the McEnroe Diamonds Scarf in Juniper Moon Farm Fire Wool Worsted Weight by Ben Walker, Farmhouse Gloves in Solitude Romney by Kristin Nicholas, and the Winterthur Beret and Cowl Set in Hazel Knits Artisan Lively by Elspeth Kursh. It might be my crochet bias, but I really liked both crochet patterns too, the Wildflowers Scarf in Buffalo Gold Lux by Linda Permann and the Random Harvest Afghan, photo-styled like a shawl, in Brown Sheep Company‘s Lamb’s Pride Worsted by Randy Caveliere.)
On the other hand…
Like some works of conceptual art, the book doesn’t come together exactly as you would imagine based on hearing about the concept. For example:
- After Tanis convinces us in the opening pages about all of the benefits of buying local to reduce environmental impact, the back cover flap proudly declares that the book was manufactured in China. It is hard to believe that Sixth & Spring couldn’t find a location in the Western hemisphere to publish this book, especially given the subject matter.
- It is wonderful to see a book with so many different designers represented. However, I’m not sure that any one knitter would actually be interested in making this diversity of patterns. There are baby/child garments, men’s and women’s clothing, all manner of accessories, a pair of socks, and a sprinkling of home decor – in quite a few different styles and using a range of techniques. The book doesn’t look as cohesive as most books with a limited range of designers or a project theme. I think many people look for themes in their books – either a project type (e.g., socks) or emphasis on a certain technique (e.g., cables), so this aspect of the book may limit its appeal.
- While the back cover declares “30+ Gorgeous Knits!,” I keep counting and only get 30 projects. I actually think 30 projects is plenty for a book of this price – but since the back cover has me thinking there are more projects, it seems like something is missing.
- I can’t help but wonder why the companies with only 1 yarn produced in the U.S. are included (though their stories are just as interesting as the rest).
I don’t knit nearly as much as I crochet, and if you read the blog regularly, you know that I don’t tend to follow patterns, so I’m not in the target audience of this book. However, it does stand on its own as an introduction to some of the small, independent yarn companies in the U.S. I think an environmentally conscious knitter who likes at least five of these patterns would be quite happy with the book. (And it would be easy to find 5 patterns you like, since the patterns on the whole are really great and represent a variety of techniques and styles.) If you are not persuaded by Tanis’s case for buying local, eco-friendly yarns, you may still be swayed by the 30ish designs included in the book. I do think you are likely to rate the book higher if you are interested in the environmental issues Tanis presents, or prefer to shop local for other reasons. I would rate the book as a 4 out of 5 stars for the experienced, eco-conscious knitter. It is an attractive exploration of diverse projects with interesting, well written tales of independent yarn companies. This is not a book for a beginner knitter, and will probably have limited appeal to eco-friendly knitters outside of the U.S., or knitters who aren’t particularly concerned with how their yarn is produced or its impact on the environment.
Full disclosure: A free review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Although I accept free books for review, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review. My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.
The Giveaway I’m giving away my review copy of Knit Local: Celebrating America’s Homegrown Yarns, courtesy of Sixth & Spring. In the spirit of the book, this giveaway is only available to those with U.S. mailing addresses. (Don’t worry, my international peeps – I have another giveaway coming up for you soon!)