I’m sharing the second in interview in this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month series with Miren Torrealday from Ardilanak. Miren is a knitting designer and yarnie who recently opened her own fiber studio (where she also teaches) in the Basque Country (Pais Vasco), Spain. Miren is also a sci fi nerd like me, and a huge fan of Star Wars. I’ll also be including a roundup of my 5 favorite knitting patterns from Miren”s collection!
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Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to crochet, knit, spin, and dye yarn?
Miren: I’m nearly a completely self-taught artisan. I learned the basics of knitting (casting on, kniting and purling) with my grandma, and basic crocheting with mum. Any other thing I can do with knitting needles is self taught vía the Internet.
Knitting led to spinning. I discovered lace knitting vía Ravelry and I needed lace yarn badly but in my small town it was unheard off. Internet was my go to place again and after some investigation and unexpected money income I bought a spindle, and two weeks latter the Kiwi was home.
I think that I started dyeing fiber at the same moment, out of curiosity again. Curiosity has allways been my driving urge.
Miren: I’m not really good at following directions. I am prone to improvisation, to see were something takes me. It wasn’t difficult to start, after learning the basics, to include little lace details in my socks, or cables, or knitting that sweater but with my personal twist… Someday, someone form my knitting group, Euskadi Knits, asked for the pattern of some improvised mittens… and I started to write down what I was doing… and I ended up as an amateur designer.
My designing process can be chaotic. Most times, I’m not sure where I’m going. I do very little planned designing, I just start knitting and start taking notes. If the finished result is good, then it goes into pattern, if not… rip rip rip. I have this perverse love about ripping. Sometime around the middle of the knitting process the name for the garment pops up. I’m quite a bookworm so a great deal of my patterns have book related names.
UC: What inspired you start your own artisan yarn company?
Miren: It was… the next step, I think. I alredy had my studio, my patterns… I tend to design around my handspuns, and I sell them so it was logical. Some of my friends and customers who are on Ravelry wanted to link my yarn to their projects so I did it. The dyed range came a little later and I’m still working on it, it’s newer, although in the fingering sock and super bulky yarn range, it’s quite settled right now.
UC: Although you also crochet, all of your patterns are for knitting. What do you enjoy about designing on the needles?
Miren: The freestyling that I use in my design process. As I said before, I tend to start not knowing where I’ll end… barring a few exceptions like my San Telmo Cowl. That was completely deliberate.
I also enjoy that uniquenes that designing your own things brings, and seeing how it can appeal to others. I really love seing the projects other people do with my patterns, it’s always thrilling.
Miren: A blast. It’s a creative work, I have very creative students and my mom, one of the most creative persons I know, works there with me, so all in all we create a very creative enviroment and we do some crazy things now and again, but we enjoy it greatly. Now I spend nearly all my days thinking about yarn in some way or another.
UC: What was the yarn crafts scene like in Pais Vasco when you were growing up?
Miren: I can’t tell for sure. From my perspective, knitting was something grandmas did when a little child was on it’s way. I only used to see these wee little baby things that didn’t appeal to me at all. I’ve learned to love to knit baby things a lot, but when I was young, it just didn’t click with me.
Colors were discreet and subdued and there were certain patterns and colors that were considered “how it was done.” You casted on this way, you binded off this other way, and knitting heterodoxy was frowned upon. This, I repeat, from my experiences and some looks and coments I received when I picked up knitting beyond my straight scarves. Some of the old generation still say that knitting with circulars is “cheating” (I’m still trying to figure out what kind of cheating).
I know that knitting has been a traditional craft in Euskadi, and the itchy big and rustic socks, Ardilanak, are part of the traditional clothing, but that was… rare when I was growing up, due to living in a city.
UC: How does that compare to the yarn crafts scene in Pais Vasco today?
MirenI think that there are layers. There is still the “traditional” scene, making a come back with some spinners and yarnies working with ardi latxa fiber. (UC comment: This fiber is from a breed of sheep native to the Basque region.) There are still the grandmas making traditional baby things. And there are those who, thanks to the Internet, have discovered the enormously wide world that there is out there. Knitting is becoming trendy and more and more of the younger generation want to learn. There’s a growing interest and awareness of the traditional yarn process and some people like to buy exclusive yarns.
I think that there’s more to come. And it will be good. The crafting movement is strong around here.
UC: Does your cultural background influence your crafting? If so, how?
Miren: Yes, and no. I have an artistic background in my family, and I’m a proud Basque, but I don’t have any spinners in my family and the knitters are more of the casual kind. I’m in love with soft and airy yarns and our traditional sheep breed. It’s just not soft — the name, latxa, is said to mean rough after all. I love to learn about traditional techniques, tools and things, but I don’t usually use them outside demonstrations. My outlook is not on revival. I’m more keen on innovation. I think that there are others more suited for this safekeeping of the tradition than myself.
UC: What is your favorite yarn-related book in your collection?
Miren: I can get lost in The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius. I just love it and how comprehensive it is. I also use the Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs by Sarah Anderson a lot, along with Wild Color and Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece. And I think I owe Abby Franquemont and her Respect the Spindle all the love in the world for the introduction in this amazing world of fiber and spinning things.
UC: Are there any Spanish- or English-language yarn/crafty blogs or websites you visit regularly for inspiration or community?
I really just lurk around Ravelry, and the Fiber Artists and Yarn Spinners Facebook group.