I’m really excited to share an interview today with Pam Hoffman from Indian Lake Artisans. I had the pleasure of meeting Pam at Vogue Knitting Live in 2013, and then again in 2014. Pam and her husband, Mark, make these amazing hexagonal knitting needles (and other knitting and crochet accessories) using locally sourced materials. If you are at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival this weekend (also known as “Rhinebeck”), please check out their booth!
Pam and Mark also generously sponsored my 2014 Sampler Mystery Knit-a-Long by providing a set of hexagonal knitting needles to the winner of our August giveaway. (If you want to join in on the MKAL, you can buy the pattern here on Ravelry and chat in the Underground Crafter group here. There are more fun prizes to come in October, November, and December!)
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Underground Crafter (UC): How did you start Indian Lake Artisans?
Pam: We live in a little log cabin, on a little island, on a little lake, in southeastern Michigan, north of Detroit named Indian Lake. Mark and I have always loved the outdoors and find much inspiration in our life from nature. We love arts and crafts so when we began making knitting needles we wanted a name that would grow with the company and encompass multiple art forms and artisans, thus Indian Lake Artisans was born. We launched the company in May 2010 with 9 products and we now make over 200 items. We make single point, double point and circular knitting needles. We have shawl pins, cable needles, stitch markers and our very own unique hexagonal wooden yarn bowls.
UC: What inspired you to create your signature line of hexagonal knitting needles?
Pam: I was shopping for a Christmas present at my local yarn shop and I wanted to buy some knitting needles, yarn and a book for my daughter who was in her mid twenties and a beginning knitter.
The expert knitter at the shop thought square needles would be a good idea for her. She took a set down and began casting on to show me how easy it is to knit with the square needles. She was all thumbs and really struggling, and she was the expert. It sure didn’t look easy to me!
I declined on the square needles and bought a traditional pair instead but I couldn’t stop thinking about different shapes that might be beneficial for knitters. Back in my Jeep and driving to pick up my son, I came to a stop sign. Octagonal? No, too many flat sides. I had a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil on my dash board and that triggered my brain. Hexagonal! Easy to hold, round in nature. Returned home, grabbed my pencils and yarn, and began knitting. This felt really great.
The hexagonal shape is easy to hold. You do not have to grip the needles tightly to control them. The hexagonal shape is round in nature and creates beautiful stitches with uniform tension, and your stitch gauge stays true to size. If you think about the hexagonal shape, the yarn stretches from point to point around the hexagon. The flat side is slightly under the yarn and this creates a tiny gap or ease in the yarn. This makes it very easy for you to slide your knitting needle under your stitch, making it very easy to knit and purl. You never have to force anything.
The minute you have to force your knitting needles, you need to grip them tighter and that action tenses everything…hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, back and brain. When you are holding our needles in one hand, they rest comfortably flat side to flat side. You don’t have to try to control two round objects that want to spin against each other. The hexagonal shape makes knitting multiple stitches together, or knitting into the front and back of a stitch, so much easier because you have just a little extra wiggle room to work your stitches. The needles are recyclable and non toxic. Allergy sufferers really love our needles as they are nickel free. We hear from our customers all of the time how our needles have changed their lives. They are able to knit again and their hands no longer ache. Our needles are very ergonomic.
Indian Lake Artisans single point knitting needles are available in US size 6 through size 15. Each single point size has a decorative copper topper unique to that particular size. I designed all of the tops and they are made with a very lightweight and recyclable plastic that is copper plated. The toppers from small to large are as follows; feather, owl, fish, rowboat, arrowhead, lantern, acorn, turtle, and cabin.
The double points are available in size 2 through size 15. The DPN’s are wonderful as they provide control for your hands and your stitches. No need to worry about your stitches dancing off the needles while resting on the table.
The circular needles are available in size 3 through 15. We make standard lengths 16″, 24″, 32″ and 40″. We are also able to make custom lengths. We have made 12″ and 60″ length circulars for customers and everything in between. We love customizing needles for a particular project need. The circular needles swivel on the connector and this relieves twisting of the cord as the needles move with you.
Hexagonal knitting needles make happy knitting!
UC: Tell us more about your commitment to using locally sourced materials.
Pam: On receiving the first patent, we had to figure out how to make the needles. What an adventure it has been! Michigan had not rebounded from the recession of the early 2000s and was devastated by the financial crash of 2008. I wanted to utilize every Michigan company I could to produce the needles. If we couldn’t find a Michigan source, it would have to be a USA company. I was determined to avoid overseas, outsourced, cheap labor and components.
We are extremely proud to say that we have succeeded in our “Michigan made” mission. We use more than ten Michigan companies that help employ roughly 500 people to produce our needles. The individual decorative tops for the single points are made in Grandville, MI along with the tooling for these tops. They are copper plated in Warren, MI. The wood we use is from sustainable forests in the Great Lakes and a mill in Highland prepares the native wood, walnut, cherry, and maple, for Mark. The two custom made machines Mark uses to cut the needles were made in Ann Arbor and Lapeer. The cutting blades for the machines are made in Flint. The US stainless steel connector parts for the circular needles are made in Saint Clair. The packaging is made in Rochester and is die cut in Dexter. The brands to mark the needle sizes and our logo for the beautiful yarn bowls were made in Madison Heights. The 100% natural beeswax we use to finish the needles comes from Benzonia. We use local patent attorneys, lawyers and accountants.
And there is us, me and Mark, our labor force of two. Yes, indeed, the needles are handcrafted by us, every single one, hand cut, hand sanded, and hand polished. The needles are beautiful! We both try very, very hard to make the best quality knitting needle available in the marketplace today and we think we have succeeded in this mission. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you are knitting with a locally sourced, locally handcrafted product, helping to provide economic support to your local community.
UC: You travel to a lot of fiber festivals to showcase the Indian Lake Artisans products. (In fact, I met you at Vogue Knitting Live in 2013.) What are some of your favorite memories from the fiber festivals you’ve visited?
Pam: We have been participating at fiber festivals for roughly two years and we absolutely love it. Mark and I love adventure and travel and we enjoy meeting people everywhere we go. Having a booth at a fiber show allows us to meet our fellow fiber enthusiasts and tell them all about our wonderful knitting needles. We always have a few different sets with some yarn for knitters to test drive the knitting needles and experience the hexagonal shape. We just have the best time and it is always fun to see a beautifully finished project the following year from a satisfied customer.
We have exhibited at the Vogue Knitting LIVE events, STITCHES, and many local fiber festivals. We have a lot of fun at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY and will be there again this October. We are busy right now preparing for the Michigan Fiber Festival held in Allegan, MI (UC comment: This event was held on August 15 – 17, 2014). We hope to exhibit at more festivals in the future and see more of our great country. We really like driving to our shows to help keep the travel costs down. Plus driving allows us to take more products along too. We met Marie at VKLive in New York last year.
UC: If people aren’t able to meet you at a local fiber festival, where else can they buy your needles?
Pam: We of course sell the needles and accessories at the fiber festivals we attend. Our complete product line is available on our Indian Lake Artisans website marketplace. We are lucky to have about 75 retailers across the country that carry our needles and that list of retailers is on our website. We are constantly surprised by the number of people who have never heard about our fantastic knitting needles and we are always looking for opportunities to reach more people. So please spread the word to your favorite local shop owners and friends.
UC: Do you and Mark knit?
Pam: I learned to knit as a teenager and almost finished a sweater but really took up knitting with interest in 2003. Mark just learned to knit last year and was only using size 10 needles to make his first scarves and hats that sent him on his knitting adventure. He challenged himself recently though, and picked up some size 6 double points to knit a pair of fingerless gloves with flaps. The fingerless gloves are a very complicated pattern for a new knitter and pose additional challenges with a first attempt using double points. You can see photos of Mark’s gloves in progress on the Indian Lake Artisans Facebook page. I think you will agree that Mark is doing a great job!! I firmly believe the hexagonal shape facilitates learning to knit and purl, and control of the knitting needles. Mark’s very first scarf was even and straight. For a first project I attribute his success to our hexagonal needles as his stitches were well formed and very nice. Successful beginnings lead to a life long hobby.
UC: What’s next for Indian Lake Artisans?
Pam: We are in the process of developing interchangeable circular needles and designer needle cases. We plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding for the project. This is a very exciting undertaking for Mark and me. We will be sure to announce the Kickstarter on Facebook and Twitter so friends can help us reach our goal.
Thank you so much for stopping by, Pam! We look forward to seeing those interchangeables on the market, so let us know when the Kickstarter launches!