In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.
It would not be an overstatement to say that Australian knitwear designer Elizabeth Yong, with her independent label Primoeza, is one of the most inspiring people I’ve come across since I began to knit a couple of years ago. Not only is her work beautiful and thoughtful and creative while always remaining eminently wearable, she has incredible personal style and her blog routinely causes my jaw to drop with admiration. So I’m thrilled to have her as today’s featured guest in Our Tools, Ourselves.
You can also find Elizabeth on Pinterest and Instagram.
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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
I am a machine knitter. I learnt how to use the machine when I studied Textile Design. I always loved knitwear but never expected to end up majoring in knit. However, during study, I found myself drawn to the process of forming the end piece at the same time as making the fabric. It really suits the way I think. I struggled with making small, abstract samples.
At the end of my studies I wasn’t that happy working in a routine 9-5 job so I decided to set up my label. It’s been a roller coaster ride and I’m just learning as I go, but I love what I do.
My knitting is not split between Primoeza and personal work. The division of a professional and personal life never interested me, I just wanted to discover what I loved doing and then do it all the time. I make things that I would like to wear myself and then I will spend time developing and refining them for my label.
As well as knitting, I sew a bit and enjoy free-form stitching, and I especially like to combine these techniques with knitwear.
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
With machine knitting, you need to use all the tools that come with the machine. Each tool looks very strange, has a very specific purpose and sports a discoloured plastic handle, since they were manufactured in the ’70s and ’80s. I don’t get much aesthetic pleasure out of them so I indulge in all the other things: scissors, threads, buttons. I like things made from wood, steel, linen and vintage horn. Things that have a patina and a nice weight to them.
I am both a collector and a minimalist so I am in a constant struggle with myself! These days, though, I appreciate having both mental and physical space so I prefer to buy less and buy better quality.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
I am a big believer in storing! I can’t think amongst clutter. I used to work for a Parisian man who imported luxurious fabrics from Europe and had beautiful furniture. One day he moved home and he gave me a big set of drawers that he used to keep all the fabric samples in. This treasured piece now houses most of my tools and materials. If that weren’t enough, I also have a small set of drawers from Ikea for little things I need to reach for daily.
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
I have more shelving for my yarn and finished products but the projects I am working on are spread all over my bench, my ironing board, my floor, my dining table …
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
My knitting machines are my biggest splurges. They’re all vintage but they’re getting quite expensive these days. There aren’t many machines in Australia either, so I had to get one shipped from the UK. And I still use a sewing machine that I bought when I was much younger with the proceeds of some tote bags I made and sold to shops. That was a proud moment!
Do you lend your tools?
No. Machine knitting requires a very specific set of tools and you’re screwed if you’re missing something.
What is your favorite place to knit and sew?
My studio – I work from my home and I have my cat for company during the day. I have a space with white brick walls and lots of natural light and it overlooks an acacia tree and a school yard. We live in inner Melbourne and when I need a break or inspiration, I can step out the front door and immediately become immersed in the galleries, shops and characters on the street. At night I might sit and watch a film and darn in ends. But machine knitting is such a different activity to hand knitting — it’s not cosy; it’s sitting at a bench, operating a noisy machine.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I am an Autumn person but I knit all year round since it is my work. The only exception is in the height of summer when the heat and humidity affect the knitting so I have to ease up on it then. In that time I might do some sewing or planning for the months ahead.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
I am very envious of hand knitters. My family and school were not crafty at all so I learned to knit as a mature age student. I feel like my skills are rudimentary compared to those who started knitting when they were young, but I work with what I have and I suppose it informs my style, which is a bit minimal and naïve.
What are you working on right now?
I have been working on lots of garment samples for a new collection. I became quite overwhelmed from so much knitting in the last year or two so I am trying to produce my pieces in a more sustainable way. It’s taking forever to get everything organised but I’m really excited about the next phase for Primoeza.
PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Jerome Sevilla (aka Gridjunky)
Photos © Elizabeth Yong/Primoeza
*sigh* Wish I had a studio like that. Thanks for this, really inspiring! Adding her blog to my reading list (and I WILL get my knitting machine working one day)
Thanks for the article, I have 3 knitting machines and was just about to give them all to goodwill…but NOT now…I am going to relearn how to use them and maybe teach others how to enjoy them. She is right though about them being not cosy and noisy…
I really want to try it. I have a few Instagram friends who are both hand- and machine-knitters, and one of them has offered to show me. But I have to get to LA to take her up on it! I’ve never looked into what kind of investment a machine is.
I love getting to see into other artist’s studio’s! What wonderful work!
I grew up with Mum knitting all our jumpers on the knitting machine out of necessity. I can still remember those tiny hooks on the lovely curved ends that just begged to be touched. Poor Mum. I now own 6 machines of that vintage. I’m inspired by this article to play again. It’s interesting that Elizabeth finds them rare and expensive – she only needs to come across the water to Tassie where it seems knitting machines come to retire.
How truly inspirational. And what a stunning studio. I am more than a teeny bit covetous of the Parisian drawers.
Fascinating. It’s nice to see someone address this idea of separation between personal & professional work. Creating something is a very personal thing.
great to see a fellow melbournite profiled! i’m really interested in machine knitting but the learning curve is just so steep…
I love some of the unexpected embellishments. I always think about machine knitting. Not that I have a machine!
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