Our Tools, Ourselves: Kristine Vejar

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.

Kristine Vejar dye studio, quilt, spinning wheel

As you may know, I’m very lucky to have A Verb for Keeping Warm — one of the best yarn/fiber/fabric stores known to mankind — as my nearest yarn shop. It was just about a year old when I first entered its doors, and it’s been fun watching it fill in and grow, in so many ways, over the past two years. It’s also been my pleasure to get to know its owner, Kristine Vejar, a little bit, so I’m happy to get to introduce you to her in this way today. You can also find Kristine under the moniker @avfkw just about anywhere you look — e.g., Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter.

Thanks so much, Kristine—

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

My mom used to yell at me that she could tell every room I’ve been in as to the messes I left behind. Well, things haven’t changed much. My ideal day is one in which I begin, partake in, conclude, any or all of the above, in five to ten projects. The medium for these projects is vast, from spinning pygora to cleaning mussels. Though on a typical day a dab of indigo, a snip of cosmos, cutting carrots, threading a needle, casting-on, better even, casting-off.

My main fiber pursuits are natural dyeing, knitting, spinning, sewing and quilting. I really like embroidering and fit it in whenever I can. I know how to weave, though would classify myself an armchair weaver in that I know enough to follow along in conversation and can identify different types of weaves when looking at textiles but am not as proficient in practice. I don’t know how to crochet — and love that fact. I am so happy to sit and listen to people talk about it and have no clue what they are saying. It’s like listening to a different language.

I love to cook and am constantly exploring different styles of cooking, different methods, and cuisine from around the world. Cooking definitely counts as part of the daily explosion of making. I also enjoy gardening — and I LOVE to prune.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

My hands-down favorite tool are my Casabella rubber gloves. I wear them every day in the dye studio. They fit my hands perfectly, easy-on, easy-off, and are long enough to prevent water from running into my gloves.

My favorite needles are Addi Lace circulars. Although, I am very happy that Addi recently released their Addi Rocket circulars. It combines my favorite thing about Addi Lace — the sharp point — with the slick nickel plating of the Addi Turbos. So I will most likely be moving over to acquiring Addi Rockets.

I love DPNs. I use the sharpest metal DPNs I can find for sizes 0-2, currently ChiaoGoo, and use Clover bamboo DPNs for anything larger as they are light weight.

Kristine Vejar knitting and sewing supplies

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

I toss my needles in a series of Ball jars. And sometimes I file them all in the packages they came in. Really it’s a hot mess. Pretty much every ounce of my patience for organization goes into running the shop. So my workspace is pretty wacky. I try to keep everything in clear packages — jars, bags, boxes — so I can see everything really easily. But there can easily be a Tibetan meditational tool I picked up in Nepal alongside a tape measure I inherited from my grandmother, next to a set of sticker thimbles I just grabbed from the shop.

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

Ha! That’s funny. Organize my projects! I am working on an Alabama Chanin skirt that has taken over a year to complete because I keep losing track of where parts of it are. It’s driving me nuts. I find that half the time I forget my projects at work or half at home. Who am I kidding? I rarely get to sew or knit when I am at work so have been leaving most of my projects at home.

On a good day, each project has a designated bag that it lives in. We make at least two seasonal Verb cloth bags a year, so I tend to use those for my projects.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I have four tools which I particularly adore.

Two are pincushions. One I received from my Mom about fifteen years ago. It is made of wool felt and is from a textile school named Sievers in Door County, Wisconsin. I love how it feels. And it reminds me of my Mom. The other pin cushion was my grandmother’s, who taught me to sew, and is in the shape of a turtle. This pincushion lived next to my grandmother’s chair in the TV room my entire childhood. In her house, located in a very small town in Illinois, everything was color coordinated — she took great pride in this. The pincushion is made of upholstery fabric which matched the TV room. I received this pincushion about a year ago, after my grandmother passed away. Funny enough, the tag of the maker of the pincushion is still tied around the turtle’s neck. It was made in Walnut Creek in 1979. I feel happy to have brought the turtle, except for a few miles, nearly full circle.

My other coveted tool is a handmade needle from Kyoto, Japan. My friend Marisa is a purveyor of fine sewing items and visited Japan last year. She had read about this store, run by a family for generations, where they hand make each needle, even hand punching the eye. I won’t sew with it for fear of losing it, which is unusual for me as I am a big believer in using your tools and textiles.

And for my last coveted tool, a croissure is an appartus made of copper pipe, in this instance, and is used in reeling silk, and it needs another tool, one that I need to have commissioned or have the luck of finding, a silk reel (zakuri). So the croissure is one tool that I drag along with me, studio to studio, until one day I find its sibling, and when I will get to practice reeling silk. About three years ago, I had the pleasure of learning to reel silk. (Everything from silk thread to use in my sewing machine to a lace-weight silk yarn made to the thickness of 180 cocoons.) While the samples I made are not exactly tools, they are certainly treasured items.

Kristine Vejar pincushion and handmade needle

Do you lend your tools?

I find it really frustrating to go to find a tool and have it missing, so don’t tend to lend my tools.

What is your favorite place to knit and sew?

Anywhere I can hang out with Cleo, my dog. I love spending time in the woods and making. I’ll put down a blanket, sit and knit or sew, and watch Cleo as she explores. Pretty much every night, Cleo sits by my side as I sew or knit (or both). We also have a really nice porch with a swing. It’s nice to sit out there.

A big impetus behind creating the shop was to create a space where people could come together to create. I learned to knit and sew in a community setting — with my grandmother and her best friends. Years later, when I found myself studying art and architecture in India, I drew upon my skills of making textiles (and cooking) to connect with others. Even though we had a limited amount of shared language, we could connect over the act of making. This made a great impression on me, and one that I wanted to continue exploring and expanding for an unknown duration. I love learning what others are making, how they see texture and color, and how they transform an idea into a usable object.

Kristine Vejar porch swing, pooch and embroidery

What effect do the seasons have on you?

At Verb, we have a lot of teachers from around the world who come and teach. I get super excited when they are there, and when they leave I want to make all of the things they make. Each teacher’s visit tends to have a bigger impact over my work than, say, a season — which ends up meaning that I sew and knit year round. Rebecca Ringquist, an embroidery artist from Brooklyn was just here, so I’ve been working on a new patch for my dyeing apron.

I’d say over the last year, I have had a particular allegiance to the work of Natalie Chanin. I adore sewing by hand and wearing knits – and her work embodies both of those aspects. For the past couple years, my knitting allegiance lies with Cocoknits. I like how flexible her patterns are in terms of how different they can look from one yarn to another, or through the modification of ease, how they can be a bit quirky or unexpected. Mishke is one of my favorite sweaters I’ve knit, and a favorite of mine to wear. I’m dying to make another.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

Funny enough, I have a very small personal stash of yarn. Always have. It took me three years to get the guts to open our store on San Pablo, knowing that technically all of that yarn is my stash. I do have a particular weakness for fleece though — the texture, the sheepy smell, that first wash and seeing the true color of the fleece. There are so many texture and lock variations. Every time I say I’ll never buy another fleece, one lands in my hands. And if you think that a stash of yarn is hard to work through, imagine a fleece! It has to be washed, carded, spun, and then can finally be knit. I used to be extremely monogamous with my projects, though now as my projects are growing larger and more complicated, I have found myself working on many at a time, as some are good for when my shoulder hurts, or needs to be more transportable, or easy to work on in a crowd, etc.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I am working on an Alabama Chanin reverse appliqued skirt. I just drafted a new dress pattern, based upon a velvet cotton summer dress, which I’ve nearly worn to bits. I’ve indigo dyed Alabama Chanin jersey to make this dress out of. I’m almost finished knitting the Francis pullover by Olga Buraya-Kefelian. And I’m making a quilt, using fabric I indigo dyed, from the “Liberty Love” book. At the studio, I have a whole slew of dyeing recipes I am working on for upcoming colorways. My fingers are itching to cast on for a new fall sweater. Between the new arrival of Shelter, Quince Lark, and excitedly awaiting the next shipment of Pioneer, really there are three sweaters right there.

The tricky thing with making samples for the shop — which is basically all I do when it comes to making — is at least 50% of the samples need to be made by the book. What I mean is no modifications. We need projects that represent how the patterns are written line by line. I, and many people on staff at Verb, LOVE to modify things. So, when working to make the shop samples, I have to be particularly strict with myself. The reason for this is that people come to the shop, looking for a project, and really don’t want to think about modifying it. As we describe modifications, we watch as their eyes glaze over. So if we have at least half the shop samples worked without mods, then we can point the customer in the right direction towards a straightforward project. Many times, people are coming to the shop to make something simple, to get away from their complicated lives. It doesn’t do them or us a service to give them something complicated to do. At this point, these types of samples are made by the staff at Verb.

So while dividing my time between my work and personal projects is nearly impossible, I do get to make more samples with modifications. While this is great, as I learn more as a maker and there is more of me in the projects, I have found that making my own mods, or adding in more layers to the process, such as dyeing the fabric and then sewing it into a quilt or dress, definitely means more time in the process and longer periods of time without a finished object. I am extremely driven by product-oriented results. I will forever be the student of zen-type philosophy rather than a teacher. At the end of the day, everything I make is either a potential sample for the shop, sample for a class, or a lesson I would like to acquire so I can better help a customer. What I am extremely grateful for is the body of customers at Verb who like similar things to what I like, so I do get to explore somewhat obscure topics from time to time (like silk reeling or the making of an indigo fermentation vat), and they value that education — even if they don’t necessarily want to learn to reel silk or dye with indigo. It is still a value added to the shop and space of Verb. And in regards to the samples with mods, these are equally important for the customers who come in and want to be inspired who want to stretch their skills.

This upcoming year, I am writing a book which focuses upon the natural dyeing process and will incorporate sewing and knitting patterns. I am really excited to have this focus and to be creating the projects to which others can apply modifications — or not :) Recently on my blog, I talked a bit about the desire to be released from the production side of natural dyeing to spend a bit more time meandering and exploring. I am really excited that the book will allow me to do this — in the sense that it is about exploration and creativity rather than strict reproducibility.

Kristine Vejar sewing table

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Jess Schreibstein

21 thoughts on “Our Tools, Ourselves: Kristine Vejar

  1. I’m kicking myself again…why haven’t I made it to vfkw yet? I’m local, love to create and have yet to visit. Ok now it’s #1 on my bucket list! Must visit! Thanks for the article!

  2. thank you, Thank you, Thank you for the great interview! Pioneer is my one of my favorite yarns and I loved hearing about the shop and owner. I am insanely jealous that it’s your LYS. I don’t have one at all.

  3. It amazes me how many things creative people can juggle, produce, create, inspire, she’s a marvel. What a joy to read. You have a book in the works here. The series, a pattern by each, your own patterns and tools, would be stunning.

  4. Coincidently, this past week I have been contemplating taking a natural dyeing class at AVFKW. Thanks so much for this interview. I really enjoyed it!

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