Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer (that’s me!)

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Today is the 5th anniversary of my first post on this little ol’ blog of mine, originally known as Yarnover.me. I’m not sure I’ve ever really introduced myself properly (although there was the “welcome” post when I changed the name to Fringe Association a year later), but since I get regular requests to feature myself in Our Tools, Ourselves, I thought today might be a good day to do it. In many ways, I’m a completely different person than I was when I set up the blog and made that first post. At that moment I was working as a web producer in San Francisco — I had a good job I was miserable in, had recently lost my garden and had no real creative outlet, and then I learned to knit. Five years later, this blog and Fringe Supply Co. are my full-time jobs. My husband and I now live in Nashville TN, where we are blessed to be able to own our home, and one of my oldest and best friends, DG, works with me at Fringe, which occupies a big studio space in a crumbling old building in the rapidly “gentrifying” Germantown neighborhood. It’s impossible for me to interview myself about my tools and organizational systems without it looking like one giant Fringe Supply Co. promo, but really it’s the opposite. Fringe is a reflection of my life. The things I sell in the shop are there because I either love and rely on them and want to make them available to you, or I designed them to fill a want or need of mine, and get to share that with you, too. So here’s how it all plays out in my world—

In case there’s anyone not already following along, I’m @karentempler and @fringesupplyco (and @slowfashionoctober) on Instagram, and karentempler and fringeassoc on Pinterest.

Before I get started, whether you’re brand-new here or have been reading the whole time, thank you for being here!

Oh, and! if you’ve asked someone to get you a Porter Bin as a gift, make sure they know they have two chances today: 9am and 12pm CST. (Along with another surprise ;)


. . .

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

I’ve at least dabbled in all of the above except for spinning, but knitting and sewing are where it’s at for me. While I’m fascinated by spinning and weaving, I’m happy to support the amazing yarn-makers and weavers in the world and spend my own time turning the fruits of their labor into clothes.

I crocheted and sewed as a kid — hadn’t crocheted since, and sewed only very sporadically over the years — but didn’t learn to knit until the Fall of 2011. Obviously that had a huge impact on me, since it’s now the thing my universe revolves around. When I began knitting garments for myself, it brought me back to sewing and into the Slow Fashion movement, and really changed everything about how I approach my wardrobe. (See Why I make my clothes for more on that.)

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I’m a purist and a minimalist, in all aspects of life — I like natural materials, things that are the color nature made them, and not very much of anything. I try to keep it clean and spare and utilitarian, so that’s also what I look for in my knitting tools and accessories — and how Fringe Supply Co. came to be.

I only knit on circulars and DPNs — don’t own straight needles. When I was first knitting, I didn’t want to buy an interchangeable set because I was sure my preferences would evolve beyond bamboo and I didn’t want to commit to any one set, so instead I spent a small fortune buying new circs in every size and length every time I started a new project. Then I fell in love with Dreamz, asked for interchangeables for Christmas one year and wound up with two sets, and have been building up my parts and DPNs collection. But given what I said above about natural and undyed and all, you can imagine how I feel about the color-coding. :/ Now that I’ve found Lykke, I’m switching over! They’re the needles I’ve always longed for and I’m thrilled.

Other than needles, my tool kit is pretty basic: stitch markers, scissors, tapestry needles, a ruler and tape measure (wish I could find one I truly love that isn’t a cheap plastic giveaway sort of thing), pencil, eraser and Knitters Graph Paper Journal. Basically one of everything from my Tools collection! Lol. I use a DPN for a cable needle (if anything) and annotate my work (if needed) rather using a counter.

But I have to say, my very favorite “tool” is Fashionary templates. I’m literally addicted to the perforated sheets. Any time I pull them out and start sketching, I fall into a sort of trance of happiness, and they are all over my workroom — stuck to the wall, stacked on tables. In addition to enjoying the act of sketching and thinking through ideas, and paging through my drawings, they are the thing that has had the single greatest impact on my ability to envision and make things that are really smart and useful additions to my wardrobe. You can see how much I rely on them (and how I use them) if you look at my Wardrobe Planning series. I love them more than I can say.

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

All those individual circs and my DPNs are kept in a vintage 4-drawer metal file cabinet thing — like a card catalog, I guess — that I got at the flea market. Rarely touched these days. My interchangeables are in the case they came in, along with extra cords and stuff. I usually stick a pair of scissors in every project bag, and the other tools are next to my knitting seat, on little metal trays so it looks a little less random or messy. All of the needles plus my blocking supplies, a bin of not-in-use project bags and totes are all kept on the shelves under my worktable.

I don’t own very many sewing patterns, so they’re just stacked into an old soda crate on the shelf. Traced-and-cut pattern pieces are hung on S-hooks on a rod on the wall. And a Turkish tire-rubber bin holds rolled large-format patterns and tracing paper, oversized rulers, and so on.

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

I’m a fanatic about this, as you might guess. I mean, I’m an organizational freak to begin with, and I take project bags so seriously I built a business designing what I wanted, right? I’m very fortunate in our current home to have an extra bedroom I’ve made into my little workroom. There’s a desk that’s shared between my computer and sewing machine, a little Ikea worktable in the middle of the room, and a wall of Ikea Ivar shelving for storage, and that’s where my WIPs live. In the past, they were sort of floating around our loft with no good place to go, in a random array of bags. Which made me want to minimize the number of WIPs at any one time, but that’s also when I was the most profligate about casting on. So it all felt very out of control to me.

The shelves in my room now hold everything — books, patterns, WIPs, yarn and fabric — and they’re my portion control system. I’m not allowed to exceed the capacity of this wall — truly, if it doesn’t fit in there, I’ve gotten carried away. There’s one row of shelf that’s designated for WIPs; it fits four Porter Bins and two Field Bags, so I can have four sweaters (or sewing projects) and a couple/few smaller projects in progress, which is more than I actually care to have going at any one time. (There’s a Porter prototype at one end of the row, full of fabric scraps, that prevents me expanding the WIP container count any further!) But I LOVE this system. When it’s time to knit, I love going in and pulling a project off the shelf, and then I love replacing it on the shelf when I’m done. It’s so tidy! (This is how big a nerd I am.) And it really does keep my cast-on-itis in check. In reality, or ideally, I have one or two sweaters in progress in the Porters and the other two are just holding yarn for whatever’s next.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

The things that are my own creation are obviously special — the Field Bags, the Porters, the leather stitch marker pouch. My pouch feels like an old friend at this point. It’s darkened with age and use, but I’ve also spilled wine on it, etc., so it has a lot of character. I also have a couple of little bowls that were made by friends: two ceramic ones from my studio neighbor Morgan at Handmade Studio TN, one of which holds back-up stitch markers (I get itchy if I don’t have a lot of stitch markers around the house) and the other of which holds my sewing pins; and a little wooden one by my friend James of Handy Dandy Productions that also holds stitch markers and sits in the metal trays next to my knitting seat. He made us some of those for the shop this holiday, which made me really happy. Hopefully he’ll do it again sometime!

Yarn-wise, I have a number of treasures. Small-batch yarns made by good friends or that I’ve found on my travels — like the Sawkill I bought from an awesome farm couple on my first trip to Rhinebeck. Having special yarns like that makes me think really hard about what to do with them that will both honor their characteristics and take up long-term residence in my closet. Likewise, the fabric my friend Allison made for me, which I have yet to come up with the exact right project for! I take a long time to decide what to do with my treasures, and that feels entirely appropriate to me.

Other than that, my cousin recently sent me my eldest aunt’s dress form from when she was much younger. We are not a family with a lot of heirlooms — I have two things in my house that come from my family, and this is the third. It’s teensy (maybe size 4?) and in a little bit of disrepair. So I plan to treat it more as a decorative object than one for use, but I am really touched and happy to have it. (By the way, I get asked a lot about my dress form — the one pictured here. It’s just something I got by searching “collapsible dress form” at Amazon.)

Do you lend your tools?

I never really have occasion to! I do have that little cabinet full of all those old bamboo circs that I would be more than happy to lend out or give away! If you’re local and in need, hit me up.

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye?

I knit either curled up in the corner of my couch or in one of the hanging chairs on my screened porch, weather permitting. And there’s nowhere on earth I’d rather be than knitting in the hanging chair on my porch. But I also love knitting on my brother-in-law’s boat. When we visit them in Florida, we go out deep-sea fishing and I don’t really fish. But I love being out on the ocean, no civilization anywhere in sight, camped out on top of the cooler box under the bridge (in the shade) with my knitting, watching and cheering.

And I sew in my little sewing room, although that’s what I dislike a little about sewing — it makes me feel a bit trapped. Although obviously there are worse places to be trapped!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

What effect do the seasons have on you?

When we lived in Berkeley … well, there really are no seasons there (it’s just always chilly), and I could never understand why people with seasons didn’t knit year-round anyway. Don’t people in hot places have air conditioning? Don’t you still want something to do with your hands while watching a movie with your spouse or whatever? But now that we live in the South, I kind of get it. I still knit in the summer but there’s no urgency about it so I get a lot less done. And there are times, even with a/c, where the idea of touching wool is just unthinkable. Fortunately, it’s brief!

By contrast, I feel much more motivated to sew in the summer — both because it’s what I can do to make the clothes I need and want for the warm seasons and because the kinds of things I can sew (at my skill level, I mean) are more likely to be warm-weather clothes. Little tops and skirts and stuff. In the cool seasons, I’d way rather be curled up working on a sweater.

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

I guess my dark secret is sort of like Monica’s hall closet nobody wondered about until near the end of Friends. I’ve just told you all about my nice tidy wall of shelving and how everything is required to fit into that. But there is a big basket in my bedroom (like the size of a cooler) full of abandoned WIPs and ball ends and who knows what — stuff that predates my current system. I swear here publicly today, for all to see, that I will have it cleaned out before Spring. And I’ll have reclaimed about a dozen Bento Bags in the process!

My quirk is that I knit cross-legged or with my feet tucked under me, so I find it awkward to knit in public or a classroom or anywhere I have to sit in a chair with my feet on the floor.

What are you working on right now?

Right now all of my attention is on my Channel Cardigan. I’ve been on about that pattern for years now, and it has finally made it to the number one position in my queue. I just finished a small-gauge (for me) stockinette pullover and had major project fatigue by the end of it, despite absolutely LOVING that sweater. (OK, I still have the seaming and ends to do.) But Channel is reminding me just how much I love to knit.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

Photos of me, tool tray and hanging chair by Kathy Cadigan

45 thoughts on “Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer (that’s me!)

  1. I love our tools our selves, I love seeing how other people process creativity!! you should show us a pic of what your leather stitch holder looks like today because aged leather is so gorgeous!!

    the s hook pattern storage idea is A+!!!! in one of your photos in your workroom you have a bunch of tubes and that has inspired me to keep my patterns in tubes. some day I’ll have the kind of space where I can hang them up!!

    what kind of sewing machine do you have?

  2. I confess that I’m not a knitter – actually my only memory of ever knitting was when I was graduating from Brownies to Girl Guides in 1962 and demonstrating my ability to knit was part of my “exam” and the only part that threatened to derail my advancement :) our leader felt sorry for me and finished the project for me so I could join the other girls in the graduating line! I loved her fiercely for years in memory :) I do sew however and I’m passionate about it so I do hope you include posts now and again on sewing. I love your dedication to slow fashion and I’m excited whenever I read about young women gathering around the movement. The fashion industry has contributed enormously to some of our most devastating social problems – debt, pollution, exploitation, slavery and low self esteem (leading to eating disorders and even suicide) among young females. I agree with you that is a serious and critical dialogue to proliferate and I bow to you for assuming a position of leadership in with your considerable knowledge, talent and dedication. Thank you!

  3. “My quirk is that I knit cross-legged or with my feet tucked under me, so I find it awkward to knit in public or a classroom or anywhere I have to sit in a chair with my feet on the floor.”

    — Karen, that’s me, too!

  4. You mentioned you used Dreamz and I bought a set. The color coding really helps me and the newer set had color coded cords.
    I have a plastic tool pouch that snaps closed. There are two identical zipped pouches that have a clear front. That has helped so much to see exactly where my stitch markers are or darning needles. I also keep all my DPNs in a clear plastic zipped pouch.
    I knit on my couch with a dog on either side.
    So far I am not too motivated by summer knit magazine as I love the cold weather items.
    Thank you for all your thoughtful inspiration! I could happily spend hours in your studio!!

  5. Thanks for the glimpse into your world. I would love to be so organized. I confess to way too many WIPs. I like the idea of only having a set number of projects on the needles as you have bins allowed. I am going to try to be more disciplined.
    I also love everything about your blog, it is first on my daily blog tour!

    • I think the secret is that’s quite a lot of WIP capacity! So I never feel hemmed in — more like it’s too much if I really do have a WIP in each container.

  6. wait…..is DG really a dog?! and i echo the question: what kind of sewing machine do you have?

  7. I really enjoy your blogs, thank you for all the work you put in, your love of your subject really shines through.

  8. Thanks for the in-depth sharing! Now I’m itching to re-organize my own tiny “studio” (closet) space & tools. I’m impressed that you work and sew in the same space, I’ve found I need a separate computer desk or else I get way too distracted. Love this series, looking forward to more in the future.

    • It’s more of a storage spot for my laptop than anything else. It’s fine if I’m just at my computer for a little bit (typically first thing in the morning, when this room is supper sunny). But if I’m doing hours of work, I usually take the laptop to the kitchen island or the porch.

  9. Hi Karen, Just wanted to know what brand of yarn swift and winder you use. I’ve been wanting for a while to purchase but unable to make up my mind. Thanks, Kim

    • I think it’s made by Schacht, if I recall correctly, but I really don’t recommend it. I mostly just put my yarn around my knees or my neck instead of messing with that thing.

  10. Loved your post today. Loved seeing how organized you are – I strive for that too, so its nice to see how others accomplish it. For all your organization, I’d love to see that big basket in your bedroom! I bet more people would relate to that site and all your orderliness. LOL
    As I became an empty nester last year, I decided to turn one of our spare bedrooms into “my studio”, I then meticulously unpacked all the wonderful yarn I had been stashing for years! When I had finally finished, my husband walking in and wondered if I’d quit my job and opened at small yarn store! That moment made me realize that I didn’t want to buy indiscriminately anymore, but to buy with purpose. Having embraced my new philosophy this last year, I have gifted unwanted/unneeded fiber to people in my life who are in need (mainly an elderly friend (97 years young) who lives in Hawaii and has a very hard time finding quality yarn to knit with. My studio is my sanctuary, I love being in in this creative space. Its a space that calms my nerves and grounds me.

  11. Our Tools, Ourselves is my favourite series of yours. And I’m so glad to finally see you featured here. Also, could I ask where you got that square poof thingy on the floor of your porch? That is exactly what I’m looking for.

  12. Hi Karen,
    I’m curious- how are you defining “gentrifying” and why did you include that descriptor in your post?

    • It’s a loaded term, and the whole concept is polarizing. It’s generally used to mean improving a run-down neighborhood, making it into one for better-off people while displacing the poorer people who already lived there. And the notion of “improving” is subjective in other ways. I despise what’s happening to Germantown — it’s a lovely old neighborhood with sweet little houses, brick sidewalks, and a stretch of old light-industrial buildings and warehouses. All of the above is being rapidly leveled and replaced with gargantuan apartment buildings that are too big for the lots and completely destroying the character of the neighborhood. It makes me sad.

  13. Karen, thanks for sharing your space with us today! I love how mindful your set-up is, with everything in its place. We’re getting ready for a cross-country move next month and this has me thinking of similar things nifty I can do in our new space.

  14. What a lovely post! I have to admit that I felt kind of instant relief when hearing about your bedroom basket. I have this life-long admiration for people who, like you, do follow so consequently their clean and puristic aestetics (often paired with the ability to organise stuff properly and beautifully), because I am the total opposite: I am always attracted by different styles, my appartment is a conguries of this and that (oh, and also this and also that…), stuffed with books to the roof and, for two years now, also with yarn and WIP’s. If I am looking for a particular needle size I usually have to search several drawers, bags, baskets – hoping, that I find the particular hibernating WIP they might stuck in… Anyway. Generally, I am rather fine with me being such a messy, as I have found out over the years, that chaos is part of my personal creativity and I just need it in certain respects – but even if accepting this, there are moments where it’s getting a little too far, disturbing even me, and for these moments in particular I love seeing how other people deal with it and your blog is, certainly and always, a great source of inspiration! Nevertheless: I’d love to see a picture of that basket, too. :-)

  15. Great post!
    I have been following your blog from the beginning and it’s a favorite! I also just received an order from Fringe of accessories for my knitting friends for Christmas.( just 3 days to California, great service)
    Your slow fashion and knitalongs are a joy to follow.
    I also only knit on rounds but rarely above a size 10. Is there a possibility that there is a Lykke set
    size 4 to 10? Also a 16″ cord?
    Thanks for all.

    • I don’t know if they have any plans to make a smaller set (fewer sizes) or not. As far as 16″, that requires shorter tips, and I imagine those are probably on the longer-term plan.

  16. I live in Australia and we pay a lot of money for most things that are half decent quality, I have a set of the dreamz knitting needles and it is frustrating that they print the size on things, which it turns out comes off quite easily, Good to hear about the engraving/embedding. Loved to hear and see all your accessories.

  17. I love your “make your basics” series. Your comments above about color made me imagine a series on color. Just an idea :)



  18. You may want to try sitting in an office chair with one leg tucked under you (like 1/2 of the cross-legged position). My Hubby does this when he games on the computer. Apparently it’s very comfortable, and it doesn’t look AS weird.

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  23. I’m sorry if this has already been asked but where did you get the shelf and the table in the middle of the room? I’m redoing my grandmas sewing room and those would be perfect!!

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