Our Tools, Ourselves: the Purl Bee crew

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.

Our Tools, Ourselves: the Purl Bee crew

Before I had any idea who she was, it was an encounter with Joelle Hoverson’s book “More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts” that led (within hours) to my learning to knit. You probably already know she’s the co-owner of Purl Soho, that lovely NY store (and webshop) that also supplies us greedy makers with the amazing resource known as The Purl Bee. Having gotten to know Joelle a little bit through Instagram and Pinterest, I asked if she’d be willing to answer my Our Tools, Ourselves questions, and it turned out the whole wildly talented Purl Bee crew wanted to weigh in. So here’s a collective glimpse into the crafting lives of Joelle and Page along with Whitney, Laura, Molly and Corinne, whose names you’re sure to recognize from their copious Purl Bee patterns. Thanks for playing along, ladies!

. . .

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

In our private lives, everyone who works on the Purl Bee does a lot of some things and a little of everything else, but publicly, Joelle knits, crochets and sews; Page sews; Whitney knits and crochets; Laura knits and needlepoints; Molly sews and embroiders (and makes friendship bracelets!); and Corinne sews and embroiders … Unless Molly’s crocheting and Laura’s sewing!

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

One thing you’re sure to see at a Purl Bee meeting is a table littered with Purl Soho Zip Bags from Baggu. We all store our projects in them because the zippered opening keeps everything safely inside, no matter how carelessly we treat the bag. And we love the colors!

Another popular tool around here is Sajou’s incredibly beautiful scissors. Half of us vote for the Ciseaux Lievre and half of us are Ciseaux Tour Eiffel fans, but bunnies or monuments, both pairs of scissors are very sharp, very precise and very lovely!

The knitters all agree on a few indispensable tools: Skacel’s new Addi Rocket circular needles have nice, pointy tips and super fast shafts. The combo makes a world of difference when you’re working with lace weight yarns or knitting up fancy stitch patterns. We’re all also newly in love with Fringe Supply’s Brass Stitch Markers, a small detail that adds so much pleasure to knitting!

The sewists on the Bee have some favorites too: We love Merchant & Mills classic tailoring tools: their Pin Magnet, Bodkins and whole collection of straight pins. And we all use Purl Soho’s Hand Sewing Needles which come in a sweet wooden case and are as easy as pie to thread.

And we can’t not mention a few other favorites: the Addi Turbo Needle Gauge (very handy), Clover’s Bias Tape Makers (a must-have), and Ka’s Aluminum Stitch Holders (can’t beat the colors!).

Our Tools, Ourselves: the Purl Bee crew

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

We all seem to “organize” our vast collections of supplies in a vast collection of containers! From vintage enamel pots to candy tins and from plastic bins to woven baskets, we all agree that the chaos is only tenuously under control.

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

The entire Purl Bee team agrees on this one: Baggu Zipper Pouches! Joelle, as a rule, keeps her most current project in the Purl Soho version, which we all think is a pretty smart idea.

Are there any particular prized possessions amongst your tools?

Laura still hangs onto the crochet hook her mother gave her when she learned how to pick up dropped stitches. It’s banged up and battered at this point, but definitely treasured. And we all consider our Sajou scissors pretty special. Since we use them to snip final threads and tails, they’re the tool that comes in to finish the job with style!

Do you lend your tools?

We’d be pretty pathetic craft emissaries if we hoarded all of our tools for ourselves! We all tend to “lend” our tools with no expectation of getting them back. “Just keep it!”

Our Tools, Ourselves: the Purl Bee crew

What is your favorite place to knit/crochet/whatever?

The sewists on our team use their kitchen tables, and since they’re all moms, late nights are their witching hours. The knitters and crocheters are, of course, more mobile: airplanes, couches, floors, subways, parks and movie theaters are some of their favorite spots for sneaking in a few rows.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

We craft year-round, but we definitely use seasonal materials: cotton, bamboo and linen in the summer and cashmere, alpaca and wool in the winter. And in preparation for the winter holidays, we always design a few extra-special things!

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

We all have an embarrassingly large amount of fabric and yarn stashed in the closets, drawers and dark corners of our homes. And like all crafters, we have piles of unfinished projects, dating back to the last century!

What are you working on right now?

Since everything we work on ends up on the Purl Bee, you’re about to find out!

. . .

EDITOR’S NOTE: Naturally, all of the team’s favorite tools are available at Purl Soho. And I’m thrilled to announce that now includes the full line of Fringe Supply Co. original goods!

Our Tools, Ourselves: the Purl Bee crew

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Anna Maltz


New Favorites: Ebony and ivory

New Favorites: Ebony and ivory knitting patterns

There have been two new knitting pattern photos this week that have made my eyes widen and my mouth fall open. Both happen to be near-black and off-white, which is a combo I find irresistible. And in both cases, used to exquisite effect. First came Joelle’s Diagonal Pinstripe Scarf, a simple garter-stitch scarf (free pattern at the Purl Bee) knit on the diagonal with randomly placed single-row stripes, which creates a sort of ticking effect due to the garter stitch. Or as she says, “in Heirloom White with fine lines of Dark Loam, the effect is like a graphite drawing on cotton rag paper, loose and mysterious.” Then came Michele Wang’s Alloy, part of the latest Brooklyn Tweed collection, BT Winter 14. It’s classic Michele — an impeccable set-in-sleeve pullover with contrasting textures — but in this case she’s added color-blocked panels in the sleeves and sides. Had it been knitted in anything other than Fossil and Cast Iron, it wouldn’t have been the same. As is? Want.


By the way, I know there are several of you who’ve been studying my Pullovers for First-Timers post, trying to decide what you want your first sweater to be. If you’re leaning toward a drop-sleeve pattern (i.e, no sleeve-cap or armscye shaping) there are two great options in that new BT collection: Abbott by Michele Wang and Benton by Julie Hoover. Both manage the proportions well.

Q for You: What are your favorite knitting pattern books?

Best knitting pattern books

This Q for You comes from rachelalise in the comments, who is looking for recommendations on the best knitting pattern books:

I have an (unrelated) question for you and your most wise readers as I work out my Christmas list: do you have any favorite pattern *books* that a knitter should own? I realize that I almost exclusively knit from online patterns purchased one-off, and I’d love to build a collection of books that I can return to that contain patterns. (I have a good set of what I guess I’d term “technique books,” and all the most wonderful EZ books, but nothing else that is exclusively dedicated to patterns.)

I’m rather in the same boat and share her curiosity. For me, in my admittedly narrow experience, there aren’t a lot of books that have enough good patterns in them to warrant the cover price. So I have only invested in a few. Here are the ones I’m happiest to have bought, in no particular order:

1. “The Knitter’s Book of Wool” by Clara Parkes. Not “exclusively dedicated to patterns” — it’s about half education and half patterns, but both halves are well worth owning. (I believe the same is true of her “Knitter’s Book of Yarn,” but I loaned it to someone and never got it back, so can’t say for sure.)

2. “More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts” by Joelle Hoverson is the book that made me a knitter, and it is just wall to wall with excellent patterns.

3. Pom Pom Quarterly is like a really good pattern book that happens to be sold in installments.

4. Pioneer by Martin Storey. They may be classified and sold as periodicals, but the one-off editions of Rowan are actually slender, beautifully produced, paperback books. This volume (which I originally raved about here) contains more patterns I want to knit than any other bound object on my shelf.

5. “Knitting by Design” by Emma Robertson. Just published a few weeks ago, and I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with it. It’s very young and bright and funky, not designed or photographed like any other knitting book out there, but contains several wildly adaptable patterns. E.g., a knitted tank sweater happens to be white and dip-dyed, but you could make that tank a million different things by changing the yarn/color, dyeing it or not, etc. Same with the colorblock mittens, the adorable vest, etc.

6–8. “Knit One Knit All,” “Knitter’s Almanac” and “Knitting Without Tears” by Elizabeth Zimmermann. It takes a little imagination to see how some of EZ’s garments and accessories can look modern, but they can. I did a riff on this in Street styling Elizabeth Zimmermann (a year ago today! how weird), but just look at Abigail Chapin in her light grey Icelandic Overblouse (from Knit One Knit All), which is just like EZ’s original and looks perfectly current.

Those are the ones I’m most likely to knit from, although when it comes time to browse patterns, I do turn to my PDFs. I’ll also mention that one book I really want but don’t own yet is “Fair Isle Style” by Mary Jane Mucklestone. So let’s hear it, please: What are your favorite knitting pattern books?


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you join a new ball of yarn?

Scarves to start now

Scarf patterns to start knitting now!

So about that growing scarf obsession. I’m not talking about any skimpy little rectangles to flick around your neck; I’m talking about big, dramatic, shoulder-hugging scarves, bordering on “wraps” or “stoles.” Scarves that involve some serious knitting. So whether you want to be wearing one this fall or are thinking about knitting a few for the holidays, these are scarves to start now!

1. Wheaten by Anne Hanson, exquisite cables and lace (See also: Topiary and Afton)

2. Nathalie by Val LNU*, simple and effective rib-and-seed-stitch combo  (free pattern)

3. Kirkwood by Julie Hoover, love those classic cables

4. Doux by Julie Hoover, luscious yarn combo and lovely textured stitch**

5. Falmouth by Alicia Plummer, on-trend chevrons (and there’s a matching hat)

6. Isla by Carrie Bostick Hoge, good old knits and purls, even better with another repeat or two each direction

7. February by Beth Weaver, pure cable beauty with tallllll ribbed ends

8. Vermeil by Wencke Lucas, my life won’t be complete until I cast on this crazy stitch combo (in Pom Pom 6)**

9. Caribou by Pam Allen, curvaceous grid of welts (maybe?) and ribs

10. Snowflake by Joelle Hoverson, bulky with allover texture, this is probably the quickest knit on the list (free pattern)


*LNU: That’s cop-speak for Last Name Unknown. Don’t ask me how I know.

**I know, I know, I’ve featured these two before, but this list wouldn’t have been right without them.


New Favorites: A wrap too dear

amazing seed stitch wrap knitting pattern from the purl bee

Ever since this Amazing Seed Stitch Wrap pattern appeared on The Purl Bee the other day, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I’m going to venture a guess that Joelle Hoverson herself is behind this one, and in a lot of ways it’s the embodiment of what I love about The Purl Bee: their dedication to simple, unfussy patterns that are within reach, skill-wise, of the average knitter or crocheter. But while they keep the silhouettes and skills simple, the projects are far from boring. They demonstrate how brilliant it is to choose great materials and then not get in their way. (In all my years as a print designer, I was always more concerned with the choice of paper than what I was going to obscure it with.) This wrap, like I said, is perhaps the ultimate example of that — it’s just a seed-stitch rectangle! But the most stunning seed-stitch rectangle imaginable.

Unfortunately, the flip side of this particular coin is that, in this case, they’ve chosen the materials so well that it’s way out of reach, financially, for … well, certainly for me. They’ve put together a kit of the 11 premium yarns involved, and it can be yours for just $407.40 (plus tax/shipping). So … sad Karen, jealous of (and happy for!) the lucky Purl Soho customers who can actually afford to knit this. I’d say my new mission is to find yarn substitutions that would lower the price tag without compromising the result, but I’m not sure it can be done. It’s just so lusciously perfect exactly as it is.


Yarn, from Napa to NYC

For reasons I’ll soon go into, Johanna and I had the distinct pleasure of fondling large quantities of Sincere Sheep yarn yesterday morning. Brooke Sinnes and I connected on Twitter last winter, and have met up a few times since. I love what she’s doing with her company — carefully sourcing her wool, using only natural dyes, tending to every detail herself. But I’ve only actually been in the presence of her yarn twice — both times at Stitches conventions, where I’ve been a little overwhelmed. So it was a distinct pleasure to get to visit her in Napa and spend some quality time with these beautiful yarns.

I’m also personally and vicariously thrilled for Joelle Hoverson and the Purl Soho crew. Earlier this week they announced the launch of their very own yarn, dubbed Super Soft Merino (yay, chunky!), and followed it up with a Purl Bee pattern, the Snowflake Scarf. I’m thrilled on my own behalf because I have a Purl gift certificate from my wonderful husband that I’ve been hoarding since last December, and this may be just the thing to splurge on … if only I can pick a color. And I’m vicariously thrilled for them because I can only imagine how exciting that must be. She mentions in the pattern intro that she’s been dreaming of this for 10 years, since opening the store.

I love it when dreams come true — especially when it means more great yarn to choose from!

purl soho super soft merino snowflake scarf

And while we’re on the subject of yarn makers, don’t miss Jared Flood’s latest batch of photos from his Harrisville mill. How much would I pay for one of those bobbins full of Brooklyn Tweed?


Joelle Hoverson made me do it

As a child of the ’70s, yarn was among my favorite playthings. There was a lot of crochet in my childhood. A lot of macramé. God’s eyes, pompoms, hours upon hours of cat’s cradle. Even the occasional latch-hook rug. (I remember one particular latch-hook Santa kit that I begged my mother to buy me for a long car trip. She resisted mightily, certain I would lose interest before I finished it, but gave in. I don’t think I got through a fourth of it. Sorry, Mom.) I knew the basics of knitting — taught, I imagine, by the same neighbor lady who must have shown me crochet — and I even had a pair of ugly green aluminum needles, but never took to it. I think it was too fussy for me, the needles versus the hook. I lost interest in crochet sometime around junior high.

For a decade or more, I’ve been saying I was going to learn to knit, for real, while resisting it at the same time — thinking i’d love it and it would be expensive and a time suck. Last year my husband and I moved to a place where, for the first time in several years, I would not have a garden to occupy me, and I told myself I would learn to knit. I did some research on Google and found a place in Berkeley that taught knitting but wasn’t a yarn store, which sounded great. But still I didn’t go, all my time and attention occupied by my high-tech job.

Then earlier this year we went to visit friends in Nashville, a family we’re very close to. The mother and daughter (Jo and Meg) are both avid, very skilled knitters. We arrived to find Jo on her deck, knitting as always. I picked up a book she had sitting around and began flipping through it, and it was a catalyst — there were at least a half dozen things in it I simply had to know how to make.

“Jo, I swear I’m going to find that place again and go learn how to knit this winter. And then you’re going to tell me which of these things I can make first.”

She looked at me and said flatly, “Little Meg can teach you knit in 20 minutes when she gets home.”

More Last-Minute Knitted GiftsThe book was Joelle Hoverson’s “More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts” and that night Meg cast on a first project for me — the Pointy Elf Hat on the cover, in red, which I finished the next day. Those two friends — and that book — may actually have changed my life.

Anyway, I promptly bought the book, read the author bio and learned that Hoverson is the owner of Purl Soho, a store I was in several years ago with friends who knit. I sat there patiently while they shopped, looking around at all the yarn, wishing I knew how to knit and being thankful I did not, given how broke I was at the time. And I found that Purl Soho, as you probably well know, has a fantastic blog called The Purl Bee, full of all kinds of lovely patterns and ideas.

Which brings me to the point of all of this: The Big Herringbone Cowl. Designed by Whitney Van Nes, pictured at left above. I don’t know what it is about this cowl but it instantly became a sort of holy knitting grail for me. After I’d finished just a couple of projects, I attempted this one and failed quickly. I’ve been a knitting machine in the meantime, even trying my hand at some lace stuff, and have since successfully done a large swatch of the herringbone stitch with a bulky yarn, just to get the hang of the stitch. But I still can’t do it with the big needles and the little alpaca without my nice cast-on edge turning to chaos once I start knitting. But eventually I’ll get it. Meanwhile, I’m fixated on what I imagine the density and texture of it to be, and want it around my neck, so I’ve settled on a stand-in: The Honey Cowl by Madeline Tosh. That’s my work in progress on the right above. It’s going well, far from finished and delayed by Christmas-gift knitting, so I’ll pick it up again in the new year. Maybe by the time I finish it, I’ll be ready to try the herringbone again.

PHOTOS: Left: The Purl Bee; Right: Karen Templer/Yarnover.me