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 dawned on me recently that two of our three panelists from last Fall’s big knitalong had previously appeared in Our Tools, Ourselves — you can get a peek at Jess Schreibstein’s world here and Jen Beeman’s here — and it made me want to subject Brandi Harper, panelist number three, to the treatment! Brandi is apparently never not delightful and I know you’ll enjoy what you’re about to see. (I about died when I saw that she’s velcro’d her Lykke needle set to the wall! Why didn’t I think of that?) For more of Brandi, follow her at @purlbknit and check out her beautiful website and shop.
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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew …?
I taught myself to crochet as a freshman in high school inspired by my grandmother’s afghans — yes, another seriously life changing story about mama. Sophomore year, knitting took over my whole heart. I started teaching knitting classes and designing for a yarn shop the year I graduated.
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
I own 2, maybe 3, pairs of straight needles, which I never use. Circular and double-pointed needles, mostly in wood, are my preference. A lot of my special tools and fiber finds I’ve snagged while traveling. Everything I make carries a story of when I got lost to find something unplanned and beautiful or when I ate just waaaaay too much gelato. A pair of old rusty scissors from a flea market in Brussels, mohair hand-spun by a women’s cooperative in Lesotho, a repair hook in bone from Rhinebeck, NY. I enjoy collecting tools from local shops, independent designers and maker friends.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
I have all the things, and things to hold the things, and storage to hold the things when they’re not in the thing they are suppose to be in. Some are shiny gold, jute, marble, Ikea, glass, terracotta clay, steel … they range from free, $5-$40, handmade and/or absolutely priceless. I store yarn in banana-leaf and vintage iron baskets and a standing shelf that evolves into a display piece for finished inventory. I spent close to a year designing my needle case, making at least 80 pockets then sanding and staining rosewood rods to weave them on. It is probably the best thing that happened in my knitting life, so I’m experimenting with ideas on how best to sell it to other makers.
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
I hide them away and tend to forget all about them until I think about them again. I got this sweet little vintage tool chest that now lives on the floor and it has a hidden storage unit. Unfinished work lives there as long as they can all fit.
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
My plants. They are definitely my most alive tools, a constant reminder that growth, like creativity, can exist in every moment but requires tender care and attention. I splurge something serious when I see a good green and our first date is always the best. Most of my creative time is spent alone cooped up in my little studio, so they are really good company. I got my first cactus ever a month ago. He (it’s a boy!) is this amazing bluish green and already growing a new arm. He makes me proud.
Do you lend your tools?
Give, yes. Lend, no.
What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye/whatever?
Knitting in a loud, crowded Brooklyn café with my headphones blasting either music or binge watching some show I’ve seen a dozen times is so fun. This is a town of freelancers, so cafés act like co-working spaces around here and I get hours of work done. I’ve gotten into knitting in silence alone or with my partner while she reads or listens to a podcast in bed during my days off. Those times have become a kind of meditation. I’ve tried for years to work behind an actual desk, but I wind up in my knitting chair with a side table, in bed or on the floor.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I grew up in New York where we have all 4 seasons. Fall is a selling, buying and marketing season. I give a lot of energy during this time. Maybe it’s the short days or that my sign is in the house of cancer or that I can be very introverted, but I hibernate in winter. It generally happens after the holidays, which is also my shop’s busy season. You generally won’t see me posting on social media or going to hang out in large groups. It’s as if I curl unto my self head first and roll full speed ahead with no goodbyes, no see ya latas to a place where I can jam to new tunes, cook intimate dinners for 2, and do a lot of designing of new ideas and home renovations. Spring is when I peak my eye out, dip my toes in the water and buss out dancing. I tend to travel during the summer, seeking out/manifesting creative collaborations and finally getting back into my WIPs.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
I had maybe 10-12 works-in-progress: backs of sweaters, mitten size color swatches, improvisational cable squares, and others. I recently did a huge purge and did the unimaginable: put most of them, many 5 to 6 years old, into a large black bag and simply got rid of them. It was a cathartic release, almost painful and absolutely liberating at the same time.
What are you working on right now?
I am swatching up a storm for the purlBknit fall/winter collection. Getting ready for a whole lotta sitting by reupholstering the chair I knit in with a staple gun and a suede curtain. And finally, spring is here! I’m dancing and ready to party freaking hardy.
PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Alexia Abegg
Photos © Brandi Harper