Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interview with Snowden Becker, Designer Extraordinaire!

Happy St. Patrick's Day Y'all! In honor of the Wearing O' the Green, here's an interview with Snowden Becker. Snowden is a loyal HCW customer and a self-described "big fan" of the shop. She's been knitting since she was 10. She designed the amazing green dress pictured above-- named Hill Country-- for the HCW SHELTER Collection that came out last December. The pattern also includes instructions for tunic or sweater length (pictured below). This interview is part of an ongoing series chats with all the designers who created exclusive patterns for the book, which you can get-- along with SHELTER yarn-- down at the shop or order online right here.

That's Snowden (on the right!) getting design ideas at a St. Pat's Parade.

HCW: Why do you love knitting?

SB: Among other reasons, because I’m a full-time grad student, and knitting is a way that I can continue to be productive and creative at the end of the day. I often find that when the academic side of my brain can’t absorb any more research, I still have juice left in the other half. When I’m blocked in my writing, I pick up my knitting; when I’m stuck on a tricky pattern design or sizing issue, I put it on the back burner and read a journal article. Switching back and forth makes me feel more balanced and less frustrated. Also, have you ever TOUCHED yarn? Some of it is really soft and pretty. So there’s that, too.

HCW: How did you come to be part of this project?

SB: The HCW staff have seen me coming and going for years now, and I should probably just come out and admit that I often wear a newly-finished piece to the shop just to show it off to them. Suzanne’s always been full of praise and encouragement for me as a designer, so I guess I was already on her list of local talent when she started dreaming this project up. I said yes as soon as she asked me about possibly contributing something—what a great opportunity!

HCW: What inspired your design?

SB: When I first sat down with Suzanne to talk about this, her idea was “Hill Country Does SHELTER”—putting Austin flavor into the recipe somehow. The weather and the landscape here are profoundly different from where I was born (Seattle) and where I lived before moving to Texas (Los Angeles), so the terrain itself is really what’s always been most noticeable to me about Austin, and what I chose to focus on for this project. (Well, that, and I couldn’t figure out how to knit a brisket. Or why anyone would want to knit a brisket when you could spend all those hours making an actual brisket, and save the yarn for a nice hat or scarf or something.) Ranges of rolling green hills, the changeable-but-mostly-hot Austin weather, and Jared’s own patterns and aesthetic all got mixed in with my penchant for three-quarter sleeves and tie-front necklines. Also, it’s stretchy and has no waistband…so that you can eat a lot of brisket when you wear it.

HCW: What obstacles did you encounter?

SB: The SHELTER yarn was still in production when we started, and we just had one sample skein to swatch with. I knew I was going to be doing a large-scale project and wouldn’t necessarily have time to work out design problems if I waited until after the first shipment arrived to prototype the dress. I dipped into my stash and worked the first dress up in Berocco Ultra Alpaca. That has comparable stitch gauge but different row gauge, as I found when the sample skein of SHELTER worked its way around to me for swatching…and that meant tweaking some of the measurements for the final pattern, although it was mostly written by the time I got my bag of lovely green SHELTER. I ended up cranking out two dresses in about six weeks, and it almost started to feel like work instead of play.

HCW: How do you like SHELTER?

SB: The colors are amazing, and the texture is unabashedly woolly; it feels almost felted. For a garment like a dress, which just uses a lot of yarn, and will see a lot of wear on the backside and elbows, SHELTER’s loftiness and durability are essential features.

There are a couple of yarns out there that really have no substitute (I’m thinking of Rowan Calmer, for instance, which is unbeatable for stretchiness and its velvety hand), and I suspect that SHELTER will soon become known as one of them. You could go with another worsted or aran wool, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a yarn with comparable richness of color and texture—let alone the all-American provenance, which really appeals to me, too.

HCW: If you could design any project, and actually have time to knit it, what would it be?

SB: Well, as I commented on his blog, if Jared Flood asked me to knit him something out of Brooklyn Tweed-brand yarn that was made of rusty barbed wire and used dental floss, I would totally do it. I would even weave in the ends all nice, and everything.

Since we’re talking about what I want, though…I’m actually really lucky when it comes to designing and making things. I’m not only a speedy knitter, I’ve also reached a point where my skills are good enough that I can make whatever I dream up, and it usually comes out looking just like my original sketch for it. (Note to all those who skip the first steps and the pattern notes and just dive right into new projects: Swatching really does help with this.) Unless I’ve changed my mind about some aspect of it halfway through, of course, which I sometimes do. Becoming fearless about ripping out what I’m not happy with and starting over has been really liberating; I knit whatever I want to now.

I don’t play any musical instruments, and when I was getting my undergraduate degree at art school I was only a mediocre draftsperson and a truly awful painter. Knitting, though, feels like the pursuit where I have perfect pitch and an honest eye. I can sit down with those tools and produce with my hands just what I have in my mind.

HCW: How long did it take you to knit the prototype for your design?

SB: About two weeks for the first one, and a bit longer for the second one in the actual SHELTER yarn—since I was making corrections and adjustments to the pattern and experimenting with things that would affect the sizing as I went on that one, not to mention traveling and working on other projects during that interval. I’m actually working on a third Hill Country now—a pullover version in some Manos Del Uruguay Silk Blend that I picked up on a trip to Scotland a couple of years ago—and I’ve had that on the needles for over a month. Weirdly, the shorter I make this garment, the longer it takes me to knit it. I’m not quite done with the second sleeve yet.

HCW: What else would you like to tell us?

SB: I recently found out there’s an interior accessories designer in the UK named Snowden Flood. (I am not kidding! Check it out: I think she and Jared and I should all get together and come up with a “Snowden/Flood/Tweed” line of classy home goods. That would be awesome. You heard it here first!

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