Knitterview: Designer Carina Spencer
In the four years she’s been designing Carina Spencer has put together an impressive portfolio of beautiful shawls, sweet baby knits, and stylish sweaters and accessories.
One of my favorite designs of Carina’s is the Whippoorwhill shawl. It showcases what I think is one of her biggest talents – combining small details to make classic knits I can imagine wearing almost everywhere.
Carina lives in Kansas City with her husband and two girls.
What is your knitting story?
Even as a young child I had a love for craft and design. My mother was not a crafty person, but she knew some embroidery and she taught me to cross stitch as soon as I could guide a needle. Shortly after, I began to cut apart my own clothing and repurpose it for my dolls strategically placing the bindings and buttons to work like they did on my own clothing.
When I was 9, my aunt taught me to crochet and I crocheted off and on all through my teenage years. That is where I discovered the comfort that comes from a length of yarn running through your fingers and the way a simple, repetitive motion seems to connect the present to the past and all the people who have moved their hands this way before you. I loved crochet, and it came naturally to me, but knitting was always something I struggled with. When I would visit my grandmother, who lived across the country, I would watch her knit and be mesmerized by her speedy hands and the growing length of fabric below. Years later when I learned to knit, I used the memory of that motion to help me know that I was “doing it right.”
I never took a class when learning learn to knit, but I hesitate to call myself self-taught. I learned from Debbie Stoller, Montse Stanley, Elizabeth Zimmerman, and the wealth of information knitters have made available in books over time and now on the internet. My first three knitting books were Stitch N’ Bitch, The Reader’s Digest Knitter’s Handbook, and Knitting Without Tears. It took me three tries over two years to catch on to knitting. It didn’t feel easy and natural to me, the way that crochet had when I learned, but once it “clicked” I was completely taken with knitting.
What was your first project?
After lots of practice swatches, my first project was a green, chunky, 2×2 ribbed scarf and hat set for my husband. We still have it. It’s not pretty, but it is very warm!
On a typical day how much time to do you spend knitting?
I probably average about 1-2 hours a day.
How big is your stash?
According to Ravelry’s stash spreadsheet, I currently have 598 skeins totaling about 126,116 yards (but I happen to know of about 10-15 skeins that haven’t entered into the database yet). I like to think I don’t have a yarn hoarding problem as much as an overwhelming appreciation for tangible potential.
Where do you do most of your knitting?
I have a studio in my home where my yarn lives in pretty white cabinets and I do most of my design work in there. When it comes to the actual knitting I’m usually either in bed or on the couch catching up on DVR’d TV series from the past week or listening to an audiobook or one of my favorite podcasts.
What other hobbies do you have besides knitting?
Photography and interior design, and reading (or more accurately listening as I mostly use audiobooks) are my hobbies. I love to photograph my children and the children in my extended family. Similarly, children’s rooms are my favorite rooms to design. Creating kids’ spaces wakes a cellular memory of what it is to be small. I love getting to live there again for awhile. I feel this is true with children’s garment design as well.
Every knitter I’ve ever met has strong opinions about color. What colors are you most drawn to?
In my opinion, color is relative and there is no color I couldn’t love if it were shown in the right light with the right combination of other colors. My favorite color is grey, but that isn’t because of the absence of color in grey, it is because it goes so well with all the wild amazing colors I love. Grey is like the steady, supportive, practical friend to the spontaneous, wild-natured, risk-taking rainbow. And as much as I adore greys, I am most attracted to monotone palettes of any color. Give me a single color gradient palette any day and I am a very happy knitter.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Words and sounds spark the most inspiration for me and I am not sure exactly how that works. When I hear words or music/sound that moves me it opens the same place in my mind that receives inspiration. The ideas that come to me are not ever directly related to the words I hear. I don’t know how it works, only that it does and I would feel lost without it. More practically speaking, I get inspiration from shapes in architecture and art, functionally designed items that we use around the house or in daily life, modern or historical fashion, and my children.
What are your favorite types of projects to knit, and are these the projects you design the most of as well?
I have never knit a sock. I will probably never knit a sock despite the fact that a warm woolen sock is on my short list of FAVORITE.THINGS.EVER. Everything else is pretty much fair game with equal levels of knitting pleasure.
When you design do you design for yourself and what fits your personal style or do you try to keep an eye on fashion trends and base your designs on what is in style?
I hope the answer to this is both – or maybe it’s neither? I am not a trendy person, but I am interested in fashion and do keep an eye on what is happening with colors and shapes in the fashion world. That said, I also don’t think I have a well-defined personal sense of style (though my husband may argue this point). I’m mostly jeans and t-shirts, but that doesn’t stop me from wearing a dress and heeled boots one day just because I feel like it. I think I design similarly. I mostly design things I want to wear, but every now and then I’ll design something I just want to knit.
How has knitting (and designing!) changed your life?
When I began knitting it was out of pure love. I am filled with gratitude daily I have the opportunity to put my heart and energy into something so satisfying that also supports me financially. I didn’t know this was possible for me.
Do you have a favorite design?
My favorite design is almost always the one I’m currently working on. Unless it is being difficult — then it isn’t my favorite until it is finished.
You have several projects on your Ravelry project page that feature your children. Do they show any interest in knitting?
My eldest (11) learned and knit herself a cowl, but she doesn’t seem to have much interest now. My youngest (6) has never tried or asked to try, but she does sit with me when I knit and work on a braiding spool. This may soon change though as my girls had the neighborhood kids over this week and they went nuts over my studio/knitting/the samples I had lying out. They were asking all kinds of questions about yarn and knitting and crafting. It was an immediate boost in cred with my own kids.
How does designing for children differ from designing for adults?
Adult body shapes are much more complicated than child body shapes. Adult minds are also much more particular than child minds. For these reasons there are usually fewer steps in creating children’s garments than adult garments – less math, less customization to consider. Also the function of a child’s design can be very different from an adult design – we use our clothing differently.
Is your focus completely on designing or do you still knit for yourself? Do you miss knitting other designer’s patterns?
I usually knit things I would wear and if I’m lucky enough to keep the sample I usually do wear it at some point. I also knit a lot of hats and cowls for myself as they are so easy to squeeze in to any schedule and I wear them a lot. I very much miss knitting other designers’ work and I hope that one day I will be able to work that in again.
Can you give us any hints about your upcoming designs? Anything we should look forward to soon?
I am really behind on a couple of self-published designs I thought I would be done with by now, so I am working hard on getting those wrapped and released. Zuzu’s Petals will have a matching hat this fall. You can also look for 4 brand new designs that will be released over the next 6 months through different publications.
What is the best piece of knitting advice you’ve ever gotten?
I didn’t know another knitter (in person) for years after I started knitting. All of my best advice came from Elizabeth Zimmerman and Stephanie Pearl McPhee (The Yarn Harlot) books. I specifically remember learning EZ’s concept of “un-venting”.
“One un-vents something; one unearths it; one digs it up; one runs it down in whatever recesses of the eternal consciousness it has gone to ground. I very much doubt if anything is really new when one works in the prehistoric medium of wool and needles.”
While my interpretation of her concept at the time I learned it was not exactly what she intended, this helped me to recognize the feeling of connectedness I had to time while knitting. The idea that the yarn in my hands, the motion of the needles, and act of creation had always been done this same exact way. I might have different yarn and use shinier needles than in the past, but none of this was new. There was something so comforting in that concept. The idea of un-venting also helps a designer to worry less about accidentally recreating someone else’s work when working on an original piece.