Wednesday, June 1, 2016

If I had a Hammersen

Spring has been busy with travel and knitting, but well, here we are again. Welcome to another episode of my series of chats with designers I truly admire.

This month I chat with Hunter Hammersen. Her books include CurlsThe Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet series (Volume I, Volume II, and Volume III), Ne’er-Do-Well KnitsRabble Rousers, and Silk Road Socks. She also has a lot of individual patterns to tickle your fancy on Ravelry. If you want to keep up with Hunter, you can always visit her blog, Violently Domestic, or join her group on Ravelry. Her book "Fine Things for Plain Occasions" was one of my favorite reads in a long time. I encourage you to discover it and her other books at

I met with Hunter, over tea, near her home in Cleveland, Ohio.

Read, create, and enjoy.

Good afternoon, dear. Shall we start at the beginning. Where were you born?
Germany.  I'm American, but an army brat, and I grew up overseas.

Where do you live now? And for how long?
Cleveland, Ohio. Somehow, I've lived here for about 18 years.  I'm not quite sure how that's possible, but the math seems solid...

It does. What place that you’ve lived would you call your favorite?
Is it cheating to say the place we go on vacation every year?  We rent a little cabin on the coast of Maine and settle in for a few weeks of gazing at the sea and scampering over rocks. We've been going long enough it's starting to feel like home (and we've started looking for a place of our own out there)!

Do you enjoy travel?
Oh yes! But I find I've moved past the 'we must make a painstakingly precise schedule that will allow us to visit every important cultural landmark and read a never ending stream of historical markers' style of travel that featured prominently in my youth.  I am now much more in favor of setting in somewhere for a while, hitting up the market and cooking a few excellent meals, making a careful survey of the local used book stores, and tracking down the best cocktails in town.  It takes longer, but you come home feeling like you actually saw the place instead of like you got hit on the head with a guidebook.

Where have you been that you long to see again?
I very much want to get back to Croatia. I need to check and make sure the light is every bit as pretty as I remember.

What new place do you dream of seeing?
Iceland is near the top of my 'new places we need to visit' list. I mean of course you've got sheep (and a climate that instills a proper appreciation for the benefits of knitting), but from what I've seen it also looks like the closest I'm going to get to seeing terrain that looks like another planet without actually donning a space suit.

What three things do you never travel without?
Good tea (with a proper tea pot whenever even somewhat feasible, and with at least a suitable in-cup strainer when not), cozy knit slippers (the more structured, shoe-like ones can be hard to tuck in a piece of hand luggage, but knit ones really don't take up much more space than a pair of socks and make all the difference at the end of the day), and a really excellent handbag.

What is your favorite part of a trip away from home?
That first morning, when you've unpacked your suitcase (always unpack your suitcase if you're staying somewhere more than a night, it makes all the difference), you've got a cup of tea in hand, and you're just about to start exploring somewhere new.

What do you like least about being away from home?
 Airports.  I'm not sure how they cram so much gloom into one building. 

How did you come to be entangled in the world of yarn?
Oh, more or less by accident!  I started knitting to keep sane in grad school.  My innate inability to follow instructions meant I was soon working on my own patterns instead of following others.  People were kind enough to say they liked them and encourage me to write them up, so I did. 

Not too long after that, I realized I was struggling to fit my school work in around my design work, thought a bit more about what the life of a history professor would really be like, decided far more people were reading my knitting books than would ever read my dissertation, and fled!  It was absolutely the right move (and I get to indulge my penchant for history more than you might expect). 

Have you any pet peeves or pet joys about the knitting process?
The interminable stretch between 'yes, this idea is fabulous, I have all the details figured out' and 'oh look, the knitting is actually done' is always my undoing.  I am the very furthest thing from a process knitter.  I adore figuring out how things should go together, and I love swatching and getting to know new yarns and stitches, but actually knitting things seems to take far, far too much time.  I always long to be off to the next new idea. 

You recently created "Women are Usually Obstinate". 
Can I tell you how much I adore that name?
Of course!

Tell me something of how this design came to be.
Oh, this one takes a bit of explaining (especially that title)!  You see, I've always had something of a fondness for old etiquette books.  The advice in them is just so delicious.  Not too long ago, I gave into the inevitable and used a group of my favorite quotes to inspire a collection of knitting patterns.  So to truly understand this sock, you have to see the quote that inspired it. It reads: 

"How common is the complaint among young women, especially those of sedentary habits, of chilliness, cold feet, and other symptoms of deficient circulation! And yet how impossible would it often be—for women are usually obstinate on this head—to induce them to exchange the thin silk stocking for a warm merino one, or to substitute a proper walking shoe for the paper-like articles which they designate by that name!"

 The Ladies' Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness:
A Complete Hand Book for the use of the Lady in Polite Society
by Florence Hartley, 1873
With that quote in mind, the socks were easy.  They had to be pretty enough to tempt you if you were thinking of reaching for beautiful but impractical things (and I think the lovely little scallop pattern accomplishes that nicely), and they had to be made with a yarn that would be both warm and practical (which the lovely Train Case certainly accomplishes). 

How was your experience of the yarn?
The yarn was delightful!  Given the quote I was working with, I needed something that had some merino and would be warm, and something that would let me really show off some fancy stitch work.  Train Case is a classic sock weight (skinny enough to give you lots of stitches to work with, not so tiny you lose all hope of finishing) with beautiful stitch definition and wonderful soft colors.  For this project I needed just the right color palette (sort of muted, chalky colors...not faded or sepia toned, just delicate),  and this was perfect. 

All the photos from the book were taken by Zoë Lonergan.

Thank you so much, darling, for being a part of our big, wide world.

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