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Interview: Ann Weaver

The designs are wonderful. What made you decide to self-publish this collection?

Before publishing the collection, I had published in lots of different formats—internet magazines like knitty.com, metapostmoderknitting.com, and knotions.com (the last two are, unfortunately, no longer active), print magazines like Interweave Knits and Knitscene, books, and individual self-published patterns. I came to realized that there was no publisher out there that would just let me take my ideas and just… go. So I decided to just do it.

You said your sister did the graphic design for the book, and the models all seem to be related to you—was the entire book a family project?

It was; all the models are friends and family, and my sister did the bulk of the photography and all the design. Picture the two of us sitting on the futon in my living room every evening and weekend for the month of August getting the book produced. It was crazytown! Waiting for last-minute tech edits, changes to schematics, pulling the Death Race jacket onto the baby downstairs before he grew out of it, waiting for the last sample to arrive from Canada, sleeping a few hours a night, then going to my copyediting job all day! AAAAGH!

There are relatively so few knitting books that are available as ebooks—what made you decide to publish yours in both formats, not to mention as individual patterns?

Due to the growing popularity of knitting blogs and the advent or Ravelry.com, a lot of knitters are interested in downloadable patterns. They offer instant gratification (as soon as you pay you get your patterns!), the ability to save the patterns and print out working copies as needed, and, often savings. Honestly, I initially thought about publishing the patterns ONLY as an ebook to save money on production costs, but, upon further consideration, the absurdity of that choice became obvious.

My work is about producing beautiful, hand-crafted products, and I wanted the book itself to be a beautiful object, because knitters appreciate these things. Yes, I make less money on the printed books, but I also sell about the same number of printed books and ebooks, which is interesting. It shows me that I’m reaching two different audiences: those knitters who prefer a less-expensive ebook, and those who would rather pay more for a hard copy.

And there’s a third group of knitters I’m able to reach with the individual patterns, which tend to be either newer knitters who want to make one of the easier patterns, like the Albers Cowl or the Button Coil, or knitters who are either only interested in one of the patterns or who like to buy patterns as they’re ready to start the project. So I think I’m reaching as many knitters as I can, which is the goal!

Do you have a favorite pattern? (Not necessarily in this collection, specifically.)

Is this limited to my own patterns? Ha! Yes, I have three, for different reasons. First, Neiman , because it was my first published pattern (and also the first pattern I attempted to publish). Knitters have been making this pattern since fall 2007, and have created all sorts of awesome modifications, which speaks to its enduring style and appeal.

Second, the Albers patterns. Not only were these incredibly fun to make, they also got me started on my investigation into and experimentation with color theory, which is something I’ll be teaching at Fibre Space in Alexandria, VA this spring and hope to teach elsewhere in the future. It’s also playing a big part in my upcoming patterns!

Third, oh, third is a tie between the Johnny Rotten Jacket and my latest pattern, Oranje. Each one was a tour de force; I was given complete control and able to produce statement pieces. Getting designs like this out there, which might not be the most popular among knitters due to their difficulty, is important, because it catches the attention of knitters, who then go on to look at my other patterns, and also the attention of publishers, yarn store owners, yarn companies, and anyone else who might be interested in having me produce a design.

Finally, my favorite patterns from others include Felicity, which I consider the final word on slightly slouchy hats, and the Danish Tie Shawl from Spin-Off, spring 2008, which I consider the final word on simple triangle shawls. If you’ve met me in cold weather, I’m probably wearing one of these projects!

How would you describe your design style?

Clean, modern, and unexpected. Adventurous yet wearable.

I hadn’t followed your blog before this weekend. (That’s changed now.) But I recognized a distinct Mason-Dixon influence on your designs right away, so I wasn’t surprised to see that you three know each other. How much do you feel influenced by other designers?

I don’t have too many direct influences… I look to “outside” material, most recently, 20th-century art, 70s punk style, athletic uniforms, and literature. The knitwear designers that influence me are usually those who have ideas that go beyond just making a garment, designers that have a philosophy that informs their work. Obviously Kay and Ann (Mason-Dixon Knitting) fall into this category, as do Lizbeth Upitis (Latvian Mittens), Nancy Bush, Staceyjoy Elkin, and, lately, Courtney Kelly and Kate Gagnon Osborne, who, together, are the distributors of Fibre Company yarns.

I’ve never actually knit log cabin blocks myself (I know, it’s a shock). What is it that makes them so appealing/addictive?

Ahhh… they’re all garter stitch, so they’re relaxing. They’re also knit in one piece, which makes them convenient and rewarding. Finally, and this is the most important aspect for me, the color combinations are endless and fascinating.

I was thrilled to see Oranje, the Knitty Winter Surprise sweater in person. It’s just gorgeous (and goes with the Go Dutch! Mittens), and has some great details and unique techniques. Were you afraid you were making it too hard for the average knitter?

As I mentioned above, sometimes I like to just go crazy and not worry about the average knitter. I wouldn’t do this with an individual download, because I would put a lot of money into tech editing, money that I might never recoup. However, a publication like knitty or a book like Brave New Knits WANT patterns of varying levels, because their sales or popularity doesn’t depend on one widely accessible pattern.

Plus, there are plenty of intermediate and advanced knitters out there, and I think they’re often neglected, as designers seek to publish things that are easy and quick to knit. Knitters love a challenge! And, for those knitters who aren’t ready to tackle Oranje, it’s an inspiration to keep learning!

So, your current day job is copyediting—how did you get into that? And what else have you done?

I fell into it, like everything else I’ve ever done. Man, the story is just too odd, and I’ve already blathered a lot here, so if anyone is really interested, read the blog.

Other things I’ve done, in reverse chronological order: Overnight commercial bread baker, barback and hostess at seafood restaurant, assistant office manager, medical secretary, temp, state bureaucrat, temp again, dominatrix, assistant curator, Akkadian instructor, Harvard teaching fellow, Christian Dior cosmetics counter manager at Macy’s, maintenance assistant, prep cook, artist’s model, hardware and paint sales associate, deli clerk, artist’s assistant, waitress, janitor. That’s not even all of them, but it gives a nice idea of the range.

When you’re not knitting or working, what do you like to do?

That’s actually a tough question these days; I feel like I’m always working on one thing or another. I love to travel and explore new cities, and my knitting book has actually given me an excuse to do a lot of that this past year. I enjoy walking and hiking, cycling with my husband, working out (I used to do serious weight training, but lately I’ve been doing pole dancing… yes, pole dancing… I have a pole at home), eating new foods, hanging out in bars, and reading everything I can get my hands on. I read an average of a book a week when I’m not swamped with work. My current goal is to read all the Man Booker Prize winners. I’m about halfway there.

I know you were worrying about getting your haircut, but thought it looked wonderful. Do you usually experiment with your hair? Or do you prefer to keep things simple?

I’m all over the place with my hair. Usually it’s dyed some shade of unnatural red, or bleached blond, but, working as a baker last year, I stopped doing such elaborate dye jobs because the constant washing just destroyed them. I was less worried about getting it cut than DESPERATE to get it cut. I was so busy this fall that the two times I got haircuts were while I was visiting different cities, Seattle and New York, and were both walk-ins at barber shops!

Now that I don’t have to wash my flour-coated hair every day, I’m thinking about doing some great color again. We’ll see. Whatever I do, however, has to be a style that I can just roll out of bed with. I don’t do anything to my hair in the morning, and haven’t for years! When people ask me how I style my hair, the truth is that it looks however it did when I got out of bed and is “styled” by being kind of dirty.

What haven’t you designed yet that you really want to do?

Oooooh, I’m working on some of these things now! First, a man’s fisherman’s sweater… sort of a male version of Ambergris. Second, something I’m calling the “Mark Rothko Project,” which is a massive color study. Third, a collection of graphic knits, both accessories and garments, many of which include words and phrases. That’s just the beginning.

What’s your favorite breakfast food?

Coffee. I don’t eat breakfast. BUT if we’re talking breakfast food for dinner, I like steak and eggs best.

My dog Chappy would be crushed if I didn’t ask you if you have any pets…

I have two big white cats. Both were rescues. Max, the older one, is loving and stupid. Chinaski, the younger one, is loud, needy, but still very loving. I’ve been thinking about getting a dog, but want to be sure I have a stable enough life first.

If you had an extra two hours in the day, what would you do with them?

Probably sleep. I don’t do enough of that and I love it. Yeah, I would definitely spend them taking a two-hour nap.

Name one yarn you’ve never tried but would love to knit with.

Handmaiden’s Great Big Sea. In either “Mineral” or “Ebony.” Can you tell I’ve thought about this?

What is the one thing you would want to say to a new knitter?

Go for it. Just… go for it!!! Don’t be afraid! Also:

1. Regarding speed: The more you do it, the faster you go. Give it time.
2. Regarding garment fit: SWATCH. Seriously. SWATCH.
3. Regarding big projects: If you can knit a sock or a mitten, you can knit a sweater. It will just take a lot longer. It’s up to you if you want to devote the time to it, but you absolutely can do it.

If you could have a superpower (knitting or otherwise), what would it be?

I would like to fly. I often have dreams that I’m flying and it’s awesome.

Since this IS a site for book reviews–two questions: What do you look for in a book review?

I like a mix of discussion of the specific patterns in the book, the feel and quality of the book in general (my pet peeves are lack of white space and type that is NOT BLACK AGAINST WHITE. Please, knitting books are instruction manuals! Make the instructions clear! Please!), the ideas behind the book, bio about the designer, and links to more of the designer’s work.

And, since I’m slowly working my way through my knitting book collection, are there any particular books–other than your own, of course–that you’d like to see reviewed? Maybe I could bump something up the list for you?

My two recent favorites are Vintage Modern Knits and Modern Top-Down Knitting. These are the sorts of books I look to for inspiration: filled with considered, detailed, well-constructed garments. I appreciate books that include big projects, lots of sweaters. Even if I never make any of these sweaters, they make me think about construction, fit, and style possibilities. When I looks through these books, I think, “Why is EVERYONE not making these patterns? They’re SO FLATTERING!!!”

Any questions that you WISH someone would ask you? If so, what’s the question–and what’s the answer?

Most of these questions are… well… potentially divisive. If you read my blog, you can get a sense of my values, but I don’t aim to write a political or ideological blog that has the potential of alienating any knitters. However, I’d like to be asked about my core values. And I would answer: The inherent value of work and the rights of workers, anti-materialism, and the value of education and learning for learning’s sake.

Thanks so much for being here, Ann!

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