Designer Kristin Omdahl
DORA: How are you today?
KRISTIN: I'm a little sore, but I'm fine.
DORA: Why are you sore?
KRISTIN: I ran a marathon on Sunday.
DORA: Oh my God! I had no idea you did that!
KRISTIN: I didn't either, until seven months ago. I started training seven months ago with the goal of running a marathon.
DORA: That's fantastic! What got you into that?
KRISTIN: I've always wanted to run but didn't believe I could do it. I tried to run to the end of my street for most of my life, and always ended up coughing up a lung. I thought, too bad I can't run, it's just not for me. About 7 months ago I found out a friend was running marathons, and I asked how she did it. She said, one foot in front of the other. I said, oh, no, I've done that, it doesn't work. She told me to read this book How to Run Your Best Marathon, it talks about how to integrate walking and running. Start with more walking and less running, then over time you flip that. Within two weeks I was doing more running.
DORA: That's great. Are you going to continue?
KRISTIN: Now I'm interested in barefoot running. Four months from now there's a triathlon that I'm training for.
DORA: I'm impressed! So, I remember the first time I became aware of your work -- it was a circular design - the Infinity Shawl, from Interweave, right? I immediately thought, this woman is fantastic and she has some kind of art background. Am I correct?
KRISTIN: Nope, math. All of those geometric designs I work out mathematically, and that's what I really love.
DORA: Tell me more about that.
KRISTIN: When I first started designing shawls, I realized I could use Pythagorean theorems, and all these different area equations from geometry, and apply them to something else I love, crochet. Fireworks went off in my head, I was so excited. The only time I was able to use math outside of junior high was trying to figure out distance when I'm driving. When I realized I could combine my two loves I was thrilled beyond words.
DORA: How do you translate the math into stitches?
KRISTIN: In the very beginning it was just figuring out the length of the sides of triangle for a shawl. Taking a gauge swatch and figuring out how to make it 60 inches wide for the long edge of the triangle, and how many stitches you need to decrease to make it 30 inches long when you're done with the decreases.
DORA: How did you get to the Infinity design?
KRISTIN: Increasing and decreasing circles simultaneously.
DORA: That goes beyond what I know how to do already.
KRISTIN: You know how to make a circle, like for the top of a hat. You do, say, 8 increases evenly spaced apart. On the other side you do 8 decreases evenly spaced. In the middle is a strip of 10 stitches worked even. On one side of it you do your increasing circle and on the other you do a decreasing circle. It's like a Pac man shape, with a piece of pie missing.
DORA: I understand what you're saying. It's always interesting when I talk to a designer who has that kind of a brain, where you can actually imagine in that medium. I'm a musician, I have to use math in counting rhythms, which I've been doing my whole life, but it's harder for me to think that way in crochet.
KRISTIN: That's another thing I love about crochet - counting stitches. Even if it's an even number on each row, you just have to count them.
DORA: I would love to be able to think mathematically more easily, more automatically. Of course when push comes to shove I do my calculations. But I lack what I call an engineering mind.
KRISTIN: Spatial thinking.
DORA: And you can conceive of how the space and the math work together. I think that's awesome!
KRISTIN: It's fun. I really enjoy it.
DORA: But no art background?
KRISTIN: I love art, I draw, my mom is an artist. She didn't teach me though. When my son was born I drew portraits of him without training. I can draw anything that I see.
DORA: That's amazing. What did you study in college?
KRISTIN: I started with organic chemistry, I wanted to be a doctor. I didn't go to college right after high school. By the time I did go, I waffled on the time commitment. I wanted to get back to work, so I got my degree in business.
DORA: Where did you go grow up?
DORA: DId you go into into business?
KRISTIN: Yes, I worked as an office manager for many years in a manufacturing firm
DORA: Are you of Norwegian background?
KRISTIN: Yes, my family is from Norway. I was born in Montreal, Quebec to a Canadian father and American mother. When I was five we moved to the US and I became a naturalized citizen.
DORA: Was there knitting and crochet in your home?
KRISTIN: I met aunts in Norway who knit, not that I ever spent enough time with them to learn. My grandmother who lives in Canada gave me a one hour lesson in a nursing home when I was 8 or 9, my other grandmother knits but didn't teach me.
DORA: When did you start doing it yourself?
KRISTIN: When I was pregnant with my son. I taught myself to knit and crochet within a month of each other. Once I figured it out, it clicked easily.
DORA: Did you start right away with designing?
KRISTIN: I started with patterns, but I've only done 3 patterns in all my life. I was living in Israel at the time. Other than a few pamphlets my mother sent me for baby layettes, there was no place for me to buy patterns. There wasn't a presence on line at the time. It was in 2002. My son is seven now.
DORA: What kind of yarns were available in Israel?
KRISTIN: Really scratchy acrylic from Turkey. I was married to somebody who wasn't supportive, I couldn't even get to a bigger town. Eventually, after three years, I found a better yarn store in a different town. They sold yarn for yarmulkes -- mercerized cotton and silk, but really thin. Other than that it was these extremely scratchy acrylics that made acrylic yarn here in the States seem like cashmere. When I came home and went to Michael's and Jo-Anns, it was Shangri-la to me. I didn't dream of going to little yarn shop - I didn't know what they were.
DORA: How did you end up getting into designing?
KRISTIN: My son was born May 30. By that time I had made a ton of baby layettes. A few made with patterns, but then I wanted to make him a sailor suit and I figured out how to do it, with matching booties. Then I made Jamaican themes on a blanket, like a Rastafarian layette. Then he was born and it was too hot to use any of it. But I realized I didn't want to stop. It was so much fun and soothing to me at a tumultuous time in my life. My husband and I were not getting along. There was the Intifada with bus bombs every week, and the second Gulf War was starting. We were getting sized for gas masks, even one for my son as an infant. - they put him in an acrylic plastic bag with a battery-operated ventilator on the back . He didn't bottle feed, I was nursing, and I was panicked about how to feed him if we had to go to a bomb shelter, because he didn't like bottles. All these intense stresses going on - I watched a plane being shot out of the sky. Living through all that, it was crochet that kept me sane. That's when I realized I could combine my love of math with my love of knitting and crochet. I made shawls and sent them to my mom as gifts. As she would wear them, people were always asking her about them and wanting them, so I started making some pieces. She would send me yarn and I would send finished shawls to her. It planted this seed in my head, that if I were to come home maybe I could make a living doing what I love.
DORA: And you eventually did.
KRISTIN: Yes. I sold shawls to a boutique in the Detroit area and did well, but when they wanted repeat orders I couldn't keep up. The hours that go into it -- they wanted so many in a couple of weeks, and I realized there was no way I could do that, not for wholesale prices. I thought, this isn't working. I had started to see some patterns on the internet. I thought if I started writing patterns, I could make something just once and sell it. I started a really basic web site, added some patterns, and I started to make contact with yarn companies.
DORA: And they snapped you right up!
KRISTIN: Yup. My first accepted design was knit and the second was crochet. I realized I didn't have to pick one or the other, and that was great.
DORA: And you've continued to do both.
KRISTIN: I've written two crochet books, the second is coming out this June. And my third one is knitting.
DORA: Can you tell us about it?
KRISTIN: The title hasn't yet been decided. It's wraps and shawls, a follow up to Wrapped in Crochet. The textures are all crochet-inspired. I did some unusual things that were inspired by the looks and techniques of crochet. It was a lot of exploration and fun.
DORA: That sound wonderful! What's your process when you have an idea for a project? How do you go about creating a design?
KRISTIN: It varies. There are times when I'm sitting in my back yard and see a flower structure pattern or a brick on a side of a building and say, that would look really pretty in the yoke of a sweater. Then I'd sketch out the geometric pattern I'd seen and make that into a stitch pattern. Other times I'll see a silhouette on someone wearing something beautiful that's not crochet or knit, and I think how beautiful it would look in crochet or knit. Inspiration comes from all angles, but when it comes down to do it, there are times I just start working, and other times when I see it's going to be complicated so I start with math. When the structure of something I want to make is really out there, I've even constructed a miniature for a wrought iron mannequin I keep on my desk - a mini version, like a doll's dress.
DORA: That's cool.
KRISTIN: In the last chapter of my DVD I show how I drape the little mannequin.
DORA: What about swatching?
KRISTIN: With garments, there's no way you can do it without a swatch, especially under a deadline. I can't make a sweater that's supposed to be a 34 and have it turn out a 44. It has to come out right the first time. Swatches are imperative. For a scarf I wouldn't swatch, I would start working on it, I'll wing the starting chain, it doesn't take that much to unravel and go back.
DORA: There are so many different scenarios in design work. Lots of times we don't pick our own yarn unless we're doing a book.
KRISTIN: Or for my own pattern line.
DORA: Do you prefer to pick the yarn yourself, or do you enjoy the challenge of being presented with a yarn and having to make it work for your concept?
KRISTIN: In my proposal I talk about the look I want to achieve and within certain boundaries, one can suggest things about the yarn. Depending on the type of project, for example if it's going to be blocked lace, I would suggest a natural rather than synthetic yarn. I make recommendations for the kind of yarn based on what I need the yarn to do in this design. Beyond that, there are so many yarns out there I'm not rigid about what yarn I want to use.
DORA: We've all had that experience I think where the yarn we get is different enough that we have to rethink aspects of the design.
KRISTIN: I put as much of that as I can in my proposal. I think about the yarn with purpose. There are specific things that bring out the most beauty in any weight or fiber choice. I give a lot of thought to that, there are characteristics of a yarn that made you pick it up to swatch with in the first place. There are textured yarns that look amazing with minimal stitching, like dropped stitches or with broomstick lace. I like using those techniques when I'm featuring a unique texture in a yarn. That yarn doesn't get to show to its full potential unless you can see the amazing texture.
DORA: I so agree with you on that. I talk about this a lot in my book, Creating Crochet Fabric. I think it's important to educate crocheters about this, because they don't always see that.
KRISTIN: There's been such an explosion of information in a few years, it's coming. The more we share and talk about it, the better things get.
DORA: That's what we're trying to do. You do lots of different things: you design for yarn companies, for magazines, you're writing books. Do you enjoy doing this variety of things?
KRISTIN: It come and goes. There are times when I prefer to focus on one avenue rather than the other. I go in spells. I'll say, this year I'm going to focus on this, and the next 6 months I'm going to focus on something else. But it's good to be well-rounded too. It's also good to take a break from one or the other from time to time.
DORA: How do you feel about writing books?
KRISTIN: I love writing books. I love the big picture, I love putting together a whole collection, and I love big projects. There is so much more of a story I can tell.
DORA: I agree with you! For me, it's like being a producer. It's something I did in my music life too, I also created whole pieces, not composing, but a conception for a whole program, and I loved building it.
KRISTIN: It's good to get to spend an extended amount of time with something. When you're designing a single project on a deadline, you don't have much time with it, perhaps only 10 days. When you spend several months on something, so much more can come out of it.
DORA: Do you find you get obsessed with a particular concept, where you might want to see it realized in many different ways? For example, I want to do everything I can with certain stitch patterns.
KRISTIN: I have to tell you, I just bought some bankers' boxes you can get in Office Max. You can fold them all these different ways until they become a sturdy box. It's not origami, I don't know what you call it exactly. But I keep thinking it would be really need to do sweaters like that.
KRISTIN: Make one piece out of several pieces that look like they are separate but they are really not. There's cuff to cuff, which is sort of like that, but I think it could be developed much more. For that, I'll have to sit down with a piece of paper and pencil, even a pair of scissors. Stuff like that runs through my head all the time, sometimes it works out, sometimes not.
DORA: I have a feeling you're going to make it work.
KRISTIN: I have volumes of notebooks full of ideas that didn't work. I have so many, I went through them to do some spring cleaning and I thought, this is still good.
DORA: This has to do with your creative spirit. Is that something that can be taught, or are people born with it?
KRISTIN: I don't know. I haven't tried to teach someone how to look at things like they aren't what they are. I guess you could, why not?
DORA: Having moved from one artistic medium to another, I finally realized that there are ways that I'm not like other people. I must be creating, it's a very strong drive.
KRISTIN: It's just as important to inspire as to create. Just being a designer, you are inspiring others to create It doesn't have to be all or nothing. Picking up yarn and a hook and creating from nothing, is one sort of creativity, but not the only one.
DORA: But people are often fearful.
KRISTIN: We all have that, it's what you do with it that counts.
DORA: How do you deal with it?
KRISTIN: Sometimes I'm strangled by it, other times I use it as fuel. It's balancing that. I wish 90% of it was fuel and 10% was stifling.
DORA; It's interesting what you say about fear, can you amplify?
KRISTIN: Well, if I'm on a deadline, and I'm working on a concept that's not traditional, I sometimes worry, what if it doesn't work out and I don't make the deadline.
DORA: I've been there!
KRISTIN: It's not like I'm doing top down raglan shape. That's not usually what I do. So, to do something that's out there to begin with, and then to say, I haven't made this yet, but my math says it will work and I'll have it for you in two weeks. Then you're two thirds into it and it isn't working exactly - that's fear!
DORA: I'm not trying to make a living from this completely, so I've been able to pace myself so I don't have such intense pressure. I do part of the garment and see how it's really going to work, and design on the hook.
KRISTIN: I do, I work in this business every single day. I want to go as far as I can in this industry.
DORA: I bet you will!
DORA: How do you connect with your audience, with the people who love your work.
KRISTIN: I would love to do that more than I do. I write on my web site, and twitter, and have a fan page on Facebook. That has helped me reach my audience better, hear feedback and talk to people. I would love to do it more.
DORA: The TV show helps, right?
KRISTIN: Yes, that just came out. Hopefully my excitement about what I do comes out in that. I work by myself all day, and I'm so eager to share the excitement of what I love. When I go to shows I adore showing someone something they haven't seen before. At TNNA, I do demonstrations all day long. In different booths, even out on the floor. Just to show them it's not that hard, just doing something differently than what you already know. I love seeing people realize they can do something they didn't think they could do.
DORA: How does designing fit in to your lifestyle and family life?
KRISTIN: Perfect, because I don't have a set schedule. If I have to go to football practice at a certain time, it's fine, I can work after. If I have lots of things to do in the day, I can work in the evening, or on the weekend. I'm afraid I work on the weekend more than I care to admit. That comes from working for yourself. I don't take a day off ever.
DORA: We have to do so much beyond designing: promoting our work, working on the next book deal.
KRISTIN: Right, my email is never off, I'm connected all the time.
DORA: Do you have to swatch and submit, or do people come to you?
KRISTIN: It's not my favorite thing, because it interrupts the flow. I get excited and want to have 10 balls right now so I can get started. But when you get excited, do a swatch, put it all on paper, send it off and forget about it for a couple of months, and then suddenly you're told it has to be done in three weeks. What I find helps a lot is If you have most of the pattern written in at least in one size. That way when you are asked to make the design, you're not thinking oh my God, what was I thinking?
DORA: That's great. Can you estimate the typical number of designs you do in a year?
KRISTIN: My ravelry page is well in the hundreds. This year I did two books and did yarn company and magazine work too.
KRISTIN: That's 45 or 50 for the books, maybe a dozen magazine and yarn projects. Plus whipping out a few pieces to wear for my appearances on Knitting Daily TV. I had this compulsion to make an outfit for every episode, and only knew a few weeks ahead of time. I got four pieces completed. Then I sold those designs as proposals for magazines, but I have to redo them in other yarns. But at least the garment's done and the pattern's written.
DORA: You must be very fast.
KRISTIN: I am pretty fast. I wish I was faster knitting, because I don't do continental knitting. I give myself challenges, like, I'm starting a skirt, I want to be done by tomorrow. I figure out how many stitches are in a round, how many minutes it took me to do that round, and how many minutes or hours it will take me to do the whole thing, so I know exactly what time I'll be finished tomorrow. Just to give myself something else to think about.
DORA: I t sounds like you are goal oriented.
KRISTIN: I didn't realize that until I entered the marathon. It was the goal that drove me for that.
DORA: It's a good trait.
KRISTIN: Sometimes I think I'm more process oriented, but since the marathon I see that I'm goal oriented.
DORA: One doesn't necessarily preclude the other. If you're an artisan, you have be involved in the process too. If you have both, then you're in the right business, because we do have to work on deadlines.
KRISTIN: I guess you're right.
DORA: Do you have favorite yarns you like to work with, favorite weights or fibers?
KRISTIN: Yes. I had a ball writing Crochet So Fine because using thin weight yarn makes beautiful, attractive garments that would be much more challenging to make with heavier yarns.
DORA: How fine are the yarns you use in that book?
KRISTIN: Lace weight to DK, but DK only for hairpin or broomstick. A lot of it is done in lace weight yarn, though not necessarily on the tiniest hook. I used different stitch patterns that involved open work, so you're not getting tiny gauge and it didn't take a long time to make anything. Some were longer than others, but for the most part, you don't have to spend that much more time just because you use thinner yarns. I incorporated a lot of things I learned from knitters' lace. For example, bumping up your hook size, so that while you're making the fabric it looks rather sloppy, but after you block it, the lace patterning is divine. You can't see the negative space until after you block it. That also gives you the drape you need for a flattering garment. In the book I give lots of advice on blocking, wet blocking, steaming. Some fibers work better to get totally soaked, others that are more delicate work fine with steam. There's a steamer on the market called the Shark Steamer, you can get it at Bed Bath and Beyond, it's amazing. You can use that on a synthetic and totally change the yarn. I can't imagine blocking without it.
DORA: Would you call it killing the fabric?
KRISTIN: I would never like to call it that. Remember the white sweater on the cover of Interweave, with motifs? It was Echo Bamboo from Red Heart. I completely transformed the yarn with steaming - it turned out silky and drapy.
DORA: Do you want to tell us more about the projects in Crochet So Fine?
KRISTIN: Sweaters, skirts, shawls, all kinds of projects.
DORA: Something I've been thinking about a lot lately, is the lack of standards in our industry. There aren't well defined standards in our craft of what makes it beautiful.
KRISTIN: That's very subjective.
DORA: Sure, but aren't there some things, like even stitches, a good match between the yarn and the pattern, good seams, good finishing?
KRISTIN: Finishing a garment well is the difference between a garment looking home made and hand crafted. Yarns that are not going to fall apart and pill like crazy. We designers don't always see how yarn wears, because we give our work away. If you're going to wear it for years to come, you need to know that the yarns not going to pill or fall apart.
DORA: Do you love stitch dictionaries?
KRISTIN: Yes I love stitch dictionaries. Anything Japanese I can get my hands on. They're different than anything I've ever seen before. I love the multidirectional stitches.
DORA: Me too! But what do you mean by multidirectional?
KRISTIN: Like, if you're doing edging, instead of doing round upon round, do one repeat and then go back and forth three or four times, which gives you the same effect as doing several rounds.
DORA: You got that idea from Japanese book?
DORA: Which one? We'll have to exchange lists of which ones we have. I have a great Japanese book store here in New York I go to, let me know if you need any books.
KRISTIN: You're lucky! I just wing it on yesasia.com. And they're not cheap! I love them. I have all the knitting ones I could find too. They're all charted, it's fascinating. I have all the Barbara Walker books for knitting. Those are my first ones that I loved. For crochet, besides the Japanese ones, the original one that I loved was Readers Digest, it's half knit and half crochet.
DORA: Let me ask again about an issue that I think about: many stitch patterns look great on lace weight yarns, but if you use a worsted, they just don't look good.
KRISTIN: Unless you bump up the hook size, larger than the one that you would normally use with that yarn. It's still a ratio. I think using a hook size and a 6 mm hook would look beautiful, Doris Chan does it all the time. I like doing lace weight with a 4 mm hook,
DORA: I would love to see skills being made more available to crocheters who want to learn. Like flexible tension, experimenting with different yarns. The exposure to somebody who knows and can teach is not so available. It's more than there used to be, with videos. But it doesn't begin to really give people what they need to know. There is so much to learn in crochet to do it well.
KRISTIN: In crochet corner on Knitting Daily, on the first show I did, I talked about how to hold the hook right. You're right, there's a lot you need to know before you even start. How you hold your yarn is extremely important. In that episode I show how to hold it right, I showed an example of how you hold it wrong and how it becomes so hard to make the stitches well when you hold it wrong. Then I went back again to show how much more perfectly even your stitches are when you hold it right. That's an example of something that's so simple but makes a humungous difference.
DORA: You just have to be shown, I'm thinking a lot about how to upgrade the level of people's skills, how to make it more available within our crochet community.
KRISTIN: There are people who can figure things out themselves, and others who really need to be shown. In my book I write lots of side bar notes, and lots of information on finishing. How you weave in those ends, making them stay in, how your seams look. If you steam something, that helps unify the stitch work itself. Picking the right bulk of a garment for your figure, making the right size, taking the right measurements. Your bra size isn't necessarily your sweater size, not unless you want a sweater with no ease.
DORA: Exactly! What do you see yourself doing in the future?
KRISTIN: It's been a really busy year and I'm grateful for that. I'm working on my next season of Knitting Daily, we go back in the studio soon. I'm really excited to be working in TV now. I'm going to be taping my next DVD while I'm in the studio. I'm really excited about this whole new medium for teaching knitting and crochet. It's something I've always wanted to do, I really would like to see how far that can go. I hope I can make a big difference, not only in sharing my excitement which I'm filled with, and also talking about the right way to do it. I like to show how similar the wrong way is to the right way, and how to break it down and show people how to get the results they desire. Video is really the way I can contribute to that.
DORA: When you plan these instructional videos do you lay out the whole topic and plan how you're going to teach it?
KRISTIN: Yes, it's like planning a class you're going to teach, but then more than that, you have to plan how you're going to do it for TV. It's just like doing a workshop. What's great for the hobbyist is, they can do it in the comfort of their home, and if they want to see something several times, they can just back it up. There's no other student there to interrupt, you get the full flow of information without interruptions and back it up as many times as you want. When I want to learn something, that's exactly how I want it to be, to see it as many times as I need to see it to get it done right.
DORA: What else are you planning on video?
KRISTIN: In two weeks I'll be doing a workshop video for the knitting book that's coming out. There are a lot of really unusual techniques I've incorporated in the book, so we'll go over that in detail on the DVD. It will be included along with the book.
DORA: That's awesome! Well, I should let you go, but it's been great to talk with you!
KRISTIN: I enjoyed it too.
Kristin's site where you can purchase her patterns is: www.styledbykristin.com
The Infinity Shawl and other patterns are available at www.interweavestore.com