What to stash this week: Embraceable Ewe


EY main

You’ll want to wrap yourself up in the Embraceable You shawl, new from Lauren Fréhel, the dyer and designer behind Shleep Yarns. The kit is available exclusively through the Shleep Yarns Etsy shop. The crescent-shaped shawl has an elegant leaf lace border and uses 790 yards of Shleep Yarns Tussah Silk Fingering (colors can be seen here). You can knit it with stripes or in one color — personally, I prefer the striped version, and could see wrapping myself up in it wandering around one of the seaside towns of Corsica, where Shleep Yarns is based.


Just in time for the cooler weather, Laura’s beautiful pinkish-purple Vinterbär cowl has a new mitten friend. While the name of the cowl is Swedish for winter berries, Björnbär is named after the blackberries that grow wild around Laura’s house in Washington State. Like the cowl, Björnbär has a berry motif done in stranded colorwork, but it’s been sized down slightly.


Carrie of Alpenglow Yarn has been busy making SkeinMinders, but she’s gone back to the dye pots for the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show — a week from today! She’ll be bringing lots of yarn, including Rangeland and Wander, her USA-made superwash Merino in fingering and DK, Sylvan Sock, a sturdier fine wool and Tencel fingering-weight blend made in Vermont, and more!


There’s another lovely shawl kit from Europe this week! This one is from indie dyer Lise of TréLiz, and it features a new design by Maria Zilakou. You have until Monday to order yours and then there will be a KAL on Ravelry starting Nov. 16.

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Cathryn Bothe of Signature Needle Arts


cathy photo-2015 2 resized

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with the fabulous sponsors of the 2015 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

When I first started knitting with hand-dyed yarn a bunch of years ago, I also began hearing about Signature Needles. At $42 for a full set of circulars, they seemed like a decadent choice, though thinking about it, not so decadent when you’re already spending $30-plus on a skein…

The brand has a fantastic origin story: Knitter Cathryn Bothe, who is president of Bothe Associates, a Wisconsin-based, family-owned company that makes custom metal parts — everything from surgical tool components to mining safety equipment — was frustrated with the points of her needles, so she took them into work and had them altered, bringing the “stiletto point” into the fiber world. Founded in 2006, Signature Needle Arts offers convertible circulars, straight needles and double points in sleek aluminum with a choice of points, as well as needle and cable lengths.

Cathryn now runs both companies, and I was thrilled when her independent, woman-owned enterprise agreed to help sponsor this year’s Rhinebeck Trunk Show. While there won’t be needles for sale at the show, the company sent me a set of circulars, straight needles and DPNs for people to try out. The goody bags, which you can snag if you’re one of the first 100 trunk show attendees, will have a $10 off coupon from Signature, so perhaps that will push you to try out the Rolls Royce of knitting needles.

Would you say the knitting needles and the other products that Bothe Associates manufactures have any similarities?

When we first started it was extremely annoying to have some of the outside suppliers roll their eyes when we talked to them. I could tell they thought it was just some silly “woman’s project.” Even some of the male machine operators thought it strange we were making something so unlike the industrial parts we have made for 65 years.

Now, of course, it is very different. Those folks working a lot on needles are very committed to making the product and are very proud to be part of the Signature part of the business.

The similarities from some of the other parts we make are in materials, tolerances, quality control — we try and not ever send anything out of the building that is not perfect.

Signature group

Have any people at your company been inspired to learn how to knit after you started Signature?

Yes our Financial Manager has learned and excelled in many projects. Others who were already knitters have increased their knitting efforts.

It is also interesting to see how many folks in the office or shop know so much about knitting even though they have never done any. We have so many options and it is great to see folks here who know everything about the product.


Which is the most popular needle point?

Stiletto is the runaway favorite, but for that small percentage of people who like the others, they can feel like someone is looking out for them, too.

What are some of the biggest challenges in manufacturing knitting needles?

The actual manufacturing was not a challenge. In fact, when we first started and did some measuring of some of the low-cost needles on the market, people here were shocked at the lack of precise measurement.

In our shop we often are asked to measure parts to =/- .0003, which translates to 1/10th of a human hair.

Since knitting is really a series of diameter of stitches and guage is so important when you get a Signature needle that is, for example, 4.00 mm, it really is and you can count on that measurement for your stitches.

The only real challenge is finding a cable that works for all the things we need it to do: be strong, be flexible — but not too flexible.

We have people in the shop who are very committed to making the needles beautiful which is wonderful to see. They, to a person, want our customers to be happy.

SNA cables

Tell me how you learned to knit.

My grandmother taught me how to crochet, but I taught myself to knit. I always tell people that although I have knit many things over many years I was a completely “solitary” knitter. I never took a class or joined a group and, actually, I still have not. However, the internet has proved invaluable for allowing me to learn new techniques.

What are your favorite projects to knit?

I like to do baby things since I have been through several years when many friends/family have had babies and grandbabies.

I am currently working on my “masterpieces”: we have three grown children and they all share the same birthday–over a 10 year span. I always tell people that I am organized if nothing else. Actually it is sad, but our youngest always had trouble in young years convincing people that he and his brother and sister were all born on the same day of the year — April 6.

This past year, for the first time in many years, we were all together on the birthday. I committed to doing a special afghan for each of them which told the story of their life. The first one has three panels: one shows stitches that reflect the things he loves; the second panel shows things about his work life; and the third shows all the love and good wishes we send to him as he lives far away. I am working steadily on that and when it is finished I have a notebook of stitch patterns for each of the other two.

SNA snas

Do you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting?

While I can crochet, I don’t do much. I am in the enviable position to be able to knit as much as possible and always can say “it’s for work.”

When our son came home from California once he noticed my yarn room in the basement and commented on how much there was. I didn’t even hesitate or make excuses for the vast quantities: “It’s for work” was all I had to say.

I do a lot of gardening. In our previous house I had a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden with many flowers besides. Now in a smaller space, I have figured out how to have a great many plants and plantings, which I love to do in the short growing season here.

What’s next for Signature Needle Arts? Can you reveal any upcoming plans?

I have lots of ideas for new products. I can’t really say much more right now.

What to stash this week: Winners and llamas (and yaks)


As a journalist, I love a good follow-up story. We have one this week: In my recent interview with Carl Koop of Bijou Basin Ranch, he revealed that they were in the process of collaborating with a number of indie dyers on special colorways for their Tibetan yak yarns. Before I knew it, I had a Marketplace post from them announcing a set of seven colorways hand-dyed by Philadelphia-based Lattes & Llamas on Lhasa Wilderness, BBR’s yak and bamboo blend. Aside from jumping on this limited run, you should also enter the contest to win seven skeins of Lhasa Wilderness in your choice of colors.


Here’s some more great synergy between the blog and the Marketplace: A Good Yarn Sarasota — owner Susan Post’s interview was on the blog this week — has opened sign-ups for its new yarn club. The club will feature the latest skeins from the the shop’s Purl Diver Collection, with custom colorways inspired by the deep sea photos taken by Susan’s husband, Murray, and created by six indie yarn companies. Each shipment will include a skein, a pattern and a goodie. Sign-ups run until Oct. 31.


After a successful Kickstarter campaign (which was supported by several Indie Untangled readers) Carrie has started up her little SkeinMinder factory! The SkeinMinder is a device that automates your motorized skein winder, stopping it at the desired yardage. They’re now available to the indie dyeing public. Carrie will also bring orders to Rhinebeck for those who want to save on shipping. If you’re not a dyer, check out the SkeinMinder Hall of Fame or Instagram for some enabling.


Margaret of Seaside Knitting Bags is getting ready for fall and winter with some new bags and new fabrics. Coordinate your knitting to your outfit — that chocolate-hued tote would go nicely with a pair of brown leather boots.


Barb of Spencer Hill has also stocked up for autumn. After a successful Kitter’s Day Out, a fiber festival down in Summerdale, Pennsylvania, she came home inspired, and filled her shop with a bushel full of naturally-dyed skeins.

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Susan Post of A Good Yarn Sarasota

AGY Susan Post

This is the fourth in a series of interviews with the fabulous sponsors of the 2015 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

While there’s no shortage of indie dyers you can buy from online, there’s really no replacement for a great local yarn shop — especially if they have a fantastic selection of hand-dyed yarn. Susan Post opened A Good Yarn Sarasota in Florida in 2009 and she’s done some unique collaborations. Some of her shop’s exclusive colorways — dyed by such indies as Dream in Color, Handmaiden, Lorna’s Laces, Sweet Georgia and Zen Yarn Garden — are inspired by underwater photograps that Susan’s husband, Murray, takes while traveling (it’s a tough job — in the description for the shop’s Sea Slug Glitter Sock, he mentions making 21 dives and taking nearly 2,000 photos to get just the right one of a pink, orange and black flatworm).

Here, Susan tells us a little more about how she started her LYS and about the shop exclusives:

Tell me how you came to open A Good Yarn.​

I always wanted to own my own business and an opportunity presented itself.​

What did you do before you became a yarn shop owner?

I was a stay-at-home mom raising three children. I have a degree in marketing from the University of Arizona and when the youngest was in high school I started to think about what I might want to do when he left. I went to work at a couple of LYSs, but found they didn’t carry the kinds of yarns I wanted to knit with. I was ordering yarn online. I started to think I couldn’t be the only knitter in Sarasota who felt that way.

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle colorway.

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle colorway.

How did you decide to turn your husband Murray’s underwater photographs into yarn colorways?​

His pictures are beautiful, and I was looking for a way to make us unique.​

What is the process like for developing the custom colors?​

We send a picture to one of many dyers and ask them to come up with a color. They will usually send me a sample​, from which we might tweak.

One of the colorway inspiration photos, taken by Susan's husband, Murray.

One of the colorway inspiration photos, taken by Susan’s husband, Murray.

Are there plans for custom colors based on other photographs?​

Strictly underwater or marine life​.

Are there any indie dyers you’re particularly interested in collaborating with?​

I love them all. We keep expanding to include new ones.​

When and how did you learn to knit?​

I learned to knit in high school while volunteering after school in an assisited living facility.​

Some customers in Susan's shop.

Some customers in Susan’s shop.

Who are some of your favorite designers?​

Olga, Shellie Anderson, Romi Hill… so many.

Do you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting?​

I have quilted and done needlepoint. Still love them both.​

What to stash this week: A (free) shawl and a sweater

Jetty Shawl

I always say, there’s no such thing as too many shawls or too many sweaters:

Jetty is a simple and stunning crescent-shaped shawl designed by Linda of Kettle Yarn Co. for her Islington DK, a blend of 55% percent Superwash British Bluefaced Leicester and 45% silk. It has an eyelet lace detail embedded in squishy, comforting garter. Through next Friday, Oct. 2, you can get the pattern for free with the purchase of two skeins of Islington DK.


Mountain Laurel, the latest sweater design from Laura Patterson of Fiber Dreams, is inspired by the greenery in her new home in the Pacific Northwest. The back of the cardigan has a beautiful leaf stitch, with simple reverse stockinette in the front. The loose 3/4-length sleeves are knit in a different, coordinating lace pattern. For those of you who don’t have a green thumb, this sweater may very well be the perfect substitute.

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Carl and Eileen Koop of Bijou Basin Ranch


This is the third in a series of interviews with the fabulous sponsors of the 2015 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

As someone who has attended Rhinebeck for the last few years, I was familiar with Bijou Basin Ranch, but didn’t really know much about them until they started posting on Indie Untangled. What I have learned about owners Carl and Eileen Koop since, and what they have posted — from their Outlandish colorways, inspired by the Outlander book series and the Starz TV show, to their collaborations with Miss Babs — has definitely impressed me. That’s not to mention how incredibly soft their yarns are. I can’t wait to knit with the Himalayan Trail, a 75/25 yak/Merino blend, that I picked up at Rhinebeck last year.

Their company has a fascinating origin story. Both Carl and Eileen are East Coast transplants to rural Colorado, and Eileen worked for many years in consumer product development for several big companies — you may have even used some of the products she invented and worked on, including Binaca breath spray, Colgate gel toothpaste and OxiClean. These days, aside from running their yak ranch, the Koops have also come out with their own wool and fabric wash, called Allure (and if you’re lucky enough to score a goodie bag at the trunk show, you’ll be able to snag a sample).

And now, I’ll let Carl take it from here:

Tell me the story of how Bijou Basin Ranch came to be.

One of the reasons that Eileen and I moved from New Jersey — yep, we were born and raised 5 miles from NYC — was to get to a somewhat more rural setting. So, after living in Colorado for a while, I decided that we needed to be truly out in the country and away from town as much as was reasonable. I had quit my job and was back in school working on an animal science degree, and found a really nice ranch outside the town of Elbert, which is about 65 miles southeast of Denver as the crow flies.

To keep our agricultural tax status, we needed an agricultural based business that utilized the ranch, so the idea of becoming ranchers is how Bijou Basin Ranch started and we started looking into fiber animals. FYI, the name is from the fact that West Bijou Creek runs through our property, which is in the Bijou Basin, a small valley on the Colorado plains.

Lhasa Reds by Bijou Basin Ranch

Lhasa Reds by Bijou Basin Ranch

Why did you decide to raise yaks for fiber?

After I received my degree, I became a licensed veterinary technician and was working for an equine dentist. On a ranch call one day, while attending to a client’s horses, two small six-month-old yaks walked out of the barn. I asked the owner what they were (I didn’t sleep through that many classes and I knew my text books had all the latest animals in them) and she said “Tibetan yaks.” As an aside, her husband would keep treats in his back pocket, which to the yaks meant all men did, so all day while I was there I kept getting nibbled at on my back pockets as they looked for treats.

Eileen was in China at the time on business (she was the head of R&D for the company that made OxiClean) and called to see how I was doing, so I told her that I knew what we would do for our tax status — we would raise yaks. She responded with, “I’m sorry we must have a bad connection since I would swear I just heard the word ‘yaks.’ ” I assured her the connection was fine and that since yaks come from China she should stop at the duty free shop and pick a few up. I thought that they should do just fine in an overhead compartment.

Actually, before that phone call, I had looked into Tibetan yaks and saw that while there was a breed stock and meat market for them, it appeared to no one was doing anything bigger than a true mom and pop fiber business and had decided that we should give it a try.

Do you and Eileen knit?

No, neither of us knit or crochet, we just raise the Tibetan yaks for their fiber and then design the yarns we sell. Eileen was taught how to as a child, but it never really stuck. I have just started to do some weaving, but at this point I have so little time I can’t even tell if I am good or bad at it. Should we do a WAL this winter — I think so!

The BBR Outlandish blues.

The BBR Outlandish blues.

How did the idea for the Outlandish colors come about? Are you Outlander fans?

The idea was MarlyBird‘s — she is our creative director and a rabid Outlander fan. Eileen had read the books and was also a big fan, so once Marly brought the idea up it just really took off. It has been a lot of fun watching how many knitters are Outlander fans and discussing the books and TV show with them. I think we also brought a lot of new fans to the books who had never heard of them before.

A recent BBR/Miss Babs collaboration.

A recent BBR/Miss Babs collaboration.

The colorways you’ve created with Miss Babs are gorgeous! How did that collaboration come about?

We have been huge Miss Babs fans for years and over the years on the fiber show tours have gotten to know them very well and have become good friends withe everyone on “Team Babs.” They are a great group of people! Anyway, when we decided to try having indie dyers work with our yarns for us, Babs was far and away at the top of our list and when we asked she agreed, which obviously made us very happy. All of the colors have been developed by Babs and her team with just a wee bit of input from us. We think it would be crazy for us to tell her how to dye yarn so we just let her be creative about it. And I think you must agree that she has done an excellent job so far.

With Eileen’s background in consumer product development, did you always plan on creating a wool wash?

Pretty much, yes. We have used other products, and the big names that everyone recognizes are all great, but Eileen has a different way of looking at them since she is a consumer and a chemist. With Allure, she was able to create a fine fiber and fabric wash that, as she puts it, “has everything a wash needs and nothing it doesn’t,” one that cleans and protects fine fibers but is equally as good for all fibers and fabrics. And, quite frankly, it is not easy to get Eileen out of the lab!

Allure Fine Fiber & Fabric Wash from Bijou Basin Ranch

Allure Fine Fiber & Fabric Wash from Bijou Basin Ranch

How would you say Allure differs from other wool and fine fabric washes?

Allure contains no lanolin, phosphates, enzymes, dyes and optical brighteners, and is completely natural and biodegradable. It is a true no-residue wash, which means it is a true no-rinse wash. But what we can say about Allure that is most important is regarding the components that Allure is made with. They are top quality, all natural ingredients which, when put together properly, create what we think is by far the best fiber wash available.

What’s next for Bijou Basin? Can you reveal any upcoming plans?

We just released Xanadu, our newest yarn, which is 100% pure Mongolian Cashmere! It is truly unbelievably soft and rich and we think knitters will love it! It is a light fingering weight, 400 yards in 2-ounce skeins and is available in seven different colors, with more on the way.

We also are starting to have more indie dyers work with our yarns and creating some wonderful new colorways for us. These dyers include, but will not be limited to Modeknit, Lost City Knits, Lattes & Llamas, Miss Babs, Neighborhood Fiber Co. and Anzula! It is a wide variety of colors and dying styles and I know people will love them. We will be releasing these colors either late this year or early next year so watch our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for details.

Lastly, we will be putting out an incredible kit for the holiday season. A lot of details are still being finalized, but I guarantee that this kit will knock your socks off! Stay tuned…

What to stash this week: A sweater, 50% off socks, & Single Sheep


I’m loving this new sweater design by Lola Johnson of Third Vault Yarns. Swing Me Right Round can be worn with either side as the front and is meant to show off hand-dyed yarn in either fingering, sport or DK. A spreadsheet comes with the pattern that allows you to input your gauge and measurements and generates stitch counts, number of repeats and your increases. You can also choose to knit it from the center outwards — which eliminates any grafting — or from the bottom up. Whichever choices you make, it’s bound to look stunning (I can’t guarantee that you’ll get that 1985 Dead or Alive song out of your head).


Lara Smoot’s latest sock design, Heat Lighting, uses Unplanned Peacock’s Cozy Sock, a blend of Merino, alpaca and nylon, for an easy-to-knit sock in a fun, lightning-like lace pattern. It’s worked from the cuff down and incorporates a modified short row heel. Best of all: if you act fast, you can get this and all of Lara’s other sock patterns for 50% off until Oct. 1. Use the code Socktober at checkout.


Single Sheep, Keya’s newest yarn base comes courtesy of Blanche, Stella and Oliver — it’s the first yarn ever from the fleece of sheep on her Georgia farm! The yarn is a fingering-weight single, a la Tosh Merino Light. Quantities are limited, so make sure you buy what you need the first time. There are also autumn colorways on the Journey, Rocket Sock and Rocket Sock Medium bases, as well as new colorways of spinning fiber and new project bags with grommets.

Spencer Hill table

Spencer Hill‘s Big Cartel shop will be a little quiet this weekend while Barb is at Knitters’ Day Out in Summerdale, Pennsylvania. The event includes vendors from Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, New York… and Australia. Barb will be bringing hand-dyed yarn, sheep-colored fiber and naturally-dyed yarn, while her friend Stephanie of Rock Solid Designs will have project bags, needle rolls, DPN protectors and original designs, including one in Barb’s Nell yarn.

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Laurie Gonyea of Feel Good Yarn Company


FGYC Laurie Gonyea

This is the second in a series of interviews with the fabulous sponsors of the 2015 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

I think it’s safe to say that using any kind of yarn would make a knitter feel good, but Laurie Gonyea of Feel Good Yarn Company has created something particularly unique.

A few years ago, the Washington, DC, resident discovered a yarn spun with silver produced by a company in Turkey. She at first thought about importing it, but instead decided to see if it could be created with American-sourced fiber. Laurie — who was running a company called Knit Outta the Box, which sold “emergency” knitting kits to gift shops and other places — got in touch with the staff at North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles (which has a spinning lab — how cool is that?!) and they worked to develop a yarn made with cotton grown in North Carolina and spun with a small percentage of silver filaments, also made in the USA. Many say silver has healing properties for people with arthritis and diabetes, hence the company’s name. These aren’t FDA-approved claims, of course, but silver’s conductive properties also make it useful for swiping smartphone touchscreens, and Laurie’s Texting Mittens are popular.

Feel Good Yarn Company offers fingering- and sport-weight yarn, as well as patterns, and Laurie recently started working with Maryland-based indie Alice O’Reilly of Backyard Fiberworks — who will be a vendor at this year’s trunk show — to add some color to the SilverSpun line.

How did you come up with the idea to develop yarn spun with silver?

The idea of spinning fibers with precious metals is a very old one — they have been doing it since the time of the Sultans — so I didn’t come up with the concept. What I did come up with though, was the idea to develop and produce a yarn spun with silver using only American sourced fibers and spun entirely in the USA. I worked with the Spin Lab at North Carolina State University to develop my yarn and to this day they are still spinning it for me.

FGYC beauty shot

I understand you’re collaborating with indie dyers on SilverSpun colors. Can you talk about what’s in the works?

Alice O’Reilly, from Backyard Fiberworks, does all of our hand dyeing. She has an amazing sense of color, and every colorway she has come up with has just been stunning. Initially, we worked together on just exclusive colorways, but now she is dyeing all of our “repeatable” colors in our SilverSpun Sock.

Are there any challenges that come with dyeing yarn that contains silver?

This is really a question that should be asked of Alice, since I am not a dyer, but from what I can tell, really the only issue is that because the yarn is cotton it shrinks quite a bit (7%-12%) the first time it is submerged. Consequently, when I put up skeins for her to dye I add 10% to the length just to make sure that the skeins are not short yardage-wise.

The silver in the yarn doesn’t accept the dye, so all of our dyed (and natural) yarns have a slight sparkle to them.

What colors would you love to see your yarn in?

I’m already seeing them! Alice has come up with some stunners! We did a Summer Sock Club this summer and all of the colors had a “summery” theme — Sea Glass, Nectarine Dream and Watermelon Crush. I think to date, though, my favorite has been Razzelberry, a mixture of berry colors. It was gorgeous!

Feel Good Yarn Company's Razzleberry colorway, dyed by Alice O'Reilly of Backyard Fiberworks.

Feel Good Yarn Company’s Razzleberry colorway, dyed by Alice O’Reilly of Backyard Fiberworks.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I was 6 years old and my mother taught me.

Laurie's Pompeii Hat

Laurie’s Pompeii Hat

What are the inspirations behind your pattern designs?

I really don’t do a lot of designing these days — running Feel Good Yarn Co. keeps me pretty busy — but I did release a pattern last fall called the Pompeii Hat that was inspired by the beautiful mosaics that I saw in Pompeii, Italy. The hat is knit using the mosaic technique, so I thought the name fit perfectly.

You also ran another successful company, Knit Outta the Box. What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?

Knit Outta the Box was my first company that I started in 2008. It is no longer around except for a few patterns that we sell online. When I first started KOTB I was talking to an old high school friend that ran a very successful company and he told me to try and work out of my house for as long as I could. He said renting office/warehouse space was very expensive and if I could prevent from having to deal with the overhead cost of rent, I would be able to put more money into my pocket. FYI — I’m still working out of my home studio and totally making it work!

What to stash this week: This is fall


It’s after Labor Day, so perfect timing for Never Enough Thyme’s beautiful new Halloween and autumn colorways. The Halloween hues are available in single skeins and in the popular heel/toe sock sets, which include a full-sized skein of sock yarn with a matching mini skein. There’s also Donegal Sock Yarn back in stock, in fall colors including Fallen Leaves and Maple Leaf. And, if you head over to Never Enough Thyme’s Facebook page, you can enter to win an Autumn mini-skein set! A winner will be picked on Oct. 1.


Linda has added a full color wheel, or should I say colour wheel, of Twist to the Kettle Yarn Co. shop. Twist is a fingering-weight yarn 100% British Bluefaced Leicester that is perfect for socks, but also soft enough for next-to-skin garments and accessories.

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Amy Herzog of CustomFit



This is the first in a series of interviews with the fabulous sponsors of the 2015 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

Like most women, I don’t have an off-the-rack body. At 4’9”, with narrow shoulders and curves, I send most of my clothing to the tailor for alterations. What this means for sweater knitting is that, after getting excited about the pattern and yarn combination, and (hopefully) getting gauge, I then have to make a bunch of modifications — and I’d definitely rather knit than deal with numbers.

In 2013, designer Amy Herzog answered my math-averse prayers when she launched CustomFit, a web-based software that takes your measurements and gauge and builds customized sweater patterns. I’ve knit two sweaters using CustomFit, and they are by far the most flattering garments I have ever made.

Amy, a self-proclaimed math nerd who’s worked in computer security, also has a great eye for what looks good — she teaches the popular Fit to Flatter class, where she discusses the sweater styles that complement different body types. Here, she gives us a little peek “under the hood” of CustomFit and a glimpse into her background as a maker.

How did you come up with the idea for Custom Fit?

Hm, I think the idea for CustomFit emerged and changed over time, rather than happening all at once. I guess it started with something I created when I first started designing!

Since my background is in computer science, my first instinct when I do something more than once is to write a program to automate it. So when I first started designing, my husband (also a computer scientist) and I created a program that generates my finished traditional patterns — the stitch counts, the English, everything.

As I started teaching classes on fit and modifications, I started thinking more and more about taking that program and making it more general — so that every knitter could get a pattern automatically written for them. At first, I envisioned something that would create a pattern based on a set of desired garment measurements — that’s the way my original program works. Then, I thought maybe people would want to put their body measurements in instead, along with something about fit.

And… yeah. It just kind of grew from there!

A CustomFit sweater by Jennifer.

A CustomFit sweater by Jennifer.

What did creating the Custom Fit software entail?

As you can probably tell from my answer to the last question, it was a lot more complicated to build than I’d first thought it would be! When we built my original generator, I put in lots of assumptions about the target dimensions that aren’t actually true across humanity. Finding those, and generalizing the logic, was quite a process!

Because tackling the hardest stuff first is kind of how I roll, I started by developing a full set of logic for a sweater that would take any person’s figure and make them look what I call “moderately hourglassy” in my Knit to Flatter classes — that is, the combination of eases should provide the visual illusion that your bust and hips are larger than your waist to a moderate degree.

After I hashed out that initial specification, we worked on core pattern creation for a bit over a year before we had something I thought would work. We then hired out other programmers to develop the front end web framework, and spent about 3-4 months getting things ready to go live with the initial site.

And we’ve been refining and improving ever since! (For the code-curious among your readers, at this point we’ve got about 50,000 lines of code, mostly python, and our team is tiny! As of this writing, we have less than 40 hours a week of development time, spread across three lovely developers who all have other day jobs.)

You have a background in computer science. What have you done in your “techie” career and how does that influence your design work?

My degree is in mathematics, and I started work waaaay back when on computer security projects that used logic. We’d analyze and create designs for safer systems based on models that showed how information could flow through the systems under various assumptions. I’ve always loved speaking and presenting, so I moved fairly quickly into leadership roles, and eventually managed a large research team and portfolio (still within computer security) before leaving that part of the tech world.

I think that the most obvious influence my background has on my work is that my first instinct is always to automate as much as I can! If there’s a calculation I do more than a couple of times, I’ll make something to do the work for me.

I think that if you look further out, though, you’ll see more influences — the whole way I think about sweaters is very CS-oriented. I look for patterns and similarities between things, and try to help knitters see sweaters as combinations of different components that can be “swapped out” or changed (vs. a “design” as an unbreakable unit). I also prefer clean designs, that are created specifically to be easy to modify, instead of more organic constructions and very complicated stitch patterning.

A CustomFit pattern by Kate.

A CustomFit pattern by Kate.

Your Knit to Flatter class has been extremely popular, at Rhinebeck and elsewhere. How has it evolved with the creation of Custom Fit?

I love that CustomFit has allowed me to spend more in-class time on the things computers can’t do well. Fit is important, but let’s face it! A computer generated all of the numbers in a traditional pattern anyway — why not just have the computer do the correct work for you in the first place?

If I don’t have to spend a lot of time talking about how to calculate double darts, we can talk a lot more about why you prefer a V-neck to a scoop neck, or how you’d look in belled sleeves vs. tapered, and what you want to draw attention to on your body, and what fabric that design demands.

Which isn’t to say that I hate the math or anything — I’m a certified nerd that way and I adore the calculations — but most of us have knitting as a hobby because we fall in love with the fiber and the fabric, you know? Let’s spend more of our hobby time doing that.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I learned from the women in my family when I was very very young — I don’t really remember a time “pre-knitting.” I’ve always had trouble being still, and the story is that knitting, along with many other crafts, was introduced as a way to keep my hands busy. I didn’t really think much of it, and did more sewing than knitting by the time I was a teenager.

But when I was looking to take up a hand-craft again after my mother passed away in my early 20s, knitting suddenly seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Most of my memories of her involve a set of knitting needles and a cup of coffee. :) So I marched to the nearest yarn shop, bought a sweater quantity of yarn, and never really looked back.

Who are some of your favorite indie dyers?

WOW, this is a hard question! At this very moment, I’m using a lot of Indigodragonfly, Woolen Rabbit, Spirit Trail Fiberworks and Eden Cottage yarns. I also adore Sweet Georgia, The Plucky Knitter and The Uncommon Thread.

Do you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting?

Oh, yes! I’m a pretty dedicated maker. I sew (quilts and clothes and such), I can embroider reasonably well, I do a teeny bit of weaving, I can build basic stuff and I’m handy around the house. I also trained as a pastry chef for a while, and I make all of our own bread and so forth.

Detail on Amy's Foyle's Pullover.

Detail on Amy’s Foyle’s Pullover.

What’s next for Custom Fit and Amy Herzog Designs? Can you reveal any upcoming plans?

Oooh, yes, I can! This fall is pretty big for us! Up until now, all of the sweaters CustomFit has created were hourglass-shaped. We’re expanding the possibilities this fall! Look for straight, tapered, and A-line sweaters before holiday season rolls around, with collections of designs for men, women and kids. I’m super excited about it.

I’m also finishing up my third book with STC Craft this fall, though that won’t be out until next year. :) It goes beyond the set-in sleeve construction and helps knitters of any skill level make a great sweater.