Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner of Mason Dixon Knitting

This is the seventh in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2017 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner’s Mason Dixon Knitting was one of the first knitting blogs I heard about when I first fell down this rabbit hole several years ago. I’ve been excited to see what started out as a public correspondence between two knitting friends from different parts of the East Coast — before they even met IRL! — turn into a booming business, with daily articles from some of our industry’s stars, a shop full of patterns and exclusive yarns and goodies and an upcoming retreat in Tennessee (which sadly sold out before I could commit to going).

I’ve recently been corresponding with the pair via email and asked them to expand on how their mini knitting empire has evolved:

Tell me how Mason-Dixon Knitting got started. How did you come up with the idea of an ongoing correspondence and how has your website evolved?

We started a blog in 2003, just for kicks. We had been emailing each other constantly up until that point, so it seemed natural to just continue in that style.

Over the years, we developed a vision for a larger website for knitters, one that would be a wide-ranging online magazine and beautiful shop. Our new site launched last October, after a year of development. It has been a huge year for us, and we are so glad to see our idea become reality.

The URL is still MasonDixonKnitting.com, but the richness of content and offerings is completely different from the old blog. We feature the brightest designers, great writers, supersmart teachers, and our Mason-Dixon Knitting Field Guide series of pattern books.

We publish new stories every single day, so our readers start their day with a peek at something beautiful, profound, funny, or surprising. We’ve become a daily habit for thousands of knitters, and we treasure that connection.

The most exciting component of the new site is our online shop that features the most exquisite yarns we can find. We add new yarns constantly.

That’s why we are such supporters of Indie Untangled–we want to celebrate independent yarnmakers any way that we can–by telling their stories, collaborating with them to create special editions, and teaching knitters why these yarns are so important.

What would you say are the most important traits that each of you bring to your business?

Curiosity and enthusiasm are continuously bubbling up, and we think that’s the core of Mason-Dixon Knitting.

We never get tired of knitting. No matter how much knitting we do for MDK, or for our series of books (Mason-Dixon Knitting Field Guides), we remain extremely susceptible to casting on the next great thing we see, just for fun. We are endlessly curious about what people in the knitting community are doing, whether they’re designing or making yarn or tending sheep. Important fact in all this: we both type very fast.

Was it strange to start such a partnership without meeting each other (before Ravelry made that kind of thing slightly more “normal” for knitters)?

Starting a blog was such a lark, and so casual, that it didn’t seem like a big deal. At one point Kay got it in her head that this “Ann from Nashville” might actually be the author Ann Patchett (who lives in Nashville).

When we got a book deal in 2004, we made haste to meet in person!

Mason Dixon Knitting Field Guides.

How did each of you get into designing?

We love and respect the work of knitwear designers so much and have only rarely designed sweaters ourselves. There is so much expertise and nuance in a sweater design!

But early on, we wanted to knit open-ended projects like blankets, or fun little palate cleansers like dishcloths or other home items. When we went looking for patterns for those items, we didn’t see exactly what we had in mind, so we invented our own patterns. Kay still occasionally gets a blanket idea stuck in her brain and can’t rest until she knits it and writes it up. It’s a fun puzzle! And even more fun when knitters take an idea we’ve had and run with it. We love going to visit our patterns on Ravelry and seeing what knitters have done with them.

How did you come up with the idea for your Knitting Getaway next June?

In 2015, we went together to Shakerag Workshops, an annual two-week craft workshop in Sewanee, Tennessee, which is a wonderful place not far from Nashville. The entire time, we kept thinking, “We have to make this happen for knitters!” It’s very special to spend time in the company of other knitters, relaxing, learning, knitting, walking, swimming, and then to have delicious meals appear all by themselves: that’s heaven!

The only bummer is that we have such limited space. Fingers crossed that everyone will behave and we can host another Knitting Getaway.

Ann Weaver’s Sommerfeld Shawl.

When and how did you each learn to knit?

Kay learned as a Camp Fire Girl, made one thing (acrylic slippers!) and didn’t think about knitting again until she was in her thirties, when she picked up the needles and remembered how to knit. Ann was starting out on her career in book publishing, and took a night class in knitting. We both got the bug real bad from the start. In the early 2000s, we each found our way to the Rowan website’s chat board, where we met so many amazing knitters and characters, and each other.

Tell me about one of your most memorable FOs.

Kay: It’s not an FO yet, but I’m nearing the finish line on a giant Kaffe Fassett intarsia cardigan that I’m making from a vintage 1980s kit. It is by far the most difficult knitting I’ve attempted. Just weaving in the ends is going to merit a Lifetime Achievement Award. One of Ann’s most memorable projects is a pullover she made out of at least eight different cream-colored yarns that she had collected, in her own pattern of randomly twisting cables. It shouldn’t work at all, but it’s beautiful!

What are you most excited to check out at the Indie Untangled trunk show?

OK, here’s a confession: when we go to Indie Untangled, we are shopping for ourselves, but also for the MDK Shop. We can think of nothing more exciting to offer our readers than the beautiful yarns that hand-dyers are making these days. It’s a golden age of yarn, and we feel very lucky that we get to travel to Rhinebeck and see so many rare yarns in person.

SaveSave