Untangling: Anne Hanson

When I first started knitting, Anne Hanson’s patterns were some of the first that I came across. I found that she had a talent for creating designs that look incredibly complex, but are simple enough for beginner knitters. The Aria Delicato I knit for my mom was stunning, but also easy TV knitting.

In 2014, when I was organizing the first Rhinebeck Trunk Show, I knew it was a sign that the event was going to be a hit when someone from Anne’s bespoke yarn company, Knitspot, asked if they could be a vendor. Anne has since gone on to collaborate with Kim of The Woolen Rabbit for the first installment of the 2017 Indie Untangled Where We Knit yarn club. Her club pattern, Shared Rib, is set to become available for sale to the general public.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I learned to knit from my grandmother when I was 4 years old. Before that I would hang around and watch her knit and ask her to teach me (as far back as I can remember, I loved exploring knitted fabric with my fingers). She told me that when I could write my name, she would teach me. So I enlisted my older brother to teach me to write in the afternoons when he got home from school. I thought I’d be able to knit everything on the first day and was a little disappointed when knitting turned out to be hard and I couldn’t make cable stitches right away, haha. Those were my holy grail at the time…

Tell me about your work as a a patternmaker/draper, technical designer and costumer in NYC and how that influences your design work today.

I learned so much during my years working in the fashion industry, it’s hard to distill it all down to a few lines! But I think the most important thing I learned was to think beyond my own experience about how a design is worn and used by a broad cross-section of people. A good design not only expresses the voice and artistic vision of the designer, but is useful and flattering to people with a variety of lifestyles, body types, and preferences. Precision at the beginning is also essential as a design goes through production and is interpolated into a range of sizes, then cut and sewn. And finally, I learned the importance of being a good problem-solver, using my creativity to envision shapes and mold fabrics to get the results I wanted. I am so grateful to the designers, technicians, manufacturers, and stitchers who I was privileged to learn from and work with during those years!

How did you move into knitwear design?

I actually started designing knitwear as a teenager, well before working in the fashion business; it was something I did on my own, applying what I knew from sewing and tailoring, which I had also learned at a very young age. During my years in the fashion industry, many people encouraged me to “do something” with my knitwear design, but I didn’t really have access to the right outlets through my existing work. Once the internet became a more common tool, I was able to begin publishing my design independently and turn my “side” passion into a career option.

Tell me about what inspires your designs.

Oh, I really get inspiration from many directions… Obviously nature contributes a lot to the surface design in many of my pieces, especially in lace work. But I am equally inspired by the human form, by fabric behavior, and by the tactile/emotional effects of texture. Some inspiration is more abstract and some is more concrete. But all of it seems to funnel into knitted expression; it’s not unlike other of my artistic pursuits, such as painting and photography.

In the case of the Shared Rib cowl for instance, I was working from a desire to knit a particular cable that I had my eye on. But when I also realized that the pattern would be released near Valentine’s Day, I thought “hmm, shared rib has a kind of Adam and Eve theme and is very vine-like.” I brought up the idea of doing a color with the dyer that would be like dark red roses, which brought the concept back to the place I had chosen for my inspiration: the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. So many disparate threads came together in the concept for this simple cowl, but the knitter doesn’t need to know any of that for it to be appealing and knitworthy. The design would work equally well in any rich color with depth.

What’s the first thing you do when you start designing a pattern?

I almost always start by swatching; getting to know the materials and their limits, feeling the fabric they will make, and working out which stitches and textures interplay well with the fiber is essential to figuring out the geometry, shaping, and detailing in a design.

You seem to design in a variety of colors. Which are your favorites?

Color is truly relative — how a color “behaves” or appears really depends on what you put next to it and what fabric it will become. Of all the full spectrum colors, I really don’t have a favorite for that reason — they all change and become different with varying applications and moods. That said, the neutral range is endlessly fascinating for me; grays will always have a special place in my heart!

How did your Bare Naked Wool line come about?

When I became a hand spinner, I was exposed to a whole new world of variety in fleeces; I quickly gained a new appreciation and awe of the range of natural colors available. I started the Bare Naked Knitspot club to celebrate the knowledge I was gaining and it was through the club that I began producing bespoke yarns. One thing led to another and before we knew it, we had a full palette of single breed yarns and luxury blends on offer. I was excited to meet small production farmers and millers, then marry their talents. It just seemed that there were gaps to fill everywhere for knitters seeking a fresh, pure, and unique yarn product, beautifully prepared and free from dyes and chemicals. Farmers and millers had unique fiber and yarn to offer; knitters were ripe for knowledge and new yarn experiences — I wanted to bring them together!

What does designing those yarns entail?

Designing yarn is very interesting; one has to know about the individual fibers involved and how they behave to end up with a yarn that makes the most of their strong points. It’s important to put time and energy into research and development, testing it in stages with the mill to get just the right yarn structure. Many times the mill owners and operators are not knitters so working closely with them, communicating observations and results clearly is key. Another challenge is communicating to knitters how lovely a yarn can be without dye; unadulterated fiber is just softer, bouncier, with a natural sparkle that often gets lost when dye and chemical treatments are applied — even natural and organic ones. We are constantly working on educating our community and offering pattern support that inspires, to help make our customers’ experience the best it can be!

Where is your favorite place to knit?

We have a sofa in our dining room, which is a very quiet part of the house. I do a lot of knitting there while listening to audiobooks. I also knit while watching TV late at night; staying up long into the wee hours and knitting is my favorite thing, especially when my husband knits alongside me.

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