Because we are always fascinated by everyone’s creative paths, we started asking our friends to share their experiences on this blog.
Today, we learn more about knitwear designer Alicia Plummer.
Alicia and I have been friends for quite a while now. We first started working with Alicia five years ago, with a fantastic partnership between us, Alicia and Pom Pom Quarterly: the much loved Campside Shawl designed by Alicia in Leizu DK and published as a free download on Pom Pom Quarterly’s blog.
We were quite moved to be a part of Alicia’s process behind Campside. The design was Alicia’s way to embody the memories of her childhood spent in a much-loved lakeside cabin with her father as she was grieving him after his passing. You can read the article on Pom Pom’s blog.
We absolutely love Alicia’s gorgeous classic and wearable designs, especially how she draws inspiration from the beautiful landscapes and beaches from her hometown in Maine’s countryside. But it’s not just about the designs. Alicia is very special to us.
We have very similar values about humanity and how people should be treated, so when we first met it was very easy to connect on that level. Alicia is kind, but she is also fierce and assertive in a powerful way that does not allow those who have been overlooked to be trampled. I love that about her.
Our conversations are always full of laughter. We feel so honoured to work with her and to have the friendship we do! Alicia is generously offering our readers 25% OFF all her patterns on Ravelry until Sunday, November 10th with the code “julielove”—thank you, Alicia!
How did knitting and, later, design came into your life?
Well, I’ve answered this question a few times before, but I’ve never told anyone about my grandmother.
Like many, my grandmother taught me how to knit. This woman was not a bake-you-cookies and warm-hugs kind of lady, though. She was a World War II occupational therapist-teacher-principal-business owner. She was an incredible woman. Her name was Shirley, and she had red hair and kind green eyes. Fiercely intelligent, she was the epitome of independence and feminism.
She loved cats, was mentally sharp as a tack and was also one of the first female principals in the state of Massachusetts. Later in her life, she became an entrepreneur and sold antiques out of her barn downtown. Logic and practicality ruled her life, and she showed her love through advice and life lessons rather than physical affection. When I was younger, I would go to her house and create things with the endless supply of craft tools she had—forget antiques, she probably could have opened her own craft shop as well!
One day, when I was 8, she sat me down and told me I was going to learn how to knit. She taught me how to cast on and the knit stitch. That was it. I got hooked. She believed that self-sufficiency was an incredibly important tool for a woman to have. She taught me financial stability, living inside my means, mending and making, when possible, as well as personal strength and perseverance. I wish I could tell more of her stories—she truly was an amazing woman.
The design aspect just came with time. There were so many incredible patterns and designers out there, but none that matched my rural, no-fuss lifestyle. I absolutely love the intricacy that many patterns have, but they weren’t practical for me. During the day I am busy making fixes on my house, running errands, managing sports teams, hiking, getting my hands dirty, etc. Designs that are simpler fit that lifestyle better for me.
I also feel a strong need to create and pour my feelings into something. I spent a long part of my life denying the fact I was creative because it didn’t fit the societal narrative of “coolness.” Isn’t that sad? Eventually I stopped fighting it and I started designing.
I’m much happier now—don’t try to fight who you are or suppress your personality, don’t. Honestly, you owe it to yourself to embrace everything that you are.
What knitting gadget can’t you live without?
Just plain metal circle stitch markers. I love a fun marker every now and then, but I typically go for utilitarian, functional pieces. Oh! Also Twig & Horn’s ruler bracelet.
I am AWFUL at losing stitch markers, cable needles, darning needles and tape measures. As I look forward to Christmas, I secretly hope Santa fills my stocking with just a TON of those things!
Learning to do colourwork. I spent a very long time finding it intimidating and telling myself that I didn’t design pieces with colourwork because it “wasn’t my style,” but I was totally lying to myself.
My first colourwork piece was a cowl and hat set in sock-weight yarn that I submitted for one of the Malabrigo children’s books. Why I would propose designs in fingering weight stranding is beyond me.
Tell me about something that changed your knitting:
They actually chose those pieces, though, so I had to learn how to knit them! I usually knit continental, so learning to throw my contrasting colours with my right hand was a complete blast!
Conscious crafting is something very important to us. How do you apply it to your knitting practice?
What a great question! Let me preface this by saying that in college, I majored in education with a concentration in literature (no math involved!) When I fell into knitwear design, the math was overwhelming at times. I’ve never learned to use Excel or spreadsheets and to grade things out according to a preset calculation. I do it all by hand on paper; the long way!
I wanted to just knit, not crunch numbers. My initial pattern offerings were very limited in terms of sizes, because I didn’t understand how to grade the pattern out without sacrificing fit—a really large back neck cast-on for a raglan, for example, can be offset with underarm cast-ons, hidden increases, etc., but it has taken me a while to learn that! I didn’t feel it was fair to offer larger sizes if they fit terribly.
Over the years I got better at the math (and I have a WONDERFUL tech editor) as well as some amazing testers that pointed me in the right direction. Now, I typically offer my graded sweaters up to a 60″/154 cm bust, and we’ve been slowly revisiting old patterns to provide a more inclusive range. Ease and In Stillness are two of the most recent expanded revisions!
Do you have a hidden talent?
I’m not sure anyone would call this a talent, but I’ll say grit, determination. I’ve been through a lot of very difficult things in my life, but I carry the attitude in my heart that if I want to achieve something badly enough, then it can be attained through hard work. I don’t mind sacrificing time and making myself uncomfortable to grow as a person.
Sometimes that involves taking a good, hard look at myself and finding areas that need to change in my personality. Sometimes it’s easier, like “hey, I want to learn to watercolour paint today, let’s boot up YouTube”.
I’m good at self-teaching. I might not be the best indoor rock climbing, yoga, painting, wood-burning, downhill skiing, crocheting, sewing, quilting, etc., but I apply myself enough that it’s enjoyable. I like acquiring new skills and I don’t like giving up on things.
What are your non-crochet/knitting-related hobbies?
Hiking, camping, backpacking, kayaking … just even walking in the different seasons! I think my all-time favourite in the winter is cross-country skiing. I love that it’s exercise, but you just slide over everything, so smoothly it almost feels like flying.
The pine trees hang above, thick with snow, and the birds sing in the forest. Downhill is fun, too, but cross-country skiing is just a complete experience. It’s so peaceful, so mindful. I love the smell of the outdoors, the feeling of settling in my heart.
I love being on an empty pond in my kayak, gliding silently across the water. It feels like I’m in a different world. What amazes me, too, is breaking through to the summit of a mountain. The entire landscape changes—the type of trees, the smooth granite peak with empty rivulets carved into it. Each hike is so different from the last one, and it’s a great way to get a lot of variety into your life without necessarily having to travel very far.
We feel very honoured to have such a beautiful collaboration with you over the years, can you tell us how our yarn inspires your design process?
Your yarns never fail to inspire me, Julie. I’m not sure what it is, but the colourways are just so perfect for me. I think part of it is that a lot of the colours are very, very close to the landscape here in rural Maine.
The grey blues of the lake, the rich verdant of the trees, the neutral greys and creams of the granite. My Campside Drop’s burnt orange is the epitome of our autumn leaves, and the Blackberry Coulis colourway in my Blackcurrant sweater glows like all our wild berries.
The colours speak to me about being outside, about the smell of the wind in my hair, about the whispers of the tree leaves when they rush together on a warm October night. The colours tell me what they want to be. I feel like each colour has a personality, a story. When I get it in my hands, I want to tell that story, that moment.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Alicia.
To follow Alicia’s woolly adventures find her on Facebook, Instagram and Ravelry.