Thursday, May 26, 2011

Interview with the Rainey sisters

Today we will speaking to The Rainey sisters, Susan & Sally. They are both wonderful knitters with great insight to what they make and they are great designers as well. They blog together, knit the same item and share their progress together, even though they are in different cities. What a great way for two sisters to keep it together! You can find them on their website

Hi Susan & Sally and thanks for joining us today! I love the fact that you two work together, sharing the progress of similar items you are knitting on your website. How did this all come to fruition?

Both sisters: We decided that a blog would be a fun way to share our passion for knitting with each other and the knitting community. Neither of us was sure that we had enough to blog about on our own, and the commitment to keep up a solo blog seemed daunting. Sharing a blog was the perfect way to to it. The name and our signature photo were never in question. The Rainey Sisters was the only name we considered!

Has everything started out in your knitting/design career in the path that you have chosen, or has it been harder than what it really appears to be?

Susan: Many of my projects have had false starts and some never do launch. Sally was in town recently -- she looked at my knitting and said, “Call it!” Time of death, 3:02 pm. It was dead in the water! But in general, I can jumpstart a project much faster than when I was first knitting because you know how to approach it without a lot of thinking. I take that back! I often over think and tinker with the design elements and construction!

Sally: Knitting for me has always been a hobby that I am very passionate about, but it never seriously occurred to me that it could be a career. Even though both of us do a lot of designing, much of what we create is just for ourselves. I find that the hardest thing about designing is creating something that can be duplicated by someone else. Clear directions are difficult to write, especially when different sizes are involved. It's one thing to make it work once, for yourself -- you can fudge and you can use advanced or annoying techniques that you might not want to inflict on other knitters.

Two of my favorites are the Sleeping baby’s castle blanket and the Surrounded afghan. I love the look and texture of them. Both are really amazing designs. What gave you the inspiration for both blankets?

Susan: The concept for the Surrounded Afghan just came to me and I designed it in one evening (though it took a lot longer to get it into pattern form, of course). It started out as a square for a charity knitting project my Guild was doing. I knitted the square and thought, this really would work well as an afghan or scarf or anything rectangular! So, I went down that path, using KnitPicks yarn. They started their Independent Designers Program at just about the same time, so I signed on with them and then added it to Ravelry.


One of my favorite stores, Fibrespace, asked me to design something for their Baby Club. I chose to do a blanket because I love knitting blankets for babies. If they get attached to it, they'll use it for years whereas a sweater will be outgrown almost as soon as you finish knitting it. I wanted something pictorial, and I swatched and charted a number of different ideas before deciding on a castle surrounded by vines. The castle was inspired by one in the Barbara Walker books, but the castle in the blanket is very different from hers in size and in a number of the design elements. My original idea for the vines surrounding the castle was way too complicated; I had to simplify them. What I wanted was to suggest a fairy tale.

How old were you both when you learned to knit and who taught you?


This is strange, but I do not remember learning to knit nor do I know who taught me. I think I was about 12, and the story goes that my dad’s mother taught me, but no actual memory survived!


I don't remember either; we must have collective amnesia. I do remember the first sweater I knit, which was years later when I was in college. It was a Pinguoin pattern: dolman sleeves, boat neck, all moss stitch with a cable up one side. I made it out of heavy green cotton. I still have it, although I would never wear it.

There are a lot of techniques out there already. I’m sure you both have mastered a lot of them, but are there any that you haven’t tried yet that you would like to learn?


I am notorious for never knitting the second sock. So I would love to learn the trick of knitting one sock inside the other so I could finish both simultaneously.


I have tried most knitting techniques that I know about, except shadow knitting – haven’t tried that one yet! There are some that I have tried and have little desire to repeat, such as double knitting.

If you had to choose any yarn brand & mix of fibers, what would you say is your favorite that you find yourself going to time & time again?


If you put silk into it, I will probably love it! I love merino and silk in particular. I prefer natural fibers…really expensive, natural fibers. And color. Certain colors draw me in right away.


I love natural and luxury fibers. Cashmere. Silk. Nice wool. I've never particularly liked washable wools, but some dyers are making me change my mind. I go through streaks of buying vast quantities of the same brand of yarn. Current favorites are Madelinetosh and Viola.

I know this is a loaded question but what are the two of you currently working on at this moment, and how many projects do you have in total that are ongoing?


I have some WIPs that will never see the light of day. They are dead to me! But I do have many projects in queue that I hope to get to some day. I like to have several things going at once because they suit different moods and situations, though if you don’t fully concentrate on something, it will not get done. I do like to finish my projects.


I'm terrible at starting multiple projects. Susan is much better about finishing what she starts, although having a blog has made me more disciplined about finishing projects because I know there are people out there who might remember how many things I've started. I would be afraid to count how many WIPs I have on the needles. Probably in the dozens. I've been casting around for something big and exciting to work on right now and just haven't quite found it. I'm trying to finish a Japanese sweater and a couple of shawls that I've abandoned for a long time.

Both sisters:

We are working together on an e-book that we're very excited about. It will be a glove guide with tips on glove knitting, and it will include several original patterns.

There are a lot of great designers out there who make such a statement with their work. Who is your favorite & why?


If you look through my projects, it is obvious that I am a huge Alice Starmore fan, and I love Herbert Niebling. But there are a lot of very talented people out there! I tend to gravitate toward classic designs with some kind of interesting twist.


I'm also a big fan of Alice Starmore -- hers were the first fair isle designs I ever knit. I love Hitomi Shida and some of the other Japanese designers. It's a fun challenge to knit those patterns without being able to read the language; you really are down to charts and instincts. But I also love simple designs that have a certain flair.

What inspires you to knit?


Lust. Envy. All the baser instincts. I'm usually inspired by either seeing or feeling a yarn that I "need" to work with or by seeing something. That something might be someone else's design that I want to make (often altering slightly in some way). Or I might see something and think "wouldn't that make a cool sweater?" I love looking at fabrics and costumes in movies; I often pay more attention to those kinds of details than to the plot. And knitting -- when it's not utterly frustrating -- is very soothing. I don't like to sit still without my hands doing something.


A really stunning design might strike me or the yarn might bite. Either way is problematic! If you like the design, finding the yarn is hard. If you like the yarn, finding a suitable project can be hard. I have spent HOURS trying to find the perfect yarn for a very distinctive sweater I want to knit and will just keep searching until it presents itself. And we all have stash that may never find a home! What keeps me inspired is that there are so many gorgeous things out there and knitting is so varied – cables, beading, lace – there are no limits! Ravelry has revolutionized our access to exciting new designs.

The question I ask everyone, English or Continental?


I am a proud thrower.


Me too. I guess that proves that the same unknown person taught us how to knit.

And one last question; Of all the items you have ever knit or crocheted, what was your most favorite by far, whether it be a design of your own or someone else’s, and why?


Whichever one I just finished. I'm kidding, but it does change a lot depending upon my mood. One of my favorite all time projects is a failure in the sense that I can't really wear it. Susan made this, too -- it's called Arches and it was designed by Sandy Black. It is a stunning design. I knit it out of the original yarn, which was Rowan KidSilk. (It's discontinued; Kidsilk Haze and KidSilk Aura are not the same yarn.) It cost a fortune at the time. I loved every single moment of knitting that sweater. But it is a one-size-fits-none tunic. It's 50 inches around and very long. I swim in it, and not in a good way.


Each major project goes to the top of the heap at the time, but my knitting is like my children: I don’t want to name favorites…the others might feel bad. If I had to name projects I am proud of I would have to include Lyra, The Dragon Sweater, Aeolian Shawl, Eala Bhan, and Lotus Flower. The Great American Aran Afghan continues to surprise me with its following.

Thank you both Sally & Susan for sharing your thoughts with us today. We look forward to seeing more of your designs in the future, and of course reading all the fun knits & adventures you share on your website

If you're having trouble reading this today, it is because Blogger has not been exactly cooperative today!

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