Publisher’s Notes: In preparation for a cookie baking session last year, I discovered I had thrown out all my holiday CD’s when preparing for a yard sale in the summer. I did what many of us would do: I bemoaned my fate on Facebook. Shortly thereafter, I received a very kind offer in a private message from someone I did not know. The sender told me that he had finished uploading his holiday music collection and set aside the CD’s to be donated — would I like the CD’s to replace what I had lost? Yes, I replied, that would be very nice. And, so, a few days later, a nice package came. The sender was Kyle Kunnecke aka Kyle William. Of course, I wanted to get to know the thoughtful kind person who sent that package.
Spin Artiste: Hi Kyle! Glad to have you here. My first question, the classic — How did you become a knitter? A designer?
Kyle Kunnecke (KK): I was home sick one day in my Hollywood home when my roommate was knitting while watching TV. She had recently picked up the hobby and was busily cranking out multi-colored garter stitch scarves, changing yarns and colors at random. After watching her for a while, I commented that the process looked complicated and tedious and that it seemed as though knitting would be more frustrating than relaxing. She challenged me to try the craft before forming an opinion so I gave it a shot. Big needles and small yarn made combined with my first attempt at the knit stitch made for some creative “lace” that grew and shrank with every mistake I made. It was fun though, and I’m not generally one to give up a creative challenge…. so we headed to the local yarn shop where I purchased some Manos del Uruguay and more appropriately sized needles and, from that day on, I have had a knitting project (or several) in progress. I attribute her to showing me the world of knitting but I have learned (and continue to learn) from my wonderful circle of fiber friends!
As an artist, I am constantly asking questions and wanting to explore the possibilities of every craft I encounter. Some of what I have do comes from wanting to share knowledge or information with others. Most of it comes from the urge to want to give back in some way to my community.
KK: As a teenager I was in an educational theater troupe based in Phoenix, AZ that performed scenes covering more than 20 issues affecting youth including: drinking and driving, date rape, HIV/AIDS, abuse, and prejudice. Through the training, outreach and workshops I participated in during those years, coupled with an innate desire to help and make a difference, my special brand of “activism” developed. I don’t think of myself as the type of person who would go to protests or rallies but I certainly am the type that will use my resources to share information that might help to make the world a better place. I strongly believe that one person can make a difference and, with the help of like-minded folks, can really impact lives.
SA: When/How did you decide to blend the two?
KK: The first blending of fiber and activism/outreach would most likely be the collaborative work I did with Lisa Anne Auerbach. She’s an amazing Los Angeles based artist that designs knitted sweaters with graphics and text on them created with her special knitting machine that operates based on images she creates on her computer. We met first through Ravelry, then at her studio, where she helped me develop my “Cure” sweater.
The sweaters she makes cause people to think and talk. Keeping this desire to share knowledge alive, after moving to San Francisco in late 2010 I began designing a series of hat patterns to sell; 100% of the proceeds benefit worthwhile nonprofits such as Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Project Open Hand. Each pattern contains fact sheets and reference material that can be printed and shared among knitting groups and to others. The projects themselves act as a catalyst for discussion about important issues such as Breast Cancer and HIV/AIDS awareness.
Since then I have collaborated in other ways, such as “Jason’s Blanket” – a project that united over 200 fiber artists from around the world to create a handmade blanket for a fellow knitter from Holland struck with testicular cancer. Our work gave him hope in his last month of life; surrounded by an amazing blanket that was made by so many different (and talented!) hands. It not only made a difference to Jason but also, I believe, impacted each person that contributed; helping them to realize that although we sometimes feel powerless in situations there is always something we can do to help make the world a better place.
SA: What have you learned from working in fiber?
KK: Patience. Restraint. The skill of realizing that it’s OK to rip out hours and hours of work if something isn’t quite “right”… I received amazing advice early on from Brenda Dayne (of the Cast-On podcast): In response to a frantic email I had sent to her about a project that was not quite working out her response stays with me to this day: “Invite a friend over, pour yourself a nice glass of wine, and rip it out.” Projects don’t always work out the first (or third!) time, and that’s OK. We observe, ask questions, take notes, and, with any luck, improve.
My favorite thing that comes from working in fiber (specifically knitting or weaving but I am sure it translates into spinning as well) is that after hours of working on a project we have a sort of record of time. That, for me, is the magic of knitting (or creating!) – the ability to record time and, for the artist, to be able to recall the time spent working on the piece. I also learned never to say “never” – when I was younger I used to say I wouldn’t ever do anything involving yarn or thread (because quilting didn’t pique my interest)… here I am years later and I can’t go an hour without thinking about yarn or knitting or cute alpacas or drum carders or… (wait.. where was I?)
SA: What does inspire you?
KK: Everything. Seriously. (It’s sometimes a bit of a problem)… architecture, pottery, trips to the museum, the patterns vines make growing on the side of a building… even data sets and molecular structures can make me stop and think. I am always scanning my world for inspirational images and do my best to keep them all documented so that when the time comes to develop a project they are within reach. I also find inspiration through taking classes and workshops. Learning a new technique can often pique interest or inspire new projects.
SA: After meeting you online and then reading over your website, in thanks for the gift, I sent you something in return…which was a skein of my handspun yarn and as I was packing it up for you, I was wondering which of your designs would work well using hand spun yarn?
KK: All of them, really… the easiest of my designs to translate to hand spun would probably be the Four Directions hat. I designed this hat using Navajo Churro yarn and it was part of a workshop offered by the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. The charity hats (Cause and Cure) both use worsted weight yarn. Either of these would also be beautiful in hand spun!
SA: You often write about going on yarn crawls — Tell us about some of your favorites.
KK: Wow… I have favorite yarn shops all over the United States. I’ll talk about 3 of my loves in no particular order… first, Nine Rubies – http://www.ninerubies.com/ – in San Mateo, CA! This shop is spacious, the staff welcoming, the offering of materials well edited and classes inspiring. One of my favorite things that they have in their shop is a bin containing “free” yarn to give to any child under 12 that wants one… it’s also a yarn exchange for people to be generous with their stash. I was impressed that this bin was at their entrance, prominently placed, and that they made a point of welcoming yarn purchased anywhere.
Another favorite would be Churchmouse Yarns and Tea – http://www.churchmouseyarns.com/ – on Bainbridge Island in Seattle, WA. It has been a year since I was able to visit there but the last time I went I remember how magical it was – from riding the ferry over to the island to walking in and seeing how thoughtfully everything had been displayed (one favorite is the little cups holding their beautiful button collection!) – They are branded to perfection: Churchmouse project bags, gorgeous imprinted ribbons… it’s a well thought-out and perfect blend of marketing and inspiration in that little shop. OH! Did I forget to mention? They offered us tea! – Everyone there was so helpful and kind when we were visiting… they allowed us space to explore, were available when we had questions and, months later, when I needed ONE more button than I had purchased, they went above and beyond to help me out.
Last (but only because I could go talking about yarn shop after yarn shop on for years) would be the shop I think of as a mini-field trip. Across the Bay Bridge awaits A Verb for Keeping Warm – http://www.averbforkeepingwarm.com/ – in Oakland, CA. Kristine offers her color and dyeing expertise in workshops and has created a stunning space full of fiber and tools for spinning, luxurious yarns for knitting, unique fabrics for quilting and sewing, a space for classes and workshops and even gallery space showcasing artwork! I have been following her for a few years and was lucky enough to visit the shop before this (in an adorable “storage unit” creative space) and can see the creativity pouring out of this woman. She is inspiring in her energy and if only there were more hours in the day I’d find myself visiting this local space more often!
Of course, there are more. Many more. The key, it seems, to being a favorite is being clean, welcoming and inspiring while allowing shoppers room to explore. Staying connected to the community, being involved in special projects, and offering classes and workshops keeps a LYS “on the radar”. Creative marketing and merchandising always catches my eye, and as I write this I can think of SO many more places I’d love to talk about… but will stop at 3 as promised.
SA: I will add those suggestions to my list of place to visit! Your points about what makes a good LYS are excellent and I think cross over for independent artists/sellers as well…which brings me back to: Have you tried to spin your own yarns? If not, can we convince you to try?
KK: One of my goals for 2012 is to learn to spin. A few years back I purchased a Kromski Mazurka wheel and tried it out but it wasn’t the right time for me to start that part of my fiber life. I sent it away to a wonderful knitter/spinner with full intention of trying again in the future. With a little effort that will happen this year. I have some projects I want to do that require me to spin… but first I get to enjoy the process of learning to spin! It’s not a matter of being convinced… it’s a matter of making it happen. (I have already started a roving stash as inspiration!)
So far, I haven’t done much about it except decide I am going to get a wheel. At Madrona I talked with folks about fiber a bit, and bought a drop spindle (which I am not in love with)… At Stitches I test drove some wheels and think I know which one I want but haven’t decided for sure. I’m close though…. and Yarnival is still on my list
SA: Uh-oh, a roving stash. IT is only a matter of time when that starts to happen. What are your fiber plans for 2012?
KK: My plans include Stitches West and Madrona in February, as well as hopefully attending the Men’s Fall Knitting Retreat later this year. I have plans to have some of my patterns published this year, as well as work on a few other projects that can’t be talked about quite yet. Knitting, knitting and more knitting is planned. Much of it with friends that I have grown to love and consider part of my family.
SA: You’ve also been doing some work on your “Fiberguys” project — what is the latest on that?
KK: I have moved the section of my website titled “Fiberguys” to its own website: http://www.fiberguys.org/.
SA: I love the new site — great job with the profiles, articles and videos! I know you also publish in the big knitting mags. What have you been up to lately there?
KK: I am in issue K106 of “Knitter’s” magazine with a new pattern: Corydon — a cowl-neck men’s raglan sweater! The picture is of me at Stitches West with the marketing poster for the pattern from the Kollage Yarns booth. The pattern is on page 54.
SA: Are you teaching also?
KK: I’m always happy to consider teaching workshops. The last one I did was at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles where we used Navajo Churro wool to knit my Four Directions hat. It was a fun day and a wonderful project to create. If the opportunity arises I’d be more than happy to teach again in 2012!
SA: That sounds great — especially since I love Churro. What is your big fiber-filled dream?
KK: It seems this question might be answered the same by every fiber artist…. own a yarn shop? have an alpaca or sheep farm? I really believe that I am in the process of living my fiber dream… I get to play with amazing fibers and create projects that share my passion for raising awareness of social issues through knitting. Some of my goals include publishing a book, continuing to build my blog and website with useful resources for others, and to keep designing and sharing my enthusiasm and passion for the fiber arts. (OK, owning a yarn shop on an alpaca and sheep farm would be a dream come true… with a facility for retreats that could hold 50-100 attendees? Workshops by luminaries and rooms filled with handmade blankets and antiques… spa-quality bathrooms and well-planned menus at mealtime… is that asking too much?)
SA: No, not asking too much — the handmade blankets plus antiques should be mandatory everywhere! One last question: How else do you like to spend your time when you’re not engaged in creating art?
KK: Photography, traveling, museums, ceramics, painting, visiting with friends, yarn crawls, antique shops, swap meets, running, community outreach… I’m always busy! I also work as an HIV test counselor which is rewarding work that proves to me that sharing information with others really does make a difference. Through my other adventures, I find inspiration for my fiber projects. If I am not actually producing art I am probably thinking about it… from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I head to sleep for the night I am blogging, writing, designing, knitting, making notes, gathering inspiration, scheming or planning. I’m a lucky person to be living in such an amazing city surrounded by so many talented and inspiring people.
SA: Thanks so much, Kyle! There is so much inspiration to be taken from what you have to say and how your values are reflected in your actions. I hope we see you at Yarnival…:-) Your work is fantastic and I love visiting your website and Etsy store.
And…last but not least…the great unveiling of Round 1 of the Secret Stash Game will be next week!!! I’ve been working hard on putting together the big, fat post containing all the images and design notes. It has been truly amazing to work on. There are just a couple spots open for Round 2 which will start in about two weeks (the payment button for Roudn 2 is on this page).
Until the next time, all my fibery best, Arlene