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Featured Artist: Vithard Villumsen of Vithard/Nordic Knitting plus Giveaway!

by EBlack on May 15, 2013

VV-NK self in hatPublishers Note: Today, we are graced with an amazingly talented fiber artist who brings a Nordic flavor to Spin Artiste. Vithard Villumsen of Vithard/Nordic Knitting is a Danish fiber genius specializing in Scandinavian patterns and design with a modern flare. Vithard opens up his heart to us, and shares his passion for fiber in a way that lets us see the exquisite beauty that is Scandinavian fiber art.    

Spin Artist (SA): I can’t wait to hear your fiber story because I know it is steeped in tradition…Tell us about your fiber journey.

Vithard Villumsen (V V): On both the maternal and paternal side of my family, there is a long and old tradition of working with yarn. Both sides of my family were peasants. When I was a child every kid in Denmark was taught how to do embroidery, sew, knit and crochet in school. After I had been taught in school how to knit,  I asked my mother if she could teach me how to purl, and around the age of 10, I knit my first garment: a moss stitch sweater for my cousin’s Barbie doll.

VV-NK landscape

“Landscape” …Cress seeds planted in fiber

Last summer I attended Yarnival at the Pluckyfluff studio, and Lexi Boeger taught me how to spin, and I had found a new love. Recently I bought myself a Shacht Sidekick, and I am in love with spinning! It is such an amazing craft!

Learning to spin has changed the way I look at yarn. I have always known the connection between the sheep and the yarn, but learning to spin has made me understand the connection more deeply. Yarn is no longer a piece of string that I use for knitting or crocheting. Yarn in itself is a work of art. It consists of work, love and care, and that can give additional depth to knitted piece.

VV-NK baby sweaterSA: It is wonderful to hear about how you fell in love with fiber.I have such great memories of meeting you last year at Yarnival.  

You have said, “[the] story the yarn tells when forming the stitch is filled with traditions.” What a powerful statement! Can you tell us about how the history and tradition of fiber art have influenced your work?

V V: Working with fiber is almost a religious experience to me. Every time I pick up my knitting needles, it feels like I’m logging on to this old, old motherboard of tradition. People through many, many years have been doing this, maybe in different ways but they have had the urge to produce garments, which naturally should be wearable, but also unique, beautiful pieces of art.

SA: Your love for Scandinavian fiber art also sets you apart. What about that style pulls you in and motivates you?

V V: The beauty of the repetition! Traditional Scandinavian knitwear is filled with tiny patterns, that in themselves carry a certain meaning. VV-NK self and workThey are repeated over and over, creating a fabric with another meaning. Making a statement to the wearer or to the world, like telling people which valley or farm you come from by the pattern on your sweater.

SA: Sounds like these little patterns really do have so much meaning beyond there aesthetic beauty. How do you tap into the spirit of traditional Scandinavia when you sit down to knit?

VV: I try to bring the repetition into my work. It becomes like meditation. Counting the stitches on a row (1-2-3-4, 1-2, 1-2-3-4, 1-2).  Then, there is the look of the patterns repeating over the garment with all the little flaws or lack of the same. And, finally, there is the repetition of the knit stitches or the colors spreading across the piece.

VV-NK hand warmmersSA:  I hear that you have been teaching. How has teaching changed your perspective of the art?

V V: I love teaching fiber and knitting classes! And it has definitely changed a lot the way I look at a lot of things within the craft. It’s difficult to describe exactly what it is, but it has definitely given me an insight into how different people see differently on different fibers, yarns weights, types of knitting needles, even on knitting and purling. I have this basic belief that all people are different which means that they will do things differently. When teaching big classes or doing one on one therapy lessons, there are no wrongs, there are different kinds of rights.

I love teaching knitters at all levels, finding out which path to go down to get to where they get the insight and the “aha” experience is amazing. And that is why I especially love helping new knitters because I have to find out what is attracting them to the craft.  From that point, the goal is to give them the opportunity of all the little insights to help them on their way to becoming experienced knitters. This is intriguing to me whether I’m teaching a full class, where every student’s knowledge helps improve the entire classes knowledge, or if I’m teaching one-on-one in a knitting therapy lesson, where I try to understand where the client/student is coming from and how I can help him/her to move on. I find this really exciting!!!

SA: You sound like a super engaging and encouraging teacher.   VV-NK sitting in knittingI’m sure your student love you!  As a male in a female dominated art form, what would you say you uniquely bring to the table of fiber art?

V V: I don’t think that I as a man do anything differently from what a woman would do. When I’m designing, the fact that I’m a man gives me an insight in how to shape men’s wear. What is actually challenging me most at the moment is being a Danish knitter coming in to the American market. There are a lot of differences. Besides the difference in measuring such as grams vs. ounces and cm vs. yds, there are knitting expressions in one culture that don’t exist in the other. In Danish we don’t have “ssk”.   It’s not that we don’t have a word or an abbreviation for it; Danes don’t do it or don’t know how to do it.

This fall I will be teaching at Strikkefestivalen (the knitting festival), at Fanø. It’s the biggest knitting event in Denmark, held every other year on a small island on the west coast. One of the classes I will be teaching there is what’s the difference between knitting in Danish and in English/American.

VV-NK yarnsSA: Wow, that is really fascinating. I never thought about the challenge of cross-cultural knitting. I saw that you recently spun up some beautiful yarn! What has your spinning experience been like, and do you see yourself spinning in the future? 

V V: Thanks! I’m still learning in every field, and also as a spinner. To me knitting has always been a thing I did to relax, but spinning seems even more relaxing to me. It’s a soothing, fun, amazing thing to me!
I recently bought my first spinning wheel, a Schacht Sidekick, and I LOVE it. I will definitely keep on spinning, having the completely control of the finished fabric has always been an intriguing idea to me. I want to spin everything:   lace weight wool/mohair yarns and super bulky yarns from metal, plants fibers, twigs…

 SA: Tell us about your fiber tools. What tools couldn’t you live without? 

VV-NK wheelV V: My Sidekick, even though we are just starting to get know each other, I love her! My landlady has an old Louet drum carder that she lets me borrow.  But naturally, I have to mention my KnitPicks Harmony Wood interchangeable set. I like their pointy tips and smooth surface. I prefer knitting with wooden needles to knitting with metal needles, because they’re more flexible and warmer.

SA: Sounds like you have gotten your hands on some excellent tools.  What is your studio like?

V V: My apartment is my studio. I have see through boxes with my yarn stash, so it’s all viewable, and my needles, crochet hooks and my spinning wheel are all within grasp. I have shelves filled with knitting/textile/fiber books, and a pile next to my bed, for inspiration.

SA: Would you say that you have a particular customer-base or a variety of buyers, and how would you describe “your” customer?

VV-NK self in sweaterV V: I don’t think I have a particular customer because I design for multiple skill levels and for people who want to put a spin on the conventional.

Besides the Scandinavian tradition,  I get a lot of inspiration from fashion and modern art. I try to combine both in my designs, giving a modern twist to the traditional. My knitting philosophy is that both my patterns and knitting in general should be accessible for everyone. People should be allowed to knit with the yarn they want to knit in the way that they’d like to knit.

I try to incorporate this in my designs and patterns; knitting patterns accessible for the beginner and the experienced knitter, working with the traditional and the un traditional at the same time.

SA: Your combination of Scandinavian tradition and modern art is beautiful. I’m sure you have nothing but satisfied customers. What projects are you currently working on?

V V: I’ve got a lot of things that I’m working on, I’m working on new classes and booking classes and trunk shows for when I come to the States this summer, in August, and this fall, in October.

VV-NK spinning yarn 2I recently finished a two week mixed media project where I worked with the concept of change. I tried different materials and techniques, but ended up core spinning a woolen yarn and a mohair yarn with cress seeds in them. From the yarns I knitted up swatches that I watered to see if the cress would sprout, which it did.

At the moment, I am finalizing two sweater patterns for a Danish yarn company. They both work with traditional Scandinavian patterns, but in un traditional colors and sizes. I am also swatching yarns from an American mill, for a collection of patterns.

I am constantly inspired and sketching new ideas.  Tthe pages of my journal are daily being filled with new designs.

VV-NK kunstnartSA: Sounds like you have a lot of great pieces on your plate; I can’t wait to see how they turn out. The Nordic style seems to be full of beautifully intricate designs. What is the most difficult pattern you have ever attempted?

V V: I try to tell my knitting students that knitting isn’t difficult. It’s just a lot of challenges. The most challenging piece I knitted was an Icelandic wedding shawl. It had a very intricate all–over lace pattern, and therefore a very elaborate chart. I was learning to read charts when I casted on the first time. I had to put it aside for some time until I had knitted other charted lace pieces and learned reading charts. I was really happy when I finished the shawl. It is beautiful. But I was most content about the fact that I had learned to understand charts, and that knowledge I am I still putting into use today.

SA: I get that — I also took on an all-over lace pattern, got through about a third of it and scrapped it!  Now, I can’t find the yarn to start over…And, if you remember the KAL you had last fall, I re-did that one a couple of times.  Patience truly is a virtue when learning how to read charts.

When you are not knitting, what do you enjoy doing to unwind?

V V: I am a big fan of modern art. I love going to art galleries and plunge myself into the feeling of the pieces. I am very fond of the works of people like Lee Bul, Tracey Emin and the Danish painter Per Kirkeby.Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

I am also a big fan of nature. Denmark has a lot of beautiful coastline. Walking on the beach or in the forest, looking at the rich variety of textures in surfaces and listening to the wind in the trees. It is all a soothing experience for me.
I find a lot of inspiration in the textures, colours and lines in art and nature and how they work together.

SA:  Thank you so much, Vithard.  You’ve inspired me in so many ways with your perspective and I’m sure others will feel the same!  I’m super excited that you are making your way back to the States this summer to do some teaching.  It sounds like first up is the Fantasy Fiber Cruise from July 26 to August 5.  And, then some locations TBA in North Carolina and Chicago and then, the Twiste Fibre Festival in Quebec August 24 – 25. 

Readers, if you can’t make it to see Vithard in person (sad face), you can still connect with him online through his website, Facebook page, Ravelry group, and Etsy shop!

Before I tell you about Vithard’s giveaways (yes, there are more than one!), I want to tell you about a couple of other things.  One, I’m going fishing next week…well, not fishing, actually probably surfing…so, next week, there will be a surprise guest post for you.  I’m not going to spoil it and tell you who is writing here next week, but I know you will love it. 

spinquest2012-237x300The other thing is to let you know that it’s time to get serious if you are thinking about coming to Spin Quest on Saturday, August 24th in Front Royal, VA.  The registrations are coming in, but seating is limited so if you are joining us, please register so we can make sure to get you in.  We had a great time last year and I’m so excited for it!!

OK, now onto the giveaways…We will be drawing three winners.  For the first winner, there is a 30 minute Knitting Therapy Session with Vithard himself.  The second and third winners will be getting a copy of Vithard’s Kunstnart Knitting Patternkunstnart 2This very special pattern combined commercial and handspun yarns and looks like a really fun knit!  To enter, please leave a comment below letting us know where are the craziest places you have hidden fiber stash.  I’m looking for new ideas to supplement my current ones.!  Additional entries for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Deadline for entries is Thursday, May 23rd 5:00 PM EST.  Best of luck to all!


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