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Behind The Stitches: Laerke Bagger

Behind The Stitches: Laerke Bagger

Laerke Bagger

A few weeks ago in much colder weather, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the incredible Laerke Bagger. I've been a fan of her work for some time and I was so excited to chat with the person who makes such beautiful things. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but she was one on the kindest and inspirational makers that I've had the chance to speak with. Whenever I interview a maker I'm always pleasantly surprised when they are the people I have built up in my head. I’m so excited to share this segment of our chat with all of you.

"I feel like I'm more a part of a movement than I am just a knitter"


"Took me six months to apply
every single thread by hand"
Sam: How would you describe what you do?

Laerke: That's a big question... I just love crafts. All sorts of crafts and I've been doing crafts ever since I was eight years old. Of course I'm a knitter. But I feel like I'm more a part of a movement than I am just a knitter.

Sam: When did you learn to knit and when did you decide that knitting was the best way for you to express yourself?

Laerke: I think that there were two times in my life that I would say I started knitting. I started knitting when I was eight years old and I was way into it, but only doing scarves in garter stitch with the edges going in and out, because you're constantly increasing and decreasing and slowly becoming better. I was about seventeen years old when I really started knitting. I had been knitting all my life, but that was when I really started doing my first patterns and crazy jumpers. So ugly… but crazy jumpers.

"I had to drop out and I was like, ok I'll give it a shot, this knitting thing"


Sam: You were exploring.

Laerke: Yeah, I was, but without really knowing that I was exploring. But I think that was when I really started to realize that this was really something... Actually the third experience that I had was when I went to University for six months. I was just knitting through all of my classes and all of my lectures. Then we came to the exams and I realized that I actually had to take exams, but I had been knitting the whole time. I studied religion. So it was all of these tales about ancient Rome and ancient Egypt. Really exciting! But I had absolutely no notes. So I had to drop out and I was like, ok I'll give it a shot, this knitting thing.


"The best kind of mess"
Sam: Did you end up going to school for knitting?

Laerke: After I dropped out of university I took three years of unpaid internship with one of my knitting heroes, who is this Danish woman called, Isabel Berglund. She studied at Central Saint Martins and did these amazing knitted sculptures and she was also based in Copenhagen. So I interned for her for three years while I was working in bars and serving beers. She actually gave me the confidence to apply for The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Then I applied and was lucky enough to get in. So I actually have a five year degree, an MA in arts with a specialty in textiles and hand knit.

"It's hard to say this, but in the beginning I was mostly driven by fear"

Sam: And then what did you do after school?


Laerke Bagger's first Instagram post 
Laerke: I was very determined. It's hard to say this, but in the beginning I was mostly driven by fear. The fear of never having a job. Or the fear of not being able to afford an apartment in Copenhagen. Or the fear of my future child not being able to go to badminton. So I was like “I have to do something while I'm still in school”. So I started using Instagram at a very early stage of Instagram. Which was exactly the right time to get on. I didn't want to do any portfolios online and I thought that was really boring. I don't like any sort of tech. I'm a crafty analog person, so it was the perfect thing to get on Instagram and use it as a very flexible online portfolio.


Sam: I was going to ask you about your Instagram and what made you get on it in the first place. So that was how your account got started?

Laerke: Yeah it was! And then when I graduated about two or three years later I had this huge following at the time. Maybe it was about 5,000 followers, which was a lot at the time, because this was before the whole influencer thing came along. Then I had my daughter, because I knew that I was going to be self employed and I like to plan. I thought why not have the child now and then open the business afterwards? But I was still working during my maternity leave. I'm always working.

Sam: Yeah, it sounds like it! So what were you doing for a job outside of your designs?


Laerke: I've never had a "real job" outside of bar tending in school. After I was finished with school I went on maternity leave and I opened up my own business and I was freelancing doing knitwear design for knitwear companies and magazines. Selling my jumpers. I had a lot of different sorts of income, but everything still surrounded knitwear. After six months I was headhunted for this creative director job for this big yarn company. It's everything from branding, strategy, picking new colors, & trend spotting.


Laerke's table mid project
Sam: Are you still doing that currently?

Laerke: I'm still doing that. Together with my own business

Sam: It sounds like you kind of get the best of both worlds. You have your personal creative outlet and then you also have a more technical practice with that company.

Laerke: Yeah, I do. For example some of the things I use for my own work and my own patterns I use for the company and some of the things I use for the company I translate into my own work. It's sort of difficult to say where one thing stops and the other thing begins.

Sam: Can you describe your beaded jumpers and your loop knits?


Laerke: Loopy knit was actually one of the first techniques that I explored

Sam: Again, you’re reading my mind! I was going to ask which one came first.

"Suddenly knitwear wasn't just knitwear"

Laerke: It was actually loop knit. I started doing the furs while I was still in school. It's sort of fun to look back on the work that you did. This is about ten years ago now. Seeing how the work was effected by the youth. I was younger and much more experimental. It's an old technique that I found in this knitting magazine from the seventies. I haven't invented any of my techniques myself I just apply them to contemporary trends. It was a really easy technique to do and it really suited the way that I like to work, creating effects and drama, making emotions and playing with colors. It was a really easy way to incorporate that into knitwear.


The beading came much later. I was in my last year of school. My dad lived in Greenland and had lived there for fifteen years. He sent me a set of wrist warmers. Which is a really weird set of clothing. But they have this tradition of beadwork and this was knitted in this pattern of ice crystals. Kind of like when you look at a snowflake through a microscope. It was really ugly, because they were fuscia and yellow. But I'd never seen this technique of adding elements onto the thread and then knitting it into the jumper. It was adding another element. Suddenly knitwear wasn't just knitwear. You could add something else to the knitwear.


Sam: It sounds like this was kind of a mind opening experience for you?

Laerke: It was!

"Usually the initial inspiration can come from anything. I could be in the supermarket and watching a bag of frozen vegetables"

Sam: Would you say that you are more inspired by color or are you more inspired by texture?

Spring knitting experiments
Laerke: I can't choose! It goes hand in hand with the emotional state that I'm in, in my life. If it's springtime.... hmm, no one has actually ever asked me that. I would say that spring and summer it's more of colors and everything that you sense around you. Mood and what the light is like. Then during the winter and the fall it's more of textures, and of course you combine it. I don't know I'm not very structured with these things. If I see something I like then I try it.

Sam: How would you describe your practice? I've seen a couple of images of your sketch books, which are amazing. I love them. So when you are sitting down to create a new piece, what comes first? Is it seeing an image of something, getting inspired by that and then translating that into a texture and then coming up with your pattern? Or does it start with sketching?

Laerke: Usually the initial inspiration can come from anything. I could be in the supermarket and watching a bag of frozen vegetables. Seeing the greens in a certain pattern and thinking that's pretty. Or it could be flipping through an old magazine and seeing a picture.

This is a good example. My new thing is houndstooth. In that case the image of the pattern came first, but I thought it was boring and wanted to do something new. Usually I take my new influence and combine it with the groundwork that I’ve already done. I'm sort of building. It's like blocks. You really don't have to start blank every time. It's better for you to build stuff. Sitting with a blank piece of paper is so nerve racking and impossible for almost all people.

Sam: I went to school for fashion design and Sophomore year one of my teachers said to me "You know, you don't have to reinvent the wheel".

Laerke: But that's it! My teacher also told me the same thing. She also said if you're going to produce this much work you are going to wear yourself down before you're thirty and that was my first year. I was like ok, maybe I have to slow down and think about it. Maybe don't do one hundred drawings, try to do ten, but they're good ones. I think this just comes with age and experience.

Sam: I had the same experience. When I first got started I was like " I'm going to create something that's never been seen before in the history of fashion" (laughing)... Maybe just try to create something that makes you happy.

Laerke: Yeah, absolutely right. You start out having these very big ambitions and then actually the ambitions hold you down.

Sam: Exactly, because you can get so caught up in trying to reach that. Instead of just saying what you are trying to say.

Laerke: Whenever I do workshops or lectures people ask me what is the initial thing of your creative process. I tell them I think to myself "I have to sit down and make something ugly. Just sit down and do something ugly" because it removes all of the pressure of creating something beautiful or something genius. Just sit down and make something ugly and then it only has to be ugly and of course it's never ugly. But it removes the pressure.

Sam: That's great! It removes the expectations. I'm going to use that one!

Laerke: Do it! It really works and of course telling yourself that the first sample, sketch, drawing is never the good one. But it might be the second one, or the third one, or number eight. Just feel free.

Sam: that's definitely something that comes across in your work. It feels like a release. Your work feels very free and it's just really inspiring.

Laerke in her studio workspace
Laerke: Thank you

Sam: At this point do you knit everything yourself for your collection? Or do you have it produced?

Laerke: I don't knit everything myself. When I have the time I have interns. I think that it's a big responsibility to have interns, so you should really treat it with respect. Of course the interns help me to produce and then I have knitting ladies, test knitters, people that produce for me. Actually, and this is a big thing for me, I just bought a knitting machine two weeks ago. I haven't used a knitting machine since I was in school like six years ago. So I'm still relearning how to use it. It's very intimidating. Knitting machines have their own life. It's like a person. I'll never stray from hand knitting, because that's my passion. But it's nice to be able to produce something or make samples quicker on the knitting machine. Because there are so many different techniques that you can do on the machine that you just can't get from hand knits.

Sam: It's just another tool in your belt.

Laerke: Yeah it really is. It's like working in a whole new media.

"I don't know I think most textile designers are collectors. Obsessive collectors. Or hoarders"

Sam: So how do you source your beads, because it looks as though each bead is unique?

Laerke: I've actually been collecting beads probably since I was 15 years old and I'm 34 now. So it's almost a 20 year old collection.

Sam: So the beads came before the jumpers?

Laerke: They did. I like everything that's pretty and crafty. I also collect zippers and tassels. So maybe one day I'll be the tassel knitter or the zipper knitter! Who knows!

Sam: In ten years from now I'll reach out to you and just say I knew this was coming.

Laerke; "We foresaw it in 2019".... I don't know I think most textile designers are collectors. Obsessive collectors. Or hoarders, I guess you would say. So everything pretty I collect. With my beads I've of course been forced to buy new ones. I mostly buy from small companies. I buy most of them in small shops when I'm abroad. Because I don't like it when I buy them in big bags. Whenever I do that, even if it's a really pretty bead they lose interest to me. It's not as unique when it's a big bad of 500 of the same bead. The same bead coming in a bag of 20 beads vs. 500 beads. I might save a lot of money on the big bag. But it loses it's appeal. So I buy them, I collect them and whenever my friends or family are out traveling I make them buy me beads! My parents just returned from a holiday in Spain and I was like that's all I want. Just beads.

Sam: No post cards just beads!

Laerke: Yes! I've also been very lucky. When I started knitting with the beads. A couple people gave me their “little girl bead collections”.

Sam: Oh, I remember having a bead collection as a little girl!

Laerke: I had one too. I actually saved them and I've been very fortunate to get bead collections from people who are older girls now. Which are the best kinds of beads, because they were hand picked by a little girl. They have these stories behind them and they're older. Some of them have been bleached, because they've been lying in the sun. So it has a history.

Sam: You know when you said that I just had a flash of being a little kid and going into bead stores with my mom. Every time we would go in there she would say "ok, you can pick out maybe five or so" and they felt so special at the time, because they were my picks.

Laerke: It was like having diamonds. My daughter is three years old. Of course she's already into beading and pretty things. She has these small boxes where she now collects beads and small gemstones. It's wonderful, because that's such a big part of being a kid. Collecting pretty things.

Sam: It definitely felt like precious jewels at the time. Now I want to search my childhood room to see if anything is still there. I'm having these memories rush over me.

Laerke: You should! Unfortunately my mom is crafty too. So she had used up all of my beads after I left home. So I didn't have any beads from that time.

Sam: You have to guard those things when you have a crafty mother...

"It's order and chaos in the best possible way"

Sam: Can you describe what your workspace looks like for everyone?

Laerke: It's order and chaos in the best possible way! I have kind of a small space. I share a studio with four other girls and a guy. Everyone is in textile, architecture, or art direction, and they are people I went to school with. So it's like having colleagues even though we all work in different areas and on different projects. It can be quite lonesome being a knitwear designer. So I'm really happy about this space, but I also need more space. I have maybe 500 knitting books. I've also been collecting those. The oldest one I have is from the 20s. I’m also looking at my yarn stash. Which is not a yarn stash any more. It's obsessive. I have two walls filled with boxes from floor to ceiling.

Sam: This is so good for me to hear, because I am also a hoarder. Talking to you I'm like, "oh, I'm fine!" I actually think I could expand my collection!

Laerke: You should! I’m tripping over yarn. Every time people come to my studio I give them yarn, because I have too much! But you need a lot, because you might need the right color of yellow one day. You might have 20 yellows and still not have that color yellow. So I'm a collector of balls of yarn. I'm actually quite organized even though it doesn't look like it.

Sam: To the untrained eye it might look like disorganized chaos, but you know where everything is.

"It's in the breaks that you can do an analysis and think about your work and that makes the work better. Rather than keep on going like a machine"

Sam: So what does your typical workday look like? How much time do you spend on your personal practice vs. your other work?

Laerke: I probably spend about 5-6 hours on my personal practice and then 7-9 hours on the other and sometimes it's flipped. I have quite flexible hours.

Sam: How do you find a work life balance with all of that?

Laerke: I don't. Having a baby was the best thing I ever did for myself. Which sounds really weird when I say that. But before I had the baby I worked all day everyday. Now during the hours after she comes home from kindergarten until she goes to bed I have to not work, because I'm with her. I have to not work during the weekend, because I'm with her. So I have a much more balanced life since having a kid. But I still work too much. I enjoy working. So I work every night after she goes to sleep and I end up getting a few hours in every weekend as well.

Sam: But I think it's difficult too when you really enjoy what you're doing. It makes it so easy to dive completely head first into the work and forget to come up for air every once in a while.

Laerke: Also, when you're self-employed you have to work a lot. This is basically a one man business and I don't have anyone to do press releases, write emails, or correspond with people, do Instagram, and then there's the design business on top of that. It just takes a lot of time. Which is ok and I'm better now at working efficiently. Before I had my kid I would spend 5 hours on one sample and not have anything good at the end of that time. Now I say "ok, I have one hour I have to do this now".

Sam: Your time has becomes more precious.

Laerke: And that's a good thing. It's difficult though and this is definitely something that I've realized as I've gotten older. It's important and actually crucial to your work to take breaks. Have a fresh eye. Because sometimes when you spend a long time with something and you're not stopping to take a step back and think about your decisions you make bad decisions. It's in the breaks that you can do an analysis and think about your work and that makes the work better. Rather than keep on going like a machine. You have to stop and really think about what you are doing.

Sam: I really love the idea of thinking about the breaks as part of the process.

Laerke: Exactly. When I'm with my daughter I can't remove my head, I still have my knitting head. So I'm still thinking about whatever project I'm doing. But then when I go back to the project something has usually shifted. I go back and I know what color and needle size I need to use. I can't explain it.

Sam: Well, it's almost like you're meditating on the work even though it's not physically in front of you.

Laerke: If I have something that I'm not sure about, I'll take the swatch, sample, or sketch and I'll lay it out on the table so that it's the first thing that I see when I walk into my studio in the morning. Usually, I know what to do with it when I see it again.

"New books sell more of a lifestyle. They tend to be in pastels. They are heavily stylized. The older books don't have that. Especially if you want to do design. Learn the basics and then search for inspiration elsewhere"

Sam: You said that you have 500 books, so I have to ask if you have any books that you would recommend for knitters?

Laerke: Not a particular book, but I think that you should go to old bookshops and go to the crafts section and buy old technique books. Crocheting technique books and everything fiber arts. They have techniques in them that are really down to basics. They have pages where you can improve your skills. Like how to make the perfect pocket, or how to make the perfect raglan sleeve. So go and buy the old books, because they have something the new books don't have. The new books sell more of a lifestyle. They tend to be in pastels. They are heavily stylized. The older books don't have that. Especially if you want to do design. Learn the basics and then search for inspiration elsewhere. But I will say that if anyone has a tip for me with a good contemporary knitting book please write it on my Instagram! Because I just haven't found any contemporary knitting books that have inspired me. But of course they’re out there.

Close up of Laerke's beaded & knitted clutches
Sam: While we are on the subject of Instagram. How much time would you say you spent working on your Instagram in the beginning and how much time do you spend on it now? Because that can be a job in and of itself.

Laerke: In the beginning I spent thirty-twenty minutes a day on it and that includes time looking at my friend's feeds. And now I spend between two and three hours a day and it could actually be a lot worse. It takes up a lot of time. I have to take breaks from Instagram and I try not to post during the weekend. It's kind of this constant online presence that takes focus away from everything else. I love Instagram. It's wonderful how crafters can meet and inspire each other. You can share experiences. We didn't have the possibility to share our work with each other before Instagram. Not in that way. But you still have to take breaks. I try not to use it at all when I'm with my daughter and before I go to sleep. It's really consuming, but it is an amazing platform.

"I'm not an Instagramer and I'm also not an influencer. I'm also not a blogger. I'm a knitter who uses Instagram to share my work with other people"

Sam: I think that's one of the first places where I saw you work a few years ago.

Laerke: It's also important to make the distinction that I'm not an Instagramer and I'm also not an influencer. I'm also not a blogger. I'm a knitter who uses Instagram to share my work with other people and then Instagram comes second as a platform for me to display my work. But I also wouldn't be where I am today without my following and if people didn't want to support me. It still blows my mind that people want to see what I do. I think I can’t believe that they find this interesting? It's just me and my needles in my own head in my own studio. I'm very lucky that people actually want to see what I do and follow my work.

Sam: So I've had the chance to talk with a lot of knitters and crafters over the last couple of months. Something that people tend to struggle with is placing a value on their time and the work that they are creating. Did you ever struggle with that in the beginning?

Laerke: (nodding) I still struggle with that. This is one of the hardest things about what we do. It's hand knit. It goes without saying that it's hand made. You can never put a true price on a garment that would make up for the hours and the love that you put into the garment. So whenever I sell something that's a commission piece for example I have to close my eyes, because the hours that it took to create it doesn't even out to the true value of the garment. But I would say that the work is pay enough. We have that saying in Danish "The work is pay enough". But of course that's not true, because I have bills, a kid, and an apartment in an expensive city.

So I used to do freelance. Which was great, because I would just do the pattern and wouldn't actually knit the whole jumper. But there's just not enough money in this business. I work both in the fashion and craft industries and it's too bad. The only thing we can do is continue to insist on getting a decent amount of value for what we do and we have to support each other.

"I know how long it took. So I would rather that other people wear it, because they aren't as defensive or connected to it"

Sam: It's so hard to place value on your time and then try to explain that to someone who wasn't right there with you as you made it. Because of course you know what went into making it and it can be difficult to express that to a customer.

Laerke: That's why I don't really wear my own things, because I know how long it took. So maybe once every two or three months I make something for myself and I usually regret it and give it to one of my friends. Because I know how long it took. So I would rather that other people wear it, because they aren't as defensive or connected to it.

Sam: I think it's just something that as a maker you have to figure out for yourself.

Laerke: I wouldn't not do it. So I might as well do it and sell something. I couldn't do a normal job so I have to make it work. This is the only thing I'm good at. So it's a lot of compromising. In Danish we have this saying "It's a bitter pill to swallow". Because it's medicine you just have to do it.

Sam: Because this is Bobble Club House I always like to wrap things up by asking if there's anything that you enjoy binge watching or listening to while you craft?

Laerke: That's a fun question! Nobody's ever asked me that before and I've always wanted people to ask me that! When I'm in a really good flow I listen to old Brit pop like Oasis and The Verb, which was music that I listened to when I was young. That's what I listen to when I'm having a good knit flow, when I'm not sketching, but knitting. When I'm "off" at home at night and I'm knitting I like to watch the crappiest of the crappiest television. I'm just streaming this thing called Hey You, which is reality TV from America streamed in Europe. So Real Housewives of NYC, RHOOC, RHOBH. All of these sorts of reality shows. That's what I like to watch while I knit.

Sam: Same, why are they so perfect for knitting?

Laerke: It's because you don't have to look at it all the time. If you miss fifteen minutes it doesn't matter. If you miss an episode it doesn't matter. They argue all the time so you can just sit and listen to the arguments. You don’t really have to watch it you can just listen to it. I love it. My boyfriend paints and does ceramics in his free time whenever I knit in the evening. He always says, "oh, no are you watching this again? I can't stand listening to their voices". I'm destroying his creative process while enhancing my own.

..........
Laerke Bagger's inspirational  Instagram account is @LaerkeBagger

If you have suggestions for whom I should talk to next leave a note in the comments section. I’m always on the hunt for inspiring crafters. Also, don't forget to follow along on my Instagram account @bobbleclubhouse for your daily dose of all things knitted and to stay up to date on our upcoming NYC events. Until next week, happy crafting!

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