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Behind The Stitches: Rebecca Hancock

“Learning to knit gave me something productive to do with my hands and my mind"



Sam: Where are you from and where are you currently based?

Rebecca: I’m a Jersey girl. I was born and raised in northern New Jersey (for such a tiny state, clarifying that is surprisingly necessary). I left to go to college in Illinois and then came back after graduation because my then boyfriend (now husband) chose to go to law school in NJ so it made a lot of sense for me to come home. We now live with our 4 kids in central Jersey and we’ve been here for just about 11 years. Fun fact...all of the items in the PSK shop have been named after different cities in New Jersey.

Sam: What was your first WIP? How did you learn to knit?

Rebecca: I learned to knit almost exactly 15 years ago. I was a stay at home mom to a 1 year old boy and without connections to other moms at the time. I was super lonely. I was having a hard time seeing the beauty in the isolation and monotony of those early days with my son and I think I needed something to challenge me in a different way. That July, my college roommate Jen came to visit me for another friend’s wedding and she was knitting. I asked her to teach me how to do that and we immediately went out and bought some supplies. My first project was a chunky black scarf. I didn’t realize then that it might mean something to me 15 years later so I didn’t keep it. I’m honestly not even sure that I finished it...scarves are actually a really big project for a brand new knitter. And the funniest part of this story is that Jen doesn’t even knit anymore! I’m not sure she’s totally aware of what a gift she gave me that summer but I’m going to make a point to tell her. Anyway, learning to knit gave me something productive to do with my hands and my mind. I was on and off with it for many years but I’m so glad I didn’t abandon it completely because it means so much more to me now than I could have imagined then.

"I wish I had more time to work on my own projects but it seems that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all"


Sam: How many WIPs do you currently have on your needles? Which one are you most excited about and which one have you been avoiding?

Rebecca: I am NOT a monogamous knitter! I like to have the option of picking up projects with different colors, difficulty levels, (how much focus is required, can I work on it while chatting with a friend? Do I need to count rows or keep track on a chart?), physical size, (can I throw it in my purse and work on the go or do I need space to spread out?), and I like to have some quick projects for the satisfaction of finishing something and some long term projects that I can come back to over a period of time.

I always have at least one shop project going (2 at the moment) and several personal or selfish projects...right now I have 3 I am focused on and probably another 7 in various stages of abandonment. I wish I had more time to work on my own projects but it seems that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. The project I am most excited about right now is a summer sweater and I am making up the pattern as I go along which is an exciting first for me. I'm just hoping I will be able to wear it before next summer! The one I am avoiding lately is a shawl I started with some gorgeous deep red yarn...I’d love for it to be finished so I can wear it but I almost never want to work on it.


Sam: What does your knitting practice bring to your life?

Rebecca: I used to think I wasn’t creative...I can’t draw, I’m not in to painting, writing feels like a punishment. But in the last few years I realized that knitting and baking (which are my 2 loves) are what I began to describe as linear creativity. I’m able to follow a pattern or recipe and the outcome is fairly predictable. I love that I can imagine a finished product then do the math, gather the supplies put in the time and effort and end up with something amazing. There’s a sense of satisfaction, productiveness and it’s a creative outlet that works for me. Right now, I am really fascinated by the why and the how of knitting and stitch structure. It’s interesting to me to be able to understand exactly what makes it all work and to push myself with learning new techniques. At the same time I enjoy the almost mindlessness of remaking the same items in different colors for the shop, it’s a good balance of familiar and challenging.

Sam: What is your favorite part of your crafting process? Do you have any rituals that you do every time you sit down to knit?

Rebecca: When I learned to knit, my friend Jen taught me English style. About a year or two ago, because of wrist pain, I taught myself to knit continental style. I don’t really have any rituals but whenever I sit down to knit, I place my yarn in a project bag on my left side since that’s the hand I tension with now. I definitely have preferred spots to sit in because it’s just more comfortable. And I always have a soft blanket nearby because even in the summer I like to be cozy.

I can tell you that weaving in ends is NOT my favorite part of my crafting process...so many ends! I really love selecting yarn for a project I have in mind and I really love wearing my finished items. And I’m actually conflicted as to if I prefer when people ask if I made something I’m wearing (because then I can proudly answer YES!) or when they don’t (because maybe that means that doesn’t look handmade).


Sam: Where did the name Purple Sky Knits come from?

Rebecca: The name was inspired by the various shades of purple that you sometimes see in the winter sky at sunset. It evokes a desire for coziness which is what I hope my knits provide to my customers. Also I just plain love the color purple.

Sam: What made you decide to start your business?

Rebecca: I had the tiny idea to start a business in the back of my head for a long time but I think I lacked the confidence to actually do it. So in 2016 when my last baby started kindergarten (so all of my kids were in school all day long) my best friend Danielle and I decided to make it happen together. We were on the same page with our ideas and our skill level and we figured there wasn’t a whole lot of risk so, why not give it a try? For me it really wasn’t about making tons of money (because, let’s be honest, that’s probably never gonna happen) but it ended up being the joy that I saw in the faces of my customers. I’m not sure I expected that to be my main motivation in the beginning but that’s what happened. I just love seeing people enjoy something I made with my hands that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s a blessing to me and it’s what keeps me going.


Sam: Is there anything you wish you knew before you started your business?

Rebecca: Everything! Honestly, I didn’t know anything when we started and I still feel like there is so much I don’t know. We began with a “try it and see if it works” kind of business model (clearly, neither of us went to business school). We decided to just make whatever we wanted and see what people were drawn to purchase. It was a way of feeling out our market. It probably was not the most efficient way but we had no idea how to do it better. Since then we have narrowed the vision and style of Purple Sky Knits and have landed in a place I am really happy with. I do have lots of ideas for new items that I plan to explore but they will all fit in with the overall feel of the shop. So I guess I would say that I wish I understood the importance of cohesiveness and had an idea of what I wanted that to look like before I started. But the business is still pretty young and I feel like I am learning and growing every day.

"Don’t get overwhelmed by the whole project or all the instructions in the pattern, just do the next thing and then the next thing and trust that it will all come together"


Sam: How has the transition to running the business on your own been for you?

Rebecca: I kind of knew this transition was coming for a while but I was really afraid of what it would mean. I wasn’t sure if I would continue on if I lost my partner, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to and I wasn’t sure that I could. But not too long before Danielle decided to step away, I realized and told her that I did actually want to keep it going on my own. And it looks like I can! I think this transition has actually given me confidence in my ideas and designs and has helped me find my crafting voice both in my decision making and in my online presence. I am a little nervous about how it will all work out financially and logistically in the fall and winter which are my busy months but I have been spending the off season stocking up the shop for my fall shows. I realize that I have to be much more organized with my production list and I have to put some hard boundaries around my working hours. I have been a stay at home mom for more than 16 years so even viewing my knitting as a job is quite an adjustment for me.


Sam: Do you have any advice for newbie crafters who are thinking about doing a vendor event?

Rebecca: One thing I would say is, just because you don’t sell much at one event doesn’t mean you should quit. It probably just means that event is not your audience. And even though it costs money and time and effort to do multiple events, keep going until you find the right fit for you and then do those events year after year.

Sam: Are there any books, tutorials, or classes that helped you with your knitting practice in the beginning?

Rebecca: My college roommate Jen gifted me the book Stitch n Bi*ch by Debbie Stoller for Christmas the year she taught me to knit and I referred to it all the time. Later I discovered KnitFreedom.com with Liat Gat and found that to be a super helpful resource as watching someone’s hands turned out to be an easier way for me to fully grasp the concepts. YouTube is such a gift for knitting tutorials. I love that I can hear multiple explanations for the same technique and use the ones that make the most sense to me. I also went to the knitting group at my local library for a while because they were making socks and I wanted to learn how. One of the best pieces of advice I got from one of the leaders there was to just do the next thing. Meaning, don’t get overwhelmed by the whole project or all the instructions in the pattern, just do the next thing and then the next thing and trust that it will all come together. She was absolutely right and I have found that her advice applies to other areas of life too.


Sam: What do you like to binge watch or listen to while you craft?

Rebecca: I love tv! So there are a lot of shows that I record in the evenings and I catch up on during the day when I’m knitting while the kids are at school. I also rely on Amazon Prime and Netflix for full seasons of shows I didn’t watch when they were on tv and that makes it easy to sit and knit for hours. Recently I binge watched The Americans and I loved it so much I might watch it all over again! Turns out I really love that spy stuff! Right now I’m all about Jane the Virgin especially since there are a zillion episodes per season so there’s a lot of material. I’ve been going back and forth between that and Nurse Jackie, I really like that they are so different and I can make my choice based on my current mood.

..........

If you want to see more of Rebecca's work you can follow her on Instagram @purpleskyknits and visit her website.

Who should I talk to next? Leave your suggestions in the comments section along with any thoughts you have about Rebecca's interview. 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 fiber. Until next week, happy crafting!


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