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Behind The Stitches: Denise Dawson

“I first learned to knit when I was a freshman in college...I made a striped scarf with my neon colors and it was hideously wonderful"

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

Denise: I grew up in Vermont, in a small town outside of Burlington in Chittenden County. I lived and went to school there for my entire adolescent years. After graduating from high school, I moved to Amherst, MA to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst where I studied architectural design. I figured moving to a city would give me access to more job opportunities, so after a final summer living in Vermont after graduation, I moved to Denver, Colorado. I lived there for 10 years and have since moved across the Rocky Mountains to western Colorado, called the Western Slope by locals.

Sam: Have you always been a creative person? Where do you think your love of crafting comes from?

Denise: As a child, I could not get enough of "arts and crafts." Every elementary birthday party I had revolved around some art kit I'd ask my mother to get for me and my friends. My mother was a lover of art, which rubbed off on me. We used to play this game together we called "the drawing game" where we would make 6 squares on a sheet of paper, then we would take turns picking some random object to draw. We'd share our drawings with each other after, myself always marveling at my mother's unique style. My Mémère was also a very creative person. She was a big part of my life in childhood, often taking us in when childcare was financially out of reach for my mom. She had a treasure-trove of random craft supplies filling up her basement that we would always find inspiration from. My first foray into fiber arts was with her; she taught me how to make friendship bracelets with embroidery floss. We would make all sorts of things together: ornaments, wreaths, stuffed animals, costumes, quilts. Her go-to craft was crochet. She used to crochet granny square blankets. At the time, I never thought to ask her to teach me though. My great-aunt Claire, my Mémère's sister, was the knitter in the family. She didn't have any children of her own, so she was kind of like another grandmother to all of her great-nieces and nephews. Every Christmas she would knit every single one of us a pair of mittens. For years she did this, probably 25 pairs total each Christmas. I loved these mittens so much, but have lost every pair she ever gave me; such a disappointment. She did, however, just give the original pattern from a 1960s magazine to me when I visited her last May, an absolute treasure!

"I knit and frogged the whole thing at least 6 times. AND it didn't even bother me. That's when I knew, the process is just as important to me as the project itself"

Sam: When did you learn to knit and what was your first WIP?

Denise: I first learned to knit when I was a freshman in college in 2004. I lived in suite-style dorm housing at the time. One of my suite-mates and I were bored one weekend, so we took the bus to Michaels Crafts, bought some neon pink and green yarn and some huge needles, then taught ourselves to knit with YouTube videos. I made a striped scarf with my neon colors and it was hideously wonderful. I wore it all winter. It was skinny and long, probably wrapped around my neck 5 times so it wouldn't drag on the floor. I think the yarn was probably equivalent to sport weight and I remember I used size 10 needles, so it was full of holes and wonky as hell.

Sam: Do you still have it?

Denise: Sadly, I left it in a lecture hall one day and never saw it again. And believe me when I say, I had a hawks eye out for that thing on campus, but I never saw anyone wearing it. I miss that ugly thing.

Sam: How would you describe your yarn stash?

Denise: I wish I could sleep with my yarn every night, it brings me so much joy. I have an unhealthy attachment to some skeins. I think I will never be able to knit with them. Right now I have my yarn stored on shelves in my home basement studio space. The shelf is open and very accessible, so I can peruse my stash at a glance whenever the mood strikes. It is almost all-natural fibers, mostly wool, and is a wide range of textures and colors; I don't gravitate toward anything in particular when it comes to that. My two fiber arts loves are knitting and tapestry weaving, so my stash reflects that well. I have lots of hand-spun, naturally dyed yarns for creating texture in my weaving work, but I rarely use that kind of yarn for knitting. My knitting stash is VERY colorful, unlike my weaving stash which is more neutral and subdued in tone. I have many random single skeins that I've acquired with no project in mind, that are just hanging, patiently waiting for the day I choose them for my next cast on. I am a total impulse buyer when it comes to yarn; I've had to budget it into my monthly expenses, so I don't overdo it.

Sam: Are you more of a process or a project knitter?

Denise: Until this past year, I would have considered myself a project knitter. Don't get me wrong, I've always loved the process, but I got the most satisfaction out of my F.O.s. Over the past year, I have begun designing my own patterns, and I think that has created a more process-based joy that I didn't know I would cultivate. While designing my first sweater, the Wooded Sweater which I released last month, I knit and frogged the whole thing at least 6 times. AND it didn't even bother me. That's when I knew, the process is just as important to me as the project itself. I have been working on a few other patterns this summer, drawing a lot, knitting swatches, tiny experiments and learning new techniques; it's all given me a much deeper connection to the craft.

"I found myself totally losing touch with the creativity I had been so invested in before motherhood"

Sam: We also have to talk about your weavings. When and how did you first learn to weave?

Denise: I began weaving seriously in 2016. Before that, I dabbled but wasn't committed to learning proper technique. After my daughter was born that June, obviously my priorities shifted, but I found myself totally losing touch with the creativity I had been so invested in before motherhood. My closest friends were also becoming mothers and that was what my whole life began to revolve around; it was all we talked about. I knew something needed to change there; I was getting depressed and withdrawn because I felt like I didn't know myself. I had gone back to work part-time after my maternity leave was over, so on my days off, I began learning to weave. I started by taking online classes from Lindsey Campbell, @hellohydrangea on insta, and I immediately felt connected to the process.

Sam: Where do you find the inspiration behind your weavings?

Denise: Most of my inspiration comes from the joy of using materials in unconventional ways. I have always love rummaging through thrift stores, yard sales and the like, looking for random things that I could repurpose into something dynamic and beautiful. While I am, and always will be, drawn to the beauty and texture of yarn, I think what pulled me into weaving was that I could incorporate unique items into my woven goods that made them something special. The first intentional piece I wove, meaning the first piece that wasn't just a random experiment, was a gift for my best friend's wedding. My brother, who is a fine-arts photographer, had dyed this photo-sensitive canvas for me when I got married, covered in sun-prints of random trinkets that people from my wedding party and family wanted to contribute to it. I cut a piece out and sewed it to my warp, then started designing the rest of the tapestry around that. It was a really special project for me. I have since used sharks teeth, rocks, vintage doilies and fabrics, bones and zippers in my work, and I have a ridiculous collection of other random things that will eventually find themselves in my future work.

"I have always loved a challenge, and learning a new craft does not often intimidate me, especially in the age of information, so I decided to jump in feet first"

Sam: How much time are you able to devote to your creative practice every week? What do you do to find a work-life/home-life/craft life balance?

Denise: Finding a balance between work, family, life, and craft is a constant work-in-progress. I am incredibly privileged to be able to work part-time, as my husband's work affords us that flexibility, so I can have time mid-week to pursue my creative endeavors. I work three days a week as a Medical Laboratory Scientist at a local hospital where I live, and my daughter goes to pre-school 4 days a week. This allows me one full day per week that I dedicate to whichever fuel I need: knitting, weaving, rock climbing, hiking or anything else. I am very grateful and fortunate to have this freedom and I try not to waste it. Fridays are my mom-daughter day, usually spent at the library, park, or play-dates. Weekends are family time, often used to camp or road trip, and days my husband goes out to enjoy his personal extracurriculars.

Sam: When did you decide to take the leap into writing patterns?

Denise: When I was in college, designing sustainable homes was what I envisioned myself doing as a career. That didn't come to fruition for a multitude of reasons, which I have no regrets about, but it has left me with a desire to create something from beginning to end. I have always loved a challenge, and learning a new craft does not often intimidate me, especially in the age of information, so I decided to jump in feet first. I also wanted to be able to give more, financially, to causes and organizations that are important to me throughout the year, so I thought the income from designing and publishing patterns would enable me to do that.

"There is a wealth of knowledge out there to support your creative endeavors, so reach out, branch out and make a go of it."

Sam: Can you tell us about your recently released sweater pattern?

Denise: I came up with the concept for the Wooded Sweater in December of 2018. I compiled a bunch of sweater patterns that I have personally knit, to decide on which construction would benefit my idea the best, and began drawing and knitting swatches with scrap yarn. When I felt like my concept was developed enough, I reached out to Luna Grey Fiber Arts for yarn support. I chose her yarns because they are beautiful and she lives in the same town as me; I try to keep my purchases local whenever possible. She generously offered me a couple of skeins for free and a few more at wholesale price, then we worked together to come up with a color palette for the design. Through the process of knitting my design, I took many notes and just knit knit knit. My notes were NOT detailed enough and the math almost made me lose my mind, but I came out on the other side with a sweater.

Many times I frogged the whole thing because I wanted to swap the colors out and my design wasn't translating as I had envisioned; it was initially supposed to be all colorwork with four different colors. It took me about 4 months to have a finished sweater that I loved. I wrote it all down and had to figure out how to grade the pattern for many sizes. It is very important to me that any pattern I design is accessible to anyone who wants to knit it, so having a wide range of sizes was a must. Because this was my first attempt at this, I read a lot of blogs and online resources that discuss and teach methods for pattern grading. While teaching myself how to use spreadsheet calculations, it took about another month to feel like I had my sizes figured out in a way that would create a flattering fit for many body types. After creating a pattern template and general "look" for my pattern, and hopefully future patterns, I found a knitting tech editor that is also local. Her meticulousness BLEW MY MIND, and my pattern would have been garbage without her. She did two in-depth rounds of editing for me which included checking all my math (there were SO many mistakes) and making a blocking schematic for the sweater. The testing process came next and was one of the most rewarding parts of this whole endeavor. I met so many wonderful, generous and talented knitters that made this pattern so much better than it had been before. I can't thank them enough.

Sam: There’s also a charity connection for this project! What was it about Project Learning Tree and Promised Fibers that made you decide to work with them?

Denise: As I said before, designing patterns, along with being a creative outlet that brings me so much joy, is something I wanted to pursue to have the financial means to give back more to my community. I chose to work with Project Learning Tree when I first came up with the concept of this design last winter. The region I live in is a high desert climate that is often severely impacted by wildfires. Last summer, especially, wildfires ravaged so many communities throughout the western United States. I am a firm believer that change begins with children and PLT is an initiative that gives children access to sustainable forestry education that will teach coming generations how to care for our planet.

Promised Fibers, created in response to the knitting-community wide conversation regarding racism, inclusivity, equity, and accessibility, is an organization that I can easily get behind. The mission of Promised Fibers is to fulfill fiber arts dreams, making yarn, fiber, designing and retreat participation accessible to those who have been made to feel invisible by an unjust society. Everyone, especially those from marginalized groups, deserve access to this craft, so supporting that is important to me.

Sam: Did you face any hurdles when creating this pattern? How did you overcome them?

Denise: To be honest, I don't think any hurdle I have faced amounts to much in comparison to the hurdles BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized folks face on a daily basis. Many of the voices I've come to deeply value in this community have faced harassment, overt racism, doxing, and silencing, just to name a few, and have continued to shine their creative energies all over the place. Their generosity in teaching this community, especially white people like myself, how to be better people is inspiring and important, to say the least. I will probably forever face the hurdle of unlearning a lifetime of racist ideas, so I can better support and contribute to this community. But that is the least I can do given how much this community has given to me.

Sam: What advice would you give to people who are considering designing their own patterns?

Denise: DO IT! Yes, there will be challenges, but this community is GREAT. Collaborate with people within it, introduce yourself to people you wouldn't normally, support other makers and designers. In my experience, the more you share of yourself, the more others will share themselves with you. There is a wealth of knowledge out there to support your creative endeavors, so reach out, branch out and make a go of it.

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

Denise: I usually listen to the news, podcasts, and audiobooks while I knit. This past year I've been trying to use my knitting time as learning time as well. Some great podcasts I've discovered are Teaching Hard History, Speaking of Racism, Ear Hustle, Intractable, Otherhood, and What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law. A few life-changing audiobooks: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. My guilty pleasure, binge-watching The Handmaid's Tale.


If you want to see more of Denise's work you can follow her on Instagram @thecrafterycollective, her Ravelry page, and visit her weaving website.

Who should I talk to next? Leave your suggestions in the comments section along with any thoughts you have about Denise'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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