Kim Werker is a master of crochet, an advocate for community-building, and an accomplished author. Her new book, Crocheted Gifts: Irresitable Projects to Make and Give, was released last month. I recently caught up with Kim to talk about her favorite craft medium: yarn.
When did you start working with yarn, and what was the first yarn project that you completed?
I first started working with yarn when I was in my third year of university and my dorm director’s wife taught me how to crochet (for the second time – I’d learned the first time when I was in high school, but that was for a thread project, so not as cozy). I picked up a giant batch of this hideous variegated acrylic yarn and started in on a huge blanket. I didn’t get very far. I think the first yarn project I actually completed was a felted knitted bag I made in the class I took to learn how to knit when I was in my mid-20s.
Why did you gravitate to yarn as opposed to other craft materials?
You know, I’ve never even thought about this. It’s just the way it is. When a friend mentioned that knitting class when I was 26 and had just moved to Vancouver, my ears pricked up and I nearly pounced on her (literally) for more info. Now that crafting is such an important part of my life, I do find I’m drawn to other types of materials, too. I’m digging embroidering, and I learned how to make beaded earrings a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised by how meditative and fun that was (and gratifying! I had a pair done in just one evening).
I enjoy the practical side to yarn crafts – I like that I can make clothes and blankets and toques and scarves. And I think it’s the practicality of it that leads to my love of doll-making. Dolls – at least the kinds I make – are totally absurd and impractical. Their only purpose is to make me happy, and hopefully they make other people happy too.
What is your family’s history with yarn (mom, grandmother, etc.)?
After I started knitting avidly, my mom took an interest in it. One day when she was visiting us with my grandmother, we sat down and quickly realized she already knew how to knit (a clue: after I made her cast on, pull it out and cast on again about a hundred times, she started knitting continental style, and I knit English. After that, it was the quickest lesson ever). Turns out she’d learned when she was in high school. That wee reminder all she needed; she’s spent the last few years knitting her heart out. My grandmother used to crochet a lot. Arthritis prevents her from working much with her hands now, but for a while after that visit she got back into it, too. So amongst the women in my family, it’s been a reverse of the expected generational passing-down of yarn craft; with us it’s sort of passed up.
How do you feel when you are working with yarn?
I feel like I’m home, you know? Like no matter where I am, I’m grounded. Like I not only have something to keep myself busy, and something to create, but also something that’s useful – and specifically something useful (well, or not that useful) that can be used to create great whimsy and therefore great fun and joy.
How do your yarn craft projects change throughout the seasons?
I’m not at all a hot-weather yarn crafter. That part of my system hibernates through the warmer months. I think in part it’s because it’s so light here in Vancouver that my level of activity over the summer is crazy. It actually stresses me out. Summer is my least favourite season, by far. Fall is my favourite, and it’s no coincidence that my hands start itching for yarn as the days grow shorter and cooler. I can make all sorts of things, but I find the ones I’m most likely to, you know, finish, are small projects with really simple stitch repeats. Good thing I wear a scarf pretty much all the time for 3/4 of the year! Whenever I travel I toss a big ball of yarn and a hook or needles in my bag, and make the simplest scarves.
Do you have things that friends or family have made for you with yarn? How do they make you feel? What memories do they hold?
I do, and I love them. All the small things – for some reason mostly wristlets and bracelets – that people have made for me just make me happy. They aren’t old, and don’t hold memories of special times past, but they do hold reminders of friendships forged and great creativity explored. My parents have some blankets my grandmother made before she died in the early ’80s. People knock those scratchy acrylic yarns, but man do they hold up! I have a new appreciation for those blankets now that I know what it was like for her to make them.
Do you have any favorite or fun yarn stories to share? Any special projects or experiences you’ve had with yarn?
I certainly have a fair share of funny yarn stories, but the ones that stick out are the ones from harder times. The biggest project I’ve completed is a ripple blanket. I started it during what was perhaps the most stressful time in my life; I’d just started working at Interweave Crochet when I found out I had an ectopic pregnancy. I felt awful, it was an emotional rollercoaster and I was generally stressed out. At the same time, close family members had their own health crises. It was a nightmare. As we all convalesced, I started making a blanket. I used only yarns I had around, and I picked them at random. That small bit of structure combined with the rhythm of my stitching quite seriously kept me sane. That and watching entire seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Thankfully, we all ended up fine and healthy, and I ended up with a cozy blanket I adore.)
What can you share about the process for selecting yarns for the projects in your new book?
The other day I was at my in-laws’ house for a holiday dinner. At one point something came up about colour. I made to differentiate between blues, and called one “cerulean”. Some fun-making ensued, during which my father-in-law asked if I could name all the colours in Crayola’s 64-crayon box. I can’t, but I did retort that my favourite was called Burnt Sienna. Anyway, I had to remind them that I spent four years of my life in a sea of yarn. I’ve had the pleasure of picking the right brown of Cascade 220. Of course, choosing yarns is about far more than colour – it’s about fibre, construction, weight, texture and how it looks different stitched up versus on the skein.
For books like Crocheted Gifts, I see my role as being like the editor of a magazine. I worked very closely with designers to choose the right projects and perfect yarns to create a book that’s cohesive in its entirety, yet where each project has a chance to really shine on its own. When I saw the first photos from the book, my anxiety about having achieved that waned considerably. It can be nerve-wracking, working with so many variables and personalities and styles. To see it all come together as you’d hoped is a great satisfaction, and I’m very lucky to have worked with people – designers, editors, photographers, graphic designers, publishers – who do just amazing work.
How would you convince a yarn-a-phobe to get over the fear or dislike of yarn and take up crochet or other yarn-based crafts?
I’m not sure I’d tackle convincing someone who doesn’t like yarn to get over it; I enjoy that people don’t all agree. But for someone who’s afraid, I say this: What’s to fear? It’s yarn. It’s the very thing storytellers use to invoke feelings of home, of warmth, of safety and comfort. What’s to lose if you suck at it? Who cares if you mess up? Let’s grab a ball of yarn and a hook and we’ll see what the consequences are.
There are few times I’m certain of being right, but talking someone down from a fear of yarn is one of them.