Thursday, December 13, 2007

Day 13: Kelley Petkun from Knit Picks

I adore podcasts; they entertain me, educate me, humor me and make me think. Without my podcast fix, my workout would be unthinkable! One of my absolute favorites is that of my next interviewee. I can hear the beginning of the music play, and then her clear voice that I’d know if I stood beside her in an airport, that of Kelley Petkun. Kelley and her husband Bob own Knit Picks, an Internet store for knitters that stocks many of the things that make my heart go pitter patter. Kelley also has a wonderful blog, where we get to know her better along with the workings of her company and even her adorable dog Xena. I was thrilled when Kelley willingly obliged me with an interview for Knitting Contrisstmas, and I think you’ll enjoy it very much!

(KC) Kelley, just turn on the news today, read blogs, or listen to podcasts to hear that there is such a wide range of thoughts about the holidays. I think for the most part, knitters love the holidays no matter what their faith may be. Can I ask you your feelings about the holidays?

( KP) The holidays are the one time of the year that Bob and I set aside two weeks to completely relax and enjoy each other’s company. I start dreaming about this break in late October. By the middle of December, I am already packed and have all my vacation knitting organized.

(KC) You’ve achieved professional success and personal triumphs this past year, what has been your greatest gift in 2007?

(KP) Well, that would have to be our first grandchild – Walter Baker Petkun!

(KC) He is adorable! I’ve so enjoyed watching his growth on your blog! And what a lucky baby, I especially loved the rainbow of knitted kimonos’ you made him----- too cute!

(KC) You are an amazingly prolific knitter; do you also knit holiday gifts?

(KP) I’m not really a holiday gift knitter. I’ve learned that there is no way I will ever be able to finish them on time. I much prefer to “knit-on-demand” so to speak. It usually takes me a long time to fulfill a request but I try to manage it within the recipient’s lifetime. Bear in mind, no one really makes a true demand; it’s always a circumstance that leads to my inspiration. My friend, Lora, went to the Black Sheep Gathering with me even though she is not in any way interested in the fiber world. All day long she kept walking up to shawls that were on display in several booths. Umm?? Then I noticed that she was repeatedly drawn to natural white, cream, grey and black yarns. When we were walking around the sheep pens, a shawl knit in graduated colors from cream to black was casually thrown over a fence. Lora was that close to stealing it!! Guess what I am planning to knit for Lora? She never asked for a shawl but I know she will love to have one.

(KC) Lora is a VERY lucky friend indeed! I can’t wait to hear what shawl you have decided to knit for her. Your Pi Shawl for the EZ group from Yahoo was so beautiful!

(KC) How will you be celebrating the holidays this year?

(KP) Bob and I are an example of religious compromise. Bob is Jewish and I was raised in the Christian traditions. Before we even got to our first Christmas together, we realized we needed to find a way to manage the holidays. Bob isn’t religious enough to attend a temple or celebrate Hanukkah but he certainly wasn’t comfortable with the Christian paraphernalia. For my part, I discovered it wasn’t fun to decorate a home essentially on my own since Bob didn’t have much to contribute. Our solution? We have gone away every year and it has worked well for us. No matter where we are, there are Christmas decorations for me to enjoy.

(KC) That is great! I love the idea of compromise; after all, it is all about the love!

(KP) As the years have gone by, we have realized that it is essential for Bob and I to take time together that does not involve the company. We need to time to be husband and wife rather than business partners. So, these Christmas breaks have become treasures.

(KP) Surprisingly enough, I always find new knitting friends when we are on holiday. Two years ago, Bob and I followed our usual vacation routine. He headed off to the golf course and I headed down to the pool. After I had arranged myself in a shady spot, I pulled out my knitting. Over the next couple of hours, I was joined by several other knitters!! After that, we got together every day to knit by the pool and had a lovely time!

(KC) I have spent a holiday or two lazing about the beach or a pool with knitting and friends, it is hard to have a more wonderful and relaxing time.

(KC) I’ve enjoyed sharing several recipes with my Blitters this holiday season and I have to ask you if you might have a favorite holiday recipe you would be willing to share?

(KP) I love the Baked French Toast recipe from Paula Deen, it is SO good, you have to make it!

Baked French Toast (Paula Deen)

1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)
8 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt
Praline Topping, recipe follows
Maple syrup

Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs). Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup.

Praline Topping:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Makes enough for Baked French Toast Casserole.

(KC) I have to tell you Kelley, I am going to make this on Christmas Day! My son will be in town for Christmas and my partner’s Mom is staying at the house for a couple of days so I know this will be very much enjoyed. No calories, right?

(KC) Well Kelly, I can’t wait to find out if you have any tips for maximizing knitting time during the holidays? Time is always hard to manage everything there is to do and knit as well, so what can you suggest?

(KP) When I think of the holidays, I think of lots of parties and dinners with friends. My recommendation would be to take advantage of those “down” times in order to get in a bit more knitting.

(KC) Are there any things you do to spoil yourself? Not only during the holidays--- just things that are a splurge!

(KP) I used to love getting a massage as a special treat. Then a friend talked me into trying reflexology. It was amazing! I felt more refreshed and relaxed from that technique than a full-body massage. There is a hidden appeal to reflexology. Getting a massage any time other than when you are on vacation is a problem because you inevitably look horrible because there is oil in your hair and your make-up is all wiped off. It also feels like your entire body has turned to jello. Since reflexology only involves your feet and lower legs, you can run off during lunch, have a lovely indulgence and be able to return to work energized and looking presentable.

(KC) I am ON this Kelley! I became a Reiki Master in 2006 and so I do believe not only in the pampering but the ‘good for you’ benefits of massage in general. I have heard of reflexology but never tried it. I can’t wait to find a practitioner and give it a try! Thanks!

(KC) Kelley I know that you are a knitter with several things going at any given time. Is there anything special on your needles that you’re knitting just for yourself?

(KP) It seems like every project from The Knitter’s Almanac that we are doing in the Elizabeth’s Year Yahoo group is turning out to be for me. I think I’m hesitant to subject someone else to each month’s experiment in knitting challenges. For December, I am working the Hurry-Up Sweater in a double strand of Cadena and Wool of the Andes. For January, I will be making the cardigan version of the Aran Sweater – again for myself.

(KC) Well you know it must be about time to ask my very favorite question! It’s been so much fun to hear what everyone has answered! If you put a very special friend into your mind, what would be the perfect gift you’d like to give this year?

(KP) One of my favorite gifts appeals to my love of old fashioned things, practicality, the unexpected and ability to be knit in a variety of ways. I like to knit hot-water bottle covers! If you have finished laughing, I will explain the appeal. Let’s start with the utility. I have three hot water bottles at home. The classic big one that I like to fill, cover in my cabled, angora knit and put at the foot of my bed to warm it up. Another is a small bottle that I take with me when I travel. It helps when I have an earache from the air pressure changes in the plane. I also put it in bed when I am missing my down comforter. The third is very special. I found it in a teahouse. It is actually heart shaped and has a white linen drawstring cover.

(KP) Hot water bottle covers are a bit like hand-knit socks. The recipient may look at you askance but once they try it, they will become converts.

(KP) You can find hot water bottles in the first aid section of just about any grocery or drug store. Particularly in the winter. I found my little one in an old fashioned drug store.

(KP) Once you have a water bottle, measure it and then you can start thinking about a cover. You can splurge on cashmere or angora which I can tell you is very nice. If it is for a man, you can use a simple wool and add a series of cables. Hot water bottles are really good for kids because you don’t have to worry about the dangers of a heating pad. In that case, try bright colors in a machine washable yarn.

(KP) Search the internet and you should be able to find several patterns to get you started. My revised cable pattern will be up on our site in December.

(KC) I had heard about your love for hot water bottles and hand knit covers on a podcast some time ago and I have to tell you I kind of forgot about it! Since you reminded me of this I have to say that I’d love to knit a cover for a hot water bottle! I think the idea is quite charming--- I have several people that I think would just love this gift!

(KC) Santa is a close personal friend of mine, what would you like him to bring you this year?

(KP) I would like Santa’s elves, in the guise of knitters, to each teach someone to knit. I know, your first thought is probably, “Oh, she just wants to rustle up new customers.” Well, I had been knitting for twenty years before we started Knit Picks.” Over those years I’ve leapt at every chance to recruit new knitters. I have great faith in the many benefits of knitting that we “old hands” understand completely.

(KP) Oddly enough, my inspiration for teaching knitting is the classic Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs And Ham. All of the protestations remind me of “I’m so clumsy”, “I don’t have time to learn to knit”, “I’m left-handed”, etc. Just like Sam-I-Am, I confidently ignore these concerns and then bask in the enthusiasm of a new knitter who proclaims, “It’s so good, so good, you see.”

(KC) I just love you Kelley! I had mentioned in a much earlier blog post here that I had flown on an airplane and just wanted to be left the heck alone!!! When that didn’t happen and the ladies around me who were coming home from a convention asked about my knitting I thought about you! I knew you would show them and teach them and just be a heck of a lot lovelier about the whole thing than I was! I hope that we all take a lesson from you and reach out, you know—each one teach one!

(KC) You have knitters from all over the world who consider themselves fans of yours and Knit Picks are there any holiday greetings you’d like me to pass along for you?

(KP) Every day I am humbled and delighted with the pleasure knitters receive from our products. When I was learning to spin and knit in college, I never imagined I would be able to share my love of the fiber world with people all around the world. I only hope we will continue to live up to your expectations and help you enjoy your craft.

(KC) Tell me what Kelley will be doing after the last of the holiday hubbub has died down? What will you be doing?

(KP) Sleeping! I’m horrible but I love napping, knitting and reading. Given a few days off at the New Year, I will definitely curl up in a comfortable chair, read a few sentences, or knit a few stitches and then fall into a revitalizing sleep.

(KC) Knit Picks is an enormous success and the buzz of the knit world for sure, you’d have to live on a knit-less desert island not to know about you! What has been your secret to success?

(KP) Even though I often make fun of the way Bob and I communicate and get things done, we both know the key to our success is the unique blend of Bob and I as a marital team.

(KP) At our cores, Bob is all business and I am all emotion. But, we have taught each other how to bring in a bit of the other’s strengths into our decision making processes. Bob has learned how to patiently work with craft people who explain and describe things in touchy/feely terms rather than mathematical formulas. I have learned to temper my emotions with logic.

(KP) Both of us struggle with keeping our egos out of the way. Bob has a tendency to decide he is right and plow ahead. When that happens I am in the questionable spousal position of being able to stand my ground and say, “No”. That could be intimidating for a regular employee. Particularly when Bob has the bit between his teeth.

(KP) I have learned that what I like may not be what our customers like. This is most apparent in yarn colors. I tend to wear very dramatic autumn colors knit in dramatic ways. But, Tina always has stats at hand that show me which colors sell well and they usually aren’t my favorites. Time for the ego to get out of the way. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other knitters out there who like “my” colors, it just means the entire color assortment can’t reflect my personal taste.

(KC) The new wooden Harmony needles look like the cats meow, have they lived up to your expectations?

(KP) Actually, they have exceeded my expectations. Those few days between the initial customer orders and when those customers actually received their needles were agonizing for me! I was so relieved to start reading positive comments on blogs and in a variety of internet knitting groups. We work hard to anticipate knitters’ needs so I am thrilled to see knitters are appreciating the unique attributes of the Harmony needles.

(KC) I know I can’t be the only one who wants to know…… you’re an eclectic knitter, what project really calls your name?

(KP) At some point in my life, I would like to settle down and make a study of knitting Fair Isle sweaters. I’ve made a couple with mixed results and now it seems that I don’t have time for such involved knitting. Maybe I should readjust my expectations and work on one a year? Yes, that sounds like a good idea. Thanks, Tina!

(KC) No problem Kelley! After all, you or your great company get me in trouble frequently! It’s nice to be able to share in the fun!

(KC) I understand that it would be impossible to choose a favorite yarn, a favorite vendor or a favorite designer! Can you narrow down a few things that you think are really extraordinary?????

(KP) The work that Meg Swansen, at Schoolhouse Press, has done converting classic videos in DVDs deserves a grateful standing ovation. Meg and her mother, Elizabeth Zimmermann, had developed a wonderful library of teaching videos that were indispensable learning tools for knitters of every skill level. They are now available in DVD format and Meg is beginning to make brand new programs starting with The Baby Surprise Sweater.

(KC) Can you share any insider secrets about upcoming things from Knit Picks??????

(KP) Last month I was able to get on Ravelry and was thrilled to see there was a Knit Picks Fans group. I immediately joined the group and started reading some of the notes. They were making some very good observations. I’m hoping to develop a dialog so that more knitters will understand the constraints we have and, on the other hand, I can learn new things I wouldn’t have considered before. It could be fun for everyone.

(KP) I also want to begin offering video in a variety of ways. We haven’t settled on a plan yet but I am committed to making it useful for knitters.

(KC) I can’t wait to hear what is decided! Whatever form your desire takes I know it will be useful and well received by knitters around the world.

(KP) I have been having so much fun with the Elizabeth’s Year Yahoo Group Knit-A-Long that I would like to start a few more. Maybe a sock of the month or lace shawls?

(KC) What is on the agenda for the Podcast? It is completely fabulous and I can’t think of any knitters who do not listen to it, thanks so much for the time and effort you put forth on our behalf!

(KP) I would like to incorporate more interviews. I know that I always learn something when I talk to other knitters.

(KP) I would also like to take the podcast on trips like visiting fiber festivals.

(KC) I know we will all be looking forward to every episode!

(KC) How does Xena fare during the holiday season? Any extra special goodies?

(KP) We have had Xena for four years and, for a variety of reasons, she had not been able to travel with us at Christmas. She certainly has traveled with us at other times and has proven to be quite a trooper. This year we made sure to stay where she will be welcome and I am so excited about having her with us. Whenever we have had her with us in the past, the staff of the hotel or inn falls in love with her and we have to protect her from receiving too many treats. She loves to meet new people so I know she will have a very merry Christmas.

(KC) Thank you so much Kelley! It was a great interview and I enjoyed every bit of it! Enjoy your time away with Bob and Xena and come back relaxed and refreshed!!!


I have been wrapping. And wrapping. It’s funny, I don’t wrap NEARLY as much as when my kids were younger and living at home. I can remember the days when I felt as if I wrapped for weeks and the gifts under the tree just about took over the room. Nothing really big usually, after all Santa brings THOSE things! I always made a few things handmade for the kids; I think that is the best way to make children who become adults truly appreciative of the work of our hearts and hands. This year I have a box going to my girls on the east coast, and a box heading to my Mom. Recent family portraits go to my brothers and their families, they’ll love them!

The hats that came out of this year’s hat-a-thon have all been blocked and are drying---- they look SO great! Especially the Knitty hat, “Swell”! It looked fabulous unblocked, but with a bit of wetting and blocking that is the absolute coolest hat ever! Two of the hats, the rolled brims, I decided to felt a bit, but just a bit. They were large enough for the boys that a bit of felting would be a nice touch. Because they weren’t huge--- I knew I needed total control (or as much as you can get) from the felting process, so I hand felted. As it is, I have one of those washing machines that doesn’t have an agitator. I find that while it does great laundry, it does stupid felting! So I filled my double sink on one side with cold water and poured boiling water and a bit of soap into the other side. Rubber gloves saved my hands from the super hot water and I felted away with agitation and some rubbing. A douse or two for shock value in the cold water and back into the hot for more felting. It didn’t really take that long and the results were just as I hoped for. Cute, cute hats!!! I’ll get them wrapped by Friday when they should be nice and dry.

It did occur to me late last night when I was surveying my hat-dom that I neglected to knit a hat for moi. A simple hat wearable when I’m out walking, or shoveling (which I hope not to do a great deal of!) I think I’d like to knit a creamy colored cabled hat of some sort. That of course will mean I absolutely have to go to purchase yarn soon! Tomorrow, I vote for tomorrow…………. Yes that is what I will do!

All in all, I’m delighted that the wrapping is done, the packing won’t take long, the longest time will more than likely be spent in line at the Post Office!

1 comment:

Jenni said...

Thanks for your interview! I love Kelly!