Saturday, December 20, 2008

Knitting Contrisstmas Day 20: Melissa Morgan-Oakes

Melissa, (I think you are a one namer like Cher or Britney!!!!), full name of course Melissa Morgan-Oakes. Thanks for taking the time to be part of Knitting Contrisstmas--- we all really appreciate it! It’s no secret that I just love you!!!! And as the author of “Two at a Time Socks” I’m not the only one, your fans are many! I love the publicity blurb for Two at a Time, although it doesn't hold a candle to the legions of happy fans! "Never Again Experience Second-Sock Syndrome! Here’s the Secret to Knitting 2 at Once!" What a heady thought, and salvation for so many who are stuck in that rut!

MMO: Thanks for having me! I love you too! It's been really overwhelming, the love and support for the book. It struck a nerve with a lot of sock knitters, and I am glad I could bring the technique to them. No more second sock syndrome!!

KC: Is life crazy right now for you? I understand that you are writing a new book!

MMO: Life is a bit hectic right now. My baby went off to 'away' college halfway across the country, and my mother developed some health problems all within the same few weeks. Then writing the second book on top of that, and the rest of life like cooking and cleaning and feeding the's been a very busy year! Things are settling down nicely now as we get into the holiday season, which is wonderful.

KC: How did you come up with the concept of Two at a Time Socks, done YOUR way?

MMO: The truth? I am cheap. And I hate wasted anything: time, money, yarn, you name it. My friend Kristen insisted I could knit socks faster if only I would embrace circular knitting technique. It made sense to me, as it eliminated wasted movement; fewer needles mean fewer motions. But I wasn't convinced that I needed a book to learn, and I was too cheap to buy more than one set of needles. I am a self-taught knitter; so making things work in my knitting comes naturally to me. I bought one 40" long circular needle and headed off for a shopping trip with my husband. As we drove along and the single sock I'd cast on grew, it occurred to me that there was a whole lot of extra cable on my 40" circulars, and why couldn't I just add a second sock? I did, and after a few odd false starts involving some double points and stitch holders and a tiny bit of cursing, I eventually streamlined the concept into the technique you see in 2-at-a-Time Socks. I found, once I'd worked out the kinks, that it cut down my knitting time significantly and allowed me to make modifications or design on the needles without having to remember changes for the second sock. I still knit socks for the family out of my head; no reading or writing, just cast on, knit them up (or down!), finish them off and throw them at whichever family member they're intended for. Two at a time makes it much easier for me to do that. I was knitting socks like that for a while before someone finally got through to me with the whole "You should really write a book about that..." thing. I was a bit dense about that. If it hadn't been for Stephanie DiSantis, who was working at Storey at the time and taking a class with me, I never would have written that book! She really encouraged me to submit the proposal, and with Kathy Elkins (of Webs) behind me, I finally got up the nerve to do it. I can't ever really be grateful enough for them, or the folks at Storey for taking a chance on an unknown author.

KC: Tell me a little about your Sock Viewpoint---- your sockpoint as it were??

MMO: I like to keep a broad Sock Worldview. At this point, most of the knitters I come in contact with either are knitting socks, or want to learn. I don't care how you do it, what yarn you use, or whose pattern or technique you adopt as most comfortable for you. Better yet - take what we've all done and run with it; design your own, create your own technique. There's no right or wrong in knitting. If it looks right and feels right, then it is right. Just knit, and keep on knitting. If you try circulars and it doesn't feel right, grab DPN. If you've tried DPN and found it frustrating, try circulars. One at a time, two at a time, toe up, top down, side to side; just keep on knitting socks. They're portable, practical, and an excellent gift idea. People might demure when they see the sweater with the intarsia ocean scene that you slaved over for their birthday, but they'll wear and treasure the socks!

KC: I know you are a crazy knitter as well…………what is your favorite thing to knit? I happen to know that you do have things other than socks on your needles!!

MMO: My favorite things to knit are knitted things! Within three feet I can see two sweaters, a scarf, a baby set, a shell, a shawl, and another sweater. Oh, and a vest and a dog sweater. All are on the needles, all in various stages of development. Some are published patterns although most are my own designs. Most of them are gifts. I love to knit Elizabeth Zimmermann in my spare time. My personal taste tends toward simple; Bog Jacket sort of things I can wear while I am choring.

KC: It has become well known that I am the only "throwing"l knitter left on the planet these days. Does speed matter?

MMO: Sometimes in classes I'll get students of varying skill levels and with diverse knitting styles. Invariably the newer knitters are slower than those with more experience. The slower knitters can often feel very self-conscious and I really work to diffuse that. Life isn't a speed knitting competition, nor should it be. We all have different paths to the same goal. One knitter's speed may cost her a slower knitter's attention to detail. For the average knitter, the process should be primarily relaxing with a good dose of added self-confidence thrown in from achieving reasonable and appropriate knitting goals. I think it is human nature to compare ourselves to one another; "...she's got nice hair", "...she's got cute new boots", "...I wish I could wear that" and so on. We compare and often consider ourselves lacking, and we just should not do that. It's counter productive to us as knitters and as people. Worrying about the size of your needles or the speed of your knitting is, in itself, wasteful! That said speed is important to me personally because I have deadlines that need to be met. But that desire for speed is not dictated by any other knitter's skills or speed. It's about me needing speed to gain time for more knitting, or writing! If you want to knit fast, then work to knit fast as long as it's about YOU; not keeping up with the knitter next to you!

KC: Are you a process or a product knitter?

MMO: I am primarily a process knitter. Do it, finish it, and move on to something new. I rarely knit anything twice. I will knit duplicates if I am testing a technique, or if something particularly strikes me, like E.Z.'s Baby Surprise Jacket, or if I wear something out. I give a lot of knitting away as a result. Knit it, smile at it, and hand it off. I've become a little more of a product knitter since I started designing because it feels like I give most everything away. Lately I've been more inclined to want to keep and wear the product!

KC: What knitwear designers most inspire you?

MMO: Hands down, Elizabeth Zimmermann first comes to mind. If I could crawl into one knitting brain, that would be it. Next up is Cat Bordhi. There's another brain I'd like to take a poke around in. She's just a genius and I adore her. In both instances they look like they're thinking outside the box, when in reality they just allow themselves a bigger one than the rest of us! I love what Norah Gaughan does - I think she's really the first designer in my experience to consistently put out designs that look good on all sorts of body types, and that's rare. I also love Adrian Bizilia's (Hello Yarn) mittens, and I have a huge weakness for Dale of Norway baby patterns. Omie (grandma) Eye Candy!

KC: Is there anything in the world of knitting that you have not done and wish to tackle?

MMO: Wow. Hmm. Well, I came into knitting sort of backwards. I learned to knit and very soon after was knitting samples for Webs. That led to designing and teaching for them, which left me not a lot of time to knit just for me. But that led to the books, which is awesome, and more design work for yarn companies and myself. If there were anything I wanted to tackle, it would be the backlog of projects I've promised myself that are just for me or my husband. They range from simple to quite technical. I've begun to refer to my stash as "retirement yarn", as I seem to go from design to design lately! I'm torn between a desire to be as productive as possible on the designing and writing end, and making some selfish "me" knitting time. In terms of technique, there's very little that I haven't tried. So really, it would be about just making time for more "me" knitting; putting into practice all the techniques I've gathered over the last few years I think!

KC: Are you a part of the Ravelry world, and if so, what is your Ravelry name?

MMO: Of course! Isn't everyone? Even my kid is on Ravelry now! My user name is melissaknits, and I co-moderate the 2-at-a-Time Socks group there. I've also got some patterns available for sale on Ravelry. I love that Jess and Casey added that feature! It's a great way for me to get my work out into the community. It's also been exceptionally rewarding to have the knitters on the 2-at-a-Time Socks board right there. Although I receive and respond to a lot of email, Ravelry creates a sense of community support among fiber folk. My hat is forever off to the coding genius that is Casey. When I told my husband I wanted a place online where I could talk with my knitting friends, he just grunted and went out to split more wood! I also really love Knitter's Review, which gives knitters a way to stay in touch with everything new and delightful, and chat about it among themselves. Clara's reviews are very well written and she's a virtual encyclopedia of fiber knowledge. It's really easy to feel isolated with your craft. Is a yarn worth the investment? Clara probably reviewed it, and can tell you. Does that pattern knit up as well I hope? Ask the 120 people at Ravelry who've knitted it up already. These online communities give us a place to get good information to make informed decisions as knitters.

KC: What else do you do to feed your inner creative muse?

MMO: The act of living feeds me. I find inspiration in many things. Sometimes it can be simple like a Chinese restaurant placemat, or complex like a feeling or an experience I want to translate into knitting. Sometimes it's the yarn. Or sometimes the yarn stimulates a memory or a feeling and out a design idea will come. Other times it may be a person, or a place. Sometimes it's very simple - I see a sweater I like in the mall and I quickly make a sketch and later recreate that concept with my own yarn and needles. For the most part I take time to keep my creative center open and let it absorb any and everything from the environment. It can be good or bad, happy or sad. It all goes in, and "stuff" comes out. And when "stuff" is banging on the creative center doorway, I don't tell it to go away, regardless of where I am or what I am doing. I grab a pen and paper (or crayon and newsprint if that's all there is!) and let it out.

KC: What do you do during the holidays? Anything special?

MMO: We are pretty low-key holiday people. My mother-in-law always has a Christmas Eve gathering at her house, and then our kids and grandkids come here for presents in the evening if they are around. With blended families involved, it can get tricky, so we try to be the low-maintenance parents. I remember trying to make everyone happy at the holidays when I was young, and I promised my kids and step kids that we would not do that to them. I've tried in the last few years to weasel out of The Tree in my own home, but my daughter will set me straight on that if she can! My husband and I often travel during the first week or two of December, which means I try to have the holiday gift shopping out of the way well in advance of that. Do I knit for family? Everyone asks this. Not as a rule. Once in a while if I see something that I think really would suit a particular person I will. I bake for my mother-in-law; cookies and pies generally, and make foods for my father that he can't have during the rest of the year, but allows himself at Christmas. I've got strong feelings about the holidays and consumerism. I love the idea of a "Little House in the Big Woods" Christmas, where everyone is happy with a tin cup, a stick of peppermint, and a pair of red mittens! My husband and I usually do not give gifts to each other. It's not our birthday, after all!

KC: My woes with knitting Two at a Time are legendary. Everyone knows that I put the fuddy in duddy and love my dpn’s. I have completed my Twos and LOVE them…….. but to be honest I am near scared to death to take on more socks! What is your advice for people like me? Are we doomed forever, or maybe just sockaphobic?

MMO: No one is doomed forever! I think that a lot of knitters out there get upset with themselves for not being perfect the first time around. The frustration becomes overwhelming, and you convince yourself that you just can't possibly get it. Usually there's words in there, like "stupid" and "simple" directed either at yourself or at the author you're convinced it trying to torment you. That'd be me, and I really do stay up nights dreaming of new torment for knitters, I swear I do! The truth is all of knitting is, like life, a learning experience. New skills are just that - NEW! If you want the skill you've got to climb the mountain. For some of us it's a quick jog and for others it's a good hike. Think of it this way - most anyone can ride a bike, right? But how many Lance Armstrong's do you see? One! The rest of us pedal along at our own speed. So get yourself surrounded by knitting angels in the form of your local knit night or guild meeting and get some support. And if that fails I'll come by and we'll have latte, and I'll sort you right out!

KC: Awesome-------- what a fabulous interview, thank you so much! As for the latte, you can count on it! Have a wonderful, warm, happy holiday season full of blessings and bliss!


Anonymous said...

Great interview. Thanks. MMO: Appreciated all the variety of comments. KC: You are *not* the only "throwing" knitter left on the planet. I only knit continental (with one of my hands) for colorwork. The rest is throwing, because it's easier on my hands.

Virtuous said...

Gurl you KNOW I love me some Melissa too!! Fabulous interview!!

And absolutely loved when she said this too:
"There's no right or wrong in knitting. If it looks right and feels right, then it is right. Just knit, and keep on knitting."

Your question on fast/throwing knitting has been interested to read everyone's response and empowering in whatever style you knit!! :o)

Carrie said...

Yea!! Melissa! I'm a new knitter, and LOVING 2@aT! I hadn't found Knitting Contessa yet, but because of MMO's group on Ravelry, I came to check out her interview. All the interviews are great, and now Knitting Contessa is in my google reader!!

ME215 said...

Great interview!! I never knit a pair of socks till I found Melissa's book. Since May, I've been unstoppable....20 pair completed with 5 more on the needles.

Oh and I'm another thrower. You're not alone.... :)