Thursday, December 4, 2008

Knitting Contrissttmas Day Four: Cat Bordhi

**I know you will be as thrilled as I am to 'spend some time' with the one and only Cat Bordhi. The interview is completely wonderful------- right down to the very last word! If you are not already a 1000% Cat Fan, you surely will be! Enjoy!

Cat, thanks for taking the time to be part of Knitting Contrisstmas--- we all really appreciate it! Your generosity and love of teaching in general and knitters in particular really shines! It goes without saying that you are one of the true ‘rock stars’ of knitting, and that the mark you have made has been one not only of brilliance and genius but one that will last for generations of knitters.
KC: You are a knitting designer, a Nautilus award winning novelist and a teacher. Which one of those hats do you enjoy the most?

CAT: I love them all. The creative process involved in each of these activities feels the same. They all require an alert presence and a willingness to faithfully follow what feels most true. And so they all unfurl in the same mysterious way.

KC: You’re perhaps best known as an incredibly inventive knitter, one that sees around corners that have been unseen before. How is it that you are so wise? Certainly it is more than curiosity!

CAT: I actually kept a note on my bathroom mirror for a few years, saying that I could see around corners, hoping it would come true! My brain balks when I am given directions like “Go to the next corner and turn left, then take a right at the next light, etc.” It’s as if my brain will not go around the corner and reorient itself in order to be able to take the second direction. I have to turn my whole body to take the second direction. So I guess in a way the answer to your question is that I am a very kinesthetic designer – I move towards things with my whole body. I close in on a design by using my body as a kind of “am I getting warmer?” radar device. I suspect this is a very common kind of thing, but perhaps not everyone realizes they use their body this way. And I am exceedingly curious about just about everything. I love to know how things work, what their underpinnings are, and then I like to see what happens if you unpin an underpinning. Whatever wisdom I have arises from my love and trust for being in that magic state of not knowing, of simply being awake to what is alive here and now.

KC: Socks Soar on Circular Needles was groundbreaking----- and is still making ripples, especially with its follow up, New Pathways for Sock Knitters, Book One. Is there much more to come? Somehow I can’t imagine that you will ever be done with your discoveries!

CAT: Unfortunately for me as a knitter, there is much more to come. I say unfortunately because I long to be a knitter someday – just a knitter! You know, someone who knits whatever they want whenever they want, without recording everything and writing books about it all. Every once in a while I play hooky and knit something just for me, with no regard for teaching or publishing. At the moment I am finishing up a February Lady Sweater in Brooks Farms’ Duet yarn – and it is beautiful! Once I finish the sweater, I am going back to my work, which includes a sock for Knit.1 magazine, several contributions to other designers’ books, preparing handouts for my new classes, and working on my next book, New Pathways For Sock Knitters, Book Two – Houdini Socks. I introduced the Houdini sock idea in the first issue of, but the book will contain a vastly expanded collection of possibilities, and I am very excited about it.
KC: In the premiere issue of the Twist Collective, you contributed “Houdini Socks”, really fun and crazy inventive socks that were patterned free. Thanks from everyone who has enjoyed the pattern Cat! I loved that your byline read “the hungry knitter”. Will you always be hungry? And of course always sharing? The Houdini socks are absolutely cool--- do you get a lot of great feedback about them?

CAT: Yes, I am always hungry to investigate anything that catches my interest. I’ve had wonderful feedback about the Houdini socks, especially when I shared the expanded material that will be in the book, during several 4-day workshops I held on San Juan Island, in Washington, where I live. Using my wonderful students as guinea pigs, we worked out formulas for fitting so many different kinds of feet –skinny feet, feet with steep insteps, wide feet with plump ankles – the variety of feet in my workshops was inspiring and we were able to fit them all. Many of the knitters had never been able to knit socks for themselves before without major fitting problems, and we were able to fit them all.

KC: Your socks are being knit by the dozens daily across the world. Do you do blog searches or check Ravelry queues to see who is knitting designs of yours?

CAT: With only 24 hours in the day, I always try to make healthy choices as to how I spend my time. I go on Ravelry when I want to research something specific, but virtually never just surf. In my Ravelry bio, I explain that knitters who want to ask me questions should email me directly (, since I am unable to keep up with Ravelry messages. I think Ravelry is an amazing resource, but for my own well-being I reserve my time for knitting, designing, exercise, babysitting my little grandson when I am home, teaching, etc.

KC: What has been your “most knitted” design?

CAT: Hmmm – I’m not sure! Possibly the Simple Sock from Socks Soar, or my Coriolis Sock from New Pathways, or the Riverbed architecture from New Pathways, or it might be my Moebius Cashmere Cowl pattern which is a free download on my website. Or possibly the Moebius Basket from A Second Treasury of Magical Knitting. And a huge number of people have knit my Moebius cat beds (A Second Treasury of Magical Knitting). I recently made a Youtube tutorial on the Moebius which can be found at -- it’s complete enough that a viewer can knit a Moebius without needing to buy one of my books. By the way, you’ll find more than a dozen other Youtube tutorials that support my other books, and I encourage knitters to try watchign a few if they can’t sleep at night! Just type “Bordhi” in the search box.

KC: How do you find time to knit? You are quite prolific! Do you have any time saving/knit time making tips and tricks for us? You can do amazing things with everything else, I will assume you might have this answer as well!

CAT: One of my secrets is that I have no TV. I grew up without one and never developed a patience or fondness for it. This gives me much more time to concentrate on creative work. I also do lots of stretches to keep my knitting muscles happy. I recently learned to knit Portuguese style from Andrea Wong’s DVD in my quest to learn a variety of ways to manage yarn and needles so I can distribute the stress over more muscles and protect myself. Plus – it is fun to learn new techniques. I’d recommend that everyone who knits obsessively learn to knit with both hands, as well as to learn a few other methods that use different muscles – just look for other knitters who knit differently than you do, choose a method, and learn it.

KC: Tell me a little about your knit designs.

CAT: I seem to have produced mainly socks and Moebius-based garments and felted objects. I’m very much a knit-in-the-round designer – Barbara Walker was a huge influence on me in my 20’s, with her book, Knitting From The Top, which is one of the most useful and ground-breaking and intelligent and clear knitting books ever published. If I were to start a knitting university, this book would be required reading the first quarter, and I would have the students explore every single one of Barbara’s methods. Anyone who wants to become a designer ought to have the book. I could go on and on!

In the future I am likely to veer off into another focus which I am afraid I cannot guess at. I am particularly smitten with anything 3-D – how to knit shapes, how to arrange textures and shapes so they can be pulled onto oddly shaped body parts – like the foot. I may come up with new ways to knit hand coverings – or improve sleeve elbows – who knows? I also love convertible things and dream of a garment that releases parts and reabsorbs them for different looks and temperatures. Who knows?

KC: Because you are a crazy knitter as well…………what is your favorite thing to knit?

CAT: Anything that mystifies me. If I understand something perfectly it usually ceases to engage me, although I may still love it. Possibly the Moebius is my favorite form to knit because it can morph into infinite shapes and no matter how well I grow to understand its behavior, it is always at least one long step ahead of me, galloping forward, grinning at me and luring me to chase it. It is like having a best friend who is always brighter than you are in the most delicious and delightful way. I am sure I will continue to knit Moebii for the rest of my life, and it is even possible that I will produce a third book of designs someday.

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

CAT: Since the only stitch anyone will ever knit is the one they are knitting in any present moment, speed cannot matter very much, unless you build up a story about how you need to escape the present moment (which, alas, is the way humans act). I think a more vital question is, are we really present with our knitting? Do we feel the yarn sliding over our skin and enjoy the dancing flow of yarn looping its way along? Can we knit really slowly to enjoy this even more?

And now to be honest – I love to knit as fast as I can! It just feels good. But to knit in slow motion is exquisite.

KC: Are you a process or a product knitter?

CAT: Process – I love process, flow, and suddenly realizing what I want to do next. I mostly design on the needles. It’s like walking a route that you usually drive – you suddenly see so much more. For me to design without being there moment-by-moment is like driving a car with instead of walking.

KC: You are a knit designer of much acclaim, do other designers inspire you? If so, who rings your bells?

CAT: Lucy Neatby is one of my heroes for her encyclopedic technical knowledge, wit, and marvelous designs Her DVD’s are worth their weight in gold. Annie Modesitt is brilliant and prolific and a great teacher, and if I were in charge of seeking out sources of alternative energy I would ask Annie what she runs on. Lily Chin is one of modern knitting’s most innovative and clever technicians and I wish she would collect every innovative technique she has come up with in her long and illustrious career and put them in one book for everyone to have. Lynn Barr, author of Knitting New Scarves, has a wonderfully fresh approach to manipulating knit stitches. Marianne Isager, from Denmark, is an exquisite designer whose attention to detail and balancing elements in individual garments is incomparable, and I hope all her books will be translated into English someday. Sivia Harding has a gift for designing patterns that awaken a knitter’s sense of rhythms and symmetries so that they can relax into the actual knitting.

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

CAT: I’d like to imagine I am from Mars and have never seen a human being before. Or a knitting magazine. Then I’ll be able to examine the strange squiggly shape that is a human being and contemplate new approaches for knitting coverings for this creature. I figure that when I have completed the rest of my novel trilogy, and all the knitting books I have planned, I may do something like this.

KC: You participate in quite a few seminars, classes and the like; what have you found to be the most fun to date?

CAT: I LOVE teaching. Recently I was asked how many students I have in a year, and I guessed 400, but then I counted and found it is at least 1200 per year! Nevertheless I feel as if I have an intimate relationship with each student. I love the simplicity and ease of being with each knitter I meet, sharing the wonder of this thing we all love so much. And I love capturing my students’ attention and leading them into new realizations about the behavior of stitches and how to get them to do exactly what they want. And I love to trick my students into realizing how smart they are, which means, of course, that they are also going to be more independent than they thought they could be. Ideally, I like to have a group of students for 3-4 days. When we have that much time together, we can go so deep, moving in any direction the group wants to go.

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

CAT: I walk most mornings. I am fortunate to live in a natural paradise – a thickly forested island in the Pacific Northwest with lots of wildlife, lakes, intelligent and kind people, organic farms, and interesting weather. My morning routine is to review something I’m in the process of working on, then head out for my walk. By the time I return, something will have popped into my mind to offer me a possible strategy, or the answer to an earlier question will come, or an insight into something I didn’t even know I needed to know will come. This doesn’t happen on an exercise bike for some reason.

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

CAT: I simplify holidays as much as possible. I dream of holidays consisting purely of time for being with family and friends rather than devoting so much time and money to gift-giving, tree-cutting, etc. I do love all the food though. I’d also like to try a year without daylight savings time.

KC: What is coming up for Cat Bordhi? You know we all want to know!!

CAT: I don’t know myself. But I am hoping for the following: Complete the next two books in the Pathways series (Houdini Socks and then Knitting Around the Foot: Ancient Pathways); finish my Treasure Forest trilogy, take a year off to just be a knitter, and regardless of what else I do, continue to teach and give talks, because I love it so much.

And now to ask myself one last question, so I can answer it:

What one piece of advice would you give to knitters?

Look at your knitting. Slow down and stare at it. Before making that k2tog, look at the stitches you‘re about to combine. Now slide your needle in and look at how they slant, at the direction you’ve inserted it, and how you wrap the needle. Watch those 2 combined stitches tip to the right as they slide off the needle and examine the way the new single stitch looks on the right needle – and how those two combined stitches hang below it. And by the way, ideally you will look at both sides for each step – because it looks different over there. Memorize everything you see. Why go to all this trouble? Because if you really watch and see and tell yourself what you see, in your own language, you will begin to really understand what knitting is all about, and will become a better and more capable knitter.

I’m working with Lorna’s Laces right now to produce a yarn ideal for investigating what knit and purl stitches are doing. For years I have watched my students struggle to learn new techniques because the yarn they have does not cooperate. Too thin, too limp, splits too easily, too dark to distinguish stitches . . . it is painful to watch! I always do my demonstrations with yarn that behaves really well, and my students always wish they had some too, and I wish they did too! The yarn that Lorna’s Laces and I are designing is a full-bodied single ply with color changes of a length that makes it likely you can identify the behavior of each stitch and its neighbors. The colors will be clear enough to see in less than ideal light, and one skein can be used for years of learning. We haven’t named it yet so I can’t tell you what to ask for, but we hope to have it out by late winter. My hope is that every knitter will keep a ball of this helpful yarn handy for trying a new buttonhole, learning how to conceal wraps in short rows, comparing various decrease methods, etc. I believe it will help create more accomplished, more confident knitters.

KC: Thanks Cat----- it was GREAT! Happy Holidays!


Melissa Morgan-Oakes said...

Someday, when I grow up, I want to be just like Cat Bordhi. Only with chickens.

Anonymous said...

What an outstanding interview! Thank you for sharing it with us.