Wednesday, July 15, 2009

in the studio with Laura Nelkin

Laura wearing: Tower of Flames

I'm so happy to introduce you to one of my favorite women in the world. Don't you love meeting new friends? Well, go grab a cup (or a wineglass) of something good and settle in for a little chat with Laura Nelkin, an incredibly accomplished knitwear designer who lives down the road from me. Laura's distinct designs have earned her quite a following, and although she remains quiet and humble about her success... I'm her best friend so I get to toot her horn! Laura's incredible creativity, mixed with a keen sense of business, makes her my go-to person for all questions regarding my current projects. It doesn't hurt that she's a sweet, lovely and totally fun person to be with, too. So I'd love to let to share her with you!

-What led you to knitwear design and why is it the perfect medium for your creativity?
I’ve always been a crafter and entrepreneur. My Mom likes to talk about how she sold my woven ribbon barrettes with beads (like these) at her hair dressers when I was 8. After spending my teens, sewing crafting, and working with glass, I ended up going to Cornell University and gained an extensive background in Apparel Design and Textile Science. I hardly ever sew or weave anymore, but when I do, I realize how much knowledge I have stashed away in the recesses of my mind that isn’t being used (right now anyway, but I have plans!) I worked in the apparel industry for a bit and then had my own textile design company. Then my daughter was born, and I starting attending A LOT of play dates. Another mom taught me how to knit and I was hooked, I had found a way to be creative, AND be able to take my “work” with me wherever I went. Oh, and it turns out that designing knitwear is a ginourmous brain twister that exercises my math brain, and I LOVE MATH! Then I discovered that an awesome handpainted yarn company was 6 miles away from my house on country roads. I knocked on their door, and now I am their design director (it’s a dream job.) Knitting: it’s portable, it feels good , it can make your brain hurt (in a good way) and it’s social… perfect for me!-You are considered the lace bead guru/expert... what inspires you about this combination?
Hmm, I wouldn’t consider myself that AT ALL, I feel like such a newbie sometimes… I am constantly learning , and keep realizing just how much I don’t know yet. I am REALLY drawn to texture in my work, the addition of beads with yarn adds another dimension that allows me to stretch the boundaries of texture more than with just yarn. I do, though, try to make sure all of my designs work without beads, as I know bling isn’t for everybody.

Entemology: Laura's extremely popular new pattern. Free at Knitty.

-Do you have a favorite time of day to create?
That's a two-pronged answer. I typically come up with ideas while doing random nothings like taking a shower or washing the dishes, but my best design/work time is when I am ALONE, typically after 10 at night. (This can be really fun in the moment, but a super big bummer the next morning when we have to get up for work/school).

-What are the keys to keeping a balance between your work and family?
I am trying to learn how to “stop” and be aware of myself in each moment. For example, I recently moved my computer out of the kitchen and into a separate room so I have to intentionally walk there to go to work. I still automatically gravitate towards it, but I'm working on making sure I am making the decision to go to it, not just blindly seeking the glow of my screen. I'm also really aware this summer that I am being a “good mother” when I ditch work and go ride our bikes for ice cream, go to the lake on a whim, or catch a play. I am (we are) having a REALLY good time embracing the “good mother” in me!

-What is your favorite tool of your trade?
For work I am torn between my lightweight .25 cent garage sale metal swift, that I use often for winding yarn, and my computer. I have a healthy respect for my computer and in no way want to offend it by forgetting to mention it here!

Laura wearing the Jamie Lee

-Favorite season?
What I really love about seasons is the change, particularly the color. From winter to spring I have these favorite days where everything is this wet, rusty red-brown and you can just tell it wants to explode. All of a sudden, almost hour by hour, little bits of green emerge and in less than a week the grey and brown world we were living in is GREEN... it never ceases to amaze me. But to answer the question, winter. It just feels right to curl up and knit on the couch! Even though knitting is my work, I haven’t gotten over this guilty feeling when I sit down in the middle of the day to knit. In the winter I don’t feel the guilt as much as I do when it's a gorgeous spring day.

-Favorite food?
I love my carbs, but also REALLY love Greek yogurt with peaches or watermelon in it.

-Fave drink?
Coffee (decaf) and red wine, it’s a tie!

Fave article of clothing?
-My jeans… I wear jeans whenever I can!

-Summer reading?
*The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World's Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
(for Bookgroup)
*The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman (for Bookgroup)
*Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson
*The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows

I’ll admit that I already read the whole Twilight series this winter (fondly known at my house as vampire crack.)

-Summer listening?
Music- Jonatha Brooke – ready for our road trip to NYC next week to see her? (my 40th birthday present from Laura)
Grassroots is this weekend and I am really excited to see Oumou Sangare with Bela Fleck, and 39 other great bands!
I also decided to listen to the archives of This American Life while I work on a secret design for the Year of Lace Club.

-Two random things most people don't know about you?
1. When I was 18 I toured around the country to see A LOT of Grateful Dead shows (it’s still funny to me that I never met you or my husband, though you two were doing the same thing at the same time!) (yes, I was a dead head!)
2. If I am ever stumped about something I head straight for the shower, 90% of the time I am clear and ready with a solution when I emerge.

Sweet giraffe print by Creative Thursday

Thanks Laura, we're all so lucky to have you as a special guest today. If you've got something on your needles right now... in other words, you knit... head over to check out Nelkin Designs for a full selection of patterns, some new beading tutorials, and a regular dose of Laura at her blog.
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  1. missing you both. so enjoyed this interview. can't wait to meet you at danos. we have been trying to figure out how we can get down for the festival this weekend. have fun. i think we are going to have to plan it for next year. enjoy yourselves and enjoy your birthday. so far 40 is fabulous. hope that you have the same experience.

  2. Nice interview, Maya. Happy Birthday!

  3. I really like the Shabby Chic scarf you posted! Did you make that by hand?

  4. Wonderful interview of a truly amazing fiber artist. It was so nice to have that chance to walk with Laura, her pup and the adorable knitted animal in her knap sac. I hope we can do that again sometime soon.

  5. Online delivery of flowers, gifts, chocolates, cakes, rakhi, watches, teddy, sweets, and fresh fruits, dry fruits to Bangalore on the same day.

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  6. Love knowing even more about Laura. What a beautiful person. And, a beautiful friendship.

  7. ok, once again, LOVE this lady who is still in the top 10 of my 800 New BFF's :)

  8. oooh & I meant to say thank you for the linkie love for the sweet giraffe :) He looks so happy and at home there!

  9. i have never known anyone else to love jonatha brooke!! i saw her years ago in cincinnati and haven't seen her since - she's fabulous! i came across her music (with The Story) the year i graduated high school!