As a member of the SF Etsy Team, I love getting to know other crafters, entrepreneurs, and generally savvy creative types. This week I’m very lucky to be exchanging interviews with Denise Twum of NiseyKnits. She hand knits cozy cowls and gorgeous lace and clearly loves doing it. I hope you enjoy this peek into her creative life~
- How did you learn to knit lace?
I stumbled into lace knitting. I learned how to knit in 2006 and thought I could knit anything I put my mind too. At first I thought knitting wasn’t as much fun as crocheting because you couldn’t make light, lacy things with knitting. Then I saw The Juno Regina wrap pattern (http://knitty.com/ISSUEfall07/PATTjunoregina.html) by Miriam Felton on Knitty and I was hooked! I thought I should knit it at all cost, so I started looking for lace yarn. I bought a lot of lace yarn from KnitPicks and thought I was ready to start. Then the yarn arrived in hanks! I was stumped as to what to do with them. Needless to say, I messed up quite a few of the yarn hanks before I figured out that I needed a ball winder and a yarn swift. Anyway, that put a stop to my lace knitting plan for a few years, until I discovered the Wisp pattern by Cheryl Niamath. I first tried it out in worsted weight yarn, then I took the plunge and tried it out in lace yarn. I was hooked! I’m sad to say that I still haven’t knit the Juno Regina pattern, but I have bought some beautiful yarn from Sundara Yarn, and I hope to get to it one day soon. Oh I almost forgot – The Seascape Wrap by Kieran Foley! I think that was my first love! I started it twice and never managed to get past the edging because I wasn’t paying close attention to the chart. Thank you for letting me go down memory lane with this! I just might have to go back and knit it, now that I have more experience with lace knitting.
- I always love chunky cowls, can you tell me more about fun ways you like to wear them?
I love chunky cowls because the circular style allows you to wrap it so it’s out of the way. I love wearing the chunky cowls with jeans, a top, some large hoop earrings and boots. Add some bangles/bracelets and your favorite oversize tote, and you are set for the day. If the cowl is brightly colored, even better! It becomes the main color point of the outfit, and brightens up what would otherwise be a dull winter wardrobe.
- Was/is it a challenge to design in knits and still be affordable, did you try other designs before creating what you are selling now? -
I actually didn’t start designing to sell. I bought the Harmony Guides:Lace & Eyelets stitch dictionary to learn more about lace stitches, and incorporated one of the stitch patterns into the Purple Wisp that I knit as one of my first lace shawls. I was so proud of myself that I thought I would try something new. So I “designed” my Dreams of Spring I lace scarf (I use designed loosely because I just combined stitch patterns from the stitch dictionary). Then I thought I would knit a shawl for a friend, so I found another stitch pattern, combined it with stockinette stitch (knit on the front/right side of the item, purl on the back/wrong side), and got the Fall Breeze shawl. Almost all my designs came about because I couldn’t find what I wanted when I needed to knit a gift. I decided on what to sell because people saw some of my designs and wanted me to make the same ones for them. I started out knitting for friends and family (for free), some friends referred me to their friends who placed custom orders. From there, I started figuring out what people liked and started my business from there. Honestly, I initially priced my items way too low because I wanted it to be affordable. The designing part wasn’t challenging per se, as I started designing for knitting magazines (that pays a lot more per design). The hard part was figuring out what people would like, even if it was a little pricey. I thought just listing my item on Etsy would get exposure but that wasn’t the case. And my initial designs didn’t sell at all (the Fall Breeze shawl and the Dreams of Spring scarf). I had to start looking at fashion trends, trends in the knitting sphere, and look at what accessories people were getting excited about. Nowadays I study color trends (like the Pantone Colors of the Year) and look at the what other knitwear designers and even fashion houses are bringing out. It’s a never-ending cycle of learning, making, testing out patterns in the shop, then learning some more.
- Is there anything about your works that is hard to understand or see online but customers love in person?
I think people who see my items in person are astounded by how soft they are. I really do my best to pick yarn and stitch patterns that will not only keep you warm, but which are soft to wear around your head, neck and arms. I think there’s little point in knitting something beautiful for the neck, only to have it be scratchy and itchy all the time.
- What will be your favorite outfit this summer when the fog rolls in?
I’m looking forward to all the light, flowy maxi dresses that come out during the summer. They often have such fun, vivid colors on them, and I’m all about the color. I would pair them with some sandals, large hoops (my favorite type of earrings), chunky bangles, and a cotton/bamboo blend lace scarf (which can double as a shawl in case it gets cold) around my neck.
- Have you ever attended Stitches West or Vogue Knitting Live or other fiber conferences?
I’ve attended Stitches West twice. The first time I shopped at the market (you should check out Zen Yarn Garden yarns. They are drool-worthy and oh-so-soft to the touch!) and also took a short row shaping class with Gwen Bortner. This year I browsed the market but I wasn’t able to make it back to shop or take any classes. I did discover two new yarn designers that I think I’m going to be patronizing - Sweet Fiber Yarns and Becoming Art yarns. I also attended the Interweave Knitting Lab in San Mateo in its inaugural year. That was fun. I took a knitwear design class and also had lunch with some lovely designers. It was fun.
- Do you like to watch movies or listen to audiobooks or music while knitting? Any recommendations?
Hehehhe…I used to watch a lot of Bollywood movies while knitting (with subtitles). Now I’m into Korean dramas (also with subtitles) and I can watch hours and hours of them without getting tired. I’ve stayed up till 4am watching some of the shows. LOL! My friends and family are placing bets on the next country I’ll move to when it comes to TV shows. As for my faves, from Bollywood I love Kal Ho Naa Ho, Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham (KKKG), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), Hum Tum, Om Shanti Om, Devdas, Dhoom 2 (I’ll confess that I own almost 100 Bollywood movies so picking faves is hard). For the kdramas, eek, so many wonderful ones – Coffee Prince, The Moon Embracing the Sun, A Gentleman’s Dignity, Secret Garden, Queen In Hyun’s man, City Hunter, Boys Over Flowers, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Answer Me 1997. There are SO MANY of them out there. I’m going on my 75th Korean drama show. It’s so bad that I’ve even gotten the hubby to watch some of them with me. SMH.
- Do you have any crafty family members? (people you learned from, other small biz owners?)
None, actually. I learned how to knit from my supervisor at my college library. She used to knit and taught me a few weeks before I graduated as my graduation present. I do have a few friends from church who also knit and crochet, and we swap yarns and patterns occasionally.
- What’s your favorite fiber to knit? -
Hands down, merino wool. And some merino-silk blends. They are so soft and so smooth that I don’t want to finish my project. But I do so I can play with more yarn.
- Do you have any favorites shops among our SFEtsy team members? -
I love Jerome Sevilla’s (gridjunky) hats. Oh gosh they are just beautiful! As I knit with chunky and superchunky yarns, I’m always in awe of knitters who use much thinner yarns. The texture and level of detail in Jerome’s hats are just stunning! I also adore Vichelle Mixon’s (Ichi.v) bags. The fabric, the cuts of the bags are so beautiful. I have so many more! Astrid R.’s (AnAstridEndeavor) jewelry, Andrea Fuentes’ (AndreaFuentesDesigns) jewelry, Candy Deco’s GuiltyFreeCandy(perfect for my diet plan), Michelle Luo’s Pearl Reef Designs (how does she make those earrings? They are so intricate and beautiful!), and the crochet jewelry by Nadene ( I want that bracelet Even!!). Oh, and Katy’s cards. How cute are those!!
Thanks so much Denise!