Designer Hunter Hammersen has been one of our favorite ones to watch since she published her first pattern in Knitcircus way back when. Now she’s ready to release the third volume in her extremely popular Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet series. Just before the National Needle Arts convention, we caught up with Hunter to find out what makes this curious and talented knitter tick.
Wow, Volume #3 of the Knitters’ Curiosity Cabinet comes out soon! Please tell our readers when they can expect to see it, and can you give us some hints about what they’ll find in there?
I kind of can’t believe it myself! I swear it feels like I was daydreaming about the idea for these books just last week, and here we are with number three about to come out. Volume III should be making its debut in June. It is similar to the first two in that I used vintage natural history prints to inspire socks and accessories. But this time instead of working with images of plants (Volume I) or butterflies (Volume II), I turned to prints of sea life. I’ll confess I was a tiny bit concerned I wouldn’t be able to find images that I liked (drawings of dead fish were not what I had in mind), but I shouldn’t have worried. The drawings are beautiful and amazingly colorful. The colors in this one are the brightest yet!
I love your Curiosity Cabinet series. This has been a rich vein of inspiration for you, and we knitters are the luckier for it! How did you get drawn into the Curiosity Cabinet idea?
Curiosity cabinets are just so nifty I really can’t help but love them. I’m sort of a shameless history dork (I was most of the way through a Ph.D. in history when I threw it all away for the glamorous life of knitwear design), so their role in the history of science is fascinating. And I have some rather pronounced magpie tendencies (I have a hard time going for a walk without picking up rocks or feathers or some other little treasure). That combo more or less dooms me to loving everything about curiosity cabinets!
I’ve found they really tend to resonate with a lot of other people too. Some folks love the history, some are drawn in by the science, and some are just excited by the look of them and all the marvelous opportunities for exploration that they offer. And a surprising number of people have come up to me and told me about their personal collections of little treasures too!
Of course, all of the patterns incorporate your signature refined look, sometimes with twist stitches and cables. You seem to have taken the design inspiration as a starting-off point, not literally copying the illustrations you choose. Can you pick a favorite pattern from the series and break down for us how your project evolved from the picture to a wearable object?
It’s always such a fun process. For these books, it all began with the prints, which meant I had to start by finding them! That involved spending lots of time on etsy and ebay and various used book stores searching out the books in which they were originally published (there are reproductions out there, but I decided I always wanted to work with the originals for these books).
Once I’d tracked down suitable images, the next step was to find the perfect yarns for each. It was important to pick yarns that were true to the beautiful, vibrant colors in the images. And, because each print was the source for two patterns, I needed to find two bases and two colors for each print. I think finding just the right yarns was one of the hardest parts of the whole book!
When the yarn came, the fun part started. I swatched. That’s a very short sentence to describe a very long process. I swatched a lot. I rely on sample knitters to make the pieces you see in the books, which means I can’t design on the needles. I have to plan everything out based on swatches, notes, and some serious time with a calculator and a spreadsheet. So the swatching stage is a long one.Padina paviona socks photo: Zoë Lonergan
The trick is to find a stitch or a shape that captures something about the image that I find intriguing or want to play with, but not try and recreate the picture itself. Sometimes it’s a pretty direct translation, like with the Padina paviona socks.
Padina paviona socks print inspiration.
Sometimes it’s a bit more abstract, like with the Pelagia noctiluca hat.
Pelagia noctiluca hat, photo Zoë Lonergan
Pelagia noctiluca hat inspiration print.
In any case, it’s always great fun to find that balance between something that stays true to the inspiration piece, but makes for a great project.
I understand that knitting didn’t really take hold for you until you discovered socks. What about that experience hooked you?
You’ll laugh, but you have to remember, I was a total novice. I was missing two very important pieces of information. I didn’t know yarn could be wound into tidy balls, and I didn’t know how to join on a new skein when my first one ran out. My previous project had been a lacy scarf. I wanted it out of thicker yarn, but the longest yarn I could find was laceweight, so I knit it with four strands of laceweight held together. I didn’t know you could wind yarn into balls, so I was working with four opened up hanks of yarn (one on the back of each dining room chair). It was a jumbled tangled mess, and I found it hugely frustrating. So at first, socks appealed because the yarn came in those handy little balls and you didn’t need to worry about joining on more yarn!
Of course eventually I came to realize all the other nifty things about socks (portable, versatile, comfy) and knitting in general, but at first it really was that they took away all the frustration of my previous project long enough for me to pay attention to the knitting and realize I liked it!
What’s on your needles right now, or is it a secret? It’s only sort of secret. I’m in the middle of revamping many of my early patterns, so I’ve been reknitting a few of those items. I’ve been chatting about those reknits over on the blog, so they’re not secret. But I’ve also got loads of swatches for some upcoming books underway (really I’d say half my knitting time goes to swatches), and those are super duper top secret, at least for now!
What’s next for you?
Short term, I’m gearing up for the launch of Volume III. You’d think I’d have it down by now, but the weeks surrounding the launch of a new book are always a bit of a zoo! Once that’s taken care of, I’ve actually got a few more books in various stages. One is well underway (as in, I have a drawer full of samples and just need to sweet talk some friends into having a little photo shoot). The others are not quite so far along, but I am hard at work on them!