An Interview with: Shannon Cook (So Very Shannon)

Last month, Shannon Cook (@soveryshannon) launched Courage—a knit shawl design featuring our Germantown and Spincycle Yarns Dream State. It shot to the top of Ravelry’s “Hot RIght Now” list and caught the attention of knitters all over the world, including all of us at Kelbourne Woolens.

Image: Koyahni Photography

Image: Koyahni Photography

Shannon says Courage “is meant to soothe your soul. [It was] designed during a time in my life that I needed to have courage, it’s a project that you can get lost in, but also express your emotions and personality through. The mosaic knitting technique creates a gorgeous pattern while still letting your mind relax, so whether it’s knit during your happiest or most challenging time, Courage will bring you solace and joy. Choose colors that inspire you, and wear this shawl bravely as a symbol of your own personal journey.”

We’ve always been fond of Shannon’s designs and thought this was the perfect opportunity to find out more about her and her journey in the craft world. The following is an interview between Courtney Kelley and Shannon Cook. Enjoy!

Courtney Kelley (CK): I saw on your website that you started your design company in 2008. Kate and I started Kelbourne Woolens in 2008, too! What inspired you to start a craft business, and what led you down that path? In other words, give us your backstory!

Shannon Cook (SC): I love that we started the same year! Congrats to you both on 11 years!

After I had my first daughter (she’s now 12 - where has time gone? Ah!), I started a personal blog to document our lives and crafty projects (I had just learned to sew) for family and friends to read. Being a very social person it was a time in my life that I felt lonely. I was missing all the people I was used to chatting with on a daily basis. To my delight, other people started reading the blog; I quickly realized how much I loved the combination of writing and photography along with my passion for making. It was an easy decision from that point on to turn blogging it into a career and start designing which got me to where I am now.

I started with sewing and craft tutorials and was luckily able to monetize my blog from that point. At that time I was blogging full time which allowed me to work from home while I raised my girls. Once I started designing sewing patterns for sale I was hooked! I had put knitting aside (which I learned as a young girl) but picked it back up again when my second daughter was a baby and I couldn’t sew as easily. I started designing knitwear and haven’t looked back since! It’s been a dream come true and one I’m very thankful for.

CK: You are known for creating super fun and knittable patterns—designs that are about the process as much as they are about the final object. When you're designing, do you know what you want in the end, or do you let your needled dictate your journey as you go? 

SC: Thank you! It’s funny you should as that! This is something I have struggled with in the past. I was a process designer who thought that they should try to plan ahead more and do the knitting after all the rest is figured out but I’ve slowly come to realize that I’m just not built that way. It removed a ton of the joy for me from designing. I love the “letting my needles dictate the journey” process so much more and there’s nothing better to me than when I can just let the yarn speak to me and help tell my story. I find that it allows me to express my creativity more and my customers resonate with it.

Courage was one of those designs. It had been a while since I was able to just let loose and “let it be” so to speak. It truly was a creative experiment for me and one that was extremely therapeutic and freeing. It was emotional and also joyful. It felt so good to let all the “math and rules” go and to just - be me. I’ve always said that when I allow myself to design like this the yarn and needles become my paint and paint brush. I love to draw & make art and so I find this lends itself naturally to me to express myself with the texture and stitches. Those wooly bumps are more to me than just knits and purls, they are glimpses into the stories I want to share within that particular design. I find the melding of the process, the pattern and the photography such a rewarding experience. The photoshoots are a way for me to help evoke the emotional response from knitwear and enable the customer to really see/feel what the message is I want to relay with my knitwear. I truly love it and I hope my customers feel that.

CK: As a designer, I feel like Courage is asking the knitter to go big—to step out and try something new, maybe a new technique or a color way that is outside of one's comfort zone—and I LOVE THAT. As a designer, do you feel like you need to push yourself to set outside of the colors and techniques and fibers that you are naturally drawn too, or do you tend to want to stick with what you know works?

SC: Great question! In terms of color it wasn’t necessarily asking the knitter to go big but more of allowing the knitter to have courage to be true to themselves and to choose what represents them and what they love to wear. I also wanted them to trust the pattern and that they can have the confidence to explore and try new things and be successful at them. 

As for myself I love to learn new things, grow my skills and research all sorts of techniques, fibres etc. I’m a big time stitch library, knitting technique book loving kinda nerd. I’ll spend weeks just researching one technique—it’s just how I’m built. I don’t find myself sticking to what I know (colors, style, etc.), because I think we are always growing and changing, and I hope my designs reflect that philosophy. I design and knit what I love and what I want to make and wear. My personal motto has always been that and if I don’t love it to bits I won’t release the pattern. I do find that over the last few years I’ve found my aesthetic and what colors I truly love (and wear the most) and though I do try new things I do have a fondness for certain tones and fibres.

CK: (This may be a question that I just want to know!) You offer your patterns on multiple platforms, printed and digital—your website, Ravelry, Etsy, Kollabora, Love Knitting. Do you have a favorite platform, and how do you decide where to put your energy? Are you just hoping to reach as many people as possible, or do you just want to try new things? As a designer, managing all those platforms seems like it must take courage!

SC: I have a soft spot for Ravelry. That lonely stay at home mama has met and made so many wonderful life long friends via Ravelry. It allows me to support my family and to be part of a community. I do also enjoy Etsy from a business perspective and have been on there for a long time as well. I predominately sell sewing patterns mostly on Etsy. I find Kollabora is a place for me to find a different demographic that isn’t on Ravelry or Etsy. There are a lot of makers on there and I enjoy their site as well. Love Knitting is the site I’ve been on the shortest amount of time and I’m still learning and figuring my shop out on there. Overall, though I feel I have different customer demographics on each platform, and even though it takes time, I love being able to have my patterns accessible in more than one place for knitters and sewers alike.

CK: I just love that you used Germantown for your design. Selfishly, I want to know how you chose Germantown for this design. We feel like it is such a great yarn to pair with Spincycle's Dream State!

SC: I was so excited when I heard Germantown was being made. I think finding a good workhorse yarn that is 100% wool, that’s affordable and great to knit with is hard to find. I try to be aware of the cost involved with making my patterns - especially when using luxury yarns. I really appreciate the price point of Germantown and when I visited one of my favourite yarn stores, Tolt Yarn and Wool, last fall I had it at the top of my list to buy. I came home with some to swatch with and on that same trip was lucky enough to have had a personal tour of the Spincycle Yarns mill. It was fate. Once I put the two together I knew it was meant to be. I quickly ordered more Germantown from Tolt and got to designing Courage.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog! 

CK: Thank you, too!

In partnership with Spincycle Yarns, we’ve teamed up for a Courage KAL hosted on Spincycle’s instagram @spincycleyarns. Find all the colors of Germantown here for your shawl and the colors of Dream State here. Post your Courage tagging @kelbournewoolens, @spincycle_yarns and use the hashtag #couragekal.

An Interview With: Dianna Walla of Paper Tiger

Dianna Walla, the designer behind Paper Tiger, recently published The Chalet Collection in conjunction with Montréal based yarn shop Espace Tricot. The 5-piece collection features two designs in Kelbourne Woolens Scout: Le Massif Scarf and Stoneham Poncho. In conjunction with the release of the collection and the knit along beginning January 1st, I thought it would be fun to interview her about the collection, her design inspiration, and plans for the future. Enjoy!

Berit  from Quince and Co.

Berit from Quince and Co.

Kate: Congrats on the new designs! Looking at your pattern portfolio, you do a lot of colorwork and your aesthetic is very Scandinavian. Can you talk a little bit about why you're so inspired by this specific knitting tradition and style and how it affects your approach to design? 

Dianna: Thank you! I have always been drawn to the Scandinavian aesthetic, and Norwegian knitwear in particular, in a way that's hard to explain. I just love the look, and I find that type of stranded colorwork very engaging to knit, as well. I've spent enough time studying Norwegian knitting history at this point to be very familiar with some of the most classic and well-known designs, and they certainly influence my work, but I always try to give my designs a stamp of my own too. I've spent a lot of time in Norway now, so the better I get to know the language, the country, and the living knitting community there today, the stronger those ties feel.  

Images from Norway by Dianna Walla

Kate: You have moved quite a bit in the last few years, from Seattle to Norway to attend graduate school, and now you're in Montreal. Have your tastes and interests changed along with your moves? 

Dianna: The Scandinavian influence is always a common thread. In Seattle it was easy to find traces of that – I see signs of the Scandinavian immigrant population everywhere I go in Seattle, because I know what to look for. I also found the Pacific Northwest to be a really wool-friendly climate, since the winters were chilly and wet. In Norway I got to spend time getting to know different Norwegian wool yarns, produced in Norway from domestic wool. I felt very close to the roots of Norwegian knitting tradition while living in there. And in Montreal, I'm living with the toughest winter climate I've faced (even tougher than above the Arctic Circle in northern Norway!). It's a place where you have to really embrace winter to make it through those months, and the Quebecois share a love of winter sports and cabin culture with the Norwegians. I like looking for those common threads in a place that's very different from Norway on the surface in so many other ways.

Stoneham Poncho and Le Massif Scarf from The Chalet Collection

Kate: The Chalet Collection you designed in conjunction with Espace Tricot is very much in line with their aesthetic, but also looks very much like "you". From watching their podcast (videocast?), it seems like the design process was very collaborative. Can you talk a little bit about how this collaboration came to be? Were there aspects about it that were easier (or more difficult) than you originally thought?

Dianna: I spent a big chunk of this year working in the shop at Espace Tricot, and that's when I really got to know the owners, Lisa and Melissa. They're both designers themselves, and they've both started to explore more colorwork in their own knitting, but I think they didn't necessarily want to start designing their own colorwork yet at this point. They'd made the decision to bring in some more non-superwash wool yarns, and they reached out about doing a collection of colorwork patterns to showcase them. Scout was one of those yarns, alongside a few Norwegian wool yarns from Rauma Garn, a company I'm very familiar with. They had a vision for what the collection would be like as a whole, and I worked to come up with pieces that would bring that vision to life. I've had others describe my colorwork designs as fresh and modern, even when I'm working with rather traditional motifs, and "fresh" and "modern" are perfect descriptors for the Espace Tricot aesthetic as well. A lot of that can come down to color choice, and that part of the process was very collaborative. On the whole, it was a pleasure to work together on the collection, but the biggest challenge was definitely that everything took longer than we thought it would. I was very open and responsive to feedback and suggestions from Lisa and Melissa, and I think some of their tweaks and modifications to what I came up with really strengthened the designs. It can be tough when the two parties both have very strong aesthetic preferences and ideas, but I think we knew going in that our styles would mesh well and we'd come up with something everyone was happy with. We're all thrilled with the end result!

Le Massif Scarf, Tremblant Toque, and Bromont Mitts, all in the Setesdal style

Le Massif Scarf, Tremblant Toque, and Bromont Mitts, all in the Setesdal style

Kate: Setesdal knitting, like the motifs seen in the Chalet Collection are some of my favorites - they really remind me of weaving motifs, and they're very fun to knit and play around with. Why did you decide to use the Setesdal motifs for this collection?

Dianna: The lusekofte (or "lice sweater") is so recognizably Norwegian, so I feel very at home using that motif. But there was a practical reason for using it as well – we wanted these patterns to be really beginner-friendly for newcomers to colorwork, and the simple repeating motif is easy to memorize, easy to work since the floats aren't too long, and you get to work plain stockinette rounds in between, which makes it go faster than most allover colorwork. That was really important to me on a piece like the Le Massif Scarf, because a scarf knit in the round is a big commitment. So we went for more dynamic motifs at either end of the scarf, but the majority of it is just that lice pattern. It makes for excellent colorwork practice.


Kate: Lets talk about Scout! While it isn't traditionally a Scandinavian yarn, it is (if you don't mind me saying!) great for colorwork. Why did you choose to use it for the poncho and scarf in the collection?

Dianna: I completely agree! I adore Scout and I think it's very well-suited for colorwork. Non-superash wools like the Rauma yarns are a new product for Espace Tricot, which has focused on super soft luxury yarns in the past. If you're used to the softness of superwash merino, it can be a big jump to the yarns that Rauma makes. I think Scout makes an excellent bridge of sorts between the two – it's non-superwash and takes to colorwork beautifully, but I also find it quite soft to the touch, and definitely friendlier to wear next-to-skin on the neck (important for a scarf or a high-necked poncho!). We really wanted to think about the use of each piece, and how it would be worn, when we chose each yarn for the collection.

Stoneham Poncho by Dianna Walla

Kate: What is next for Dianna and Paper Tiger?

Dianna: I'm continuing to work on new patterns, of course! And I'm very excited to be heading to Edinburgh Yarn Festival again in March – just as a festival-goer, which is always great fun. And I think I'm looking at another big move again later in 2019 – never a dull moment in the life of a serial expat!

Thanks, Dianna! The aforementioned knit along begins on January 1st. Be sure to join in the Ravelry Group and share your projects and progress. You are welcome to share your progress on Instagram too - use the hashtag #ChaletCollectionKAL to connect with other KAL-ers and tag @espacetricot and @cakeandvikings!

An Interview With: Óli Kristian á Torkilsheyggi of Navia Yarns

As mentioned in my last post, we spent some time with Óli Kristian á Torkilsheyggi (Kris), the owner of Navia Yarns, in the Faroe Islands this past March. One of the highlights of our time (besides the amazing fresh cod his wife, Paula, made) was finding out more about the history of the Faroe Islands and the family legacy that led him to found Navia. I thought it would be nice to interview him for the blog so we could share that information with you, and our conversation is below. Enjoy!

Kate: Can you tell us a little bit about your family history on the Islands, and what being "Faroese" means to you?

Kris: I can trace my family history all the way back to the Viking Age. My family came to the Faroe Islands in the year 1000. People didn’t begin to write down things about the families until only 150 years ago, but I am a 6th generation farmer on my father’s side, so I can trace my lineage back through the farm. A lot of Faroese families had big families, so we can also trace it back that way.

My mother’s family was very entrepreneurial. Prior to the late 1800s, only the Danish king could have stores, which limited the ability of the Faroese people to have their own businesses and income. In the late 1800s, they changed the rules, and my mothers family immediately started a store.

Kate: What is your connection to wool and yarn?

Kris: In the 1930s, my great grandmother employed about 20 women to knit. Fishing was the main economy on the islands at that time, so many men were out on the sea for half of the year, and the women needed jobs that would allow them to be home to care for their families. My grandmother would send the jumper pattern and yarn to the women and then once finished, the knitters would send them back. The jumpers were then exported to Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. The financial crisis hit us in the 1930s in the same way it hit everyone else, but it caused my grandmother to become more creative and she found great success with the business, and she soon employed 700 women. Branding wasn’t as much of a thing, though, so unfortunately the garments didn’t have tags in them. They were just called “sweaters from Faroe Islands”.

They did use Faroese wool back then, because they couldn’t (and didn’t want to) import the wool onto the islands. Most of the sweaters were heavy seaman’s sweaters in heavy Faroese yarn. The original Tradition was inspired by this yarn. In the 1930s-1950s, people didn’t use much nylon in clothing, and wool was needed to keep warm. The lanolin in the Faroese yarn would make the sweaters waterproof, so they were perfect for work wear.

My grandfather, my mother’s father, opened a spinning mill on the islands in 1961 because my great grandmother was having difficulty finding yarn for the knitters to use. In the late 1970s, he was the 3rd biggest employer on the Faroe islands. His company, Tøting, bought wool from Faroe, but also the Falklands and Australia and did all of the washing and carding, and spinning. He died in 1980, the year before I was born, and my uncle started the business again in 1992, and I began working there when I was 13 - my first job was to put labels on the skeins!

As the years went by, the spinning mill wasn’t running any more, but the company was still producing sweaters. I was very interested by the process and production, but, unfortunately, they only focused on sweaters, not yarn. I considered buying the yarn portion of the company, but it was too small to do anything with, so I decided to start something separate on my own.

Tøting closed in 2008 after a natural process to slow down, and along with yarn, Navia also produces finished garments. We continue the family legacy, in a more modern way.

Kate: You mentioned you also have a history of farming in your family. How did sheep and farming play a role in your day to day?

Kris: My father’s family has had a farm and sheep for six generations. Having the farm and the sheep is a long tradition on the Faroe Islands with the oldest son typically inheriting the farm. It isn’t always like that, though – my father is the youngest and wanted to keep farming, so he inherited the farm and the sheep.

I am the oldest and only boy – I only have sisters – and I really like to farm, so I was happy to be a part of it. We have 200 sheep on the farm, so it isn’t considered to be a big farm, but the farm takes a lot of time out of the general day to day. It is more like a lifestyle, though, as it doesn’t make us enough money to live off of, but when you are sitting in your office all week stressing about delivery times, and starting at a computer, it is so nice to be able to go out on Saturday and spend the day in the field and with the sheep.

All of the wool from our fleece goes into the wool to make Tradition, but most sheep in Faroe are actually used for meat. Part of the role of Navia is to increase the value of the sheep for wool. Previously, the wool was very important, because if you didn’t have the fleece, you didn’t have clothes, and we want to bring back that value.

Kate: How did the idea for Navia Yarns come about?

Kris: With the family connection to yarn, it made sense to be involved in the industry somehow. After finishing college (undergrad), I had to decide whether to buy a portion of my family’s company, or to go to university (graduate school). I chose to go to university and obtained a degree in marketing, entrepreneurship, and economy. When I was in school, we did a project on owning your own company, and I chose to do a project on owning a yarn company. I told myself if I was able to obtain funding and received the best grade for the business plan, I would go for it, and I did! The degree was set up so that we spent one half year in classes and then the other half of the year as an intern. So I started the company in 2004 with $300 US dollars, and became my own intern. In the beginning, there was only Uno, Duo, and Trio in 6 colors.  

For the first few years, we grew slowly and steadily. Back then, the concept of Faroese yarn wasn’t a thing that people really understood. In order to educate the people and support the yarns, we launched books, each year having a book supporting the brand and concept of Froese yarns.

At the time, I was also working at a telephone company as the marketing and sales manager, and I was employing someone to run Navia. In 2009, though, in the middle of the financial crisis, Navia was growing, and I had to choose between the career job or focus on Navia.

Kate: I’m so glad you chose Navia instead of the phone company! What makes the Faroese fleece used to make the Tradition line of yarns so unique and special? 

Kris: The Faroe Islands is called “Sheep Islands” in Viking, so the name “Faroe Islands” is actually called “sheep islands”. The sheep that existed on the islands were very small. We’re not sure exactly what it was, but in 1675 there was an epidemic and a large number of sheep died. Sheep were then imported from Norway to blend with the native Faroese sheep to get a mixture. In the 1960s, because sheep were mostly used for meat, it was popular to import sheep from Scotland so the sheep would be larger. The mixture of native Faroese, Norwegian, and Scottish breeds are the unique Faroese sheep today.

There are two things that make the Faroese wool unique. The wool is divided into two pieces, we call it the “root” (the under layer), and the outer layer. Explaining the wool is explaining the weather; all year round, we can have every season in one day. In order to survive, the sheep need to survive a snow storm, rain, sun, and wind, all in one day. They have evolved to survive the weather due to this crazy climate, and the wool from their fleeces reflects that.  

The under layer of the fleece is very soft, and the over layer is very rough. The over layer and under layer are both very long. The wool contains a lot of lanolin, so even though it rains so much, the sheep are protected form the rain and their skin stays completely dry. The wool is very natural and is grown in a rough environment, which makes the wool very strong and warm and breathable due to the evolution of the climate.

When producing the wool for Tradition, we sort the wool and take the best wool. The first class wool is what we take for the yarns, and the second class is sold to be produced into carpet yarns. We’re also working on using this wool for insulation for housing in order to increase the demand for the wool and reduce waste.

Kate: The designs that you publish to support the yarns are very Scandinavian, but they also look unique to Faroe. What is the Faroe knitting tradition and how does it influence the designs that are published?

Kris: When it comes to Scandinavian designs and patterns, we again look back to the Viking age. In the old days, people came from Norway and Sweden and occupied Faroe, Iceland, and Scotland. The Vikings were weavers, but not knitters, so the patterns were all weaving patterns. In the 1500-1600s, the weavers began to knit, and they used these patterns for knitting. Many of the motifs that came to the islands have been here for over 1,000 years and evolved slightly over time. As Faroese, we can tell by looking at the jumper, where it is from. 

In 1932, Hans Marius Debes published a book, Føroysk Bindingarmynstur, a compilation of Faroese patterns. Today we call this the “Great Pattern Book” and it is used as the foundation for all of our designs. The knitting patterns we publish are produced both for the Faroese market and export. We have a team of 50 women who are excellent knitters, some of them are educated designers and some of them are excellent knitters who design just for us. We have a designer who works in a bakery, one who works in the fish plant, and others are high ranking CEOs. We also have all ages, young and old, who do the designs.

For each collection, we have parameters and encourage the designers to use the local Faroese patterns to help continue and highlight the tradition. We also try to pay attention to the trends, though, so find the balance between the traditional sweaters and the modern.

Kate: Navia is a "family affair" - can you talk about the people you work with and how you're all connected?

 Kris: (laughs). Let’s start with my wife! When you build something from scratch, your family is always around you. Paula, my wife, joined me in 2008. She has been doing all the graphic design and is also the manager of the finished goods production. She designed all the new labels, and everything related to the ads, books, labels, and production sheets. Everything!

I have three sisters. My oldest sister, Erla, she used to manage five bakeries, but she wanted to move back to our village. She now works full time at Navia managing the store in Toftir and the stores that we sell to in the Faroe Islands. She also packs orders.

My middle sister, Beinta, is a photographer. She has a masters degree in London from the UArts there in photography in styling. She owns her own photography company, though, so she does photographs all around the island, not just ours. She was just in Japan taking photos, and today is in Italy!

My youngest sister, Óluva, she began as an intern in August and pursued the same degree as I did in Denmark. She is working on her thesis project now, and will complete her exams and then will work her part time helping with online and markering and other things we need. She does our Instagram and will manage and update the website.

Of course, my mother and father are helping us all the time. Families are close here, and they live right above our house!

Thanks so much to Kris for taking the time to talk with me about his family, the Faroe Islands and the story of Navia yarns. We hope you enjoyed it!

All of the images used in this post are from the Navia Instagram feed and are by Benita á Torkilsheyggi.