Q & A with Lynne Barr, author of Reversible Knitting and Knitting New Scarves


How did you learn to knit?

My maternal grandmother sat me down and tried to teach me to knit when I was about seven. She was Old-World Italian, and I loved her spaghetti and meatballs—but not the knitting. In a short time it felt too slow and tedious and I lost interest, but I think the point was to keep me in one place for a while and out of trouble. I’ve been told I was a big troublemaker, but I like to think that my intentions were good.

Later, around nineteen, I wanted to knit a raglan pullover in the round, and a patient woman in a knitting shop taught me the basics again. I didn’t have a written pattern so I just did whatever she told me to do. When I’d reached the bottom of the raglan line, she pulled my work completely off the needles so I could try it on. I was stunned. I’d worked so hard not to drop even a single stitch while knitting and she pulled the whole thing off! After that I wanted to become a fearless knitter.


Which stitch pattern in Reversible Knitting was the most fun to create and why?

Most were fun to create, but especially the ones that began as a concept, and could then be used in a variety of ways. An example is Drop Loop Steps and Drop Loop Checks. Once I latched onto the idea of working parallel threads into a pattern on one side, I could see that the shapes could be altered by picking up stitches on a diagonal to create the stepped look, or horizontally to create a checked pattern. Another example is the basic concept of “drawing” onto finished knitting by picking up stitches, as I did liberally in Pick-up Overlay and sparingly in J Cables. These types of stitches probably allowed for the most creativity.


Which stitch pattern was the most challenging?

Can I substitute the word “tedious” for “challenging”? I almost didn’t include I-Cord Cables because it felt slow and fussy to knit, but I ultimately kept it in because I liked the way it looked, and it could be used sparingly in projects. Maybe someone will find a way to make it less tedious.


If you could use only one word to describe your book, what would it be?

“Varied” maybe. If variety is really the spice of life, then maybe Reversible Knitting will add another spice to the knitting pantry.


Many of the stitches shown in the book are created using techniques that you invented. What is your process for experimenting with new techniques? Any advice for those who would like to experiment for themselves?

I’m not sure I’ve truly invented anything. I think I use the same maneuvers as all knitters; I just string them together in my own way.

As for experimenting with knitting, I think it’s important to give yourself permission to be creative without being critical or in awe of it, and to not be intimidated by what other people do with knitting. What’s great about knitting is its basic simplicity.  Knitting is no more than two simple stitches. Once you learn those two stitches, you have the freedom to do anything you want with them. Twist them, slip them, drop them. And that’s just what you can do with a single stitch; when you have multiple stitches, you can change their order, divide them, combine them, whatever you want to try, because when they band together in groups…oh the things they can do. Am I starting to sound like Dr. Seuss?

I also think being creative is a way of life, not just isolated moments of work. Every waking moment we are absorbing and processing information through all our senses. And we have all kinds of reactions to those things. Most of the time it happens quickly and automatically, and some of this information is stored and some discarded. But I suggest not letting your autopilot take over or letting routine rule your life. If you’re going to be creative, you need to nurture and feed it regularly. Just let your imagination run wild and have fun figuring out how to make your ideas a reality. When working on Reversible Knitting, sometimes I would just stretch out on a couch with my eyes closed and knit in my mind. I could explore all sorts of ideas that way. Of course, there are also times of knitting and ripping and knitting and ripping. But the more time I spent imaginatively knitting, the more real it became and it was actually very relaxing…maybe a cross between meditation and dreaming. Now I sound like I’ve morphed from Dr. Seuss into a swami!


Your first book was Knitting New Scarves, which featured many never-seen-before techniques. Why did you choose reversible knits as a theme for your second book?

My editor, Melanie Falick, suggested the theme of reversible knitting to me. I’m very glad she did and happy I said yes.


When you were a child, what did you imagine you would be when you grew up?

A painter. I always loved art and creating things, so my parents hired a man to teach me to oil paint when I was around nine. That dream stayed with me into college, but I eventually got my degree in mathematics. Knitting doesn’t really require much more than basic arithmetic though, and for what I mostly do, it doesn’t even require much of that. If I had continued in art I think it would have been more interesting to move into some sort of multi-media conceptualism. If you’re interested in an artist that appeals to me, you can visit the website of Nina Katchadourian (www.ninakatchadourian.com).


If you could spend an afternoon knitting with one person in history, who would it be?

I love being with people who are funny and have a dry sense of humor, so an afternoon with someone who would keep me laughing is appealing. I can’t think of any historical knitters that are known for their humor, so maybe Tracey Ullman, author of the STC Craft book Knit 2 Together, would be fun. Then there’s Steve Martin-- also not historical, and likely not even a knitter—but he could tie a wild and crazy balloon animal, and I bet he’d be a hoot playing with yarn.


If you could time-travel back to a different time or place and spend a day with knitters there, where would you go?

Do I have to go back in time? I’m much more curious about the future. How about knitting on Mars with an intergalactic group of knitters and we’re all knitting in ten dimensions?


Who is your favorite knitwear designer of all time?

My youngest son used to ask this kind of question all the time…what is your favorite animal…food…color? It was easier to play along with him, and the answer I’m going to give you will certainly date me. I liked Rudi Gernreich back in the Sixties and wore some very interesting knits that he created, although they were knitted fabrics and not hand-knits. He was probably most famous for his knitted topless bathing suit, but the one I bought did cover the important parts.

What kinds of knitting needles do you like best?

I use mostly circulars or dpns, and rarely use straight needles anymore. And always a brand with a well tapered tip. I love the new lace-knitting Addi Turbos for their easy glide, but will use wood if I need something to grip my knitting a bit. I’m always losing needles, though, so sometimes my favorite needle is any one I can find.


Where is your favorite place to knit?

When home, I move around a lot—sometimes I stand and sometimes I sit. I also live part of the year in the city and part in a very rural place, but I seem to get more done in the country where I have fewer distractions. I’m not a person who likes routine or sameness.


What is your happiest knitting memory?

I have to mention at least two memories. The first memory is when I completed my first project, a simple pullover. I thought it was just so cool that I could make something useful, and I didn’t even mind the mistakes. It was a wonderful mix of happiness and satisfaction. The second memory was while I was working on Knitting New Scarves. Around the point when I had knitted most of the designs with a working yarn, I met Melanie (for the first time) at Purl Soho in New York City. Joelle Hoverson, the owner of Purl, filled my suitcase with a gift of absolutely gorgeous yarns. That suitcase was packed with pure happiness.