Knitter, photographer, designer, (and Mainer!), Carrie Bostick Hoge on learning to knit, finding inspiration in her home state, and what the Internet has meant for the creative class. (It’s a good thing.) Hand-knitting has experienced a renaissance over the last ten years thanks in large part to the Internet and social media. Today, knitters around […]
By Alyssa Brandt
Jun 07 2016
The Two Lights blanket gets its name from one of her favorite Maine spots, Two Lights Park. “Its rocky coast is mimicked in the stitch pattern,” says Hoge.Photo Credit : courtesy of Carrie Bostick Hoge
Knitter, photographer, designer, (and Mainer!), Carrie Bostick Hoge on learning to knit, finding inspiration in her home state, and what the Internet has meant for the creative class. (It’s a good thing.)
Hand-knitting has experienced a renaissance over the last ten years thanks in large part to the Internet and social media. Today, knitters around the world meet designers; trade notes; and post pictures and buy patterns on Ravelry, a free knitting and crocheting website launched in 2007 that now has over 6 million members. Carrie Bostick Hoge was among the early adopters. Hoge has done it all, from carding wool at a New England mill to publishing books of her patterns, including last year’s, Swoon Maine, a collection of garments and accessories photographed in some of her favorite Maine locations. Now the Falmouth resident has launched, Making, a bi-annual print ‘zine devoted to the pursuit of craft. We caught up with her in her Brunswick studio.
The images on your website, Madder (www.maddermade.com) remind me of Robert McCloskey’s delightful children’s classics, Blueberries for Sal, One Morningin Maine, and Time of Wonder. Even your daughters look like they sprang from those pages. Are you originally from Maine?
I grew up in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, and then moved to Massachusetts where I lived until I went to college in New York City. I stayed in New York City for a time before going to Providence, then to Seattle. Later, some friends and I had a winter rental on Peaks Island in Maine and I thought I’d stay for the season and in the spring go to South America. But I met my now husband and ended up staying. I feel so at home here I can’t imagine living too many other places. I love it and I’m so inspired by living here.
You often photograph your collections against gorgeous local landscapes. Last October you released Swoon Maine a book of hand-knit patterns that really captures Maine’s dramatic beauty. How did the idea for this book come about?
With Swoon Maine, I was trying to focus on all these other projects I had and all I really wanted to do was that book. It wasn’t really on my schedule but I ended up doing it because it felt so right. It was mostly about wanting to capture the experience of living in this beautiful place. I was coming off having a baby and I was kind of tired, and searching for inspiration, and sitting in my backyard and taking in this beautiful landscape—my Maine landscape— the woods, and the quietness. I wanted to pay tribute to that.
It’s like a love letter to your adopted home state.
Raising my children here, I’m getting to see Maine through their eyes. I feel so lucky that they’re able to grow up here and I wanted to be able to capture the specialness of it.
Do your surroundings influence your work in other ways?
I can only imagine my love of neutrals is partly due to the landscape here, from the white and gray winters to the rocky coastline I see so much in the summer. Maine also inspires my sense of style; I like to keep things simple and wearable.
When I look at Swoon Maine,
I don’t just want to wear those sweaters, I want to wear them in those landscapes! Where were the photos taken?
They’re places I go to a lot: Cape Elizabeth, Two Lights, Kettle Cove. My husband’s family has a camp in the Moosehead Lake region, so we spend time up there, but not as much as we’d like. It’s like another world–– dirt roads, woods, water, loons, and quiet for miles and miles.
I saw a blog post about your camp and I Googled “Upta, Maine” thinking it was the name of the town. It’s not.
[Laughing] It’s a saying they have here, “upta camp.” My mother-in-law says that all the time. She’s from Maine, so is my husband, and camp life is a big thing for many Mainers.
It sounds wonderfully rustic.
It’s very rustic: no electricity, no running water, there’s an outhouse and an old-fashioned water pump. Everything is gas—gas refrigerator and gas stove. It’s awesome. Now there’s a little bit of cellphone reception, but when we first started going there was none.
How does that kind of quiet time affect your creativity?
I definitely refuel on these excursions. I’m always thinking about work a little bit because I enjoy it so much. It’s hard for me to turn it off. When I’m away, I’m thinking about where I really want to be putting my energies, so when I do return home my batteries are recharged. I’m able to gear up again and I’m more focused.
When did you learn to knit?
I started young and it didn’t catch. My mom would show me and I’d get frustrated. I think I picked it up several times in my childhood and then finally after college it stuck. I was in the car with my boss and his wife, heading into Manhattan.The tools she used really caught my eye—wooden needles and single-ply, undyed wool yarn. I had never seen anything like that before. I learned on [both] plastic and metal needles using acrylic yarn, and this experience made me realize there was more to the craft of knitting. I sought out my own pair of wooden needles and a beautiful 100% wool yarn and started a scarf that I actually finished. Then I was addicted.
You studied photography at Parsons School of Design in New York City. Were you planning a career in photography?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with photography. I knew I didn’t want to do commercial work; it was too stressful. I tried weddings and that didn’t work. I don’t do well with that pressure: “Did you get the kiss?” I knew I wasn’t a fine art photographer.I just knew I wanted to make things beautiful and document people and things that are meaningful to me.
How did you begin to merge photography and knitting?
I started with a small blog around 2005 called Swatch Diaries. It began as a knitting-focused diary of the yarns I was swatching with. It was a little bit of a creative process blog, but very pictorial. It became obvious that I really enjoyed photographing swatches and fabric and being in my studio. My first little self-published book was called Swatch Diaries, Away Japan. It was travel photography from my trip out there, intermingled with photos in my studio of the fabrics and yarns that I bought.
Had you ever considered knitting professionally?
No, it was just a hobby. It never occurred to me that it could be a profession. I wanted to learn how to make clothes for myself. I’m really interested in having a handmade wardrobe.
Knitting used to be a rather solitary pursuit. Over the past decade, the website Ravelry has built a global community of over six million (and counting) hand-knitters and crocheters. How did you discover it?
I was working as Pam Allen’s assistant at Classic Elite Yarns in Portland, Maine, at the time. [Ravelry founders] Jessica and Casey Forbes came to our offices and were talking about it. Ravelry wasn’t open to everybody in the beginning; you had to apply to get membership. So I did, and received my invitation about two weeks later and I thought, wow I’m in the group! It’s amazing, the opportunity and access it’s given to all these designers and knitters. It’s an incredible community that they’ve created.
Pam Allen is a bit of a legend, but is perhaps best known to knitters as the founder of Quince and Co., the yarn company she started in 2010 that produces exquisite American sourced and spun yarns. How did you meet?
She had just moved to Portland and she needed a stylist for Interweave Knits. I was working for The Fibre Company, carding wool and doing all sorts of millwork, and they used one of my photographs for an ad in Interweave Knits. Pam saw it and asked who had taken the photograph. I was still new to the knitting world as far as magazines go. I didn’t know she was the knitting goddess. We just hit it off. We worked on a few shoots together and stayed in touch. She ended up needing an assistant for her work at Classic Elite Yarn and that was my first full-time job in the industry.
And you followed her to Quince and Co.?
When she ended up breaking off [from Classic Elite] and doing Quince, I followed and worked helping her create the website. I’d say that was my big break. The first time photography and knitting really came together was on our first photo shoot for the website. It was so new, having an online knitting shop. And then it just grew. I haven’t been there for three years, but I love using their yarns; they’re quite beautiful.
You left Quince and Co. in 2013 to have more time with your children and focus on Madder. What were the takeaways from working at Quince?
Probably the importance of writing a clear pattern for knitters to follow. It’s one thing to imagine your design and knit it yourself, but quite another to write this process in a way that another knitter can easily interpret and get the same results as the sample shown.
Speaking of presentation, you’ve used a model for Madder who is heavily tattooed. Twenty years ago you wouldn’t have seen that in the pages of Vogue Knitting, probably still wouldn’t. But when she wears one of your knits, photographed against a field of wildflowers, the effect is both delicate and modern.
I was just starting out with Madder and was looking to do something a little bit different than what I had been doing at Quince. She’s not a professional model. She’s the daughter of a friend and fellow blogger. It’s very unexpected and such a great juxtaposition. I love contrasts. I think it’s really fun to play around with that.
You recently moved your studio from your home to Fort Andross, a historic mill in Brunswick, Maine. Why did you decide to do that?
There’s really nothing like it in Portland that I have ever found and if it did exist it would be more expensive. So it’s a little more affordable. Brunswick has a nice community. There’s a really neat mixture of artists in this building and there’s a flea market downstairs—it just has a really cool vibe. Being an old working mill, I love the history and I love the feel of my space—the wood floors, the high ceilings. It has a couple of tall windows that make it really great for photography.I love my backyard studio and for so many years it was right where I wanted to be. But working from home is tricky. I have two girls and it’s hard for them to understand that I’m working sometimes. My [home] studio was a barn too and I was having mice issues, and in the winter it takes two hours to heat it up. I can’t get up at four in the morning to heat the woodstove in the studio.
Your new studio is a shop as well.
I am experimenting with having limited hours. I am open Fridays and Saturdays. There’s no yarn store in Brunswick, so there’s a market here for selling yarn. People have been really excited to have Quince and Co. yarns here, and I have some other brands, like Swans Island, a little bit of Acadia from The Fibre Company, and a couple of Yoth yarns. I also sell some kids toys and scissors and little wooden bowls. I’m creating a shop with a selection of things that I would be happy to have around.
In April you launched Making, a print ‘zine devoted to craft. Tell me about it.
It’s a bi-annual magazine that has a theme. This year the themes are Flora (Spring) and Fauna (Fall). I have it on my site, but it also has its own website (www.makingzine.com). It’s going to evolve, but it’s for knitters who also like to do other things. It’s packed full of projects: cross-stitch, embroidery, sewing, and quilting. It merges all these different crafts into one place. There are so many talented crafts people out there. It’s been fun to work with all of them on this.
Non-knitters laugh when I say that my iPad has become my most important knitting tool. But I use it to buy yarn and patterns, to watch how-to videos for different techniques, and to follow designers on Instagram. I can access the world, but digital age knitting sometimes feels overwhelming. What’s your sense of the knitting world now?
There’s so much out there, so many yarns, so many different designers, so many things in your queue. Some people are pulling back a little bit. I think people want meaningful yarns, yarns with a story. I want Making to reflect slowing things down and having work that takes time and brings value into your life. That’s the sort of direction I’m headed into with Madder. I think there’s a place for that in the world.
Alyssa Brandt is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is also a contributing editor at Cincinnati Magazine. She lives with her husband, daughter, and an ever-growing array of hand-knit sweaters.