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By Rasha Refaie

Knit Designer Kristin Spurkland talks about her new book, bikinis, Vivienne Westwood, and why knitters like to give stuff away

for info on
bikini pattern, go to www.kristinspurkland.com

Based in Portland, Oregon, knit designer Kristin Spurkland doesn’t just kick ass in a bikini. She studied fashion design at Portland’s Bassist College, has been teaching knitting classes for years, and her patterns have appeared in Vogue Knitting, Interweave Knits, and the recent "Stitch ‘n Bitch: A Knitter’s Handbook"(Workingman, 2003) by Debbie Stoller of Bust Magazine. Now Spurkland’s knitting book, "Knits from the Heart: Quick Projects for Generous Giving" is out starting March 1st (Martingale & Co). All the projects are beginner-friendly accessory items suitable for young, old, feline, and infant – perfect for all those Williamsburg babies I see cruising the sidewalks in Hummer-sized carriages. One angle of the book is how to combine knitting with volunteering (it’s the only book I’ve ever seen that fully acknowledges the existence of preemie babies, homeless people, cancer patients, and that they have needs too). Maybe Spurkland’s most revolutionary concept is that of using one’s talents to help others. Here in New York, we are trained to use our talents to brutally crush the competition. It’s refreshing to think of doing things to improve someone else’s life, not wreck it. I interviewed Spurkland recently to get the goods on this trend known as gifting.

RR: There’s some Buddhist saying like the student is the teacher and vice versa. If this is true, what do you learn from your knitting students?

KS: I’ve learned what frustrates and confuses the average knitter when working with written instructions. So my students have taught me how to write clearly. I also pick up information on what people want in books. The basic concept of this new book came from a student who said "Why can’t I find a book that is just a collection of accessory projects?" Inevitably, when people are knitting, issues around patience and self-esteem come up. I’ve seen students swear, cry and have tantrums when a project isn’t working. Dealing with these situations has made me more compassionate.

RR: Tell me about the meeting point between the knitting community and the volunteer community.

KS: Most projects are undertaken with the intention of giving the finished project to someone else. Knitting as a form of community service is a logical extension. It gives people a creative outlet without the pressure of having to make a profit. Some people have an easier time justifying knitting if they know the finished product is going to a good cause. Making a blanket for a homeless person or premature baby is a valid pastime. I think the number of knitters using their talents to help others is growing.

RR: How long does it take to knit a bikini and is it really difficult?

KS: The bikini could be knit in a week by an intermediate knitter. It’s not difficult, but requires fine yarn and small needles.

RR: What’s your favorite kind of cheese?

KS: Parmigiano Reggiano. I like hard, salty cheeses.

RR: What do you sing while you knit?

KS: I don’t know when I’ll stop having 50 Cent in my head. I sing Justin Timberlake too. Some people have a hard time with this.

RR: Are male knitters shy about their knitting?

KS: Most I’ve met are very much "out." They know knitting makes them cool guys without gender hang-ups.

RR: You’re married but no kids yet. How did you know what baby stuff to put in the book?

KS: From students who have kids. I ask my friend Sandy, a knitter with two grown daughters. She’s very blunt.

RR: What are your favorite colors to knit with, and your favorite yarn?

KS: Red. And I love stripes. Favorite yarn is wool for sure. I love KPPPM, by Koigu. It’s 100% wool, hand-dyed in amazing colors. The other is a mohair and silk blend from Rowan called Kidsilk Haze. It’s drape-y and soft and the colors are fantastic.

RR: What was your item in "Stitch ‘n Bitch" and how did you get involved?

KS: A mohair hoodie – "Under the Hoodie" is the name in the book. A student of mine mentioned her design going in the book. After feeling jealous for a day, I got in touch with Deb Stoller. She was looking for someone to design a hoodie, which is just my kind of thing. So there you go.

RR: You credit fashion designer Vivienne Westwood as one of your early inspirations. What would you do if you met her?

KS: I would probably be terrified. I’d tell her how much I respect her, how important she was to me when I was 13 and felt so confined by my social environment. I’d like to know what she reads. Chocolate cake and port with Vivienne would be lovely. And I’d wear a dress with a bustle.

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