SHE'S GOT KNITS (the interviews) - Alanna at Loopine
So, Alanna - number three in the series. Welcome.
Tell me a bit about Loopine.
We are a local yarn store, bringing beautiful yarns and crafting tools to makers in Auckland, and also providing a community hub throughout twice-weekly knitting groups, classes and workshops where creative people can come together and share in the joy of fibre arts!
How long have you been in business?
We first opened up in April of 2019, so just over two and a half years now.
What’s the most popular thing in Knitting at Loopine?
I'm not really sure how to answer this question to be honest! All of our customers knit different things, although I will say there's been a big uptake in sweater/garment knitting over the last ten years or so. It’s been cool to see a lot of women who used to only knit for babies and children start knitting garments for themselves.
What’s your learn-to-knit story, if you have one - or four!
I went to a Steiner school in America, where every child learns basically every different fine and practical art including knitting, so I probably learned to knit when I was about 4 or 5. You would normally learn at 6 or 7 but my sister is two years older than me, and I always wanted to do whatever she was doing!
In our school we also learned hand sewing, machine sewing, woodwork, metalwork, stained glass, stone carving, felting, painting, sculpture, weaving - you name it, we probably did it! I feel very grateful for the education I had.
For some reason it was the fibre arts, especially knitting, that I kept coming back to outside of school - I love the tactile nature of working with delightful fibres, textures and colours.
It seems like crafts and knitting in particular have been rising in popularity in recent years. Do you think so, too?
Yes, I completely agree. I think it's partially a result of people pushing back against the modern way of living, which is so digitally-based, with us all spending so much time on our phones and computers essentially pouring our energy into things that are intangible and often unfulfilling. I think a lot of people pick up knitting, and they are able to create something beautiful with their own two hands which feels so rewarding.
There is also something about any repetitive motion that is incredibly soothing and therapeutic. I personally feel that knitting "has it all" because it's both visually stimulating and super tactile - the process itself is soothing, and the end result is a practical item that you can use and enjoy! It's just a great combination.
One other factor that I think should be mentioned as to why knitting has been so popular, is that it's actually a very social hobby. A lot of adults don't really know where to meet people and make friends nowadays, and knitting groups really provide that social connection. I've seen so many cases of people meeting each other at our knitting groups and making close friendships that continue outside of the group. I think there's less social anxiety because you have something to keep your hands busy and you can talk as little or as much as you want and there's really no pressure. You also immediately have something to talk about, because we all have this really niche interest that we share.
Has Covid affected your business?
It's been strange for us because we were only in business for 11 months before the first Covid lockdown came and we were in such a growth phase of the business that we really hadn't yet established a "normal" cruising altitude so to speak. We started the shop quite small with limited inventory, and within that first year and a half we tripled our stock levels and moved into a bigger location.
So when Covid came, we obviously lost revenue but we did also have a huge spike in purchasing before that first lockdown. It was a pretty big frenzy since it was the first one and people had no idea how long it would go on for.
I do also want to acknowledge that we have received help from the government and our landlord which we appreciate immensely, because at this point there's a strong chance we would have had to shut down if we hadn't had any help. This latest lockdown has by far been the worst for us, but we're just rolling with the punches!
The other big factor with Covid is that we used to have a pretty big season where massive cruise ships full of international tourists would land in Auckland and take a bus straight into Parnell where we're located. This usually happened in the summer months when the Kiwis are buying less wool, but the tourists want to get their hands on some famous New Zealand wool! So this was great for us, and obviously has stopped since Covid.
At the moment, we’re definitely living in an uncertain world, and there may be some serious changes coming to the way in which we operate Loopine. But no matter what, we aren’t going to stop knitting obsessively, and doing our best to provide quality yarns and knitting supplies to our fellow makers here in NZ.
Part of the reason I wanted to have these conversations with people in the yarn world is that loads of people tell me they want to learn how to knit. What do you do when a Beginner walks through the door at Loopine?
If a beginner knitter comes in, we can basically give them the full package. We offer one-on-one sessions where we teach them to knit, and we can help them pick out the right yarn, needles and pattern for their first project. We love new knitters!
We are also working on some beginner-orientated knitting kits, as well as online resources geared toward beginners. I do have a Youtube channel where I’ve posted some knitting tutorial videos to accompany some of my patterns, and I plan to expand that and especially to create a ‘Learn To Knit’ video series.
That must be exciting for you! It’s really wonderful when beginners can learn from people who are really experienced like yourself. Do you have any top tips for people starting out with knitting?
One - Knitting is a lot simpler than it looks. All of the complicated lace, cables and colour work is really based on a foundation of just two stitches - knit and purl. Once you learn the basics, it's pretty easy to learn the other techniques. With just knit, purl and a few increase and decrease stitches you can make yourself a sweater.
Two - I recommend to beginners to start right off with yarn that they love and a project they're interested in, because that will keep them motivated (as opposed to using bad yarn for a "practice" project).
This is great advice. Even if you're just making a scarf, investing in beautiful yarn makes so much of a difference than learning to knit and "making-do" at the same time.
Right? Now, Three - A huge resource that we're lucky to have nowadays is Youtube! You can find a video for almost any knitting technique on Youtube, and being able to watch someone is the best alternative to having an in-person teacher.
Four - When you are starting out, I recommend using bigger yarn because the knitting is faster and the stitches are easier to see. I don't usually recommend the super chunky yarn because the needles are huge and can be uncomfortable to hold. I would go with a more medium/bulky weight, something that can be knit on a 4-7mm needle size.
"Bulky" is something I have seen on labels for sure. "Medium" means you should look for "8-ply", "double knit", "12-ply", "worsted". All of those will knit up quicker than fine yarn like 4-ply or "fingering" yarn. (Oh, and Beginner Alert: the label wrapped around the yarn always tells you which size needles you need.)
Finally, tip number Five - If you can find a knitting group near you, or a knitting friend, it can be really helpful, motivating and inspiring.
Hopefully those will be able to start up again properly in the new year. I haven't had a "stitch & bitch" yet but my yarn whanau appears to be expanding. Bring on 2022!
So, what’s on the Loopine needles at the moment?
Well, I am usually always working on between 5 and 10 projects at any given time.
Haha - this has been a theme in these interviews! I think I have three projects at the moment, not including things I have made that I either want to frog or adjust…and so many more projects waiting for me to pick them next.
Currently I am working on three pairs of socks, a shawl wrap, a sweater, a hat, and I have an ongoing crochet blanket out of scrap yarn as well. I like to have easy small projects like socks that I can knit on the go and when I'm doing other things, as well as bigger, more complicated projects I can work on at home when I'm able to concentrate a bit more.
I also design patterns, so I usually have one or two of my own patterns going on as well. I'm working on a new shawl pattern at the moment - I knit it up in Lester from Prosper Yarn's "Bach" yarn, actually!
Oh cool - what's the name of your company?
Oh, also we hosted a Knitalong for "SOCKtober", so there was a lot of sock knitting happening around the shop!
Fun - I got into knitting with 4-ply and small needles recently and it's SO satisfying and quite dainty. I haven't done a KAL yet. Maybe next winter... .
Summer is coming - we won’t need socks so much - and we usually associate knitting with keeping warm. Can you recommend a beginner “summer project”?
I am definitely one of those people who knits all year round! We carry plant fibre yarns like linen, cotton and hemp which are really nice to knit in the summer. A super easy project could be dishcloths or cotton tote bags, but I also love making linen and cotton T-shirts and tank tops, which are so lovely to wear in the summer.
We have a free pattern for dishcloths on our website, actually.
What are your top 5 fave Instagram knitters or businesses? They can be from anywhere in the world.
This is tricky because there are so many great knitting accounts out there, but I'll go with some of the ones I've been enjoying lately. This will be a combination of yarn dyers and knitwear designers.
@spindelicious (this one is actually mostly spinning)
@earthhive.handwovens (this one is actually mostly weaving)
These are great. I haven't heard of any of them so thank you for sharing loads of new inspo (not that I need any more...I already have so many potential projects and new things I want to learn how to do).
That's something I really love about having knitting as a hobby - there is always something new to learn and I get more ambitious (and capable, actually) every year.
You're a pro though - what do you love most about knitting?
This is something I weirdly don’t think about often because knitting has been a daily part of my life for so long. I start to feel a bit strange if I go a day or two without knitting, which I rarely do!
I think one thing about it - which perhaps gets in to the reasons why it’s considered quite therapeutic - is that it helps you to focus your attention on one thing. Often many of us get in our heads about all the things that need to be done, problems we need to solve, and so on and knitting forces you to just sit there and do something with your hands. That thing also produces a tangible result which I think makes us feel a sense of accomplishment.
I have a tendency to be pretty indecisive so when I’m in between projects or choosing new projects I get a little bit antsy making decisions about what to make, what colours to use et cetera - when it feels like there are a million options. But when it comes to a project I’m already working on, I can just pick it up and know exactly what to do, which is very relaxing. I always have several projects on the go so there is always something I can pick up and work on.
I also wanted to say that it wasn’t until I started making my own garments that I really thought about what colours suit me, or what shaping/styles look good on me. I’ve really never had a sense of fashion or much interest in the fashion world, but making and especially designing knitwear has given me a new appreciation for that side of things.
I'm a bit like that too - I've ended up cropping some patterns just because that suits me better. And I have some plans to make some of my own designs next year. No idea if I will be able to write the pattern down but I'll try!
Yes, do it! Speaking of trying... I thought it would be nice to offer your readers a little discount to get them making. So - if you're reading this blog - have a look around the Loopine website and use the code SHESGOTKNITS at the checkout. You will get 15% off until the end of the year.
Welcome to knitting! And Merry Christmas.
Next week, the final blog in the SGK series of interviews focuses on legendary East Auckland needlework store, The Ribbon Rose.