SHE'S GOT KNITS (the interviews) - Lester at Prosper Yarn
Welcome to the second in a series of interviews with local businesses at the centre of the knitting revolution. This week the spotlight is on Lester Mismash from Prosper Yarn. This conversation was conducted across a few weeks, partly via email (Level 4) and partly in person. Once we were able to meet up in Level 3, I spent some socially-distanced time with Lester, chatting and capturing the photographs which illustrate this piece.
Lester's open-hearted story was a joy to explore and I hope your smile is just as wide as mine was as you read it. I cannot wait to spend more time with her at Prosper - and squeeze all that beautiful yarn!
NB: the photograph above features every first skein Lester has dyed. Glorious, squishy shelves full of treasured experiments.
Lester in Level 3.
So Lester, tell me some things about Prosper.
Prosper Yarn began in a humble West Auckland kitchen, the result of curiosity and adventure. It’s now a thriving, creative online business and West Auckland brick and mortar community based on ‘aesthetics with ethics’. We focus on high quality yarns made from natural fibres, ethically grown in New Zealand and the world, then dye them in a beautiful array of colours. Our shop is your yarn lounge; everyone is welcome.
I can verify this. It's so cozy in your space. I can't wait to be able to come and hang out again and knit with you. How long have you been in business?
I just celebrated my first anniversary as a full time dyer. I began dyeing five years ago.
Congratulations - that's such an achievement, given the time we've had over the last eighteen months... Prosper has prospered, indeed... . What’s the most popular thing in the shop?
Yarn! I’d say ‘Beaut’ is the most popular yarn (100% Merino). And the second most popular thing is hanging out and sneaking in a few rows.
What’s your learn-to-knit story?
I learned to knit from a yarn shop in Telluride Colorado but it’s been the last few years that I’ve really gotten into it, perhaps even obsessed? I don’t go anywhere without a project. I even have a leather project bag chic enough for drinks with the girlfriends!
It seems like crafts and knitting in particular have been rising in popularity in recent years.
They have. I think it’s a response to our digital lives. We have an innate desire to do and make things with our hands, whether it's food or art or a garden. We are all born makers. Our devices have disconnected us from this part of ourselves. The rise in popularity in making is just the pendulum swinging back to where it belongs.
Has COVID affected your business?
Auckland’s lockdowns have actually pushed my side hustle into a full-time gig.
That’s awesome! What were you doing before?
I was teaching Architecture.
University of Arizona in the States. And UNITEC here in Auckland. I was knitting at all our staff meetings and I was dyeing yarn, selling it here and there but it was definitely a side hustle. Then COVID hit so I was teaching from home, I was at home all the time. My dye studio was in my house so I started dyeing more because people started knitting more, oh my gosh...
Yeah, so when did it kick off?
Two weeks into lockdown. March 2020. People were like I’m gonna knit. I’m gonna learn to knit. And I was just dyeing out of my laundry room - it got so hard to keep up. Then I found this place - it used to be a machinist shop, it was covered in grease and grime and it took three months to get this place to where I wanted anyone to see it. We opened the store in October last year and it’s just been super fun. The last lockdown has been really hard though because I miss my people. I miss talking about making. When we didn’t have lockdown I had people coming into the store, 11am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, always.
Lester in her store in Glen Eden, October 2021.
So how long was the store open, again?
A year, I had the store for a year. So now I’m like, down in the dumps and I really miss it. [NB: this was before retail could open.]
You’re missing connection and love and bonding and all that tactile stuff…
Yeah but luckily I have an assistant now. I hired Tara a couple of months ago but because of lockdown we couldn’t see each other so I’ve been feeling really lonely and really separate.
I think makers are somewhat introverted. Or maybe not introverted…selective. We’re very selective with who we feel comfortable around and who we want to socialise with. We really love our crafts and our making so the people we socialise with have to understand that; they have to embrace the fact that we’re makers and that we think about it all the time.
It’s what we’d rather be doing…
It’s what we’d rather be doing and so we gravitate towards people who understand that.
To be separated from the people who feed you is difficult… . Especially because you’ll be getting “fed” every time someone walks in and goes I need a project or I’ve been thinking about this and here’s the pattern and what sort of yarn do you think and so on.
And I love that because before I was an architect I was in the fashion world so for someone to say Do you know a project that would suit me?, right away it just clicks and I show them something on Ravelry and they go What is Ravelry?
Haha yeah: Welcome to Knitting!
So, I really miss my people. But hopefully really soon I’ll be able to have a "Lights Up Knitting" event. We will hang out in the shop and watch Only Murders in the Building-
What is that??
That is SUCH a good TV show and the reason I chose it is because every episode features amazing knitwear. Uh-mazing. You can tell that they have a knitwear designer and someone knitting for the show. It’s really good. Every episode you’re like “GAH, look at the sweater he’s wearing! LOOK AT WHAT SHE’S WEARING.”
Do you think it’ll be like Outlander? Where you can knit the things Claire wears??
Yes, it’ll be like that! It’s on Disney Plus. I have this big television which is hidden behind that curtain over there - I bought it specifically for Lights Up Knitting.
So the idea is that you’ll just hang out and watch TV and knit?
YES - it’s a thing. It’s going to be so much fun.
Prosper Yarn knit up as a range of samples and Lester's favourite patterns.
Ugh, I make so many mistakes when I try to watch TV and knit at the same time. Mistakes are all part of it though, especially when you're learning something new. I’m really into encouraging people who want to start to knit. What do you provide that might be perfect for Beginners?
I’m a teacher by nature, so the best thing I provide is advice and patience! The second best thing I provide is some of the most beautiful yarn around. I figure if you’re going to learn, why not learn with something you absolutely adore?
This is so true. What “top tips” would you give to people who want to learn how to knit?
One - Figure out what kind of learner you are - this will have the biggest effect on whether you enjoy learning or slog along. I realised late in life, I am not a video learner!
Two - Start with quality, circular needles. They can be used for knitting flat and in the round. Quality needles will be smooth and easier to use. Bamboo or wood is a great material for beginners as it’s not so slippery.
Yes, I love wooden needles - metal needles are a bit cold to the touch by comparison.
Three - Join a group or find a friend who knits - online or in person. Being around other knitters of all abilities is a great way to learn and be inspired.
Four - Buy patterns when you are learning. Free patterns are great but paid patterns have been technically edited and tested. The instructions are clear and you can contact the author with questions.
Lester wears the Ankers My Size sweater by Petite Knit.
Five - Be okay with ripping things out! This is called Frogging (ripit ripit) when you have a large project to undo, or Tinking (knit spelled backwards) when you just have a few rows to take out.
Making mistakes is part of the process. I still rip out halfway-done sweaters. It’s okay. You just get to knit more!
Haha, good point.
Yeah, you know I don’t get sad at all about mistakes anymore. I would say I’m four solid years into knitting full time and finally I’m at the point where if I make a mistake, I have a little sigh and I rip it out and I do it again…
My husband said to me once - because I was crying and husbands want to fix things and I was like [sobs] “I spent three months knitting this and now it’s ALL WRONG”, he looked at me so confused and said - Don’t you just get to knit more?
Hahaha yeah! I love that.
I just looked at him and thought, you’re so objective, it’s great to get that perspective. And...he learned. For Christmas last year his gift to me was to learn how to knit so he could understand what I was talking about.
OH MY GOD. What’s his name, please?
Mark. He took some needles out of my interchangeable needle set and I immediately noticed they were missing and was like “Oh no, I lost my 4mm tips, I can’t find them anywhere!” So I asked all my friends and they knew, because he had spoken to them and asked What needles do I need and how do I cast on? He was having private knitting lessons with my friends and they knew that he had my needles. I was searching everywhere and eventually said "Well I’ll just have to buy a new set" and they were like NONONO you don’t need to do that. But I bought a new set anyway.
And for Christmas, he gave me the hat he made.
SWOON. That’s so sweet.
Does he still knit?
No, he just did it that one time, just so that he could understand the lingo and figure out why I’m so passionate about it.
That is one of the most romantic things I have ever heard.
Yeah, it’s pretty cute.
So what’s on those precious needles right now?
I love this question! I always have more than one thing on the go, one of which is always a sweater. Currently I am binding off an Anker’s My Size by Petite Knit, knitting a free sweater pattern called Birdseed in a fade of colours, and I’m also going to cast on a Joji Locatelli shawl called Terra as soon as my yarn dries!
The latest yarn from Prosper, fresh out of the spin-dryer.
The weather is getting warmer: what’s a good summer project you can help people with?
T-shirts in our linen blend yarn! I also love a good summer cardigan or simple shawl for breezy evenings at the bach. I knit year round.
I have my eye on some My Favourite Things summer tops. Actually, I'm currently knitting her Camisole No4 in your 4ply yarn. I bought it from Alanna at Loopine when I saw her last week for her photoshoot. It's technically sock yarn but I loved it so much I had to buy it. It's Pop Tart. When I posted a pic, people said it looks like fairy bread.
Oh - I like to name all my yarns after local things. So I'll call it that now!
My Favourite Things' "Camisole No4" knit with Pop Tart yarn (technically sock yarn but WHATEVER.)
I've found so much inspiration from knitters on Instagram - it's where I found you, actually. Can you tell me your top 5 fave Instagram knitters or businesses? They can be from anywhere.
My favourites are:
@twoofwands (for crochet as well as knitting)
So. Are you happy here in New Zealand?
Oh YES. We’ve been here twelve years, we’re citizens now. We did not like the way we saw the United States going and we so we got out of there. 2008 was the financial crisis and architecture was the number one hit profession. We had architect friends who were checking groceries. Everyone we knew was out of work and we were hanging on by a thread. So financially we needed a new start.
Some other stuff happened and we just declared that we couldn’t continue to live in an environment without compromise and without respect for someone’s opinion. We asked our kids "Where do you want to live?" They said Well, where is Lord of the Rings filmed? and we said “New Zealand.” We let our ten year-old choose where we were going to live.
He sounds like a pretty switched-on dude.
Mark and I got on a plane here and did faculty interviews up and down the country. I was already in the education system so it made sense, I’ve been a teacher all my life - I’m a certified Montessori teacher, I’ve always been teaching.
And I don’t like office culture. I think I had always wanted to work for myself but I'd never owned my own business. Owning Prosper made me realise, “Holy crap, you’re an entrepreneur. You’ve been one your whole life and you just didn’t know it.”
Because you know what? I don’t have to have a yarn business, I have discovered that I just love business.
I find business as creative as dyeing yarn.
Prosper can be found online and at 202 West Coast Road in Glen Eden, Auckland.
Coming up next in the She's Got Knits interview series is Loopine in Parnell, Auckland.