Behind The Stitches: Holly O’Rourke
“As with everything, finding balance is (and will always be) a WIP… I am working on compartmentalizing and focusing, in all areas of life.”
Sam: Where are you from and where are you currently based?
Holly: I am originally from a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, and I currently live in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ve been a Phoenician for 14 years now (almost half of my life), and the desert is my home and one true love.
Sam: What was your first WIP and do you still have it?
Holly: The first WIP that I can remember is a scarf I knit for my college boyfriend. I’m pretty sure he still has it! I learned to knit at a summer camp for the arts at age 8 and started getting into knitting when I was about 16, but my passion for it really took hold when I was an art major in college – I slowly spent less time on painting/illustrating to focus on knitting. So I don’t really have any WIPs from before college, but I do have several from that time. I still have and wear my first ever sweater that I made when I was 22… it’s a chunky blue/purple alpaca cardigan. My mother purchased the yarn for me as a birthday gift from Newbury Yarns in Boston, and I remember being so jazzed to wear it when I finally finished (it took me a year). Nowadays, I rarely wear it because it’s too heavy for our warm winters. I learned really quickly to work with lighter yarns if I ever want to wear my FOs!
“It took me a while to get up the courage to post anything, as I was pretty nervous about the vulnerability of sharing my own creations in a public forum”
Sam: Can you describe your yarn stash for us?
Holly: My stash can best be described as \”quality, not quantity\”. I don’t mean to say that I don’t collect budget or synthetic yarns – I absolutely do! But I usually shop for yarn with specific projects in mind, so my stashed yarn is comprised of skeins I absolutely could not live without. As you might expect, it is a lot of brights, neon/neutrals, and of course a ton of pink! I have it organized by weight (lightest to heaviest) and then color (warm tones, cool tones, neutrals). I also have a special drawer for \”novelty\” yarn, where I keep all the fun stuff – mohair, metallic, velvet, furry, etc. I spent a weekend last spring organizing my entire stash for easy access, and found a lot of fun novelty yarn I had totally forgotten I had!
Sam: I find this next topic so interesting…can you tell us about your day job? How did you get into that field?
Holly: I’m a tenure-track professor in applied statistics, and my Ph.D. is in quantitative psychology. Quantitative psychology is the development of statistical models that are used to examine human behavior, and the models I study are used to examine behavior change over time. It was a circuitous route to get here – I started out as an art major in college before changing to psychology. I have always been into math, and I loved my statistics courses but couldn’t decide what area of psychology I was most interested in. With quantitative psychology, I get to be a stats nerd with my research and also work with all different types of behavioral data, so it’s the best of both worlds for me. I also teach an advanced stats seminar to an amazing group of undergrads.
Sam: How do you find a work-life/craft-life/ home-life balance?
Holly: Honestly, the struggle is all too real! With a career like academia, there is a lot of travel involved and there are very few boundaries so work/craft/life balance can be a challenge. My husband Gene is also an academic, so most days we work until we’re too hungry/tired/mentally drained to continue. I seem to have naturally developed a rhythm where knitting fills the other gaps in my day – I knit on the way to/from work, at happy hours, waiting in line running errands, and every evening after dinner. I also have seasonal fluctuations when work is less busy and I can focus more on knitting. A big part of balance in all areas of my life is portability. I have \”go\” bags for work, travel, and knitting that make working and knitting easier wherever I might be. I got very into sock knitting last year because of the extreme portability; I spent 6 weeks in Germany with two yarn cakes and two size 2 needles! As with everything, finding balance is (and will always be) a WIP… I am working on compartmentalizing and focusing, in all areas of life. I have ADHD-I, so focusing for me is a real challenge.
Sam: What made you decide to start Disco Stitch?
Holly: Around the end of 2016, I started knitting every day, and finding and following knitting accounts on Instagram that were super inspiring to me (West Knits, Knit Diaries, Born & Raised Knits, Kindred Red, Jessie Mae, and Park&Knit, to name a few). And with Instagram’s algorithm, I wasn’t seeing their content as much as I wanted, so I decided to create a separate Instagram account just for knitting. It took me a while to get up the courage to post anything, as I was pretty nervous about the vulnerability of sharing my own creations in a public forum. Before starting Disco Stitch I was mostly an internet lurker and didn’t post or interact with the communities I followed. Once I started, I was amazed at the friendliness and helpfulness of everyone I interacted with and it became my primary social media account pretty quickly. I also had, and continue to have, a lot of encouragement and support from family and friends!
Sam: Where does the name Disco Stitch come from?
Holly: I’ve always viewed life as one giant party, and to me, the name Disco Stitch just shouted \”fun-loving and into fiber arts\”!
Sam: How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Holly: My design aesthetic is influenced by 70s disco culture, camp, pop art and the 60s mod scene, 90s fashion, and about a thousand other things. I seem to find inspiration everywhere. I’m a true maximalist, and I’m drawn to in-your-face outrageous details: giant sleeves, neon trim, rhinestone headpieces, ruffled cravats. This is a tough question for me because I feel like there aren’t defining characteristics to my style or aesthetic. When I asked my friends this question, the responses I got were: \”Lisa Frank meets Florence Welch\”, \”psychedelic hippie witch\”, \”If Willy Wonka were a feminist\”, and \”Iris Apfel (and David Bowie on the weekends)\”. Maybe their responses are a bit more illuminating than mine are!
Sam: Can you walk us through your crafting process? Are there any rituals that you follow every time you sit down to knit?
Holly: For me, knitting is a ritual unto itself. I knit sitting, standing, walking, laying in bed; at home, at brunch, in cars, on airplanes and mountaintops. I have 3 big project bowls (for one night a year, our Halloween candy bowls) at any given moment that I use to hold my current WIPs. I usually put all necessary needles and notions in each bowl so I know I’ll have whatever I’ll need, and then I can scoop it all into a project tote and take with me wherever I’m headed. If I have a less portable project, I work on it at home in the evenings while spending time with Gene. I don’t usually have more than 5 WIPs at any given time, but I like to have 2-3 going and often switch between them even in the same evening. It keeps me excited and interested in my projects. One ritual I do have – I love to listen to audiobooks while caking yarn in my craft room!
“If I’m particularly stressed, I’ll pick up a complex knitting project or cast on something new, and it completely distracts me from whatever is worrying me”
Sam: What has been the most rewarding design that you’ve ever created?
Holly: I designed a mint green lacy tank top around 10 years ago for one of my best friends, and she STILL wears and loves it. That’s pretty rewarding! I’d say my most rewarding knits are the ones that get worn and loved a lot.
Sam: How often do you create new work?
Holly: It depends on the piece, but generally each piece takes a few days to a few weeks. Regarding designing knitwear, I went through an intense period of designing in 2010 when I was considering pursuing a career in fashion, but I never wrote down my patterns and most of the designs ended up as gifts to friends, so those designs are \”lost\”. While I was in grad school, I designed a lot for myself, but again never wrote down my patterns. For the past few years, I’ve worked with other designer’s patterns and done a lot of test knitting and sample knitting. I always have about a thousand designs floating around in my head, so this summer I decided to get back into designing and learn about pattern writing. I’m currently working on 2 designs (the first time I’ll be releasing as patterns) that I am really excited about.
Sam: What has your knitting practice brought to your life?
Holly: When I started knitting more, I had just had a very intense and personally taxing year. I decided I wanted to amass yarn for a technicolor West Knits blanket and make the biggest project I’d ever attempted. It was a way to help me relax, distract my mind, and achieve calm in the moment regardless of what else was going on. I guess I used a form of operant conditioning on myself because it worked and it brings me a sense of calmness whenever I pick up my needles. When I have a lot to think about or am working on something complex, it can also provide me with mental clarity and even help me work out solutions I hadn’t thought of before. And if I’m particularly stressed, I’ll pick up a complex knitting project or cast on something new, and it completely distracts me from whatever is worrying me.
Sam: Why do you think that you’ve gravitated towards knitting over other fiber crafts?
Holly: This is a great question! I learned to crochet the same summer I learned to knit, and I’m not sure why I ended up gravitating toward knitting – I think I do like the look of certain knit FOs over crochet. I’ve gone through periods of being into almost every type of fiber art: crochet, latch hook, macrame, weaving, embroidery, cross-stitch. I do love embroidery, but I never spent enough time on it to get as proficient as I am a knitter. I think I have focused on knitting because I also have a real dedication to fashion, and knitting allows so much creativity when it comes to fashion. I love knitting garments and thinking about the construction and tailoring of each piece. There’s nothing better than putting on a fire outfit and feeling on top of the world, and I get that feeling each time I style my FOs.
Sam: What do you like to binge-watch or listen to while you craft?
Holly: In general, I prefer listening to audiobooks or podcasts over TV because I can focus on my WIP, and I haven’t learned to knit without looking yet. Once I’ve watched something, I’ll put it on in the background; my favorites are The American Horror Story miniseries, and recently I’ve been loving The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I’m into true crime, so my favorite podcasts are My Favorite Murder (knitterinos unite!), The Strange and Unusual Podcast, The Fall Line, and Dr. Death. I also love Mother May I Sleep with Podcast, where the hosts watch and discuss Lifetime Movies; it literally makes me laugh out loud. As far as audiobooks, the Harry Potter audiobooks – no one can do an audiobook like England’s national treasure Jim Dale. Also, Claire Danes does an awesome read of The Handmaid’s Tale, Jim Dale reading The Night Circus, and I’m about to start To Kill a Mockingbird read by Sissy Spacek.
Who should I talk to next? Leave your suggestions in the comments section along with any thoughts you have about Holly’s interview. I’m always on the hunt for inspiring crafters. Also, don’t forget to follow along on my Instagram account @bobbleclubhouse for your daily dose of all things fiber. Until next week, happy crafting!