Behind The Stitches: Rose Hartle
“Knitting had always been something that I felt connected to and crafting was my connection to my Grandmother and my Mother and it was going to be something I could pass to others\”
Sam: Where are you from and where are you currently based?
Rose: My family moved a lot when I was a kid. I’ve lived in 6 states and 12 cities, but I consider Harlan, Kentucky my home town. It’s a really pretty valley in southeastern Kentucky, but really low on the socioeconomic scale. If you’ve ever watched the show Justified, it takes place in Harlan County and Loretta Lynn has a book that was turned into a movie called Coal Miner’s Daughter that kind of gives you an idea of what it was like down there. Most people were miners or farmers or you were lucky and were support systems for the miners and farmers. The closest shopping mall as most people think of them was probably 2 hours away. It wasn’t until we moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when I was 8 that I realized what a wide gap in life experiences could be.
I’m currently living near Albany, NY. It’s a really nice balance of the middle of nowhere valley that I consider home in Harlan with proximity to a city like Pittsburgh where there are some amenities (like shopping malls and Broadway tours).
Sam: How did you learn to knit and what was your first WIP?
Rose: I learned to knit at a church craft day. It was in 2004 or so and those scarves that were homespun and fun fur were all the rage, so that’s what the craft day was teaching. The lady at church handed me size 50 needles, some blue homespun and fun fur that was probably cast-offs of a Muppet costume and I didn’t know how to do anything but I made a very short scarf, just enough to make it around my neck and probably qualified as more of an ascot. It had holes the size of my fist in it. The fun fur hid the holes though, but it was itchy and I hated it. I think we finally got rid of it a few years ago.
Sam: How has your relationship with crafting changed over the years?
Rose: Crafting has always been a part of my life. My maternal line passes skills and handmade gifts down without fail all of the time and I always knew that if I needed something made and didn’t have a sewing machine at the time I could call Grandma and see if she had time in her sewing schedule.
My Mom always tried to help me find a craft that would stick. The knitting began as something that I could work on and still be social. It helps me manage my ADHD and inability to sit still and hold conversations or watch a movie. I learned, if I could knit and keep my hands busy, I could spend time with my family who liked sitting down and talk or watching movies without being ‘that kid’ that kept talking over the show and being annoying. It was casual, though, and I was always knitting in bits and pieces depending on my stress and funds. It was something that I did when I felt confident and secure but often was set aside when I was feeling overwhelmed.
When I moved to California in 2016, I was on my own and struggling with finding out who I was. I had known for most of my life that I wasn’t comfortable in my skin and that I didn’t want to transition into being a man, but I didn’t identify as a woman either. I didn’t know how to make friends easily as an adult, but I knew I could throw myself into my job. The job I had allowed me to listen to podcasts all day and in my search I found The Knitmore Girls, which is a podcast made by Jasmin and Gigi. They are a daughter and mother pair who talked about their knitting and what yarn they were using; Jasmin talked about what she was knitting for her children and how her knitting had changed over the years.
While listening to their podcasts (seriously, I listened to the entire catalog in maybe a month and a half) I realized that knitting had always been something that I felt connected to and crafting was my connection to my Grandmother and my Mother and it was going to be something I could pass to others. I realized that the knitting I had done over the years was what helped me maintain my confidence rather than something that I did as a side effect of confidence. I started calling my Grandma more regularly because of Jasmin and Gigi, and Grandma always asked what I was knitting so then the push to make sure I always had something on my needles became motivation.
\”Knitting was both my brilliant armor and my secret vulnerability that no one could interpret unless I allowed them in\”
I started seeing my knitting as power and strength. I found it to be what I needed to express myself, but not through the patterns I chose. They were blank canvases that I could alter (and I usually did. I don’t think I have one finished object in my drawer that hasn’t been altered in a major way) to tell the story I wanted to tell. Projects became secret narratives that I knew and if I knew someone well enough, they got to know the narratives, too. Knitting was both my brilliant armor and my secret vulnerability that no one could interpret unless I allowed them in.
To explain what I mean, I have a \”Dusk into Twilight\” shawl that is made from a grey tonal sparkle yarn, a purple/blue sparkle yarn, and a grey with rainbow speckle yarn and I call it my \”Rainbow in the Storm\” shawl. Most people see it on Instagram and think it’s just a really nice shawl, but I know that it was made with hope in each stitch for the budding friendships that I was making at that time.
Sam: When and why did you start designing your own patterns?
Rose: I started officially designing patterns in January of 2019. The lead up to designing was a slow process, though.
I’m non-binary trans, which means I do not identify as a man or a woman. I exist outside the binary ideals of either. Now, you can have femme non-binary individuals and you can have masculine non-binary individuals; there’s no rule book. However, my journey into design came because I was very frustrated at the lack of patterns that I wanted to make.
Knitting is a very femme hobby, let’s be honest. I have exactly two sweaters I’ve made for myself and they’re nice, but I made the first for commitment to a joke and it doesn’t fit well and I don’t actually wear it. I can appreciate the knitting aesthetics that aren’t my thing. I can appreciate the work that goes into patterns that I wouldn’t wear.
I’m not going to spend $200 on fancy yarn for a shawl that I don’t know if I’m going to wear and I don’t know that I can gift to someone that won’t appreciate it though. I’m a process knitter, sure, but I am not that dedicated of a process knitter.
This isn’t to say I’m here to burn down the current knitwear design system. I love a lot of the patterns that are out there. They’re just not for me. That’s ok. I’m here to be the change I want to see in the world.
\”I want people to feel connected and build a community within our yarn space where they can be open, genuine, and themselves since that was something I struggled to feel like I had for most of my life\”
I love brioche and short rows and squishy librarian sweaters with elbow patches. I’ve got patterns that involve the first two already in process and the last one is my \”end goal\” for a sweater pattern.
I also believe strongly that knitwear is a way to tell stories. I can tell you a story through music or writing, but there is joy to me in being able to wrap myself in a shawl that I made to tell a story. Like I talked about above, I use my knitwear design to tell a story about myself, or about something that I think we should be thinking about, in texture, colors, and shapes so it can be art without being on the nose. I love being able to translate the ideas into things that are symbolic and that other people can interpret how they want, too. I want people to look at the stories behind why I made the piece and have a moment of \”You, too? no way!\” or \”I didn’t quite experience that, but I can see how you did and while making this I will think about it\”. I want people to feel connected and build a community within our yarn space where they can be open, genuine, and themselves since that was something I struggled to feel like I had for most of my life.
|Photo Credit: Ash Alberg @sunflowerknit Model: Nicole Vechina @bearandbunnyyarn|
Sam: Can you tell us the story behind your Gramma Jam cowl and mitts?
Rose: My Grandma (the one that crafted that I spoke about earlier) has never lived close to me. She sends care packages regularly and when I was a child, these included jars of her homemade raspberry jam. The jam was my absolute favorite and when she moved from the house that had raspberry bushes, I treasured the last jar (my college roommate accidentally dropped it and it shattered. I was heartbroken for the lost jam).
Since Grandma has always been a prolific crafter (she can sew, crochet, knit, embroider, cross-stitch…) I never felt like my making her anything would do. What do you make for the woman who can make herself anything she wants? This fear had led me to not making her anything for years. Plus, nothing I had found really resonated with me as a \”Grandma gift\”, especially when I remembered that every dress or quilt she had made me was so uniquely personalized to be just for me. When I started designing I knew I finally had something I could do to make it a special Grandma specific piece that no one else could ever have and that there was no way she could have made herself.
I’d found yarn that was inspired by ripening blackberries and decided that, since Grandma jam was my favorite Grandma care package treat, she was going to get a pattern based on Grandma jam. She is a five-minute walk from a beach, so a cowl made sense and transposing the diamond texture of a jam jar with the textures of a lid was an easy call back without being too on the nose. The mitts were an add on that I wanted for my personal set, to be honest. I get cold easily in air conditioning, but my rings get snagged on the inside of mitts too easily so I added the ring band for comfort.
|Photo Credit: Ash Alberg @sunflowerknit Model: Nicole Vechina @bearandbunnyyarn|
Now Grandma can say not only did I make her a birthday gift that’s one of a kind, but she has a pattern made in honor of her that other people can go buy. Apparently, she’s been wearing her cowl since I sent it to her in April and has a friend that’s been asking for the pattern. I can practically hear the smile in Grandma’s voice when she talks about it on the phone and that makes the whole thing worth it to me.
Sam: How would you describe what your yarn stash looks like right now?
My yarn stash is interesting right now. I’m self-employed right now as a designer/writer and so I’ve been a little lean on the yarn buying for the last year. It’s a lot of wool nylon blends, though. I have a penchant for stellina when I’m buying for myself, though I’m leaning away from that. I make a lot of socks for movie theater and stage theater knitting, so I love a good self stripe, but the colors vary a lot because many of my socks are gift knitting for this year’s family Christmas. Personally, my color choices vary on the day too. I love browns and grays as my neutrals, but teal, gold, and purple are easy to catch heart no matter what. Neons and muted tones will equally catch my eye, too. It kind of helps I’m a little bit color blind so what I like depends on how it looks to my eye and how I see the colors.
I have a balance of the hand-dyed and painted that my husband and I could afford when things were better, but I have a lot of gifted yarn and a lot of KnitPicks. I also have some yarn support yarn that is more beautiful than anything I’d have been able to afford right now and it makes me feel humbled that I’m in a position that I am able to work with it.
Sam: What inspired you to create your pay what works codes for your patterns?
Rose: I’ve always had a hard time balancing the \”knitting is a luxury industry\” with \”oh my goodness I want to make all the pretty things with all of the pretty yarn\”.
I talked a little bit at the beginning about how I call Harlan my home town and when we moved to Pittsburgh it was a big shock because I realized what socioeconomic changes are. My dad was a pastor when I was a kid and my mom was a stay at home mom, so we weren’t poor poor, but we weren’t flush with cash and when they got a divorce, I got a job at 16 to help pay for my expenses at home, but it went to school clothes, marching band, and any other school expenses I wanted to do before it went to yarn. Red Heart and Big Box yarn and I were real friendly. Caron Simply Soft was \”fancy\” yarn to me back then.
My ability to pay for things like yarn and patterns was always limited. I remember the first yarn store we went to in Pittsburgh involved hand me down mohair from probably the 70s (it was rough…) and some single-ply DK merino and I treasured them both because they were \”fancy\” yarn compared to the homespun and fun fur I learned on. I went to the yarn store and asked for help in trying to make a scarf I had in my head and the ladies there laughed, told me it wasn’t possible and then tried to get me to buy their yarn instead. I was 14 and had maybe $10 in allowance. This was the yarn I had and if I was going to buy yarn it wasn’t going to be merino. I remember being embarrassed and discouraged because I had begged my mom for ages to take me to this shop and I couldn’t even afford their clearance yarn. I bought some cable needles because I’d been trying to figure out how to do some cables in a scarf.
Pay What Works is my attempt to make sure that I’m not being that yarn shop. I understand needing to be a business and make money. We all need to do that. I can’t, however, allow myself to say \”you aren’t worthy of learning how to make beautiful things\” because if I wasn’t as stubborn as I am, I wouldn’t have found myself through knitting. I can’t sit by and keep people out because I’m not willing to set the possibility of wider margins for myself aside.
Now, there is some privilege in that mindset, I get it. I’m thankful my husband makes enough money that I can work from home as a disabled person. I also know that in the grand scheme of things, I did my research and have to thank Frenchie over at Aroha Knits and Jessie Maed Designs for putting these programs into place, too, so it’s not just me that’s doing it.
I’d like to see this idea go out more often, since understanding that yarn craft is expensive and falls into \”Pay-to-Play\” so easily that it should be looked at. It honestly just takes a few minutes of adding codes to Ravelry and letting people know they exist and then accepting that you’re helping people participate when they maybe otherwise couldn’t.
\”I am secure in myself because I know that I can make magic. I can take a ball of yarn and not only make a garment or a shawl, but I can tell you a story\”
Sam: How often do you create new patterns?
Rose: Right now I have a pattern set for release October 11th! I’ve got a lot on my design calendar, but right now I’m still getting into the swing of \”how does being a full-time designer/writer actually work in the real world when I’m dealing with chronic illness\”.
Sam: Can you tell us the story of your Vulnerability shawl? Where did the inspiration for that pattern come from?
Rose: This one I’ve actually played close to my chest so far! I’ll give you some of it though because at some point I’ll go really into it on my blog.
As a kid, we spent a lot of time at church because Dad went into prep for Sunday Service early. We could read, but it had to be a book that was church appropriate and while I could deal with that, non-fiction church books get boring after a while so I read and re-read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The Voyage of The Dawn Treader, there’s a scene that is Lewis’s attempt to explain baptism to children, though now that I’m not a Christian I’ve looked at it as a way to explain why vulnerability is a trait that I’ve found helpful in my life.
There’s a scene in the book where one of the children, who was turned into a dragon, must be turned back and to do this Aslan the Lion has to claw the dragon skin off of the child. The child couldn’t do this himself, even though he tried many times, and when Aslan does it for him it hurts and it cuts deep.
I did my best to show this story through the shawl. You can see the thick dragon hide with the brioche and the slashes where Aslan cut through to give you the lace short rows that peek through. In the end, when the child has become a boy, you have your lace border that is free to drape and be open on its own without the brioche limiting what it can be.
I’m really proud of how this piece came out. It’s really pretty on its own, but as a narrative piece, I think it tells the story well once you know what to look for.
Sam: What has your crafting practice brought to your life?
Rose: Crafting has helped me find a purpose, even if that sounds cliche. I realized that I am secure in myself because I know that I can make magic. I can take a ball of yarn and not only make a garment or a shawl, but I can tell you a story. Not only can I tell you a story, but I can also help you connect with me and we are now people that are bonded together through that pattern. That garment also allows me to simultaneously feel protected and vulnerable because it’s a story that allows you to get to know me, but it’s just enough of a shield that I can wrap myself to keep away the energy of the world that I don’t want to deal with.
I found my non-binary identity through knitting. I found my voice through crafting. I found the security of routine and meditation and energy work through knitting and crochet. I have a strong passion that tells me I need to make sure that I give that gift to as many people as possible by being a beacon of hope. You don’t see a lot of vocally non-binary or trans designers out there and I hope that by being out and loud that we can start to find each other.
Sam: What has been the biggest lesson that your crafting practice has taught you?
Rose: That even if people don’t want to deal with me that’s ok. I’m not for everyone and I don’t need to be. I’m strong and powerful for myself and I’m ok with that. I will find people that accept the values and beliefs I have and as long as I know who I am, I will find people who either believe similarly to me or will accept that we have different beliefs and will live in harmony with me.
Off from that, I’ve also learned that keeping notes and schedules is great. I love metrics and binders and things more now than I ever did before because routines are sent by the gods. Like, if I keep a schedule or a notebook, I can get myself back on track. Seriously, if you aren’t already, write everything down…
Sam: If you were a knitting project what would you be? What yarns and colors would you be made out of?
Rose: I am a patchwork blanket. That’s easy. I have gone through many phases and am stronger for the pieces of me that don’t match. Like, there’s some hot pink nylon with stellina over here from when I was trying to figure out if high femme was my jam. There’s some super coarse homespun from when I was learning to heal from trauma. There’s some dark blue MCN from when I was trying to fit in at a bank and not be noticed ever because that’s what you do when you drop out of college and just want to be a good career kid and figure out what your life is.
I wouldn’t ever want to be just one yarn. I would look like my stash, scraps, gifts, and whatever caught my eye one day in a handful of textures and colors and materials because that’s what makes me unique and stronger. Patchwork it up when the little bits start fraying because that’s how I know I’ve lived and learned.
Sam: Are there any books or online classes that you would recommend for newbie knitters?
Rose: Oh man, so when I was learning I relied mostly on trial and error way back in the day? I think I just went and found a pattern through google (this was like 2006?) and decided I would guess. I am very much one of those \”beat my head against the wall until it looks like I think it should\” people which is why my buttonholes are still \”well I’m going to bind off a couple of stitches and then cable cast on a couple stitches\” and they look atrocious…Whoops.
I’m really bad at learning off of youtube videos, but I know that people tend to like those now. I’m starting to put together \”here’s how to brioche\” videos because they’re going to be necessary for a lot of my projects and I couldn’t find a youtube video that worked for me.
Sam: What do you like to binge-watch or listen to while you craft?
I actually read books when I knit most of the time! I’m working through some non-fiction right now: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates has been my binge this week, and White Fragility is one I’m on the waiting list for. My fiction recently has been Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Red Queen Series by Victoria Aveyard, The Hate U Give and On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, and Circe by Madeline Miller.
I will listen to some podcasts: The Knitmore Girls, My Brother, My Brother, and Me, The Adventure Zone, FiveThirtyEight Politics, and a handful of other ones. I was super into true crime as a genre for a while, but I’ve moved away from a lot of those.
TV I’ve been into The Good Place, Brooklyn 99, Nashville, UnReal, and I have a sweet spot for trashy drama shows, so The Bachelor family of products, Riverdale, Sabrina (the new one), and cooking competitions are great (The Great British Bake Off, MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen)
If you want to see more of Rose’s work you can follow Rose on Instagram @transmutationknits and on Ravelry. You can buy the vulnerability shawl launching today on Ravelry.
Who should I talk to next? Leave your suggestions in the comments section along with any thoughts you have about Rose’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 time, happy crafting!