Behind The Stitches: Amanda Solomon
|(Building C booth 18 at Rhinebeck 2019)
Sam: Where are you from and where are you currently based?
Amanda: I am from New York City. I was born in Utica. But then came down here when I was really little. The majority of my fiber business is based out of New York City, in Queens.
Sam: Have you always been a creative person? Where does your love of crafting come from?
Amanda: Yeah, I really have. I label myself as a maker. It’s more than just yarn, it’s more than just knitting and baking. It’s anything where I can make the product from the beginning. I’ve always been that kind of person. Later I realized that my grandma was a very crafty person too. She doesn’t do it much anymore. She would always buy me little jewelry books and I would sew doll clothes with her. So I was always captivated by it from my grandma. It just grew and manifested as I got older and turned into larger projects.
Sam: Do you think your love of crafting is more about knowing where every element of your craft is coming from or is it about the process of making something with your hands?
Amanda: I think it’s just the way that my mind works. From beginning to end. In my mind, I’m like “Oh it’s probably not that hard. I can make that… Oh, it’s just jam. Just sugar, add your fruits, and then you can make it yourself”. My first love is farming. A lot of farming is growing every piece of a product. You’re searching and finding a lot of the products you use on your land and then turning them into something. Every step kind of goes hand-in-hand. I have to grow the cucumbers before I make a pickle. That’s one thing that happens during the summer and only in the summer because first, you have to grow the cucumber, and pick them, make the base, and then wait until they pickle. It all kind of goes hand-in-hand in my mind.
Sam: How did you learn to knit, what was your first WIP, and do you still have it?
Amanda: It was four years ago in January. I came down from my farm and I went to VKL. I went to the knitter’s table and I learned how to knit again. My hands remembered the movement but my mind did not remember the stitches if that makes sense? I’m a thrower, but I don’t remember how I became a thrower. I just know that when I put the needles in my hand I just automatically just put the yarn and needles where they wanted to be. So I learned four years ago or relearned. I went back up to my farm and I bought art batts from Nicole of Frost Yarn because I was and still am obsessed with her. I had no wheel. I bought a kick spindle and I spun them core, which was a project, and then I made a hat. It’s the jankiest looking hat you’ve ever seen in your life. The poor thing. But it held up. So I made my hat and I got to wear it out in a few snowstorms. It was a very practical item. It was not a “this is so cute” item.
Sam: It sounds like from the very beginning you knew you wanted to make every element of this process.
Amanda: Oh yeah, I went totally backward. I found Nicole’s stuff first and I became obsessed with it. I didn’t understand how she made it. She had made rainbows in wool. My sheep were black and white. That was it. That was all my sheep we’re going to give me. I was like “how the hell did she make neon, pinks, and speckles?”. She would have these inspiration pictures and the yarn would coincide with the colors in the pictures and I was like “how the hell did she freaking do this?”. Then I watched her core spin but I didn’t have the money to buy a wheel. So I bought a drum carder and I still have it. I saw what I wanted to make first and then worked backward to try and make it.
Sam: That’s so interesting! I love that way of approaching a project.
Amanda: I know a lot of people see a sweater or a hat. I saw the batt and I saw the yarn and I fell in love. I went totally backward.
Sam: What do you think it was about spinning specifically that drew you to it over the other crafts that you’ve done.
Amanda: I feel like I still dive into all of those other flippin crafts. But I feel like I do it more just because I farm and there’s no way around it at this point. But my boss Kate who owns Stony Creek Farmstead with her husband Dan, fell in love with farming because she learned how to spin and that is part of the reason why she started to farm. Raising the animals, shearing it, spinning it into yarn, and then making something. I found the bags of wool because they used to have big bags of wool in the barn, and I was like “what the heck is this” and Kate explained the process of making yarn to me. Then I looked it up and I started watching videos because YouTube and Instagram was a thing. That’s when I bought the drum carder. I bought the drum carder for around $325 on eBay. It came to my house, I was in the middle of the farm, and that winter I used to wash wool in the greenhouse, dry it, and card. Then my first event was VKL. Alex Creates was there, we had been talking on Instagram, and he had batts from Nicole. So I ran there and met up with him finally now we’re great friends. So I went on some kind of roller coaster ride with my fiber…jeez.
\”I am a Black boho mermaid\”
Sam: What does your yarn stash look like?
Amanda: Can I curse?
Amanda: Oh, it looks like shit! I just asked Christina of Chelsea Yarns “how do you get a yarn stash?” and she was like “you just have to buy and accumulate yarn”. I have a couple of skeins. I have one DK weight and two fingering weights. I’m not a person to go out and buy yarn. Because, after learning from Nicole, for the most part, I can walk up to people’s yarn and pick out the colors they used. If you can’t impress me with your colors I’m not going to buy it. If I can make it, I’m not going to buy it. Plus, my yarns are bulky up the wah-hool. I like fast projects. I can’t do small, cutesy, little projects. If the needle is under 15 US that’s hard. When I do buy I usually take those yarns, gather them up, hold two or three together, and then I’ll knit something. When I do knit for a project I usually spin and then knit it up right away. Did you see the picture of me with the goat?
Amanda: That Rhinebeck sweater was done in two weeks. I was picked to be a tester. Park said she wanted me to use handspun yarn. I was leaving on a cruise to Cuba, so I had to have all of the stuff with me. But I knew exactly what I wanted. I took all of my wool and I spun it up in a day or two. All while I was prepping for Rhinebeck at the same time. Spun it up, put it in a bag, and then knit it in two weeks. That’s just how my mind works. I’m not necessarily a person who saves yarn. I don’t even save my own yarn. I’ll spin for an event, I’ll sell it, and then I’m done. If I do have a project in mind I know exactly what I want it to look like, so I don’t try and hoard anything.
Sam: How would you describe your design aesthetic to someone who has never seen your work?
Amanda: I am a Black boho mermaid! There you go!
Sam: I love it!
Amanda: I am obsessed with mermaids. I want my logo to have an Afro that looks like me…I’m working on it. I love the Bohemian style. I also like 70s and 80s style. That’s my vibe. I feel like my theme song should be September by Earth Wind and Fire. I have this crazy goal in my head that one day I’m going to have a birthday party up on the farm and it’s going to be all 70s and 80s music. Everybody’s going to have to get dressed up. I’ll have on a gold suit with my afro and people are going to call me Foxy Cleopatra. Then we’re all going to have bomb ass TV dinners! My mind doesn’t go “oh, let’s have a 70s 80s party”. My mind goes “oh, what are the decorations that we can have for each step so that people get into the vibe”. That’s just the way my mind works.
Sam: YOU’RE SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE! I love a good theme!
Amanda: Right! So I just hope that when people look at my yarn that’s what they think of. I hope they say “let me turn on the song, put on a wig, and I’m gonna sit down and I’m gonna knit this project”.
My yarns are pretty crazy right now because they’re for a collection. They’re bulky, they’re crazy, and they never repeat. Even in the same color story, you can pick up two skeins and they will each knit up differently. If you’re lucky you can pick them from the same lot which means they were on the same bobbin. But none of them will ever match. None of my knitting ever matches. I don’t even gauge swatch. I’m not that kind of knitter.
Sam: Me neither.
Amanda: Yeah, so when people are like “what do I knit with your yarn?” I say “just knit anything. Just grab some size 15 US needles and if it looks like shit just frog it. Then knit it again. ” It’s quick, so just go for it. Just do it. I think that’s the best way to describe my yarn.
Sam: Can you talk about your decision to move to your farm.
Amanda: Technically I moved back from it. I am a nomad. I hop from one place to the other. When I first got to my farm I was an apprentice. Then after a couple of months of being an apprentice, I became their livestock manager and I lived there for a year. I did a full season on the farm. Technically, we have two terms for a “season”. A season for us means until October for our tents. I am talking about fall, winter, spring, and summer. The whole nine yards. Then the next year was when I left. It’s just too cold in the winter and there’s not enough to do. I’m also in my 20s. I was in the middle of the farm, in the middle of nowhere, doing absolutely nothing but just looking at myself and the rest of the animals. I had no social life. So I left and then I came back that summer. I didn’t think I was going to come back that summer but I did. Someone had left and they needed someone. So I came back and then I just ended up finishing out the summer with them. It just kind of worked out better for me to come up when the season is about to start for them. They want me to come back in April/May. That’s before the tents even open. Because now I’m the farm manager and also the livestock manager. I’m the person that’s in charge of checking in guests, making sure things are OK, and doing the tours. But I also take care of the animals. So it just kind of worked out better for me to come back during that time.
I don’t do anything yarn-related up there. As crazy as people think. There’s no time. There’s absolutely no time at all. I have to wake up at 6 AM, sometimes 5 AM. I have to come down, make bread, clean up the kitchen if anything does need to be cleaned up. I’m either milking in the morning or taking out bread. Sometimes we have retreats so I have to cook for them, set up, and clean up. There are so many things that I have to do and my day doesn’t end until after 9 pm. There are small breaks throughout the day but there’s not enough time nor energy in my body to sit down at a wheel and spin. So fiber only happens in the city. It does not happen upstate.
Sam: What is the most meaningful crafted object that you own? It doesn’t have to have been made by yourself.
Amanda: I guess I could say ROY G BIV… I low-key kind of hate it right now. That’s the sweater that I’m wearing in the picture with the goat. I do love it. But I can’t wear it out with other knitting people around without them being like “oh my god what is that”. I’m not saying that’s a horrible thing. But then people want the exact yarn that I used to make it. No one goes “oh my God I would love to buy yarn from you”. It’s usually that they want that yarn and they want to make that exact sweater. But I do love it so I wear it inside to keep me warm. But I think that is the project I would say is the most meaningful to me.
It has a batt in it that I spun up from Nicole and she made the batt especially for me. She has made me a couple but this one was the perfect bronzy, copper, brown, batt and it had all of this angora in it. It was a beautiful batt. And I saved it until I knit up this cardigan. So that is in here. It has some pretty special yarns in it I just don’t wear it out anymore. There’s also a Mo Coyotes batt from Rita, I freaking love Rita, in there. She wrote me this amazing card and told me that she played Beyoncé when she was making my batt. Which I just think is amazing. It was 5.6 something ounces of this amazing fibery goodness. It was just a gorgeous batt. I spun that up and then I hoarded it. So those are the two batts that are in this one sweater. Which is another reason why I could never recreate it. Which is why I just really don’t like wearing it. So I’ve gotten smarter about what I wear to events.
Sam: That makes sense because it’s kind of an advertisement for your yarns.
Amanda: Yes! It’s a weird kind of concept. I’m still trying to get used to it. I’m beginning to understand that I have to wear something that I can re-create. I have to wear something that if someone asks me about it I can be like \”yes, you can buy this. Here’s my card. Yes, you can buy this exact color\”. I have to wear things like that now. I can’t just deviate and wear whatever I want.
Sam: What has the whole shift from maker for yourself too maker for your business been like for you?
Amanda: I feel like every day or every week something else happens. It’s so weird because I’ve gone to events and people run up to me to meet me. And I’m like \”oh! I didn’t know I was this person to meet\”. I still don’t get the whole “oh my god can we take a picture” thing. I’m fine to do it. I’m a total show pony but I’m just like “you want to meet me?”. It’s just so funny because I’ve been on the other side. Being that person before anyone knew my name and wanting to meet these people. Idolizing these people and messaging people to find out information with no response. Now that my name has some weight on it these people are like \”oh, we’ll follow you\”.
I’m not a loud social media person that’s just not me. But I am loud as hell in person. So don’t come to me now and tell me that you like me. Because I saw you out in person before you knew who I was and I asked you a question and you wouldn’t answer. It’s hilarious and it’s kind of sad because now I don’t have that whimsical view of the knitting community. I guess a lot has changed during the month. But after VKL last year I remember realizing that the whole community is not as whimsical and magical as I once thought it was. There are these clicks there are these dramas. That side of it kind of sucks.
Sam: There’s an underbelly that nobody talks about.
Amanda: Yeah! It doesn’t matter because I’m able to escape to the farm so I have balance. I have a job. I have many jobs. I don’t have to rely on fiber to pay my bills. Fiber was only something I wanted to do to fuel what I love to do in fiber. I remember Nicole telling me, \”I just want you to be able to make enough money so that you can make the thing you want to make\”. Now I can do that. I can buy another wheel if I wanted to. I just have to work and spin a little more. It’s this weird thing where I don’t have to necessarily be all up in the drama of it. I come, I do the events, and then I am out. There might be someone new and upcoming tomorrow. Who’s going to wear an even more bomb sweater than I did and that’s great… because I’m not trying to use this to pay off all of my bills.
Sam: It is really funny though. I reached out to someone, and I’m not going to say who it was, when I was first starting this series and I asked them about doing an interview. They sent back an email that just said: \”how many followers do you have?\”. Then when I responded with the number they wrote back and said: \”I’m sorry we’re just really busy right now\”.
Amanda: Oh my God!
Sam: A couple of months ago I noticed that they follow me on Instagram now. So it means absolutely nothing.
Amanda: Yes! That happens to me all the time! I remember that someone who was quite big in knitting started following me when shit hit the fan about the lack of diversity in the community. I was like \”Excuse me ma’am do you even know or care who I am?\”. I eventually met this person and I realized that they didn’t know who I was or anything about me. It wasn’t until the second time that we met each other that there was some kind of recognition. So it’s just like whatever. I don’t get it… I don’t understand the emphasis on followers and likes.
I understand that I work social media to my benefit. I get that. I understand that I post at a certain time and I do certain things. I’m not going to sit here and say that I don’t do that. I do but I don’t sit on my phone and look at how many followers another person has to decide if I want to talk to them. Even Instagram is shady because if somebody messages me that I don’t follow Instagram says “this person has this many followers and this many likes”. I don’t care! Now, if I have time, and somebody likes my picture or takes the time to send me a message I always try to say thank you. Those are the things that actually matter. That person feeling appreciated for taking the time to connect.
Maybe that’s why meeting me in person is a little bit different. I’ve had people come up to me and say \”you probably don’t remember me…\” and I’m always like \”yeah I actually do. You bought x or you told me x at x event. I pay attention. ” I don’t always have the time but I try to pay attention. People are funny as hell. Their day will come. Karma is here.
\”I think one of the biggest things it (fiber) has brought to my life is a new level of independence that I didn’t realize I was striving for\”
Sam: Anyhoudini getting back on track. Are you a finished object or process crafter?
Amanda: I thought about this the other day too because I don’t want to wear anything that I knit.
Amanda: Yeah! Because you know what, I’m not saying that I don’t like my loud yarn, but I don’t want to wear my shirt with locks and 50 different colors hanging off of it everywhere I go. Sweater weather is coming up and I haven’t knit shit! I’m going to finish this one Rhinebeck sweater so that I have the sample. But that’s it. I would love to knit more things. But I just can’t get myself to need another scarf or need another hat. That’s just not me. I feel like I am neither one of those options. I am the spinner. I am a pre-project or process maker. I am before it even happens. Then I send it off to a new home.
Sam: That’s so true. I should add a new category to that question.
Amanda: You should! You should ask \”Are you the finished object, the WIP, or before you even shear the sheep?\”. I’m shearing the sheep. As we’re doing this interview right now I am carding for Rhinebeck because I need to do multiple things at once.
Sam: What has your crafting practice brought to your life?
Amanda: I think one of the biggest things it has brought to my life is a new level of independence that I didn’t realize I was striving for. I have quite the smart mouth. The one thing I always hated getting from women and men was “Oh my god you’re so pretty. Do you have a boyfriend?\” I would always respond “My success and happiness are not dependent on a man”.
Sam: I wish I had that printed on a shirt that I could just open up like Superman whenever I get that question.
Amanda: Yes! I would say it with a straight face and a smile. They would say \”Don’t you want to go on a little vacation with a boyfriend?\” and my response was \”Excuse me do I need someone else to go on vacation with? No.” Now when people find out that I’m doing this business and making a little bit of money I haven’t gotten that question. It’s a very weird shift that I realized has happened since I’ve had this business. I guess it kind of settles people and they realize that I’m doing stuff on my own. Which is kind of cool. So that’s been one of the best parts of it. This new level of independence and having something that I’m holding myself.
I’m not greedy with my craft. Nicole got a whole bunch of shit from other dyers because she was telling people openly how to dye the batt and how to get the colors that you want. But she kept on doing it. Any question that I have even to this day I can ask her how I can get X, Y, or Z color and she will tell me how to do it down to the gram or ounce. I’ve taken that lesson and now I’m going to be the same way. There’s no reason for me to hoard all of this information. If someone wants to know exactly how to make my yarn I will gladly tell you. I have no problem telling you. Because the value is in how I do it, how my colors are blended, and the way that I spin. I can’t teach someone to spin exactly like me.
Sam: At the end of the day, that’s the thing. Especially with spinning and dying. You can tell someone how to do it but they’re going to do it with their voice attached to it. That’s a little bit less so with design because you could just copy someone’s exact pattern and design. But you’re going to be approaching whatever you make with your ideas of what you like and your aesthetic. Everybody is bringing something new to the table.
Amanda: I feel like a lot of people especially when they see the things that I knit or I show them a sample they just want to make exactly what I have. A lot of times I have to remind them that there’s joy in making something your own. Just venture out. Go ahead and have fun. Don’t try and be the exact person that someone else is. You’re going to take that dye and you’re going to think of another color that goes better with it than the one that Nicole or I picked.
Sam: I think there’s an obsession with wanting to do things “correctly\” rather than just having fun.
Amanda: It’s going to take some time for people to get there but hopefully they do.
Sam: When did you start teaching and what has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from running your classes?
Amanda: I just taught my first class on September 8th. I taught it at New Jersey Sheep and Wool it was an all-day class start to finish. I do a lot of teaching and public things already because I do the farm tours for families and then I work at Queens County Fair Museum and each day we have a new group of kids that come. I’m used to teaching people and I’m used to teaching people of all different levels. I can teach the same program Monday through Friday and every single group every single question can be different.
When I went into teaching I was a little worried because I’m younger and I knew that a lot of people were going to be older. I was worried that they were going to look at me and wonder \”what is this young girl doing\”. But they were highly respectful and a lot of them hadn’t spun in years and came to that class to learn. I told them that if they didn’t understand something I was saying that meant that I needed to say it differently and that they needed to tell me to say it differently. That doesn’t mean you don’t get it. It means I need to change the way I say it.
I think that some people were trying to get ahead of themselves. I told them \”you don’t have to spin as fast as me. Just really try and enjoy it\”. Before they came, I sent an email out and I told them to charge their phones and that they could record me during the class. Record every single thing I was doing. Record my hands. Because during a class you can get so excited that the information just ends up flying past you. If you record my hands you can go home and sit there and watch it again watch it 10 times.
One of the women at New Jersey’s Sheep and Wool went out on her lunch break and bought a drum carder and was so excited. I never want to get away from that excited feeling and forget how I felt when I was in a class with someone that I looked at and admired. I try to not forget that part of it. It’s so nice to experience the community in person versus just on Instagram.
Sam: Just authentic connections.
Amanda: Yes! It was so nice to put a face to the name.
Sam: Are there any books, classes, accounts, or YouTube channels that you would recommend to new spinners And people who are looking to get into fiber?
Amanda: First off, the Holy Grail, Frost Yarn. I love her and I’m obsessed with her. I love Alex Creates because that’s my yarn wife. I have bought many a spinning book and I do not use any of them. I feel like spinners get so caught up in learning how to do it in the perfect way that they can lose all passion for it. So what I tell new spinners is to find the project that made you want to learn to spin and then work backward from there. If it was a cowl that was super chunky if it was a shawl, whatever it was that made you want to spin find that project and then get the name of the yarn that was used in it. That’s who you should be following. Then you’ll find other makers that are doing the things that you like. Versus buying a drop spindle and trying to spin this perfect thin yarn because maybe that’s not what you fell in love with. Maybe you fell in love with Knit Collage and then you’ll realize that it was handspun and that is what you want to make.
A lot of people come up to me and they say \”I tried to spin but I didn’t get enough twist so I don’t do it anymore\”. Art yarn is art yarn for a reason. Spin how you want! If it makes you happy then that’s yours! I’m the best hype woman!
Sam: I just had this image of knitters in a boxing ring and you’re the coach in the corner that is just hyping them up and then sending them back out to the spinning wheel that’s in the center of the ring.