Behind The Stitches: Vickie Howell
I‘ve been so excited to post this interview from the moment that I hung up the phone. This week’s Sunday inspiration comes from Vickie Howell. Knitter, crafter, and DIY expert Vickie Howell. I had a really hard time editing this one because every step of her crafting journey is integral to understanding the bigger picture. A big reason why I’m able to do what I’m doing now is because of people like Vickie doing what they did first. I honestly feel so grateful to have this interview on the site and I can’t wait to hear what you take away from her story.
(original post date June 16th, 2019)
\”It was sort of that day that I got that knitting was more than just knitting. It could be a through-line for communication and community\”
Sam: Who taught you how to knit?
Vickie: Well, my mom tried to teach me when I was nine and I hated it. She taught me how to crochet, so I did that. But, I actually didn’t learn how to knit until I was maybe twenty-seven/twenty-eight. I was pregnant with my second son and this was around 2001. I had a friend who dragged me kicking and screaming to a knitting store. I had the same sort of misconceptions that I think people still do today about what it is and who does it. But I had never been into a real yarn store before. I walked in and saw all these amazing fibers that I didn’t even know existed.
My background at that point was in the entertainment industry. I started working in the television industry when I was nineteen. Women are not very kind to each other in that industry. Or at least they weren’t in the late 90s early 2000s. I don’t know about now. So I walk in and I see this table of women. There’s a grandma, maybe obviously maybe not. But there’s also a female director, a young ingenue, a trophy wife, a business owner. There was this group of women who may or may not have anything else in common. They were sitting and they were hanging out in a completely unthreatening environment and it was sort of that day that I got that knitting was more than just knitting.
It could be a through-line for communication and community. Then also, of course, creativity and self-expression. The owner of the store is Edith Eig, and this is a store in Los Angeles called La Knitterie Parisienne, where a lot of celebrities learned how to knit. So the combination of all of those things got me started and I have not stopped since.
\”Little did I know I had to move to Texas to get a job in LA\”
Sam: So it sounds like it was really the sense of community that drew you in initially?
Vickie: I think it was a combination of things, but yeah absolutely. I was a newish mom. I had, at that time, an eighteen-month-old at home with my second on the way. I had left my career and my career path in the entertainment industry to stay at home with the babies. I had been creative and crafty since I was a toddler. But I didn’t have a huge community surrounding that. So yeah, I think it was absolutely a combination of community and creativity coming together.
Sam: You mentioned that this shop was in LA. Were you based in LA at the time?
Vickie: Yes, I grew up in Southern California.
Sam: What made you decide to move to Austin?
Vickie: My now ex-husband is from Austin. We had these two babies at home in a small apartment in Torrance, California and at that point, it seemed apparent that I wasn’t going to go back to the entertainment industry. Little did I know I had to move to Texas to get a job in LA. I got Knitty Gritty just a year after that. But we realized that we could have a nice sized home in Austin for the kids for the same price that we were paying for a not so nice apartment in California. So we just decided to do it.
Sam: Do you still have your first WIP and what was it?
Vickie: I don’t still have it. I believe that I tried to make a baby bunny hat. Martha Stewart used to have a Martha Stewart baby magazine. It was a great magazine. I loved it! It was like her magazine now, but it was all for kids and baby stuff. There was a hat in there that was just a plain beanie that had bunny ears. I did something wrong. I think I twisted all of the stitches. It was not successful, but shortly after that I made a pullover for my older son and then a little cardigan for my newer baby son and I believe they were both Debbie Bliss patterns.
Sam: How do you prefer to organize your yarn stash? By color, texture, or no rhyme or reason?
Vickie: Oh, so funny! How do I prefer it or what’s the reality is the real question. How I would prefer it is by color because I like to mix and match stuff all of the time. I like mixing different textures or doing triple-stranded things. But because I’m perpetually running at 150 miles per hour it really just sort of looks like a fiber factory vomited in my studio at any given time.
\”I have an idea I pitch it and see where I can go with it. See where this wonderful journey will take me, because it’s not necessarily normal… the things that I’ve gotten to do from knitting.\”
Sam: Can you walk us through your crafting journey? You kind of started to get into it in terms of your Knitty Gritty show. But what came first and how did you get to where you are now?
Vickie: As I mentioned I was really seeking community. I had started a Stitch’n Bitch group in Los Angeles. It was shortly after maybe the first Stitch’n Bitch books came out by Debbie Stoller. There was a whole call to action to start your own Stitch’n Bitch group. So I started the first one of the time, of course, our foremothers in the sixties were doing it way before then, in Los Angeles. It was just so that I could just have some form of community. I was also checking out a bunch of other groups. There was a church of craft group. Anything that I could find in a magazine I was checking out. So I started this group and I created a logo for it.
I’ve been working really since I was in middle school. It was just weird for me to not have something else. Not that motherhood isn’t a job. I was so used to having a creative outlet. I had started an online craft business and this was way before blogs or Etsy. There weren’t a ton of e-commerce sites in general at the time. It was just sort of a handmade business for moms and their babies.
Then when we moved to Austin I started another Stitch’n Bitch group and then a secondary site. That was for refurbished vintage stuff, like hand-dyed vintage slips and embellished this and that. But on those sites, I put the logo or banner I had designed for the Stitch’n Bitch groups, the LA one and the Austin one, because at the time I was still sort of moderating both boards. A producer, I say googled but it must have been Ask Jeeves it was so long ago, something about \”young hip knitter\”. This must have been in 2004. At the time we were trying as young women to kind of \”reclaim the craft\”. So I think that I probably did reference hipness or youth. I don’t remember what it was. But because there weren’t a ton of sites out and there was no social media, my tag line came up for this producer in California. She sent a Dear Sir or Madam email to my little Ruby Goes Retro vintage site.
When I say “business” it’s the loosest sense of the word. It was really more of an outlet. She said, \”Do you know anybody who would be interested in hosting a knitting show?\” It was like all of the things that I had done for years and years were coming together. I knew how to pitch myself because I had worked for one of the three major talent agencies. I had worked at a production company. So I knew what they were looking for and I had seen other people audition. I called and I pitched myself. This was also the exact same time that I had my first design ever up on knitty.com. It’s a guitar strap and it’s still up to this day. I think it’s called Siouxsie, after Siouxsie and the Banshees. So I had something up to actually show that I did know how to knit.
The producer, her name is Alessandra Ascoli, she said can you get yourself to LA to audition? I had already had a ticket bought for two days later. I was flying out to meet my best friend for a trip that we were going to take.
Sam: NO WAY!
\”If you stay true to the things that you’re really passionate about, in whatever scope you are able to do it that fits in with your life, these things will come to you. You have to be open to them. And you can’t be open to them if you aren’t leaning into the things that really matter to you.\”
Vickie: It was just one of those things where everything aligned. When you’re offered an opportunity like that one from the universe you hold onto it as tight as you can and then run with it. So I did all of that. I pitched my first book within months of that as well. Mind you I was not a knitting expert… then. I had never written a book. I had never hosted anything before. I learned how to do all of those things while I was doing them. That’s sort of how it started. Now, whenever I have an idea I pitch it and see where I can go with it. See where this wonderful journey will take me, because it’s not necessarily normal… the things that I’ve gotten to do from knitting.
Sam: I find that so interesting. Everything that you had done throughout your career found a way to weave itself together.
Vickie: Well, it’s a message that I really like to spread whenever I’m giving talks too. I believe that if you are staying true to your passion… we can only do what we can do we’re all so slammed. So maybe it just means doing a little something every once in a while. Because I felt the need to creatively nurture myself and also give myself some form of… I don’t want to say career, but something else that was mine and that I could feel a sense of success with. I kept doing that but for no other reason than that I needed that community, I needed to be creative, I needed something that I could call my own. Because I did that even though none of those things seemed related at the time it was opening myself up to whatever the universe, or whatever it is you believe, it was all opening me up to be able to receive the bigger picture. So if you stay true to the things that you’re really passionate about, in whatever scope you are able to do it that fits in with your life, these things will come to you. You have to be open to them. And you can’t be open to them if you aren’t leaning into the things that really matter to you.
\”I could tell myself that I couldn’t do it. But when I really looked within it was because I didn’t want to put the effort in that it would take to sort of climb that particular mountain.\”
Sam: Another point is that you seemed to really say yes to opportunities that other less confident people would say no to. I think that a lot of people would have doubts about their abilities and talk themselves out of taking those opportunities. Where do you think that confidence came from?
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