5 minutes with East London Knit
Meet Renée Callahan! After studying art history, Renée intended to carve a career in the world of museums – but thankfully for us, she took a degree in fashion design with knitwear, and her patterns are a joy to behold!
When did your knitting adventure begin?
Although I have always interested in art and always had the urge to make things with my hands, I never considered it a career option growing up. Honestly, I didn’t even know such careers existed! As I was inclined to academia, I studied history of art with with the intention of working in museums until around a decade ago, when I was up for a job that I really wanted but didn’t get. After some soul searching, I decided to go back to university and study something more hands on. My intention was to study drawing or ceramics, but I was lured away from fine art by a wonderful fashion design tutor.
My knitting adventure started when I was accepted to a degree in fashion design with knitwear and I really had to learn to knit! My degree was primarily based on machine knitting, but I have come to love hand knitting, and I tried to learn everything I can about it.
I am always super jealous of those who have a long history of craft in their families because no one in my family knits. It is something I had to find by myself. It’s not such a romantic story, but the truth is the internet and Youtube have been my crafty saviours again and again. Just when I think I know as much as there is to know about a knitting technique, something new appears; a cast on I’ve never seen, a new sweater construction and it blows my mind again! This is the one of the great things about being a crafter today.
What was your biggest knitting fail?
I have had so very many knitting fails, I am sometimes surprised I continued! A particularly painful fail was the first sweater I knit for my husband. I hadn’t hand-knit many garments and didn’t understanding just how badly wrong yarn substitutions could be.
In my first year of knitting, I discovered yarn in the January sales, which overflowed with many a bargain, particularly of the 4-ply cotton variety. I hadn’t knit with that yarn before, but it seemed a safe bet because so much of our clothing is made of cotton. I made the classic newbie error of substituting it in a pattern calling for 4-ply wool.
You can probably guess what happened here: the cotton fabric was heavy and stretched until the arms nearly reached knee-length. Adding to my embarrassment was the fact that the sweater had one raglan sleeve and one set in sleeve, which altered the stretch factor between them, making one arm rather longer than the other, which was, of course, already far too long. The whole sweater seemed to lean to one side with ever-growing sleeves. The man wore a brave face and the sweater until it mysteriously disappeared one day.
If you went for a walk in your neighbourhood, where would you find inspiration?
It is a cliché, but I find inspiration literally everywhere. I am constantly inspired by the natural world, which is all around even though I live in the extremely urban environment of East London. There are wonderful parks and gardens just minutes away. I also love people watching, and I live in a neighbourhood rich with weird and wonderful fashion; from the most colourful African batik to the achingly cool hipster hotspots. Inspiration abounds!
If a knitting genie gave you three wishes, what would you wish for?
This is such a tricky question! How amazing would it be to sprout so many pairs of knitting arms and become a Durga-style knitting goddess? And perhaps I could have a tiny army of Oompa-Loompas for weaving in ends. My most decadent wish would be to have my own mini mill to whip me up amazing custom yarns from a flock of all the most beautiful beasts of the fibre world: every type of fabulous sheep, wonderful alpacas, gorgeous cashmere goats, camels that would stay forever as the softest babies…
If you were a yarn, what would you be?
If I am honest, probably something a bit prickly that softens with wear and affection… maybe I am a lopi yarn!
Last updated: April 14th, 2016.