Monday, September 21, 2015

Meet the Designers: Deborah Hess — One-Skein Wonders for Babies

Get to know the knitters behind the designs in the newest One-Skein Wonders book.

Baby Gansey Crossover Coat, designed by Deborah Hess. Photo © Geneve Hoffman Photography, excerpted from One-Skein Wonders for Babies. All rights reserved.
Every knitter knows there’s something special about making handmade items for a new baby — so special, in fact, that we’ve dedicated a whole book to it: One-Skein Wonders for Babies, edited by Judith Durant, arrived on shelves this month and we’re thrilled to share it with knitters everywhere.

To celebrate this new addition to the One-Skein Wonders family, we’re talking to some of the talented people who helped make this book a rich library of patterns for babies, new moms, and the knitters who love them. Today, meet designer Deborah Hess.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you live? How long have you been a knitter and designer? 

I came to New England for college and never left. Since I wasn’t born in this region, I will always be from “away,” but I have lived here for most of my life. I grew up just outside of New York City, where one of the talented people who worked in our household basically saved my life and taught me to knit.

As for original designs, I have a fat folder full of my own, but the Baby Gansey Crossover Coat in the book is the first one I have submitted for publication. I tend to knit the way I cook, never quite following the directions exactly as they’re written. Occasionally this gets me into trouble, but for the most part, it has led to some designs that have given me lots of happy hours.

How did you learn to knit?

I learned to knit from a remarkable woman, named Netta, who worked for my mother. She was Scottish and grew up in poverty, passed around from relative to relative. Formally, she had an 8th grade education, but by the time she got to us, Netta had educated herself and could do the New York Times crossword puzzle in under an hour, in ink. She took care of the cooking at our house and she was fearless and imaginative — there was nothing she didn’t turn her hand to. In addition to all her other talents, Netta was a phenomenal knitter. She never used a pattern, but always turned out amazing garments. I spent every free minute with Netta, and badgered her until she agreed to teach me to knit. I would bring her birds’ nests of messes, and she would make me fix things by myself, while she looked over my shoulder. It was a great lesson in developing problem-solving skills and confidence. In later life, Netta apologized that she had not helped me more. I replied that without her, I would not have developed independence and understanding.
Baby Gansey Crossover Coat, designed by Deborah Hess. Photo © Geneve Hoffman Photography, excerpted from One-Skein Wonders for Babies. All rights reserved.
Tell us about the inspiration for your project in the book, and any special details that went into the design.

The gansey tradition comes from Scotland, and is the ancestor of the Irish fisherman knits. Thanks to Netta, I have always been interested in the industrious women from the British Isles and around the world (lost to history, for the most part) who used their considerable talents to keep their loved ones warm.

As for the construction, I first found something similar in a French pattern book from the early 70’s. I loved it then, and love it now. And it can be buttoned in the front or in the back!

Is there anything you especially love about knitting, or designing, for babies?

Who doesn’t love knitting for a new little person? Babies are small and square, which makes garments quicker to complete and generally less complicated to execute. And, to channel Elizabeth Zimmermann, a baby couldn’t care less about what you put her/him in, so you can please yourself!

Apart from knitting, what keeps you busy and fulfilled these days?

I spent 30 years in the classroom, laughing and learning with children, and also teaching them how to knit. Nowadays, I continue to teach knitting, thereby combining two great passions. I offer a before-school class at an elementary school in town, and I teach at a local yarn shop, volunteer at the library, sing in a chorus, and take care of my grandson, who is a joy and has many knitted garments.

Do you have a favorite piece of knitting advice that you received, or one you’ve learned yourself that you’d like to pass on?

I always tell my (adult) students, “If you like it, it’s right. If you don’t like it, it’s wrong.” Also, a great piece of advice that I was given is this: If you are thinking about frogging, you may as well just do it right away. Once the idea gets into your head, it isn’t going to go away, and you will just have more to rip out later.

Find more from Deborah on Ravelry under the username CurlyQueue.

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