Kirsten Kapur has lived her life surrounded by art. Today she designs and creates art you can live your life in.
With over 300 designs to her credit, our April Teafluencer has designed sweaters, scarves, socks, blankets and more that knitters around the world can create for themselves. An author as well, Kirsten has introduced countless numbers of people to the wonderful world of knitting. While we asked Kirsten to tell us how much yarn she has in her house right now, she said she couldn’t begin to count… which leads us to believe it must be a skeindalous amount!
Read about Kirsten’s designs, inspirations and, of course, her favorite teas!
Harney: Tell us a little about you. Where are you from, educational background, where you live, family, etc.
Kirsten: I was born and raised near Princeton, New Jersey by very creative parents. There were always multiple projects in progress in our home, my father loved photography, woodworking, bread baking and, most of all, his gardens. My mother sewed most of our clothes when we were young, she was also a knitter, quilter and, along with my father, spent a lot of time creating beautiful gardens.
My parents encouraged my sisters' and my creative curiosity by providing materials for painting, drawing, sewing and allowing us plenty of time to explore the natural world around our home. We would gather flowers in the garden to press between pages of books and later glue to folded sheets of paper to make cards. We'd collect sticks, twigs, rocks and shells which we glued to pieces of weathered boards to make art to hang on our walls. I eventually went to art school where I spent most of my time painting and printmaking. After college, I found my way into the garment industry, first as an apparel designer and then eventually as a textile designer creating prints for the ready-to-wear market. I left the garment industry after my children were born, because the hours I was expected to work would mean I'd seldom see my kids.
Kirsten: Luckily, my garment industry experience was nothing like “The Devil Wears Prada!” There were certainly people who were difficult to deal with, but on the whole I worked with good people. I started in apparel design but it wasn't hands-on enough for me, so I eventually found my way to textile design. In textile design, I was able to apply the skills I learned in art school. At the time everything was still done by hand, so we painted each print in multiple colorways in our design studio. Customers often wanted a print repainted in the color story they were working with in a given season, so there were some prints that we painted many, many times. I was also responsible for overseeing the actual print runs in the textile mills to ensure that the colors printed on the fabric matched our swatches. I loved being a part of the whole process from concept to final product.
Harney: You’ve said that everything you did professionally in those years came neatly together in knitwear design. How so?
Kirsten: Knitwear designers design the textile as well as the silhouette, so it's a marriage of the two different jobs I had in the garment industry. For example, when designing a cardigan I might create swatches of different cable or lace patterns to see what works well in that particular yarn; in this step I am creating the textile. But other decisions must also be made like what type of neckline or sleeve I want the cardigan to have. Having an independent design business also requires a lot of skills beyond design. My time in the garment industry taught me things I draw on all the time when working with customers, suppliers and independent contractors. Handling criticism, constructive or otherwise, is always a challenge for designers and I'm no exception, but I do think my time in the garment industry taught me how to accept criticism and identify what is useful and what is not.
Harney: Your business now is primarily designing patterns to sell. Obviously you knit, but you don’t sell the goods you make, do you?
Kirsten: No, I don't make garments to sell. I make all of the samples of my designs, which I use for photography, and to make sure all of the design details work in the finished piece. However, it takes quite a bit of time to knit most of the items I design, so I've never worked out how to sell finished pieces while still making a reasonable hourly wage.
Harney: You’ve had your patterns published in many, many publications, and you retail them on ravelry.com and wholesale on Stitch Sprouts. Do you know how many patterns you’ve created? Where do you get your inspiration?
Kirsten: Over the years I've created somewhere in the neighborhood of 330 designs. I live in NYC, so there's plenty of fashion around and trends to be seen. But I also see patterns and color ideas in the city itself--ceiling tiles, a configuration of windows, wrought-iron fences and railings, bridges, brickwork, trees and plants in the parks, pretty much everywhere. Other times I find inspiration in the yarn itself. A certain color or texture of yarn will lead to an idea that I just can't shake.
Harney: We love the story of how you came to name one of your shawl patterns “Unsinkable.” Could you share that with our readers? Also, do you name all your patterns yourself? If so, isn’t that like having dozens of children to name? The pressure!
Kirsten: I was born on the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. (You can figure out how old I am now, go ahead, look it up. I'll wait...) As a result, I've always been very interested in the story of the Titanic. For the 100th anniversary and my 50th birthday, I decided to create a design in honor of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, one of the most famous survivors of the Titanic disaster. I used a lace pattern that, to my eye, looks like churning water, and a beautiful yarn that was dyed by a friend of mine specifically for the project. The yarn is a beautiful soft blue, with tiny flecks of metallic silver.
Naming patterns can be tricky. Most knitters use Ravelry.com these days. As of this writing, there are 581,160 hand knitting patterns on Ravelry, so it's easy to repeat names that have already been used by other designers. I try to avoid this as much as I can, so I do a lot of googling to find more unique names. Early on I used botanical plant names like Cladonia (a type of lichen) and Ulmus (the elm tree), but I found that some of the names were hard for knitters to remember and pronounce. Recently I've been using a lot of street names, I have a pattern called Bradford Road, the street I lived on until I was nine, and another called Dover Lane, the street that intersected Bradford Road. New York City and all of its boroughs have a lot of street names to choose from, so I use those a lot too. Most of my family members have had patterns named for them. I have a sweater named Mutti's Blueberries in honor of my mom (Mutti is German for Mom, and my mom had a row of blueberry bushes in her garden that are a very fond memory from my childhood).
Harney: You’re also a published author. Your first book is called Kirsten Kapur Shawl Book One, and then you’re a co-author of Drop-Dead Easy Knits. Did you enjoy the process of being an author, and what can readers expect to learn from reading your books?
Kirsten: I published Kirsten Kapur Shawl Book One independently. For this book I did everything myself except for the photos, which my friend Gale Zucker took. Every decision about what to include, what yarns to use, the styling of the photos, the layout and how I wanted the finished book to look was my own. I enjoyed the creative freedom, but it was also a lot of work. Shawl Book One is a collection of some of my most popular shawl patterns up to that time. The book contains mostly intermediate- to advanced-level patterns, but an adventurous beginner will find a few patterns at their level as well.
Drop-Dead Easy Knits was published by a traditional publisher. It has a collection of patterns for all levels of knitters. I like to think that it's a book that a beginning knitter could have in their library and reach to again and again as their skills develop. My co-authors, Gale Zucker and Mary Lou Egan, and I wanted to create patterns that knitters could work on in different knitting situations, from a chatty knitting group, to a stressful family gathering. There are parts of some of the patterns that take a little more concentration and many parts that require less, so we notated the patterns with "cruise control" for the easy sections and "concentration zone" for places that require more attention. Working with a traditional publisher was much different than my experience self-publishing; many of the decisions on things like color, styling and yarns were made by multiple people, and the publisher did all of the layout and book design. We were lucky to have photographer Gale Zucker as one of the co-authors, so we had more creative input on the photos than is typical for traditionally published knitting books. My daughter Sofie has modeled for me since I began designing, and she modeled designs in both books. She also modeled in a third book that I did in cooperation with the yarn company mYak, where her twin sister Isabella shared the modeling duties.
Harney: The description of Drop-Dead Easy Knits talks about how the patterns in the book basically won’t cause you to break out in a cold sweat and can be created while “binge-watching a show, waiting for your plane to board or having a ‘wine and knitting’ night with friends.” Tell us-- does one generally end up with two socks that are nowhere close to being similar in size when one has a “wine and knitting” night?
Kirsten: Haha! Yes, that does happen. There's also the risk of spilling your drink on your knitting, so we recommend only white wine while knitting.
Photograph credit: Gale Zucker
Harney: You say that you’ve been making things all your life. Looking at your products, it occurs to us that it has to be very freeing in making something completely from scratch, choosing your colors and textures. What’s that feeling like, to picture something you’d like to have and then create it?
Kirsten: It's a very satisfying feeling. I have a spinning wheel and sometimes spin my own yarn. Projects that I've made from yarn I've made give me a lot of joy. After years in the hand-knitting world, I have been lucky to meet a lot of people who produce yarn for the retail market, some of whom have become very good friends. There is nothing like making a sweater or shawl using yarn that one of my friends created. I love wearing those pieces. Not all of my knitting ends up looking exactly as I'd originally envisioned it. Sometimes the idea just doesn't work out no matter how hard I try, and I have to give up on it entirely. But then there are the wonderful times when a design evolves as I work on it, and actually comes out better than my original idea.
Harney: Advice for people who are intimidated by knitting?
Kirsten: Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Everyone makes them, and most of the time in knitting, a mistake won't ruin your yarn. You can always undo it and reknit it. That leads to my second piece of advice: don't be afraid to rip out (a knitting term for taking your knitting off the needles and pulling the yarn to undo it). We all have to undo our knitting from time to time, advanced knitters and beginners alike. Like anything else, learning to knit can be challenging, but if you stick with it you will soon find yourself doing it without thinking (and ripping out a lot less often). There are many excellent knitting tutorials online as well as plenty of learn-to-knit books, but the best way to learn by far is to go to your local yarn store and take a class. You'll have hands-on help from an experienced knitter while supporting a small business at the same time.
Harney: How many skeins of yarn do you have in your house right now?
Kirsten: Oh my gosh, I'm afraid to count, but a lot. I have yarns that are for specific designs, and yarns I've picked up over the years because I knew they were something I'd like to work with. I alternate using both.
Harney: So, how much do you love tea? What role does tea play in your life?
Kirsten: I adore tea. There's a deep drawer in my kitchen that's dedicated entirely to tea. I love a cup of black tea in the afternoon when my concentration starts to fade, and a cup of herbal tea in the evening when I'm relaxing (and usually knitting). My whole family enjoys tea, so we've got quite a range to suit everyone's taste.
Harney: Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea (or anything on your list to try?)
Kirsten: My current favorite is Ginger Licorice, I always have a one-lb. bag of that one on hand. I also really enjoy some of the fruity teas like Goji Berry and Mango Fruit. They're delicious and go a long way toward combating a craving for sweets. For black tea I really like Darjeeling and Chai. My mother-in-law, who grew up in India, taught me to drink black tea with milk, and that's the way I prefer it these days.Are you yarning to see Kirsten’s designs? We thought you might be! Check out her work at her website, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook pages, or pick up your knitting needles and browse her patterns at ravelry.com. We’re grateful that Kirsten took the time to answer our questions and share her awesome creations. All photography was provided by Kirsten.