special to The Panopticon by Dolores Van Hoofen
Knitter, spinner and author Shannon Okey, also known to the blog world as knitgrrl, is presently on the road shilling her new book Spin to Knit (Interweave Press).
Spin to Knit is a cheerful, lavishly illustrated guide to spinning your own knitting yarns.
Newcomers will appreciate the comprehensive, step-by-step text, which covers everything from fiber selection to the idiosyncratic behavior of handspun knits. Established spinners will find inspiration in fresh project suggestions and interviews with fiber lovers across the country.
I caught up with Shannon in between stops on her multi-city tour. Which was not easy, because when she first saw me she tried to run away. I love it when they put up a fight.
DVH: Shannon honey, that chair's very uncomfortable. Why don't you come sit over here on the sofa by me?
Shannon: Um...okay. I thought Franklin was supposed to interview me.
DVH: He had to go to a prayer meeting. You want a drink, cupcake?
Shannon: It's a little early in the day, isn't it? Oh, alright. If you insist.
DVH: Groovy. So, "Knit Grrl," is that some kind of Esperanto or did you just make a typo and stick with it?
Shannon: Before there were a million knitting and craft books to choose from, when the craft section of the bookstore was a wasteland of baby quilt books and dusty copies of the Woodstock Craftsman's Manual, and Bust and Venus were a blink in their editors’ eyes, there were Riot Grrl and Simple Machines. Their supporters promoted the DIY ethic before it was fashionable. Simple Machines distributed tens of thousands of copies of their self-publishing how-to book for musicians. Riot Grrl influenced thousands of women my age to go out and be the change we wanted to see in the world–make our own books, records, art shows, you name it.
Gosh, Dolores. How much tequila did you put in there? I’m having 1992 flashbacks.
Anyway, it was a deliberate homage to Riot Grrl. I wanted to encourage new knitters to learn, spread the knowledge and make their own creations rather than dress just like everyone else.
DVH: And now you're all over the damn place. I checked out the new Knitty, and there you are. I opened Spin Off today, and there you are. I'm afraid to open the frigging medicine cabinet because you might fall out. What's it like to suddenly be America's Sweetheart of Spinning?
Shannon: Is that anything like the Courtney Love album America’s Sweetheart? I hope so. I’d rather be America's Sweetheart of Spinning than "the Donald Trump of knitting with better hair."
DVH: Do you have groupies? Stalkers? Hangers-on waiting by the stage door?
Shannon: Not yet. But if they show up with fiber they won't be waiting by the stage door for long. Amy Singer and I almost stalked Tracey Ullman this weekend, but we lost our nerve. Once Tracey called Amy "the Bono of knitting," it was girl crush city.
DVH: Girl crush? Really? Say, can I freshen up that drink for you?
Shannon: Thanks, but I'm fine...Did you drink that whole thing already?
DVH: I was feeling dehydrated. So, your first spinning project involved "a saucy ram named Eddie." If he's the same Eddie I know, you're a very lucky lady. Did you get to know him a little before you picked him out of the flock, or was it just an anonymous quickie?
Shannon: Well, I petted him for a good long time.
DVH: Ahem. Are you sure I can't top off that cosmo?
Shannon: No. Really.
DVH: Suit yourself. You have a lot of great information in Spin to Knit about fiber selection for beginners. How do you feel about...let's say...Romney?
Shannon: Romney’s what I learned on. Raw fleece, none of this preprocessed stuff.
DVH: Raw and natural. Woof. My kinda gal. What do you think of my fleece? Would you spin this?
DVH: Go ahead. Have a feel.
Shannon: It's very nice, Dolores. What do you use for conditioner?
DVH: That wasn't much of a feel. Have another go. Maybe a little higher.
Shannon: I think I'd like that second drink now.
DVH: So, we're friends. Let's get personal. Panties. Are you a cotton print or silk-and-lace sort of girl?
Shannon: Who said I’m wearing–Cotton. Yeah. That’s it. Cotton. Can we talk some more about the book?
DVH: The what?
Shannon: The book. Spin to Knit. That I just wrote.
DVH: Oh, yeah. Sure. What made you decide to write it?
Shannon: Interweave asked. And when Interweave asks… short of concrete-booting someone into a river, I’m there. Linda Ligon had the original concept, Betsy Armstrong (the former books editor) asked me for an outline and it was in her hands 45 minutes later. I was excited about it from the start.
DVH: I bet you're cute when you're excited. Did you learn anything new while you were working on it?
Shannon: Definitely. I traveled around the country–over 6,000 miles by plane, train, bus and car over the course of a month–and met up with the featured spinners in their own studios and working environments. I learned something new from everyone… Laura and Sarah dye with lichens, Symeon’s husband built her an electric spinner from an old sewing machine. You name it–there was a learning opportunity around every corner.
I don’t pretend to be the greatest spinner on earth, or the most technical spinner. But I love fiber, and I’m enthusiastic. You can learn something new from almost anyone if you pay attention.
DVH: Do you think anyone can learn to spin?
Shannon: Oh, yes.
DVH: Even Britney Spears?
Shannon: That depends. Is Sean Preston on her lap?
DVH: Celebrity gossip time! Tell me something really juicy about the people at Interweave.
Shannon: If it ever came down to it, certain authors would mud wrestle to have Ann Budd as their editor, myself included. Tricia Waddell has the hottest shoe collection on earth. They call Anne Merrow (the editor for my felting book) and Ann Budd “the A-Team,” since they share an office.
DVH: Is Amy Singer as hot in person as she is in her picture?
Shannon: Scorching. You have no idea.
DVH: Oooh. Another drink, pretty lady?
Shannon: Is Franklin coming home soon?
DVH: Franklin who? Oh damn, the silly little bottle's empty. Let's spin it and see who it points to.
Shannon: Wow, time's up! Gottagobye!