Outdoorsy Knits, Driven by Wanderlust
Andrea Rangel gets around. She spent her first eight years in a missionary community in the rainforest of Peru, her parents and grandparents having been missionaries. She attended high school in Tucson, Arizona; college in Seattle, Washington; and then joined the Peace Corps, where she served in Jordan. Her bike is her primary mode of transportation, and she has ridden it all over the Netherlands, as well as British Columbia, where she and her husband now live. So it’s no wonder “movement and directionality” are what subconsciously came to mind when designing her mini-collection for knitscene.
“I like design that has a really strong purpose,” Andrea told me when I asked if she designs for her own lifestyle, “and that might mean outdoorsy, rugged stuff.” Many of her designs come from an explicit need of her own, like her Kust vest, which she designed to layer over and under everything on that Netherlands biking-camping trip. “But something’s purpose might also be to be absolutely gorgeous. I think being beautiful is as valid a function as anything else.” As an example, she mentioned her enormous lace circle shawl, Arbre—“It’s really all about the drama with that shawl”—which could be a wedding shawl or a baby blanket, but which Andrea would likely stuff in her backpack to take to a blustery beach.
Like so many of us, Andrea learned to knit from her grandmother as a small child but didn’t take to it. During college, while spending Thanksgiving with an aunt who knit, she declared her desire to learn again. Her aunt went stash-diving for something to teach her with and came up with a skein of dark purple laceweight mohair—“the absolute worst possible thing for a beginner, but I loved it”—and from that day she was hooked. The purple mohair became a wonky strip of fabric that she sewed into a bag and proudly carried around school. There was no YouTube to learn from then, and it never occurred to her to sign up for a class. But she was working in the school library, so she checked out a lot of knitting books and learned everything “the hardest way possible.” She began knitting as much as she could, whenever she could, even making deals with herself about how much knitting time she could earn by completing various tasks (“If I grade ten papers, I can knit for fifteen minutes,” and so on).
After college, she worked as a substitute teacher and part-time in a yarn store, where the owner asked her to teach. Again taking the hardest route, she came up with her own sock pattern for the class, wrote it up, and printed it out. “There weren’t any photos, and it was full of mistakes. I didn’t know about tech editors, had no idea how these things were done. It all seemed really hard to me; there was math, and I thought, ‘I really like knitting. Maybe I should just stick with that.’” But she kept at it, developed her skills and her sensibility, and roughly five years later published her first pattern—a lace shawl called Hex—in the Fall 2009 issue of Knitty. “By then I felt like ‘yeah, I could do this.’”
Andrea’s been publishing ever since, mixing self-published patterns with those developed in collaboration with companies such as Brooklyn Tweed and Tolt Yarn and Wool as well as for magazines including knitscene and Interweave Knits. At the heart of her knitscene collection is the humble chevron. “I think everyone who’s a designer is attracted to the chevron,” she says, and in conceptualizing these designs she began thinking about the aspects of pointing and of fabric traveling in different directions. “It’s something I’ve wanted to explore, and it was fun to get to play with it in four different ways for this collection.”
Andrea’s first book, Rugged Knits, is her largest collection of outdoorsy patterns in what she describes as “old-time-y camping style.” So sure, there’s a bit of a motif, but across her body of work (ninety published patterns and counting), her greatest inspiration is simply the love of inventing textiles and figuring out what to do with them. “It might be that I have a strong desire to have and wear a thing, or it might be that I just have a really strong desire for that thing to exist in the world.”
Karen Templer writes daily about knitting and handmade style at www.fringeassociation.com and sells beautiful, useful tools and accessories at www.fringesupplyco.com. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Featured image by Getty Images.
Knits That Are Meant to Move