Designer Interview with Pam Allen

Happy Seis de Mayo! We are very happy to give you an insightful interview with a woman who needs no introduction. Enjoy this interview with Pam Allen of Quince and Co. She is lovely!  And remember to read the instructions for entering a drawing for some special gifts from Pam and Quince.

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Pam Allen

How does Maine inspire your design process?

I don’t think there’s a direct connection, e.g. I go to the beach and come back with a specific color/motif  idea. I sometimes think that I’d have far more sweater ideas if I lived in NYC or a larger city where you’re surrounded by display windows and people in great get ups. Not that we don’t take clothes seriously in Portland, but a fashion hub we definitely are not. Forests, beaches, rocks, marshes, waves and spray–these inspire  appreciation and awe—and those  in turn make me want to make something pretty.  And nature in its various manifestations shows endless examples of proportion, scale, texture, color, etc.

What is your design process? Do you start with a sketch? Do you sit at your computer?

Designs come in different ways—sometimes from a page in a magazine—a sweater, tablecloth, jacket, painting, room. Other times, and more now than before, from yarn itself and the process of swatching. I’m not interested anymore in strained details—I ‘ve done too many. These days, I try—though I sometimes fail—to make things as simple as possible with as much detail as I can manage worked in as I go, e.g. button bands, trims, pockets.

When an idea gels, I come up with a schematic. When the numbers are clear, I go to a computer program I have and make a chart of the sweater—at least, I chart the point at which I start knitting.  I’d like to say I think through an entire sweater at once. But I don’t. My brain isn’t set up for managing the whole process in my imagination. I know how to get started, I know where I want to go, but I have to see things as they go along to make sure my idea of pattern and proportion are working out. If I have someone else knit the piece, I ask them to bring the project by so I can see how close it is to my idea of what it should be. Othewise, it feels Much easier to complete the next step when I can see the thing live.

If you didn’t live in Portland, where would you live and why?

portland

Portland, Maine

Is there anywhere else to live?

I’ll never move. Unless it’s to someplace with gray skies, blustery wind, waves, mountains, and few people. Now that I think about it, I might like Newfoundland.

What do you think the perfect knitted garment is and what do you try to accomplish in a knitted garment design?

The perfect sweater is different for everyone. For me, it’s something  cozy. Probably oversized. But it isn’t something I wouldn’t want to wear out and about. And something that I feel has a certain panache.

I had a sweater from Urban Outfitters (yikes) that I wore almost everyday for an entire winter. Loved the color (dark green heather), the stitch, the shape. By spring it was a shaggy mess. I haven’t worn it since, but it’s still in my closet.

When I look at your recent Quince designs, I see a few themes:  oversized scarves and cowls, shrugs with interesting sleeve details, oversized cardigans (with large front panels), and lace knit berets.  Is there anything that you especially love to design? What is the pattern you are most proud of?

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Fiona Pullover

I love the Fiona Pullover for its simplicity.  Accessories, like cowls, are a pleasure. You can’t go wrong. They can’t not fit.

So much that I’ve knitted, I never really wanted to wear.  Before the on-line designer explosion, designs were submitted to publications who were usually looking for something around a theme. So what I designed in the old days had little to do with what I wanted to wear. Now that I can think about sweaters I’d actually wear—the simpler, plainer, the better.

Kilkenny Cowl

Kilkenny Cowl

If you could knit anything for yourself, what would you knit and what yarn would you choose?

I’d knit lots of mittens—all kinds–Scandinavian patterns and Latvian colorwork on small needles, etc. (I see that this answer conflicts with the one above, but mittens and sweaters are worlds apart.).  I never have enough mittens and finding two of the same is a treat. It’s mitten weather for a good part of the year here—I’d love to knit a surfeit [of mittens].

You were with Classic Elite Yarns and Interweave Knits. You have published countless patterns (ravelry says 245 but I’m sure there are more) and you now make yarn in an historic mill from American sheep.  Can you talk about this career progression and how you wound up where you are now? Were you ever unsure of your next step?

I think it’s natural to keep exploring something you love. As an editor at a knitting magazine, I enjoyed reading and writing about knitting and working with designers. At CEY, I loved creating yarn palettes and trying to forge  a design identity for the company. Then I met the owner of a local mill and loved the idea of actually making yarns  here—in the U.S. I find it sad that at one time we had a thriving textile industry in this country and so little of it remains. The idea of doing SOMETHING with fiber right here, and actually creating a yarn, not just buying a yarn already invented from an overseas mill was just too compelling. And I’d been working with Carrie Hoge and it was irresistible—imaging what we could do if we had a yarn company.

Unsure about the next step? I usually take the step and later feel unsure. Right now, I’m glad to be where I am. But sometimes, the enormity of the whole thing keeps me awake at night.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned during your career in this industry?

I’ve learned that knitting, however traditional and old a craft it is, is part of an industry that is constantly changing. The internet has played a big part in its recent evolution (the industry).  I don’t assume anymore that I know where it’s going or what it will look like in a few years. I couldn’t have predicted where it would be today when I started as editor at Interweave Knits. We barely had a website then. Imagine.

You have spoken about your goal of having a local yarn made from animals raised in Maine in other interviews. Do you see the Maine sheep farms as a growing business?  Is the Maine climate and vegetation ideal for certain breeds? How many years out will it be before Quince yarns are made from Maine raised sheep?

It would be lovely to source wool from specific breeds and farms, but I don’t see us doing that. From the start, I wanted a business that operated on a scale that was big enough to compete with yarns from other countries. It is VERY expensive to make a yarn in this country and it gets harder to contain costs all the time. The only way to keep things reasonable is to work on as grand a scale as possible—which is still tiny relative to most in the global yarn industry.

That said, how I would love someday to work with specific large ranches—to buy right from the farm and find a way to economically process the fiber, etc. I’d love to be closer to the origin of our fiber. Right now, we buy US wool from a broker. It’s easy and economical.

In March, the wool alpaca blend Owl was released. You have clearly had a very busy Spring! Can you tell us about the process of making a new yarn?  Do you think about the final product and then search for the materials or the reverse?

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Owl

I’ve always wanted to do a wool/alpaca blend WOOLEN spun. Most, if not all, alpaca yarns that are imported are worsted spun. They’re soft and pretty, but they are disappointingly limp and drapey—even a little dead, at times. I think that’s because they’re spun on a system that takes the air (loft) out of the yarn.

Alpaca spun on a woolen system has lots more air in it. And given that alpaca fiber is hollow, the woolen system enhances the fiber’s lightness instead of compacting it. I love our new yarn. Like linen, it gets better with handling and washing. It positively blossoms.

The biggest challenge with the new yarn was finding consistent, good quality domestic alpaca at a reasonable price.  The alpaca industry in the US has, until recently, been oriented around animals, not their fiber. But things are changing and the US alpaca farmers are thinking in terms of ‘industry’ and starting to breed for lovely fiber. Can’t wait until there are brokers who can supply us with the quality and quantity of fleece that we’re looking for. Right now, it’s a patchy process.  And a lot of phone calls.

One more thing about the new yarn: Our wool yarns come in saturated colors. We dye white yarns and the colors are clean and crisp. What I love about Owl is that we can overdye the heathery blends for heathered colors. The first group of colors are overdyed on our medium-gray blend. The next batch coming soon will be pale and pretty, dyed over a very pale gray blend.  For fall, we’ll overdye the really dark gray blend for deep, dark, rich, almost black hues. Can’t wait.

Note: Quince yarn is spun at the historic Saco River Dyehouse in Biddeford, Maine. I spoke to them on the phone and they gave us permission to use this amazing photos from their website. So neat! Must visit! 

saco

saco2

saco3

saco4

Who comes up with the color palette?

Choosing colors is a group effort. We all get involved and spend way too much time playing with combo’s. The idea is to find a group of colors that look good together as a cohesive palette, but also stand alone as appealing colors all by themselves. Not quite as easy as you might think.

What is the timeline of putting together a photo shoot? Can you talk about Carrie’s photography and how it works so well for Quince?  We asked her about Chloe, your wonderful model, in her interview. Can you describe a Quince photo shoot for our readers? What do you like about photo shoots in Maine compared to other parts of the country?

First, we wouldn’t be Quince without Carrie. She came up with the name of the company and her photography and graphic design has created our identity.  And it’s a pleasure to work with her.

We do a lot of photography and some of our shoots are on-the-wing affairs and others involve a lot of planning and care. In general, if we’re doing a collection,  we  have more of an overall  concept in mind that involves thinking more about model, location, props. But we also do quick shoots and more than once we’ve  used whatever the model had on for styling, e.g. the cover of our sock book, due out on April 30, carries a photo of  Nyanen’s endless legs with her little flowered skirt on top.  The skirt was serendipitous, but the flower motif in it suggested a theme that Carrie used throughout the layout of the book.

SocksCover

Socks
Book One

Shoots in general are the most exhausting experience. So many unknowns and moment by moment decisions. We use only natural light, so a room may make a great location when we get started, but in another hour we’ll have lost the magic light and the pictures start to lose their life. We like to shoot outdoors, but in Maine, it’s too cold for comfortfor  most of the year. And last summer, we had sunny day after sunny day—and contrary to expectations, sunny weather makes awful pictures—model squinting into the camera, harsh shadows on her face, etc. Best is to shoot very early in the morning, at dawn. But you only have a window of an hour or so. Very stressful if you have more than one thing to shoot.

A word on our models: We use real people. We are forever looking at people on the street, in grocery stores, riding a bike, in restaurants. It can be embarrassing. But we’ve found that we get wonderful photos with people who don’t think of themselves as models. Often, their expressions, gaze, stance are more  honest and personal—doesn’t look posed.

How many hours per week do you work?  Do you still find time to knit for yourself?

Too many and no, sadly.

What is your advice to budding designers? What are your favorite resources for designing (computer programs? Stitch dictionaries?)

My only advice, really, is to knit. Every time I swatch something, every time I make something, even after all these years, I learn something. It’s important to understand what stitches do, what shaping does. Designing a sweater is a combination of creating a fabric and a shape at the same time. It’s a challenge, at times, to get their relationship just right.  One has to complement and support the other.  When a silhouette and a stitch and a detail all come together in a beautiful way, it’s satisfying. I see designs, at times, that I don’t particularly love, but often I can’t help but appreciate the thought and imagination that went into the piece—the use of stitch, color,  etc.

Do you think there is a book that every knitter should have on his or her bookshelf?

Barbara Walker, for sure. Susanna Lewis’s Knitting Lace—just for pleasure of her understanding of stitch structure. The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design—my copy is in tatters, but it has the best discussion of how to think about and shape sleeve caps I’ve ever seen.

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Thank you, Pam! It was an honor to chat with you!

Needles for blog

Pam has kindly donated one skein of Owl and the Sherwood Mitts pattern to two winners.

owlmitts

To be entered into the drawing, you must leave a comment on this post. Subscribing to the blog is still the best way to get updates about future drawings, but a comment here will enroll you in this month’s drawing.

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On June 1, a random number generator will be used to select two winners. The winners will be notified using the subscription email address. Please make sure that you add Nancy@Whitknits.com to your address book. Winners will have one week to reply to the notification email before a new winner is selected. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you and good luck!

 

 

 

 

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64 Comments

  1. Sarah
    Posted May 24, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful interview. I envy people who find what they love and manage to build a career around that. Like many, I have a job that I tolerate and that helps to fund the things I love.

    Pretty pattern…and I’d love the opportunity to try the yarn.

  2. Cyndi
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    What an interesting interview! Thanks so much for doing this. 🙂

  3. Debbie
    Posted May 15, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    What an interesting interview! I’ll be visiting the mill in less than a month, and this really got me excited!

  4. D Louise
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    What an interesting interview. Must try some of those yarns! Wish there were a local source so I could fondle them.

  5. Murphy
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Now that I know more about Quince, I understand why I have been so drawn to it!

  6. shantiknits
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful photos! Would love to work with Owl.

  7. Mary Keely
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Beautiful mitts! I LOVE Pam’s designs!

  8. Joanne
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    I have been wanting to try Quince Yarn- nearly done with a shawl….hmm….

  9. Candace McKenna
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Gorgeous yarn and pattern, I’d be thrilled win this!!!!

  10. Gretchen
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I love Quince & Co’s yarn – it’s so squishy!!! Would love to give owl a try.

  11. Kelly S
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    This looks like lovely yarn…I would love to win some!

  12. Gail
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    I’d love to try Owl!

  13. Marybeth
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    I stumbled upon Quince yarns about 6 months ago and love them! Would really live to give the owl a spin!

  14. Pat
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I love Pam’s designs. Great interview. Please enter me to win!

  15. Pam T.
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    It was fun reading about Pam Allen and Carrie. I love the color palette of Quince & Co. yarns. So far, I’ve only knit with Sparrow, but I’m anxious to try some others! The hand warmer pattern is very cute. Thanks for the opportunity to win the Owl yarn!

  16. Becky
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I love Quince yarns! And this new one looks especially amazing.

  17. Luv2CUSmile
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    This was a great interview! Excited about the yarn but i am adding those books to my “must get” list. BTW, i have always thought to live in Maine. I am obsessed with mystery books taking place in the territory there. I definitely need to visit one day.

  18. LuisaM
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Beeing in Europe, I’ve been admiring Quince yarns from a distance, specially after Gudrun Johnston using them in her designs. I would love to try it.

  19. Mya
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Love that pattern and I’ve love to get a hold of some of that yarn. 🙂

  20. Hannah
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I love Quince yarns so much, and would be so excited to try Owl!

  21. Pat
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the giveaway and the inspiring chat with Pam.

  22. Rebecca
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Great interview, and now I’m going to add a new yarn to my “want” list!

  23. Helen
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed the interview with Pam very much. She has some great patterns and the yarn looks great to work with. I would love to win this yarn and pattern and have the chance to work with this yarn.

  24. Pat Gilmer
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Lovely interview, lovely yarn! I would be thrilled to win this drawing!

  25. Posted May 7, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    The mitts are gorgeous…I wear mitts when the office is chilly!

  26. Ruth
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    What an interesting interview. Thanks for the chance to win some Owl.

  27. shantiknits
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    The new yarn looks beautiful!

  28. Lori B
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    A very interesting interview. I learned a lot and even ordered a couple of the books that Pam recommended. I will definitely be following her advice to knit more. Thank you for the article & give away!

  29. MaybeeSomeday
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I love Pam’s design. They are always so classic.

  30. Linda
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Owl sounds lovely! I’d love a chance to try it out.

  31. Posted May 7, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I can’t say it enough. I love, love, love Quince and Co. and their patterns. Pam Allen is a remarkable woman. It shows as she is able to surround herself with such talented people. I really enjoyed the interview. Thanks for great giveaway.

    Bordergirl

  32. Rachel McKinney
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Love the colors!

  33. Jessica
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I love Quince yarns. I’m really looking forward to trying Owl for a project (it looks perfect for the oatmeal sweater I plan to recreate for my mama).

  34. Kristin
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Thank you. You’ve piqued my interest in exploring yarn from Quince and other small companies using American wool.

  35. Katie
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Thank you for a lovely interview. I’ve never used Quince before but one of my LYS’s is becoming a stockist soon.

  36. Becca
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Wow! Great interview, I already love Quince and Co. This just cemented our relationship.

  37. Posted May 7, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I also find it sad that we have such a rich history of textiles but now we practically import everything. It’s very sad to me. Great article though.

  38. Linda Roller
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed this interview with Pam. The factory photos are wonderful.I like how the colors of yarns are a group effort. Rinebird@gmail.com.

  39. Connie
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the delightful and insightful interview! After reading about it – who could resist trying Owl? Who? Who? :0)

  40. Peggy Rossmiller
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I love that her design choice for what she wears in sweaters is simple and loose. Nice interview. Thanks!

  41. Arlene
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I am thrilled to be travelling to Maine in June with a group of knitters. I can hardly wait to see Quince yarns in person and also visit the Saco River Dyehouse. Your new ‘Owl’ yarn is intriguing. Looks like something I’m going to love.

    I think I may be coming home with a very full suitcase…and that’s just fine with me.

  42. Shaela Forbes
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Love your yarns

  43. Ummrania
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    What a great giveaway. I would love to be able to try Quince and Co. products!

  44. Connie
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Wonderful, wonderful interview. Thank you!
    I love Quince and all that it represents. And I love all of Carrie’s work! A big thank you to Pam Allen for what she has created and continues to do.

  45. Cindy
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this interview. It inspires me to move forward with my designs. I think I need to visit Maine too: ). I can’t wait to try the new yarn! Thank you!

  46. Teesabirdwoman
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I love quince and company! Thanks again for another wonderful interview.

  47. Sherry Bishop
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Enjoyed reading this article, hope you have more like it in the future.

  48. Jennifer
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    How wonderful–interview and prize!

  49. LauraBeth
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I love Quince and Co yarns; they’ve definitely become one of my go-to workhorse yarns.

  50. Dianne in IN
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I’m always amazed at designers. I’m lucky to find a pattern I can fully understand and finish completely..I’m thinking I want to visit Portland, ME, now, looks beautiful! Thanks, Pam.

  51. Rebecca
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Fascinating interview – thank you so much!

  52. Carolyn
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Drank in every word … absolutely delightful. Nancy, thank you for wonderful piece; Ms Allen, thank you for sharing.

  53. Bonnie Pierce
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    It’s so exciting to read about all the knitting going on in Maine, since I live there too!

  54. Leslie
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    What a delightful way to start my day!

  55. Carolyn Robinson
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    I have several patterns from Quince’s fabulous designers and I love them all. I would love to receive the Owl yarn and pattern to make my daughter some mitts. She does data programming and her hands get cold but needs to leave her fingers free.

  56. Donna
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    What a great interview. I have followed Pam Allen for years and love what she is doing with Quince & Co. I would be thrilled to win this giveaway. Thanks for the inspiration!

  57. Tammy Sutherland
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    What a lovely & insightful interview. Thank you.

  58. Sheila hensler
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    As a newbie spinner I was particularly interested in the comments about the worsted vs woolen methods of spinning alpaca. There is an alpaca farm about 1/2 mile from me and I will be visiting this spring and will keep this article in mind. The yarn and pattern being offered are lovely and I would love to win!

  59. Collette Plaquet
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this interview. I am fascinated by the prospect of purchasing American made yarn. I have yet to knit a cowl but your Kilkenny is one I would love to knit. Can’t wait to try Owl as well. Again thank you.

  60. Keren
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    Inspiring!

  61. Lauren Kowalczewski
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    I love Pam’s designs!! This was such a great interview and the pictures were so interesting. I love alpaca’s, too. I’m looking for some yarn now to make my Sis some socks.
    I just saw the Owl yarn advertised today, so I would LOVE to have some of that!!

  62. jezz
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    What a great story about Quince! Loved the photos, the questions, the inspiration.

  63. Karen
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    I am just finishing a cardigan in Lark.
    The yarn is soft and has great stitch definition. I am ready to try many other products with Quince & Co. Yarn.

  64. Posted May 7, 2013 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    I would love to try Quince & Co.’s Owl base. Hope I win!

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