Maine knitwear designer Bristol Ivy is dedicated to helping knitters everywhere satisfy their yarn porn itch.
Knitting teacher and knitwear designer Bristol Ivy has never followed rules particularly well, an admission that some knitters, who are used to following elaborate charts and directions, might find astounding. “Pretty early on in my knitting career I was just kind of making it up as I went along,” Ivy says.
Ivy started knitting when she was six and her mother taught the garter stitch, the most basic of knitting stitches. It was when she was 17 and a friend taught her how to purl, though, that her knitting life changed. “Watching her create stockinette and ribbing with the help of that mystical purl stitch tipped me over the edge,” Ivy says, “and I haven’t looked back.”
Ivy is mostly self-taught thanks to knitting blogs and watching other knitters, but as knitters know, there’s always more to learn. “I’m actually taking my first knitting class this summer while visiting the Shetland Isles in the UK,” she says, “and I’m so excited to be a student instead of the teacher!”
Inspired by couture and ready-to-wear designers, Ivy is also inspired by architecture, quilt construction, woodwork, and fine carpentry when she creates her designs. “There’s always a wonderful moment in looking at other people’s work where you stop seeing how they did it and start seeing how you might do it: the way a garment is photographed affects your interpretation of the construction, or how your own preferences for technique or style influence how you see the silhouette and pattern,” she says. “We are so shaped by our history—both the history of what we wear and the history of what we make—that often the places where our inspiration starts and the places where the finished piece ends are miles apart. That transition between the two is so interesting to me.”
Ivy started designing with the intent to publish in 2010 while traveling in New Zealand. With limited access to the online knitting world, she spent long bus rides swatching (aka creating small samples to make sure the gauge works for the size needles you’re using), tweaking,and reknitting. Soon the designs for Christchurch Shawl and Bristol’s Cowl were born.
After having various jobs in the industry for about eight years while working on her own knitting designing and teaching business, Ivy went totally freelance in the summer of 2015. The yarn company that employed her was moving across the country, and she decided to stay in Maine rather than make the move. “It was a tough choice,” she says, “but in the end I knew that it was time to give my own dreams a try—and also, I couldn’t leave Maine! It turns out that this lifestyle is pretty much perfect for me; I’m very self-driven and disciplined, love the flexibility of making my own schedule, and wake up each day excited to work.”
“The maker community in Maine is unparalleled, especially when it comes to people working in the knitting industry,” Ivy says. “I started my work in this community surrounded by talented women who were living my dream life, and so it never occurred to me that it might not be possible for me to do the same. These women buoy me up and encourage me, and the ingenuity and hard work of them and the larger community inspires me daily. There’s also the landscape, the weather, the history—I don’t think I could separate my work from Maine if I tried.”
Ivy finds the balance between the mathematical and the artistic expression you can explore through knitting the perfect representation of the different sides of a brain. “You have such room to explore different ideas,” she says. “And at the end of the day, if you’re not happy with what you’ve created, you still have the same materials you started with: a pair of sticks and some string, plus the new knowledge that you’ve gained from that little bit of play.”