Artist Feature: Carina Spencer

Hi, Carina. Thanks for being our first feature in the artists series, and happy belated birthday! Can you first tell us a little bit about yourself? And maybe one thing most people may not know about you?

Hi, Brittany. Thank you so much for asking me to be a part of this series! I am a maker and artist living in Kansas City, Missouri with my husband, our two teenage kids, and two dogs. I work as an independent knitwear designer and my patterns are published on my website, through a social media site for knitters called Ravelry, and sometimes in magazines and books.

One thing that nearly nobody knows about me is that I love pinball and I spend a few hours a week playing. My current favorite machine is Medieval Madness (the 1997 version) and I'm not half bad at it ;)

We first saw you on Instagram, and fell in love with your colorful creations. How did you initially discover your passion for knitting & sewing?

For as long as I can remember I've been infatuated with textiles and I was lucky to have women in my life who taught me embroidery and hand sewing as soon as I was old enough to hold a needle and thread. Somewhere around 7-8 years old I began deconstructing my own clothing and modifying it to fit my dolls, reusing the ribbings and elastics and transforming the sleeves from my old shirts into tiny pants. It was incredibly satisfying and left me feeling proud and inspired in a way I hadn't experienced before. I actually still have the first "upcycled" doll set I made on a shelf in my studio to remind me of that feeling. 

When I was 9, my aunt taught me to crochet. I spent a day sitting with her, making a potholder while she worked on an afghan, and this new skill made me feel powerful. As children we are always at the mercy of the world around us, and any sense of autonomy is hard to come by. I think that's a big part of why I was so drawn to it.

Over the years textile art has been a constant part of my life. I made and modified my own clothing in my teens and early 20s, and sold some of my makes through a local co-op when I lived in Boulder Colorado, but I didn't learn to knit until I was nearly 30 and pregnant with my second child. It was something I had tried and failed at several times, but I so badly wanted to make my kids cute hand knitted things that I finally picked up a copy of Debbie Stoller's Stitch 'N Bitch and figured it out. My grandmother was a knitter and even though she didn't teach me before she passed, I'd spent so much time as a child watching her hands work in that rhythmic, steady way that I knew I was doing it right when I recognized that same motion in my own hands.

Can you tell us a bit about your process when designing a pattern or project, and where you find your inspiration?

Inspiration comes from everywhere! I am inspired by the shapes and structures of garments and architecture, but I'm just as likely to be inspired in a more abstract way by color, words, and music. I keep a notebook to record notes and quick sketches when they come to me. It's funny, it can be a little like when you wake up from a dream and write down something very important you don't want to forget and when you come back to it later it's total crap and you're like, "what was I even thinking?" Not every design whim makes it to fruition, but every so often I look through my notes and sketches and a few of them still inspire me enough to give them a chance.

At that point I'll narrow down the weight, fiber, and color or yarn I want to work with and make a rough draft of the pattern to knit a prototype from. Designing knitwear involves a lot of math and a lot of ripping out your work, re-figuring, tweaking, and re-kitting. The process is time intensive and non-linear. That can sometimes be the more challenging aspects of the work, but ultimately I still end up with that same feeling of empowerment I first felt as a kid.

We love seeing all the DIY fashion you create. You've even inspired us to try our hand at knitting! How would you describe your personal fashion, and what is some advice you can give those looking to get into DIY fashion?

Stop it, really? Yay for new knitters! 

If there's one thing I DON'T have, it's a signature style. For me, style and fashion is about communication. It's my first voice when I interact with people, and I am a naturally reserved and anxious person, so sometimes it's my only voice. When I get dressed my clothing is simultaneously an extension of, and supplement for, my current emotional state. If I feel soft and playful, I might dress in a way that accentuates that, but if I feel vulnerable or afraid and I have to do a hard thing I wear my clothing as armor. So, I can be a little all over the place as far as personal style goes.

My best advice for people looking to get into DIY fashion is don't think you need a bunch of expensive equipment and fancy supplies to get started. I think that impression can discourage people before they even give it a try. There are inexpensive ways to get started DIYing anything - borrowing/trading with friends, shopping thrift stores for fabric and yarn or things that can be repurposed, local makers cooperatives where you can rent tools (sometimes libraries have these too). These more economical options are also often more sustainable as well. And one sure thing is that people who love making are some of the most encouraging and supportive people I know, and are often happy to help someone new get started, so don't be afraid to ask!

Also, do that paperclip game for divergent thinking. It really helps open you up to what is possible with DIY.

Along with DIY fashion, what are your thoughts on the slow fashion movement? How do you make sustainable choices for your wardrobe?

It's a hopeful thing that there is a growing movement toward slow fashion as people become more aware of the damaging cycle and effects of the fast fashion industry on every living thing. I think slow fashion is just one part of a larger movement toward greater awareness and autonomy over our minds and bodies. When we get a little mental distance from the lie that we need to be constant consumers to stay relevant, we not only do less harm with our buying habits, but we start to gain a new perspective on the irrelevance of fashion rules and beauty standards. We can begin to make more mindful choices about how and where to invest our energy, time, and money instead of mindlessly reacting to the world around us.

With my own wardrobe, I focus first on taking good care of what I already have, washing gently and mending when possible. When I need to buy new items I look first to thrift or buy used clothing from consignments shops or apps. When that isn't possible I either make my own or buy from sustainable brands I trust. 

I also "shop my closet" regularly. This is when I intentionally look at my closet with fresh eyes and mix well loved items together in ways I've never worn them before. The small thrill I used to get from shopping is replaced with a deeper satisfaction I feel when I'm able to make what I already have work in a new way.

Lastly, are you working on any projects right now? And where else can we connect with you and find your work?

I'm always working on new designs and making things in between design projects. The best place to see what I'm up to is @carinaspencer on Instagram. You can check out all my knitting patterns at carinaspencer.com and at Ravelry.com.

Thanks again for chatting with us. We look forward to seeing more of your creations!

Thanks so much for asking!

connect with carina:
carinaspencer.com
@carinaspencer
ravelry.com

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1 comment

April Bush

Hi! What is the name/style/color of the boots Carina Spencer is wearing? I really like them. Thanks and have a great day!

April Bush

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