Nourishing Knits: an Interview with Kristi Schueler + a Giveaway!
I’m thrilled to share the conversation I had with designer, cook, and photographer extraordinaire Kristi Schueler. Kristi’s serialized e-book Nourishing Knits was recently published in its entirety, and I was eager to hear all about it!
Congratulations on releasing Nourishing Knits! It is a beautiful collection of patterns and recipes. Can you talk a little about how you matched the patterns and recipes?
As with many creative endeavors, at least for me, it started with lists of possibilities. From there my editor, Amanda, and I narrowed stuff down. Fortunately, Amanda is part of my knitting group so she was familiar with my cooking and had tasted many of the recipes that had made the list which helped. In some cases the recipes and patterns paired themselves – like the Rosemary Scented Grapefruit Curd and the Tapas Totes pattern. Some became paired because a main ingredient was reminiscent of the pattern – like Ciabatta and the Antipasti Bread Pudding or Buttercream gauntlets with Rhubarb Filling and Almond Buttercream recipes. Others were paired simply for their color like Challa and Smokey Sweet Pumpkin Seeds or Ganache and Chocolate Almond Butter.
There seems to be a lot of similarities between cooking and knitting. What connections did you find between developing recipes and designing patterns? How does your approach differ for each? (or, how is it similar?)
Both knitting patterns and recipes require orderly thinking and clear instruction, a skill my scientific background helped to hone. Making a recipe repeatedly takes much less time than a knitting pattern so I’m usually less firm about the plans of a recipe when I jump in than I am with knitting patterns. I often rely on my intuition as I go when cooking, then I go back for refinement based on feedback I get from taste testers or test cooks. With my knitting patterns I often have the pattern nearly fully drafted before I cast on.
I really appreciate that all of the recipes in the book are vegetarian. I confess, I was surprised when you told me recently that you are not vegetarian, but then you mentioned that your husband is. Can you share how you handle meal planning in a dual-dietary restrictions house?
In general planned meals in our house are vegetarian and have been for over a decade now. Most days I probably have at least one vegetarian meal and I regularly have vegetarian days. Writing vegetarian recipes was not outside my comfort zone. I think like a vegetarian and it comes in handy as we like to entertain and that frequently includes vegetarians and vegans from time to time. I automatically analyze how each new non-vegetarian recipe I come across could be made vegetarian and whether it would be satisfying.
As for meal planning in a dual-dietary restricted household, my husband is a great cook too, so it is a shared job. I used to only eat meat when dining out until this past year. I discovered that for me, personally, I felt much better with a higher protein diet than I was getting with our vegetarian fare and I have managed to loose 60 pounds this year because of the change. To be fair my husband also lost 30 pounds, remaining vegetarian. We still cook much like we did before except I’ll often have the vegetarian main as a smaller portion and cook a chicken or turkey breast fillet on a small countertop grill. The meat portion of my meals is not the star, it is often just hit with a bit of spices I feel coordinate with the vegetarian dish and that is that. If I cook any meat more elaborate than that it is usually for lunch while Drew is at work. With the cool weather here I have been toying lately with the idea of making a beef roast or roasting a whole chicken and freezing left overs, but really our freezer is about overflowing so I’m not sure I’ll follow through on that thought.
All that said, I really like recipes that can be pulled together with whatever can be found in the fridge and pantry so many of the main dish recipes in Nourishing Knits could easily have meat added such as the chili and the savory bread pudding. Because I like to cook off the cuff I tried to include some variations and substitutions for recipes where it was appropriate. Personally, recipes serve more as jumping off points than strict instructions to be followed, so I hope everyone feels free to alter the recipes as needed to suit their family’s palette and dietary needs.
It’s hard to pick a favorite pattern from the book, but I confess I have a secret favorite that I can’t wait to knit (Masala slippers if you must know). What is your favorite pattern? Why?
You do know asking a designer to name their favorite pattern is akin to asking a parent which child is their favorite, don’t you? Truthfully, my favorite pattern is almost always the most recent one off my needles. I just get so darned excited when I finish something it is always the “best” in my mind at that point. I hope that never changes, as that excitement is often what propels me through any finishing tasks.
Which was your favorite pattern to design?
The Masala slippers were quite interesting to design because I really do thrive on challenges. That one provided me an excuse to dust off my knitting backwards skills as one option for dealing with working colorwork flat. I didn’t want to work them in the round and use steeks because there are many people afraid of steeking. Plus I sometimes get waylaid by finishing tasks more elaborate than weaving in a few ends, which is certainly where steeking lands.
So, I set out to make the slippers with no finishing required beyond weaving in ends. Doing that required some planning and discussion, but it makes them a really quick project to whip out believe it or not. I’m dying to knit myself a pair in red and whilte – especially if I get the red and white flannel pajamas I’ve been eyeing for Christmas!
You use a nice blend of commercial and indie yarns in the samples. What factors led you to the yarns you used?
Each pattern was matched with its yarn in a different manner. Some were chosen when only the general type of project was known and the design planned around the yarn, but others the pattern came first and the yarn was chosen to suit it. Early on we set a color palette so color selection definitely came into play. In addition I wanted projects in a variety of yarn weights. And as an indie designer I want to support indie yarn companies, especially those whose products I have found to be of top quality. But, selling downloadable patterns means I have to keep in mind yarn availability outside the US and made sure at least some of the yarns used were available overseas so I tried very hard to balance the commercial and indie yarns.
Learning to spin my own yarn has provided me with the tools and knowledge I need to substitute yarns without trepidation, though I know many do not feel the same. I tried to provide enough information that substituting should be doable for anyone. Each pattern has approximate yardage noted in addition to the number of skeins of the yarn used in the sample. The fiber make-up of the yarn and the weight and length of put-ups is all included. For the handspinners, the yarn images running along the tops of the pages are even to scale and can help in planning the yarn they want to spin for a given project.
The photography in your book, just like that on your blog, is fantastic. Can you share some food or knit photography tips?
It is cliche, but true – light is always key in photography, whether it is for food or knitting or anything else. Whenever possible use natural light, preferably diffuse such as that in light, even shade or a bright overcast day. Do not forget that you are in control. Manipulate the light if needed by reflecting some back into the scene with a piece of white foamcore or an auto sun shade to soften harsh shadows or diffuse it with some mylar stretched over an artist’s canvas stretcher frame.
I know that it is nearly impossible during the winter months to shoot with natural light, but nothing beats it. If you have to use a flash, diffuse it or bounce it off a white ceiling to light the scene more like natural light. If you don’t have a hot shoe flash that can bounce, you can diffuse a point and shoot’s flash with 1 layer of facial tissue. I actually wrote an article this past year titled 10 Ways to Improve your Fiber Art Photography for Ennea Collective, and much of what I included really applies to food photography as well.
What else would you like readers to know?
As I mentioned earlier, I love challenges and learning new things. That means frequently my knitting patterns are rather challenging. My task with Nourishing Knits, in addition to creating a collection of patterns around a given concept was to simplify and let one interesting idea or technique take center stage per pattern. Bordeaux challenged me to learn how to make cable patterns reversible and Cornucopia took a traditional way of adding borders on shawls and applied it to the edges of a cowl. I really like how that approach stretched me and the type of designs that resulted. It also made these patterns more accessible to wider range of knitters than much of my previous design catalog.
Another goal in designing Nourishing Knits was to balance the advantage of a downloadable e-book while keeping it easy and economical to print parts out at home. Because I was not printing it I was not stingy with space and determined the page count would be what it needed to be. Charts are sized for easy reading, standard abbreviations are at the back of the book, but any non-standard ones are included in the pattern pages so they are at the ready when working a project. Since file size and page counts were not of primary concern each pattern and recipe has a full page image so you can see details on the screen, but there is no need to print off those ink-demanding pages. I also tried to include close-ups of pattern details in the pattern pages themselves so there is some references to consult if working on the project on the go.
Nourishing Knits is available for download through Ravelry. Ravelry members can learn more about the book and purchase it here, and non-Ravelry members can purchase it through my Ravelry store at . Everyone can browse all my patterns, including those in Nourishing Knits, here. Also, every pattern in Nourishing Knits is available individually, but the recipes are only available in the the book. I blog at Fiber Fool and am on Twitter as @FiberFool, Facebook and Google+ if you’d like to connect with me.
Kristi, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me and for creating a beautiful book for the cooks and crafters!
Readers, here’s the giveaway part: hop on over to Ravelry and decide which pattern is your favorite, then leave a comment here letting us know. Kristi has generously donated a copy of MY favorite pattern, Masala, for a lucky, random winner, to be drawn at 9 a.m. on Saturday, December 24th. Be sure to check out her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter to learn about more cooking and designing adventures!