Happy Monday everyone! Spring has finally sprung here in NYC, and I couldn't be more thrilled!
Today, I am super excited to share with you all an interview with my friend Susanne: knitter, hiker, traveller and blogger extraordinaire! I have talked about her and her blog Wooly Ventures before, but now you get to hear from Susanne herself!
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and how Wooly Ventures came to be.
The idea for Wooly Ventures came to me back in the summer of 2015. At that time, I had been seriously knitting for a couple of years and was going out every other weekend or so to hike in the Canadian Rockies. Knitting and hiking were two of my favorite activities, and I wanted to find a way to combine these two passions. So I decided to start a blog. It was the perfect way for me to escape from my desk job and explore my more ‘creative’ side. Not only that, but it gave me an excuse to write for the sake of writing. Writing is something that I have enjoyed for as long as I can remember, but I never managed to write for myself on a regular basis. Having a blog gave me a reason to write. It was a win-win situation!
2. When and how did you learn to knit?
When I was younger, I loved making crafts! When I was around 10 years old, I had a little stand set up where I could sell all my handmade crafts (mainly hemp and friendship bracelets and little beaded animals)! I think I learned the basics of knitting and crochet when I was around 8, but other than knitting a simple scarf, I didn’t get very far with either of those. I went to university for engineering, where I mostly just studied, trying desperately to pass all my courses, and couldn’t devote any spare time at all to any sort of ‘crafting’. It was hard. I felt like I was doing nothing but using my rational, logical side of the brain and depleting my other more creative, intuitive side.
Once I had completed my degree, I had a lot of free time while searching for a job. My grandmother had been an avid knitter and crafter. One day, I found myself going through my grandmother’s old knitting books, and I decided to take up knitting again. This time around, I taught myself more and more techniques and knit my first sock! I knew nothing about gauge, so it turned out way too tight and couldn’t even be worn, but I was fascinated by the construction process. It just felt so good to say ‘I made that’ (even if it was an unwearable sock). Since then, I’ve never stopped learning. I think that’s one of my favorite things about knitting. There are just so many beautiful techniques and patterns to try!
3. What prompted you to quit your job and go on a backpacking trip?
Both Wooly Ventures and quitting my job happened at around the same time, so their history is a bit intertwined. The primary reason I quit my job was because I have always loved travel, and initially planned on finishing my degree by taking a year off to see the world. That didn’t exactly happen when I finished my degree broke and with a huge student loan. I worked for two years at an engineering firm in Calgary to pay it off, where I met some great people who are a big part of what led me to develop my passion for hiking and the outdoors.
After two years at the firm, I was at a crossroads. I had amazing friends, a fun and active lifestyle, and a decent job, but at the same time I was unfulfilled. This may sound cliché, but I knew that the more ‘comfortable’ I got in my every day routine, the harder it would be for me to pull away from it. The next steps would be buying a house, and after that, my year of travel would be harder and harder to reach.
In December of 2015, I decided to take the leap and quit my job. It was a huge step for me, but I knew I would always regret it if I never took that year off to travel around the world. I also wanted to use my year off to experiment with Wooly Ventures, and see how it would feel to blog on a more regular basis. I loved it! Even now, after going back to work full-time, I still try to blog as much I can fit into my schedule.
4. Did you seek out a knitting community in the places you visited and/or did you meet any local fiber artists?
Yes! In many of the places I visited, it wasn’t easy to find a knitting community (understandably so, due to the hot temperatures in Southeast Asia). However, in New Zealand, I managed to contact a fellow knitting blogger I had discovered online. She took me out wool shopping and showed me around her city! I think that was when I first realized just how much I could use my blog to connect with and meet other people from around the world.
Side note: Her blog is www.woolventures.com - no, that’s not a typo! Part of the reason we met was because I discovered her after realizing our blog names were so similar! And because I really admired her gorgeous knitting photos and great writing style.
I was in Penang, Malaysia, for World Wide Knit in Public Day (WWKIP). It didn’t seem as if there would be any events happening where I was staying, so I decided to create one! I had one participant show up, an expat from the United States working as a teacher in Penang. I never would have guessed that I would be spending my WWKIP knitting in a café in Malaysia, but we had such a great time!
5. I always find I pack too many knitting projects on my travels, I can’t imagine having to do it when traveling with just a backpack. How does one pack and prepare for knitting when embarking on a backpacking trip?
At the start of my trip, I decided to pack a minimal amount of knitting projects with me, as I knew that I wanted knitting shopping to be part of my itinerary! So I just brought an unfinished sock and a few skeins of Drops Alpaca wool.
Luckily for me, I started off in New Zealand, which is truly a knitter’s paradise! New Zealand is well known for their possum merino wool. Brushtail possum are an invasive species and are considered by most New Zealanders to be a ‘pest’, as they destroy much of the native floral and fauna, and compete with New Zealand’s prized kiwi bird. Although for those concerned about animal welfare, it can be a bit disheartening to learn about the numerous ways that possums are killed. Let’s just say, it’s not always done humanely. In New Zealand, I put a blind eye to this and bought about 10 skeins of possum merino, intended for use as the Askews Me Shawl pattern, but that ended up turning into my Brioche Scarf. That scarf kept me busy well into Malaysia (several months later), where luckily for me at that point, I found out about the Cotton House Store. I ended up buying way too much wool there, and afterwards over half of my backpack was filled with just wool!
I think my best advice for those of you planning a trip of your own is to incorporate knitting stores into your travels, if possible. Also, don’t make the same mistake I did at the Cotton House Store, and plan out your projects before making any purchases!
If you know that there won’t be any knitting shops in the area you’re traveling to, bring something easy and portable that you can knit! Socks are a great option, because they’re small and easy to stuff in your backpack! My scarf was great, because it was such a mindless knit so I could work on it anywhere, although it did end up getting to be way too hot while I was working away at it on a beach in Malaysia!
6. If you could go back to one place of the many you travelled to, which would it be and why?
The thing about traveling is, the more you travel, the more you realize just how much of the world you haven’t seen. Although I managed to travel to nine countries in eleven months, I would go back to every single one of those nine countries just because I feel I only got a ‘glimpse’ of what they had to offer in the short time I was there. There’s no way that you can get a good understanding of a culture by just visiting a country for a few weeks. And for me, my favorite part of traveling is learning of the tiny intricacies that make up a culture. Part of that is the language. But another part are mannerisms, habits, and ways of looking at the world that to us, seem so foreign. But, if I had to choose just one of the countries I visited, I think I would say Indonesia.
Initially, I chose to travel to the island of Bali, in Indonesia, because I knew I would be traveling there alone. I wanted to start out in a place that was fairly ‘on the beaten path’, where I would be able to meet other backpackers. Those first few weeks, I thought I had come to the wrong place. Every person I met seemed to be European, in their early 20’s, just finished high school, and wanting to party. I guess that fits the ‘stereotypical backpacker’ mold quite well, but at that time I was more interested in getting to know the people and culture of the country rather than just spending the whole day on a beach and the whole night partying. I passed through a bout of homesickness, but by chance heard about this amazing mountain called Rinjani. I spent three of the most incredible days of my life hiking up a volcano, and it immediately turned my trip around. Afterwards, I learned that Indonesia is home to some of the most beautiful and incredible hikes in the world. Now, I want to return, not so much to the island of Bali, but to explore the rest of Indonesia, which is one of the most stunningly beautiful countries I have ever been to.
Another country that I would love to go back to is New Zealand!
Why New Zealand
As I mentioned before, it’s a knitter’s (and hiker’s) paradise. Driving along the windy roads I passed countless sheep farms. I would love to get the chance to try out WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) on a sheep farm to get some firsthand experience with that type of work.
I also loved that New Zealand felt so safe to travel in. Even hitchhiking was considered ‘relatively’ safe! Not something that I would try alone, but something that I felt comfortable doing with my significant other. The people were the other part of the equation that made my time in New Zealand feel so fulfilling and magical. We stayed at a gorgeous ‘glamping’ site in Northern New Zealand where we worked, feeding the donkeys and hens, tending to the garden, and weeding and pruning the trails. On our time off, we could go for a swim on the property’s private beach, go kayaking, and listen to the call of the kiwi bird at night. It was incredible.
7. What did you miss most about home (Canada) when you first left for your trip, and what do you miss most about your year away now that you’re back?
When I first left for my trip, I really missed my friends and family. Especially when I was having a harder time meeting people I ‘clicked’ with. But I guess that’s an obvious one.
Besides friends and family, I missed having a routine, a schedule that I could stick to. Although on the one hand I loved the freedom of being able to take off from a place whenever I felt like it, I also found it extremely hard to stay consistent with my blog when doing so. Some of my favorite memories from my trip were the times when I allowed myself to stay longer in one place. Perhaps not surprisingly, those were also the times I was able to get the most work done on my blog. I liked the feeling of going back to the same coffee shop enough times that the shop owner would actually recognize me and say hi, and that I wasn’t just ‘another tourist’.
Now that I’m back home, I am grateful to have my routine back. Although sometimes, too much routine isn’t always a great thing either. I think the thing I miss most from my travels is the feeling of freedom that I mentioned previously. I loved making my own plans, and deciding how my day would go, especially when I was traveling on my own. I know that my trip would have turned out entirely different had I been with another person for the whole duration, and I’m so thankful that I got to have my ‘me-time’. I could sleep in if I wanted to, spend the day at a café blogging if I felt like it, be a private tutor in Thailand for a few weeks, take a 10-day silent meditation course, and learn how to weave in Laos. Many of these things wouldn’t have been possible if I had been traveling with someone else.
At the end of my 10-day silent meditation in Nepal, I remember a conversation I had with one of the Nepali women who had also taken the course.
“For many of these women (Nepali) taking the course, they aren’t taking it for the meditation. They are taking it because it is the only time in their life they get a chance to be on their own. To be independent.”
I imagined how many of them marry much earlier than we would in North America. As soon as they are married, they move in with their in-laws. Then, their lives often revolve around taking care of domestic duties in the house: cooking, cleaning, raising their children. They aren’t permitted a moment of peace, like we might be accustomed to here. Never mind how much I enjoyed the 10 days of silence, how good those 10 days of silence must feel to them!
8. I love your curated posts about the top knitting patterns and/or fiber artists. Tell me a little about the inspiration and process behind them.
I find myself constantly inspired while scrolling through my Instagram feed by what other makers are doing and creating and love to share what I find with others! Pinterest and Bloglovin’ are two other places that I can spend a lot of time (sometimes maybe too much), discovering the inspiring crafters and makers that are out there! When I find something particularly inspiring, I see if it fits into a theme (i.e. cables, shawls, etc.). After that, I continue to add things I enjoy that fit into that same theme, and make it into a list. Soon enough, I’m overflowing with inspiring creations, and I compile them into a blog post!
9. What is your favorite fiber to work with and why?
I love working with alpaca, mainly due to its softness and luxuriousness! But generally, I love working with all natural fibers and experimenting with new ones. I would love to try cashmere, yak, angora, qiviut! I managed to pick up some yak wool in Nepal, but it doesn’t feel at all like the yak you find in the yarn stores. It’s much more like a rough sheep wool than a soft down fiber. Most likely, the yak wool that I purchased came from the outer coat of the animal, and not the finer down wool that gets exported to international markets. I’m always curious about how fibers are processed and how it affects the ultimate feel of the yarn.
10. Are you working on anything exciting for Wooly Ventures that you would like to share with us (blog posts, travel plans, knitting patterns…)?
Yes! I constantly get bombarded with new ideas of projects that I want to start on the blog (that’s part of the fun). Here is just a sample…
- The Fiber Exchange
As I mentioned above, I love learning and researching about the properties of different fiber types. I started a series called, “the fiber exchange” last year, and I want to continue adding to this series by researching the fiber types of more exotic animals such as Angora, Qiviut, Camel, etc!
- Hiking on Vancouver Island
On the travel side of things, I am currently working full-time in engineering, so my long-term travel plans have been put on hold. However, I love being back in Canada for its beautiful outdoors and especially love being able to live on Vancouver Island. This summer, my goal is to explore more of the rugged, wild side of Vancouver Island. I want to take advantage of the many backpacking trails it offers and share some of the lesser known hikes with my readers!
- Knitwear Design
I am currently working on two hat patterns that I hope to release by the end of May! You can follow me on Instagram, to find out about the inner workings of my design process (i.e. lots of frogging! ;) ).
- Business Tools for Fiber Biz Owners
I am also in the beginning stages of creating a set of tools to help fellow fiber business owners grow their business. Starting a business is overwhelming, and there are so many different aspects you need to think about. I want to streamline and simplify this process for fiber artists who are just starting out, and show them how they can increase their sales through social media, blogging and their mailing list.
- Guest Posts, Interviews, and more
Lastly, I am working on collaborating more with fellow bloggers and fiber artists! If you have any ideas for something that we could work on together, I would love to hear about it. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for sharing all your amazing experiences with us, Su! After I read your responses, all I wanted to do was pack up my bags with all the knitting projects and head out on an adventure. But, for now, I will have to live vicariously through you!