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Exclusive interview: ReKnit unpicked

Posted by Yusuf [decoreco] on May 7, 2010

At some point in our lives many of us have experienced ‘ugly sweater’ syndrome. You know it well. You unwrap. Your face and heart drop. How could such a loved one make such a mistake? As quickly as you can say WTF your face lights up and you say “I love it, thank you”, knowing full well it’s going right at the back of the cupboard or the charity shop.

Haik Avanian comes from a family of knitters and he conjured up Reknit It. Haik and his mother take old jumpers and cardigans, unwind them into balls of yarn and then knit them into items that people will use again.

The concept has been hugely popular and our Fibre Flinger has managed to score an interview with Haik, who explains a bit more about how they go about this feat.

The website is currently down but they aim to be up and running soon. Until then you’ve got the inside scoop:

Can you tell me a bit more about the set up and who is involved in the project. Is it just you and your mum on your living room floor? I designed and maintain the website, my mom does all the knitting, with some assistance from my grandmother– who does the templates for each item, and my sister does all the photography.

How did you come up with the concept? It’s something that we already do and something that’s culturally ingrained in us (we’re Armenian), and my mom thought it’d be interesting to share with people.

As I haven’t been through the process of purchasing a product from your website, how does it work? Do you get to choose what your final item looks like or is it pot luck?
The design of the items are fairly simple, and the colors used will be whatever colors are available in the sweater. If a design requires more than one color, and the sweater doesn’t have any additional ones, my mom picks out a complimenting color from yarn that we have around.

Does your mum create something inspired by the yarn in the sweater sent or are there a set of patterns she follows every month?
The templates for each item are followed pretty closely each time, but in terms of color/pattern, it varies from case to case.

Do you use all the yarn that you unravel from a sweater into the new project, or do you have a yarn monster that you feed the scraps to? All of the yarn doesn’t get used up and sometimes people ask for the left overs back, or choose to donate it to us. We end up using the donated yarn as additional colors for other projects…and we’ve been trying to think of something interesting to do with the rest of the left over yarn.

Can you tell me a bit more about your family and background? My family moved to the US from Armenia in 1995. My sister and I are both designers and artists, and my mother is a programmer by day.

What role did knitting/clothing/fashion play in your family as you were growing up? My grandmother knew how to knit, so we always had knit clothing growing up– and in many cases, the clothes would be reknit  into something else once we grew out of the clothing. It really seems like a perfect alternative to just throwing away kids clothes every 4-5 months!

What values did your upbringing and family culture instill in you
I think there’s a sort of subconscious resourcefulness instilled in me, almost like having a different perspective on things. e.g. looking at a sweater, and seeing it as yarn, instead of just a sweater.

I read that you have a family tradition of repurposing yarn for new projects and generations. Were you aware of this when you were growing up and what was your reaction to it? I know when I was growing up there was a real stigma if you wore something that was made at home and not shop bought/branded as it was seen as a sign you couldn’t afford ‘proper’ clothes. My grandma was an expert knitter and made clothes for all her children, but unfortunately that skill wasn’t passed down. I think that stigma exists very distinctly in the US, but it wasn’t really an issue in Armenia at all. I certainly don’t remember caring or worrying about what other kids would think.

Why do you think the knitting continued throughout your family over the generations and who else in your family knits? My mom, sister, and grandmother all knit. I think it’s just something you learn growing up because you want to emulate what your parents are doing, and its a great hobby.

Are all of you quite creative in your family then in some form or another? My sister and I, as I mentioned, are both designers and artists, and my aunt is an avid photographer. And if you consider the knitting, then my grandmother and mother are both creative as I guess that’s a yes.

I think there is a growing trend for homemade items and clothes. Have you seen evidence of that and what are your opinions on it? I guess it isn’t a trend in your family, is it something that you’ve always kept going? I think it’s just a natural reaction at this point. In the same way that film photography has been appreciated after the digital format took over.

What is your/your family’s attitude to fashion? Do you still believe in making things by hand or do you do cheap and fast fashion? A good way to describe it would be “smart”. Being resourceful, buying things on sale, modifying clothing to our liking, etc.

We are led to believe that your mum has only two hands. Have you considered investigating retractable arms so she can work faster? I believe we are considering some for one of the Stitchettes who happens to be limbless what being a ball of yarn and that.
Several volunteers have stepped forward and offered to become “one of the moms”, but I think I’m all set with one.

How come you haven’t developed mad knitting skills so that you can help your mum? You don’t consider knitting a female thing to do, do you? Haha no, I don’t have anything against knitting. In fact, I tried to learn how to when I was about 7. I’m determined to at least learn the basics now though.

$30 is really cheap to unravel a project and reknit it. Do you not see this as a money making venture? The truth of the matter is that if we made the price something that would be considered “fair” in a business sense (hourly rate)..not many people would be able to afford it. The price is more of an abstract number at this point.

You could look into cloning your mum and having a (humane) sweatshop with hundreds of her. Is that something you’ve thought about? We’ve thought about a separate site that would allow other knitters to find customers and re-knit on their own.

The project has only been going for three months but you have overwhelming demand. What do you see as the future of this project? How long will you continue it for? I’d like to continue this project as is for as long as we can…and perhaps start an additional project that would have room to grow, as mentioned earlier.

If any of our readers have mums with mad knitting skills that they would like to donate to the cause would you consider the offer? I think involving other knitters makes it more difficult for us to manage the logistics…shipping/communication, and at this point I’d rather keep it smaller 🙂


One Response to “Exclusive interview: ReKnit unpicked”

  1. knitified said

    So. Unbelievably. Cool.
    What an awesome way to reduce and reuse! I love it.

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