By Kristi Alexandra
Contrary to the reputation it may have, knitting isn’t just a hobby for introverts. With a thriving social media scene and a booming business model, the creative and meditative art is a way of life. You live by the yarn, you dye by the yarn. Okanagan-based business besties Sasha and Willow of Knox Mountain Knit Co took their mutual love of knitting and created a girl-powered empire, complete with their own motifs and history lessons. Loose Lips caught up with the duo to talk about female friendship, the inspiration behind their brand, and finding themselves as women. Let’s just say: Knit got real.
How did this knitting empire come about?
Sasha: I used to do a lot of test knitting for a designer called Taiga Hilliard. It got me thinking about writing my own patterns and what that would be like. One day she asked me if I wanted to name one of the patterns I test knitted for her. I thought it was cool and I was really honoured and the yarn she was using was a yarn dyer from Vancouver Island so I tried to think a place on Vancouver Island that would connect the pattern to the yarn dyer so I named it Coombs. That got me thinking about the Okanagan (where I live) and connecting patterns to knitters in the Okanagan so there’s all these cool names of these places, like Knox Mountain, which is the mountain that overlooks Kelowna, and it kind of spiralled from there.
Willow: Sasha came up with the idea and I just kind of went along with it because I didn’t really have a good reason not to. And then people actually bought our patterns. And liked them! So much of knitting is just word of mouth, so knitters showed our designs and talked about us to other knitters. And LYS (local yarn stores) knit up samples of our designs to have in their shops. The support we have gotten from the community is so amazing and we’ve really grown way more than I ever imagined we would have. Now I can’t imagine ever not being a designer.
How long have you been knitting?
Sasha: I have only been knitting since November 2013. Willow has been knitting since she was eight. She doesn’t even really follow patterns, she does what she wants to do when she’s knitting so she’s really good to have because she has all this knitting knowledge from years of experience, and I’m new but I knit everyday. Every night, if I’m just chilling, I knit. I bring my knitting in my car. if I’m waiting for an appointment, there’s always a sock in my purse to knit. I have to have my tools.
Willow: I learned how to knit when I was eight and then kind of knit on and off not very seriously until I had my oldest. It turns out that sitting up all day and night feeding and rocking a baby is actually mind-numbingly boring. So I got back into knitting as a way to keep my mind occupied and actually DO something even though I was just sitting at home. And now I knit basically every day. And when I can’t actually knit, I’m thinking about knitting.
Tell me how the business works.
Sasha: We sell patterns. I will write a pattern as I’m knitting, I’ll be thinking of a design and I’ll start knitting it and I’ll write everything down. Willow does the PDF and takes the photos, and then we have a PDF and we’ll upload it to Ravelry which is a website for crochetters and knitters. You can sell them on there per download, so that’s where people can get them. We do most of our advertising on Facebook and Instagram and that’s it. We’ve sold a lot of patterns from that.
Willow: It kind of surprised me how much work actually goes into designing and releasing a pattern. You have to come up with the design. And sometimes it doesn’t actually end up like you imagined or something just doesn’t work the way you thought it would. So you have to make adjustments and re-knit. Once we have a design we are happy with, we write up an official pattern and then we have it “tested”, where other knitters knit the pattern for us and check to make sure there are no errors in the pattern and that the finished object will come out how we intended when others knit it. Sometimes we make small adjustments based on their feedback. Then we photograph the samples we knit and those have to be edited. We like to have our photoshoots on location. So that sometimes means hiking up Knox Mountain in 35 degrees or trying to photograph in -15 degrees where my camera actually got too cold and didn’t even work! Our model is amazing too. She’s such a natural and just happily does whatever we ask in order to get a good shot. Then the pattern is released on Ravelry and that’s where the advertising and “selling” it comes in. Neither of us are very comfortable with that part of it, but we are getting better with experience.
What’s your motif for Knox Mountain Knit Co?
Sasha: We try to connect all of our patterns to places, landmarks, and things where we live. So, because we’re from the Okanagan, we have a Coquilhalla collection out. Even me, when I was driving down the coq, it made me think of my pattern. In doing research for the patterns, we always look up stuff to write a little blurb for the front of our patterns talking about the place, and it’s kind of funny because a lot of our patterns are connected. So like the Kettle Valley Railway (Kettle Valley is a pattern) runs through Myra Canyon (Myra is a pattern). Our Ellis hat is named after Ellis Street, which leads to Knox Mountain, but we also found out that Ellis was a settler in Penticton and he was a rival of Arthur Booth Knox, and Knox burnt down all of Ellis’ Hay.
Willow: We get such great feedback about how we connect our designs to our area too. We had someone say “Hey! My friend lives at Traders Cove!” and then they knit them something from the Traders Cove collection as a gift.
You have a lot of social media success, how fast did that grow?
Sasha: I was online for my own knitting projects with my own account @knottybykniture. I just connected with a lot of people and was very social, because believe it or not, knitting is actually quite social. If you see someone knitting in a cafe and you start knitting, you look at each other and you get the thumbs up. It’s like a little cult.
Willow: I would say that quite a bit of our success is thanks to social media. There is a huge community of knitters within Instagram. It’s just an easy platform. Anyone can Instagram. And its just pictures of beautiful yarn and beautiful patterns and it’s easy to share and everyone is so encouraging and supportive. Knitters are such great people. We joke that Instagraming is actually a full-time job. Except, it’s not really a joke. And it’s not really a “job”. None of this is. We are having so much fun and love being able to interact with other knitters and are just so honoured whenever we see people knitting something we designed. Knitting is such a personal experience. There are so many reasons why people take up knitting: a sense of community, relaxation, their mental health… but in the end people knit because they want to. It’s such a great feeling to know that knitting something that we designed is bringing them joy in that way.
Is this a side hustle or a full-time job?
Sasha: It’s a side hustle at the moment, but if it could be full time, that would be amazing. Currently, I do nails and Willow homeschools her three little girls. If it could be a job where we both make enough money, that would be great. We’ll see what happens. We were surprised and delighted that anybody bought any of our patterns in the beginning. When people buy them, you get kind of pumped up and you’re like “Oh! This could happen again, and people might like this again!” and it spurs you on!
Willow: I think right now we are both only able to devote enough time for it to be a side hustle. That being said, we both spend every second of our free time involved in Knox somehow. Knitting, or mapping out a design, or interacting with the community on Instagram. Sasha even comes up with designs in her dreams.
How important is your friendship with each other to your business?
Sasha: So important! Willow is the yin to my yang. I always say to her, “You’re the Spock to my Kirk” because she’s the logical one and I’m the one who’s kind of wild and impulsive. She always brings the logic to a situation. We have a good friendship and mutual respect, and I trust her completely.
Willow: We also both feel that family comes first. It’s so important to be in a partnership with someone who has the same values as you when it comes to your family and knows that if you have to push a deadline or whatever, it’s because it was necessary. Life gets in the way of our best intentions sometimes. We’ve said from the beginning that we will only do this as long as we are both having fun and so far we are having a lot of fun! We are also both fairly easy going, so we don’t pressure each other and we are really open to and supportive of each others ideas.
Do you find that knitting is a really female-forward community?
Sasha: There’s a lot of guys that knit! There are a lot of men designers. It surprised me at first. Steven West is a huge designer and he’ll be at Knit City, there’s also Jared Flood from Brooklyn Tweed. He’s a big name in knitting! More men are coming into it now. We’ve even had a few men test knit our designs for us, which is really cool. But honestly, most of the people I know personally in my knitting community are women. I also love the fact that knitting can bring women of all age groups and backgrounds together to share a common bond. The unlikeliest of friends, even.
Willow: There are definitely a lot more women than men who knit. But then also, people seem surprised that I knit and I’m not 75. They come up to me and say “Hey! My grandma does that!” Knitting is getting a name for itself though. In fact, more people know how to knit than to golf.
Does it hold a sense of girl power for you, though?
Sasha: Yes! I really feel like it’s given me way more confidence as a woman. I feel accomplished from just knitting something: being able to do something and create something with my hands. It sounds cheesy, but I feel like I know who I am now, because I found knitting. I went through my twenties and early thirties having kids and I didn’t focus on myself so it was cool to learn something that I enjoy so much and I’m actually okay at it. It just gave me confidence like I’m okay, and I know who I am.
Willow: Knitting has always been important to me for my mental health. It’s so therapeutic. I think any knitter will eagerly tell you about how beneficial knitting is for them. But it’s hard as a wife, and a mother, and a woman, to put yourself first. It’s hard to justify knitting over doing laundry or vacuuming. But now that it’s a “job” I have had to adjust my mindset about it. So yes, I can leave the dishes on the counter and work, even if my work looks like I’m just knitting. I’m also a stay at home mom, homeschooling three girls. That is actually all I ever wanted to do. Even as a kid, I just wanted to be a mom. And I’m so grateful every day that I am. But it’s also not nearly as glamourous as I thought, and designing has given me a purpose separate from my family life. I think that has in turn made me a better, more patient mother. I love that I am able to show them that they can turn their passion into something more and that there are all kinds of ways for someone to work.
What’s next for Knox Mountain Knit co?
Sasha: Knit City is definitely our next big thing! It’s a fibre arts festival that happens ever fall in Vancouver. We’ll have a booth there and a collaboration with an indie dyer: Gauge Dyeworks. At our booth, we will have all of our knitted samples and all of our patterns in print along with some other fun stuff!
Willow: Sasha’s going to design a sweater.
Catch the ladies of Knox Mountain Knit Co at Knit City, September 30 to October 1 at the PNE Forum.
Kristi Alexandra is an unabashed wino and wannabe musician. Her talents include drinking an entire bottle of cabernet sauvignon, singing in the bathtub, and falling asleep.