As part of the original Around the World in 80 Skeins tour, stop 22 was to visit Carine Lai, a knitwear designer living in Hong Kong.
Hi, Carine! Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, but I went to a British international school and then went to college in the US. I’m an odd mix of cultures that could have only come about in a global trading city like Hong Kong.
What’s the best thing about where you live? If someone came to visit your town, where would you take them?
Hong Kong is a bustling, hectic city that’s always changing. A lot of people would find it overwhelming, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I love that if you’re hungry at 2 in the morning, you can walk out your front door and find a noodle shop or a diner that’s still open.
If a crafty person came to visit, I’d take them to Sham Shui Po where there is a huge fabric market and all manner of shops selling all manner of beads, ribbons, lace and other trimmings. The whole neighbourhood seems to serve as the wholesale and sample sourcing end of the textile industry over the border in Shenzhen, so you can find anything there.
How did you get started knitting and how did it turn into designing?
My mother taught me to knit when I was 8, but I didn’t start going beyond basic knit and purl until I was in my mid-twenties. I’ve always had a knack for improvisation and am allergic to following instructions, so when I discovered Ravelry, I started learning to design my own knits. It was a gradual process where I picked up new techniques as I needed them.
Do you have a favorite local yarn store?
I have a couple. For nostalgia value, there’s Paris Cotton Singlets Co. (not sure why it’s named that) in Causeway Bay. My mother used to buy yarn there to make sweaters for me when I was a kid. That place is an institution. It’s so rare for any shop to stick around that long in this city. I also have one shop that I can’t remember the name of that’s in a public housing estate out in the suburbs. That’s where I go for my affordable reliable yarns.
Where is your favorite place to work?
The arm chair in the corner of my living room. I develop concentric rings of organised chaos around it. My boyfriend complains about it taking over the apartment. But I also do a lot of knitting on the subway during my commute. Standing up, because I can rarely find a seat.
Do you have a favorite design in your portfolio?
My favourite design is The Archer, a cabled tunic. Everyone seems to agree with me, since it’s my most popular design. I’m also pretty proud of my Urban Butterfly Shawl. It was my first attempt at designing a lace shawl and it was a lot of fun to knit.
What is your design process like?
I tend to have a rough idea in my mind starting out, and then I figure things out as I go along. I often make adjustments to the design in the middle of knitting it. There is a lot of frogging involved. If I’m pleased with the finished object, I’ll write it up as a pattern.
How does where you live influence your designs?
I almost feel like my designs are a reaction against my surroundings. Hong Kong is a very visually stimulating place. It’s loud, it’s brash, it’s gritty, it’s gaudy. I love being around it, but I don’t necessarily want to wear it. My designs are fairly quiet and understated in comparison. I like to have some ornamentation, but not too much.
Thank you for sharing your home and your inspirations with us!
Check out Carine’s designs on Ravelry: Kea2