As part of the original Around the World in 80 Skeins tour, stop 16 was to visit Marcela Chang, a knitwear designer living in Santiago, Chile.
Hi, Marcela! Where are you from originally and where do you live now? What do you miss most about your hometown?
I’m originally from La Serena, Chile, now I’m living in Santiago, the capitol, because of work. From home, I miss most the beach, the open space that brings you the open sea, and my family and dog (of course!!!)
What’s the best thing about where you live? If someone came to visit you, where would you take them?
Santiago is a big city, modern, with lots of museum, restaurant, parks, etc. If you like to ski, it is near the mountains so you can go ski for the day (the best winter ski season is between June and August). I like to go to the indie designers neighborhoods to buy clothes, deco and furniture and eat in some of the restaurants and pubs there. My favorites are Barrio Lastarria, Barrio Italia and the indie Mall Drugstore (barrio means neighborhood). Here, they always have new things to see, and they are near of some historical places, museums and constructions, so I always get inspired there.
My hometown, La Serena, is in the beginning of the north of the country, so it has nice weather. In summer it is very hot and you can go to lots of beaches. My favorites are Tongoy and Punta de Choros (there are small fishing coves). Apart from the great beaches, in Tongoy you can eat the best cheese scallops fried empanadas in the world in the Arrocet Restaurant (I love scallops, but they have them with other seafood too). In Los Choros, you can go see a colony of dolphins with the local fishermans and buy the best homemade olive oil. Also, La Serena, is near the Elqui Valley, famous for having the clearest sky in the world. At night you can really touch the stars – it is amazing. It is the place of astronomic observatories, that you can visit (Mamalluca and Tololo). Some people say, that in Elqui Valley your energy gets better and if you like zen tourism, there are plenty of places to go there. La Serena city, also has lots of restaurants, casinos, beaches, museums and historical places. And for the knitters, you can buy lots of Alpaca products (scarves, pullover, hats, etc) in the Recova Market, in the center of the town.
They both sound like beautiful places to live and visit. How does Chile influence your designs?
I think is a mix of the weather, nature, music and urban culture. I like to sit in a coffee shop and watch how the people wear their clothes – how they use their knitted clothes.
How did you get started knitting how did it turn into designing?
I’m a Fashion Designer – that is my profession. I used to do party dresses a very long time ago, then I started to make hand knitted accessories and jewelry for a woman’s retail brand, I wholesaled to them and they resold with their brand. After that, I opened my own Accessory shop, and for 2 years I couldn’t design anymore, because when you own a shop you have to deal with lots of things. So the last year I had the shop I started knitting to relax. It sounds weird, but knitting is great for relaxing. It is the time you have to concentrate only on that, and you can’t think about other problems you may have. Also, knitting brings you certainty. I don’t know if you understand, but by certainty I mean that if you do all the steps in the right way, the result will be okay and you will have your finished item. Unlike in life, where you can do everything correctly but the results are always unexpected, uncertain. So, after a lot of thinking, I decided to sell the shop and start a knitting business, because it makes me very happy.
What is your design process like?
I use a design technique that I learned in Fashion School (there are plenty of them, but this one works great for me) – called the “Inspirational Box.” I put everything I like in a box over a month or two weeks (depends on the deadlines I have), like flowers, papers, words, pictures, music, pattern samples, wool – everything that caught my attention during that time. After that, I select the most relevant, because some things turn out not so important to me in the end. Then I put it all on the table and start writing words or feelings those things bring up. That gives me a theme for my work. Then I make a collage (moodboard) and with that I get the general lines for the patterns, shapes, wool, and colors I’m going to use. Finally, I make samples to choose the needles, the beads, etc and make the first pattern sketch to start knitting, then sometimes while I’m knitting I make changes. It sounds like a lot of work to do, but by professional bias I can’t work without these tools.
That is a really cool technique – I may have to try it! What do you like to drink whle working?
I knit with a mix of coffee, tea, and light coke – not together (jajaja) – but more like one coffee, one light coke, one tea, etc (not very healthy, but I love those drinks). And on weekends, I grab a glass of wine. Chile is a wine producer so we have really nice wines at very good prices.
Where is your favorite place to knit/design?
Now, I’m moving to a new place because I want a studio. But, generally, I design at my desk, get the ideas clear, and make sketches. After I’ve decided what I’m doing, I can knit everywhere. Most of the time, I combine knitting with my guilty pleasure (TV).
What are your favorite designs in your portfolio and what inspired them?
One of my favorites is Carolina Shawl, I made it for my sister’s birthday and the inspiration was the weather and vegetation of her city. She lives in the south, in Concepción city. This is one of my best sellers, too. I like it because it is a big shawl but is very cheap to make. I made it for US$25 and it looks very expensive. My other favorite is Mango Lemon. When I designed this, it was winter, but in the other part of the world it was summer. I didn’t notice how much I missed summer until I opened my “inspirational box”. There were many pictures of people on the beach, summer fruits, etc… So I made this shawl to pretend to be a tiny summer for those (the ones in my part of the globe) who were starting the cold season like me.
Who are your favorite designers (fiber arts or otherwise) and why?
My favorite’s designers are Stephen West, Ysolda, Steven Be, Laura Nelkin and Nicky Epstein. I like Stephen West and Steven Be, because they show you how fun and easy is knit. The patterns are simple, colorful and so cool, they make me smile every time I see a pattern for them. From Ysolda and Nicky, I love the techniques and the constructions are so clear and clever, they make very wearable clothes. Very timeless patterns. And from Laura Nelkin, I love the lace patterns and beads. She is a genius in that!!! I learned to add beads to the patterns in Laura’s class on Craftsy.
Do you have a favorite local yarn store?
In Chile, I buy yarn in Atelier Michelle Boisier. She is the creator of Araucania Yarns, and is a very nice person. She knows everything about knitting and is very helpful. Also, I buy yarn from online stores like WEBS and Happy Knitting.
Is there a big knitting/crochet culture where you live?
Chile is famous for the loom. The Mapuches and Aymaras (these are some of the ethnicities from my country) worked the loom technique before the Spanish came to America. Nowadays, many designers work with them. Also famous are the knitters of Doñihue; they are also loom knitters, who makes a famous piece of the traditional dress, called a chamanto. The Chamanto is a kind of poncho.
Thank you so much for joining the tour and for sharing your beautiful country and inspirations with us!
Check out Marcela’s blog: Marcela Chang Knits and find her on Ravelry: changmarce where you can use code 80skeins in December for 30% off her designs!