As part of the original Around the World in 80 Skeins tour, China was our 32nd stop to visit knitwear designer and owner of Infinite Twist yarns, Cate Carter-Evans.
Hi, Cate! Where do you live and where are you originally from? What do you miss most about home?
I live in the bustling, pushy, crowded, exciting metropolis of Shanghai! I’ve lived here for almost six years. I’m originally from California, and lived in Portland, Oregon for 14 years before moving to China. My job in Apparel Marketing for a ginormous sportswear company brought me and my then-boyfriend, now-husband and my two cats to China. The thing I miss most is clean, gorgeous Pacific Northwest rain. I also miss being able to buy shoes without being laughed out of the store (I wear a U.S. 10 / Eur 40, which is considered hilariously huge here), as well as Peet’s coffee and access to good bookstores.
What’s the best thing about where you live? If someone came to visit your town, where would you take them?
It’s a toss-up between the food and the markets. Luckily, they’re often easy to find in the same general area. Whether you’re looking for silk, wool, or linen at the fabric market, or perusing hand-made buttons at the trimmings market, Shanghai is a crafter’s paradise. To keep your strength up while you shop, both markets have hawkers nearby selling melon slices and fried squid in the summer, and roasted yams and chestnuts in the winter.
How did you get started knitting and why did it turn into designing?
My mom taught me to crochet when I was little, and a middle-school friend taught me to knit in my teens (well, sort of – she taught me to twist all my stitches!). I moved into designing because of an abiding obsession with hand-spun – I wanted to make things to show off my yarn!
How did you get started spinning and how did it become a business?
When I was about five, my maternal grandmother let me sit on her lap while she’d spin, and she’d help me make yarn. After she died, I didn’t spin again until I took a spinning workshop in college. Spinning is my version of meditation – I don’t know what I would do without it. I find that there’s something very special about working with yarn made by a person. Every skein is different, and every spinner is different. In a world where so many things are mass-produced, I love being able to offer hand-spun and hand-dyed yarns to knitters, crocheters, and weavers for use in their projects.
Can you tell us about how you’ve created jobs for rural spinners in China?
Starting in 2010, I conducted five spinning trainings for a Shanghai-based social venture that was seeking to set up a hand-spinning collective in a remote corner of Southwest China. After seeing how hand-spinning yarn could provide much-need income and jobs for rural women, I set up a smaller program in Shanghai seeking to help migrant women living in Shanghai.
How does where you live influence your designs?
There is a ton of good design happening in Shanghai, but it’s also a bit like being stranded on a desert island when it comes to other knitters. While it’s rare that I get to spend time with other yarn-a-philes, I am surrounded by graphic designers, apparel and textile designers, as well as lots and lots of makers and people involved in start-ups. Shanghai has a unique energy to it – it keeps you up late and wakes you up early because there is always more to be done!
Where is your favorite place to work?
At my desk. It’s right by a bright window, and one of the best-lit corners of our apartment. There is nothing quite like good natural light.
What is your design process like?
For dimensional projects like my Cephalopods collection, I start from a scale drawing of what I’m trying to knit, and do most of the math ahead of time. I’ll often do scale drawings for multi-yarn shawls as well, but for smaller stuff, I forge ahead and rip back frequently.
What is your go to working snack/beverage?
One of the best things about living in an international city is access to international groceries – and especially international chocolate. My go-to knitting snack is German milk chocolate, Ritter Sport Alpenmilch. It comes in a block of smaller squares so you can pretend you’re only going to have one or two bites.
Who are your favorite designers (fiber arts or otherwise) and why?
That’s a tough one. Two of my early and abiding influences are Anna Zilboorg and Kaffe Fasset. Anna’s book Fancy Feet: Traditional Knitting Patterns of Turkey was my first introduction to the wonderful world of Turkish socks, and by extension, two-color knitting. Kaffe’s use of and approach to color continues to inspire and provoke new directions in my own dyeing.
Do you have a favorite local yarn store?
Oh, how I wish. Well, I guess I am my own local yarn store! Outside of the yarns I spin or have milled myself, Chinese knitting culture gives me access to vast quantities of low-quality itchy wool and nasty acrylic, and once in a while, some really cool novelty yarn or cashmere.
Is there a big fiber arts culture in China?
Knitting in China is more of a utilitarian craft than an art. It’s something you do to save money rather than for artistic reasons. That being said, there are some amazing sweaters being knitted, but it can be hard to tell if they’re handmade, since they’re made to look just like store-bought ones!
Do you have a favorite design in your portfolio that was inspired by your culture/environment?
China Hands Mittens! These mittens are a new design as part of the Around the World in 80 Skeins project. I wanted to design something with Chinese motifs and a nod to China’s past and future. If you’re looking at this design and thinking “Halloween was a while ago – what’s with the bats?”, bats are seen as lucky rather than spooky here. The sound for the word for bat (fu) is the same sound as the word for good fortune (also fu), so bats are associated with happiness and blessings. Five bats together (wufu) is the same sound as the five good fortunes – health, wealth, virtue, long life, and a peaceful death, so you’ll often see five bats together in art.
Those are so cool and I love learning that bats are lucky in China! Thank you so much for participating in the tour and for sharing your beautiful yarns and designs with us!