I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite knitters in the PNW, Andrea Rangel. I met Andrea very soon after I moved to Seattle in 2011, but I’d followed her career for years before that. I’ve always loved her aesthetic, which is rooted in practicality. Her commitment to wearability is verified every time I spend time with her—she is often clad in multiple handknits, and manages to not look like a schlumpy mess (always a risk when you’re wrapping yourself in yarn, let’s be honest).
Andrea has a spark for life that is fueled by travel, exercise and a passion for self-improvement. I find her working in the areas most people avoid, working with plant fibers to create figure baring dresses, or knitting insulating, masterfully detailed leggings. Her tenacity and energy are inspiring, so grab a cup of genmaicha (she’s a lil’ crunchy) and a croissant (her husband is a baker).
By the way, Andrea would love to give one lucky reader a copy of her latest collection, Woodsmoke and Ash: Knits for Men. To enter take a look at Andrea’s designs and leave a comment to let us know which one is your favorite, AND, as a tribute to this active, utilitarian lady, let me know what activity you’d wear it for! I’ll pick a winner on 5/15.
Andrea shows off her cabled Kalaloch Leggings.
CR: When I first moved to Seattle you told me that the dominant style was “aggressively plain.” What does that mean for you?
AR: “Aggressively plain” means that an REI rain jacket can be worn with any outfit, be it sporty or dressy, for work, or on the weekend. The implication is that you’re ready for anything, and won’t let fashion norms stop you if a garment is functional. After all, we might go hiking later. We probably won’t, but we’d be ready if we wanted to.
I think Seattle fashion is driven by practicality, but also by a desire to be seen as sporty and outdoorsy. It’s okay to be unfashionable as long as you’re fit and adventurous. I pretty much dress this way, except that I wear wool sweaters instead of my rain jacket unless it’s really raining because I am a knitter, and because wool is miraculous.
CR: Do you see any exceptions to that rule?
AR: Definitely! Of course it’s a huge oversimplification to suggest everybody dresses that way or for those reasons, and there are lots of more fashion-conscious people in the city. The outdoorsy thing is a Seattle cultural norm, but lots of people don’t fit into it, and would rather look good than prepared. But with boots, leggings, and that bright-colored rain jacket, you’ll blend right into the crowd. (Accessorize with a yoga mat to raise your Seattle status even higher.)
CR: How does your knitting scene in your new home compare to the Seattle one? What do you miss most about Seattle (if anything)?
AR: My knitting scene here is much more online than in person. I haven’t started teaching regular classes, and I really haven’t gotten a regular knitting group yet, so I’m home most of the time, designing full time. Even the local knitters that I’ve gotten to know are far enough away that we don’t see each other often. I miss my knitting students and getting to hang out in person with my Seattle folks, but it’s extremely fulfilling to get so much creative time. I still can’t seem to get everything done, but I have a lot of freedom to work and explore on my own schedule.
It is exciting how much knitting history there is in this area too. The Cowichan sweater is part of a major knitting tradition that I think hasn’t gotten as much attention as other traditions because it really hasn’t been written down in the same way that Fair Isle or Aran traditions have.
CR: Speaking of Cowichan sweaters, you are well known for your Dude sweater. Any other famous knits from cinema that you enjoy?
AR: I love the sweaters in The Matrix. That ragged, dropped-stitch look is the perfect post-apocalyptic fashion, especially in combination with the plain fingerless gloves some of the characters wore. And there was this kids’ movie from a few years ago called City of Ember that was just packed with really colorful knitwear. I was drooling through the whole movie. It’s a good movie on its own merit, but I’d watch it just for the knits.
The Dude, Andrea’s most well-loved pattern on Ravelry.
CR: How much does your environment affect your design work?
AR: My environment definitely impacts my work, but mostly in subtle ways. My new home has so much natural beauty, and now that I’m riding my bike for transportation, I get lots of opportunities to take it all in.
Getting the chance to be outside and be active quite a bit makes me want to design things that will work for that. I’ve always designed garments and accessories that are visually appealing to me but also practical, and now practical is starting to mean: good for bike riding. That being said, I can’t bring myself to specialize; Orixa, for instance is a very dressy lace shrug - more for evening wear than outdoor wear.
Cowichan Bay, Andrea’s new home in the Pacific Northwest
Being in such a quiet, tucked-away place has also allowed me to really invest in my designs. I feel like I’ve had more opportunities to give as much time as an idea needs, and to trash ideas if they don’t turn out as expected.
CR: Where to next? Any dream destinations?
AR: I’d like to teach more, both locally and abroad. Traveling to events like Rhinebeck, Squam, Madrona, and the various Vogue Knitting Lives and Knit Labs would be amazing. And I’d love to teach in Iceland and New Zealand. Places with that many sheep are definitely on my list. I’m also dreaming of an extended bicycle tour down the west coast of the States (stopping at yarn shops, farms, and festivals along the way, of course!)
Andrea’s first design, Bamboo Agave.
CR: Are there any types of garments that you haven’t tackled? Any capturing your interest at the moment?
AR: I guess you’ve noticed that I definitely don’t stick to a theme in my design work. I like to make everything. Right now I’m feeling really drawn to loose-fitting garments like shrugs and over-sized sweaters. I think my fashion aesthetic is evolving and I’m excited to try some more relaxed shapes.
CR: You do a great mix of self-publishing and traditional—what are some of your favorite aspects of both? Downsides?
AR: I love having that mix. Independent publishing gives me a fantastic amount of freedom to do work that I feel strongly about and to have control over every step in the process, which I really like. But, working with a publisher helps me to stretch in creative ways I might not otherwise do or even think of. Publishers choose colors and ask for modifications to design ideas, which requires a different kind of creativity. And it’s nice to get a break from being responsible for photography, layout, and editing.
Heartwood, part of Andrea’s latest collection, Woodsmoke and Ash: Knits for Men.
The downside of independent publishing is that I take the whole risk myself. If a design doesn’t sell, I don’t get paid for my work. With publishers I get a flat fee without having to invest in photography and editing. On the other hand, if a design does really well, I get less of the reward if I worked with a publisher. Doing both spreads the risk and brings me a little steadier income.
Visit Andrea’s website to learn more about her process and to see her full pattern line.