The makers: Carina Spencer finds creativity and community in knitting

Carina Spencer has been a maker her whole life. As a child, she cut up her clothes and figured out ways to sew them back together as dresses for her dolls.

Today, Spencer figures out how to make hand-knit designs, then creates and publishes the patterns for others who want to try their own hand at knitting garments.

Spencer publishes her work independently in books and magazines. She also works with yarn makers designing for their brands and recently co-authored a 2015 book, “Midwestern Knits,” with Chicago knitwear designer Allyson Dykhuizen.

Spaces: Why did you start knitting?

Spencer: I got into knitting when I was pregnant with my second child. I had really admired baby sweaters. I was cloth-diapering my kids. You can put them in wools — they are antibacterial. I couldn’t afford them so I taught myself to make them. I got really into it really quickly, and really deeply. I kind of didn’t want to do much of anything else for a while except learn how to knit.

Spaces: What was appealing about it?

Spencer: Around the time I started knitting, I had two small kids. I was feeling really isolated—I spent a lot of time alone with them. The knitting gave me a way to focus on something and alleviate my anxiety. I was just working on this one thing in front of me. The rhythm of the needles and the yarn passing through my hands felt calming at a chaotic time in my life.

My maternal grandmother taught me to sew when I was really little and my aunt taught me to crochet. When I started knitting, even though I taught myself, I felt a strong connection to them — especially my grandmother. I remember being a child and watching her hands move. It was mesmerizing to me. It really connected me to family in a way.

Spaces: How did you transition into patterns?

Spencer: The first thing I designed was a kimono baby sweater. I designed it, because I couldn’t find a pattern that I wanted to knit using the yarn I wanted to use. I found I really like the process of thinking about shaping the fabric. It goes really slowly, but you end up with a shape that comes together to wrap around a human form. That process was super interesting to me. I published my first sweater pattern independently. I set it up through a system so people could download it for $5. People started buying it.

Spaces: What surprises people about knitting?

Spencer: The size of the community surprises a lot of people. I still feel like knitting has an outdated reputation. I see it referred to in the media as something to make people sound nerdy, like they have no life, but that’s not true. The knitting community is very diverse and connected to each other. I have met all kinds of people in the knitting community. People are drawn to it for a lot of reasons. A lot of knitters have a weekly knit site, usually at a bar or book shop, where people get together and knit.

Spaces: What’s next?

Spencer: After designing knitting patterns for 10 years, I took Rightfully Sewn’s Advanced Fashion Design Techniques course to learn about drafting sewing patterns in order to sew my own wardrobe and to potentially branch out into sewing pattern design at some point.