Lauren McElroy creates knitting patterns, handspun yarn, and hand dyed fiber as Mother of Purl. She also creates educational video content and is an active blogger. We were inspired by her beautiful work and her passion for all steps of the fiber art process. We took some time to sit down with her (virtually) and ask her some questions about her work.
What first got you into fiber art? Tell us your fiber art life story!
I started knitting first. I saw a friend of mine with a knitted outfit, and really wanted to start making my own clothes.
I have always had a “peculiar” sense in fashion. What I wanted to wear the most was not really something that was available, so I thought, “Well, I’ll make it!”
My mom is an amazing seamstress. Unfortunately that led me to believe that sewing was uncool, until I became an adult and wanted to have handmade clothes again.
Well, I didn’t learn to sew, so, knitting it was! I actually picked up the crochet hook first, but fell in love with knitting from the first stitch.
It was a spiral from there. I started pursuing knitting patterns and knitting somewhat obsessively until I could really understand what I was doing by trial and error. I figured out what my stitches looked like, what the fabric would look like if I used certain stitches, and that was the beginning stages of learning to design.
Where do you draw inspiration for your work from?
My inspiration is from all sorts of places; feelings that experiences evoke, the colors in the natural world. Just the other day I was driving home in the evening right after sunset. The sky was orange and there were a few clouds in the sky that looked heavy with rain so the cloud was a fluffy white/blue with navy blue on the underside. The sky was sky blue, and at the horizon was this dusky orange. The very next day I dyed some fiber to match!
You do a little bit of everything in terms of fiber art, fiber prep, dyeing, spinning, knitting, if you had to pick just one step, which would it be?
Oh my, yes, it is very much my personality to want to do things from the very first step. When I started knitting it wasn’t long after that I decided to make yarn, might as well get some sheep next!
I can’t think of a single thing I don’t love about making yarn from fleece, or knitting… but I can say that my favorite feeling is right before I’m about to finish the current step, or right when there’s a color change coming up, or I’m spinning a balanced bobbin and it’s time to move onto the next hook!
Do you have a favorite breed of wool to work with or do you prefer to mix it up?
I’ve experimented with a lot of different fibers, different breeds of wool and cellulose fibers. I’ve spun some out of the box fibers like nettle and milled fluff but I always come back to wool. I am fortunate enough to know some local sheep farmers who provide me with fleeces for my spinning.
You say your knitting patterns are an experience more than a set of instructions, can you elaborate a bit on that?
My pattern writing style has evolved and now includes an algebraic formula for knitters to plug in their specific measurements. You could make my patterns for a barbie doll, or an elephant if you really wanted. This is the method that makes sense to me, and I felt that pattern making should be specific to each individual.
I also encourage people to experiment within the pattern. If there’s a section where you’re just knitting stockinette stitch over a a set number of stitches for several inches, I’ll recommend throwing in different design elements like lace, or a cable here or there. This also goes for sizing, like, maybe you don’t want waist shaping, maybe the shoulders are broader etc. My patterns dare to ask the question, “What would happen if I…?”
Which of your patterns would be best for a beginner knitter to jump in with?
The Thistle Garden Sweater, The Spring Birch Cardigan, Ten of Cups… these are the simplest in my opinion. My designing style is to do a mostly simple pattern with some added flare. I like to listen to audiobooks when I knit, so the majority of the garment has to be easy enough for me to do that. Then there’s a little something extra that makes the garment stand out, and you’ll probably have to press pause and focus.
We love your fiber art TikToks! Are they as fun to make as they are to watch?
Ha! tiktok has definitely been a trip. They’re actually way harder than they look. Sometimes it will take me hours, or days to complete one of those 13 second videos.
But they are fun.
What is your creative process like when you’re going to spin a skein of yarn? How do you choose colors and textures?
Well, I am an intuitive spinner, so I generally let the fiber tell me how it wants to be spun.
The colors I’m choosing before I get to the spinning process by dyeing the roving first.
I’m experimenting with different techniques for dyeing ie: kettle dyed, self striping, variegated, ombré…
There are some color techniques you just can’t achieve when the yarn is already spun, but spinning undyed fiber and dyeing the yarn is up next!
After I spin about half of my fiber I start to look at it and predict what it might do if I plied to another single, if I did a standard 3 ply, if I did a chain ply, and think about the final product I want to see, if I want long color swathes or quick color changes, if I want the plus to overlap and create a totally new (appearing) color.
As for textures, right now i’m working through 30 lbs of the same fibers, so, there’s not a clear end in sight for changing that up anytime soon. But I will get very aquatinted with how this wool takes dye, how it wants to be spun, and how many different outcomes I can achieve with the same base.
Are there any fiber craft skills you don’t currently have that you’d like to learn?
I have a loom that’s just waiting to be set up! I need a little bit of help getting going, but it is on my list.
I have a blending board and a hackle that I want to start using to blend my own handyed fibers and offer hand blended fibers on my website.
I also really love the way embroidery looks, but I definitely need some lessons.
Do you have anything exciting on the horizon for Mother of Purl you’d like to share?
On the horizon for Mother of Purl, oh yes. To keep it simple I’ll stay in the 2020 time frame.
We’re looking at the launch of the knitting pattern for the leggings that has been getting a lot of attention- to be released in collaboration with May from Le Frances Handmade (amazing indie-dyer) in November.
I’m developing some online courses (sock knitting, dyeing, blending, beginner knitting…)
Ongoing I release a new pattern every other month, and once a month to my Patreon subscribers, and I have a shop update quarterly for the handspun yarn/ handdyed fibers.
Find more of Lauren's work here:
Thank you so much to Lauren for joining us to answer some questions about her fiber art and for sharing so many lovely photos with us!