Mary Germain is a fiber artist who remains focused on knitting that is inspired by her travels to Estonia and Latvia. She’s also been a spinner, quilter, rughooker, jeweler, metalworker, weaver, and a shop owner. At this year’s Fiber College, Mary will teach three classes: Distorted Cuffs, Nupps and Estonian Lace, and Estonian Mittens. What a talent! Can’t wait to meet her? Here’s Mary!
Tell us about your fiber journey.
My fiber journey started at a young age when I learned to knit and sew. In high school, I focused on college prep classes and didn’t discover until years later when I was looking at my high school yearbook that there were actually weaving looms in my school. I had no idea! Weaving came much later when my husband-to-be and I attended a frame loom weaving class together at the yarn shop that I would ultimately own – The Wool Works, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Spinning, quilting, rug hooking, jewelry, and metalwork have all grabbed my attention over the years, but knitting is my main focus.
I met Irma, a talented Latvian knitter, when I owned The Wool Works and she brought in mittens, socks, and hats that we sold on consignment. My friend, Sandy De Master, and I interviewed and wrote an article for Piecework magazine about Irma and a pattern inspired by Irma’s knitting. That started my interest in Latvian knitting and, well, Estonia is right next door, so it was an easy hop, skip, and jump to get into Estonian knitting. Over the years, my travels to the Baltic region have included a knitting trip to Latvia with Lizbeth Upitis, participation in the Nordic Knitting Symposium in Estonia, attending the conference on Traditional Knitted Sweaters Around the Baltic Sea, and being part of the first Estonian Craft Camp.
I have other Baltic connections:
- After participating in the Käi ja koo, a Walk and Knit competition in Estonia, I came home to Wisconsin and started a Walk and Knit event at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival in 2014.
- I was the co-treasurer, along with my husband, of the XIII Latvian Song & Dance Festival when it took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2012.
- I will be acknowledged as the Editor of English Text when the newly-translated Latvian Mitten (Latvieša Cimdi) book by Maruta Grasmane is published later this year in Riga, Latvia.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever given a student?
The best advice I can give to students is to get the fundamentals down really well; then the world of creativity will be wide open to you because you will have a solid base upon which to build. For example, if you know the basics of how a knitted sweater is constructed, you can then design your dream sweater following standard construction or you will know how you can creatively change that construction and ignore standard conventions. Knowing the basics gives you creative freedom!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best or most interesting piece of advice that I’ve been given was during a Creative Sewing class with Diane Ericson. Diane suggested that you make only one design decision at a time, and complete the first step of creating based on that decision. Then, look at what you have and think about your next step. By doing this, you may end up with something completely different than what you might have if you had made every one of your design decisions before starting to create. This can open up more creative possibilities for you.
What’s your favorite piece of work you’ve created?
Some of my favorite pieces that I’ve created are my:
- Latvian Forest Cardigan (at top) which I designed using Fair Isle techniques, with inspiration from a travel photo in a magazine, and incorporating traditional Latvian motifs, following a workshop class taught by Janine Bajus.
- Knight of Many Colors Pullover which started with a piece of fabric that was woven at the end of a color gamp blanket warp using pick-and-pick leftover colors for the weft. The body is handwoven, the sleeves and trim were knit using many of the colors from the warp, and the knitting motifs were inspired by Latvian mittens. This sweater was chosen as a contest finalist by Harrisville Designs, was produced as a kit for a while, and appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of Handwoven magazine.
- Mittens inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night. These were knit in response to a challenge in my spinning guild. I used Estonian motifs and the yellow stars peek out of a dark night. The swirl in the cuff repeats the swirl in Van Gogh’s night sky.
What is your most important artist tool?
The most important artist tool that I can’t live without is yarn in a large variety of colors. I collect many colors in a similar weight so that I have many options to choose from when I’m designing a new project. Still, I don’t always have the color I want and I will sometimes overdye a yarn to get closer to the color that I’ve got in my mind. My approach to color is, the more the merrier! I love to combine a lot of colors in one piece.
What would your Fiber College students be surprised to know about you?
Fiber College students might be surprised to know that I am an avid bicycle rider. I bike over 1,000 miles per year outdoors during Wisconsin’s rather short outdoor biking season, but have reached as high as 2,600 miles in a year during my younger days. Many of my biking miles are spent solo and I love the wandering-mind time that this provides; many designs have been pondered during those miles and design problems have been brain-stormed or solved.