The Woman Behind the Wool:Interview with Kristin Ford of Woolfolk

Kristin Ford was one of the first people I met when I moved to Portland five years ago. I remember stopping by the store to get some needles for a project, and she was working the sales floor. I enjoyed her upbeat personality and sense of humor. I worked alongside her several years while she was at Knit Purl and Shibui Knits, and it’s been an absolute pleasure watching her evolve from my fellow co-worker to independent yarn producer. Her company, Woolfolk is one of my favorites, and I couldn’t be prouder or more inspired. I am delighted to share her interview with you today.

Tell us about yourself! Did you grow up in the Northwest?
I grew up in Seattle, and worked as an architect there for about 12 years. Gave up my single girl house in Ballard for Sauvie Island at the tender age of 35 when I married my husband, who I met on a setup by a mutual client, Ann Sacks.

I’d like to know more about your knitting history. I know you started knitting very young. When did you start designing/working for yarn companies?
My grandmother (maiden name Woolfolk!) taught me to knit when I was in kindergarten. I made my first sweater in 4th grade (a sleeveless shell with appliqued daisies…a beauty!)…and never stopped. I got hooked on “the good stuff” with the early Rowan books; 1–10 or so. Both of my kids have always done a lot of sports, but when Anna started swimming, my outlay for yarn (I could finish a sleeve during the heats of the 500…) was getting out of control…started sample knitting. Then I was lucky enough to get a job at Knit Purl; I learned so much about knitting from a different perspective (and had an amazing discount on yarn!).

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I’d like to know more about your days at Woolfolk. What is being a yarn producer like? Is there such thing as a “typical day”?
A typical day starts with very strong coffee and a laptop at about 6:30am. Everyone here knows not to approach me until the caffeine has kicked in, and I’ve read all of my emails. My “office” is in our former cider room, so I walk down with computer in hand, feeding goats and dogs and boys along the way; then fill any orders. The front end, which is the yarn design, is ongoing, and is a part of our collective life here. We have a big table made from a tree on our property that is my staging ground for new products. I like to look at colors in various lights, so they are there for quite a while before selections are made. Coordinating with designers is also a big part of my life. I’m lucky to have Olga helping to coordinate the collection, as well as designing. She is so strong as a designer and is so detail oriented. My web designer, Vanessa Yap Einbund, is also a huge part of the Woolfolk vision, and my representatives, Antonia Shankland, Marge Okuley, and Lindsay Lantz (another graduate of the Knit Purl school!).

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Is your family involved in your business at all? If so, how?
Anna does my social media; she’s now 20 and studying abroad for a semester in Copenhagen. Rich is my business partner, and Jake…well, he built my warehouse shelves….

What has surprised you the most about starting Woolfolk?
How quickly the yarn disappeared! Clara Parkes’ very positive review appeared the week of the launch. When I started the business, I knew it was a special product but was also aware of the number of yarns in the marketplace. I’ve tried to make good design the focus of every aspect of the company, and I think that also makes it a bit unique.

You used to design patterns for Shibui. Can we expect to see any more Kristin Ford designs?
I work with my team to develop the pattern directions conceptually, but I am a terrible pattern writer. I think I’ve knit too long and assume that everyone knows what I’m talking about without adequate explanation! I love to design but not especially to write the patterns.

What is your favorite color of Tynd or Far?
Right now? The new color #13 (that’s a teaser)….but I have to say I love #8 (the dark bronze) and # 11 (navy blue) the best.

Was there a reason why you decided to name the colors with numbers?
There are a couple of reasons. The first is that I love the minimal simplicity of numbers. There is a lot of information that goes on the label, and to come up with a system that works for every yarn was important to me. The numbering system is especially useful with the upcoming marls; for example, the pale grey and ivory marl will coordinate with the existing colors 1 and 2; it will be labeled as 1+2.
The second reason…brain drain. It takes hours and hours and lists and lists to come up with unique names for every color!

Do you actually get time to knit anymore?
Are you kidding? It’s high school baseball season! The ultimate sport for bleacher knitting…long, kind of boring games, and usually at a destination that involves a road trip with a non-knitting driver. I also knit religiously on my exercise bike every morning for at least 20 minutes.

What knitting are you working on right now, if you can share it?
I’m working on a snood/cowl that utilizes the new black and white marl along with the new true black and color 1 in Tynd…inspired by buffalo checks.

What do you do when you’re not working (if that ever happens!)?
This is not work.

What do you see for the future of Woolfolk?
I have an amazing group of retail partners, and I want to keep Woolfolk in their hands and support them for the hard work that they do (I know; been there and done that). I want to continue our partnership with Ovis 21, which is such a great organization helping to preserve the grasslands of Patagonia, and to reward the farmers that are sticking to their standards. I want to continue to think about what I would want to knit, and if I can’t find it in the marketplace, to develop it as a Woolfolk product.

Do you have any advice for aspiring yarn producers?
Think about what you love to knit with; think about holes in the market, and don’t second guess yourself.

Are there any sneak peeks you can share with KP readers?
Well, the marls that are coming this fall are pretty exciting to me. Also, we will be introducing a luxurious bulky yarn utilizing the Ovis 21 17.5 merino combined with superbaby alpaca and mulberry silk; it has almost a felted finish. Olga is designing a small collection that will be released as a booklet with the yarn in November.

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You went to Denmark, Norway, and Iceland recently. Can you share some highlights from your trip?
Low lights…mom’s face meets the cobblestones in Copenhagen. Nothing broken, just two giant shiners and a very Angelina Jolie lip all through Iceland! The rest of the trip was amazing; started in Norway staying with Rich’s college roommate lives outside of Oslo on the fjord; then Sweden in a rustic cabin near Molle; then Copenhagen; all of that was amazing…and finishing in Iceland, which is so starkly beautiful and full of Icelandic wool!

Anything else you’d care to share?
My experience at Knit Purl has given me such a perspective on how hard it is to be a retailer, and my goal is to help support the most important link (you guys!) in whatever way I can.

Thank you, Kristin, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and the story of Woolfolk. We’re so honored to have your beautiful work on our shelves!
To find out more about Woolfolk yarn, visit her website here.

May 13, 2015 by Oleya Pearsall
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