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Socktoberfest Interview: Nancy Bush
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Socktoberfest Interview: Nancy Bush

For Nancy Bush, designer, author, and owner of The Wooly West yarn and supply company in Utah, sock knitting is not just a hobby – It is her life's work! Nancy has meticulously observed the knitting traditions in many European countries, often delving into museum collections and archival and library materials for her extensive research.

Nancy Bush She has written three books specifically about sock knitting (Folk Socks [1997], Knitting on the Road [2001], and Knitting Vintage Socks [2005] ) and has written many articles and designs for various books and magazines. Nancy's work now focuses primarily on the knitting traditions and heritage of Estonia. All of this while she teaches workshops around the country, designs for a myriad of publications, and runs the day-to-day business of The Wooly West!

She kindly agreed to do two interviews with me last week in honor of Socktoberfest: one over email, the other over the telephone.

Do you recall your very first pair of socks? How did you learn to knit socks?

My first pair of socks were for my Dad and I cast on so tightly that he never liked wearing them. I think it was one of the first times I had used small (#1) needles! Now I teach several ways to last on loosely for socks. I taught myself to knit socks from a rare (in those days – the early 80's) pattern I found – don't remember where it came from.

How has your background in Art History affected your research, writing, and design of socks?

I always want to know about the history of anything I am interested in, be it knitting socks or some kind of food. I like to find out how it came to be and about the place it was created. I specialized in Japanese Folk Art in college and then went to the other side of the world for my career! My Art history studies taught me how to research and also to take photos that tell a story. I think it has been a great help in what I do now.

Knitting Vintage Socks: New Twists on Classic Patterns What was the biggest challenge you faced when compiling and adapting the patterns in Knitting Vintage Socks? The nineteenth-century patterns are so intricate, it must have been a real task to match them with modern yarns, needles, and knitting techniques.

I think the biggest challenge was spending day after day reading small gray type. It is the kind of type one tends (wants to) to overlook, but I had to read it word for word and sort out what the patterns were telling me to do. It became easier as I went along. There was no mention of weight or yardage for any of the yarns, nor gauge, so I had to rely on what I know the yarns would do and how the patterns could be changed or adjusted to work with them.

In Knitting on the Road, you point to the weaving school in Dalarna, Sweden as the place where you really learned to knit. Did the weaving school help you understand knitting technique and practice better? What did you learn there that you did not know about knitting before?

When I went to Sweden, I knew how to knit and purl, but not how to cast on (someone always did that for me…don't ask me why I let that go on for so long) Anyway, when I was in Sweden, all the girls in the school were knitting in the evenings – usually in a dark room with the TV on – and knitting intricate color patterned sweaters. Nancy Bush

I wanted to learn everything I could during my time there (I also did spinning, lace making, felting by hand -no washing machines for us- and nålbinding) and knitting was a part of the whole experience. Except, I discovered that knitting was more than an interesting textile technique and had a very long history. It was the 'everyman's (or woman's) craft, not requiring a lot of equipment and success could be achieved rather quickly (once one learned how to cast on!!) I saw so many amazing knitted things in the museums and it was there that I discovered how really wonderful knitting is! By the way – it took me about 5 minutes to learn to cast on and it was the beginning of the rest of my life!

With your business, designing, and your workshop teaching, do you have any time to knit for pleasure? If so, what are you currently working on?

Piecework Right now, nope – knitting is always a pleasure, but I haven't had time to knit just for me in a very long time. Between creating new classes (for Camp Stitches and SOAR, coming up in a few weeks) and writing and designing for PieceWork Magazine for every issue for the last 3 years, and the occasional other designs and working on a book – time to knit for me is way off the radar.

I do think about 'retirement' fondly, thinking I may have time to knit all the things I have wanted to try but had no time – its very hard it imagine not being so busy!

What is next for Nancy Bush? do you have some new designs and a book "up your sleeve"?

Well…I have been working on and off for a few years researching Estonian knitted lace. Now I am hoping to be completely immersed in it for the next year, the result will be my next book. I am so interested in Estonia and their knitting, it is really all I want to be doing, most of the time, so this next year should be a good one for me.

Question from Socktoberfest participant, PrimitiveSpirit: How do you choose color for your sock designs? Are you inspired by the color, the wool? What is the process?

Nancy Bush Sometimes I am inspired by colors I have seen in nature, sometimes because the yarn is so beautiful and sometimes because I know it will photograph well. I won't knit with a color I don't like, just like I never use a yarn I don't like. I think we need to enjoy the process all the way, and colors that are hard on the eyes or yarns that make the fingers ache, for whatever reason, just aren't worth it.

What is one of the most exciting stories that you have encountered in your research?

Nancy graciously agreed to do a recording where she tells of her sock knitting experience at the home of Tasha Tudor, a well-known and much-loved American children's book illustrator.

(Please forgive the low-tech equipment and the slight echo!)


Thanks for this opportunity. Good luck with your 'fest'!

Thank you, Nancy! Happy Socktoberfest!

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44 Responses

  1. Jen

    What a great interview, thanks!!!! I’m knitting socks from Knitting Vintage Socks right now :)

  2. Mary-Heather

    Wow, thanks for the interview, Lolly! This is great to hear more of Nancy Bush’s voice. I love her books and her patterns; they are all so clearly written, as well as beautifully designed.

  3. debbie

    great interview! i especially loved the memorable sock story – sounds like something right out of a storybook….

  4. Coleen

    congrats on a great interview Lolly! Nice job!

  5. Dorothy B

    Excellent interview. It’s always so interesting to learn more about someone who is such a good designer and interesting person.

  6. Leah

    Thanks for a great interview Lolly!! It was really nicely done!

    Oh & the echo isn’t so bad! :)

  7. Carol

    Thanks for sharing with us! I have 2 of Nancy’s books & just love them!

  8. Donna

    How Cool! I love her books!

  9. Jenna

    So cool!! I’m glad that you got to communicate with Nancy and share with us. She’s certainly an inspirtation for all knitters, not just those who love socks.

  10. LaurieM

    Great interview! Thanks so much to both you and Nancy. I admire her very much.

  11. Kate/Massachusetts

    Oh Lolly! Another great post! I love Nancy Bush and I love Tasha Tudor. Both are incredible artists. How I would have loved to be part of that sock knitting class in Vermont! :-)

  12. Cathy

    What a wonderful interview. I love Nancy Bush and enjoyed very much her story.

  13. Sarah

    Another fantastic Socktoberfest post. What a great interview with one of my biggest sock inspirations! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  14. tiennie

    Thank you so much Lolly and Nancy!!! This was so great.

  15. kris

    i can’t believe you got two interviews with nancy bush! that is so cool. yeah!

  16. Tan Summers

    Lolly, this is just the best blog entry anywhere, ever. We should be paying you for this.

  17. Sue

    What a great interview with Nancy Bush. I have both of her books, and I love reading interviews about other knitters and designers, it makes you feel as though you know a bit about the history of the sock you are knitting. Thanks Lolly for doing so much work, and showing us a bit of history about Nancy herself.

  18. Barb

    Thanks for the interview! My Socktober socks are from Knitting on the Road. What a thrill to interview a knitting celebrity. Good work, Ms. Lolly:)

  19. Moni

    what a fantastic interview! Great questions, Lolly! I will look forward with great anticipation for her Estonian Knitting book.

  20. hpny knits

    THANK YOU! its wonderful to read and hear, but sad to find out she has no time to knit for fun!!

  21. brooke

    This was a great review. Thank you!

  22. Kelly B

    Thanks so much for the interview- I have Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks, and it’s a wonderful book. It was great to read more about her.

  23. grumperina

    Thanks so much, Nancy and Lolly! A true treat!

  24. Vera

    Great interview. I have two of her books, and get lots of inspiration from her.

    Thanks for sharing.

  25. Beth

    Great interview, Lolly. I loved the part about Tasha Tudor. I can’t even imagine Miss Tudor as a real person never mind try to imagine her house. Nancy Bush and Tasha Tudor make an interesting picture in my mind.

  26. Kelly

    Great interview! Thanks Lolly!

  27. georgia

    oh how wonderful and inspiring! thanks lolly.

  28. Beth

    How cool to have Nancy Bush participate in our Socktoberfest! Thanks for the interesting inteview.

  29. Janet

    Thank you for a great interview Lolly. The portion about Tasha Tudor was such a nice surprise. I was already interested in everything related to Tasha and it is so awesome to learn that she asked Nancy Bush to teach her about socks. Both ladies fascinate me.

  30. heather

    truly a great knitter and designer…what a treat!

  31. courtney

    Fantastic! She is one of my knitting heros! :)

  32. pippi

    great GREAT great interview!!!!

  33. gleek

    great interview lolly! it was great to hear all of her thoughts on yarn and patterns.

  34. Wanda

    Wonderful interview. Thanks for interviewing Nancy Bush, so awesome! I was fortunate enough to take a lace class from her earlier this year and it was fantastic!

  35. fawn

    Nancy Bush’s work is so thoroughly researched and easy to use. Thanks for illuminating some of her background & the glimpse of upcoming work! For me, one of the great pleasures of knitting is connecting to folk traditions and traditional women’s arts, and I love how Nancy makes that real for knitters today.

  36. Patti

    We had Nancy as our guest speaker at our Guild on Thursday night. She showed slides from Estonia. She is so gracious and informative. She was also at our Fall Retreat this last weekend. Although I couldn’t attend, all reports were that it was wonderful. Thanks for the interview. Patti in Portland, OR

  37. Mom

    Nice interview, sweetie! XXOO

  38. Stacey

    Yay Nancy! Great interview Lolly!

  39. Shayna

    That was a wonderful interview! I adore all things Tasha Tudor, I knew she knit and about her animals, but it was so nice to read about Nancy’s experiance with her.

  40. margene

    I missed this because of our trip East. Nancy, as you know is a big hero of mine in the world of knitting. She started the whole craze of sock knitting with her first book in 1992 (that may be my opinion but still..) and has been an inspiration to many knitters over the years. Great interview Lolly!

  41. PippiKneeSocks » Out with the old, in with the new

    [...] Can we pretend that it is still Socktoberfest? I mean, seriously. I planned more socks; I thought about more socks, I started knitting new socks, I oggled beautiful, loving socks. I loved all the Great Interviews and wonderful tutorials. Thank you Lolly for putting it together and making it so wonderful! [...]

  42. Terry

    Thanks!! for sharing – this coming from an avid Nancy Bush fan. And you just verified that I’m not nuts – I thought awhile ago I read she was working on a lace book, then I never heard of it again and couldn’t remember where I read/heard it from. Ah, so happy she’s doing a lace book.

  43. Lolly Knitting Around » Blog Archive » Notes on a Compendium

    [...] even had the great opportunity to interview Nancy for last year’s Socktoberfest – in two separate interviews, she shared some great information:  about her methods, her knitting [...]

  44. Lolly Knitting Around » Unsung Sock Heroes

    [...] Socktoberfest 2006, I did interviews with BOTH Nancy Bush and Cookie A – you can see all the Socktoberfest archives [...]

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