Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Adrienne Larsen describes herself as an antsy kind of person. “Knitting is supposed to be relaxing … mindless,” she reflects. “Unfortunately, I’ve never been good at that. My hands need to do.”
Like the pet ferrets whom she calls her spirit animals, Adrienne is fidgety and curious. Her grandmother recognized that energy years ago, teaching the restless preteen the basics of knitting – cast-on, knit and purl, plus a modicum of patience.
Twenty-some years later, that early campaign to channel her boundless zest has led her down an entirely unexpected path – toward the top of the pantheon of well-known names in the design of knitting patterns. More than 100 of her original patterns for sweaters and more unlikely projects – think knitted ferrets – have been published in major knitting magazines from Vogue Knitting to Interweave Knits and online sites including Ravelry.com. She has two books to her record: “Welts and Waves” and “Flutter and Flow,” with a third called “Twists and Twines” in the works. (“That’ll be the end of my alliteration trilogy, I think,” she confides with a laugh.)
Now Adrienne, one of the “yarn gurus” at Prairie Fiber Art Center in Moorhead, has been tapped to join the staff of Universal Yarn as a designer. Working from her home in Fargo, she’ll invest 30 hours a week in designing patterns for the major international yarn distributor, likely far simpler than the increasingly intricate and complex sweaters that have brought her a growing base of fans over the past five years.
None of this was in the plans when Adrienne was growing up in Brainerd, Minnesota. Instead of fashion or crafting, music was her forté. “I was in choir and played the viola in orchestra all the way through,” she says. “What I dreamed of was musical theatre.”
Starting young, she played children’s roles in productions by Brainerd High, Central Lakes College and community theatre groups. When she enrolled at North Dakota State University, she arrived as a musical theatre major. “I started in performance, but then evolved toward costumes,” she notes. Graduating in 2008, she combined her wanderlust with regional performing venues. She did summer stock in New York as a senior, but after graduation, found work as a traveling costumer, starting with Trollwood, then developing a calendar of engagements by the St. Louis Opera, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Duluth Opera Festival and other annual productions around the country. She explains she wasn’t designing the costumers: “I was a stitcher. I got patterns or cut-out pieces, then sewed them together. It’s a lot easier to find; a show has one designer but might have 60 stitchers.”
Of her experience as an itinerant costume seamstress, she says, “It was pretty awesome. It’s pretty fun. You meet all kinds of great people, and you get to move between lots of interesting places.”
Always restless, she wanted more. Philadelphia University offered one of the few graduate programs in textile engineering; she completed her master of science there in 2013. Then she returned to Fargo to marry her longtime love, Paul Klapperich, a fellow NDSU grad in electrical engineering. “We’d started dating on a high school choir trip to Norway,” she says. Today the two live amidst piles of construction materials in a “fixer upper” in north Fargo with her three pet ferrets, Rogue, Raven and Josie.
Those ferrets share her personality, she claims. “They’re always curious, always exploring,” she says. She brings the same inquisitiveness to the knitting she’s been doing all along to keep her hands busy. She still remembers her first two projects, one scarf that came out trapezoidal, more or less, and a second that “just grew and grew.” She still has both, putting them to use as ferret blankets.
Her serious knitting, though, has evolved eons past what she learned from her grandma and, later, her stepfather, who knits and crochets himself outside his office hours as a child psychologist. Creating a simple pattern doesn’t do enough to quell her restlessness. “My designs have to push the envelope,” she says. “They often begin with the thought, ‘Is this possible?’
“I’m always searching in familiar corners to find something new and surprising to challenge me. Every new design is like a puzzle.”
In addition to her work with Universal Yarn and at Prairie Fiber, she’s become an entrepreneur. She is a partner in Fairy Hair Fiber, where she wears the hats of creative director and lead engineer. She and Verna Kragnes are reviving the nearly lost art of Bohus knitting, perhaps the most intricate approach one can choose for yarn and needles. Launched to help housewives generate an income in rural Sweden during the Great Depression, the Bohus style incorporates as many as 15 closely related shades of fine yarn made from the hair of angora rabbit and Cormo sheep. In addition to knitting up classic designs and creating modern patterns, Adrienne creates the colorways and dyes the yarn (spun in Kindred, North Dakota) to the exacting formulas required for the subtle finished effects.
The kits and patterns will be featured during Prairie Fiber’s observance of World Wide Knit in Public Day on Saturday. Yes, it’s a real thing. Like their counterparts, Moorhead area knitters are invited to spend an hour or two at the yarn store at 127 Fourth St. S., where they can sit and pursue their favorite craft. Begun in 2005, WWKIP Day now involves more than 1,000 gatherings across the U.S. and in Europe, China and Japan, Australia and South Africa.
Though she’s done a variety of projects, her sweaters garner the most comments. Her most popular design, she says, was the first that appeared on the Ravelry database of knitting patterns, a chunky vest she christened the Leif Pullover. “What people mention is always my sweaters,” she concedes. “My mother has boxes and boxes of them. Fortunately, she loves them, and she’s the perfect size the pattern companies and magazines want.”
The designer herself? She keeps just three favorites in her own closet. “They’re so fun to create … but just too warm for me to wear.”
Star of Sticks and String
Nancy Edmonds Hanson