Knit + Escape: Kristy Glass talks with Stephen West

Today’s path to yarn-spun stardom is a bit different these days

Every art form has a changing of the guard, when one generation of creators passes the baton to the next. Knitting is no different. Stephen West, as we see it, is very much a standard bearer of today’s creators. West is young, mobile and wears his heart on his colorful, patchwork sleeve. And we love him for it. A co-owner of Stephen & Penelope, a cute yarn boutique in Amsterdam, Netherlands, West is a busy body. Back in 2019, he and his business partner, Malia Mae Joseph – herself a Colorado transplant to ADAM – launched their first yarn brand, West Wool. 

We at Knit + Escape couldn’t ask for a better person to unspool how a contemporary knitter made their way into the spotlight. Our very own Kristy Glass got a hold of West to get the scoop on how he landed in this yarn-filled dream.   

“I didn’t get to fiber, fiber got to me”

West is certainly one of those creatives who zig-zagged (or chevroned – we’re still workshopping our pattern puns) onto the creating scene. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he said a high school friend got him into knitting, a first attempt that didn’t go over well. 

“It was terrible,” West said, “because [the material] was chunky, acrylic blue yarn,” which was a “specific shade of turquoise that only exists in acrylic form.” He swears to not knit with that yarn to this day – and we don’t blame him. But then, he found merino wool. “Once you feel this soft merino,” he said, “your bank account feels it too.” He was broke from buying all the yarn, but he was in love. Around this time, he started a knitting club.

West-ward from Dancing To Knitting

West is also a dancer. His education began in high school, which offered dance as a substitute for traditional physical education classes. After graduation, he studied dance at university in Chicago, Illinois, and finally in Amsterdam. 

Knitting wasn’t exactly a career on his mind. “I didn’t want to make a business of it,” West said. Here, he arrived at a juncture where so many creatives get stuck: how to turn a hobby into a job? “It has to be my passion,” he added. Through hard work, a path unfolded before him. Knitting became a vehicle that led to traveling, teaching, writing books and publishing patterns. “A few years later,” he said, “I realized it was a full-time job.” Best of all: he still loved it.    

Knitting Celebrities, Then And Now

As West outlines, there are pre- and post-Ravelry paths to becoming a well-known knitter. Previously, a common route was publishing, which aided the careers of Kaffe Fassett or Nancy Marchant, for example. Fasset inspired people across the world with his colourful work in fabric, knitting, needlepoint, patchwork, painting and mosaic. Marchant, on the other hand, has been knitting for decades and participated in magazines and books.

Today, West said, “you can just sprout up” on Ravelry, a website that helped propel the careers of Andrea Mowry and Ysolda Teague. West also found early success on the site. His first design was Boneyard Shawl, a free pattern that has been downloaded over 100,000 times. Social media is also a component, he said, and so much of being a contemporary creator is sharing your work and passion with others.

Creating on the Road  

Several years ago, a new buzzword appeared: “digital nomads.” They were young professionals who hopped from beach town to beach town, to live and work wherever there was an internet connection. West is a self-described “knitting nomad.” After a six-year stint in Amsterdam, he ditched his apartment, because, as he explained, he was on the road most of the time. A year later, he began shuffling to a new city every month, leaving a couple of suitcases of outfits, yarn, patterns and samples at common stops. 

Kristy Glass (and all of us readers) are delighted that Stephen West shuffled through Vogue Knitting Live where Kristy was able to have this chat. Stephen & Penelope are people, a shop in Amsterdam and a leading presence in the yarnosphere around the world. Drop into their website, you’ll be as charmed as we were.

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What is knitting if not a means to bring people together? Sign up today for Knit + Escape Roxbury, where we will be creating at a socially safe distance, alongside our fellow knit wits. Join and mingle with novices, seasoned sewers and an instructor or two. We’d love to have you.