Tracy Radcliffe and PunkRocKnits
The local paint-your-own pottery shop right by Tracy Radcliffe started hosting visiting artists giving classes in their studio space. She decided to take a course of four 'introduction to knitting' classes. As soon as she learned how to knit and purl, the knitting obsession - which so many of us are so very familiar with - had her safely in its grasp. She was also able to take a class with Stephen West, an excellent knitwear designer, and she was very inspired by his "Boneyard" shawl. At the time, Tracy had no idea how far this new hobby would take her.
Tracy started designing, creating, and selling pieces for her own label, PunkRocKnits, in 2010. "One word to describe my style is 'freeform'," she tells me in our conversation. She graduated with a major in Biology and a minor in Studio Art - but knitting is not as big of a departure from studio art as you would think. "Yarn is my paint, and needles are my canvas," she describes whimsically. When you see her work, the truth of this statement is evident. She has a great eye for color, texture, and pattern - mixing uniquely spun wools with sari ribbon, one color flowing easily into the next. "I don't really follow patterns - the yarns I use are all so different color and texture-wise – I like to combine things naturally, in a non-predetermined way," she explains. Letting the different textures and weights of yarn determine the pattern can make the piece go in unexpected directions. "Sometimes the end result surprises even me!" Tracy admits. Each and every piece she creates is absolutely one-of-a-kind.
Tracy started off selling her work at shows - in 2011 she appeared at 21 of them! She was working an outdoor craft event in 2012 when she had one really special customer. One of the women who had purchased a scarf at the show turned out to be the Division Manager of Accessories at the clothing company Free People. Soon after the show, she was contacted by the company and asked to knit one-of-a-kind original pieces for them. They visited her and explained they wanted larger, triangular shawls to offer through their website and in their stores. She made up a 10 piece collection of shawls as a kind of trial, and every one sold! A few of the shawls went to the Free People store window in New York, and Tracy was so excited to see it there when she visited over Christmas! The first larger order was in the fall of 2013, when Tracy created 5 different shawl styles and made 34 total pieces in only 2 months! While still working a full-time "day job" and being a wife and mother! I think she may have been knitting in her sleep. Along with being in stores, Free People features the shawls in their catalogs and online. Her most recent spring collection was made with lots of Darn Good Yarn Reclaimed Sari Ribbon, as Free People were looking for more light-weight shawls for 'music-festival fashion'. 10 of the "Dragonfly" shawls were created, and all 10 sold in the first 3 days they were available! However, if you need one of her shawls, don't despair. You can always check out her Etsy page here and special order your own!
With these successes under her belt, Tracy is looking to expand her business ambitions. She was able to hire a part-time assistant, Taylor Reynolds, a local Graphic Design student. Taylor was blogging about the great pieces in the new Free People catalog the winter that Tracy's shawls were included. They soon became friends on Facebook, and Taylor is now helping Tracy with trend and material research, labeling pieces, adding fringe, and even knitting! She is a crafter in her own right, and creates gorgeous Dreamcatchers which are featured in the Punkrocknits Etsy shop aswell as at the shows they still attend.
Tracy's most recent knitting experiment? Working with size 120 knitting needles! That size doesn't conventionally exist in knitting needles, but a seller on Etsy hand-makes them. Not surprisingly, knitting with what are essentially small trees in public garners some odd looks, but Tracy tells me she has started many an interesting conversation with people while using them. Her 7 year old just learned to knit with them, and loves them!
As long as Tracy keeps thinking "big" about her work and her business, I'm quite sure she'll go far!
Many thanks to Tracy for sharing her story with me, and, as always,