World Crafters are people who make things in different parts of the world. Some turned their hobby into a profession, some are balancing a day job with small crafty business, some chose to keep their hobby and just enjoy making, creating and giving.
I met Tessa, a machine and hand knitter, at the local organic market a couple of years ago. She was the only person I could actually talk to about knitting. Tessa lives in Los Barriles, a small Mexican fisherman town 3-4 hours drive from us. I fell in love with her love for knitting, her simple quiet lifestyle, her closeness to nature… She kept inviting me to visit her for a long time and finally last month me and my husband got on a road trip to her place. You can look up the road pictures in the April’s Adiós series. Tessa met us at the beach coming back from paddling – a petite, but strong woman with an amazing story. Her house that she built in this beautiful corner of the world is a small oasis full of light, smell of fresh fruits, scraps of yarn and silence interrupted only by chirping of birds. We sat in her backyard garden, among fruit trees, vegetable garden and magnificent birds and started talking…
How did you start knitting?
I learned how to knit as a small girl living in England, even before I learned how to read and write I think. I don’t remember exactly how I learned to knit, but in England you just pick it up. Most of my friends in England still knit. I used to knit away, always had a knitting project going. I used to go to the yarn stores, look at patterns, buy the yarn and dream about what to knit. I made some things that I really liked. I enjoyed aran knitting a lot. I also picked up crochet and made a black dress that I never wore – I just didn’t like it. But it wasn’t important, I loved doing it, I’ve always loved the process!
How and why did you move from England?
I went to a college to become a teacher.. I taught for one year and understood it wasn’t for me. My true love was sailing and being 23 years old I took off on a race boat to the States and I didn’t really ever go home again. I remember that while we were crossing the ocean I was knitting and cooking at the boat – it was my second love at school. Life changed – it was brighter and better. I lived among all these foreigners, who were sailors all their lives and it was so much fun! I met my future husband there and we eventually moved to Idaho.
Do you remember how you first started doing machine knitting?
We were living in Idaho. I remember I had an accident and broke a bone and had to stay in all the time. Then I got an idea to buy a knitting machine. I took one lesson with a Scottish lady and I thought – oh my, this thing is evil! I couldn’t figure it out at all, it made me tear my hair out! But I was determined and eventually I learned. At that time we started to come to Mexico every season for wind surfing. And I was still hand knitting on the beach while taking breaks from wind surfing.
How was your brand Tessa Knits born?
One of my friends told me that I should start a business, but I just kept saying that there was no way I could do it on this knitting machine! But no matter what I was saying, this idea got stuck in my head and I started researching. First of all I found a good cotton in about 50 colors for a reasonable price.
I created my first design – a simple sweatshirt for windsurfing. Each season a lot of people would come to a windsurfing camp in Baja and I would go to the beach, sail and meanwhile go around the camp asking – Does anyone want to buy a windsurfing sweater? That’s how I got my first orders.
Me and my husband were constantly traveling back and forth between Baja California Sur and Idaho. I started doing summer handmade fairs in Idaho and when we came back to Mexico I was so excited to show my stuff. And it just took off – everybody wanted a sweater from Tessa! I was working hard, but after awhile my machine started to break, it was giving me so much trouble – it wasn’t enjoying anymore. Then I got divorced and thought – I am done, I am not knitting anymore!
I was single, life was different. I packed up my knitting machine and gave it to a an old Mexican lady in town. I started building my house in Baja, and to support myself I worked during summers in the USA, Costa Rica, Europe – cooking, teaching yoga, etc. But once I came back home from a long working summer and thought “I don’t want to be gone anymore!”. And the only way I could stay home all year round was to make some money here, in Mexico. I went to a Mexican lady, she didn’t even unpack my machine, I got it back, oiled and oiled it and it started to work again.
I know that you do your main business at the local organic market – Mercado Organico. Could you, please, share your experience working there?
I started going to Mercado Organico 5-6 years ago, working basically on the same styles. Making simple loose light sweaters, tunics and shawls. I really do enjoy the act of kniting, and it definitely comes out to the market when I talk to people. My customers always tell me – You can tell that you just love doing what you do! After the hurricane (Odile 2014) the market is very slow, so I can’t help but think – what’s next? I don’t HAVE TO have to work, but I know that I just need to do something. I keep saying to myself – stop and smell the roses! Don’t worry about the future, about next year. You are imagining something you can’t deal with right now! Go with what you’ve got and life will fall into the place. I push myself really hard, I work until late at night, I don’t do anything else but knit during the weekends – I am a total social outcast. But that’s what I’ve chosen to do.
Do you still handknit?
Well, I have a pair of yoga socks on the needles that I can’t finish for a long time 🙂
You work in Los Barriles. How does it determine your work and what is the attitude of people to your work here?
First of all, it’s really challenging to get the materials. People in general really love handmade here. Some say – You don’t charge enough, but don’t charge ME more 🙂 Though I still meet someone who says with a note of disappointment – oh, it’s machine knit. Yes, it is machine knit, but it’s a lot of work – calculating, figuring out the sizing, tension, sewn by hand. I put my heart and soul into these sweaters. It’s custom made, I’ll pay attention to what my customers want and try to bring it to life.
Plus machine knitting is pretty physically demanding.
Absolutely! I get a workout every time I machine knit, especially with double heavy yarn.
I know from my own experience that Baja is really restricting us with fiber. What fiber do you mostly work with?
I work with what works for me and what yarn makes for me. Mostly it’s mercerized cotton or merino and cotton blend. I worked a little bit with silk and alpaca for custom orders. I almost never do wool in Baja – it’s just too hot.
What is your most popular design?
I don’t have time to be too creative. And people always prefer my most simple designs – loose sweaters, tunics, shawls, ponchos. But there is one design that always draws people, especially tourists, in – I put the map of Baja on the sweaters. People just love to take a piece of Baja California back home with them.
Do you have time to make something for yourself?
Well, not really. I remember making a cardigan for myself with 20% merino 80% cotton blend, I wore it to the market and somebody just bought it from my back 🙂 I am dying to find some time to make a simple white cotton tank for myself – it is so comfortable! Maybe this summer!
Do you have any other hobbies besides knitting?
I love reading – I am a book worm! I love to workout and gardening. I created my garden from the scratch, when I bought this property, there was absolutely nothing growing here. Though the last years it was all about knitting, I didn’t pay enough attention to my garden unfortunately. I’ve made my choice – I realized that no matter how much I enjoy gardening, I loved knitting more.
Could you, please, share your usual daily schedule?
I get up very early, way before the sun comes up, ride my bike with my dogs to the hills, hike up the hills, come back home, go to the beach, swim, do yoga for 10-15 minutes, make breakfast (I am a raw vegan, so I don’t have to cook – huge time saver!), check my email, if the weather is nice, go out to paddle, and then it’s all about work. Besides actual knitting I also work with rentals, deal with yarn orders, etc. I usually get 7 hours of physical work in front of the machine, I throw the pieces in the basket and sew them by hand during evenings.
What’s next? Do you have any special future plans?
I don’t. All I know I don’t want to get any more complicated than I am. I don’t want to hire help or open the store, I like to do it all by myself.
Dear Tessa, thank you so much for this special time spent at your beautiful home!
You can find Tessa and her knits on her website – www.tessaknits.com
Have a great crafty weekend!