Today in our Spotlight we are featuring Mary Lee, the knitter and designer behind Fifty Four Ten Studio. I first saw her designs four years ago, when I came across The Little House and favorited it. Isn’t that a fun pattern? Mary Lee lives in Kansas here in the U.S. and we’re delighted to have her here. (Pattern links go to Ravelry, yarn links go to The Loopy Ewe).
Loopy: Hi Mary Lee! Thanks for being with us today. Tell us, how long have you been a knitter and who taught you to knit?
Mary Lee: Thank you so much for the invitation to participate in your Designer Spotlight series! My mother taught me to knit when I was about 8 years old. I still remember my first project was a garter stitch blanket for my doll made with 1970’s acrylic pale yellow yarn. Of course, there were a few dropped stitches that resulted in holes. When I was in high school and college I knit a lot of sweaters including a cream mohair sweater with scattered bobble stitches and slightly puffy sleeves… very 1980’s!
Loopy: I may have used that exact same yellow acrylic yarn for my first knitting project back then! What is your favorite type of item to knit?
Mary Lee: In the last few years, my favorite projects to knit are blankets and winter scarves. When our kids were little I knit a lot of mittens and hats for them, as well as a few sweaters.
Loopy: I think you have such beautiful patterns. The stitches and resulting textures that you incorporate into your designs are beautiful and classic. What is the most challenging thing that you have knit to date?
Mary Lee: There was a time when I knit a few cable sweaters with fairly complex stitch patterns. These days, I really enjoy a project that is not too complicated with an easy to remember stitch pattern.
Loopy: I think we all need some relaxing, not-too-complicated patterns these days! When did you start designing, and what spurred that interest?
Mary Lee: I designed and published my first knitting pattern in November 2013. For a couple of years prior to that I had been looking for a way to use my creative skills in a new endeavor. Finally, I turned to knitting… the craft I have enjoyed throughout my life. It’s been an amazing experience to be a small part of the renewed interest in knitting over the last few years.
Loopy: It’s wonderful that you could take something you already loved and turn it into a business. What was the inspiration for the name of your business:
Mary Lee: Fifty Four Ten Studio is named for the house number of the home my grandparents purchased when my mother was a young girl. They had lived in a one bedroom apartment hotel for many years and this was the first home they owned. Even many years after the house was sold, my mother and her family referred fondly to their first home by using the house address number… 5410. I live a few miles from that house and make a point to drive by whenever I’m in the area.
Loopy: I love that story. What a fun way to keep that memory going. Do you have a favorite pattern that you’ve designed?
Mary Lee: That’s a challenging question! How about three favorites?
The Room with a View scarf is a favorite because it’s the finished object that I wear throughout the winter. I made this 12” wide reversible scarf using three skeins of Malabrigo Rios in the ‘Reflecting Pool’ colorway. (The pattern has instructions for 4 sizes.) This rich, teal colorway is one of my favorite colors to wear.
The On the Porch blanket remains one of my favorites in my blanket knitting pattern collection. It is simple and easy to knit. The pattern was named for childhood memories of summer evenings on my grandparents’ screened porch. The simple textured stripe design reminds me of the old, painted wood floor of their porch. I used Blue Sky Fibers Organic Cotton Worsted in the ‘Drift’ colorway.
One of my recent favorites is the Touch of Kindness blanket. When I knit this blue blanket (in Fall 2020) I thought of so many wonderful people who have touched my life with their kindness. A beautiful yarn was a key part of the success of this design. I used Spud & Chloe Sweater in the ‘Sea Horse’ colorway. There’s a reason why I have turned to this yarn again and again for blanket designs… it’s simply lovely.
Loopy: Love all three of your favorites. I’m working on a blanket out of Spud & Chloe Sweater right now. I also totally agree with you on that yarn! What is your favorite part of your designing? And your not-so-favorite part?
Mary Lee: I really enjoy working on all aspects of my design business: designing new patterns, knitting the sample, pattern writing, photography, and answering knitter’s questions. My favorite part is seeing how knitters use my patterns. I love seeing the projects they make! It’s really satisfying to see knitters have success using my pattern instructions and that they are pleased with the results of their project.
Also, it’s heartwarming to read knitter’s stories of who they made the project for and why. My blanket knitting patterns have been used to make gifts to celebrate happy occasions such as welcoming new babies and weddings. Or, as a gift to show someone… you are loved. I have heard from so many knitters who want to knit a really big blanket for their much-loved, 6’4” tall son-in-law! I’ll never forget an 80+ year old knitter who told me she used one of my blanket patterns to knit more than 20 blankets… one for every person in her family: adult children, grandchildren, and the in-laws of her adult children. I also receive emails about blankets made to give comfort to those who are going through a difficult time.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity – through email, Instagram and Ravelry – to see how knitters use my patterns and hear their personal stories.
Loopy: I think maybe blankets, more than anything else we can knit for gifts, are a wonderful way to show you care about someone. Great story about the 6’4″ son-in-law. I bet he had never had a blanket that was long enough! Do you do this business full-time, or on the side? And is that hard?
Mary Lee: Fifty Four Ten Studio is my full-time endeavor. I feel so fortunate to spend my days doing something that I really love. The hardest part is having a really long list of ideas and deciding which one to do next! On my desk, there are numerous spiral notebooks and scraps of paper with ideas for pattern designs as well as yarns to try and ideas for pattern names.
Loopy: I’m glad you have a lot more ideas to keep you designing for years to come! Does anyone else in your family knit? (Would you like to tell us about your family?)
Mary Lee: My mother was a life-long knitter. My cousin’s wife is an avid knitter. We always talk about yarn and knitting when we see each other. And, one of my in-laws knits so it’s fun to go to yarn shops together when we visit each other. No knitters in my immediate family… but we all enjoy creative projects. My husband is our in-house woodworker and is great at finding creative solutions for almost any project in our old house. We have two children who are in college. I look to them for tech and website advice!
Loopy: Well I hope you vacation in Colorado one day and can visit The Loopy Ewe when you are out here. I love visiting other yarn shops on trips, too. Are there other hobbies that you enjoy?
Mary Lee: I enjoy reading, gardening and walking with my friends. Last year, I pulled out my watercolor paints for the first time in years. It’s good to revisit a hobby and challenge myself to set aside time for it.
Loopy: Watercolor painting sounds fun! What would be your favorite way to spend a day off?
Mary Lee: When I take a day off I enjoy visiting some of my favorite places in Kansas City such as the urban vintage stores, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and the Kauffman Gardens (it’s a small public garden nestled in the heart of our city).
Loopy: That sounds like a great mix of indoors and outdoors for your day. Last questions: Morning or Night person? Coffee or Tea? English or Continental? Solids or Multicolors?
Mary Lee: Morning person… but not too early! Tea: My favorite is pumpkin spice tea… no matter the season. English knitting Solids: Most of the time, I prefer solid color yarn so an interesting stitch pattern can be the ‘star of the show’.
Loopy: Thank you again for being with us today, Mary Lee!
Mary Lee is offering a 20% discount on all of her patterns (no limit) through her Ravelry Pattern Shop, with the code: LOOPYEWE This code is valid April 9-16, 2021.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
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