Artist Interview: WakulaWorks! March 30, 2012 08:07

Happy Friday, everyone! This week I'm excited to introduce you to Kate Wagle Hitmar, an artist based in Pennsylvania. Kate's handknit Pub Sweaters have found their way home with many Rhode Island beer drinkers, so it's about time you all got to know her a little better. Read on to learn about the inspiration behind the sweaters!


Please introduce yourself and tell us about your handmade business.
Hi!  My name is Kate Wagle Hitmar.  I currently live in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, but from 2000 to 2006, I lived in Riverside, RI.  I still miss RI quite a bit.  My studio is WakulaWorks, and will be celebrating its 5th anniversary this coming April.  I am probably best known to the Craftland community for my hand-knit cabled beer cozies called Pub Sweaters™.  I also make hand-knit accessories, embroideries, mixed media works, and hand-painted garden signs inspired by my dear friend & former colleague Rich Pederson at Southside Community Land Trust’s City Farm.


Describe your studio to us.
My studio is in a sunroom on the first floor of our house. There’s lots of light that is great for when I embroider or paint.  I very rarely knit in the studio.  The great thing about knitting is that it is so portable that I can knit just about anywhere.  I store a lot of my supply odds and ends in old cigar boxes and tea or cookie tins, and try to keep my art books and craft magazines as organized as possible for easy reference. I lived for a brief time in Singapore, so many of the objects in my studio are mementos of my stay and from my friends there.


What was the inspiration behind your collection of Pub Sweaters?
I like the idea of bringing art and craft into places that may not normally have an art or craft focus, such as a bar. I hope that the Pub Sweaters will trigger conversations about knitting or craft while folks share a pint.

I have always been fascinated by surfaces and textures, and my Irish ancestry specifically peeked my interest in cable stitches.  One of the things I love about knitting is that with a single string and a couple of sticks, you can create endless amounts of stitches and combinations of stitches.  Then there’s the infinite variety of yarns in colors, thicknesses, textures that can result in really fantastic cloth. I ­like using wool when making Pub Sweaters for its inherent insulating and wicking properties.    


And truth be told, I am a bit of a germaphobe.  I hate setting my drink down at a party and then forgetting which drink is mine.  Inevitably you hear someone hacking up a lung just as you are taking a sip, and you get that sinking feeling that, “Maybe this wasn’t my drink… Maybe it was Lunghacker’s drink?!” So Pub Sweaters help me deal with my own neuroticism.  Ha!


What is the handmade scene like in Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh may be known for its sports, but ‘burghers love and support their arts and crafts, too!  It has its origins as a blue-collar town with roots in steel and coal, and because of this, immigrants from all over the world came to town looking for work.  With them they brought their rich traditions of object making (and some really yummy food!).  Many Pittsburgh artists learned their craft from people in their homes or communities.  In my case, my father taught me how to sew and embroider; he learned from his parents who were both quilters. He also was the one who first taught me how to draw, paint, etch and carve.

Pittsburgh is also very much a city of DIY-ers with dedicated art & craft guilds and a passionate indie craft community.  There is a real push among the artists to reduce waste and make art in sustainable ways.  The artists are very caring and supportive of one another, whether it’s in helping promote each other’s work, or raising funds to cover unforeseen medical expenses.  The Three Rivers Arts Festival, I Made It! Markets, Project Pop-Up, Craft-a-Tron, Handmade Arcade and the SteelTownEtsy street team, create really fun opportunities for artists to hang out and sell their work.  Pittsburgh also has many galleries and organizations that promote local artists and craftspeople, such as Koolkat Designs, Wildcard, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and Society of Contemporary Craft.


What do you do when you need a little bit of inspiration?
First and foremost, nachos—nachos make everything better. Traveling or visiting someplace new, and talking with my Dad and husband Ben (both are artists) is a guaranteed creative boost.  I can always count on my sister Kristin to give me honest feedback and that sometimes spawns new ideas.  If I am in a slump, focusing on something other than making art and that gets me out of my own head can help, like gardening, baking bread, or watching a good documentary.  I also love seeing other handmade work whether it’s out and about in markets and museums, or settling down with a good cup of hot tea and spending some time with Selvedge Magazine, or on Etsy, Pinterest or blogs like this one where I can learn about how other artists think and create their work.   

What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade is such an important word to me.  It’s about imparting part of yourself into an object, leaving your very human mark on something.  It may not be perfect, but it’s your touch, your imprint, your values, your best effort, your whole history of experiences and inputs leading up to that moment in making. Handmade is invaluable. It creates a deeper, more personal connection between maker and user, giver and receiver. And more often than not, handmade means that it has been made with a great deal of love and care.


How did you become involved with Craftland?
Well, I am lucky to know two fantastic, talented ladies from my New England days of working in a textile mill—Kristin Crane and Heather Jean Toupin.  I found out about Craftland through them, and fell in love with it.  I applied to the 2011 Craftland Show and was accepted.  I was thrilled to be asked back to participate in the year round Craftland Shop.

Little known fun fact about you?
I just realized this about myself a month or so ago when I watched Moneyball.  I don’t much care for baseball, but I love baseball movies!  The Natural, Bad News Bears, The Sandlot, 61, A League of Their Own, Field of Dreams… I am a total sucker.  The players’ love of the game, the pick yourself up all beaten and bruised and try again, the push to be great and a part of something great...  Just give me a box of tissues and crackerjacks.