Klassen knits whimsical scarves into wearable art

Scarves are hanging from branches throughout the Chocolate Claim. “It took a lot longer than we thought to hang them,” Yukon artist…

Scarves are hanging from branches throughout the Chocolate Claim.

“It took a lot longer than we thought to hang them,” Yukon artist Krista Klassen says, but she likes the way they look caught in the trees.

It’s an impressive display.

Wild, inventive patterns and colours, and a lot of imaginative names — Leprechaun Bait, Winter Princess, Funky Punky, Mermaid Treasure — reflect Klassen’s love of children’s books and fairy tales and her desire to create something new each time she knits.

Klassen taught herself to knit from a book while she worked at Yukon Gallery.

She wanted something to do with her hands. She’d never tried knitting before 2005. It seemed like an odd choice to others, but not to Klassen.

“I remember that first winter at minus 45. I was huddled by the tiny heater in the Gallery. People kept coming into the gallery even in that weather, walking in like it was summer. I still hadn’t figured out how to dress for winter.”

So she decided to knit something warm.

She could knit behind the counter, in the slow periods, and get herself a scarf or sweater.

She laughs now at her sudden interest in knitting.

“I have too many interests. I just like to do a bit of everything, like picking up a genre of book you never read just because it has a nice cover — sometimes you luck out, sometimes you don’t.”

She was surprised how she lucked out.

“It was easy!”

After she started, though, a friend pointed out that she was doing it all wrong according to the book she was using.

“I was left-handed. All the stitches were to the right in the book. But it worked.”

She says she can do it either way now.

As for patterns, she likes to play.

“I don’t think you ever follow a pattern, really. You tweak it a bit.”

She likes to throw in different textures too.

If the book calls for one type of yarn, she likes to see what it would look like if she made the yarn chunky or slender.

Sometimes she just wants to play with the design, making cables and honeycombs fit together.

“I get neat effects.”

Most people, she acknowledges, find a pattern they like and stick with it.

They work primarily with lace or cable patterns.

“I don’t like to do the same thing twice.”

Does she have an idea in mind of where she wants to go when she starts?

“Well, I have a person in mind,” she says. “I do most of my scarves trying to capture the person who’s going to wear it.”

She was thinking of her daughter Phaedra when she made Winter Princess.

It was Phaedra’s first snow.

“She marveled at it — at how it felt, tasted. She never seemed to mind that it was cold. I wanted to show how she IS in the snow.”

So she chose white and pink and made the scarf playful with pink snowballs dangling at the ends.

“Your scarf now,” and she points to me.

My scarf is black, grey, mousy brown.

“As soon as you picked the colours, I knew what I wanted to do.”

She said she chose to put a cable pattern down the middle — but not continuous.

“It grows out of the honeycomb pattern. One idea becomes others. That’s you.”

We discovered, too, an unintentional pattern in the stitching on the back: bears. 

“Yeah, the discovery of bears on the back was a bonus.”

This has happened before, she says.

For the show, she made 18 scarves in two months and created them out of themes and stories and her imagination — but they too went off in ways she didn’t imagine.

“I wanted to make a scarf about the ocean. I missed the ocean so much from living in Vancouver.”

So she made a scarf and unintentionally — with the “water falling part” it turned into small fishes made of a cable pattern.

“When I held it out I noticed the fish.”

So she called One Fish, Two Fish, Green Fish, Blue Fish, after the Dr. Seuss book.

With Mermaid Treasure she added shells that had been destined for a wind chime —they all had a hole in them — but she knit them into a scarf.

Autumn Bride has silk ribbons and small bows in the pattern.

Gin Blossom is a shawl that reminded her of the 1920s.

Leprechaun Bait is literally a rainbow on your shoulders.

Though she does knit a scarf for comfort — always making the yarn that would go against the neck the softest — she wants more than just a practical, warm scarf.

She wants to make you feel different when you put the scarf on.

She’s thinking fashion too — that the scarves are versatile enough to wear over other clothes, an evening dress perhaps. Still cozy, but funky too.

She never intended to make a business out of it.

She was knitting a scarf for fellow artist, Karen Rhebergen, and brought five scarves to show her at the Spruce Bog.

Rhebergen loved them, and suggested she lay the scarves on the table and see if she attracted any interest.

She sold three of the five.

Klassen’s business, Neckreation, started shortly after.

With all her ideas around her at the Claim, she still loves making a scarf for someone.

She takes orders.

You can pick out the yarn, suggest an idea, a colour, but mostly she wants you to tell her about who the scarf is for.

Like a portrait artist she wants to capture the person in the scarf.

And she likes a little artistic freedom too — so she never makes the same scarf twice.

“Unless it’s for twins, then that would be OK.”

She’s also expanding into bags, and toque/bikini hot-tub sets.

She’s ready for requests, and the unique challenge of a new project.

If you have ideas, contact her through krista_the_adventurer@hotmail.com and come by to see what whimsical creations she’s let fly on the walls of the Chocolate Claim.

Jerome Stueart lives in Whitehorse and writes and teaches memoir and science fiction/fantasy to kids and adults. His latest story about Rendezvous appears in the anthology of Canadian speculative fiction, Tesseracts Eleven.