Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Meet Kris Basta, Devoted Machine Knitter and Garter Bar Manufacturer

I think everyone who follows me knows that I'm a garter bar advocate.  The GB is a great way to overcome some of the basic issues with machine knitting, that every stitch on a flatbed machine is a purl stitch on its own needle.  With the garter bar, you can make garter stitch, Quaker stitch, make rapid cable turns, decrease quickly all across a row, and increase quickly all across the row.  There are other nifty and useful things you can do, too, which you can learn about in my garter bar course.

There's a problem, though.  Garter bars are VERY difficult to obtain for bulky machines, and until Kris started manufacturing her own design, we couldn't get them for our mid-gauge machines.  Kris manufactures a really cool garter bar, which I reviewed in this video:

I have been so impressed at Kris for coming up with a clever design, doing all the work, and taking a risk to manufacture these needed tools for us.  These are made in the US.  I love the quality - beautifully smooth with no nasty sharp edges.  My one concern when I did the video review was that she didn't have a "stopper" at that time.  There are a lot of terrific things you can do with a stopper that are not practical without one.  However, she makes the stoppers now, too!  I am lucky enough to have one of her mid-gauge garter bars and her stopper, and it is a wonderful thing.  Need one?  Look here:

I interviewed Kris, and I think her interview is quite interesting.  Here it is:

Q:  Kris, I’ve so admired your work, especially with the garter bars we all need.  Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your passions? 

A:  I am 53 years old and have been "retired" from a regular job since I was 40.  We owned a family business that we sold.  I have 2 grown kids, son 33, and daughter 21.  Both live within hours of us.  My passion truly is knitting, hand knitting and machine knitting.  I tell people that I knit every day and truly I pretty much do!   I don't even mind ripping things out because I get to knit them again - my mom thinks this is nuts, she is not a ripper outer.  

I also love the outdoors and foraging.  On our Illinois farm I am often seen in coveralls in the ditches or out in the woods looking for berries, asparagus, mushrooms, etc.  (did you know  you can eat cattail pollen as well).  I get poison ivy pretty much every year.  When we are at our farm in Montana I like to take walks, look at the pretty Agates on the ground and interesting geological formations there.  We have a 60 lake on that farm and it is awesome to sit and watch all the geese, cranes, ducks, pelicans, and other birds that land there.  Last time we were there we saw a giant buck deer swim across the water and while we sat on the ground on top of a tall cliff overlooking the lake and we watched a whole bunch of otters doing their crazy thing.  

Q:  Where do you live, and what kind of machine knitting community do you have there?  

A:  I currently live in Illinois.  I was actually born and raised in Illinois up until my senior year of High School, my parents at that time started a business out in Montana and we all moved there in 1981, so I've actually lived most of my life in Montana.  I knew one gal in Bozeman Montana that was a machine knitter, she sold machines, yarn, accessories, etc and was a wonderful mentor.  Aside from that I learned all I knew from my knitting machine manuals, Diana Sullivan videos, Yahoo groups, Ravelry groups, etc.  Just this last year we sold our gigantic home in Montana (kids are grown and gone) and built a smaller house on a lake in western Illinois.  We still own a farm in Eastern Montana where my husband is from and a farm in southern Illinois - so we travel a bit between these.  

Q:  What first sparked your interest in machine knitting?  How did you get started?  What the journey has been like for you?

A: I started machine knitting in 1990 - my husband surprised me with a Passap Duomatic.  At the time I had never machine knitted or had even considered doing it.  I don't know what possessed my husband to buy it for me.  I was a little sparked by it and played with it a bit, but unfortunately at the time it was a bit overwhelming to me, my children were young, we had a business we were running and I was just distracted with other things.  I ended up trading the Passap machine for a large 4-harness weaving loom.  In about 1999 I purchased a Bond Ultimate Sweater machine.  I ended using the heck out of that machine and thus was born my love for machine knitting.  I made a ton of ponchos, scarves, mittens, slippers, and afghans. From that Bond I graduated to Brother, Studio, & Singer machines.  I've owned just about every machine out there.  I've traded, repaired and resold all kinds of them.  Now I have downsized and only use my KH-965i and my KH-270.  It's funny, for all the years that I have now machine knit, and for the fact that I manufacture and sell parts for knitting machines, I am still a very basic machine knitter.  I still make a lot of scarves, hats, afghans, and slippers.  I seldom make sweaters, except for children.  I am also a hand knitter, and as we travel quite a bit I get a lot done while in the car. - but I find great satisfaction in the quick results of using a knitting machine.  

Q:  Do you see yourself as a businesswoman, an inventor, or a hobbyist – or are you all of these?  Do you do other kinds of needlework and crafts? 
A: I guess I am all three.  Prior to my machine knitting adventures I was a product developer for our family business.  I traveled all over the world working with different factories to have product produced and worked with artists from all over the U.S. 

As far as being an inventor, I truly have always dreamed of "inventing" something, even as a child I was always sketching ideas out.  

As mentioned above I do love to hand knit.  Sometimes I use my knitting machine for the bulk of a project then I will take it off the machine and hand knit the rest.   I have crocheted my whole life.  I think I learned as a small child but don't remember who exactly taught me, either my mom or my aunt Joan or a combo of both.  I still crochet periodically but don't love it as much as knitting.  (in the 80's I got on a crochet doily making jag - anyone need doilies?)  

I learned to sew at a very young age as my mom was quite a seamstress.  I used to make all of my son's clothes when he was a little boy and made many, many outfits for my nieces when they were toddlers.  I once made a suit coat jacket for my brother.  He was attending a large hunting convention and in attendance was Peter Coors (Coors beer).  The suit coat jacket was made with a camouflage material and it was lined.  My brother was one of the speakers at this convention and the highlight for me was when Peter Coors said he wanted to know where my brother got his jacket!  The jacket was about 40 or so pattern pieces and I guess it kind of burned me out on sewing.  I only sew occasionally now and there are small projects.  

Q:  Do you have a storefront operation, a home business, or is it primarily a web-based business?  How can knitters reach you and obtain your products?

Q:  I don't have a storefront, it is a home business and yes, it's primarily web-based.  I ship my garter bars, yarn twisters and accessories out of our "shop" (garage building).  We have a large pole building on our farm in southern Illinois where I keep my inventory.  

My Website is:

My email info:

Phone is: 406-579-3310.

Blog:  I have freebie patterns here (hand knit, Machine knit, crochet). 

Q:  How do you feel about the machine knitting process?  What are your favorite yarns, machines, and projects?  Do you like to create patterns, or use written patterns?  Do you like to do color work, or textures? Do you like to do garments the best, or crafts, or charity knitting, or gifts…or what?

A:  I seldom use patterns since I am such a basic knitter.  I do make my own patterns quite often. I am definitely more of a texture knitter than a multi color work knitter.  I love space dyed yarns and how they knit up though.  I have also played around with a little bit of dyeing using Kool-aid and food colorants, pretty fun!  

I am also VERY addicted to felting.  I love when someone's slippers finally wear out because then I can make them another pair!  I use a little table top washer called a "Wonder Washer" to do all my felting - works great.  

I used to do a lot of Farmers Markets where I would sell quite a few slippers and socks.  I use a circular sock knitting machine for my sock making. 

I also have done a lot of charity knitting.  My kids went to a small Christian School that had an annual fund raising event.  I knit a lot of items for that over the years.  My mother volunteers at the cancer center at the Bozeman Deaconess Hospital, in the cancer center they have a hat tree.  I have knit a lot of hats, mittens and slippers for this.  Cancer patients are often quite cold and when they come in for treatments they can pick something off the tree to wear and keep.  

A few years back I played around with weaving using a garter bar (thanks Diana for the great video on this!!) and plan on playing with that a bit more.  I have a purse idea I'd like to try with it. 

Q:  How did you come to realize that there was a need for the special-sized garter bars?  How did the clever flat design discovery happen and develop?

A:  I had purchased a few large lots of knitting machines through estate sales, I was still relatively new at machine knitting and I didn't even know what a garter bar was.  After coming across some in the estate purchases I tried using garter bars and really struggled.  I tried both the old metal ones and also the plastic ones that the bond company made at some point.  The metal ones were made really well and sturdy and had great instructions, I just found for myself that I had a hard time re-hooking them back on the needles once I turned the work over.  They were also CRAZY expensive at that time and the only way you could get them was used on Ebay because they hadn't been made in many years.  I had also read some pretty bad reviews on how awful the old plastic Bond garter bars were to use and that people were actually trying to make their own using rulers and paper clips. 

I was lying in bed one night thinking about it and wondered who/how could make them.  (Remember I was a product developer in my other life).  It just occurred to me that if the garter bars were flat and if the hole became a open track that you could see through while re-hooking perhaps it would be easier.  I started out by contacting a company that I had read about in our local paper - a group of young guys that were starting a business wherein they could engineer/draft and develop new product.  They had the type of equipment it took to prototype what I wanted made so I started working with them.  They also helped me with all the technical drawings that the U.S. requires to file for a Patent.  I was granted a Patent for the garter bars.

Q:  What were some of the challenges, getting this unusual product manufactured and marketed?

A:  The company that helped me develop the garter bars (needlestoppers, minis, and tools) were great for developing but they did  not have the manufacturing capabilities at all.  With their help we found someone that could manufacture them in quantity.  Lo and behold, the manufacturer was two miles from my house!  The difficulty came when, after the garter bars are cut, they are quite rough.  My manufacturer did not have the equipment for the specialty polishing that the bars would require.  We searched high and low and finally found someone in the state (Montana) that did this type of polishing.  They polished a few batches for me and they were only "ok" not great and not consistent.  After going through 3 different polishers I finally have found one that is great, and it is right here in Illinois where I now live.  I still have my product manufactured in Montana and just have to time my trips back and forth to pick up my inventory.  The other challenge is trying to keep the price from getting too high.  This type of product is darned expensive to have produced due to the rising cost of steel, and I have to produce in quantity to keep the price down as low as I can.  My marketing is quite simple, my website, word of mouth and an occasional mention on others' websites.   It is a small business as you can imagine, but I enjoy it and I especially love getting to meet and visit (via email and groups) other machine and hand knitters.  

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