Learn how to crawl: the New York City Yarn Crawl is on through Sunday, September 25.

A Stop ‘n’ Chat with Bonne Marie Burns

Dear Kay,
SPEAKING OF OUR TRIP tonight to Chicago’s Loopy Yarns and YarnCon tomorrow, one highlight will be seeing Bonne Marie Burns, the supergenius-brilliant designer whose coat pattern from our new book, Yank, I’m blasting through right now and would show you had I not dropped my camera, lens open, last night. SO BUSTED.
I had a visit with Bonne Marie the other day. (OK, I was right here in my office and we were still 500 miles apart.) Here’s our conversation:
The coat you designed for MDK Outside the Lines, Yank, has some interesting architecture. The front borders, for example, and the collar, are designed to mimic a pea coat. How did you arrive at this silhouette? Were there other sketches you played around with, or did you jump right in with this one?
Well, for a few years, back in the day, I wore to pieces a real Navy Pea Coat I’d gotten from an army surplus store! It was made of very densely woven wool and I remember loving the way it looked both classic and modern ALL AT THE SAME TIME. No matter what I wore it with, it was a success.
When I was developing the YANK design, I wanted to incorporate the Best’O’the Pea: the double-breasted front, the lapels, the little back belt, things that work well in cloth but might be fussy as a knit.
So was born a front panel done in horizontal ribbing, which added stability and form to the front without being too tedious to work; and the texture of the body pattern stitch which made a firm fabric both pleasing to the eye and easy to stitch.
I know that your yarn choice for Yank, Cascade Pastaza, came after first trying a different yarn. How do you make that call–at what point do you know that an initial yarn choice maybe isn’t working?
The yarn talks and you listen. Sometimes, it speaks truthfully right off the bat at the beginning of the project and it’s full speed ahead.
Other times, like a bad boyfriend, it won’t talk plainly until muchmuch later and the story it tells might be quite surprising (I’m not Good Enough for YOU! I need my Space! I think we should just be Friends! Oops. That was me.)
The initial yarn, which broke my heart to abandon, when made into a large piece (much much larger than even a large swatch) was going to require a more vigorous blocking to ensure a flat fabric that would not misbehave.
There was nothing left to do but open the door and hiss “See Ya!”
Tough. Yarn. Love.
Will Yank work using other yarns? Any suggestions?
Funny you should ask, but here’s a Handy Dandy for you!
You began your website, Chic Knits, in 2001. What got into you? Nobody else was doing a knitting blog except Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Ross. You were so ahead of the curve!
Hee. I was crushin’ on both writing and knitting and it seemed like just the thing! I could journal up and post on the Web all the fun I was having because I discovered a program called NewsPro (long extinct) were you’d upload your words (and pictures! and links!). It was intriguing and quite compelling and it had an unexpected result, at least for me.
When you blog, you take words (lines and scratches, symbols, punctuation) and record your thoughts and the mental progressions of your creative ideas. If you’re lucky, this vaporware becomes a conduit into someone else’s reality. And, drumroll please, COMMUNICATION is achieved. You’ve reached out and touched someone using the most mysterious, ancient art of signing.
Other people were online and they were reading each other’s writing.
For me, blogging took my rather solitary experience of creating and pushed it out on the horizon. I’ve met many wonderful people and have been inspired by their like efforts. Commonality with manners – all of the groups seem like people I’d have over for dinner, with knitting and grappa afterwards, of course…
How has your pattern business evolved in the past seven years?
Well, in addition to being part of the most wonderful Knitting Book EVER, I’m publishing more patterns as brochures. Many people around the country reached out to me and “invited” Chic Knits into their shops, if I had the notion to visit and I just could not resist.
I like the lovely. I like good photography and fine paper and I think beautifully printed books and patterns are always such a treat to use in a way that satisfies the senses so it’s my fervent wish to keep that tradition alive.
But since I’m a stone cold geek, I also cannot resist bringing more wardrobe online and there’s some stylish and modern pieces coming up soon in the Chic Knits lair…
The online knitting community has evolved so much in the time you’ve been a part of it. What’s the most surprising change you’ve seen?
The most surprising and wonderful thing was the way the generations of knitters all came together regardless of age and experience and style; there seems to be a utopian element to all of this where even if we can’t be perfect, we try and be kind through our common love of the craft. Old and young, beginner and expert, all together in The Land of Lovely.
Miscellanous questions for you . . .
What’s your favorite book?

Hands down, Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book. I have one that was published in 1989 (there is a newer version which I need to get my hands on) and it is the bomb. There is even a section on design with a great discussion on sleeve caps, neck bands and lots of buttonholes.
Favorite restaurant in Chicago?
A neighborhood favorite: Smoke Daddy on Division.
Favorite yarn of all time?
I cannot tell a lie: I love ALL YARN.
Favorite pattern you’ve designed?
I cannot tell a lie: I love ALL MY DESIGNS. (But I wear my 4 CeCe’s constantly…)
Do you watch Project Runway? We think you should be ON Project Runway . . .
I don’t have cable (SHOCKING!) but I do watch America’s Next Top Model. ;p
When I was starting out in the fashion industry a million years ago, I lived in San Francisco and got quite initiated in how to Swim with Sharks.
It is a compelling (and fierce) conglomeration of talent, opportunity and associations which I adore and would thus would love a spin on the Runway! (But knitting takes a lot lot longer to whip up a garment than draping and basting ;p )
If you could have a superpower, what would it be? We were asked this recently, and we think it’s something every knitter should consider.
If I had a superpower, it would be the ability to do size grading in my sleep. ZZZzzzzz…
Thanks, Bonne Marie. I never thought a coat pattern would be a fast knit, but I’m telling you, this Yank is coming along like a freight train. A really cozy freight train.



  1. Thanks for this, and I love the pea coat.

  2. Really appreciate the “other yarns” list — in my limited experience, the yarn sometimes hasn’t revealed its incompatible nature until I’ve finished finishing, which is even more depressing than a bad boyfriend.

  3. I’ve met Bonne Marie, and she made me feel so welcome while visiting Chicago last summer. I can just hear her voice! You’ll love seeing her tonight. Wish I were there, but I’m currently on the other side of Wisconsin (though I just visited Loopy Yarns two weeks ago while in Chicago for a meeting and got to see their new digs — wait, did I say that already in some other comment?
    Anyway, you guys are going to have such fun. And Pastaza’s a great yarn; that will be one Warm PeaCoat.

  4. Great interview. Love the alternate yarns list, very helpful as the pea coat is my pick from your book.

  5. I’m really looking forward to seeing you at YarnCon tomorrow! If you have a moment, stop by the Froebe-Fibers booth. If I get a chance, I’m going to try and sneak away and get my book signed. I love it!

  6. You broke your camera!? Disaster!

  7. I’ll say it again – the patterns in “Outside The Lines” just knock my socks off! And Yank is one of them, so’s Liberty, and….and….and….
    I might be making a new sweater for myself real soon!

  8. Great interview – sorry about your camera!
    I remember pea coats, but I don’t recall a belt…whose Navy was I in??

  9. Dear Ann and Kay!
    I just dropped in to say that I received my copy of your book this week and I love love LOVE it. (I did love the first book, too.) And I adore the coats in the book, they are ingenious. AND you have helped me to solve all my cleaning problems: I have a dog that is BIG and he is already lying down most of the time so now I just need to knit a big enough swifty for him. Of course, I would need a horse to drag him around the house because he is too heavy for me. Pity.

  10. a fine interview
    and another blog to read
    and have fun and learn
    the list of yarns is just a big help

  11. This book is really high on my holiday wish list (silly shopping moratorium). I love the idea of a coat, but I’m such a frugal knitter that I’ve never really gotten past the idea of needing so much yarn for some garments. I’m going to love the yarn subs as a way of making my favorite garments more affordable!

  12. I love your new book and was very pleased to see the sk8r shirt/sweater. My grandson wants me to knit one of these and I bought the book but the sizes seem to be off. A size 4-6 has a chest size of 35”???? Seems really large to me as my grandson is almost 7 and his chest is only 24″. Is this correct?

  13. I also love the pea coat the most in the book so far, and am making it with a gorgeous leafy green Peace Fleece worsted weight yarn–so far the gauge seems about as close to perfect as I’ve ever been able to manage.


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