Theresa Gaffey is a bit of a Renaissance woman, though she is more likely to describe herself, lightheartedly, as “a simple Irish peasant.” The author of knitting patterns available at Ingebretsen’s, Theresa is currently at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, where she writes, edits, and creates web content. Before that, she was the editor of a needlework magazine and of the award-winning children’s magazine, Cricket. Fluent in German, French, and Italian, Theresa channeled her interest in math into an M.A. in accounting, and of course, through writing knitting patterns. It is her classic designs and clear instructions that make her patterns popular at Ingebretsen’s.
“Life’s complicated. Sometimes you just need garter stitch and a couple of short rows,” says Theresa, “Knitting has gotten me through some really terrible times. It can be relaxing and centering.” She strives to make knitting as enjoyable and stress free for the people who use her patterns as it is for her.
The 269 patterns that Theresa has written so far focus on wardrobe fundamentals and have straightforward names such as Basic Baby Booty and Classic Sock. “I grew up on a farm with a large family. We grew or made most of what we had. Practicality was really important,” she says. Theresa notes that there are many complicated patterns available, but customers who want basic patterns are sometimes overlooked. She corrects that situation with a collection of sock, hat, mitten, scarf, and shawl patterns that can be used both by a beginner who needs unambiguous directions or an experienced knitter who wants a garment with a classic design.
“I’m not a perfectionist about knitting, especially when helping a new knitter,” she says. Theresa isn’t a fan of making new knitters rip out stitches. “ Unless the error is egregious, let’s find a Plan B,” she says. Theresa is a perfectionist, however, about how a pattern should be written. Early in her career, Theresa worked in a yarn store where she would correct mistakes in the patterns sold there. At the owner’s request, she began writing patterns for the store.
Teaching knitting and answering customers’ questions helped Theresa identify what knitters need in a pattern and how best to explain the steps. “Many knitters are kinesthetic learners. I know how hard it is to learn things, and I don’t want to discourage people,” she says. Theresa has 8 siblings and remembers learning things from her older brothers and sister, and teaching younger ones. She draws on that experience as she writes and as she teaches. “I taught myself to knit left-handed because so I could help left-handed knitters. That was mind boggling!” she says. She recently spent time knitting brioche stitch until the steps were imbedded in her muscle memory and she could call up a visual in her mind. “When I can picture it, I can better help,” Theresa explains.
Theresa continues to learn and to challenge herself. She recently returned from Latvia, having attended a knitting camp appropriately titled “Knit Like a Latvian.” There Theresa did modular knitting, creating garments using patterning similar to the log cabin blocks in quilting. She is currently knitting a triangular shawl, which Theresa plans to write as a pattern once she has found a suitable yarn. Latvian yarn is traditionally quite fine, and Theresa is looking for a yarn that suits both the pattern and American knitters. Then it will be time for pattern number 270.