Cap Sease has always loved working with her hands. She began knitting as a child, grew up to travel the world as a conservator on archaeological excavations, and now enjoys life as a knitting-workshop leader in Connecticut. Through the years, she has continued to knit—and has now collected more than 200 ways to cast on and bind off! Read our interview to find out more about this adventuresome knitter.
When did you first learn to knit, and who taught you?
I don’t remember exactly when I first learned to knit. I’ve been doing it all my life. I guess I was about five or six when I learned. My grandmother was a prolific knitter and she was the one who taught me.
Besides knitting, what other crafts do you enjoy?
I am a weaver and always have something on my loom. I like playing with texture and color in my weaving. I like to dye fibers for both weaving and knitting, but because it involves so much set up, I don’t do it very often. I’m a sometime spinner and basket maker. I do these crafts sporadically but thoroughly enjoy them. I used to be a quilter, but I haven’t made a quilt in many years. Periodically I think about making another one but haven’t gotten there yet.
How did your love of handcrafts influence your career direction?
I love to use my hands. I grew up in a family that was crafts oriented, so I knew that I would somehow end up using my hands in whatever profession I chose. I started out as an anthropologist and archaeologist and found myself gravitating toward working with objects that in turn led to art conservation. Art conservation is a profession that combines working with your head and your hands, a perfect combination for me.
Which parts of the globe have you visited as a conservator on archaeological excavations?
I’ve worked on excavations from the Outer Hebrides in Scotland to south central Iran. Most of my work has been in the Mediterranean and Middle East: Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Turkey, Greece, and Sicily. The pivotal excavation, though, was on the island of North Uist in Scotland where I was first introduced to conservation.
This is the site of Nippur in southern Iraq, where I worked for four months.
How would you describe a typical day on the job as a conservator?
The day starts early, because in hot climates you want to take advantage of the cool times of the day. The first thing I do is see what finds came from the site the previous day. This pretty much determines what I will do that day. Most of my day is spent cleaning artifacts so that the specialists can study, draw, and photograph them.
Cleaning is not always as easy as it might sound, especially if you’re dealing with painted sherds or coins or metal objects. You need to have sharp eyes and know what you’re taking away. Often important information is in the “dirt” you’re removing, so you need to be extremely cautious.
The exciting part is that you’re the first person in thousands of years to carefully look at the artifact. After cleaning an artifact, I know it better than anyone else: how it was made, how it might have been repaired in antiquity. So I work closely with the various experts on staff to share the information that I uncover and learn from them what I should be looking for. I may also need to treat an artifact to stabilize it (for example, a metal tool that is corroding). If a corroding artifact isn’t treated with chemicals, it can disintegrate in a storeroom.
At times, I’m summoned to the site to help lift or remove an artifact from the ground, especially if it’s particularly fragile or delicate, such as bones or wall plaster or burials. Frequently I’ve had the delicate job of cleaning around a skeleton and its accompanying burial goods so that they could be photographed in their original position.
My day usually ends late in the afternoon. The days are long on an excavation and you generally work seven days a week, but it’s great fun and extremely rewarding.
Here I’m piecing together some fallen wall-plaster fragments. They came from the site of Kommos on the Greek island of Crete.
This is the site of Kommos on the south coast of Crete, Greece.
How did your travels influence your knitting?
Travelling engendered in me an interest in “ethnic knitting,” for lack of a better term. Actually, travelling prompted an interest in all handcrafts, probably due to my family and anthropology background as well. I love the designs and use of color that I have seen in various parts of the world, and I think both are subtly influencing my knitting and weaving.
What are some of your favorite souvenirs from your travels?
I have some beautiful kelims (rugs) from Turkey and northern Iraq, but probably my most prized souvenir is a pair of socks from Libya. They’re machine made and the most garish color purple you could imagine, with lots of sparkly stuff. All the local women wore such socks in bright neon colors. The purple socks got me onto a wild sock kick that has continued to this day. Over the years, my family has given me socks that are vivid colors and designs, so I have quite a collection that I wear every day. I’ve recently discovered that locally I’m known as the “wild sock lady”!
What inspired you to write Cast On, Bind Off?
About eight years ago, I taught a workshop at the Green Mountain Spinnery’s Knitters’ Weekend in Vermont. I was asked to cover casting on and binding off. Preparing for the workshop, I researched cast ons and bind offs and was amazed at how many different methods I found. Like most knitters, each time I did a cast on or bind off I just used the same method I had been taught as a child. So I put together some handouts and taught the workshop. Once sensitized to cast ons and bind offs, I seemed to find new ones everywhere I looked, and I began collecting them. In fact, I learned a few from participants at that first workshop.
A year or two later, I taught the same workshop at another Knitters’ Weekend with slightly larger handouts. Everyone raved about the different methods and said I should publish them. That got me to thinking about doing a book, because I realized that no book existed that dealt exclusively with cast ons and bind offs.
I continue to collect cast ons and bind offs, but it’s getting harder to find ones that I don’t already have written down in one form or another.
In Cast On, Bind Off, you share 211 ways to begin and end knitting and also give guidance about the pros and cons of different methods. What are a few of the things to consider when choosing a cast on and bind off?
First of all, you need to consider the function of the edge. Will it be subjected to considerable wear and tear around the neck of a pullover and need to be stretchy, or will it edge the top of a pocket and need to be firm? Some cast ons and bind offs are stretchier than others, and your choice depends on the needs of the edge.
Then you have to consider the appearance of the edge. What do you want it to look like? If the edge is hidden in a seam, it doesn’t really matter, but if it will be seen, you want it to be attractive and enhance your work. Some techniques create decorative edges that can be used as design elements and make your project distinctive.
Then you also need to consider how easy it is to work the cast on or bind off. There are many ways to create the same edge, and you may find one way easier than another. If a technique is difficult for you, you’re less likely to use it. So all these considerations go into choosing the cast on and bind off that is just right for any given project.
How do you like teaching workshops for the Green Mountain Spinnery?
I enjoy teaching. It comes naturally to me; both my parents were teachers. I enjoy sharing information with others. Over the years, I have done a great deal of teaching in my professional life, and I’ve learned as much from my students as I think they have learned from me. It’s a wonderful experience to broaden a student’s horizon and open his or her eyes to new possibilities.
Do you have a favorite tip you’d like to share with a beginning knitter?
I think the most important thing is to enjoy the process and become comfortable with the basics. As you become more comfortable and confident, relax and be adventuresome and creative. Realize that you don’t have to be a slave to a pattern. Sometimes there is no right or wrong way to do something, and you might stumble onto a new way of doing the project. Learning to fudge things is an important skill that comes with experience and is something that all good knitters do!
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Knit! And weave.
You can read more about Cap’s book in this post.
How have your travels or your work inspired your own fiber crafts? Tell us in the comments and you could win a copy of the Cast On, Bind Off eBook! We’ll choose a winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won. You can also purchase Cap’s book here, and if you do, you can download the eBook for free right away. Good luck!