Lærke Bagger – The Queen of Scrap Yarn
For the Danish knitwear designer Lærke Bagger, the most important things in life and handicrafts alike are having fun and embracing your mistakes. Her wild scrap-yarn knits are a perfect embodiment of this notion.
Lærke Bagger’s family stayed up late last night. Lærke, her boyfriend and their children, aged five and two, were gathering blueberries with friends, and it was so much fun that they forgot to finish on time. As every parent knows, what may not be such fun is getting home late with hungry children.
“We had just finished bathing the kids and given them some vanilla ice cream and blueberries for dinner when I noticed our son had sat on some berries,” Lærke says.
“But I cleaned him up, and eventually, the whole bathing, eating and going to bed routine was all done in half an hour. Afterwards, my boyfriend and I high-fived each other.”
This is exactly what Lærke Bagger is like. While the 36-year-old Copenhagen-
based knitwear designer and Instagram personality is known for her distinctive style and scrap-yarn knits, she’s also known for her relaxed, humorous attitude.
This same philosophy is also conveyed in Lærke’s debut book, Strik, which was released this autumn by Gyldendal, a Danish publishing house. Between its pink covers, resembling leather, the book features 15 knitwear designs along with an account of Lærke’s knitting history. So far, the book has only come out in Lærke’s native Danish, but the English version will be released in the autumn of 2022.
In the book’s photography, Lærke is knitting in a park with beer in hand, eating crisps on a beach or sleeping in a cot next to her toddler. The photos depict messy desks, dirty training shoes and takeaway boxes covered with ketchup–
the whole gamut of everyday life.
And then there are, of course, the knits. Colourful, wild, delightful knits whose designer you can tell from a mile off.
Lærke’s workroom is only ten minutes from her home. That’s where she keeps the handicrafts library that she has accumulated over the years, along with the colourful stash of yarns that is often the starting point for her inspiration.
Fashion meets history
Lærke’s story is also a story about believing in your dream s. For her, it’s not always been easy to convince her friends and relatives – or, indeed, herself – that knitting could be a profession. But that is what Lærke most wanted to do. No one close to her was working in the creative field, and it was at times ha rd for her to trust her instincts.
“I figured I had to get a job I hated so that I could come home from it and do the things I love as a hobby.”
Lærke grew up in a little town called Aalborg and started knitting when she was eight years old. In addition, she also dabbled in many kinds of other handiwork. At first, her mother taught her how to do things, but later she began to teach herself from books. In Lærke’s workroom, there are still numerous old handicraft books, which she has been picking up at second- hand shops and flea markets since she was 15. Some of them are more than a hundred years old, and they, in addition to modern fashion, are a great source of inspiration for her.
“They are way better than any modern book, including my own! I take these old patterns and techniques, then I read the newest Vogue and combine the ideas. That way, fashion meets history and tradition.”
Originally, Lærke had a dream of becoming a fashion designer. But sewing was something she downright detested. It was only after high school, when she took up an internship with the knitwear designer Isabel Berglund, that she began to feel emboldened and started to believe that she could make knitting a career if she just worked hard enough. Lærke began to study at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and eventually graduated as a textile designer.
Nowadays, Lærke receives income from “about ten thousand different places”, as she puts it herself. She has a regular job as the creative director of the Hjertegarn yarn brand, in addition to which she hosts workshops and works as a freelance designer.
Lærke wanted the appearance of her book to have something historical about it. The cover uses a Gothic typeface, with her favourite colour – pink – providing a strong touch of femininity.
Magic and experimentation
When people think of Scandinavian fashion, the images that come to mind are often rather subdued and minimalist: elegant black blazers, white shirts, beige trousers. Lærke’s colourful, playful style, on the other hand, is something quite different.
Lærke thinks it’s important that she doesn’t take her designs too seriously. What’s fascinating to her about doing creative work is “all the magic and experimentation that goes on between starting and finishing”. How a ball of yarn can turn into a finished product.
As a designer, Lærke is particularly known for her inventive use of scrap yarn. She uses the bits and pieces to make stripes or for embroidery work, as well as weaving pre-used beads into the fabric. Recycled materials were an essential part of Lærke’s way of working even before environmental issues became a trend, but at first it was simply a matter of economy.
Copenhagen is an expensive city and studying textile design was expensive in itself, as the students had to buy their own materials. So if Lærke wanted to use expensive yarns such as silk or cashmere, she would have to find the money herself.
“Whenever there was something left over from a project of mine, even a 5 cm long piece of yarn, I saved it. I felt it was too valuable to be discarded. I figured that if I have twenty 5 cm pieces of yarn, I have a metre in total, and that’s already enough for something.”
But at the same time, Lærke noticed that she liked the look of scrap yarns. She began to use them more consciously and collect them. Many of her mother’s friends had old yarns that they weren’t going to use, and Lærke gathered all of them eagerly. At one point, she almost ceased buying new yarn altoget
Her recycling philosophy was further strengthened when the dark side of the textile industry started to emerge – the unecological fast fashion, the miserable conditions of the factory workers. Lærke understood that she worked in one of the most problematic businesses in the world, and she wanted to bear her responsibility. She thinks it’s brilliant that through her work she can encourage people to buy second-hand products or unravel old pieces and use them again – and that even the actual making of the garment happens very ethically, in the hands of the garment’s consumer.
“I also think a garment has more soul to it when it’s made with material that’s pre-used and pre-loved.”
Through her work, Lærke hopes she can inspire her fellow knitters to explore their creativity. She wants to design patterns that give people a framework where they can play with different colours and materials – patterns that make them feel confident enough that if they want to, they can let go of the pattern and start creating themselves. This freer style of knitting also includes the fact that Lærke’s patterns don’t call for weaving in the ends – she usually just ties them in knots, which leaves more time for the fun things!
Letting go and embracing your mistakes are also part of Lærke’s worldview in a larger sense. She wants to encourage people to be self-compassionate.
“Nowadays, people can feel all kinds of pressure: how you should have a perfect body, a perfect career, a perfect family, a perfect home. My book is about real life. Even if I do carry a Prada handbag –expensive bags are my vice! – most of the time I also wear a T- shirt with child’s vomit or some other dirt on it. Strik is a book about life and how handicrafts can be a part of it.”
Lærke says she has received feedback for her book from 15-year-old and 75-year-old knitters alike. What they all have in common is that they enjoy colours and a more relaxed way of knitting. But the thing that Lærke enjoys hearing the most is when people say reading her book has been a liberating experience.
“Life has a way of being so painful and serious at times that the more fun and pleasure I can bring into the world, the better. I lost my father to lung cancer three years ago, and that changed my outlook completely. Before, I was stressed and worried about my career, about my adult life and about what people thought of me,” Lærke says.
“But now I think every sweater I knit may be my last. And I don’t want my last work to be a beige sweater. That’s why I give it my everything.”
Text: Maija Kangasluoma
Photos: Andreas Pless
The full-length version of this feature was first published in Laine issue 13.