At Home With
Annie Larson, knitwear designer

PHOTOS BY MIKE VORRASI

If you follow Annie Lee Larson’s Instagram — and chances are good that you do, considering the New York knitwear designer’s followers almost tip into the five digits — you might envision that she lives in some Peter Halley-meets-Memphis–inspired fantasyland, all primary colors, geometric patterns, and kitschy throwback accessories (hello Bananagrams!) But the truth is, Larson’s 5th-floor East Village walk-up doesn’t appear all that crazy upon first glance. A pretty but small, light-filled, plant-friendly apartment, the place is largely decorated in black and white, save for a trio of painted shelves where Larson keeps her most prized possessions, and a punch of colorful bedding. It’s only upon closer inspection (and I mean, really close, considering Larson’s love of miniatures) that her oft-photographed influences begin to reveal themselves — dice, Swatch watches, Japanese toys, and ’80s electronics among them.

But perhaps the biggest influence on Larson’s sweater aesthetic has been something that she doesn’t keep in the house at all but rather in her Williamsburg studio: the Brother KH-965i knitting machine that she bought from a woman named Lora back in Minneapolis, where she attended college for fashion design in the mid-2000s. When she bought her first, now-defunct Brother machine, she was working for Target, designing classic men’s knits and sweaters. “I went to see a demo on a knitting machine, and I was kind of romanced by it,” says Larson. “I ended up buying my first one towards the end of 2009, and I practiced for eight or nine months. The first garment I ever made with the machine was a cardigan, and right away I didn’t have the ability to generate my own patterns. But the Brother machines all come with, like, 500 or 600 preprogrammed patterns. There are basic things you can do to manipulate them, like mirroring or flipping upside down, scaling a pattern to be double tall or double wide, or isolating a chunk and deciding where it’s placed. So a lot of the early stuff was an experimentation with that.”

She founded her online shop and eponymous label — called ALL Knitwear — in 2010, and when it began to take off, Larson moved to a machine that’s controlled by computer software rather than the old way, which involved her filling in the pattern on Mylar graph paper with a light-sensitive pencil. But the motifs she creates are still similar in spirit, and that simply patterned, explosively colored aesthetic has clearly struck a chord with her bordering-on-obsessive fan base, which pleases Larson to no end, considering where she started. “The sweater thing just fell into my life, in a way. It introduced itself in a way that was completely unexpected, and it took over. Even when I left my job at Target, I didn’t have anything lined up. I was just like I’m going to be unemployed for a while. I didn’t think ‘I’m going to be a knitwear designer,’ or ‘I’m going to be a small business owner.’ Those thoughts never crossed my mind. They weren’t part of the plan. Now that’s fully my life, and I love it.”

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That Larson ever studied fashion design at all is serendipity: “I actually wanted to go to school for interior design, but when I went to interview at my college, the advisor looked at my outfit, and was like, ‘Are you sure that you want to do that? Don’t you want to enroll in the fashion program?’ I was like, “’Sure. Why not?’” Shown here in her apartment, Larson wears an outfit of her own design and typical of her style.

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Larson moved to New York in 2011 and parted ways with most of her books at the time. “But I saved a few of my favorites, which you see here. Gary Paulsen is an author I really liked when I was growing up — he mainly wrote coming-of-age type stories about the wilderness. He was from Minneapolis. An old roommate gave me his signed copies of a few Gary Paulsen novels for my birthday a few years ago; I was extremely touched and consider them to be prized possessions. The other books are favorites from childhood to young adulthood. I especially loved Pippi Longstocking!”

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A shelf of favorites. “I grew up in Wisconsin, and I’m kind of the only creative person in my family. No history of design, fashion, art, anything like that. Even at a really young age I was interested in exploring clothing and being expressive in that way. I think a lot of it had to do a lot with I grew up in a town that had like 1,500 people. I was one of two Asian kids in this town. It was a very Scandinavian environment, and everybody in the town I grew up in was very Norwegian. I think that was it partially; I already felt really different.”

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A typical ALL creation. “I tend towards simple motifs. I think part of the reason for that is the actual structure of knitting and the technology. With the type of yarn that I use and the type of sweater that I make, doing a pattern that’s really rendered or too detailed can end up looking kind of sloppy. But a pattern can’t be successful on its own. It needs to have the right color to define it. A lot of times I’ll have a color combination that I really want to use. I’ll work that combination until I find a way. I have piles and piles and piles of swatches in my studio where I’ll spend days doing exercises in figuring out the best pattern with the best color.”

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“I have favorite colors, or I have colors that I tend towards. I have certain colors that I go to, a ringer color that I bring in to help in a way. Yellow is a big color for me. I love yellow. And I almost always like to use peach in those helpful situations. Yellow, peach, and lavender are really useful colors.”

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“For example, with this pot that I painted, I had picked the blue, the green, and the yellow, and originally I picked red. I didn’t think about it really. Red is the obvious choice. But then I was looking at it more and was like no, no, no. It has to be peach.” Above the pot is a piece by Larson's friend, artist Eric Timothy Carlson, who traded it for a sweater.

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“I have a soft spot for miniatures, and my friends know it. All of my tiny treasures have been a gift at one point or another. This cactus is from my friend Brett, who I consider to be one of my primary suppliers in this realm. I eventually designed a cactus sweater based on this little trinket.”

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"I like to put miniatures everywhere, which really suits my miniature apartment well. The baby is from my friend Lindsay, a gift from South Africa. It came with two standing cats that hang out in some of my potted plants. The Hershey's kiss is from Eric Carlson, where some of the tiniest, cutest things have come from. The giraffe is from my studio-mate Ellen van Dusen (a different time she brought me a banana magnet—another genre of tacky objects I really enjoy). The coke bottle is from my childhood dollhouse."

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Larson's miniature food collection. "I have three friends that give these to me. They're amazing. These sets come in a box that shows six different options that you can get when you open the box, and you don’t know what you’re going to get. You always hope you’re going to get the best one. They come from a Japanese toy store in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m sure you can buy them on the internet but that just wouldn’t be the same."

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"This is the best one, I think. They all come in different pieces. The mustard detaches from the mustard squiggle, and the bun comes off and the pickle’s obviously separate."

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"They come with little instruction packets for how to put them together. When I got my first one, which was this one with the chopsticks, I was like I don’t need to look at the instruction manual. But then I was noticing all of these parts that didn’t belong anywhere, and the chopsticks were one of those things. I was like where do those go? Then I noticed some things have holes in them. It’s so beautiful. I’m obsessed with them."

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"This is something really cool. It's the cassette-tape box set of a band I really like from Minneapolis, consisting of friends and old housemates. The band's name is Obchod Na Korze and I would describe them as good weirdos with an expressive (unplugged) sound. I remember when these box sets were being fabricated — I think there were 50 or 75 all together. They made the wooden boxes and gave each one a sticker of approval for quality assurance reading, 'OK!' My favorite tape in the set is called Let's Get a Vacation."

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"The P'jammer! When I moved in here, I had an outlet that was rewired for an air conditioner. I plugged it in, and it died. I was so upset. I’ve been on Etsy looking for more. There’s so many out there, and I’ve been like, oh should I buy it. Now I have the Sony Dream Machine, which is not the same at all. There’s also a boy version of the P'jammer called the Night'jammer. It’s black and neon green." (Ed note: We also had a P'jammer growing up!)

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"A few years ago I applied for a grant for $5,000 to go to Miami and basically work with the artist Jim Drain for a week. Part of that grant was to create a piece upon returning, so this was my piece that I made. When I was in Miami, Jim was working on these powder-coated benches. We went to the powder-coating factory and he was collecting all the different parts for one, and the colors were basically hot pink and neon green and black. I was really attracted to that. I felt like it was representative of my idea of Miami. I had never been there before and actually before I went, I bought all this hot pink clothing and patent leather hot pink sandals and hot pink nail polish to get in the mood for it. I actually wear this a lot.”

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“The hats were never in my plan, but I started making them as a result of a friend of mine in Minneapolis making me the pompoms for fun. She makes all of them for me. I just went through my taxes, so I really got to see how many pompoms I ordered last year. It’s insane. Over 1,000 for sure. I sell a lot of hats.”

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“This is my jewelry corner. The Swatches are piled here, but I have more. A lot of miniature food here too, I have burger earrings and I’m really looking forward to having some fries some day. I’ve been through periods in my personal style where I’ve attempted to be more serious. When I was working at Target there was a very serious dress code. But I feel like I always end up coming back to stuff in this realm. I’ve been into food theme accessories lately. I’ll wear the Swiss cheese swatch, and I’ll wear the food earrings. I think it definitely veers on tacky, but there’s a level of commitment when you reach a certain point where I hope that it can lend itself to a different realm."

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"This is a book I bought way before I started knitting sweaters. I had this idea that I wanted to learn how to hand knit. I would knit for a while on the bus on my way to school. I never really totally got into it, and coincidentally, four years later I started making cotton sweaters that are in this realm."

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"I am a huge dice fan. I play this game called Farkel. It’s the coolest game. I learned it in Minneapolis. I think it’s a very Midwestern thing. It’s basically a game where you use six dice, and you can play with as many people as you want. There’s a points system for each dice or combination of. The goal is to get 10,000 points. It seems like a lot, but you can score 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 points at a time. I started teaching people this game when I moved here. It kind of caught one, and now so many new friends are really into playing it."

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"Since then, I’ve been building my dice collection and suddenly people are giving me dice. I’ve been receiving so many dice games. Anytime on Instagram there’s a picture of dice, people tag me. I think it’s sweet. And obviously part of the appeal of the dice is the polka dots, which are actually called pips I have since learned."

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This die was a gift from Tauba Auerbach, who became a friend of Larson's after buying a sweater. "I don’t really understand how it works," says Larson.

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The calendar that hangs in her kitchen is also by Auerbach.

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Another painted pot.

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"People give me these things, and I find a place for them in my life. I don’t know what they’re called. Tchtochkes? That seems like a pretty fair analysis. This banana I’ve had since my first apartment. It’s just tradition. I always put it above the stove."

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“My friend Stephanie from Wisconsin made this weaving for me. When I moved into this apartment, she sent me a care package of things and she was like, ‘I thought you needed some cool black and white stuff to have in your apartment.’ She sent me the moon calendar and a little ceramic air plant as well.”

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“Every piece I make is welcomed into a family of sweaters that have been a slow moving progression over the last three years. It’s hard to say if there’s really a favorite. I think right away everyone is my favorite until another idea comes along. Then it settles into the larger picture. But a favorite element within the types of sweaters that I make is the use of black and white. That’s something that enters and reenters with a lot of the different sweaters that I make. It’s a similar kind of ringer idea — it can be used to help its surroundings in a grounded way or make something seem more familiar.”