Austrian-born knitwear designer Barbara Schuetz may name her handmade MountainMasche garments after western Canadian lakes, mountains, and islands. But when she sits down to spin a yarn, her finished products are nothing like the usual chunky, funky, rustic, and woodsy pieces we’ve come to expect from West Coast knitted wear. Instead, Schuetz creates beautifully intricate luxury sweaters and scarves that combine Euro elegance with après-ski functionality.
“What I like to do is use very thin yarn, so that all of the craft and handwork behind it [the garment] is really appreciated,” says Schuetz, who recently sat down with the Straight at a local café. “People usually use very thick yarn to do it fast and quickly to put out as many garments as they can. But I prefer to do it with a little more time invested to create something that isn’t mass-produced….Just something really, really special, so when you go somewhere, there aren’t three or four other people wearing it at the same time.”
Mission accomplished! Each MountainMasche piece is a timeless treasure. The Peyto Lake sweater, for example, is a cozy but ultrafeminine lacy masterpiece with soft symphonic waves of narrow, complex cables creating scalloped cuffs, slightly capped sleeves, and an elasticized waistband. Half baby camel, half silk, the Peyto’s cut and attention to detail is beyond impressive. Basically, it’s warm enough for a wintry patio pint in Whistler, but dressy enough for an upscale dinner in Gastown.
It’s not cheap, though. In fact, MountainMasche adult sweaters range from $499 to $599. But keep in mind, each one takes her around 50 hours to complete. That said, it doesn’t feel like work to Schuetz.
“For me, it’s been therapeutic ever since I can remember,” recalls the Vancouver-based knitter, who grew up in a relatively small town in the state of Upper, Austria. “When my parents drove me to my last exam at the end of high school, I was sitting in the back of the car knitting and they were all looking at me like, ‘What’s she doing?’ Everyone else was nervous, but not me.”
Her lace scarves ($199 to $349), might take a little less time, but they are equally intricate. And as with most of her core collection, which she sells online, Schuetz specializes in premium undyed yarns, so there are lots of whites, greys, cognacs, and mochas. But she recently started working with naturally dyed silks. So if you want to custom order something in the colour of your choice, go crazy. The options are limitless.
As for where she learned to knit, she’s not altogether sure, but she does have a theory.
“It must be inherited from my mother, because there were four kids at home and we didn’t have a lot of money to go out and buy things, so she was sewing and knitting for all of us,” says Schuetz. “But I don’t really remember her actually sitting me down to teach me. It just came to me.”
These days, Schuetz’s expert eye is so honed that friends can show her a picture of almost any sweater in a magazine and then she duplicates it freestyle.
“It’s my only talent, I would say,” Schuetz says with a shrug before adding: “I mean, I’m not so good in the kitchen, but I can do this.”