From military flight patterns to knitting patterns
by Leticia Romero
For United States Air Force veteran Ashleigh Wempe (M.B.A. ’18), mosaic knitting and pattern designing started as a way to pass the time after transitioning out of the military and while working through the MBA program at St. Mary’s University.
Rather than focusing primarily on selling her creations, Wempe designs the knitting patterns, which she called “recipes,” for people to create a variety of their own knit pieces.
A visit to Wempe’s Instagram page immerses you in bold and bright, intricate motifs in the form of a complex colorwork product, like blankets, rugs or — what she’s best known for — shawls.
After being approached by a UK-based publishing company, David & Charles LTD, Wempe spent 18 months compiling a book full of her fun and colorful patterns, accessible to both beginners and advanced knitters. In June 2023, Wempe’s book, Mosaic Knitting Workshop, was published.
“It was a really fun, crazy experience,” Wempe said about the process of writing a book, working full time at USAA, moving from San Antonio to Rochester, Minnesota, and being a mother of two young daughters. “There wasn’t enough time in the day to do it all, but somehow, it all came together in the end.”
Mosaic of a lifetime
The pattern of Wempe’s life has been a bit of a mosaic itself.
Wempe joined the Air Force in 2011 and served for seven years, as an intelligence officer, separating from the military in 2017 as a captain. She had a master’s degree in National Security Studies with an emphasis on the Western Hemisphere from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Despite her training in areas focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean, the military sent her to South Korea.
It was there Wempe helped to lead a team of more than 50 Airmen on an intelligence operations floor, providing warnings and conducting intelligence, aircraft surveillance and reconnaissance operations in support of maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula.
“It’s kind of like your traditional spy airplane that people talk about,” Wempe said. “The aircraft monitors what North Korea is doing, and I helped manage the operations floor.”
On a visit to San Antonio, she met her now-husband Ryan Wempe (M.B.A. ’16), who was serving in the U.S. Army at the time. While they were deployed separately — her to South Korea and he to Afghanistan — they eventually ended up in San Antonio and got married in St. Mary’s University’s Assumption Chapel, where Ryan was a graduate student. The Rev. Jim Tobin, S.M., the Greehey School of Business Chaplain, officiated the wedding.
“It was really fun to get to know Father Jim,” Ashleigh Wempe said. “He invited us to go meet all of the Marianist brothers at the house they have on campus, right around Christmas time. We got to hang out with them, and I brought my oldest daughter. She was the highlight.”
Ashleigh Wempe had a few other confidential job responsibilities as a cyber operations officer at Joint Base San Antonio — Lackland and, later, at the National Security Agency in Texas before following her husband into the MBA program at St. Mary’s in 2018.
Now, as a civilian, Ashleigh Wempe credits the connections she made at St. Mary’s in her cohort for helping to land a job as a process engineer for USAA.
“We try to help leadership make data-driven decisions instead of gut decisions,” Ashleigh Wempe said.
Knitting down to business
When she’s not at work, she’s creating patterns and teaching her six-week course, Shawl Design Unraveled, where knitters interested in becoming designers can learn directly from her.
“I take them from the ideation phase of coming up with a knitting pattern idea, sketching it out, to picking up the yarn and doing all of the math required to create the shape,” she said.
She has her students start with a shawl because shawls tend to be simple shapes. Ashleigh Wempe then walks them through how to write the pattern, get it tested, edited and, ultimately, published.
“It’s a six-week journey to get your first pattern published,” said Ashleigh Wempe, who will offer her next course in September, virtually and asynchronously.
Ashleigh Wempe said her work in knitting and her career each embrace the ability to pivot and try new things.
“Honestly, that’s what life is about: trying something new. It takes a little bit of guts and gumption to go for it,” Ashleigh Wempe said. “If you’re not risking anything, then there’s no reward. Life’s too short to do things that you’re not interested in.”