Knitting as a creative practice
or, on doing more of the things that make us feel whole
Every evening, I spend one or two hours knitting. I mentioned this to a non-knitting friend recently and she was so surprised. “Really? Two hours? Every evening??” From her tone, it seemed like a crazy thing to do, an absurdly generous block of time to spend …. knitting. Making stitches. Yarn tensioned in my fingers, loops on a needle.
But I suspect you’ll understand how soothing it can feel to slow down from the day with your knitting needles. How quietly powerful it can feel to make something that didn’t exist before you picked up a skein of yarn and cast on. How it can counterbalance all the forces demanding your attention in the attention economy.
As someone who has a knitting business, I’ve come to deeply appreciate knitting every evening on the project that is fueling my creative energy. Usually this is a personal project—in other words, not a design that will become a pattern, or a color swatch for my shop, and definitely not a sample that has a deadline. (Have I told you how much deadline knitting needs deflates my creative energy? I know people who are energized by deadline knitting, but oh gosh, that’s not me.)
Knitting is my creative practice.
You don’t have to create a knitting pattern to be creative. I believe that the simple act of knitting itself is creative.
There are a million choices that go into creating something from a pattern, from the choice of the pattern (which one? who will wear it? what features of this pattern appeal to you? why?) to the modifications you will make (will you knit this exactly as the pattern specifies? will you lengthen it to suit your particular body? will you want to adjust the shape? how?) to your yarn choice to the colors you choose. So many creative choices, each one full of possibility and personality, difference and uniqueness. Full of you.
Some folks will tell you that craft and art are different, or that following a pattern is something anyone can do, but I am here to tell you something else. I’m here to tell you that you are creative, and creative practice is an essential part of what makes us more human.
My own creative practice looks something like this:
I love color. I knit and sew. I dye yarn. I doodle and paint. I do at least one or two of these things every day, and the doing has been a huge part of me recovering from the pandemic.
A quick aside for pandemic talk: Part of the reason I started this newsletter, and especially the reason I’ve committed, right now, to a Sunday letter, has been to reconnect with the joyfulness and creative energy of my business, Little Skein. I’ve talked before about how I downsized my business in order to focus on family and health during the pandemic. Welp, the pandemic is still ongoing, and more than the actual public health emergency, it feels like the emergence of Covid, the Trump years both before and after that point of emergence, and the years since, have changed the world in ways that are profound and still to be understood. I am still processing all that’s happened (so many people who have died; so much loss and trauma), my feelings about it (such big feelings), the disregard for fellow, vulnerable humans (so much bias and racism). It’s a lot, and I’m in that liminal place where I am no longer bowled over by all of this, but still not yet at a place where I understand this new world we inhabit. This newsletter has been a joyful act of creativity for me. Thank you for being here with me.
I am still in an in-between place. I have a natural drive to understand systems, to figure out my place within them, and to figure out where I—with my own small circle and particular constellation of talents—can make things better. Resourcing myself through creativity has become a foundation for me, as I try to answer these questions.
And, so, I play with color, I make things, I draw and paint, I play with clay. I bake and I nourish my houseplants. I make my own pumpkin spice latte syrup and enjoy the early morning quiet with a warm cup of coffee.
If you are in this in-between space, too, what are you doing to nourish yourself? How are you expressing yourself, and all the pain and joy—just all of it—that is your particular story?
A little yarn talk, or when a particular yarn turns out to be not ideal for garments
While I love and adore the work of so many other dyers, over the past few years, I’ve discovered that my creative clothes-making process extends to color. (A surprise to no one but me!) I want to make the color myself and I want a particular kind of yarn base: something sheepy, but not too rustic; fiber that’s grown or spun in North America so that it has a smaller footprint on the environment; and yarn that’s perfectly suited to a particular project, whether because of its weight or drape or fiber blend.
I used to dye yarn on about 15 different bases, but I’ve been simplifying to deal with ongoing supply chain issues that I think are not just a moment in time, but a new “feature” of life. This means that Winter Sock, the base I used for my pink Uniform cardigan, which I talked about last week, is one I’m phasing out.
Winter Sock is this seemingly delicious blend of wool, mohair and nylon plied together. I’ve only ever made socks from it, and the sock fabric is wonderful: plush and soft and lightweight. I thought it would be so lovely as a lightweight sweater—like holding a strand of mohair with a fingering weight yarn, except even lighter!
Imagine how surprised I was when I tried on my newly finished and blocked Uniform and the collar was so itchy I had to take it off a few minutes later. And, this from a person who’s not sensitive at all to mohair or wool. I have knit and worn Lettlopi sweaters and rustic wools with no itch factor.
I had several ideas of how to adjust the sweater to make it wearable, and I was lucky that my first idea worked beautifully. I hand-sewed a lining to the collar and used scraps of my favorite Liberty fabric.
This may be the worst product endorsement ever, but I have about 20 skeins of Winter Sock (the last of my inventory). I’ve dyed them in a variety of my favorite colors, created color sets with one main color and four mini-skeins, to encourage you in some creative color play. I’ve put them in the shop while writing this newsletter, and the listings are timed to go “live” right when you’re reading this. (Update: they’re all sold out; thank you!)
In the shop
Winter Sock color sets are (update: sold out) in the shop right now. As you might imagine: I highly recommend that you use these for plush and warm socks or for projects that are not next-to-skin. Think: striped socks, colorwork socks, edgings on sweaters, stripes on the body of a garment.
Meanwhile in the studio, while I’m waiting for base yarn to arrive for the next edition of my Kindred Spirits yarn subscription, I’m cleaning and organizing the studio. You know what this means … my annual studio sale (where I also destash yarn, fabric, and other supplies) will be soon. If this coming week goes as planned, I’ll be able to announce it in next week’s Sunday letter.
I’m still popping in and out of several collaborative projects. Being in community with fellow makers who share my values—who center the needs of the most vulnerable, who are passionate about liberation for all, who are firmly anti-racist—this is bringing me a great deal of joy and creative energy.
This Sunday, I hope that you, too, are finding a rhythm in your creative process, and that you are finding small moments of joy to savor.
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Yes Anne, knitting can be not only creative but also restorative. It certainly brings me more joy than spending hours "surfing the web" ever has!
I am so happy to receive this newsletter. Your perspective on the world and your craft is a breath of fresh air and it is a little bit of joy in my mailbox. Thank you!