Sisterhood of Knitters

It’s International Women’s Day (and my birthday) this week and in honor of that, Spoonflower’s Design Challenge was “Sisterhood Around the World”. I thought this one was really hard and I nearly skipped the week. I really struggled to come up with something that fit the theme and was interesting. I really like to make sure that my designs have a life that is beyond the theme of the challenge because I look at design challenges as a way to help build up my body of work. Having a deadline is great motivation and sometimes having a topic (like Kilim) or colors that I would never choose is a great creative challenge.

So I tried to think about “sisterhood” and I was just bored with the idea of a bunch of little girls in cultural costumes (which was the first thing that came to my mind.) I don’t like to draw people. I was tempted to do an abstract design to represent me and my two sisters and I thought about that for a while but it just wasn’t clicking. Then while in the car driving to a meeting, I had the idea of a sisterhood of knitters. (I absolutely get my best ideas while driving. Something about occupying the active part of your brain so the creative part can wander.)

I take knitting with me a lot when I am out in the world. I knit while waiting for meetings and at appointments. I knit during meetings sometimes. I knit in the evening after a stressful day. I meet friends for coffee and we knit together. I knit while waiting around for my husband’s band concerts to start. I make small projects like mittens and hats. I don’t like anything too complex but I do like beautiful yarn.

There is something about knitting in public that creates conversation. If I were to sit at all of these places and stare at my phone, no one would even make eye contact with me. But when I knit, it’s somehow like giving permission to interact. Someone will watch me knit and smile. Or sometimes they watch me knit and look at me like I am bonkers; it depends on the crowd. Someone will ask me what I am working on. Other knitters will ask me about the yarn or the stitch pattern. Little kids will stare and sometimes, if they are brave, will come over and feel how soft the yarn is. Someone within earshot will tell their friend that I am crocheting or will say “my mom does that”. At conferences, I have been the topic of a whole series of tweets: “Did u see that someone was sitting in that session and knitting?! She wasn’t even looking at it.” I had a delightful conversation with a guy at an airport once when I was making a pair of mittens with dpns. (If you’ve never seen someone working with dpns, it vaguely resembles wrestling a porcupine.) He’d seen little old ladies knitting sedately, but whatever I was doing with all of those spikes sticking out made it look pretty badass.

The best way to learn to knit (I think) is to have a friend show you, one-on-one. That’s how I learned. My first knitting lesson was with my friend Berit (a family friend) when I was about 11 years old. She told me that she was teaching me the Norwegian way to knit (continental) and that people might think it was odd, but it was much better than the American way. I didn’t understand what she meant until I was much older, but I thought it was something special. My first project was a tiny hoodie cardigan sweater for my tiny Steiff teddy bear, knit on size 3s or so with baby yarn. White with little rainbow tweed flecks. Then she taught me how to make cables. I didn’t know that I “shouldn’t be able to” do those things as a beginner, because no one told me it was hard.

I taught a beginning knitting class the last two weeks to some highschool students. Eight Somali girls who chattered through class half in English and half in Somali. I wish I had thought to ask them if there was a Somali word for knitting. One girl wanted to know why there were no boys in class and didn’t believe us when we said there were boys who knit, just maybe not as many of them as girls. I told her about the knitter that did a bunch of costume pieces for the Black Panther movie being a boy and although she was still skeptical, we had a great conversation about the costumes in that movie. That somehow made it cooler. By the end of class, everyone was making knit stitches. Some with needles, some with fingers. One of the girls asked at the end of class, “Can I say I am a knitter now?” Absolutely! She’s part of the sisterhood.

So my sisterhood design is knitters working side-by-side, celebrating that community of knitters. Their silhouettes have long hair and short hair, hijabs and ponytails. You might even see a certain Princess you recognize. There are straight needles, dpns and circulars. And lots of knitting.

The voting for this design challenge doesn’t open until tomorrow, but I was really excited about talking about this today. (If you want to give me a little present for my birthday, go vote for it tomorrow. That would be awesome.) Edited: Here is the link to vote. Open through March 13.

Are you a knitter? Has knitting in public ever been a fun conversation starter for you?

3 Comments

  1. Karen Weiberg March 7, 2018 at 9:44 pm

    So much is well stated in your essay. Knitting in public is always a conversation starter. I’ll be voting for your design. I love it. Are we going to be able to buy?

  2. beckarahn March 8, 2018 at 12:51 am

    You will be able to buy it. I am just waiting on a proof so I can double check everything up close. As soon as I have that it will be ready to go. Probably by the end of March.

  3. Linda M. March 8, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    I’ll be voting for your design. Wonderful article.

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