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Am I knitting stories or writing sweaters?

Posted by Adam Olsen on

I often get my words mixed up when I’m talking to people about what I do. It’s not unusual to hear me say, “I knit stories” or “I write sweaters.” There’s some truth to my mix-ups. I do write about knitting. I wrote a children’s book about making a Cowichan sweater called Yetsa’s Sweater. Later I wrote a history of Coast Salish knitting called Working With Wool. Writing is a lot like knitting in many ways—it’s a series of one word after the other, or patterns of words stitched together as it were. It’s hard not to sound corny when you write about knitting. Cliché has it that we weave stories and tell yarns, there are often threads through our stories and it’s important in both endeavours to get your tension right.

Come to think about it, my knitting is also a lot like the stories I tell. By that I mean that everything I knit has a story or…is a story. For instance, the felted hat I am designing; It was inspired by a hat I bought at a Christmas art fair and wore in Lake Louise. Alberta when it was -28 degrees. When I posted a picture of myself on Facebook I realized the cute curled-cuffed hat would be a perfect canvas for geometric designs and carved buttons (courtesy of my ex). As I play with shapes and shades in the design process I’m thinking about the places, people, and products that are coming together and will emerge into something unique and something I love. Then there’s the dress I designed, struggled with, finished with giant relief and excitement, and wore to my book launch. When I wear the dress now people often ask me about it and I tell them the story, the purpose and the role the dress played in my life. Ask me about my cashmere fingerless gloves and I’ll tell you the story about sending a similar pair made out of the same wool to Margaret Atwood and how she said she would wear them while she was writing (how cool is that!).

I think it’s the same for most of us who knit. We all design our projects…the wool, the needles, the colours, the adjustments. Then there’s that long contemplative time when we get to think about the texture and tension of wool, our hands, our fingers, our lives… There are the life experiences that happen on the knitting journey—the crazy lady we met at the bus stop when we were knitting the sleeves—the man in the doctor’s office who told us a story about how his mother knit for him when he was a kid. By the time we wear it or give it away every knitted thing has its own meaning and its own story. I think that’s one of the reasons why knitting is becoming so amazingly popular. Are you as tired as I am of what our material life has become? Logos have become a cheap substitute for something unique. A dozen T-shirts, one in every colour, have replaced the immensely satisfying variety of being one-of-a-kind. You are probably as ready as I am for the wonderful flourish and flair that comes with making ourselves…or making it ourselves…and living and telling the stories and meaning that comes along with the knitting process.


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