Why We Knit (#1 an interview with Hilary Masemann)

I am one of those rare people, privileged to love their jobs, and perhaps the very best part of my workaday is getting to talk to folks about knitting. On a lucky day I  am treated to more then just “shop-talk” – I get to hear stories.
Why should I be the only person to be so lucky?  Today I am excited to launch a series of blog posts called “Why We Knit”, where I interview knitters and ask them hard hitting and poignant questions about their knit-experiences.  In this series we will endeavor to answer the question of “why we knit”, or at least get some pretty interesting stories.  This is also a new beginning for me and this blog introducing a wider scope to the content and a host of new perspectives. Hooray for that!

laines d'aoustPicture from the now defunct textile mill “D’Aoust & Brothers”  founded in Brussels 1829 

When I first conceived of this plan, one of the first people I thought I would like to interview was Hilary Masemann.  We were lucky to have Hilary work at the Knit Cafe for a time.  She left us to pursue a teaching career, but has kept up with the knitting and many other projects besides.  I will let her speak for herself.
Let the interview begin!

How did you learn to knit?
I learned to knit when I was 7 or 8 from my Irish babysitter.  My first project that I completed was a scarf for my Cabbage Patch Doll, Billy (a boy — and I made
him a pink scarf — perhaps I always rejected sex-role stereotypes!)
What first attracted or inspired you to pick up knitting?
I have no idea what attracted me … but I have always loved making things.  As
a kid my happiest hours were spent drawing or crafting.
What keeps you knitting?
Knitting is like an old friend.  It never leaves me.  I can leave it for weeks when I am busy, but I can come back to it and it is relaxing and cozy-feeling.  I like the way I can do it while I am on the TTC, while I am talking to people, while I am watching TV.  It also helps me to feel less anxious if I am in a social situation.  I am someone who likes to keep busy, so it allows me to slow down and still feel like I am doing something at the same time!
What sort of unique experiences has knitting brought to your life?
It has taken me to some great knitting shops in England and PEI.  It took me to a job at the Knit Cafe, where I learned a great deal more about knitting!  It
certainly brings me closer to two of my sisters.  Now I sit and Skype with my
sister who lives in Wisconsin.  We knit together, chat, drink tea, and show each other what we are working on.  It is a special way of being together.  Also the knitting club I started was recognized in the Toronto Star and on CBC radio, which has been my first and only foray into the media spotlight !
What do you tell people about knitting when they are interested in learning?
I tell people that you need to stick with it.  Lots of people get discouraged
because the initial fact of learning the basic knit stitch is probably the hardest
Who or what are your knitting influences?
My sister Charlotte was my biggest influence when I was growing up.  As a
teenager, she knitted a sweater for each member of our 7-person family.  She
knitted her way through many family camping trips with four younger siblings. She was always there to help me, and even when she left home and moved to other cities I would call her “knitting hotline” at any time of day.  Now my sister Bronwen also influences me, because she knows a lot about special yarns and needles.
What are you knitting now?
I am knitting “Clemence”, a cowl from the Jared Flood Brooklyn Tweed
collection.  I bought actual Brooklyn Tweed yarn when I was in New York City in March.  What a treat!hilary at purl
Hilary at Purl Soho in NYC

Back in 2010 you started a knitting club in Emery Collegiate where you were teaching.  What prompted you to start this program?
I started it because I thought the kids could use an opportunity to work with their  hands.  I like getting kids involved in things that they think are “old fashioned” and having them find out that it is actually fun and therapeutic.  Also it was a pretty rowdy place and I could see that some of the quieter kids could use a place to go at lunch.knit school 3
What were your expectations when you started this program?
I thought I would get about 10 people, mostly girls.
Were there any unforeseen results?
Yes!  It was more popular than I thought and I had quite a few grade 9 boys who joined.  One girl joined who only had full use of one hand.  She amazed me by becoming the best knitter in the group — by the end of the year she had made a sweater!  Knitting club became a really popular club in the school and the kids were really disappointed when I had to leave the school at the end of the year. And when our story was in the Toronto Star a knitting store in Barrie sent us three big boxes of yarn for free, as a surprise!knit school 2
What do you think the students gained from this experience?
I think it was a big deal that they could make their own special stuff for free.
They didn’t have many luxuries and this allowed them to make things that they
could show off to others.  Certainly some students really got recognition from
their peers from making this stuff.  They also gained confidence.  But some just
liked coming and hanging out, and were actually fairly unproductive 🙂
Do you have any advice for anyone who wanted to start a similar program?
Get lots and lots of donations, especially of needles.  Kids want to make very
particular things, and you will need lots of sizes of needles.  And be prepared to
give the beginner knitting lesson a million times!  Lots of people will join and
then quit, but don’t get discouraged because you will make a big difference to
those who stay.  They will catch the knitting bug.
Would you/have you start(ed) another knit club?
I started one at my current school. It’s not as popular as the school has way
more clubs already and the kids are very achievement – oriented.  But we have
a small group that just enjoy being there and feeling happy.knit school
You were interviewed several times about your knitting club at Emery Collegiate. Were you surprised at the media interest or by any of the questions they asked?
Yes, I was surprised.  I was amused at how they focused so much on the fact
that there were boys in the group.  And I thought it was interesting how they
characterized the school as a “tough school”.  But now that I have left the
school, I do sort of see how remarkable the success of the club was!  And it was
a happy story, so that was nice.
In one interview you mentioned that knitting has always been you constant companion.  I really loved that sentiment, and I wonder if you could elaborate.hilary's cup warmer
I just mean that it has taken me through so many phases of my life.  I did it when I was a teenager, and when I lived overseas, and the things that I have knitted have punctuated the various phases of my life — things I have made for various friends, friends’ babies, ex-boyfriends, etc.  I find it calming and it gives me a project all the time.  Even when I am somewhere where I feel alone, I can bring my knitting and I feel OK.

………………………………………………….Hilary’s cup cozy project

THANKS TO HILARY for being so generous!
Perhaps as you read this you are thinking of your own reasons to knit or perhaps you are thinking of someone else who has an interesting knit-story to tell.  I will accept nominations for interviewees.  Get in touch!
Craftily yours

PostScript: One of my most memorable experiences at the Knit Cafe (and there have been plenty) was when Hilary and the knitters from Emery came down for a field trip.  What a wonderful bunch! I have never seen a group of folks more excited. It was obvious that Hilary’s knitting club was an enrichment to all involved and that their experiences in the club would stay with them for a long time to come.  That’s what I call education!


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