Category Archives: Why We Knit ( a series of Interviews)

Why We Knit (#4 an interview with Rachel MacHenry)

laines d'aoust

Picture from the now defunct textile mill “D’Aoust & Brothers” founded in Brussels 1829



“Why We Knit”  is a series of blog posts 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.


An Interview with Rachel MacHenry

I met Rachel MacHenry back in the days when Kate Austin and I were full time Textile Designers traversing our way through the craft scene in Toronto and trying to make a go of it.  Rachel was the head of Sheridan College’s Textile Program. What brought our little venture Ruckus Designs to Rachel’s attention I don’t know but I am awfully glad it did.  If not, we would never have met our lovely Iwona.  Can you imagine? Iwona was a student at Sheridan and was chosen by Rachel to do her coop placement at Ruckus Designs.
In addition to her matchmaking prowess Rachel is one talented lady! She is an artist and a wonderfully innovative educator, skilled in many textile mediums.  She has travelled the world designing and creating textile collections.  She is also one of the founding members of  The Contemporary Textile Studio Co-operative, a communal studio space made just for textile artists.  You can take classes there too and they look wonderful! I could go on, but instead why don’t we let Rachel do some talking.  Let the interview begin!

The Contemporary Textile Studio Co-operative

How did you learn to knit?
I first learnt to knit from a family friend when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and I was absolutely terrible at it!  Then, when I was 12, I worked my way through my grandmother’s “Modern Fancy Work”- a late-Victorian handwork manual that included patterns for things like corset covers and smoking caps…and really figured out how to make things.  My family was living in France at the time, and I also used french knitting magazines for assistance, so I knit in the continental style.  There was a wonderful French “how to” magazine called “100 Idees” that had lots of interesting knitting patterns, and I made many things from it.

What first attracted or inspired you to pick up knitting?
I’m not really sure… I always loved making things, my brother and I had a whole miniature town that we built out of cardboard boxes, and I always made all sorts of things out of yarn and fabric, wood and cardboard.  I also loved to draw.  I guess knitting was just another way to create things.

Who or what are your knitting influences?
When I started knitting, the 1980’s “designer” knitters, like 80’s colourwork designers “Artwork”, and Susie Freeman’s “inclusion” knits  were a big influence, but I also looked at other kinds of textiles, and at painters, illustrators, film, theatre and dance.  I always loved the approach of Sonia Delauney and how she treated textile surfaces like a painter.  And, my biggest influence has always been my mother, an extremely creative woman who was always making things with us.

What sort of things did your mother make? And what was her approach to knitting?
My mother didn’t actually knit.  She was trained in Fine Art and then in Textiles and studied in the 1950’s at NYU in New York and then at Black Mountain College, an experimental arts community.  At both institutions,  she was exposed to contemporary ideas about art and design and had the opportunity to study under some influential teachers as well as having some very interesting classmates.  As I was growing up, she drew, made prints and collages, created modernist appliqued textile pieces and assemblages, and finally got involved in hand-weaving.  She still makes us all the most wonderful birthday cards…

What sort of unique experiences has knitting brought to your life?
Knitting has taken me to other parts of the world, and introduced me to artisans in other cultures.  For much of my design career, I have worked with artisans in South Asia, and particularly with knitters in Nepal, where my knit line was made with community production.  I have also worked for other companies, designing and over-seeing production of hand knits in India.  These were wonderful experiences. During the past year I have been working with textile artisans in Haiti as part of the Brand Aid Project and these collections will be part of a pop-up shop at The Bay in November. Currently, I am developing a line of naturally dyed trimmings and threads with a research project in India.rachel 1
rachel 2Rachel will be launching this trimmings collection called Botanica Tinctoria  in London, UK in September through The Sustainable Angle’s Future Fabrics Expo Hear more about this venture here.

What was your knit line called? How was it distributed? What were the products?
My knit line was produced under my own name. The line was primarily focused on children’s wear (hats, mitts, scarves, sweaters), but we also did soft furnishings, like blankets, throws and cushions.  I worked with an agent in the US who distributed the line through trade shows like the New York Gift Fair. We also had clients in Europe and Japan.  We worked with clients such as Anthropologie in  the US, and Takashamaya and Barney’s Japan in Japan.rachel 4

Do you feel that the women you work with in India/Nepal have a different view of knitting then we do here in Canada? Both in the process and in the finished goods.
The women knitters I work with in Nepal see their work as knitters as a way to supplement their families’ income.  Many of the women also have extensive duties within their homes and farms, so knitting fits in around the many different things they do in their day.  For most of the women, knitting is a very practical skill that allows them to earn money, and is better paid than the other limited options available to them.  As far as knitting for their own families, knits are not generally worn, but women do make waistcoats for their husbands, and little knitted caps for their babies.rachel machenry

I know you primarily as a sock knitter.  Why do you think this is the project that has kept you most occupied?
I was commuting on the GO train a lot, and socks were an easy but interesting project to work on.  They also make a great gift and I like to give people handmade things that are useful.

Do you have a tried and true, favourite sock pattern?embossed leaves
I do! It is the “Embossed Leaves Socks” from the Interweave sock book.  I like to knit lace socks; they are surprisingly warm and feel like a simple luxury.

Do you have a favourite sock yarn?
Lorna’s Laces is my favorite – a pleasure to work, lovely colours and makes a great sock.

What are you knitting now?
Still more socks!

Do you have a favourite place to knit?
Not really – I have knit in all sorts of places…even I a little dirt-floored hut with water buffalo looking in the windows and chickens strolling in and out.

When do you knit?
Often, I knit to relax; it is a soothing activity and I find it very calming.

What do you tell people about knitting when they are interested in learning?
Anyone can knit!  But, it is easiest to learn from someone else, rather than from a book or video…

As an educator have you noticed that there is any increase in interest amongst your students in knitting?
Yes, certainly there is a surge in interest.  While I was teaching at Sheridan, lots of the students took up knitting, and we even had a knitting club for a while.  In addition to this interest, hand knitting was part of the curriculum, and lots of students experimented with knitting unconventional materials like wire, paper yarn, rags, found materials…

When it comes to their explorations in this medium do you find that they are interested in pushing boundaries or are they more interested in understanding traditional and historical work?
There is a lot of interest in knitting scarves and hats for friends and family, but some students do really explore what knitting can do, and are interested in pushing the boundaries, playing with materials, scale and context.

Personally, I’ve noticed a real increase in textile based arts; including quite a bit of knit art work.  Have you found the same?
Absolutely.  There is a huge upswing in popular interest in all aspects of craft, domestic arts and the handmade and this includes increased attention on textiles: quilting, knitting, crochet, silk-screen, home dyeing, sewing your own clothes, etc.  And at the same time, Fine Art practice has embraced craft, and many more artists are making use of processes traditionally seen as “crafty”, including knitting.

If so – What do you attribute this to?
I think on the one the one hand, it is a reaction to our increasingly speedy and digital lives; people are seeking real experiences and the opportunity to slow down, perhaps to share the haptic experience of making with others.  Hand made objects also offer us an alternative to the rapid pace of consumerism that characterizes our time; the cycle of production, consumption and disposal moves stunningly fast.  Hand made objects offer us a more sensory experience, perhaps providing a more reflective engagement with material culture.

Are there any knit-artists that you are particularly fond of?

Claire Anne O'Brien

Claire Anne O’Brien

It’s always interesting to see traditional crafts used in new ways.  I really like the work of Freddie Robbins, and I love Irish designer Claire Anne O’Brien’s huge scale knit used in furniture.


What do you think knitted or textile-based arts add to peoples understanding of knitting as a craft?
Knitting sits in a funny place; it is the quintessential “granny” craft, but in the current craft revival, it is “cool”; its use by artists within their practice definitely changes the context and people’s perception of it.

Do you think exposure to crafting in an artistic or gallery context changes the way people might feel about the everyday knitted objects in their lives?
Knitting has only recently been introduced into a gallery context as an expressive textile form – before that, hand knitting really was seen as a product of the domestic sphere (with the exception of its use in fashion), and as a way of making practical and useful things for everyday use.  So, yes, I do think it makes people re-consider knitting when they see it used within a gallery or fine art context, and perhaps even to value those every day objects differently.

You are a textile artist with so many skills and practices. What do you think it is about knitting that sets it apart as a unique occupation and keeps you doing it?
Although I currently work across many different textile techniques and processes, knit was the first area that I worked with in textiles.  Knitting gave me so many different experiences; it took me to other parts of the world and through it, I learned about other cultures and textile traditions.  In practical terms, knitting is portable and flexible; always an easy thing to bring along…

Do you have a most memorable knit project or most memorable knit experience to share?
When I worked with hand knitters in Nepal, they thought it was hilarious that I depended on all sorts of pieces of paper to remember how to knit something – although many of them were illiterate, they were incredibly skilled and able to remember entire knitting patterns in their heads!  This experience really taught me to respect the working methods of the various artisans with whom I collaborated.

Find out more about Rachel HERE

Thank you to Rachel MacHenry for being so darn interesting, and giving me even more reasons to knit.
Craftily yours

Why We Knit (#3 an interview with Nathalie Toriel)

laines d'aoust

Picture from the now defunct textile mill “D’Aoust & Brothers” founded in Brussels 1829


.“Why We Knit”  is a series of blog posts 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.

An Interview with Nathalie Toriel

I’ve known Nathalie for a while.  When we first opened the Knit Cafe she used to come by after Circus School classes (yup, that’s what I said – Circus School) and we would chat about knitting and all manner of other things.
For those of you who haven’t met Nathalie around the Knit Cafe, she is an actor and an acting coach, a voice director, a jewelery designer and crafter, a mom, and a Knit Cafe model!
13-0120KnitCafe_C006sexy shrug
Here she is modelling the Raspberry Beret and the Sexy Shrug

When reading Nathalie’s responses to some of my questions I realized there is a whole lot I didn’t know and/or forgot about Nathalie.
“Oh my gosh, that knitted corset!” – we had the darnedest time figuring out that pattern! ….but I digress… Let the interview begin.

.How did you learn to knit?
My mom taught me.  Twice.  She taught me early on, but it didn’t stick.  Then again after another move to a new country, when I had no friends yet and nothing to do with my time, and although I remember asking her to help me cast on each and every time I started a project, I had caught the bug for sure.
What first attracted you to knitting?
I’ve always been a crafty and DIY kinda gal.  I loved the process.  I am an actor, and there is a lot of process there too.  I think I like really working at something, seeing it come along, and then having a finished product to share.  But, the short answer…doll clothes.  I wanted to make my cabbage patch kids some cool clothes.
What keeps you knitting?
I gotta go back to the process thing here.  I like coming upon a pattern that attracts me, then finding the perfect yarn for the project.  I like the beginning when the cast on row is finished (thanks Mom, I know how to do it now) and I count and recount getting ready to begin the shape.  I like counting and the feel of the yarn in my fingers.  I like carrying projects with me everywhere I go and adding a few stitches here and a few rows there and knowing the stories of where I knit what and for whom.  I like wearing/using what I’ve made, or even better, seeing someone else wear/use what I have made for them.nathalie pic 3

What has knitting brought to your life?
Friends, peace of mind (it is a helpful way of dealing with stress) money (I used to sell my accessories at craft shows and at a few stores), charity work (I used to knit a corset every year for Eat to the Beat in support of women with breast cancer). Knitting also allows me a creative outlet when my career sometimes does not allow me to be as creative as I’d like. It’s a little something of my own.  I can do it OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAin my own time, in my own way.



Do you think that your Swiss background gives you a different perspective on knitting?
I’m not sure how to answer this other than to say that I think knitting is considered more of a craft here in North America, and more of an art or a job in Switzerland.  Also, here I think a lot of young people have caught on and it is considered hip, whereas my experience back home is that it is still an “old-school” thing to do.
What are you knitting now?
I would like to be finishing the knit café’s gnome hat project that I started during my labour with Casper, but I literally have not had a minute to get to it.
I have two other long term projects on the go, a very cool multiway-wear wrap with cables from interweave knits in a soft lavender, and a knitscene pattern for a fifties style cap sleeved top in almost neon coral.
Where is your favourite place to knit?
I like knitting while traveling; in the front seat of the car on the way to the cottage, on a train to visit friends in Montreal, on the plane on the way home to Switzerland.  I think the yarn carries the travels and accompanying stories with it.
When do find time to knit?
These days, sadly, I have none.  But in a few weeks time, I hope to schedule in a few hours every Monday.  My hands are quite busy holding and cuddling my sweet 8 week-old son.
Many people in the film business have told me that knitting is a wonderful occupation for them and really helps to pass the time when time needs passing on set.  Have you found this to be true?
Absolutely.  I have knit extensively on sets.  I go in to a peaceful Zen-like state when I knit.   Sometimes there are hours to kill before your next scene, or while the crew sets up lights etc.  In those wait times, I find it hard to watch TV or read, as I am usually focused on learning my lines and I don’t want to think about another storyline than the one that I am working on.  Knitting is the perfect time passer…I can run my lines, it is a quiet activity and I feel as if I am not wasting time, but rather, being paid to do something that I love while waiting to do something that I love.
Do you have any experiences to share about “knitting on the job”?
I had an improvisational audition once and I decided to bring in my knitting, to make it a part of my role.  I got the part and they made my character a knitter, so on that TV show, I was REALLY knitting while working. I loved it.  Sometimes for continuity I had to rip out some of my work and do it again though, so I mostly did scarves to keep it simple.
Oh, and Lindsey Lohan took an interest in a hat I was knitting on set one day and consequently bought it (much to the dismay of her handler who thought I should give it to her free of charge because of who she was) and the next day, all of the teenagers on set wanted one too.  I must have sold 30 hats in 3 days.
You got on my radar as a potential interviewee when you were telling me about your latest project, the birth of your gorgeous son Casper. Could you please describe how knitting merged with this particular event?
My latest project.  I love it.  Casper has taken as long to make as many of my knitting projects, so that seems very appropriate as a term to use here.
I had not consciously planned this or even thought about it, but as my labour started on the afternoon of mother’s day, I felt the need to see time pass but not actively start counting contractions yet. What to do with that time?
I found myself wanting to knit.  I know some people go for walks, or cook, but as aforementioned, I wanted to be in a Zen like state, and knitting blisses me out a bit.  I pulled a pattern for a baby hat, (the gnome hat from The Knit Café), took my time going through my stash to choose a beautiful electric blue yarn that I had been saving for something special, and got to work.  As the contractions washed over me, I had a tactile thing to focus on, something to hold on to and to squeeze, something to focus on when the pain was bad, something to look down at and see progress as my body was progressing through the stages of labour.  What was really interesting, was that rather than look at a stop watch or my phone, I took to knitting one stitch each second and using that as my counting method to track the length of each contraction as it came.  It was amazing.
I felt my pain was being managed, I felt focused, I felt present, but I also felt a near future: I thought about how truly awesome it was that I was working with my hands to make something for someone who would be in those same hands in a matter of hours.
My hospital bag was already packed and I had never thought about packing knitting, but I threw it in to my purse seconds before leaving the house.  I wanted knitting to be a part of the process.  There I go, back to process again…
nathlalie pic 1
The blanket in this picture is Nathalie’s version of the Knit Cafe’s Circle Blanket

Did this experience caused you to reflect on how knitting intersects with your life and what it means to you?
I haven’t had time to think about yet, only as I write this am I thinking about it as a whole.  I do seem to remember reading something about knitting and birth before the birth of my first child, Milo.  I have a vague recollection of a study about births that happened in rooms where doulas or midwives were knitting.  The labours were shorter and there was less need for drugs or medical interventions.  I don’t remember where I read it, or what the study was called etc., but as I write this, I feel as if that would totally make sense.
You had your bachelorette party at the Knit Café and your husband’s bachelor party involved a scavenger hunt that brought him to the Knit Café for a lesson. Were these events your idea or did your friends plan them? Why do you think knitting was included in these events?
The bachelorette was so fun!  My friends planned it. I had no idea.  But it was perfect.  Some of my nearest and dearest learned how to knit thanks to you.  They were each making squares for me to assemble into a blanket of my wedding colours.   It was fantastic.  There is no blanket to show for it, as only 4 people got their squares finished, but I cherish those squares and I keep them in a box of wedding memorabilia.  My loved ones were doing something with me and for me…it was very representative of my hopes for my marriage: surrounded by loving community, people pulling together to build a strong fabric, something lasting, I could go on and on here…it was perfect for me.
My husband, Brandon, also planned a stop on a bachelor party scavenger hunt at The Knit Café, but it was for his friend Eric. Eric was to learn to knit to make a present for his wife-to-be, Kelly.  The idea of including this in a bachelor night came to him because the best gift I ever received was a scarf from him, for our first Christmas together. Because he knew how much I loved knitting, he had gone to The Knit Café to learn to knit, made me a scarf and gave it to me all as a surprise.
We have a lot of history with you guys at The Knit Café!

Thank you Nathalie!!!
I wonder if other folks know any other knit/birthing stories? If so – tell us about it!
Craftily yours

Why We Knit (#2 an interview with Andrea Dorfman)

Picture from the now defunct textile mill “D’Aoust & Brothers”  founded in Brussels 1829

Picture from the now defunct textile mill “D’Aoust & Brothers” founded in Brussels 1829


“Why We Knit”  is a series of blog posts 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.



An Interview with Andrea Dorfman

You may know the name Andrea Dorfman already.  You may know her from her wonder film making; titles such as Parsley Days, or Love that Boy or from her beautiful documentary Art of Equity.  You may have seen some of her animated short films like Big Mouth or Flawed.  You probably saw How to Be Alone, the short she made with poet/musician Tanya Davis that grew into a youtube sensation with 5,775,284 views to date.  You may have read about her in the Globe and Mail where she was recently chosen as one of 10 “catalysts” defined as “creative Canadians who are involved in extraordinary, innovative pursuits”. You may even know that Andrea is a partner and cofounder of the Knit Cafe.
She is of course also a knitter, and here ↓ are few other things you might not know. Let the interview begin.

How did you learn to knit?
Unfortunately I don’t have a heartwarming story of learning from my grandmother or a crafty aunt…My friend Janet and I taught ourselves how to knit from a book in her basement after school when we were in grade seven.  But it wasn’t until second year university, during a long cold Montreal winter, when one of my roommates taught me how to knit a tuque. I wore that hat all winter and have been in love with knitting ever since.
What first attracted or inspired you to pick up knitting?
I have always loved DIY. I loved the idea that you could make something useful with your hands. I am a pioneer at heart. I must’ve been born a hundred and fifty years too late.
sock darning by Andrea
What keeps you knitting?
Every time I make something, it feels like magic. Like I materialized something out of thin air. It’s so liberating to be create something that you might have seen somewhere else. There is such freedom in being able to create.
What sort of unique experiences has knitting brought to your life?
I love how knitting brings people together. Every community I’ve lived in, I’ve connected to people through knitting. The Knit Café in Toronto, teaching a knitting class at CAMH across the street, Monday night knitting club with roommates and friends, striking up a conversation with a stranger because you can tell their sweater/hat/mitts/scarf you admire is hand knit… I’ve made many connections through knitting.
What do you tell people about knitting when they are interested in learning?
I used to say, don’t start with a scarf because scarves are long and boring to knit but now I take that back. If you’re interested in learning, knit something you need. Even if it’s something complicated. Wanting to wear it will inspire you to get to the end.
Who or what are your knitting influences?
Always people around me, usually because they’ve created something fabulous. Knitting is a lot like how sharing recipes was in the 50s…
What are you knitting now?
A pair of socks for my boyfriend (shhhh).
Do you have a most memorable knit project or most memorable knit experience to share?
Through university I accumulated a big bag of scrap wool and when I finally had enough to make something, I decided to make one of those complicated Kaffe Fasset sweaters. Woah. Knitting it made my brain hurt and I eventually made the decision to cut the project short by making it into a vest. It was gorgeous – a million different greens and blues, as I remember, it was gorgeous. It’s long been lost. I hope someone, somewhere is loving it.
mittens by Andrea
Where is your favourite place to knit?
That’s a hard one. It depends on my mood. While catching up with a good friend, in the kitchen keeping someone company while they make dinner, while watching a movie or travelling on a train. Cottages are the perfect places to knit.
When do you knit?
Usually in the winter. I am not much of a warm season knitter.
Several of your films feature knitting.  The first film I ever saw of yours was s short called “Swerve”.  The protagonist is knitting an ever-growing scarf while road tripping with her two friends.  When the friends hook up, leaving her with third wheel status and banished to the back of the pick-up truck, she retaliates by attaching her scarf to the vehicle. The scarf unravels as the truck rides on leaving her behind.  In your feature film “Parsley Days” one of the characters knits a cover for a bicycle (this predates the popularity of yarn-bombing by many years).  In your video-sensation “How to be Alone” Tanya Davis is knitting a fabulously colourful piece while she sits in the park.
How to be Alone2
Do you know why knitting pops up in your work so often? Is it a conscious decision?
Ha! Yes, I try to put knitting in every film I make (there are also knitting references in Love that Boy and There’s a Flower in My Pedal…). When I was at art school, doing an off campus semester in NYC at Cooper Union, one of my instructors was talking about all of the great artists being painters and sculptors, mostly men and she was really putting down craft. At one point she said, ‘you’ll never see a knitted work as great art’. I took great offense to this. Why not?!? Not that my art is great but I instantly made a committment to raise the profile of knitting through my art.
there's a flower in my petal
Mimi Fautley is the knitter.

Back in 2004 when The Knit Café was just an idea, you helped to make it a reality.  Do you remember why you were keen to open The Knit Café?
We were all living together, enjoying knitting with friends and roommates on Monday nights and a couple of those nights we must’ve had 20-30 people come over. I think we all felt that if it was this popular an activity, it could really work out as a business. I loved how it functioned so beautifully on different levels- as a way to bring community together, to share crafty ideas, to make new friends, the DIY potential…
Back then you were living with us here in Toronto, but now you live in Halifax.  Do you think that this change has also changed your relationship to knitting, ie: what, how, or with whom you knit?
I am definitely not as engaged with the greater knitting community in Halifax… The Loop is a fantastic yarn shop with a great vibe but when it comes to knitting in the Maritimes, I tend to knit on my own. Occasionally I’ll invite people over for an afternoon of knitting and tea but, these days, I knit when I can – which is not often enough!
how to be alone illustration

You will want to look up Andrea up now and watch or re-watch all her gorgeous films.  So go to:

and follow her movements on Facebook

and get a copy of How to Be Alone, the book

What a treat!  Thanks to Andrea for sharing.

Craftily yours

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!