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KOCO – Knit One Change One. An evening with Danielle Chiel. WHEN: Fri 9th November 2018 | 7pm-10pm WHERE: The Little Space 

3/384 Oxford St, Bondi Junction

FACILITATOR: Megan Kalucy TICKETS:  $15/10 (includes afternoon tea) | Book here

Shared Threads is delighted to invite you to an evening with Danielle Chiel the founder of KOCO – Knit One Change One. Danielle will share the inspiring story of her rapidly growing entrepreneurial partnership with women living in rural villages of southern India. She has taught hundreds of women to knit and they are now producing cat-walk standard hand-knitted garments for the international textile industry. In doing so, she has stimulated local economic growth and employment and witnessed social and economic empowerment amongst the women involved.

Danielle will talk about her fascinating journey and invite us to join her Danielle Chiel Connect India Tour Guided by Danielle herself, participants are able to meet the local artisans who work with Danielle, sitting and talking with them as they work, hearing their stories as well as cooking and eating with them in their homes. Danielle will introduce to you the wonders of southern India that she has come to love and know intimately over more than 30 visits.

Drinks and snacks will be served.

Cost: $15/10 +GST

Making It Better – Again WHEN: Sun 18th November 2018 | 1pm – 5pm WHERE: The Bronte Sewing Room

2-28 Macpherson St, Bronte NSW 2024

FACILITATORS: Megan Kalucy and Colette Reynolds TICKETS:  $40/30 (includes afternoon tea) | Book here

Back by popular demand, we are offering a follow up of last month’s Making It Better workshop. Join us on November 18th from 1-5pm (you said you wanted longer) at The Bronte Sewing Room in Macpherson St, Bronte for a relaxing and peaceful afternoon of gentle, meditative stitching.

Accompanied by tasty afternoon tea, beautiful surrounds and no domestic demands as well as engaging company, explore the possibilities of simple stitches in improving well being and creating interesting and beautiful embroidered pieces.

We will introduce some new techniques such as Boro mending and you may wish to bring along an item needing repair such as an injured pair of jeans or a jumper.

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Like many knitters I often knit it public places. My knitting bag and I go most places together and I knit whenever the opportunity arises. I arranged to meet a friend, Susan, at the cafe around the corner from our pilates studio last Thursday morning as she had asked for help with a jumper she is making – her first. She learned to knit about a year ago in one of our Shared Threads workshops and hasn’t stopped since. We have become good friends over that time, brought together by, it turns out, many shared interests. Knitting has been the glue that brought us together.

Since starting to knit she has been churning out scarves and cowls left right and centre but has decided it is time to step up to the next challenge. She has a great sense of design and colour but finds the conceptual side of patterns and pattern reading challenging. She was struggling to understand the pattern and wanted some guidance with shaping the back of the neck. We sat over our coffee and I looked over what she’d done and at the pattern and helped her work out how to move forward. She took up her knitting and I started up on my sock. The cafe was really busy – full of people on their way to and from their morning activities – business people looking crisp and smart, Mums and Dads with small children who had probably already been awake for hours and exercisers like us, stoking up before our class.

As often happens, our stitching provided an entree to conversation. Two women to our left asked what we were making and we started chatting. They had just finished their pilates class. They used to knit but not for many years. One of the women said that her mother had been such a good knitter that she hadn’t ever bothered to learn herself but now wished she had. The other said that she wanted to learn to crochet because her granddaughter was learning and it would be something they could do together.

A businessman in his 30s chimed in from the right and said that he really wanted to learn. He seemed fascinated by what we were doing. He talked about how he remembered his mother knitting for him.

My mother and I knitting at Womadelaide

Susan and I discussed what had occurred as we walked up the street to class. I was struck by the many layers of meaning that can emerge from the act of making: social connection ‘horizontally’ and ‘vertically’, across generations and within generations. She spoke with amazement and delight at the spontaneous conversations, commenting that it would never have happened in Singapore, where she lived for many years. Nobody there would dream of intruding on another’s privacy or admit overhearing a conversation and feel comfortable butting in, as has happened many times to me here. I wonder if anyone knits in public in Singapore?  Probably too hot and sticky. I remember once knitting on the train in Hong Kong to open amazement from the other passengers. They seemed embarrassed by my actions.

I love the way that making helps to break down social barriers. I guess that a person knitting in public is fundamentally non-threatening and the act of knitting has  warm and positive associations – reminding them of people who love them, who perhaps have made something just for them that, like a transitional object, embodies the warmth and love of that person. Perhaps it is the memory of sitting on a mother or grandmother’s lap (or grandfather’s) and having their full attention as they pass on a valued skill to you.

Both my husband and father have commented that they watching my mother and I knit. They find it soothing (unless they are being jabbed in the ribs by a knitting needle). It could be the rhymical action and sound of the knitting process, it could be sitting with someone who is relaxed – as a corollary to the very unrelaxing experience of sitting with someone who is not relaxed. When I am sitting with a group of makers, intent on their craft, there is perceptible almost pheromonal cloud of contentment and relaxation in the room.

What have your experiences of knitting in public been?

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There is a long history of people making whilst on the move.

The never-ending need for textiles for use in making clothing, bedding, carpets, wall coverings and string meant a never-ending need for making – out of necessity rather than pleasure.

Historical photos show men and women knitting or spinning using a drop-

knitting while working and walking

spindle whilst walking, carrying peat on their backs, tending sheep, during their ‘breaks’ from farm or other labour, sitting around the fire in the evenings whilst caring for children and in more recent times, on the bus and train, at work, in the park and on planes.

Whilst nowadays, knitting is more likely to be a pleasurable and optional pursuit rather than critical to survival, for many ardent knitters, the idea of being on a long trip without their knitting or equivalent fibre obsession ranges from disquieting to intolerable. As someone who has knitted through the cracks of the day since high school when I remember knitting a cardigan (with wool I had spun and dyed) during school orchestra rehearsals, I rarely leave the house without something to do in my bag.

women knitting whilst waiting for the fishing boat to come in knitting while carrying peat

A couple of nights ago my husband suggested we visit the Art Gallery of NSW to see the new Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage exhibition Petersburg. I took my small knitting bag, which I specially designed for travel. It has a wide neck that rests over my arm and allows easy passage of yarn to my needles as I work. It is small and light enough

my new knitting bag in action

to be thrown into a larger backpack or handbag and big enough for a small project or even two and has a pocket for bits and pieces and at a pinch can hold a phone and wallet which is useful in an art gallery when your backpack is not allowed in. I have used it or its predecessor (which I lost in Sydney Airport a few weeks back) on many planes, trains, car rides (as a passenger) and whilst walking around cities of the world both outside and in art galleries. I’ve knitted at MOMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, At the National Gallery in London and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, as well as galleries on Vancouver, Vienna and on previous occasions, the AGNSW and the National Gallery of Victoria. The only comments I have ever received have been positive – from fellow viewers or those poor museum guards who regarded me enviously, saying they wished they knew how to knit (and as a subtext, that they wished they could knit whilst standing all day to attention watching people watching).

Knitting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (with my oldest son). You can see my knitting bag resting on my arm. 

But this time, as I was regarding the art, I was approached by a young male guard who asked, “Do you have to do that in here?” gesturing towards my knitting as if it were a disgusting habit. There were many possible responses to this. I suspected rightly that they would get me nowhere and possibly get me ejected from the gallery. I limply offered my previously unhindered international experience of safe art gallery knitting but to no avail. ‘They are sharp objects’ he said definitively.

I wondered off, knitting safely tucked away, feeling slightly humiliated, rather amused and distinctly pissed off. What, I wondered is the international incidence of knitting needle mediated art vandalism? Is there a formal ruling banning knitting needles from art galleries?

plane knitting is not new Eleanor Roosevelt knitting on the plane

For a while after 9/11, presumably because of the implied threat posed by sharp needles, knitting and crochet were banned on planes in Australia and some other countries, though strangely  not in most US planes. After all, everyone knows how many violent knitters are out there committing acts of textile terrorism. However, reason prevailed and after submissions to the Air Safety Councils of various nations, the powers that be perceived that perhaps knitters were less trouble with their knitting than with out. From December 2009, knitting was again permitted on all Australian flights.

There are many articles on google about knitting whilst flying and I will summarise their suggestions for a smooth in-flight (train/bus/boat/walking) knitting experience.

Guidelines for Pain-free Travel knitting.

If in doubt, check with your airline that they are ok with knitting on board and if truly obsessional, carry a print out of your airline’s guidelines that say it is OK. 

Aim for a small and simple project. You will be tired. The light will be poor and you will be uncomfortable and squashed. A scarf or socks or a beanie are ideal.

Use circular needles, preferably ones with removable tips: you can’t lose a needle and that they take up less space in your bag and you won’t poke your neighbour with them. The removable tips are for the worst case scenario that your needles are confiscated. That way you can save your knitting. Carry spare needles in your checked baggage.

knitting on the train. Long needles are potentially irritating to your neighbour. 

Plastic or wood needles are quieter and less likely to raise the concerns of an inexperienced x-ray operator, though I have only ever once had trouble with metal needles. They were confiscated in Dubai airport in 2011 and miraculously, were waiting for me in Rome when I arrived.

Contain your knitting bits and pieces in a bag that has a draw-string or can rest on your arm, like my knitting bag, to prevent the somewhat embarrassing yarn-rolling-down-the aisle during descent issue.

 Small  nail scissors with rounded ends are OK  Stitch cutters with hidden blades are apparently not welcome in the US though I have not had a problem with them in Australian planes.

If you are not a knitter, crochet or embroidery are good alternatives. I assumed until recently that sewing needles would be verboten but security didn’t blink when I tried it recently.

Knitting or other hand-work is a great way to pass long journeys and there are some knitters who look forward to long trips because of the hours of uninterrupted knitting. Not naming anyone…..

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Whew. What a week. Sydney Craft Week is over for another year. I didn’t get to as much as I would have liked but what I did see and participate in and teach was exhilarating, inspiring and full of a wonderful, vibrant energy. I met lots of new people and made new friends and my head is full of ideas for projects, future events and collaborations. I even got a radio gig with Eggpicnic on ABC Radio Sydney (we start at about the 29 min mark if you want to listen!), talking about Sydney Craft Week and Shared Threads. Whilst wandering through the Makers Market on Sunday morning, it occurred to me how much my life has changed since we started Shared Threads and how satisfying and fulfilling a journey it has been thus far.

I Couldn’t resist these beautiful Eggpicnic bird prints from the Makers Market last Saturday. All our verandah birds, except the Noisy Minahs. Check out the beautiful waratah too. 

Over 200 events took place over the 10 days of Sydney Craft Week with many exhibitions ongoing. Just think of the number of makers and admirers of making that represents! This city is buzzing with makers!

I popped into the Happenstore on Friday and met a lovely group of knitters and crocheters who had similarly popped in for a cup of tea and slice or two of Flour and Stone cake. None of them had heard of Sydney Craft Week. Similarly, on Saturday afternoon, I was teaching one of my regular knitting and crochet classes at The Bronte Sewing Room and none of them had heard of it either. That means that there a whole lot of other people out there who are yet to tap into this source of energy and inspiration (and a bit of work to do on expanding the publicity).

Our Making it Better workshop was a big hit if we say so ourselves. We welcomed a lovely new bunch of people – and even a bloke who came with his two flatmates. Jessie had never sewed before, although he had recently learned to knit and was really finding it relaxing. He loved the process of stitching and at the end of the afternoon said that his fingers were ‘itching to get back to it’.

first time stitchers

Understandably, given the theme, many people came to the class with some emotional baggage  – whether stress, illness, grief or trauma and we were concerned that we not open up old wounds without providing some bandaids. There were some tears but there were also tissues and opportunities to talk, or not to talk, to socialise or sit alone and Deanne and I had a number of moving conversations with participants about the role of craft in coping with some very confronting issues. Everyone seemed to enjoy the simplicity but potential for complexity that simple running stitch offers and many expressed their surprise at the effect it had on them. Some couldn’t believe how fast the afternoon had passed, others spoke of how peaceful they felt when stitching and how their thoughts became clearer. All agreed that it felt good and that they were keen to do some more.

So we have organised another stitching workshop – called ‘Making It Better Again’. It will take place on Sunday November 18th from 1-5 at the Bronte Sewing Room in Macpherson St Bronte. The format will be similar but we will introduce some more practical techniques such as Boro mending and invite you to bring along a garment to mend if you wish, using the simple stitching we focused on last time.

If you didn’t get to our last workshop, please feel free to come to this one. We hope to see you there.

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I made myself a new knitting bag to replace my favourite one that I lost at the airport and this time I took pictures as I went and thought I would share the instructions with you.

For the bag you will need:

0.5m of cloth for the outside and 0.5m of cloth for the lining.

I have used denim for the outside but you could use linen or another thick cotton. I used a patterned cotton for the lining.

Below is the schematic for the bag pattern. You should be able to construct it on some tracing paper or news paper from the measurements given. Feel free to make it bigger or smaller as it suits you. The pocket size can also be varied in size.

  1. Cut out the fabric as directed in the schematic.
  2. Decorate your bag outer fabric as you wish. You might like to embroider or applique it. In this one, I took my inspiration from the lining material pattern. I drew it on the fabric using a chalk pencil and a small bowl and a cocktail nip measure as templates! I embroidered with Sashiko cotton thread using running stitches.

    new bag front with lining fabric

  3. Prepare the pocket piece by finishing the edges with pinking scissors or an overlocking stitch and turning over the top edge twice and stitching it in place. Press the other edges under and pin in place as desired. Sew the pocket in place leaving the top of the pocket open. Obviously. In this example I used a couple of leftover fabric scraps to make the pocket.
  4. Pin the outer pieces together and sew from A to D via B and C (see Schematic).
  5. Repeat for the lining pieces.
  6. Trim the corners and press both outer and lining pieces.
  7. Turn the outer piece inside out and put the lining piece inside it so that right sides are facing. 
  8. Pin handle pieces: one outer to one inner piece.
  9. Stitch the curves of the handles, A to F and E to D leaving the top unfinished.
  10. Nick the curved seam so that it will not pucker when turned the right way out.
  11. This the magic bit. Turn the bag the right way around by passing it through one of the openings at the top of the handles.  Put the lining back inside the outer layer. Press.
  12. With right sides together pin the top edges of the outer layer handle together and stitch in place.
  13. You will now have just the edges of the lining side of the handle unfinished. Fold the edges over and press them in place so that they meet in the centre, covering the seam left when the outer layer of the handle was stitched together at the top and pin in place. Stitch the edges together by hand. I top-stitched by hand around the curved edges and on either side of the top of the handle to reinforce it and because it looked good.

Congratulations, you made a knitting bag!

Please let me know how you get on with making the bag. I’d love to see your versions and let me know if you have any problems interpreting my instructions. You can email me at hello@sharedthreads.com.au if you do have difficulties. Share pictures of your bags on instagram with the hashtag: #sharedthreads_knittingbag.

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I have just returned from 2 weeks away in Europe. My husband and I spent the first week in Vienna where he had a conference and I stayed for a second week in order to attend a conference in Basel, Switzerland. We had a lot of fun, the weather was warm and we ate a lot of cake and drank a lot of beer. The meetings were good too.

In anticipation of this Saturday’s now OVER-SUBSCRIBED Making It Better Workshop at the Australian Design Centre as part of Sydney Craft Week, I decided to keep a stitch diary, aiming to sketch with thread, as I was inspired to do so from what I saw. I grabbed some scraps of denim from the studio that were left over from previous bag making and a handful of threads, needles and blunt ended baby nail scissors (that you can take on planes) and began.

my odd collection of travel ‘sketches’ inspired by 2 weeks in Vienna and Switzerland

It was such an enjoyable process that I plan to keep it up. I completed a handful of ‘sketches’, none of them works of art and some of which I am more pleased with than others. But they were never intended to be complete or brilliant, but rather doodles, sketches, studies, to explore possibilities, shapes, stitches, textures and colours and as small meditations.

The process of making them was interesting: I felt focussed, relaxed and excited by the work, my thoughts travelled in new directions and my imagination was fired. I noticed that I began to observe my surroundings more closely the more I doodled. I saw patterns, colours and shapes everywhere. My actual sketchbook is full of ideas for more stitching.

I am not sure what to do with them now. Any ideas?

I have since been reading about stitch diaries and there are many precedents. I am very excited by the idea and will write about it some more in a post soon. Have you ever kept a stitch diary? I would love to hear about it and, obviously see some examples from other diaries.

Sadly, I managed to lose my precious knitting bag with an almost completed shawl in it, somewhere at Sydney airport. No trace so far. I really thought I’d have a good chance of getting it back. Last night I began a replacement and I finished it this afternoon. I don’t like it as much but it will grow on me. I have taken photos of the steps and I will share  with you soon, should you want to make your own. As with my previous bags, I took inspiration for the front decoration from the lining which was a dense, strong Japanese (I think) cotton from my stash. I used a light denim for the outside and Sashiko thread for the embroidery. I marked the fabric using a saucer and the small nip size from my husband’s cocktail measure, using a chalk pencil and a plastic ruler! None of the children could provide me with a compass, despite having bought approximately 300 maths kits for them over the years of their schooling.

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I am really looking forward to our upcoming Making It Better workshop on October 6th at the Australian Design Centre, as part of Sydney Craft Week. Whilst playing with the possibilities of some simple stitching we are going to explore whether and if so how crafting can ‘make it better’. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been posting stories generously written by friends for whom craft has played a role in their recovery or increased their resilience to adversity. More stories are on the way and I thought it was about time I wrote down mine.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Alpacalicious and my Arne and Carlos garter stitch blanket underway,                               square by square, row by row. 

What is the ‘it’ in ‘making it better’?–I am thinking stress, chronic illness, pain, low mood, fear, anxiety, low energy, grief, prolonged states of recovery and so on.

I have been making things for as long as I can remember. It is something I am drawn to. It is my thing. A feeling of pleasure, joy, excitement and comfort comes over me when I am making or in the vicinity of making or the materials for making or makers, or thinking about making. Clearly for me, making is associated with strong positive emotions. It is something I love doing, that I spend a LOT of time and energy doing and that I feel passionate about. But does it make me feel better? Is it what you could call ‘therapy’? I looked at the definition and origin of the term and came up with the following:

Therapy (noun)

treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder

the treatment of mental or psychological disorders by psychological means’.

According to my not so erudite source (google) the term ‘therapy’ is first used only in the mid 19th century but has more ancient origins: from the Greek, therpeuein, – ‘to minister, to treat medically’, evolving from the Greek, therapeia – ‘healing’  – and then to modern latin – therapia from which was derived from the ‘therapy’ of more recent usage. This suggests that therapy only applies to the treatment of an illness. Whilst I have no problem accepting that crafting may have direct positive effects on illness or the effects of the illness such as boredom, low mood, frustration, fear, anxiety, pain and disability, for most crafters, the benefits may be more encompassed by a broader definition of ‘therapeutic’:

administered or applied for reasons of health’ as well as

having a good effect on the body or mind; contributing to a sense of well-being’.

Maybe this is getting too bogged down in the minutiae of definitions.

I guess why I am bogging down is that a lot of claims have been made in recent times (and not so recent) about the benefits of engaging in activities that involve purposefully making something. A quick google search unearths a plethora of adages, proverbs and memes that attest to the therapeutic associations of knitting (which could as easily apply to other handcrafts):

An idle mind is the devil’s playground

Busy hands are happy hands

Working with my hands keeps me sane.

‘Craftiness is happiness’

‘crafting your heart out makes room for your soul to grow’ 

‘crafting each day keeps the crazy away’

‘Money can’t buy happiness but it can buy craft supplies and that’s pretty close’

‘Crafting is the best medicine’.

‘I craft so I don’t kill people’.

‘Keep calm and craft on’

Knitting is the new yoga

Stressful Day, knit away

In the rhythm of the needles there is music for the soul

I love the way knitting brings people together – Debbie Macomber

My doctor suggested a high fibre diet so I went yarn shopping

I’m not addicted to knitting, I can stop after just one more row.

Just pour me my coffee, hand me my knitting and slowly back away.

Keep Calm and Cast on.

Keep Calm and remember you can knit after work.

All you need is love and a big ball of yarn.

Knitting – cheaper than therapy

Getting through the day one stitch at a time.

All you knit is love

Knitting keeps me from unravelling.

10 rows a day keeps the psychiatrist away.

And my favourites:

“Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirt either. – Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitting without tears”.

And:

“As I get older, I just prefer to knit “– Tracey Ullman.

As a scientist I like evidence. I want to know why the act of making improves our well-being. Is it the distraction, or the state of flow that we enter when deeply engaged in something that apparently lowers our blood pressure, slows our breathing and pulse and slows our brain waves; is it the act of touching or of moving our hands which releases brain chemicals that make us feel good (think how we rub our hands together or play with things with our hands when we are worried, think worry beads or rosaries), is it the act of engaging with others, is it the pleasure of making something, achieving and ever improving on a skill. Is it all of the above? 

And then, more questions – why do some of us get our kicks from a yarn shop whereas other apparently otherwise normal human beings would consider spending time in one a form of torture? What makes us all have different passions? When I was a young resident doctor undertaking a term in general medicine at a country hospital, I worked with a very competent gastroenterologist, assisting him as he performed endoscopies and colonoscopies. It was interesting work and I enjoyed learning from him. I was not remotely passionate about his field and was quite happy not to ever have to see another colonoscopy again. We spoke about what lighted our fires  – I had already developed a strong interest in psychiatry. He said to me: ‘I would rather do 100 colonoscopies that speak to a psychotic person for half an hour’. I know what I’d rather do (and in this case, I mean that I really like speaking with people who are experiencing psychosis).

For me, my awareness of the therapeutic application of craft became more acute when I became sick myself. I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder in my early 20s  – a relatively mild form fruste of systemic lupus erythematosis or SLE for short. For most of the time I’ve had it, it has behaved itself relatively well and I have ignored it other than having the odd steroid injection into an inflamed joint here and there. A few years ago it became a much more dominant part of my life. I had a ‘flare’ involving quite severe arthritis in many joints and I was too tired and sore to be able to work. I took some months off and spent a lot of time on the couch resting, sleeping, watching DVD documentaries and trying to keep up with my other roles at home. At times, my hands were too sore to do much crafting but I found it very helpful to mark the passage of the days with a routine of activities that included a titrated dose of craft activity depending on my capability. I was working on a few large projects at the time – a crocheted alpaca blanket called Alpacalicious by Prudence Mapstone, a Lizard Ridge knitted blanket in Noro Kureyon and from the Noro leftovers, a complicated Aranami shawl and a cushion that I designed myself. They were a joy to work on. I also started another enormous scrap yarn blanket (from Arne and Carlos’ Knit-and-Crochet Garden) and at that time which involved 200+ stitches per row and endless garter stitch using up some of my excessive 8ply yarn collection. It was very slow going.

Some days I would only complete 1 crochet square or 1 row of my scrap blanket, but each stitch, each square, each row took me closer to finishing the project and I looked forward to it each day. I would remind myself that there were no time limits to these projects and I took great pleasure in the process of the making, choosing colours, enjoying the surprises that the evolving fabric presented. It was an act of slow, slow making and patience. All of those projects are now complete and we use them most days. And slowly, slowly, I got better too. My big Noro Lizard Ridge blanket covers me as I write now.

Since that time I have had periods of wellness and more periods of illness and my craft output is sometimes prolific and sometimes very minimal. I think that the experience of being unwell for long periods of time and not really knowing when I will be well and for how long has taught me greater patience and also the capacity to find pleasure in other things when my options are curtailed. When I can’t make, I can plan, or design, or seek inspiration from others. My craft has been an excellent distraction and has provided me with many opportunities to socialise, to teach and to learn. Even when I was feeling really unwell, I would rarely miss our fortnightly knitting and crochet group and always felt better afterwards.

When I was in hospital and last year with an infection and very low platelets and later recovering at home,  my crafting (and other) friends jumped into action and overwhelmed me with their generosity and love – they phoned, visited, delivered meals, emailed and texted and brought beautiful flowers. If you will forgive me a little schmaltz, they are my sisters and my village. I will write more about our ‘critting’ group on another occasion.

By slowing down, albeit through necessity I have finally had the time to take my craft more seriously. It is one of the constants in my life and I have no doubt as to its therapeutic qualities in terms of my own well-being.

In terms of direct healing, I am not so sure yet. I’d like to see the science – perhaps some randomized controlled trials, a PET study or two and some EEG readings, blood inflammatory marker assays etc. It is entirely possible but harder to prove, that my craft has had a positive effect on my mood and helped reduced my anxiety about being ill. It has quite possibly helped my hands to remain flexible and strong despite the arthritis. Knitting and crochet certainly got the nod from my hand surgeon after breaking my wrist last year.

I would love to see an expansion of recognition of hand-crafts in health – more research, less stigma, more open-mindedness. Physical exercise is well recognized to improve health (physical and mental) and there is a lot of older evidence for the use of handcrafts in recovery settings although probably not evaluated to today’s scientific standards. It is what occupational therapists used to do but they don’t learn those skills any more. Art-therapy has recognition but there was no mention of ‘crafts’ at all at last year’s International Arts in Health conference in Sydney. Surely there is an elephant in the room?

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In the next of our ‘Making it Better’ stories, I am honoured to introduce to you my friend and sometime colleague, the talented and lovely Kylie Innocente who has suffered more slings and arrows of fortune than surely are her due.

Kylie has recently metamorphosed from being an occupational therapist working in Youth Mental Health (where we met) into a professional knitwear designer and maker. Under the name Knitmi Designs she uses rescued and lovingly repaired (and individually named) knitting machines and locally sourced exquisitely fine merino yarns to make beautiful, colourful and artisanal knitwear. She is also a formidable hand knitter.

Her work can be purchased through her ETSY shop or by commission and is available in some retail outlets in Sydney such as the Happenstore in Annandale, Sydney.

I am very grateful to Kylie for sharing this very moving story – one of her many stories on the theme of ‘Making it Better’.

Kylie, a week after she buried her husband Guido, next to the sapling Oak tree, planted on his grave and wearing the black hat she knitted as he was dying.

September 21, 2018

By Kylie Innocente

My life has been a journey of recovery and making it better. I have so many stories where craft has grounded me through times of grief, loss, recovery and setbacks. I’m going to share just one story today, the story of losing my first husband when I was 33 years of age and how knitting was my anchor and has remained my choice of making to this day.

Guido had been living with lymphoma for 9-years and we had as a couple incorporated this into our relationship; him, me and the cancer. It had been a part of our life for so long that I had forgotten it was a life threatening illness.

The morning he awoke with acute abdominal pain I knew this was it. We caught a cab into the Royal Free Hospital in London where he was well known to the Haemotology and Renal teams there. Within a matter of one hour he had deteriorated to such an extent that he could hardly breathe. The doctors from the Intensive Care Unit were now surrounding his bed, asking my permission to intubate him, the idea being if they could ‘put him to sleep’ they could take care of his breathing whilst they solved the riddle of what was happening to his body.

All the while my needles were clicking, knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two breathe in and breathe out, breathe in and breathe out.

Cancer was happening, we all knew it but we had to go through the motions. I stood there, calm, listening, asking questions and the team commented on how relaxed I was and complimented me on my rational mind. All the while my needles were clicking, knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two breathe in and breathe out, breathe in and breathe out.
‘What are you knitting?’ the ICU nurse asked.
‘A scarf for Guido, he always feels the cold.’
‘I wish I could knit,’ she replied ‘I’m just not that creative.’
‘Oh but you are,’ I thought. I didn’t mouth those words for I wasn’t there to console her feelings of inadequacy, I was trying to hold my head and heart together because I felt as though I were falling apart.

My knitting was in rhythm with the beeping of the machinery working to keep my husband alive. Was I knitting him alive?

The days and weeks merged into one while Guido didn’t improve.
‘He’s a fighter this one,’ a nurse would say.
‘You should go home and get some sleep, there’s nothing you can do here to help.’
Knit two, purl one, knit two, purl one was my mantra and meditation. I had become the observer of the Intensive Care Unit, my knitting was in rhythm with the beeping of the machinery working to keep my husband alive. Was I knitting him alive?

‘Your husband has multi-system organ failure. He wont survive this,’ said the doctor.
I burst into tears and howled a cry that frightened both the doctor and me. The yarn slipped through my fingers as time passed, the elasticity of time that you experience in an ICU.
‘What are you knitting?’ he asked. He had a soft Indian accent, mostly London Estuary but I knew he wasn’t born here.
‘I’m not sure anymore,’ I replied.
‘It’s very long, you could wrap that around your neck many times.’
‘Yes,’ I replied resenting this small talk but also appreciating that it was taking the focus away from the darkness of my reality. I needed a break from that.

…as I unpicked those stitches to make my repair I wished more than anything at that moment that I could unpick this story that had played out in my life.

I cast off his scarf and then cast on his hat.
‘This rich black lambs wool will look lovely on him,’ I thought.
I knew he would never wear this scarf or hat but I couldn’t stop knitting it.
I had my 100 stitches on my circular needle and began to start the beanie,
‘Knit one, purl one, knit one , purl one…He’s dying…knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one… how will I live without him? Knit two, purl one…oops, a mistake.’
And as I unpicked those stitches to make my repair I wished more than anything at that moment that I could unpick this story that had played out in my life.
Four weeks previously I had been happily married and pregnant with twins and now I had miscarried my twins and I was observing my husband’s last few breaths. Oh, how I wished I could unravel time.

I knitted and knitted because the words weren’t there.

I knitted through the shock on the morning he died; I knitted through blurry eyes and the pain and agony in my heart. I was only breathing because the yarn in my hand willed me to do so. I knitted to the coroner and to the funeral director. I knitted to the solicitor, to the grief counsellor. I knitted to the nurses and doctors who had treated him so well and I knitted and knitted because the words weren’t there.

I wore the beanie and scarf for Guido. The warmth of this knit made me feel close to him. When you lose your husband, the irony is, you need your husband more than ever to support you through it.

One evening I was walking through the bustle of Camden, shouldering my way through the crowds of drunkards, stoners and party people. A tall black man who was busking with his guitar and harmonica asked me why I was looking so sad. I found my words and told him everything. He cried and then I did too. I took off the beanie and scarf and felt the chill of winter around my head. I handed the knits to him.
‘I want you to have these,’ I said.
‘I can’t,’ he replied.
‘Yes you will.’ We embraced one another with a tenderness I had longed for and then I walked off, not looking back. I was moving on with my life and as I thought about this I also thought about what my next knitting project would be and there, I felt it, right in my solar plexus, my first ping of happiness.

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Welcome to the third in our series of Making It Better narratives. The author, who prefers to be anonymous, presents a different perspective on the role of making: that making can become a cause of stress in itself rather than a therapeutic salve. I have certainly experienced this myself  – particularly if there is a deadline in the pipeline (knitting or otherwise), I am likely to find myself knitting or stitching frantically, ending up with a sore back and neck and anything but relaxed. Since beginning this journey to explore the land of mindful making, I have become much more aware of when I am in this ‘mindless’ state and I try to pull my self back into a slower and more focused pace, take some deep breathes and relax my shoulders, focusing on the rhythm and motion of the stitches.

Last year, I had the shingles (starting June 2018) and was very sick for a long time. I had a couple of weeks off work then two weeks working three half days and then went back to three days a week after that. When I wasn’t at work I was exhausted. I was in a lot of pain (neuropathic pain) every day. The first few weeks I even found having a shower to be exhausting. I couldn’t sleep lying on my left side at all for a few months.

Even after the rash cleared, I had ongoing neuropathic pain and associated exhaustion – a complication of shingles called post-herpetic neuralgia. Although my pain and exhaustion levels have been gradually getting better ever since, I still struggle with pain on a daily basis and need to rest a lot more than I ever had to.

Knitting gave me something to do that wasn’t looking at a screen.

I started knitting in October 2018 when I realised that I was spending a lot of time at home too sick to go out and that most of that time I was spending watching TV or looking at my iPhone. Knitting gave me something to do that wasn’t looking at a screen.

I retaught myself how to knit (hadn’t done it since I was a teenager) using Youtube for tricky things like cast on and off. I bought a weaving kit and yarn on Etsy and it came in the mail saving me from going out to go shopping when I was tired. I found it relaxing to think about knitting projects (and weaving, embroidery) while I was falling asleep as a method of distraction.

I followed a lot of knitters and weavers and embroiderers on Instagram too and found it fun to think up ideas inspired by them. I went to workshops, including the Shared Threads workshop – to learn new skills.

It became a chore – not fun any more.

Unfortunately this came a bit unstuck (untangled?) when I started being critical of my work and comparing my finished projects to those of others. I started a scarf with a yarn that I pretty quickly realised I didn’t like. But I continued knitting it because I wanted to finish it before I got onto something else. It became a chore – not fun any more. When I finally finished it I realised I didn’t like it. In fact I hated it. I have never worn it.

….stress had come to haunt my craft!

I started another scarf but quickly stopped when I realised I didn’t like this one either. I realise that one of the reasons I got sick with the shingles in the first place – stress – had come to haunt my craft! Realising this has helped me to overcome some of the problems associated with it – I stopped looking at Instagram and judging my craft harshly in relation to others – sometimes I still get this feeling but it is easier to dismiss now I know what it is.

By thinking of it as play – and doing it for the process and less for the end result – I have managed to continue to enjoy craft.

I now look at craft as purely a hobby. Some weekends I might get out the watercolours and others I might embroider something. I might go to a workshop with a friend. By thinking of it as play – and doing it for the process and less for the end result – I have managed to continue to enjoy craft. It is not my career and I don’t need to judge myself harshly about it. If I don’t like the scarf any more I stop knitting it and try something else. Craft can be useful as a form of therapy unless you let it become another source of stress.

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Over the last week I have been engrossed in a newly published book Handywoman by Kate Davies.

Kate Davies is a knit-wear designer now living in the Western Highlands of Scotland with her book designer/photographer partner Tom Barr. She designs beautiful sweaters, drawing her inspiration from traditional knitting of the north. Her website and pattern books feature her modelling her beautiful hand knits against stunning Scottish backgrounds.

Previously an academic in Edinburgh, she became a full time knitwear designer after experiencing a life-changing stroke at the age of 36 in 2010. Initially hemiplegic, she regained much of her previous function after enormous personal effort and those of the rehabilitation professionals she worked with for months after the stroke.

Kate Davies

Always a lover of knitting, she slowly but surely returned to the craft after herculean efforts to regain the functioning of her hand. Knitting became a vital part of her recovery.

In Handywoman, Kate writes about her experience of becoming suddenly and dramatically disabled at such a young age and of her journey since then. Her writing is frank, moving and inspirational. She applies the thoroughness of her academic training to an analysis of her self and her body through the recovery experience and describes major shifts in her thinking about her body, her environment and the profound and often under-acknowledged role that tools have in our lives.

“…I would say that brain injury really opened my eyes to the deeply human potential of made things and practices of making”

Learning to walk again and to use her hands to their full capacity opened a world previously unseen and underappreciated. The astonishingly nuanced movements of the hands that cooperate so easily and unconsciously in a ‘normal’ person were at first inaccessible to her. She describes how she slowly reconstructed the multitude of hand movements involved in knitting a stitch or, in another example, making a sock ball from two matching socks.

This reminded me of my experiences of learning to teach knitting and crochet to beginners. I found myself having to deconstruct my hand movements in order to be able to explain and demonstrate them to others. I became fully aware for the first time of the complexity of the movements of my hands that had become automatic and unconscious after so many years of making.

For new knitters and crocheters, the clumsiness and awkwardness associated with learning to use their hands a new way is one of the most frustrating and challenging aspects of learning a new craft. And they have two working hands. I have experienced this recently as I have been teaching myself to knit continental style (holding the yarn in the left hand, rather than the right as is more common in England and Australia). I have been watching numerous you-tube videos to try to better understand the subtle hand movements that bring fluency to the actions and will give me the much touted ‘faster and more efficient action’ of continental knitting. It is still a work in progress.

Kate describes the act of existing with the ongoing impairments from her stroke as one of great creativity as she is constantly required to readjust to her environment and find a way that she can adapt her environment to her altered abilities or vice versa.

“ I began to understand that recovery from brain injury might be less about overcoming limitation than it was to finding ways of using limitation to one’s creative advantage”.

In her inspiring and Ted Talk she states:

“ knitting grows slowly over time. Knitting helped me to accept the demand of my post-stroke brain and body and to be able to live within their slowness….when I was knitting I was always moving forward. A row would get to an end, a pattern repeat would change and the sock that was on my needles would always grow a little bigger. There was something about knitting that enabled me to do that, so I really can’t overestimate the importance of knitting to me in my post-stroke life”

As well as its more existential and psychological benefits, knitting helped her develop upper arm and finger strength and dexterity. It was excellent physiotherapy.

Whilst our stories are very different and her experience of recovery such a gargantuan challenge compared to my own experience with chronic illness, many of her stories rang true to me. For instance,  the sense of grief and loss that comes with an unanticipated and unpredictable major change in one’s capacity to do what one did before; the need to reinvent yourself to accommodate your new limitations but also the possibilities that this creates.

Like Kate, being unable to do what I had done before allowed me to explore new directions and emerge happier than I have been for years.

Kate decided to publish her book herself with the help of her husband Tom. The book is a beautiful object in itself. I would have bought it for the cover only! She has created a Handywoman website where you can see a gallery of photos relating to the book and read more about it and of course put in your order. You may also want to visit https://katedaviesdesigns.com/ https://katedaviesdesigns.com/https://katedaviesdesigns.com/and sign up to her newsletter/blog.

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