“I’m just going to stay here and knit with Grandma.” That’s Ella’s response to suggestions to do almost anything.
So here we sit. Across from each other. Talking about how much she loves Saturna Island, the Lodge, her brother Silas, her school, learning to speak SENCOTEN, playing soccer and most of all knitting.
“I’m your knitting partner,” she says. And she is.
Ella was born with the knitting gene.
At 10 years old her needles click in her hands while she looks around, giggles and talks. Like her great grandma, Laura Olsen, I’m sure she could knit with her eyes closed.
Ella doesn’t knit what she’s told or knit from a pattern. She designs what she knits. She amends it as she goes. She adds colours and stitches depending on what she sees emerging. She designed and knit the skirt she wore on her first day of school in grade one.
This weekend it was all about the hat. She had to have a hat.
“I’ll knit one for myself if you tell me how,” she said.
She tried on all the hats on the table and knew exactly which one was perfect for her.
I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book The Light We Carry and was interested to see the lead photo was of her sitting on her foot on a wing back chair…knitting. She bought needles and wool and learned to knit as a way to get through isolation during the pandemic. She soon found out that knitting is more than one stitch after the other. It is a gentle, quiet, therapeutic practice that helped her manage her pandemic anxiety. But she found out that it’s also not more than one stitch after the other. It is a simple motion, a beautiful rhythm—yarn around, pull through, push off, repeat, repeat, repeat. Simply motion.
“Everything was big. Everything was consequential. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed.” Michelle was talking about how she felt during the pandemic. “Nothing felt even remotely like enough. There were just too many gaps to fill.”
Now that stage of the pandemic is over many of us are left with the “nothing is enough” feeling about everything.
The rise of fanaticism and narcissism (perhaps two expressions of the same condition) leave us bewildered and beleaguered. The right to maintain the personal freedom to travel, to express oneself in any way we choose, to make up our own facts, to purchase at will and to preserve our western privilege have become our causes while the voices of the historically oppressed, the people who for generations/centuries have had their rights trampled, have been sidelined. At the same time the real threat to all of us bickering humans—climate change—marches along.
Insanity rules at the highest level of our society. The U.S. nomination of the speaker of house is a case in point. The recent sideshow was a disturbing display of dysfunction. Each player, clearly a bundle of anxiety, driven by their own priorities and imperatives looked more like circus performers than elected leaders. There was just too much wrong with the situation to get it right.
Watching the Canadian parliament or BC legislature isn’t much better. We all know there’s a systemic problem. The structure of our democracies needs to be rethought, rejigged, refreshed…those are thoughts for another day. But for now, for me, that project is too big, too consequential, too overwhelming because I don’t think we can get there. As long as we continue on the path we are taking madly chasing big ideas while our inner selves are in chaos we won’t get it right.
Being someone who is convinced that our real challenge is climate not personal freedom I am thinking we don’t have a lot of time to do “inner” work. But we have no choice.
Wonder if each one of us took time to get mentally and physically healthy. Wonder if we stopped with the “busy, busy, busy” and be still. Wonder if we took a break from the “important, important, important” and focused on the simple and the light.
Wonder if we got out of our heads and how significant our ideas are. Wonder if we stopped letting our feelings, our triggers, our grudges inform our every action. Wonder if we got into our bodies, its simple functions.
Not golf, where we take our business to the course. Not exercising, where we beat ourselves up to achieve ulterior goals…better bodies, better looks, better opportunities… Not counting laps at the pool or steps as we go about our daily tasks.
Sigh. We are so damned goal orientated. We are so damned impressed by the busy, the important and the loud.
Michelle recommends “going small”. Rather than letting her head stay in charge she reversed the flow by picking up knitting needles and letting her hands lead. As she says “I buckled my churning brain into the back seat and allowed my hands to drive the car.” Once she got the hang of the yarn overs and unders she said, “Something in the tiny and precise motion on repeat, the gentle rhythm of those clicking needles, moved my brain in a new direction.”
I’m thinking each one of us has our own sort of knitting that will help us reset our anxious brains and let go of our troubled feelings. Something that will help us find a new inner rhythm. Not counting steps, just putting one foot in front of the other. Not swimming laps, just taking the breaths and kicking the feet. Not networking on the golf course, just swinging the club and following the ball. Not getting the gardening done, just turning the soil.
I’m with Michelle. I hope 2023 is the year people decide to go small. And if we take it slow, relax, get quiet and enjoy simple movements on repeat for no other reason than to enjoy simple movements on repeat I think we can find a new groove. That’s it. Just a new groove. But if you need a big and significant reason for letting go of the big and significant I’m pretty sure your new groove will benefit the consequential things as well.
The day Joni, my oldest daughter, was born 43 years ago, I was spinning wool so I had something to knit when I came home from the hospital. I birthed her with the help of a Caesarean Section. She was a perfect, beautiful little baby. Almost immediately people commented on her dimple. Perhaps a knitting needle poked her, people joked. For nine months she had been the shelf for my knitting.
Joni was born with the knitting gene. No one taught her. From the time she was a little girl she knew exactly what to do with needles and yarn. Joni inherited the gene from both sides of her family. Her Coast Salish Grandmother, Laura Olsen, also knit every day of her life until she could no longer lift her needles.
Joni is not just a knitter, she is a designer as well. She isn’t satisfied just knitting what everyone else is making. She is interested in pushing knitting in new directions donning her needles for a machine and then pushing the machine to its limits.
One of Joni’s most interesting creations was highlighted in the Qw’an Qw’anakwal Exhibition of Coast Salish Art at the University of Victoria in 2021. During a visit to the Chicago Field Museum in 2012 Joni viewed an early Coast Salish woven tunic. The piece inspired her to design a knitting stitch that reproduces classic Coast Salish weaving and to create her own fascinating rendition of the garment in the museum.
Joni’s tunic is a demonstration of fusion—using new tools and materials to reproduce old shapes and textures.
Stay tuned. There is more to come.
Joni’s latest design is the new home for Salish Fusion. The shop is currently being constructed and with luck and hard work should be open in time for Christmas.
The book is out. The interviews are coming in. Why did you take the tour? Why did you write the book? What surprised you? What do you know now that you didn’t know before? First we took went on a road trip. Then I wrote the book. And now…there’s a whole other level of reflection.
To start…a word about the publisher; Douglas & McIntyre does a great job of promotions. I am surprised at how much interest they have gathered—how many interviews they’ve scheduled. I had never imagined that a knitting road trip book would be on the BC best sellers’ list for the first two weeks it is out.
My next surprise? As I’ve said before, a lot of people are interested in knitting…millions of them. But I am beginning to think that everyone has someone who loves to knit—someone who they want to buy the book for. Or perhaps I am right when I facetiously say that there are only two kinds of people in the world—people who knit and people who wish they could knit.
And then there’s the roadtrippers. The book is only partly about knitting. It’s equally or even more about the road trip. And who, especially during COVID, doesn’t wish they could go on a road trip?
Finally a word about the interviewers. I have been interviewed many times on various topics. I always hope for the best—that the interviewer is interested and somewhat knowledgeable—that he or she has done some research on the topic. What do I know now that I didn’t know before? There are a lot of interviewers who are fascinated by the idea of a knitting road trip and if they are any indication of the general interest then it’s no wonder this book is doing much better than I had ever expected.