Slow Knitting Works of Art

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The once slow, halting gesture of making a knit stitch now multiplies by the thousands, casting on, binding off — we become fly fishermen of the hat, sock, and sweater.
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“Slow Knitting,” by Hannah Thiessen encourages knitters to step back, pare down, and celebrate the craftsmanship of their work.

Slow Knitting(Abrams, 2017), by Hannah Thiessen urges knitter to source carefully, make thoughtfully, think environmentally, experiment fearlessly and explore openly. Each chapter contains explorations of fiber types; of well-known yarn types, makers, and yarn suppliers; and garment patterns inspire by the featured fibers. Thiessen proposes an approach to knitting that is both minimalist and all-encompassing, and emphasizes what makes knitting a meditation, a passion, and a unique necessity. The following excerpt is from the introduction.

The world feels like it’s in constant movement these days. Timelines, deadlines, due dates — time rushes forward in a blur of tasks fulfilled and checked off and crossed out. Our desks are constantly littered with pages of magazines and books, piles of bills, invoices, notes, and lists. For those of us who knit, our fiber purchases add up, too, and quickly turn into swatches, samples, patterns, and projects, speeding into the hands of lucky loved ones. Long gone are the days of early knitting discoveries; the once slow, halting gesture of making a knit stitch now multiplies by the thousands, casting on, binding off — we become fly fishermen of the hat, sock, and sweater. We love the feeling of accomplishment as we come to the end of a project, and we carry the glow with us into the casting on of the next and the next, in quick succession.

Amid this constant buzz of distractions, obligations, and pressure to produce prolifically, I’ve found myself more and more entranced by the siren song of what I like to call “slow knitting.” The concept of slow knitting encourages us to stop in our tracks, take a breather from our busy lives, and reevaluate what we consume, what we make. Like the slow food movement, which revolves around the idea that ingredients that are carefully and thoughtfully produced will result in better food, I believe that discovering the story behind my yarn and the materials I use in my making will result in better projects for the spirit, for the environment, and for the fiber community as a whole. When I embarked on this slow knitting journey, I found myself living by a few basic tenets:

Source Carefully

At its core, slow knitting is a celebration of Craftsmanship — the time spent making an object is just as important as the object itself. Working from the ground up, that is, letting your materials dictate your pattern and not vice versa, allows you to be more thoughtful about your projects and how you use your time. It’s about asking for the story behind the fiber you’re buying and making choices based on what you’re told.

Taking a moment to discover the history of your materials brings fresh life to processes that many knitters find burdensome, like swatching. Swatching is a process typically seen as an unavoidable nuisance standing in the way of getting to the real knitting. I used to be the type of knitter who dreaded working up a swatch. Now, I revel in the happiness that is winding and casting on the sample. Choosing quality fibers and taking the time to swatch carefully allows me to know at the review of a pattern which fibers are going to be the best fit — I no longer worry about choosing the right yarn for a project, because I am closely acquainted with every fiber on my shelf. Through the knitting of the swatch, we become old friends. A washed and blocked swatch reveals all, and by handling this piece of fabric, you learn its secrets.

Make Thoughtfully

A slowly knit project takes as long as required. In order to cherish the time and effort involved in good craftsmanship, allow yourself to give up the idea of a “quick knit.” Set no boundary for finishing — I no longer make promises to friends, coworkers, or family members regarding my knitting. If I choose to make a gift and give it for a birthday, new baby, or holiday, it is a decision I make for myself. If it is not completed in time, it will be eventually. Do not delude yourself that a knitted gift is less expensive. The currency here is time, and I urge those who make things to evaluate carefully how they spend it.

Think Environmentally

Knitting is a process that relates to the natural world: Most fibers come from organic means, and those fleeces follow a yearlong journey from the farm to the finished skein in your hands. Taking cues from the life cycle of a fleece, knitting feels more comprehensive and cohesive when practiced in time with the changing seasons. I have found that by allowing my process to develop at its own pace and relate to the world around me, I experience the creation of my garments and projects more completely. The anticipation of cooler months gives me renewed excitement each fall, while the length of winter evenings aids the slow, steady progression of larger projects. Spring brings with it the excitement of warmer weather and the turn outdoors. This is the perfect time of year to begin spinning, with light breezes and sunshine to dry and fluff finished skeins that can later be dyed with the plants that bud and grow throughout the warmer seasons.

Experiment Fearlessly

Putting slow knitting into practice will allow you to muse over the simplicity of the stitches you know and rise to the challenge of using new techniques and materials. Take away the burden of perfection, and instead allow yourself to embrace or correct your mistakes as they come. Do not be lured by laziness or get swept up in haste, and do not be afraid to set aside something difficult and fix it later. A craftsperson’s work is never perfect. It is made by human hands and therefore will have natural, beautiful flaws. Take pleasure in the slip of the yarn between your fingers, the pull of wool against wool. The twist of a cable or the surprising slant of a lace stitch is a tiny amusement against the background of the project.

Explore Openly

Another important aspect of slow knitting is community building. Regardless of where, how, or when we start, knitters share common experiences. It is possible to travel halfway around the world and still carry on conversations with other knitters. The simultaneous experimentation and familiarity of the craft is like a secret language all its own — you only need to pick up needle and wool to speak it. Since knitters continue to develop skills and are eager to share them with others, it’s easy to find friendly assistance when you need it, in person or through the vast online community.

Embracing the art of slow knitting is a promise to yourself to be more completely absorbed with the passion and love you have for this versatile and varied craft, and a commitment to engaging with creating a slow wardrobe. Move beyond the act of knitting as a task within a task. Although I often knit while watching television or listening to a book, in the most simple, quiet moments when nothing else is on in the background, I find myself thinking about the knitting itself as I go along, something that I have not done since those first few years of learning.

With this book, I challenge you to rediscover or enhance your own love of sticks and string by exploring your knitting in a new way. Source carefully, make thoughtfully, think environmentally, experiment fearlessly, and explore openly — the world of fiber awaits.

One of the things that is most endearing about knitting as a hobby or passion is the ability to make garments that will last. I am so much more likely to darn a sock or sweater sleeve if I know that I worked to make the garment from scratch. More often than not, that piece is worn because it’s also experienced heavy rotation in my wardrobe.

Knitting your own garments is a rewarding process that allows full customization of what fits you. While purchasing clothing sometimes presents an illusion of easiness, I have come to discover that it is more exhausting than it seems, and I value my time. Spending hours searching for the garment I have in mind, only to discover it in the wrong color, slightly off fit, or with a price tag beyond my means, is discouraging. I choose instead to use the hours potentially spent shopping in the comfort of my own home, creating custom, well-fitted pieces I know I will love to wear for years to come.

There are so many modern movements that pursue the idea that as individuals, we have the power to determine how the fashion industry operates, labels, and makes its clothes. Each May, Instagram is awash with #memademay hashtags, highlighting handmade wardrobe items made by crafters worldwide. In October, Karen Templer’s “Slow Fashion October” project encourages makers and buyers to reconsider the sources of their garments and share what they have been working on. “Wovember” fills the month of November with awareness about wool. Slow knitting, of course, is a yearround meditation on the progress of our projects. Only by actively working against the principles of fast fashion in such ways do I feel we can make a difference and leave a legacy of textile possibilities open to future generations.

More from Slow Knitting:

Hat and Fingerless Mitt Set Design

Reprinted with permission fromSlow Knitting, by Hannah Thiessen and published by Abrams, 2017.