On Tenderness and Knitting
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about tenderness. Tenderness in actions and words and relationships – but also how in making by hand we infuse so much tenderness and intention into the things we make. This has felt particularly crucial in the midst of a pandemic and compounding disasters and injustices – when everything feels overwhelming and we must do our best not to become hardened and desensitized, to remember to be tender and gentle with ourselves and those around us as we muddle through. Jenny Holzer’s Truism “It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender” has never felt so accurate, and for many of us the most effective avenue for this is digging into handwork projects.
Knitting has always been something of a therapeutic practice for me – the things that come from what I lovingly think of as my “productive fidgeting” are wonderful and practical, sure, but the tactile and rhythmic nature of the activity has been especially important as a way to calm anxiety and ground myself in my senses. The planes of knit fabric make sense to me in a way that is satisfying and reassuring, and I can touch soft and woolly things and make all sorts of textures out of them. I can control the form that the yarn takes depending on the choices I make and how my hands manipulate it, which is comforting when it feels like everything around me is spinning out of control. If I can focus on the movement of my hands and the needles and yarn under them, it brings me one step closer to a calm and clear mind and heart. Knitting is a method of self-care whose by-products can keep you or your loved ones warm and comforted. Naturally, I’ve spent what feels like a record amount of time knitting over the last six months for all of these reasons and have a whole pile of knits to show for it.
Knitting Tetrapods over tea during Rose City Yarn Crawl 2019
I taught myself to knit 15 years ago, in the spring of 2005. I was a fidgety 12-year-old, needing something to do during my older sister’s dance team competition. While my grandmother had previously tried to teach me to knit, my hands had felt clumsy trying to mimic the motions she showed me. So this time I tried again on my own to do what she had made look so easy, and used a Klutz Kit’s step-by-step instructions along with the needles and yarn that came with it to practice casting on and working rows and rows of knit stitches that would eventually become my first (very uneven) scarf.
Something clicked once I got the motions down – I noticed how much this meditative, tactile activity calmed what I didn’t know then was my anxiety-brain, and I wanted to know and do more. I began searching out everything that I could find about knitting and yarn online, and stumbled upon a whole community of knitting blogs, including Jared Flood’s blog that would eventually grow to become this company. I didn’t know then what a lifelong passion and essential grounding mechanism knitting would become for me, but I did know that I looked up to and felt a kinship with these designers and knitters who seemed not only to enjoy the product of their craft but the process itself and what it meant to them.
One of my first sweaters (which I still wear!), Eunny Jang’s Tangled Yoke Cardigan from Interweave Knits Fall 2007, the same issue in which Jared’s original Cobblestone pattern was published
Having since spent time talking with knitting friends, working in a yarn shop, and now providing customer service and pattern support here at BT, I’ve come to understand that this sentiment is a common thread that binds so many of us in this community together, finding solace in the work of making and joy in creating something beautiful and functional where there previously had been nothing. We are tender with ourselves when we choose to spend time making something, and we pass that tenderness along in the finished product. I have heard from countless knitters over the past few months how much their projects have become — more than ever — synonymous with comfort and relief, that they don’t know what they’d do without their knitting. They’ve wrapped themselves and their loved ones in woollies infused with thoughtfulness and care in every stitch, offering in these knits a hug even in times of separation and isolation.
Some of my favorite knits from the last few years
It feels something like coming full-circle to be part of the Brooklyn Tweed team now during the company’s 10th anniversary, during a time when simple pleasures and modes of care like knitting have become more meaningful to us than ever before. As we go on day by day into whatever the future holds, I invite you to join me in continuing to manifest Elizabeth Zimmermann’s ever-poignant words, “Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.” Stay tender, friends.