We were meeting in a 24-hour diner, a place that had been open for as long as anyone remembers. Chantal suggested the place, a frequent haunt during her years in the city. It’s February, the roads were encrusted in a solid inch of ice. The air was frigid, sharp on the nose and sharp as it hit your lungs. The diner was across the street from a mall, just off a highway. There was very little traffic on a Sunday morning.
A burst of energy and noise rushed out of the door, it was jammed packed. Deceptively busy compared to the parking lot around it. Families milled around just inside the door, waiting to be seated. The smell of bacon and pancakes and maple syrup and coffee mingled with the hum of chatter and clinks of cutlery on plates.
Chantal burst with warmth, beaming and reaching out to hug me as she arrived. She immediately took out a gift bag. She made me a small project bag with the words, “If I can’t bring my knitting, I’m not going.” I laughed at the words.
We were seated at a booth with our enormous winter coats looming over us as they overflowed from the hooks. Although we had only chatted online, it felt like we were meeting as long-time friends. Her energy and open laughter was so infectious, I couldn’t help but feel comfortable. We settled in over breakfast, stirring sugars into coffee and maneuvering around the table full of eggs, hash browns, and pancakes to reach for the berry syrup and ketchup.
The chatter transitioned slowly to the questions for this interview. “What’s your most meaningful knit?”
“I brought Paige’s sweater! It’s Anna’s Summertime Cardigan.”
She held up an impossibly small cardigan – at least that how I always feel when we see children’s clothing. It was a bright pink, with clear pink buttons and an all over eyelet pattern.
“This sweater is very dear to me for so many, so many reasons. When I was trying to decide what sweater or pattern I wanted to make, I realized that Paige is the one that, whenever I’m going through a crisis – Paige gets a new sweater. I don’t remember the first one I made. This one, I started in about October 2017 and it took me a whole year to do. I put it down so many times and then last year right after my accident, I picked it up again and just churned it out!” She laughs.
“I made a lot of mistakes with it. I actually have no idea what size needles I originally started it in because I put it down and took the needles out and I never went back to it. It just got me through so much and it was the first time I let her choose the colour of yarn.
We had all hoped that she would choose blue because we all love blue and she picked the pinkest of the pink yarn. I was like, ugh, I’m going to hate that colour at the end of it! And I didn’t! I still quite love it. But maybe just because it came together so well.”
I asked her to tell me more about Paige.
“Paige is my youngest niece – Ashley’s youngest daughter and she’s the sweetest girl in the whole world! When she sees you, she will, like, throw herself at you and give you full body hugs. Every part of her has to hug every part of you. She’s just so warm. Those are the feelings that I remember when I knit for Paige. Just the warmth of her. You know how knitting is super meditative? It’s that combined with love. Like real love. I think that’s why whenever I’m in crisis, Paige gets a sweater.
So yes, my niece Paige loves me. And my niece Mila love me too, absolutely. She’s very sweet. They’re just absolutely amazing girls - I love spoiling them. And luckily their mom is the dyer. I can’t afford to spoil them as much I want!”
I asked her to tell me more about how knitting and knitting for her nieces got her through difficult times.
“In 2015, I was really struggling with anxiety and depression and that’s when I just started knitting frantically. So back then, Paige got the Flax Light Sweater. I was travelling through Asia and that was the only thing I had on me and that project got me through a whole lot. And when I got back it was just small enough for her to wear for the one picture we got to take and that was it!
I think I knit her something else in between then and now. Then last year when I had the accident, I was kind of housebound and so I just decided that clearing up the WIPs was going to make me feel better. So I just took all the anxiety from getting better, and all the stuff that comes with … it’s like you get anxiety about the accident and anxiety about missing work and I had to leave school. So it was all these things that just comes down on you. I just wanted to take it and push it out of my hands and just knit because it was the only thing that I kind of felt I had control over. So that was it.
It was in pieces for so long because it was bottom up and I never knit a bottom up sweater and then I had forgotten what needles I was using but I decided, I don’t care, I’m going to make decisions! These were the decisions I was capable of making at that time. So I said we’re going to do something and if it doesn’t work out we’re going to rip it out and we’re going to do it again!”
She laughed before continuing, “And it worked out quite well! I don’t know if the gauge was different, if I mixed up the needles, or if I ended up guessing correctly, but it worked out.
And my mom chose the buttons.
I told her, ‘Mom, I need 6 buttons.’ I was literally housebound – I was not going anywhere because I was a mess. So she went out and she came back and undid this bag and all of these buttons just fell out. Just buttons everywhere.
I needed 6 buttons and she’s like I’m going to buy you 6 dozen different types of buttons, all sizes, all colours. I was like OK! I have no problem with all these buttons, I’m going to find projects for all of them.”
“So after I finished this sweater and it turned out so beautifully, I decided I was going to try a colourwork sweater for Mila. It was one where you have to steek and I wanted to throw up from the beginning of starting that sweater!
I got through the rib, realized the rib was too small and then decided I do not have the emotional ability to steek anything right now so I just left that one.
So Paige got a sweater this year and I owe Mila a sweater.
When I knit for them, it makes me feel connected to them. Because I live so far away and my time with them is so limited it’s like getting to remember them more. It’s a way of remembering because you can’t help it. You’re knitting something small and you think about them. You think about the funny things they say. You think about the funny things they do and just feel warmth and love. So they get the benefit of my knitting quite a bit.
I feel like that’s a part of healing that no one really talks about. Because everyone talks about how meditative the motion is, but it’s not just that. It’s the sum of all these things.
But actually, lately I’ve been engaging in some selfish knitting. It’s hilarious, I was thinking about the term we use, ‘selfish knitting’, like why do we call it that? It’s as though we have this intrinsic understanding that knitting is for someone else so when we do it for ourselves it’s selfish. I just think that’s a funny term to use, I haven’t quite figured out all my thoughts on it.
I’m trying to bring myself back to that steeking project right now, but honestly, it does give me some anxiety. The only reason I’m doing it is because my mom did buy all those damn buttons and I feel obligated to knit things that uses buttons, but I’m also like can I just knit in the round? I just want some brain dead stockinette for a while!” She ends with a laugh.
I asked her if she had any other ongoing projects.
“Right now that’s the only project that’s there right now. The yarn is kind of just sitting there staring at me so I’ll bring myself to do it. I probably will, just because I hate the idea of not doing something I’m afraid of just because I’m afraid of doing it. There are ways of making sure it doesn’t unravel. If it means sewing 600 times up and down that line, I will sew it 600 times up and down that line!” She points her finger emphatically as she throws her head back to laugh again.
“We’ll figure it out. Colourwork just has always been a little bit stressful for me. I wish I had that skill. So we’ll have to see.”
Suddenly, a rhythmic clapping started up and increased in volume and many voices started signing, “Happy happy birthday from all of us to you, we wish it was our birthday so we could party too! HEY! Happy birthday!”
We all turned to watch and clap along with the birthday celebration at the next table over. It looked like all the waiters at the restaurant were gathered three tables down. A cupcake with a single candle was presented to the birthday boy.
We turned back to the interview and talking about her nieces.
“So Paige got the Flax Light, and oh, the So Faded Sweater, and this one, that she chose the yarn for. Mila hasn’t had a chance to do that, to do all the choosing but her mom does a lot of knitting for her so I guess that’s why I’m like I’ll knit for Paige, it’s cool.”
I smiled and said that they were two very stylish kids.
“Yes! And you know what? I want to have those kids where they are always rocking the hand knit stuff! People are always like, ‘But it looks hand knit!’ And I’m like that’s the point! I want them to look hand knit. I feel like it’s a way that we connect to them too, right?
They’ll look at those pictures and they’ll know: we loved you this much.
We were making things because we wanted you to keep our love with you when you’re out in the world. So I hope that they’ll look back and feel that way about the things they got to wear.“