It was a frigid day, just after noon. It was the kind of day where no matter how many layers of wool you piled on, you still felt cold. The kind of day where once you arrived where you were foolishly heading, you spend at least fifteen minutes peeling yourself out those layers.
I was running late as usual, shuffling, and braced against the wind. I saw Kinda through the large storefront windows that in the warmer months were opened wide onto balcony space. The little cake shop and café was past the lively sidewalks where brave people were setting up their outdoor stalls with wares for the day, and through the island of freshly cut Christmas trees, where lined up cars were having the spruces and firs strapped to their roofs.
My glasses immediately fogged up at sudden heat of the café after the sub-zero temperatures outside. The warm air was full of the smell of fresh coffee and the promise of cake. It had just opened for the day and few people dotted the room. The usual students from the nearby university campus had set up their caffeine fueled exam fortresses and looked to be settling in for the day. There was an inescapable coziness that made you want to stay forever, hidden from the stabbing wind just beyond the door.
It turned out to be the perfect spot for the interview with Kinda, with the gentle clinking of mugs and forks against plates, and soft murmur of distant conversation. She was already furnished with a warm cup of tea and surrounded by a small pile of yarn and knitted fabric. She always managed to fill her small backpack with a surprising array of beautiful objects and works in progresses.
She brought some of her favourite objects to share.
She stretched out her arms to reveal the details of the maroon fabric. It was a plain stockinette sweater for the most part, but around the neck and around the cuffs were a floral detail. It added texture and interest which elevated the simplicity of the garment.
“It’s my first official sweater. It’s so simple, but there were still new techniques to it. The asymmetrical part of it is really fascinating. When I started it as a top down sweater, I wasn’t able to imagine – like how would it work? I thought it wouldn’t work, I would try it on and it just didn’t seem right, it seemed too big. But this designer is really good, so I just had to go on trust. I trusted the designer so I trusted the pattern. As soon as I picked up the knitted-on edge, it suddenly all made sense.
It was something that I knitted at a very hard time in my life, while not knowing if the pattern was going to work or not. And when I finished it, my circumstances were getting better. So now, whenever I wear it… I just feel grounded and safe. It gives me all the nice feelings.”
I pushed her gently for more details about that part of her life.
“It was my first year in Canada. I didn’t think it was going be hard. I didn’t connect the dots then, and realize, ‘Oh that why I wasn’t feeling very well’. I was new, which made things challenging and I had a very hard job experience. It just wasn’t the best environment. I was being promoted, but I wasn’t happy.
And sometime you have to choose what is more important. Is the title you have more important or what you feel inside – and what your message is in life?
Again, I was a newcomer and I felt like I had to prove myself. Was I failing because I did not like my job? It was the hardest decision I ever made to resign. But it was also one of my best ones.”
I asked her what it was about the pattern that made it a good fit for that time in her life.
“In that time, I was knitting less because I was depressed and sad. I thought I lost knitting too. I was doing only a couple of rows every week, but as soon as I decided to resign, I also finished the sweater. When I finished the sweater, I felt like I still had it. I can still knit. I can still enjoy the process.”
“I would say this project was easy. Even though there were new techniques, it wasn’t a hard pattern. But it was my first big personal project. Before I always knitted things for other people or for my Youtube channel. I never made anything for myself.
So I realized I needed to start knitting for myself. I love myself. I wanted to look like a knitter when someone sees me.”
I asked her to tell me more about her YouTube channel.
“It’s call SHAL, it is the Arabic word for shawl. For me, I learned how to knit from A to Z from Youtube, it spread to blogs and Ravelry after, but it all started with Youtube. My mind was blown when I learned how to make a sock. It was my first completed project and it was all from YouTube.
However, I didn’t find any video to learn knitting in Arabic. I was finding videos in English, German, and Turkish, and I would just use my eyes if I didn’t understand. That blew my mind again. It wasn’t my language, but knitting is a language.
Everyone back home started asking me, ‘how did you make this?’ They took all sorts of classes and they never saw anything like what I was doing.”
I asked her about the niche she sought to fill.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to sit here and teach everyone individually’. I’m going to make videos and I’m going to teach people. Because I knew there were a lot of people out there like me who wanted to keep up with the trends. Knitting is different than how it used to be. But not everyone has the language and the materials to be able to learn.
I know a lot of people want to be humble and say ‘Oh I didn’t expect it to be successful’, but to me, honestly, I knew it was going to be successful. I knew that this was something people wanted. I knew it was also a way for us to express our culture through knitting. I knew it was going to be something special. I am about to reach 100,000 subscribers, hopefully soon.”
It was amazing and I told her so. I asked her how soon after she had learned to knit she began making videos.
“I have met some knitting teachers that have been knitting for 30 years or 40 years, but I started teaching after 3 years. But it was because it was really needed, it was right at that time. I thought if I didn’t do it now, someone else will. I really wanted to start and I feel like I have a message that I want to spread and knitting is something I want to be known for.
My friends really encouraged me. My family really encouraged me. It took me two months to start. I had one friend who messaged me every day to say, ‘You have to film the first episode today’.”
Kinda had brought some other objects that were lying beside her on the table. She picked up the hat. The variegation of cream, red, and pink yarn was accentuated by the crisscrossed stitches. Around the hat was a fuzzy halo, hinting of mohair.
“I made this hat while I was experimenting with different things I thought I might love. This hat is my favourite. It’s not a two- or three-day hat. I thought it would be because hats are usually fast and easy. As soon as I cast on and knit the first round, I realized it was going to be a labour of love. There was a lot of knitting through backloops and drawing stitches up from below.
In the end, it created the most cozy and beautiful fabric that I had ever seen myself knit. I love it because it taught me how to appreciate the process.”
She picked up the dark blue mittens which had circular needles in the thumb, and stitch markers here and there. The yarn was deceptively layered, flecks of greens and purples added dimension to the simple ribbed mittens.
“These I whipped out a few days ago. I got the yarn from someone dear to my heart and I wanted to make something cozy, warm and easy. The yarn is dark, so I couldn’t make a pattern so I decided to fisherman everything. I can’t wait to finish it. I think it will be one of my favourites.”
I asked her if the yarn was received on a special occasion.
She shook her head. “It wasn’t a special occasion, it’s who gave it to me. The person who gave this yarn to me sponsored myself and my husband to come to Canada from Syria. As soon as she saw me at the airport, she knew I was a knitter. I was wearing fingerless gloves. I knew she was a knitter too, she was wearing a knitted hat. We clicked ever since.”
I told her it was an amazing story.
She agreed, “Knitters always recognize each other.”