If you enjoyed my interview with master knitter Catherine Smegal a few weeks ago, here’s another interview with an extraordinarily talented knitter. I first met Marielle Snyder on safari in Africa, which sounds a lot more hoity toity than it was. I soon learned that she does a remarkable number of things remarkably well: gourmet cooking, sewing, weaving tapestries, creating mosaic sculptures, and of course, knitting. Oh, and she’s also fluent in French. As if it isn’t unfair enough that all those gifts should belong to one person, Marielle is one of the most generous people I know.
Thinking about her made me wonder whether there’s a link between people who knit and that degree of generosity. After a little googling, I found this quotation in Mindful Knitting: Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft by Tara Jon Manning:
As knitters know, so much of ourselves is knit into the structure of the fabric, and here that sense of warmth can literally be shared with a loved one or with an appreciative stranger. In this way, you can explore your own capacity for kindness, allowing you to share this kindness more freely.
If you read Marielle’s answers to my ten questions below, that kindness comes across loud and clear. And so does her artistic insight into knitting, knitters, and how the things they knit reveal more about them than they might realize.
Q: Why do you knit?
A: I’ve always enjoyed it. I knitted as a young child, I knitted as a young mother, and now I knit as a grandmother. Knitters are great communities. They’re helpful, we learn from each other, we exchange opinions with each other. Knitters aren’t as judgmental as other people. And it’s relaxing. I like doing it at nighttime watching TV because it relaxes me and it’s creative. Sometimes it doesn’t take a long time to finish a project, especially with children’s garments. We knit a lot of garments for charities, like hats for sailors, blankets for the elderly, etc. We’re always making things and giving them away. I make these really cute sweaters and I’d rather give them to a young mother who can’t afford to get something nice for her kids. That makes me happy. I’d rather do that than sell my stuff.
Q: According to Churchmouse Yarns & Teas (my favorite shop on Bainbridge Island), project knitters focus on the destination; process knitters focus on the journey. Which type of knitter are you, and what kind of project fulfills both needs?
A: I focus on the journey because I’ve had the experience of making these beautiful sweaters for my grandkids and seeing them on the floor of the car. You have to learn to let go. I do it for the enjoyment of doing it. Once I finish that project, I start another project. You give it away and you don’t look back.
Q: Can you give me an example of a challenge or problem in your life that was assuaged by knitting?
A: Knitting has been an escape for me. I would have loved to have knit when I was recovering recently from a broken wrist and broken finger. It puts you in a different frame of mind. You’re grounding yourself to Mother Earth in some ways. You’re holding the yarn, it comes from a sheep, you’re counting your stitches, and it makes you stop thinking of your problems because you’re concentrating on your project, even if you have to rip it out. It’s getting away from whatever worries you have at the time.
Q: What are your favorite things to knit?
A: Children’s sweaters and socks. Kids clothes are really fast to make (1-2 weeks) and you get the satisfaction of finishing the job. I can finish a pair of socks in a week.
Q: What knitting project are you proudest of and why?
A: One of the nicest things I ever did—and I had to do it twice because someone threw it in the wash and it shrank—was a ladybug sweater I knit it for my granddaughter. It was an intarsia pattern. It was gorgeous, it took a lot of time, and it had 6-7 different colors. I almost wanted to make one for myself.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the pinnacle of knitting? (That is, what project do you aspire to?)
A: I want to do one of those Norwegian sweaters because it has all those patterns and colors in it and it would drive you crazy to make.
Q: If you met a handsome, 39-year-old man who was an avid knitter, what assumptions might you make about him?
A: I would think he was extremely creative and probably created his own patterns. They’d be something worth looking at. I’d think of Stephen West. (See his simple, clean designs and innovative colorwork at http://westknits.com/.) This man would be interesting to talk to. He’d probably look at life a little differently. It all would depend on what kind of colors he uses. It would tell a lot about his personality and what’s going on in his life. For instance, if he knit all in white I’d think he was very direct and straightforward, and something was missing in his life. Content but not happy.
Q: What is your biggest frustration about knitting?
A: Anytime I’m doing a pattern and I’m off the pattern and I have to rip it out and do it again. Or I use the wrong color of yarn and have to rip it out. It’s frustrating but it’s all part of the learning curve. Another big frustration is when you get a British pattern and you can’t figure it out worth beans because the terminology is different from American English.
Q: What is the biggest misconception you think people have about knitters?
A: That they’re introverts, they’re solitary, and they close themselves off.
Q: What does knitting do for you that you can’t get any other way?
A: It gives me satisfaction. I accomplish something. I do something worthwhile. It makes me feel good inside. It’s very artistic. If I don’t do something artistic, I get depressed.
Thanks this week go to Marielle for her wisdom, her beautiful photos, and the pumpkin hat she knit for me a few years ago. When I wear it, I sometimes worry that I look like an overgrown child with a Jack-o’-lantern on my head. And then I dismiss that worry and decide that everyone should be so lucky to have a handcrafted pumpkin hat because it isn’t just made out of yarn; it’s also made out of kindness.