Starting with the next interview Passion Forward is going to exist solely as a podcast. I love meeting up with people and having these conversations, but with work and grad school I just don’t have the time to commit to the write ups. The feedback I’ve received from this project has been positive and it seems like people enjoy listening to the interviews. So, once I figure out how to do the podcast, that’ll be going up on iTunes. Now, on to Renee!
It had been a long, long time since I had seen Renee, but we’ve been pretty connected in the social media world. I was elated when she asked me to swing by her place in New Hampshire on my way back from the Nudity Farm this past August. She’s been a really big supporter of this project and I convinced her to let me interview her about one of her passions. She had narrowed it down to folk music, marine life, working with the elderly and knitting. I think I pushed her towards knitting and she felt as though she didn’t have enough scholarly information about folk music to discuss it. As with all Passion Forward interviews, all of the possible topics surfaced during our conversation with a whole lot of discussion about 90’s television.
Renee and I met when she was my knitting teacher back in 2007. I had signed up to take a sock knitting class because trying it on my own was terrifying. Luckily, Renee is the most patient knitting teachers ever and our class was an amazing group of women. Since there was so much knit love between us, Renee kept the band together by creating a class where we designed our own scarf patterns and then tackled the sweater pattern of our choice. She encouraged our creativity and provided the guidance our group needed.
Knitting tends to be one of those skills that is handed down through generations. It was during a visit from her grandmother during her senior year of high school that Renee and her best friend, Shauna, were taught how to knit.”We can watch 90210 after school and we can knit. It was perfect. We were living the life.”
After graduating high school, Renee went on to the University of Maine. During her first few days of being there, a flyer containing mostly pizza coupons was slipped under her door and hidden within was a knitting coupon for 15% off at a local knitting store. She decided to take a class there and knit a tiny mitten. She started to take more classes and hang out there in her spare time. Eventually, she transitioned to working there and feels like that is where she really honed her craft.
Once Renee completed her undergrad degree she moved away to Colorado Springs to begin working towards her Masters in Clinical Gerontology. Looking to expand her fiber knowledge, Renee enrolled in weaving classes when she moved out there. The timing was right to try something new as the fun-fur knitting craze was sweeping the nation and knitting died out a little. It was a dark time.
Weaving is one of the more popular forms of artistic expression in the Southwest. Ponchos, blankets, rugs and other sturdy textiles are weaved through a machine using thinner, stronger plant based fibers and warmer colors to represent the Southwest. “It takes forever to get it set up, but once it’s set up, you fly.”
She also tried her hand at crocheting, but couldn’t get the hang of it. “There’s something about the process that makes it easier for a crocheter to learn how to knit than a knitter to learn to crochet.” I’ve heard this from many that have tried to learn how to crochet after learning first how to knit. It’s like pianos and guitars. They produce the same thing, both instruments use their hands, but they’re completely different and produce different versions of the same thing. Knitters are used to working with two straight needles so trying to wrap your head around how one hooked needle can make a blanket is confusing. “It’s harder and a lot more stringent. You make mistakes and there’s no work around so you have to go back. Knitting you can just pull it out.”
Renee moved to Boston after completing her master’s program and began searching for gerantological research positions. She came across the now defunct Spark Craft Studio in Somerville where she became the head knitting instructor and buyer. Renee even incorporated her love of marine life into Spark by purchasing yarn made with lobster and crab shells. She is a self-labeled “natural fiber snob” preferring animal fibers and staying away from synthetics as they’re not good for knitting or the environment. Her favorite brand is Malabrigo and loves knitting with single ply fibers and variegated colors.
Her favorite knitting books, The Knitters Companion and Vogue Knitting, were always in stock at the store. They’re both great for stitch guides and creating your own knitting patterns. Renee also recommends older knitting books for stitches as well.
Mittens are one of Renee’s favorite projects to work on. You only need a 200 yard skein to complete the project. When she’s knitting for someone she really puts effort into creating a gift unique to that individual. She spent some time “knitting without purpose” and knit a giant blanket, felted it and cut it down to make potholders and coasters. This project took years for her to complete, but it used up scraps from her stash that would’ve otherwise been thrown away.
If you’re thinking of giving knitting a try, Renee recommends starting with a scarf and using worsted weight fiber that you love. “If you feel passionately about a yarn then you are most likely to finish that project or at least work it through long enough to learn what you’re doing.” She recommends avoiding fibers that make it hard to see stitches. So, again, stay away from the fun fur. Please.
“People are afraid to make things and they don’t have a a lot of confidence. They’re afraid they’re going to screw something up. And nothing bad is gonna happen. Like the worst thing that’s going to happen is you spend some time on something and it doesn’t turn out well. That’s pretty low stakes.”
Renee prefers to watch television while she knits. Some of her favorites right now include Playing House, Broad City, New Girl and any show about Alaska. “I love the rugged, raw coldness.” Our conversation quickly shifted to discussing sitcoms, both from the 90’s and present day. We asked each other difficult questions like “Who is your favorite New Girl character?” We both chose Winston and disliked Coach. Seriously, Coach was the worst. We both agree that Frasier was better than Cheers.
Knitting is just like any other skill that you may try to pick up. It requires putting in the time, effort and patience, but is worth the pay off. “People should try knitting. You have to practice it. It’s a skill just like anything else. It’s not like some crafts you can just drop into. You can glue something to something and not do it again. You can feel okay or not okay about what you do…You’re probably not gonna be great at it and that’s fine. You just need to keep at it…It’s a very forgiving craft once you know how to work around a mistake.” Much easier than crochet, but I’m biased.
Renee and I chatted about much, much more than knitting. Listen to the interview to find out which Ben and Jerry’s flavor Renee hates and is my favorite, our thoughts on 90’s television shows (and their reboots), television character accents, problems with ‘Cougartown’ and other little random tidbits.