Creative Knitting: Learning to Knit with Lea

KNITTING

Casting On: Lea’s Story of Learning to Knit

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With Lea's new book, Knit The Sky, set for an August release and our yarn bombing project in full swing, I thought it would be fun to take a quick trip back to 1986. That's when the first seeds of Lea's unique approach to creative knitting were sown by her grandmother, Mary Ann.

I find it reassuring to know that Lea started from knit 1, just like the rest of us. While her creative knitting projects spring from decades of experience, most are still uniquely simple. Their appeal lies in the beauty of each idea, rather than technical mastery or fancy stitches. It turns out, it was always this way with Lea. From the beginning, knitting was more a way to connect with family and friends than an exercise in solitary achievement.

Knitting Needles in Hand

I ask Lea if she remembers the first thing she ever knit, and she gets giddy as she runs over to her desk. She pulls out an old dusty Polaroid picture. There's Lea at age 7, in a pink hand knit sweater her grandmother Mary Ann made, learning to knit from that very same grandmother. Unlike most kids at age 7, she's sitting still and completely enthralled with this very first knitting lesson. Mary Ann helped Lea learn how to knit with patience and focus, and Lea was able to craft an adorable green scarf for her precious stuffed animal dog.

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“My grandmother knit constantly, whenever we were hanging out as a family. Whether we were watching movies or chatting, she was in her chair knitting, clickity clack,” Lea tells me. Lea says that eventually Mary Ann offered to teach her how to knit, and, "being the crazy, craft obsessed kid that I was, I of course accepted."

Lea fondly remembers Mary Ann telling the story of how she knit solid color socks for her grandfather Jim during World War II. Lea's grandmother set aside her love of bright colors, and instead knit plain brown socks so Jim would blend in as he fought his way through Northern Europe. While Mary Ann was busy knitting, writing letters, and hoping for her future husband's safe return, Jim was trudging across the battlefield in warm hand knit socks. Lea believes her grandmother's love and devoted support through knitting was critical in helping her grandfather through the war. The memory of this story is so incredibly special to Lea that she used it as the basis for the Brave Stitches knitting pattern in Knit The Sky.

Mary Ann had a way of infusing both love and hope into her knitting, and this is something Lea picked up on at an early age. Since then, she's always seen knitting as a wonderful way to connect with other people. Lea's grandmother knit socks filled with hope for her husband and a pink chunky sweater filled with love for Lea. Mary Ann, and the lovely things she knit, helped Lea see that knitting isn't just about needles and yarn and a good pattern. It also thrives on love and emotion.

Knit, Purl, and Then Some

Even though Lea remembers her first knitting experiences fondly, it wasn't until high school that she finally found the time and calling to pick up her needles regularly. “It was harder to keep it up not being geographically close to my grandmother,” Lea tells me. But by high school,"The idea of making my own clothes was meaningful to me," and Lea developed a preference for hand knit garments over mass produced clothing. Lea realized that knitting not only had the power to connect her to family, friends and her emotions, but also brought her in direct contact with clothing production. Suddenly, knitting became a way to take a quiet and peaceful stand against an industry that in her mind outsourced too much and paid too little.

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Lea in July 2015, wearing the first hat and sweater she ever knit.


In high school in sunny Santa Barbara, Lea joined a knitting group with other students. Lea knit the hat (pictured above) on straight needles, without much decreasing, and sewed it up at the seam. It was a fun project for her to knit because she had the close support of her peers and teacher and, as one of her earliest finished garments, it showed her the inherent beauty of hand knit clothing.

After Lea finished this simple hat, she went on to knit the purple sweater shown above. Of course she still has it, and it looks great except for some "missing buttons that have to be somewhere." Lea recalls following a printed pattern but trying extra hard to do this one all on her own with just knitting needles and yarn. The internet didn't exist yet and while that wonderful support system of family and friends was always available, Lea knit this lovely purple sweater on her own just to see if she could. While she of course encountered frustrations along the way, the constant reminder of Mary Ann's steady hands and solid heart pushed her through to finish her very first substantial piece of clothing. Lea still loves this sweater dearly and wears it regularly, as you can see in the many photos.

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Lea in her teens with her other grandmother (also a knitter). Wearing her handmade sweater, of course.

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Lea in college with her trusty hand knit sweater, and her brother Devin.

 

The Knitty Gritty: Advice for Beginners

Early on, whenever Lea encountered frustrations or challenges in her knitting, she would turn to friends and family for tips, ideas, and the moral support to stick with it. Lea eventually came to see knitting as a fun sort of puzzle. Today, whenever she can't seem to put the pieces together properly, she makes a point to remember all that she learned from her grandmother Mary Ann. It's usually enough to get her back on track!

Knitting isn't always easy and carefree. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't, even for the most seasoned knitters. For those of you starting out, here are 5 Lea approved pieces of advice for beginners:

  1. Don't expect it to be a breeze. Knitting is awkward, and it will feel awkward in the beginning.
  2. Learn from someone else if possible. In person is best, like Lea did with her grandmother and her knitting group in high school.
  3. If you don't have an in person teacher, try online videos: knittinghelp.com has some great ones!
  4. Start with something easy, like a washcloth, so you'll have a finished product quickly. An early "win" will motivate you to keep knitting!
  5. Stick with it and try at least a few different projects. You won't know for sure how you feel about knitting until you've done it long enough to experience both the depths of frustration and the joy of wearing something you made yourself.
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Hand knit wash cloths made by Lea's mom. A great starter project!


Stay tuned for more about Lea's knitting evolution! Next up: Lea's journey into conceptual knitting and the ideas that eventually became Knit The Sky.

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Lo was born and raised in Oakland CA, and is now living in Berkeley. She studied creative writing at UC Davis, and loves poetry. She is obsessed with all things knitting, and is currently looking for a new house for her excessive yarn stash.

1 Comment

  1. Ginger Howard

    July 23, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Knitting is great! And I have started buying old sweaters at thrift stores and felting them and then making bags, pockets on my hand knit sweaters, doll house carpets, tooth fairy pillow, gift envelopes. Start the little ones with those finger knitting kits… I loved them as a child. Thanks for the post!

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