The Green Sweater: Knitting the history of the Holocaust

4

A worn child's green cardigan.

Editor’s note: Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, known in Hebrew as Yom Hashoah. I asked Lea Stern, a knitter and longtime Indie Untangled follower, to write about her Green Sweater project to memorialize the Holocaust.

In 2003, I was invited by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to attend a preview of a new exhibit called The Hidden Children. As the name suggests, it was about those children who were hidden or removed from parts of Europe during World War II and the Holocaust. They were given up by parents who were desperate to preserve the lives of their children and too often, these were the only members of a family to survive. I attended this event with a friend and colleague of mine who had himself been a hidden child in Holland. There were many stories in this exhibit of fear and tragedy, but there were also stories of supreme sacrifice and bravery.

What caught my eye at the museum preview was a small green sweater knitted for a young girl by her paternal grandmother. The girl was Krystyna Chiger and she had lived in Lvov, Poland. Her family had a comfortable life there, with a large apartment and a busy and popular textile shop, across the street from another fabric and wool shop owned by her maternal grandparents. Krystyna was a bright and inquisitive child who, as she tells it, would do mischievous things. She would unravel the little green sweater that her grandmother was knitting for her when she set it down and went out. She would ultimately receive a scolding but she would persist in her tricks nonetheless.

An old black and white photo of a family of four.

When the war broke out, Lvov was occupied by the Russians under an agreement with the Germans. When the Germans reneged on this agreement and invaded this part of Poland, things went from bad to worse for the Chiger family and the Jewish community. They were forced to give up their home, business and nearly all their possessions and were moved into the Jewish ghetto. It was from a window there in their small living space that Krystyna saw her grandmother who had knitted her sweater being taken away on a cart to Janowska concentration camp where she perished.

After several years, on May 1943, the final liquidation of the ghetto began. All its inhabitants were to be transported to the Janowska camp and what would have been their certain death. Krystyna’s father, and several others, in anticipation of this event had already begun to prepare a place for them to hide in the sewers below Lvov. And so on that night, Krystyna, along with her mother, father and 3-year-old brother descended into the sewers. They were not able to take much with them, but Krystyna took her beloved little green sweater with her. What they all thought would be a short sojourn in the sewers turned out to be 14 months. While many who sought refuge there died, the Chigers, helped by three Catholic Polish sewer workers led by Leopold Socha, survived and — so did her sweater. After some time in Poland, she went to Israel where she became a dentist, married and had two sons. She is now Dr. Kristine Keren and she and her husband live on Long Island, New York.

While her sweater is nearly 75 years old and bears some stains and holes, it is remarkably well preserved considering its age and journey.

A green sweater hanging in a display.

Reengineering history

When I saw the sweater I felt that I had a duty to try to reengineer a pattern for it so its history would remain alive. After a bit of convincing, I was able to set up a time to come and directly examine the sweater with the museum exhibit curator, Suzy Snyder, and Cynthia Hughes, head of textiles. I determined gauge and took many measurements, notes, drawings and photos that would assist me in figuring out the stitch pattern. It was a simple knit and purl pattern and I spent many hours searching for it in every available stitch collection I knew of. I was unable to find a previously published form of the pattern in any collection. I thus assumed that it was something that Krystyna’s grandmother had made up or was a popular pattern commonly known but not written. Fortunately, I was able to reproduce it on my own after having been able to examine the sweater closely.

After many hours of test knitting swatches, I needed to choose a yarn for the project. I thought this would be quite easy as I know some very talented hand dyers. After some thought, I realized that while they may be able to more accurately reproduce the color as it is now, specifically hand-dyed yarn may be difficult for knitters to obtain.

A hand points to a diagram surrounded by items spread out on a table.

Since the sweater was knitted around 1939-1940 in Poland, I knew from my studies of historical knitting that we would need a very basic wool. A luxury yarn would not have been readily available in wartime, nor would it have been used for a child’s sweater. Considering the horrific environmental conditions it had been subjected to, wool was the obvious choice.

I chose Quince & Co. Finch, a fingering-weight 100% wool that had great stitch definition and the largest palette of greens. The original sweater is faded and stained, but many of Quince & Co. greens were quite close. Additionally, if one wanted to knit this sweater in something other than green, their broad color palette was excellent.

A woman sits next to a table filled with small green sweaters.

Dr. Kristine Keren with the test-knitted sweaters.

Once the sweater pattern was created, I had two sets of test knitters. One used the first draft to evaluate the pattern for errors, understanding of directions and readability. The second set of knitters used the final pattern to make sure there were no errors before publication. I donated the copyright for the pattern to the Holocaust museum where it is currently for sale in the museum bookstore as a hard copy along with a display of Krystyna’s book, The Girl In the Green Sweater, and one of the test-knitted sweaters. Since the museum does not have an online store, they have allowed me to sell copies of the sweater on Ravelry. All proceeds from the sale of the pattern are donated to the museum.

In December of 2014 I traveled to New York to meet Dr. Keren and tell her the story of recreating her sweater. Her husband, Mr. Marion Keren, is a mechanical and civil engineer and enjoyed the process of “reverse engineering” a sweater! He is also a Holocaust survivor and they were very open and kind in inviting me into their home. I brought her a timeline of my whole journey. I showed her my notes, early photos, drafts and swatches. I presented her with a finished copy of the pattern and let her choose one of the test-knitted sweaters that reminded her most closely of her original. The curator had told me that it had been difficult for her to give up her sweater but she had graciously donated it to the museum. When she chose one of the copies, she held it up and said, “Now I have my sweater back!” It was a very emotional and fulfilling moment.

A woman holds up a green sweater decorated with award ribbons.

Lea displaying the ribbons her Green Sweater earned at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

With this project largely completed, I have reflected on what this project has meant to me. This sweater represents triumph over prejudice and intolerance. It is a grandmother’s love for her granddaughter and the devotion the granddaughter felt in return. I am a physician and have been fortunate to have lived a wonderful life in the United States, mostly protected against the type of injustice that has too often pervaded the world. I had a brilliant mother raised in northern England  who taught me many types of needlework, but particularly knitting. I am fortunate to have been able to use these skills to do this project.

My hope is that this small green sweater will be knit again and again. I hope the story of Krystyna Chiger, her family and the brave men who helped them will be told over and over and as such the sweater will be a small piece of living history. The green sweater should be a reminder to generation after generation of what happens when intolerance is allowed to fester unchecked and as young people wear it, we can open a discussion about what it represents and why it is so important to never forget. Suzy Snyder commented in a television interview she and I did about this project that the survivors won’t always be with us, but the things they’ve left with us will continue to tell their story. My hope is that small things like this sweater will somehow make a difference.

How I’m turning an old Irish knitting factory into my dream home — and an arts residency for single moms

A white building glimpsed from a lake.

Betsy is giving a tour of her home in the Old Knitting Factory on Sunday at noon Eastern/5 p.m. Central European Time this Sunday during Indie Across the Pond. The tour is included in your Indie Across the Pond registration.

Last spring, I fell in love with an old Irish knitting factory. Now I’m living in it with my toddler, slowly renovating this tumbledown property and running a crowdfund to turn it into a childcare-inclusive arts residency for other single moms like me. I’ve been a knitter all my life, but I never could have guessed that knitting would become the foundation of my life and my home in such a literal way.

Ever since leaving an abusive marriage, home ownership has been a fantasy of mine, but it’s felt like a purely fantastic one for someone like me: a single parent, largely self-employed, an immigrant to Ireland. My son and I had gone from a domestic violence shelter to a hotel to a friend’s guest room and finally to a tiny bungalow where I struggled to make rent each month. Still, step by tiny step, I dreamed of something better. A place where we could feel safe, and could rest. A home.

That dream turned into a plan one day in 2018, when my friend Joan and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Knitting and Stitching Show in Dublin, a smorgasbord of yarn and fabric suppliers, craft demonstrations, and textile art exhibits. I’d spent much of our train ride to the city scrolling through unattainable real-estate listings on my phone and sighing dreamily.

Sunset over a lake.

The view from the factory.

Joan, 30 years my senior and eminently practical, rolled her eyes at my flimsy imaginings. “If you want to buy a house, there are ways to make it happen,” she said. “You’re a writer. Why not write about a house, and sell the book to buy it? You know, Under the Tuscan Sun and all that?”

It’s true: I’ve published five novels and many essays, and I teach writing at the National University of Ireland and at retreats in Kylemore Abbey. And, as I tell my writing students, sometimes clichés exist for a reason. My heart skipped an actual beat at Joan’s words. I felt it stutter.

I could write a book to buy a house.

“Joan,” I cried, plunging into cliché-land wholeheartedly, “that’s just crazy enough to work!”

I felt more energized rummaging through yarn and making plans that day than I had in months of sleepless, toddler-broken nights, or endless days working multiple jobs. On the train home from Galway, I wasn’t looking at real estate listings. I was knitting, and I was writing.

It’s taken me a long time to find the right building for my dream-turned-plan, though: the first few places I pitched the idea to had no interest in a single mom who would have to rent at first while I crowdfunded and saved and wrote my book. I could hardly blame them for that, but I couldn’t give up dreaming, either.

A paper zine that reads The Old Knitting Factory in teal.

The ‘zine created for The Old Knitting Factory crowdfunding campaign.

And like my child, my dream was growing all the while: I didn’t want just a home for myself and my son, I realized, but a place where I could offer the rest and safety I craved to other single moms who struggle to find space for creative work between parenting and paying the bills. I’d joined the survivors’ group at my local shelter, and those women inspired me and restored so much of my lost faith in myself. I saw through them that single mothers are worthy of being, not stigmatized, but celebrated. A childcare-inclusive residency became an intrinsic part of my plan; but it also made it even harder to find a property that would work.

And then, one sleepless night in March, I saw the Old Knitting Factory. The name, of course, called to me first: I had always loved to knit, and the plan to make my domestic dreams come true had been born at the Knitting Show.

The listing showed a long white-and-yellow house nestled on the rugged, overgrown shore of a Connemara lake. Built in 1906, it was a 114-year-old mess: full of crumbling paint and peeling vinyl floors, a leaky roof, and a cinderblock-lined backyard that had come straight from the dank armpit of the seventies. It had first been built, the listing said, to teach rural women knitting skills that they could use to support themselves financially.

A white building.

A house built to foster women’s independence. A place that had been centered on my favorite craft since its beginning, and that had been reincarnated several times already: as the first Irish-language cinema in the 1970s, and later as a jewelry-making studio. For the last several years, it had been a little-used vacation home, and parts of it were well-nigh falling down.

But mending, I realized, had been part of my dream all along. Like turning a long piece of string into a sweater that can keep you warm, I wanted to remake this tumbledown old factory into a source of warmth and care, not only for my own little two-person family, but for other single mothers who had walked the path that I’d found both so freeing and so hard.

A buffet with a basket of yarn at the top.

I wrote to the owner, telling him all my dreams and plans. I offered to rent the knitting factory for a year and buy it (I prayed) thereafter. I didn’t hear back for a month, and I thought I’d have to keep looking.

But then he emailed me, and he told me he was interested. We met over video, across edges of the Atlantic Ocean, from my little Irish cottage to his sunny Florida home.

A woman in a purple dress standing in a room with stone walls.

And he agreed to my offer. In fact, he told me he loved my project, and he wanted the knitting factory to go to someone who’d do right by it.

So here I am, every day, trying to do right. I am still raising my toddler, still working multiple jobs. I started a crowdfund that met its first goal within three days, and is now more than halfway to a down payment on a mortgage. And I am writing my book the exact same way I knit: word by word, stitch by stitch. Sometimes slower than I’d like, but every word, every stitch — even the mistakes I have to undo — a vital part of the finished whole.

I learned to knit when I was about eight years old, and knitting has always brought me a feeling of flexible strength that I can hold, and make, in my hands. When I was pregnant, I knit a stuffed dragon for my baby. When my marriage was unraveling, I knit a color-gradient shawl, from light to dark, that still feels like a security blanket on my shoulders. And when I was terrified of being separated from my child, I cut my baby’s outgrown onesies into long strips and knitted them together with my old shirts into a rug, thick and stiff. Something we could stand on.

A child walking in the grass next to a white building.

That rug lies on the floor of the knitting factory now. And I am working on something new: a knitting pattern I’ve designed myself. It’s still a work in progress, like the house, like the book. I’ve taken up embroidery, my friend Joan’s favorite craft, too, and I’m sewing the names of every crowdfund supporter into a tapestry that will hang on the factory wall. I hope to buy the factory this summer, and to start welcoming artists to the residency space as soon as the pandemic subsides enough to make such things safe again. I’m planning to prioritize artists who work in the genres that the building has housed before: knitters and fiber artists first, and then filmmakers, jewelry makers, and writers like me.

This project isn’t finished yet. Sometimes I wish I could finish it faster. But like writing a book, or knitting a blanket, I know that the most joy is found in the making.

Click here to support the crowdfunding campaign for The Old Knitting Factory.

What to stash this week: dreaming of spring

Gray, yellow, blue and red yarn.

Debbie of Murky Depths Dyeworks is so ready for spring with six new colors of her Harbour Singles fingering and five of Triton MCN DK that are live in the shop. There’s also mohair and four new colors of Sparkle sock.

A smiling white woman holds up a black, white and pink speckled shawl.

Ashleigh Wempe has also been dreaming of warmer weather and is offering a Buy 2 Get 1 Free Spring Fever sale using coupon code “SPRINGSALE” for all patterns on her website and Ravelry until next Friday.

Blue yarn and the words Stardust Yarn Club March Box Lilo and Stitch.

This month’s colorway for Stardust Fiber Studio’s monthly subscription box is inspired by the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. The box features two skeins of ocean-themed yarn and an exclusive enamel pin.

Purple, pink and gold skeins of yarn.

Michelle of Crafty Flutterby Creations has partnered with Anzula Luxury Fibers on a MKAL to celebrate the start of spring. Cavorting With Colors, which combines colorful yarns and winding cables, will kick off with an April 16 cast-on.

A black and gold Art Deco-inspired cowl.

Emily O’Brien’s latest design is inspired by the glamour, elegance and intricate architectural details of the Art Deco-style Waldorf Astoria New York.

A silver Celtic knit and ring stitch markers with green beads.

Michele of MAB Elements is celebrating Stitch Marker Mania, with all MAB Elements stitch marker sets buy two, get one FREE with coupon code SMM2021 at checkout.

What to stash this week: ‘Say Anything’ with color

Marian of Marianated Yarns is collaborating with designer Katy Carroll of Katinka Designs on a multicolored cowl kit to celebrate ’80s movie icon John Cusak.

Lighting strikes Devils Tower and purple and green yarn.

Today’s the last day to preorder Terri of AT Haynes House Yarns’ Knitting Our National Parks colorway, called I Got One Just Like It In My Living Room (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), inspired by Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming and a certain ’70s movie. It’s available on her sock and DK-weight bases. As always, this yarn supports the National Park Foundation.

Stephanie of SpaceCadet has released her first design! The D’aeki Wrap is designed to show off SpaceCadet’s mini skeins or any other collection of colors, with a herringbone pattern that shifts the color flow along the length of the piece and uses the Join As You Go method (no seaming!).

The Little Red Dress KAL from Knitting Hope tells the story of Judy Fleischer Kolb, who was born in the Shanghai Ghetto after her family fled Nazi Germany in 1939, and her her little red dress, which she donated to the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. The dress was turned into a knitting pattern by designer Melissa Shinsato.

Katherine of K. MacColl Bags now has bags for smaller projects, which are a combination of drawstring and bucket bags.

The Bad Lux Designs Romantisch collection has swoon-worthy colors available on Bulky, DK and Fingering weights.

These new WeeOnes penguin stitch markers are appropriate for these Arctic temperatures! They come with one Adélie, one macaroni penguin, one chinstrap and one emperor with it’s baby.

These magnetic shawl pins from Michele of MAB Elements celebrate the Pantone colors of the Year for 2021.

Selena of Sweater Sisters is partnering with Erica Heusser on a kit release for her new pattern, Varia Mitts. They feature a Fair Isle pattern depicting an owl settled in on a branch with the silvery background.

Heather of Pumpkins and Wool has five cake- and five cupcake-themed sock kits available for preorder.

Augusta of adKnits has new tool cases handcrafted in collaboration with Aria & Barre to hold hold double-pointed needles and stitch markers.

Amy’s Trinket Shop is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with stitch markers that feature various shades of green, gold and white beads.

Crista Jaeckel’s first shop update of 2021 features bright spring colors: pink and orange, mauve and purple, brown and teal, toffee and white and a bit of gold.

Gothfarm Yarn’s new pencil roving, called Cirrus, is made from a blend of Jacob and Shetland sheep wool and can be using for knitting, spinning and felting.

Sign-ups are open for Wild Hair Studio’s 2021 Dune-inspired Fiber Club.

Enjoy 30% off everything in the Garage Dyeworks shop through February 28 with the code BEMINE.

Dragon Thistle Fibers is having a shop update.

A craft once a necessity, now merely a hobby in Pakistan

2
A woman sits on the floor knitting with colorful yarn.

Bushra Shahid, who runs the handmade business Snowool, knits at her home in Karachi, Pakistan.

Sitting by the fire, and in front of her television, on a cold winter night in Lahore, Huma Munir knits yet another sweater for one of her grandchildren. She is engrossed in her work, moving the needles at lightning speed, while watching a drama serial and talking to her family.

This precision and dedication to the craft has come with years of practice. When she was 16, Munir learned from a cousin and fondly remembers her mother knitting, too. “She would be knitting even when she was laying on her bed,” recalls Munir, now 70.

Munir even taught one of her daughters, Mehnaz Nasir, to knit, though Nasir was not able to pass on the craft on to her own daughter.

“My daughter does appreciate my work but she is not interested in learning it,” Nasir says.

The image of older women knitting for their children and grandchildren is a common one in Pakistan’s colder, northern areas.

As September begins, markets in these parts of the country fill up with winter wear. Yet, the advent of fast fashion has not deterred people who still prefer to knit. Some call it a hobby, a passion, or a habit, and others have ventured into the business of selling handmade items.

A woman on a red sofa, knitting.

Huma Munir knits in front of her fireplace in Lahore.

Knitting as a necessity
Knitting in Pakistan used to be one of the only ways one could wear a warm garment in winter. Munir remembers her cousin teaching her how to follow instructions in an English catalogue.

“Of course we didn’t have the internet, so everyone either learned designs from their mothers or through catalogues from England,” she says. “The magazine was called Stitch Craft and was popular back in the day.”

For Munir’s generation, learning how to knit was a necessity.

“In the ‘70s and ‘80s knitting was important because either we couldn’t find good quality sweaters in the market or couldn’t afford imported ones,” she says.

Married to an army officer, Munir had to move around the country every few years, and she and her fellow army wives would knit together during afternoon teas. She remembers learning new stitches and ideas from these women that had been passed down from prior generations.

Designing unique garments for their family members, which would become the envy of others in the community, motivated these women to continue knitting. Some knitted woolen garments year round to be ready for the winter.

“Women would come up with new designs and knit them in secrecy,” says Shahnaz Parveen, supervisor of the knitting department at Behbud Crafts, a nonprofit that aims to preserve age-old crafts in Pakistan and empower women, and an artisan herself. They wouldn’t share the ideas with others. It was a competition.”

A woman in a black head scarf knitting.

Shahnaz Parveen, an artesan and supervisor of the knitting department at Behbud Association, knits a pair of socks.

Behbud, sustaining the craft of knitting in Pakistan
Knitting might be diminishing in popularity as most millennials choose fast fashion, but the craft has a rich history in Pakistan. Sonya Rehman, a writer who recently finished her book, Embroidering Dreams, about the Pakistani nonprofit Behbud, notes that the organization was founded to use craft to empower women two years after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. Behbud’s founder, Begum Ahkter Riazuddin, wanted to empower the war widows, gathering them in a garage in Rawalpindi, where they would knit and sew items to sell.

Behbud’s work continues today from an office in Rawalpindi, which teaches women from around the country traditional embroidery and patchwork, such as Kantha and Ralli, cross stitch and, of course, knitting, and pays them to craft items — sweaters, blankets, leggings, caps, and toys — for sale online and at boutiques in major cities across Pakistan. Each knitter earns a minimum of 15,000 PKR (roughly $95 USD) per month, making more for additional items.

“Their knitwear for children remains one of their best-selling items,” Rehman says.

Crochet blankets and booties.

Handmade items for kids at Behbud.

Parveen believes that people would always prefer handmade knitwear for their children over ready-made items.

“The demand for hand-knitted products has increased in the past few years,” Parveen says. “The quality is matchless and keeps children warmer.”

While they even have machines to knit items like leggings for babies, Behbud prefers that home-based workers knit the items themselves from locally-sourced wool.

“While imported wool is softer, it would increase the cost of making and in turn the selling cost,” Parveen says. “Hence, we prefer locally-made wool.”

Outside a yarn store.

The Blue Star Wool and General Store, a shop in the heart of Islamabad.

Wool, or the lack of it
Pakistan is the world’s ninth largest wool-producing country according to industry experts, but it is a neglected sector.

“Wool doesn’t add value for our industry,” says Azizullah Gohir, secretary general of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association. “Productions and consumption is low in Pakistan. Hence, (it is) not believed to be lucrative.”

Cotton is the main focus of the country’s nearly 450 spinning mills, as Pakistan is the fourth largest cotton-producing country in the world, according to Gohir.

According to some experts, 66% of the wool produced in the country is used to make clothes, 30% to make carpets and 4% is used for industrial purposes. Pakistan does not have modern techniques available to increase the production of sheep wool, or technology to process it into fine wool. Hence, industrialists do not believe it to be profitable enough to invest in. The majority of wool yarn and products — about 7 trillion PKR ($44 billion USD) — are imported from other countries, mostly China.

The decrease in wool production is also political, according to some local vendors.

“It was during Musharraf’s era, around 2001 to 2007, when imports became cheap and extensive in Pakistan,” says Sulaiman Sajjad, owner of The Wool Shop in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. “Wool shops started facing losses and even mills were shut down. People stopped knitting and started buying cheap Chinese knitwear.”

A Pakistani man wearing a face mask standing in a shop of colorful yarn.

Suleiman Sajjad of The Wool Shop standing against a wall of colorful wool.

Sajjad’s shop is lined floor to ceiling with a wide variety of colorful wool, knitting needles and other craft accessories.

Sajjad is in his late 30s and his family has been in business for three generations. His grandfather, Abdul Ghani, opened their first wool shop in the 1960s in Moti Bazaar, Rawalpindi, one of the nation’s oldest bazaars. Founded at the turn of the last century, today it houses thousands of shops, including a branch of The Wool Shop.

Sajjad’s shop is one of the very few shops that house wool all year round, with others selling wool only during the winter and switching to other products as seasons change.

At The Wool Shop, about 60% of the wool is local and the rest is imported. According to Sajjad, most wool prepared in Pakistan is made in Gujranwala and Faisalabad, the textile capital of Pakistan, though he says the wool made in Gujranwala is of better quality.

“The wool made in Faisalabad isn’t of great quality because the thread is made of cotton and other impurities, while the one made in Gujranwala at least has good fiber,” he says.

Sajjad also houses imported wool, from Turkey, Spain, Germany and England. He notes that the Turkish wool is popular among buyers but is expensive, with a pound costing between 1,600 and 3,000 PKR ($10 to $20 USD). By contrast, a pound of local wool can cost between 400 PKR to 600 PKR ($2.50 to $4 USD).

Sajjad says that customers from all walks of life visit his shop and that the ability to cater to all markets has been his selling point all these years.

“Sometimes women show me pictures of wool I don’t have,” Sajjad says. “Which makes me wonder, even after accommodating so many colors and qualities, why do I not have this item?”

Sajjad can source these yarns them from his vendors or get them locally dyed.

A Pakistani man sits amongst walls of colorful yarn.

Suleiman Sajjad’s father, who started The Wool Shop back in the 1980s.

The popularity of knitting and crocheting has ebbed and flowed in the six decades that The Wool Shop has been around, but these crafts have remained important. And with the introduction of social media, it has made a comeback.

“When women started getting an education and did not have time for household chores, the craft took a back seat,” Sajjad says. “But as times change, people have again started to retake interest in the craft.”

While just a decade ago most of Sajjad’s customers used to be women over the age of 50, he says that now teenagers and women in their 20s or 30s are also taking an interest in the craft.

Sajjad points to travelling as one of the reasons for the comeback.

“My clients have said that their kids who have moved abroad have asked them to restart knitting because they saw how it is still a hobby in the west,” Sajjad says.

Social media and increasing small businesses
Samina Zohair, 56, was visiting her daughter in Australia in 2011 when she was reunited with knitting.

“I got arthritis so I stopped knitting, but my daughter encouraged me and bought new catalogues and equipment for me to begin,” Zohair says.

Once back in Pakistan, she started giving knitted items as gifts, starting her online business, Knittens, in 2017.

“My children asked me to start this professionally and through the word of mouth I started getting orders,” Zohair says.

For Zohair, Knittens is purely a hobby and isn’t how she earns a living.

Various handmade knitwear business accounts have emerged on Pakistan’s social media landscape over the past few years. Some makers work all year round, others only during the colder months.

Another handmade business owner is 26-year-old Bushra Shahid. She started knitting for her fiancé after their engagement in 2015 and has been knitting ever since. She set up her business in 2017 and recently revived it with the help of her mother-in-law.

“I found out that my mother-in-law is amazing at crochet and we had finally decided to bring our talent together and continued my page, Snowool,” she said.

Toys are also a popular handmade product. Rafiya Hasan launched HOP, which stands for Handcrafted On Purpose, to sell her knitted bunnies, in 2019.

“Even though I dabble in other crafts, knitted bunnies became a major feature of my page,” Hasan says. “I knitted the first ones for my grandson and then just kept going. That’s when I thought of creating my own Instagram page.”

Hasan understands that hers is a niche market of people who value handmade products over mass-produced ones.

“They understand that there is no substitute for it and that it is time-consuming,” Hasan says. “At HOP, we embrace things made by hand in small quantities and each piece is unique.”

A Pakistani man attends to customers in a yarn shop.

Suleiman Sajjad works with customers at The Wool Shop.

Social media has not only become a marketplace for entrepreneurs to showcase and sell their talent, but it has also opened new avenues for local vendors.

The Wool Shop started conducting Facebook Lives to sell their items at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Even though their Facebook page has been up since 2013, they only started to receive orders through it recently.

Sajjad’s first parcel went to Karachi, about a 24-hour drive from Islamabad. A famous actress placed one of his very first orders, and her positive review gave the business a jump start. Today about 15% of The Wool Shop’s revenue is made via social media and word of mouth.

“It has bought extra customers to our shops virtually, people I couldn’t have reached otherwise,” Sajjad says, adding that it has come at a cost. “It requires a lot of time and effort from our end. One has to be available on WhatsApp or the phone all the time and take pictures for customers, listen to their issues and be consistent.”

While the popularity of the craft might have decreased compared to its glory three or four decades ago, it won’t die a sad demise in Pakistan.

Rehman, the author, believes that even though people are into fast fashion, and buying and discarding items has become easier, ancient crafts like knitting are always evolving. She notes that there are pockets of fashion labels, nonprofits and individual start-ups that continue to sustain and evolve the craft.

“Knitting isn’t like other crafts, It is timeless, as it has been around for centuries and has managed to evolve and appeal to so many regions, who have incorporated their spin, essence into it,” Rehman says.

How knitting a sweater brought me out of a COVID slump

3

Hands knitting a coral sweater.

In the winter of 2020, while browsing at Backstory Books & Yarn, a local used book and yarn store in Portland, Oregon, I stumble across a giant hank of pale gray yarn lurking on a top shelf. I immediately pick it up and trace the softness of the Targhee strands with my fingers. The label states it’s from Blue Moon Fiber Arts, a local dyer I’m familiar with, and best of all, it’s enough to make a sweater. A quick peek at the price tag makes me even more jubilant — I have enough store credit to cover the purchase, basically making it free.

I find the perfect pattern for the yarn, Myrna by Andi Satterlund. Vintage-inspired, it’s cropped and form-fitting and will pair perfectly with dresses for the colder months. After almost a full episode of the BBC series “Pride and Prejudice” and numerous turns of the yarn winder, I have a ball of yarn the size of a newborn’s head that is ready to be knit. Once I have knit a swatch to figure out what size I need to knit, I cast 70 loops on my needles and start the sweater. The yarn is lovely to work with. Soft and supple, each stitch is clearly defined like a spider’s web in the rain.

Shelves filled with books and yarn.

Backstory Books & Yarn in Portland, Oregon.

After fits and starts and several weeks, I’m almost done with the back of the sweater. I hold it up to myself and grimace. Even accounting for the stretch, it simply looks too small. I put it aside to deal with it later. Every knitter is familiar with “frogging,” which means ripping back your work — you “rip it, rip it,” like the “ribbit” of a frog. And as accustomed as we are to frogging, it does not mean we dislike it any less. You can just see weeks of your time circling down the drain. But knitting is a wonderful craft because, as in life, you can almost always go back and fix your mistakes (except for mohair, but we will not speak of that).

I could ignore the mistake and try to convince myself that, “Oh, it will fit with some stretching and blocking,” but I know that I’ll be even more devastated to have finished the entire sweater and not have it fit. I tear the stitches off the needles and begin the process of undoing the rows, leaving a wave of crinkled wool in my wake. Knitting teaches us about falling and getting back up minus the bruises and scrapes, leaving just the toll it takes on our patience.

Then COVID-19 strikes in March. One day my knitting friends and I are huddled together in a car for 10 hours as we zigzag across the Portland area to participate in the annual Rose City Yarn Crawl. Then the next week, seemingly everything is shut down. Instead of seeing each other as people, all we see is potential virus vectors. The days blur into one giant loop. We are stuck in Groundhog Day with only slight variations letting us know that time has passed.

I simply cannot see the point in continuing with the sweater. Where would I wear it? There is nowhere to go. And how would I wash it? A handknit wool sweater is not meant to hold up to endless rounds of sanitizing in hot water and bleach. And who would see it to admire the handiwork? My knitting friends are huddled in their houses and not stirring, not even for yarn. My sweater is at a standstill, the needles silent, much like the outer world. I have trouble looking at either.

“Put the sweater down and start another project,” a friend advises. “Let it hibernate.”

I take half her advice, but have trouble figuring out what to do next. Numerous articles and studies have listed the physical and mental health benefits of knitting — it induces an enhanced sense of calm, lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and boosts serotonin levels. That is great when all is said and done, but it does not solve the problem when you can’t even get motivated to start that first stitch.

A dog wears a teal sweater.

April’s dog, Nandi, shows off an FO.

I’m doomscrolling when I get a text from a friend from high school.

“Sorry, this week has been kind of crazy. We actually just had our kid yesterday. Delivered a healthy baby girl. 8.6lb, 21 inches…”

Accompanying the text is a photo of my friend wearing a mask and cradling a newborn to her chest. I shoot off a text of congratulations and then immediately start browsing patterns for baby sweaters. I may not have anywhere to wear a handknit sweater, but this baby clearly needs a wool sweater to keep her warm. COVID-19 may reign, but new life continues. And human connections are so fraught right now, I grab at any strand that resembles hope.

I dive into my stash of yarn, stored under my bed in plastic bins, to discover that I have absolutely no yarn that is suitable. No sensible parent wants to carefully hand wash a delicate baby sweater every single time the baby throws up or drools. So, I make a rare trip into the outside world for yarn. I’m equipped with a handmade mask and hand sanitizer and mentally calculate how far 6 feet is from any person I see.

As I walk down Alberta Street, it’s a ghost town. Dark windows look forlornly out onto the street, and passersby walk by briskly with their heads down and masks on. But when I step inside Close Knit to look for the right yarn, it’s like stepping back into the past. Piles of brightly colored yarn dot the walls, and that slight hush you get from a space overly insulated with fiber prevails. Then I look again and see a jumbo-sized container of hand sanitizer and a giant sign at the entrance declaring the COVID-19 protocols. A plexiglass shield guards the staff from customers.

I debate between two vividly colored hanks of worsted and ultimately go with the coral. The shade, Malabrigo’s Living Coral, evokes eye-popping colored macaroons, which is fitting as the sweater pattern, by The Noble Thread, is named French Macaroon and I met the new mom in our high school French class.

It’s almost exactly the shade of the 2019 Pantone color of the year, living coral. The color was declared to be an “animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.” Babies also affirm life while anchoring us to the future. Stepping back into time is a futile endeavor. But it reminds me that this too shall pass and one day we will gather together once more.

Hands knit a coral sweater.

The bright coral stitches fly smoothly across the needles, leaving behind a gentle click-clack sound. It feels strangely foreign to be knitting again, but my hands remember what to do. Unlike the monotony of COVID-19 life, I can see visible progress as the sweater steadily grows, inch by inch. With each stitch, I knit in my thoughts and hopes for the future. As the ball of yarn dwindles, so do my troubled thoughts. The knitting blogger A Friend to Knit With once calculated the number of stitches in a sweater she was knitting: 70,532. If we were to think about that sheer number, we would never knit a sweater. We take it one stitch at a time. Like each stitch, we trudge forward to the next, waiting until the day when we are whole.

As I knit, I can feel the invisible threads connecting me to women of the past who used knitting to cope with the troubling times of their era. Knitting teacher and designer Elizabeth Zimmermann wrote, “Knit on with confidence and hope through all crises.” Women knitted through the two World Wars and the Spanish Flu and countless other crises and elections. And they likely will again in the future. Knitting leaves us with a tangible memory of time and helps us cope with our fears and anxieties. It reminds us that life goes on. There will always be a baby who needs warmth. And one day I will finish that gray sweater.

What to stash this week: Nurturing your garden

A dusky pink knit hat with a floral pattern.

I’m excited to introduce you to the Winter Garden Hat, a new pattern by Faye Kennington, and to the recently-launched Knitrino app. This pattern, which is available only on Knitrino, features an addictive flower bobble stitch — long stitches that are wrapped over the previous work — that makes the most stunning textured fabric. Faye used Julie Asselin Nurtured, a blend of Rambouillet, Targhee and Merino, in the Indie Untangled exclusive Leaf Pile colorway. The Small size, which fits a 21″-22″ head, requires only one skein, while the Large (23″-24″) and Extra Large (25″-26″) sizes take two.

This is a great way to try out Knitrino, a new app for interactive knitting patterns. The founders, sisters Alison Yates and Andrea Cull, describe it as how Google Maps changed the atlas — it turns knitting patterns into an interactive experience. The patterns are designed to allow you to focus only on the row you’re working on, plus you can view video instructions with the click of a stitch and track your progress as you follow the pattern. You can download Knitrino on your Android and Apple devices.

To celebrate the release of the Winter Garden Hat, you’ll receive a Knitrino project bag free with any purchase of Nurtured in Leaf Pile, while supplies last.

Skeins of gray, white, pink and gold yarn.

Speaking of Julie Asselin, it’s the last call for Nurtured Mini Boxes, a special partnership for Indie Untangled. You have a choice of three color combinations, each one consisting of six mini skeins so you can try out this rustic Aran-weight yarn and see the nuanced colors in real life. The boxes are available to preorder only through this Monday, January 11.

Melted clocks and the words Salvador Dali 2021 Monthly Yarn Club.

Lisa The Knitting Artist is taking inspiration from another artist, Salvador Dalí, for her new yarn club. During each month of 2021, she will create a new colorway inspired by one of his works, starting with his earliest and ending with his last. Each installment will come with one or two small relating relating to that month’s color and card of fun facts about the artist. Signups are open on a rolling basis.

Hedgehogs holding hearts.

Celebrate love with these adorable heart-holding hedgehogs from Jillian of WeeOnes. She also has monthly surprise stitch markers themed around Hibernation.

Twinkling lights in snow and the words Fairies in the snow mystery knitalong.

Lena of Softyarn Designs is reuniting with Jilly and Kiddles for the Fairies In the Snow MKAL. The knit is a crescent-shaped shawl made with two skeins of fingering/sock yarn and the pattern is 40% off through Tuesday with code Fairies.

Michele of Misfit Yarns is debuting two mystery yarn clubs for 2021. The first, which runs from February to July, is inspired by the TV show The Office and the second, which runs from February to June, is inspired by the Great Lakes.

Colorful round metal loops next to a silver tin labeled with the words Yank Your Yarn.

Bonnie of Yank Your Yarn has new multicolored wire stitch markers in sets of 30 or 50, in addition to her silver and square markers with a variety of colored beads.

Indie Untangled 2020 Year In Review Part 2: Indie makers

Blue marled stockinette fabric and the words Indie Untangled 2020 Year in Review

There’s definitely nothing quite like showing off your latest FO, either at a fiber festival or online (and I’ve definitely spent this year trying to perfect the art of the knitwear selfie!). I really enjoyed seeing what people have finished in 2020 with yarn from Indie Untangled dyers.

Here’s a roundup of ones that caught my eye and that were also submitted by Indie Untangled followers.

Sweaters

A red colorwork sweater

Jeraldine’s Knitorious RBG by Park Williams in The Wandering Flock Worsted Merino and Mohair Fluff

A man with a dog wearing a colorwork sweater.

Spalding’s Noux by Suvi Simola in La Bien Aimée Cashmerino and La Bien Aimée Mohair Silk (purchased at IU 2019) and various other companies

A gray and purple colorwork sweater.

Danielle’s Junction by Andrea Mowry with Dark Harbour Yarn

A pink gradient sweater.

Maggie’s V-Back Tee DK by Jamie Hoffman in SpaceCadet Lyra Sport

A green sweater.

Stacy’s Magnolia Chunky Cardigan by Camilla Vad in Murky Depths Harbour and Mirage

A gray speckled sweater.

Kathy’s Ursa in Lavender Lune Yarn Co. Bulky

A grey sweater with rainbow stripes.

Nathalie’s True Friend by Veera Välimäki in Canon Hand Dyes Bruce Yak Merino Fingering and Canon Hand Dyes Bruce Yak Silk Singles

An orange colorwork sweater.

Kim’s Threipmuir by Ysolda Teague in Astral Bath Yarns Astral Sport

Shawls

A brown red and blue shawl.

Stephanie’s Slipstravaganza in Undercover Otter, Three Irish Girls and various other companies

A purple striped shawl.

Alexis’s Edison in Birch Hollow Fibers Phillis DK

A large fuchsia shawl.

Donna’s Jolene by Bristol Ivy in Skeinny Dipping Journey Worsted

A purple lacy shawl.

Adrienne’s Paris Toujours by Isabell Kraemer in Astral Bath Yarns Tesseract DK

Socks

Purple striped socks.

Marie’s Simple Skyp Socks by Adrienne Ku in Canon Hand Dyes

What to stash this week: Giving and receiving

A cotton bag with an orange and brown flower pattern filled with orange-labeled beauty products.

Kismet of Lolo Body Care is passionate about giving back. Throughout the year, aside from soothing crafters’ skin with moisturizing body bars, lip balm and face lotion, the company also supports several non-profit organizations, including making a donation to One Tree Planted, which fights climate change by planting trees, every time a LoLo Eco-Bag is purchased. For this holiday season, Kismet has extended that promotion to every order. 

In addition, 5% of all Lolo Body Care holiday sales will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, which supports and builds affordable housing. 

A skein of gray yarn speckled with gold on top of a ball of navy yarn.

I brought together super soft Cashmere yarn from fellow Brooklynites Rebecca Kevelson of Clinton Hill Cashmere and Geraldine Yang of The Wandering Flock for my Cashmenorah hat. I think this combination of bespoke yarn and unique hand-dyed would look beautiful in so many other mosaic hat patterns, so I’m offering the yarn as a bundle and including one discounted pattern of your choice. Check out my pattern suggestions here. I’m currently working on using these yarns together for a mosaic constellations hat, so if that intrigues you, snag the yarn while it’s still available!

A green sweater with multicolored bobbles.

Stephanie Earp has released a fun sweater design that’s perfect for mini skeins or playing with leftovers — or get a dyed-to-order kit from dyer Annie Paaren. The Bobble Buster sweater comes in both kids and adult sizes, and Stephanie is hosting a cast-on party over on Instagram in the New Year.

A golden mountain reflected in a lake, and light blue yarn speckled with gold and purple.

Rachel of Six and Seven Fiber’s wintry Grand Teton-inspired colorway is available to preorder on Indie Untangled through next Sunday, December 27 on three bases: Alfalfa, a luxurious 80/10/10 Superwash Merino/Cashmere/nylon heavy fingering-weight yarn, and Amaranth and Soybean, two rustic but soft non-Superwash Merino fingering and DK-weight yarns that would make excellent sweaters.

Six mini skeins of gray, white, purple and aqua yarn.

This set of Julie Asselin’s Nurtured yarn, a unique blend of Rambouillet, Targhee and Merino that Julie and Jean-François hand dye before it’s spun at Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont, is definitely one of my favorites, with the aqua Picnic and deep plum Tisane that brings out the pinks in the special Leaf Pile colorway (third from the top).

This is one of three color combinations available in the Nurtured Mini Boxes from Indie Untangled. These sets come with six mini skeins so you can try out this rustic Aran-weight yarn and see the nuanced colors in real life. The boxes are available to preorder only through January 8.

Champagne glasses and confetti in jewel tones.

After packaging and shipping out 100+ new year countdown boxes, and auctioning one off the benefit the American Nurses Foundation, Inc., I have several extra goodies that I decided to put together in mini mystery packs. You’ll receive four 20g, 87-92-yard, fingering-weight mini skeins dyed in coordinating jewel tones and one non-yarn goodie. (Please note that these packages are not individually wrapped and will ship on December 28.)

Stitch markers in red and white peppermint candy colors.

If you need a last minute stocking stuffer, Amanda of Doodle Dew Designs has some Christmas stitch markers left! This includes markers made with real candy canes and with fun holiday colors.

Stardust Fiber Studio has a new Winter Wonderland collection.

The knitter’s bookshelf: A gift list from Indie Untangled

2

A book sits in front of a pile of colorful knitwear.

As much as I’ve embraced the digital world, there is definitely still part of me that needs physical books in my life. I know it’s cliché, but flipping through the pages, taking in printed photographs and taking pride in a colorful stack of spines on your bookshelf or nightstand… It’s actually kind of similar to having a yarn stash. I probably won’t knit every single pattern in every book I own, but I appreciate knowing that they’re there, to take me on a journey when I might need it most.

I’ve come across many books over the past few years, and while I don’t think I can do them all justice with a “proper” book review, I thought it would be helpful to provide a guide to some of the ones that have found a special place on my IKEA Kallax. And if you happen to find the perfect holiday gift, even better! (This posts contains affiliate links, meaning a small percentage of your purchase may benefit Indie Untangled.)

Wool & Pine Book One

I may be biased about this book because I’m offering it in the Indie Untangled shop, but the reason I decided to carry this book is why I’d recommend it. I’ve admired the designs of Abbye and Selena, the team that makes up Wool & Pine, since I first saw the Sorrel sweater pop up on my Instagram feed. Aside from being a bound collection of the pair’s patterns and gorgeous photographs, the book provides access to video tutorials with instructions and tips for each design. I know I’m going to be referring to the Sorrel videos after I start my sweater.

The book is also bound in a way that it stays open to the page you need very easily. I certainly love the look of matte or hardcover books with thick spines, however, I find that if I want to knit from them I need to photocopy the pages or download the PDF (this book also comes with access to the PDF patterns if you prefer to knit from one).

The Power of Knitting: Stitching Together Our Lives in a Fractured World

by Loretta Napoleoni

I wasn’t familiar with Loretta Napoleoni until earlier this year, when her assistant contacted me about this new book. Napoleoni is a journalist who has covered the financing of terrorism — her first book, Terror Inc: Tracing the Money Behind Global Terrorism, is a bestseller that has been translated into 12 languages. The topic of knitting is decidedly softer, but Loretta tackles it with a well-researched expertise, weaving together the history of our craft with her personal experiences.

The book does include 10 patterns at the end, including a version of the Pussy Hat called the Pussy Power Hat. While the patterns seem a bit like an afterthought, and I think Loretta’s writing is strong enough to stand on its own, it is nice that they have connections to passages in the book, and the simple illustrations are quite lovely.

Seasonal Slow Knitting: Thoughtful Projects for a Handmade Year

by Hannah Thiessen

I was already a fan of Hannah Thiessen’s first book, Slow Knitting, which was everything I could ever want in a knitting book: stories about the creators of artisanal yarns that I’ve been fortunate to work with, including Anne Hanson, Jill Draper, Julie Asselin and mYak, and beautiful patterns to tie these stories together. Seasonal Slow Knitting is just what it sounds like, breaking up our mindful craft into seasons.

Whereas Slow Knitting brought together patterns from a variety of designers, Hannah designed all 10 patterns in this book, which was released in October, so the collection feels much more cohesive and is a beautiful showcase for the rustic yarns.

Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool

by Clara Parkes

No knitter’s bookshelf is complete without the work of “yarn whisperer” Clara Parkes. In this book, released last fall, Clara recounts her Great White Bale project, in which she crowdsourced the transformation of a 676-pound bale of fleece into skeins that found their way into the hands of knitters. As you may know if you read my newsletter, I’m a sucker for a road trip, especially one that includes yarn, and Clara is an expert guide, taking us along with her to Catskills Merino in New York to the Saco River Dyehouse in Maine and many places in between, all in the pursuit of yarn.

Two people wearing knitted items stand in snow next to horses.

Knits About Winter

by Emily Foden

I knew that I needed this book on my shelf ever since I heard that it was being published by Pom Pom Press. Emily Foden of Viola was one of the first indie dyers that I fell for as a new yarn collector and the 12 patterns in this book show them off beautifully. I haven’t knit any of them yet, however I scored two skeins of her Shadow DK (a blend of Polwarth, Wensleydale and Zwartbles) in a shop update over the summer and realized it’s the perfect match for her Skyhill hat.

The book is filled with beautifully styled and composed shots of knitwear against the snowy backdrop of Emily’s home in Ontario, Canada, though for me it is definitely meant for admiring and not knitting from. Fortunately, the book comes with a code to download a PDF version via Ravelry.