During a family trip to the Irish motherland this summer, our tour guide told me I should stop obsessing over which 300-year-old sheep farm we were going to next and take five minutes to do nothing. I’m on my personal mecca to sheepville, and the Dubliner sherpa is telling me to breathe.
My name is Catherine, and I’m a knitwear hoarder. I have more turtlenecks than Twitter followers and hate moths with the fire of a thousand suns. But my appreciation for the medium runs deeper than the predominantly beige filter of #mylifeinknits.
I come from a family of artists and crafters and learned to knit and crochet in college while studying fashion. After mastering the basic techniques, I began creating fabric intuitively and building up garments by hand, with little premeditation. Producing textiles inspired me to start making art with a focus on fashion theory, social psychology, and the history of dress — and a little feminist health studies, film theory, and meteorology thrown in, because art school.
Experts say we’re most productive and happy when in a state of flow, when our abilities and interests are completely in sync and we’re hyperfocused on one activity. Like other repetitive crafts, knitting is proven to reduce stress; it even helped a few friends of mine quit smoking. The crafty pastime quickly became my own meditation practice, with very cozy by-products.
Sadly, a knitting degree alone does not pay the rent. Between gigs at a dreamy conceptual boutique-cum-gallery and marketing at a luxury textile company, I kept my fingers busy and moonlighted for local designers Tom Scott and Correll Correll, made one-off pieces for Anthropologie, and absorbed all aspects of the knitwear business. After clocking out of my day jobs, I’d come home, pour a drink, and knit on the couch with my cat from six to midnight.
I eventually took my career full throttle into fashion buying, and now I weave together pivot tables and spin budgets as a buyer at Bird Brooklyn. I get to nerd out when hand-selecting pieces from Christian Wijnants’ poetic Woolmark Prize–winning collection, or discovering the cashmere statement sweaters of Vladimir Teriokhin, who has developed knitwear for The Row and Marc Jacobs, among other industry heavy hitters.
While my personal sweater count is high, the process is purposeful. I don’t drop thousands at department stores, and I avoid fleeting fads. Each piece is treasured as a meaningful, historic token, like the now-holey beige men’s YSL sweater that was my mother’s first cashmere purchase. When particularly inspired, I’ll knit pieces myself that I can’t afford (thank you, Vogue Runway, for those Dries Van Noten fall 2011 detail shots, which kept me occupied during Hurricane Sandy).
Konmari devotees might judge my knitwear library as gluttonous. But every stitch in my closet brings me back to that calm flow of making, and celebrates the history of that faraway goat or sheep from which it came.
The artists I’m most excited about right now create pieces that are as sustainable as they are beautiful. Bicoastal artist and designer Lauren Manoogian confided in an email of her design process, “It is my calm space away from all the other demands … where I am most present and able to ‘do’ without questioning too much.” Her first foray into cashmere, produced domestically in Los Angeles, will hit Bird late this fall. “Create harmlessly” is the mantra of Brooklyn dye artist Audrey Louise Reynolds.
Ryan Roche, too, naturally dyes her yarn upstate with avocado skins to achieve her signature rosé. Employing trusted hand-knitters in Nepal, she’s preserving the native craft and stabilizing a community. And one of the oldest and most prestigious Scottish mills is producing exclusive water-repellent, machine-washable, pill-resistant, and anti-microbial pieces for Active Cashmere’s Bird holiday 2016 collaboration. My inner consumer screams, “Sustainable, thoughtful, and beauty-ridden knits — collect them all!”
On bad days, I fear I’m contributing to the buy-more, think-less fashion industry. But as a knitter, I strongly believe that understanding the provenance of our possessions ultimately helps us do more — and do better — with less.