StressKnits

Knitting Pulled Me Out

Stacy Oliver

For most of my life I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. I’ve seen numerous school counselors, talked to friends, talked to family, but it was never really enough. I’ve always been afraid of going to an actual therapist because I know in someway I would have to lie in order to avoid hospital admittance, and really what’s the point of therapy if you have to lie? Unfortunately, this story is far from unique. I’ve searched for years to find something, anything that would at least help on a micro scale. Enter knitting.

I know what you’re thinking. Everybody talks about how great crafts are for mental health. There have been loads of articles about how knitting lowers blood pressure, helps with anxiety, helps with depression. But I think it’s important to talk about what works, and why it works for us in a world that feels increasingly helpless. 

My sophomore year of college I was a Resident Advisor and we were completing room checks before Thanksgiving break. Laying out in a dorm room was a red skein of yarn and giant knitting needles. Inside me something clicked; I’ve always wanted to learn how to knit. I come from a pretty crafty family (one grandma sews quilts, another crocheted) but those crafts never stuck with me. Over the next few days I grew an obsession with learning how to knit. I watched knitting tutorials, which led to me watching knitting podcasts (specifically Kristin of the Yarngasm podcast because I thought the name was amazing). After the six and a half hour drive back home I begged my mom to go to Michael’s craft sore with me so that I could start knitting right away. I picked out a skein of chunky gray acrylic yarn that I thought would be the perfect amount for a scarf (it wasn’t), and an obnoxiously large pair of aluminum dark green needles. We got back home, I popped in my headphones, and I started playing all of the knitting tutorials I had saved from my weeks worth of research. No, my yarn did not become a scarf; turns out ninety yards of a chunky acrylic will make you a horribly misshaped pot holder. Even though my project didn’t come out as expected, I was obsessed with figuring this out. So I went back to Michael’s and bought two more chunky skeins with more yardage than the first and boom I had made my first scarf.

 Getting to see and chat with Kristin of Voolenvine Yarns/ Yarngasm is always a good time.

Getting to see and chat with Kristin of Voolenvine Yarns/ Yarngasm is always a good time.

After my first successful item, knitting consumed me. The love of knitting grew inside me like a virus I could never fight off. I kept buying yarn and knitting scarfs. When I got bored with that I moved on to hats (my first hat looked more like a baby beret since I knew literally nothing of gauge). I soon found Ravelry, started watching more and more knitting podcasts. I started buying nicer yarns, better needles, prettier notions. I became a proper capital “K” Knitter. 

I pushed myself to take risks in my knitting. I knit my first pair of socks, my first multi skein shawl, and my first sweater. All I wanted to do was consume everything I could about my craft which was quickly becoming my lifestyle. 

Throughout the rest of college I turned to knitting for every hard moment: weeks of RA training, fights with the boyfriend, the loss of 3 of my grandparents, and crippling depression. There were so many days where getting out of bed seemed like the most impossible task. So I would sit up and knit. After a few hours I would look at my project and how it had grown. I accomplished something, I was productive, I was worth while. At the very least it enabled me to feel worthy of getting up and feeding myself. 

In January of 2016 I decided I wanted to be more involved in the knitting community I loved so much. I wanted to be able to connect with other people who felt the same way I did about yarn and needles. I wanted to make friends with people who understood. So I decided to start the Stress Knits podcast. It was bizarre talking to the camera on my iPhone for an hour, but there was something about using our language without having to explain what an indie dyer or ralvery are. Even though I had no expectations of anyone watching me, I felt better just talking about what I loved so much. Never in a million years did I expect to actually make friends and build a community. I owe so much of my happiness to putting myself out there and talking about knitting. 

 Hanging out with knitting friends turned actual friends, Jaclyn of Brooklyn Knitfolk and Julie of Sweet Sparrow at Rhinebeck 2017

Hanging out with knitting friends turned actual friends, Jaclyn of Brooklyn Knitfolk and Julie of Sweet Sparrow at Rhinebeck 2017

A few months later, I graduated college and moved from West Virginia back home to Michigan. I felt lost again. Back to a world I lived in for eighteen years, but felt so far removed from all of the friends I made down south. It didn’t help that finding a job was near impossible. After I sent out about one hundred applications I decided to take my old bosses advice and do what I’ve talked about doing for a while, learn how to dye yarn. My boss was so encouraging and actually gifted me a starter kit and some bare yarn so that I would actually try. So I did. I fell head over heals in love with how dye would dance around the water and find its home on the bare yarn and create something beautiful. Dyeing yarn gave me a purpose while I was lost and trying to find a job I had always thought would be so easy to find.

That summer all I did was buy bare yarn and dye it. My husband (fiancé at the time) encouraged me to open an Etsy store and just see what happens. If no one bought anything, great! I had yarn to knit with. If people liked it and bought it, then maybe this could turn into something. And it turned into something. 

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I would wake up and crave turning a bare skein of yarn into something beautiful. I enjoyed the entire process. Tying  the yarn so it wouldn’t tangle, soaking all of the yarn, setting up my work station on the kitchen counter, adding just the right amount of water in the pot, experimenting with how the colors play together, rinsing the yarn in my favorite scent of Tuft Woolens wool wash, and hanging the skeins outside to dry. It is a very meditative process for me. It makes sense to my body and my brain. 

For the next year I would continue to enjoy knitting and dyeing alongside working at Starbucks. And then everything changed: I got pregnant. It was only a few months after my husband Doug and I got married but I was still terrified. I felt like my entire life was over. We weren’t going to be able to travel, I wasn’t going to be able to find my dream job and build my career. Before I could completely freak out I started getting ridiculously sick throwing up multiple times a day. It was so bad that I had to go on leave from Starbucks, I had to stop dyeing yarn, and I even had to stop knitting. I lost who I was all over again. But slowly I began to remember. I was able to dye yarn occasionally, I was able to get out of bed, I was able to pick up my needles. And then I experienced the worst thing I could have experienced in this situation, I lost the baby. It came as a complete shock because there were no symptoms and I was past the first trimester. No one thinks of a miscarriage at sixteen and a half weeks until you have one. I hit the lowest part of my life. I felt numb, empty, and experienced the deepest sadness I have ever experienced. 

One of my best friends offered to run and grab clothes and whatever else we might need while we stayed a few nights at my parents. I asked her to grab my toffee Fringe Field Bag that had my Madewell Cardigan by Joji Locatelli in my yarn in the “Rattle” colorway. The first night I let myself fall a part, but the next day I needed something. My husband and I grabbed coffee and then sat on the couch together, he encouraged me to try to knit so I did. I couldn’t stop. The cardigan was maybe a fourth of the way done before I picked it up again. I finished it that week. I needed more. So I went to a yarn store in East Lansing, Woven Art Yarn Shop because they are a flagship store for Quince and Company. I grabbed a sweater quantity of lark in the “Iceland” colorway for the Boothbay cardigan by Hannah Fettig. I finished that sweater in a week while on a family trip in Wisconsin. Knitting gave me something to focus on, something to do with my hands, something that helped me ignore the world and everybody’s questions about how I’m doing. Knitting became my lifeline. 

Once I started working through my miscarriage and talking about it with friends and family I started healing, but I honestly don’t think I would have ever gotten to that point if I wasn’t a knitter. As the months began to pass I kept clinging to knitting to keep me going. The project that really helped me forget about the world and just focus on healing and filling back up was the What the Fade Mystery Fade Along hosted by my favorite knitwear designer, Andrea Mowry. The combination of color, brioche, and garter stitch consumed me. Everyday I would wake up, grab coffee, turn on knitting podcasts, let my pug Esther fall asleep on my lap and knit on that shawl for hours. I owe so much to that beautiful shawl and to Andrea Mowry, because honestly I don't know where I would be without it. 

 My happy place: Knitting on my What the Fade shawl by Andrea Mowry while my pup Esther sleeps in my lap.

My happy place: Knitting on my What the Fade shawl by Andrea Mowry while my pup Esther sleeps in my lap.

 In November of 2017 I found out pregnant and the whole thing started over. I got ridiculously sick and had to stop knitting for about twenty four weeks.  I was finally able to pick it up again and started making sweaters for our sweet little lady. I was able to start dyeing yarn again and even opened up my own website. And then my water broke at thirty two weeks. It was absolutely terrifying and I had to spend the next two weeks wondering if the baby and I were going to make it the extra two weeks the doctors wanted. Once again knitting saves me. I began designing hats and shawls. I was finished project after project counting down the days until my induction. Once induction day was finally here I tried to knit during early labor which was much easier said than done, and I had to give up. 28 hours of labor later they told me she was not tolerating labor and had to come out in a C-Section. We were so lucky that it went well but unfortunately being a premature baby she had to stay in the NICU for a while. I recovered fine, clinging to knitting as I counted down the hours until I could see Eliza again. And then my incision got infected and I had to be readmitted to the hospital indefinitely.

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And that’s where I am now. In the hospital with my husband, knitting and counting down the days until Eliza and I can go home. This situation is the hardest I have ever been in but luckily I have an amazing support system, and most of all I have knitting to fill myself back up.

On a lighter note, I’m participating in the #notalonekal hosted by my amazing friend Kemper of JunkYarn. Please check out her Instagram for more information. Please feel free to use the coupon code NOTALONE for 15% off anything in my shop until the end of July. Take care of yourselves and happy knitting!

 My husband Doug is my rock and biggest supporter. I don't know how I would have started a podcast or a business without him. He encourages me everyday to take risks and I'm so unbelievably glad he does. 

My husband Doug is my rock and biggest supporter. I don't know how I would have started a podcast or a business without him. He encourages me everyday to take risks and I'm so unbelievably glad he does.