Hello, lovely readers! Today we have a special treat. About three years ago, a friend and I had made a lunch date after some yarn shopping therapy and she asked if she could bring along another friend she was certain I would love. She was correct. This friend knits, writes, is funny, and I enjoyed the lunch. The mystery woman’s name is Lara Neel. Unfortunately, she moved away before we were able to meet up again. About two years ago, she had a sock knitting book published and has a new book, Crafting the Resistance, coming out in just under two weeks. She agreed to do an interview so you could learn more about the story behind the book and about her. Enjoy!
For our readers who do not know you, please introduce yourself.
I learned to knit at daycare when I was a kid, then re-learned it in college, since the lady who taught me never showed me how to cast on or cast off! I had a podcast, Math4Knitters, for quite a while, although it’s in a dormant phase right now. I love to knit, write, learn, sew, and pet kitties!
After the election, I seriously had to be dragged out of bed by my wife. I was really overwhelmed by feelings of shock, despair, and hopelessness. Sewing pussyhats out of fleece helped me feel a little better. So, when I was asked if I would be interested in co-authoring a book about craftivism, I was really excited about the idea of helping other people participate in active engagement, no matter their geography, physical abilities or, to be honest, craft skills. My co-author Heather and I talked a lot about making sure there was a great range of projects in the book for all kinds of people to create and enjoy, for all kinds of starting points. Crafting the Resistance includes projects that use sewing, hot-iron transfer, knitting, stenciling, needle felting, wet felting, very basic quilting, and (a very little bit of) crochet.
What role do you think “craftivism” has in society? Where do you see it heading in the future?
Most people, I think, see what happened in January, where crafters made a “sea of pink” at the march on Washington and at sister marches, as a surprising anomaly. But, working with our hands to express and support our political and personal goals may be as old as textiles, themselves. Some people theorize that the first real garments, as we see in Women’s Work: The first 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, were skirts made of string. They weren’t warm or physically protective – their purpose was to frame or enhance a woman’s hips. If you’ve ever worn a bellydance hip scarf or really enjoyed a very twirly skirt, you’ve felt the kind of joy this garment can bring first-hand. You could argue that these very early garments were the first expressions of feminine power, which may not have been controversial or political at that time, but certainly is now. For more modern examples, look to the Rainbow Pride flag (Gilbert Baker, 1978), suffragette banners and flags from the early 1900s and needlework to support troops and wounded soldiers.
How did the collaboration with Heather Marano happen?
Heather and I were introduced by Donna Druchunas, who is fabulous for many reasons, but also knows just about everybody and is supportive of all kinds of artists.
How is the experience of collaborating on a book different than being the only author? How did the work get divvied up?
Sock Architecture took me a long time to write, and we knew we had to finish Crafting the Resistance as soon as possible, so there was no way the two books were going to have the same “feel,” but it was a very fun experience both times. It was really delightful having someone to use as a sounding board and brainstormer. We both made lists of project ideas, compared them, and then figured out where we had a few holes to fill.
What do you love most about writing a book?
It’s really exciting to feel like your work is going to get out in the world and, possibly, help other people connect, learn and grow. I know that’s possible with online venues, but there’s just something about a book that feels more complete and thoughtful. When I was learning to sew in 2015, I happened across sewing designer named Ann Person who started and ran a company called Stretch and Sew. She wrote several books to go along with her patterns and I’m kind of a freak about hunting them down. When I read her books, I’m learning from her, even though she’s passed on.
How did you get started in crafting?
Well, as I said in my introduction, I learned to knit when I was 7 or so, but quit when my teacher moved away. I really don’t know why I didn’t pick it up, again, until college. But, when I did, it was really exciting for me to feel like I was making something from “nothing.” That was almost 20 years ago and that magical feeling hasn’t worn off.
What types of crafting have you tried?
Knitting, spinning, needle felting, rigid-heddle weaving, painting furniture, super-basic woodworking and sewing.
Which ones do you love most?
Right now, it’s knitting and sewing, although I’ll never give up my spinning wheel or looms!
Which ones do you spend the most time doing?
I probably sew about 16 hours a week and knit 7 hours a week, on average, but it depends on what else I’m doing. I teach beginning and intermediate knitting at my local community center, so when I’m in class, I knit a little more. If I go on a trip, I knit a LOT more. We just said goodbye to one of our cats, and for several days after that, I couldn’t sew because I couldn’t handle the uncertainty of, well, anything not working out well, so I just knit very simple things until I felt a little better.
Are there any crafts you do not enjoy?
I tried to crochet a few times, but it didn’t stick. My twin sister loves to crochet and she’s a very talented spinner, so maybe I feel better about leaving crochet up to her. I liked woodworking, but it was loud and messy, which I wasn’t crazy about.
What are your favorite materials/supplies/tools?
For sewing, I love sewing with a nice knit fabric. I use a Singer 328k, which is technically an antique, since it is over 50 years old. For knitting, give me a good sock yarn and some double-pointed needles and I will be happy for a long time.
What is your “day job” and how do you balance it with your craft related pursuits and writing?
I work at a book publisher as a marketing manager for children’s books. Writing and crafting are for nights and weekends. When I was on deadline for Crafting the Resistance, I’m afraid that my family didn’t see me a lot unless I was taking photos in our mudroom. I like my job and I try not to daydream too much about crafts at work, but I spend a lot of my lunch hours on Ravelry!
What sparks new ideas? Do you ever suffer creative droughts? What do you do to get over those droughts?
I used to ask people this a lot! I think I was terrified of running out of ideas. It hasn’t really happened. If anything, I get more ideas than I have time to work out! If I did have a drought, I think I would need to go to a museum to get my creative juices flowing again.
Is your crafting area messy or tidy?
I try to keep it in balance. My neatness level sometimes depends on how curious my cat is feeling. Knitting is easier, because you just shove your work into a bag and as long as no one complains about the number of bags lying around, you’re good to go. I have my sewing machine and my serger set up on the dining room table, and our main floor is very open, so I can watch TV and also see what’s going on everywhere from there. I keep a laundry basket next to my machines. I put the patterns I’m using, interfacing, zippers and supplies in the basket so that I’m not always running up and down to my basement storage area.
What are you currently working on?
I am making holiday ornaments from Crafting the Resistance when I knit and sewing more samples from the book, as well. I gave away some of the pieces I actually made for photographs, so I need to replace them before I go to trunk shows!
Below are links where you can find Lara:
Website and blog: math4knitters.blogspot.com
Instagram: Lara Neel