Left: An image from A Hat from Grandma: A Knitting Story (illustration by Bella Maher). Right: Knitting expert Kay Gardiner (photo by Gale Zucker).
Knitting is a central theme of our picture book A Hat for Grandma: A Knitting Story, which not only offers insight into a deeply rewarding craft, but teaches children about the virtues of patience, determination, and hard work.
With that in mind, we reached out to Kay Gardiner, veteran knitter, author, and co-founder of Modern Daily Knitting (MDK), a daily online magazine and shop that brings together thousands of like-minded knitters from around the world.
Kay launched MDK with her friend Ann Shayne, with whom she has also co-written several knitting books. Together, they've worked to inspire people with their motto: "Knitting is supposed to be fun!"
In this special Q&A, Kay shares her knitting journey, reveals what she loves most about this beautiful craft, and gives valuable tips for passing knitting on to children and young people.
1. Tell us about your journey of becoming a knitter.
I liked handwork of all kinds as a kid, from gum-wrapper chains to potholders to mosaic ashtrays. I learned to knit as a Camp Fire Girl, around age 12. Our group's leader, Mrs. Kilpatrick, was a skilled seamstress and an overall crafty person. We made garter stitch slippers with pom poms on the toes—classic! I suspect Mrs. K did all the finishing for us.
That was the last knitting for me over the next 20 years. My mom and grandmas didn't knit, so the craft wasn't readily accessible to me, but I had liked it a lot at the time. When I was in my 30s, I walked by a yarn shop and was curious enough to go inside. A worker in the shop put her knitting in my hands to see if I remembered how to knit, and I did!
I walked out of the shop with an armful of Merino wool and a handwritten sweater recipe, and I've never stopped knitting since then. It was a kind of falling in love: I knew I wanted to keep knitting, it just felt right to me. I was a lawyer at the time, and people teased me about knitting, and I absolutely didn't care.
2. What do you enjoy the most about this craft?
I don't think I could single out one thing. I love the beauty of the materials, the cleverness I feel when learning a new technique or trick, the satisfaction of finishing something, the connection to knitters of the past, to the animals that give us their wool, and to the farmers who take care of them.
I knit every day, so the familiarity of the practice calms and centers me. Things are okay if I'm knitting. I love giving handknits to people, that's a feeling that you want to feel again and again. If people at the baby shower don't squeal with delight when my handknit baby jeans are unwrapped, what am I even here for?
3. How can children benefit from learning how to knit?
We forget that childhood can feel precarious, and I think knitting can give a sense of agency and control. Children delight in making things themselves, in being able to make gifts for loved ones, and in being in charge of their projects.
Knitting also teaches problem-solving, and in time it gives you confidence that you can fix your mistakes. All knitting problems are solvable, even if the solution is to unravel your stitches and start over—failure turns into learning. When you take that attitude into other aspects of life, you feel more confident in your ability to deal with all sorts of challenges—and even failure.
I think kids also like the peace and solitude of knitting. Your mind gets to slow down and wander; you find yourself working out your troubles while you knit.
4. What advice do you have for teaching children how to knit?
I would say the best advice is to be ready to teach, but not force it. Knitting and other creative pursuits should be about joy, not about pleasing adults.
When children show interest in knitting, I support it with simple projects. I ask, 'What would you like to make?' I give them nice yarn and good tools so they can experience the pleasure of well-made things right away. I let them choose colors and patterns themselves. I don't tell them that what they want to do is beyond their ability.
I try not to appear to them as an authority on knitting as much as a fellow knitter, as soon as possible—knitting is a great equalizer of generations. I praise all progress, and I don't argue with them if they want to put their knitting aside. I know from my own experience that if knitting is for you, it waits for you to come back to it.
One bossy little thing I do tell a beginner is to save their first knitting, no matter what. I wish I still had those slippers.
Follow Kay Gardiner on Instagram.
Learn more about A Hat for Grandma: A Knitting Story.