JENNIFER KRONEWITTER, KNITTER
I first crossed paths with Jennifer at a holiday work party, where I witnessed how she masterfully avoided small talk and rolled her eyes at stupid comments regarding her beautiful hair. She is not big on flattery unless it truly comes from the heart and is delivered just at the right time.
She is authentic and genuine, and definitely more on the realist than the romantic side of the spectrum when it comes to her view of the world. And that’s exactly how she approaches knitting, with a heavy dose of no-nonsense and a dash of perfectionism. A refreshing mix reminiscent of Christina Applegate’s character in Dead to Me, if she was into knitting infinity scarves that is ;-)
I followed the threads of how her knitting journey began and tried to keep it as real as if she would have written this interview herself. Enjoy the story of this determined and proudly self-taught maker!
Have you always been crafty?
I grew up in a crafty home and I have been making things pretty much my whole life. When I was younger, it was friendship bracelets, and then I started doing bigger projects with my mom. She was a basket maker, so I did a few baskets with her. I remember going with her to get walnuts off the trees, so she could make her own dye. I would help her put the reed in these big barrels, she would put dye color in, and it would make all these different colors. It was a really interesting process, but it stunk really bad.
After all the reeds were ready, we would sit together in the kitchen on football Sunday and she would show me how to interweave the reeds together to make baskets. My mom’s basket designs where very intricate, so it was also very exciting to see the end result. When you see something go from nothing to a completed project it's always really satisfying. I think there is a sense of accomplishment when you make something with your hands from beginning to end.
I was probably twelve years old when we were working on these creative projects together. I didn’t realize at the time, but it was nice to have a a creative outlet. But most importantly, all those projects where something that my mom and I could bond over. Sometimes my cousins would join us and we it would turn into a whole-day event. We talked and laughed a lot, but it was also a moment of calm. Now looking back, it was probably meditative as well.
My mom was like Martha Stewart. She painted, baked and made baskets. Her gift wrapping was always the best, and everything she touched was pretty and perfectly put together. I, on the other hand, had to work at it. It didn't come naturally to me like it dit to her, but I learned to teach myself to do all those things.
I remember she would go to her friend's house once or twice a week and they would do all kinds of artsy projects. She would take me with her and I used to be the helper and assist them on whatever it was they were working on. When I started knitting and needed to learn how to fix mistakes, she showed me a few tips and tricks.
How did you got into knitting?
I started knitting more than ten years ago. I was at the GAP one day and saw a scarf I thought was super cute. It was around the time when the trend moved from long scarves to infinity scarves. I don’t know what it was about that particular scarf, but I remember looking at it and thinking, I love this! I took a picture of it and I said “I am going to teach myself how to make a scarf.”
I had never knitted anything in my life, but that didn’t stop me. The next day I went to Michael’s and bought a knitting kit. I don’t think there were that many “how to” YouTube videos back then, so I got home with some yarn, a pair of needles and a little piece of paper with a not-so-good black-and-white picture and a few basic instructions. But I was determined to figure it out, so I did. Now, I am not going to lie, when I first started knitting I was quite terrible at it. In the process of making that scarf, I also learned that scarves are not really the best projects for beginners, because they take forever and you get bored.
The first thing I knitted with that kit was not that great, but it set me on the path. I eventually found a pattern for that scarf I saw at the GAP and I was able to make my very first infinity scarf. I remember it was the first thing I was proud of knitting.
Over time I got better at it, and I found that knitting was a creative outlet I really enjoyed and was passionate about. At some point I decided to start selling my pieces. I think it was after going to craft shows and meeting other makers that I started to think that was an option for me. I officially opened Chiknitty’s Etsy store about two years ago.
How do you go from picking up a knitting kit to creating Chiknitty?
I like to teach myself. If I see something I like, I think how can I teach myself to do this? I guess some people would probably take a class, but I'd rather watch a video and then try it on my own. Maybe it’s because I'm very independent, but I feel very proud when I can teach myself a new skill.
With knitting, it was definitely an evolution. It takes time and you only get good at it the more you do it. So, you just have to keep at it because it’s the only way you're going to learn. And it’s not just the actual making you have to learn. At the beginning you don’t even know how to pick up yarn.You pick colors that aren't so great for the project you are working on because you don't fully understand how the yarn is going to drape, or how is it going to look once it’s done. It’s a skill you have to learn over time. A lot of time. (She grins.)
The last couple of years I've gotten significantly better, because I had to make a lot of pieces for the online store. The more you make the better you get and you realize how much you didn’t know. For example, I realized two years ago that I didn't know how to make hats. So I started learning and doing it. Now I would say, not only do I know how to make hats, but I also know which ones I like best.
There are a lot of different things that you learn that you didn't expect you had to learn. For example, there’s a lot of math that's involved in knitting. And, trying to figure out how a panel is was going to work is like putting together a puzzle. So, it's not just the actual making you have to master.
It took me a long time to get to a point where I felt comfortable with what I was making. Once I started giving my knitting as gifts and getting a lot of really positive feedback, I started thinking about selling my pieces. Then, one day I just decided I'm going to do it and see what happens.
Honestly, the whole thing has been a slow process and a learning experience. I still don't fully grasp it, but I am getting there. You obviously have to create the right products. Then you need the right pictures. Of course, there's also understanding how the whole online shopping process works. And then, there is social media (she sighed), which is a whole other component that’s a real nightmare.
What is it that you like the most about knitting?
Knitting is one hundred percent meditative for me. Well, it can also be very frustrating at times, which is why you must always have a glass of wine within reach. I think that’s why when people try talking to me while I'm knitting, I just don't hear them. Because I'm totally in my space.
I think there's also something about the actual texture of yarn that I find very calming. The repetitive sound the needles make when they hit each other is very also soothing. Especially metal needles. The whole process of knitting is very repetitive, and if the pattern is simple and you are doing it without having to think about it too much, you just get in the zone.
Some patterns are more intricate than others, so you're also exercising your brain. There is more than one sense involved, and when you are trying to figure out a particularly intricate pattern or learning a new stitch, you're all in. All of your senses are working. I find knitting soothing and comforting, and I think everybody should be doing it. (She grinned again.) Seriously, I really wish everyone could have something in their lives like knitting. The whole process is very calming. I suppose I could also be sitting and meditating, but…that just doesn't do it for me.
I hear you take your knitting everywhere you go. Is that true?
Absolutely! Knitting is a craft that travels. You can knit on the train, during your lunch break at work, at a bar, at the airport, or while sitting at a coffee shop having breakfast. You can do it indoors and outdoors. I take it everywhere, except when I am trying to have some kind of social interaction with the people around me. I have a hard time maintaining a conversation while I am knitting. Some people can knit and carry on a conversation, but I just can’t do it. I would lose my focus and mess up the knitting, or I wouldn't be paying attention to what that person in saying. I took it once to Ravinia, but I had to promise my husband I'd stop when the concert started (and there was that eye roll).
Jennifer Kronwitter, Chiknitty founder and designer