01 May 2017

Becoming a “Real Knitter” with Monica Rodriguez of Knit’s All Folks

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This year as we journey together to explore our knitting roots and learn more about knitters and knitting from around the world, As part of this project, I’ve created a series of guest posts to introduce you to designers who are women of color. This is the third post in the series, where we meet Latina designer Monica Rodriguez, aka monifique on Ravelry. Monica lives in Albuquerque, NM, with her husband, and she can’t stop fidgeting with yarn. I’m sure most of you can relate to that “problem”!

Monica’s favorite knitting advice is:

“It’s just knitting.” As someone who loudly badmouths yarn and needles whenever I learn something new and am struggling, sometimes it’s important to just sit back and remember, “it’s just knitting.” Technically I signed up to do this FOR FUN. So keep having fun, it’s never truly life or death. Unless we have a polar apocalypse, in which case my skills will be useful and it definitely won’t matter if the stitch pattern is off by one stitch as long as it keeps humanity, on the verge of extinction, warm.

How I Figured Out I Was A “Real Knitter”

I first learned to crochet from my mother, who had recently learned from her mother-in-law, my grandmother. What I distinctly remember was knowing it wasn’t “cool.” It was the ‘80s, and while I thought all my grandma’s hand-made Barbie clothes were amazing, there was definitely some voice inside saying, “Hey, maybe don’t tell anyone about this?” She lived out of state, so I just had brief exposure to her crafty ways, and once she was gone, I just went back to buying my Barbie clothes like a “normal American.”

I took up crochet again due to a crushingly exhausting job. Imagine you’ve worked a 12-hour day, moving 50-pound music stands. Now imagine you get to sit at the back of an orchestra pit for 3 hours watching a top-notch orchestra play the same opera every night after that 12-hour shift. Just waiting for something to happen.

Becoming a "Real Knitter" with Monica Rodriguez of Knit's All Folks 1My point is, I desperately needed to stay awake. And so my coworker and I came up with a genius idea: She would teach me to knit! And when that didn’t take AT ALL, I went back to crochet. I crocheted a crooked long scarf in dark blue in the dark, while an orchestra played “Don Giovanni.” It helped me stay awake and not go crazy.

Years later, yarn would again provide refuge from crushing boredom, this time paired with terrifying anxiety. I moved to Sunnyvale, California, to wait with my husband for his double lung transplant. It was a lonely and terrifying time. Our entire support system was either in New Mexico or on the East coast. There was both everything and nothing to do. He was just a shell of the man I married, struggling to survive. I was working from our apartment, and just trying to stay on top of all of the chores, as well as raise money to fund his expensive, life-saving procedure.

I somehow needed to keep my sanity. I couldn’t drink, because what if we got the call, had to rush to the hospital, and I couldn’t drive? I couldn’t go to yoga without staring at my phone the whole time because what if I got the call? What if? What if?

Somewhere in that hazy awful time I stumbled across a website about French knitting. That seemed so easy—they taught it to kids! Surely I could handle that. And it wouldn’t leave me feeling helpless like crochet patterns did. I felt stupid and helpless all the time at the hospital, but this I could handle.

French knitting led to loom knitting, which led to yarn shopping, which led to new happiness.

Suddenly, I had something to do while we waited for the call. Or while I waited in the hospital for interventional radiology. (We were alway waiting for that damn department.) Now I could easily wait for six hours in the hospital without completely losing patience. It was a great improvement, even if my hands hurt and I realized we’d been waiting SIX WHOLE HOURS to talk to a doctor.

Becoming a "Real Knitter" with Monica Rodriguez of Knit's All Folks 2I tried going to a “real” yarn store and was immediately intimidated. Half the store was filled with spinning wheels. The other half was filled with yarn I couldn’t justify the cost of in my wildest dreams. In the center of the store was a group of white women knitting with needles. My hokey box store loom knitting didn’t belong there either. That is generally the trouble I’ve had all my life. I’m not white, so I don’t feel like I quite fit in with all of the “real” Americans. I don’t speak Spanish, so I’m clearly not Mexican enough for my own culture either. I’ve tried to blend, nodding politely and pretending I speak Spanish to a stranger passing by, and pretending my white friends’ privileges are the same as mine.

I brought French knitting for my husband’s surgery—I figured I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on much more than that. We waited for nine hours for the surgery to be complete. It was a success! It was crazy difficult, our marriage was tested, but he lived and he got better and I got better. Just looking at the green yarn from that night of knitting still makes me queasy, though. It’s the color that represents wondering if I’ll ever get to speak to my husband again. But it is my grandmother’s yarn, so it’s comforting in a way too.

After the transplant, I was determined to learn how to needle knit. I wanted to be a part of the “real” knitting community! The best part of post-transplant life is that I don’t care about being cool anymore. I wasn’t going to be intimidated. I wasn’t going to be turned away or spoken down too. After taking care of a dying man for seven months, there was nothing I couldn’t do.

I was terrible at needle knitting. It took weeks of cursing, yelling, a hour-long road trip to visit a friend for a purling consultation, but I learned to knit! I continue to be proud of that—I’m not an  instant fiber genius—I awkwardly struggled as much as the worst knitting students.

I spent years trying to find my place in the knitting community. I didn’t care what anyone looked like, or if I was the youngest person in the room—I just wanted to be welcomed. I eventually found a great little knit night of women that I love. I found out that there are some knitting cliques not even worth trying to force friendships with. I started listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and spending way too much time on Ravelry.

I noticed that I was not represented often. The models of knitwear are white, the indie dyers, the farm owners, the podcasters—all white. I started to realize why the knitting world had always left me feeling so intimidated. No one looked like me!

Becoming a "Real Knitter" with Monica Rodriguez of Knit's All Folks 3Knitters are generally empathetic people. You can see it in the money we raise for great causes like the the Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee—who is a top fundraiser for the PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally—or in the incredible amount of hand-made pussy hats for the Women’s March. But knitter’s are still people with flaws and implicit bias. We’ve all seen it—assuming a knitter doesn’t know what they’re doing because they’re young, or because (gasp!) a knitter is using acrylic instead of wool. So while we may be the nicest crafters out there, take a moment and examine how we as knitters choose to represent ourselves and how we welcome newbie fiber artists into our communities. The first time a white knitter over age 55 acknowledged that I might know what I was doing was an event I will always remember—it had never happened before!

I decided I needed to be the media I craved to see. If I wanted to see a 30-something Latina knitting, then I needed to be that knitter. I created my website Knit’s All Folks! where I do two things: I engage in the pop culture I love dearly, by writing both about television and the wonderful knitwear fashion that appears on it. And I promote the women of color I do find in the fiber industry, so that I can create a community of women of color who can support each other, and make all of us a little less invisible. Women of color represent the fiber community, so we need to be seen and celebrated, not tokenized or invisible.

To learn more Knit’s All Folks check out the webpage here.

You can follow Monica on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

If you’re a knitter or crocheter of color and would like to be featured on Knit’s All Folks! please check out Get Interviewed!

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