Our Tools, Ourselves

knitting tools in box

From the moment I started knitting, what I’ve loved at least as much as the yarn is the tools — especially the beautiful wooden needles. I fuss over them and adore them maybe more than my stash. About the same time I was knitting my first stitches, I was reading (possibly re-reading) a YA fantasy novel called “Among Others.” I don’t read YA or fantasy, but my friend Jim Mustich told me to read it and I always do what Jim says. Apart from the ending, it’s a really great little book. Set in Wales, it’s about a teenage girl, Morwenna, whose twin has been killed by their evil witch of a mother. Mor finds herself at boarding school, cut off from her family and their homes and possessions. There’s a tiny but absolutely delightful thread running through the narration, which is Mor’s views on our objects as they relate to ourselves — the ways we get to know each other over time. I think this is the first time it comes up:

“Still on the subject of eating, we don’t have our own plates, or our own knives and forks or cups. Like most of what we use, they’re communal, they’re handed out at random. There’s no chance for anything to become imbued, to come alive through fondness. …

“At home, I walked through a haze of belongings that knew, at least vaguely, who they belonged to. Grampar’s chair resented anyone else sitting in it … . Gramma’s shirts and jumpers adjusted themselves to hide her missing breast. … Our toys looked out for us. …

“None of these things did anything. The coffee spoons didn’t stir the coffee without being held or anything. They didn’t have conversations with the sugar tongs about who was the most cherished. … I suppose what they really did was psychological. They confirmed the past, they connected everything, they were threads in a tapestry. Here there is no tapestry, we jangle about separately.”

Later, when she’s staying at her aunt’s house and trying to cook dinner, she says, “Auntie Teg’s dishes don’t like me any more than [the cat] does. The knives and peelers don’t cut me, but they turn awkward in my hands. They know I’m not the person supposed to be using them.”

Why am I going on about all of this? There’s a thing I’ve been wanting to do since the dawn of this blog. I’m something of a voyeur. I love looking at images of people’s homes and especially their studios. And I’m also fascinated by organizational systems (or the absence thereof). I think you can learn so much about people and about a given craft or subject area from listening to them talk about how they approach whatever it may be. And then there’s Morwenna’s view of our tools as partners in our making. I used to do a series at Readerville (actually in the print version, The Readerville Journal) called Ex Libris, wherein I asked a really broad range of people the same ten questions about how they shelve and use and share (or not) their books. And for more than a year, ever since reading those passages above, I’ve been thinking of starting a series here asking people a similar set of questions about their crafting tools.

I haven’t approached anyone about it yet, nor even written the questions. But I’m hoping that sharing this idea publicly will get me off my arse about it. I’m thinking of calling it “Our Tools, Ourselves” but I’d love your suggestions if you have any. And for you to bug me if you don’t see the first of these coming along soon.


Speaking of learning from people by listening to them talk about their craft, this week’s ICYMI is Blog Crush: vintage Jared Flood.


42 thoughts on “Our Tools, Ourselves

  1. What an amazing bit of writing in that YA novel. Immediately added it to the reading list for me and my 12 year old. I once was asked as a volunteer at a PleinAir painting event to photograph the artists at work. I took countless shots of the different ways they kept their paints & brushes, and what their palettes looked like. Whether they had old tomato cans filled with brushes, or proper storage containers. I love this idea–you should definitely go for it.

  2. I love this idea, as crafters, we are all attached in some way to our tools. Be it of sentimental, nostaligic or it could be that we just loved them on sight. And quite rightly it shpuld be shared with the world. Please do this! I would be interested to see what tools the designers use. And what inspires them too!

  3. I love this idea! A newspaper I used to work for in Montreal did a series about what we carry on a daily basis and it was fascinating to look into the backpacks and purses and briefcases of strangers. I am always curious about people’s knitting tools and needle preferences and I would love it if you made this a regular feature.

  4. This idea is so perfect for knitters. I have shed tears over broken needles, and don’t toss them out. I am thinking of how to knit them into an art piece. Our energy is stored in our tools.

  5. Yes, please! I love peeking at artists’ & crafters’ studio spaces, and I’m a big geek when it comes to hearing how people develop their craft. Inspiration is always a key element for me and I find that others find inspiration in the most amazing places.

  6. I’d love to read a series like that—I’m fascinated by the tools people use (or don’t use) in their craft, and by their creative spaces. I’m a firm believer in the relationship between good tools and good work. (Also, “Our Tools, Ourselves”—great title!)

  7. That paragraph from the YA story reminds me of how the main character in my favorite novel, Second Hand (he’s a junk shop owner) likes to muse on the stuff we own and he has this whole zen philosophy about it. Our stuff says a lot about us.

  8. I agree with everyone else that this is a really great idea! Especially when I think about all the knitting needles my Nana has stashed away that she can no longer use due to advanced arthritis… every time she sees me knitting she mentions how she wants to give them to me.

  9. Love this! There’s such a deep sense of place and history with each item in a collection, like Proust’s madeleine.

  10. Please do proceed. I love my tools, some were my Mother’s. what fun it would be to enjoy everyone ‘s tool stories.

  11. I enjoyed Among Others too, but agree that the ending was disappointing. After all that buildup I expected more of an epic confrontation, either flashier or more emotionally impactful. The pleasure of the book, for me, was twofold: Morwenna ‘s concept of magic and how it manifests in the world (like the cups and spoons) and in the loving tribute to old-school Sci Fi and Fantasy. So much trivia so lovingly and unashamedly shared.

    • Oh, yay — someone else who’s read it! Morwenna actually has me convinced I should read some of her beloved SF novels. And also the stuff her dad’s dad turned her onto. But her deep love of books is, I’m sure, why Jim told me to read it. A great booklover’s book.

      • Sadly, it’s hard to find a lot of these 70’s authors in book stores, even in used book stores. The local library also came up mostly empty. I may have to resort to Amazon. :-)

  12. Oh, yes! Do this! I love to look at the magazine, “Where Women Create,” just to see the studios! I just started following some of their boards on Pinterest. (A tremendous source of home, studio, and organizational ideas!) I have many of my grandmother’s knitting tools. I love using them because it connects me to her when I am knitting. That book is going on my list, too! Speaking of tools, I DID get the magazine and stitch markers; I don’t know why I wrote that I ordered it instead of got it!

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