I needed a travel companion. I was going solo to a wedding in the Berkshires and wanted some company. My mother was on the fence and wouldn’t commit. While making my plans I investigated distractions nearby which might be appealing, as she likes to walk and explore. I found a charming yarn shop in Lenox across the street from an inn where I planned to stay. That tipped the scale and she was on board.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon in late July and, without delay, proceeded to make our way over to the shop. Now, some of you may already know about Colorful Stitches, but we had not. It is a light and airy space filled with all sorts of inspiration. By chance, Bonnie, the owner, was alone in the shop and gave us a warm introduction to the place. As she walked us through the first floor our heads were spinning with infinite possibilities.
We were winding down our tour when we reached an array of circular needle sets. Frankly, though I had seen them before, I had been more intrigued by how they looked than how they worked. Bonnie explained the advantages as well as the issues with interchangeable needles and shared her experience with the different brands. You don’t want to have your tips fall off when you are in the midst of a project!
At this point, I was observing something in my mother I couldn’t pinpoint. She was especially attentive about what Bonnie had to say and I could see her mind working.
Then she said, “I have been thinking about getting an interchangeable set for a while, but I feel like my needles are a part of me.”
It was such a moving thing to say. And it struck me how emotionally tied we can be to our tools when we make things.
My mother’s collection of knitting needles is stored neatly in a simple linen case. The needles tend to be wood or plastic, as she finds those materials feel better to touch. A few were handed down from my father’s grandmother. Even the needles that give her trouble she finds hard to part with, as they all remind her of not only of her creative history—but, by extension, the story of her life.
She also has a sewing box filled with an array of stitch stoppers, markers, and holders, as well as pins and needles and many more items that she as acquired over the years. She has the cutest pair of red scissors which give her delight to use. They coordinate with the crimson graphics on her old Susan Bates Knit-Chek. Growing up I always admired her “tool box” and would study the specific design and function of each item. Her orange Fiskars scissors and multicolor sphere-topped pins were the first items replicated in my own little sewing kit.
In the MDK Shop
I enjoy my own tools. I suspect I may have become an architect because I connected with the items used in drafting. I loved the process of drawing with my mechanical pencil, sharpener, pounce, and erasing shield. I felt my drawings came alive because of how they all worked and contributed to the process. These things all felt right in my hand and allowed for a fluid connection between what I imagined in my head and what I put on paper.
At this point, my drafting tools have mostly been displaced by the computer. To offset this I delved more intensely into freehand drawing and painting to fulfill my joy of making. These artistic practices have their own tools of which I also have my favorites. For example, particular paintbrushes allow me to paint more freely than others. And, like my mother, I find it hard to part with brushes or pencils that I haven’t used in a long time, or that show age and use.
All these tools are extensions of our hands. When designed well they enhance our creativity. Some tools are understated in their simplicity and efficiency of use. Others are designed so that they are a pleasure and delight when we use them. With use over time, they become personal tokens that allow us to complete the simplest to most complicated tasks. They can even entice us—to try something new or to improve on what we are doing already. Whether in sewing or art, I have been often been drawn to a tool based on the beauty of the design before I had the need or use for it.
My mother is still mulling whether to buy a set of those needles. But she keeps mentioning a return visit to Lenox.