Happiness Blog Series P1 – Interview with Michelle Stewart founder of The Woven Co
The Woven Co Happiness blog series
- Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself. And by this, we don’t mean tell us what you do for a job, we mean tell us something about what makes you tick. It can be anything from a favourite colour to something or someone you find inspiring.
One of the most fundamental components of my psyche and my biggest motivator is that I fear inaction. It’s also one of my biggest obstacles when it comes to relaxing. So, for me, there’s a constant personal development struggle between achieving and taking the time to relax and appreciate my hard work. It’s an interesting old journey because it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m learning more and more about it each day.
For instance, this year heralds the first time in my life where I’ve pledged to value rest. The only problem is, I’m not sure I enjoy it very much when I’m doing it! So, this year I’ve been trying to become more aware of different techniques and ideas around balancing work and life, doing and relaxing.
I’ve heard many stories about being an ‘active relaxer’ – that is, relaxing through doing and connecting the body and the mind with something productive and absorbing. I think this is perhaps what people mean by ‘mindfulness’. I’m not sure I am entirely in this category – although I would seem like I am.
I’ve also heard many talk about overcoming anxiety through knitting and other crafts. Again, while I can totally relate to this (as knitting definitely keeps my stress levels down), it doesn’t fit like a perfectly knit sock – I imagine this is the case for many others as well!
As a person, I am fast-paced and take on and achieve a crazy amount of things – I never want to reach the end of a project. I’m always looking to the future, at how I can further develop this or that idea. So, it should be no surprise then that I am prone to burning out.
But why is it so hard for me to relax?
It’s a question I’ve been struggling with for many years and if we’re talking about things that drive me, finding the answer to this question is definitely up there. It’s certainly something I like to explore through The Woven and I’m always looking for new opinions and points of view to explore.
One theory on why relaxing is difficult for me, is that I have historically always viewed relaxation as a reward for extreme physical fatigue. A run, a hike, a big training session or even a night of dancing, would give me permission to relax – I had earned it. Now, I am driving myself to extreme fatigue levels through starting and growing my business, along with being a wife and mother, building a house and juggling all sorts of events. Yet, somehow I haven’t connected the dots that emotional and mental fatigue also grant me permission to rest and restore my energy levels.
So, in a weird, ironic twist, it turns out that knitting is my middle ground, the thing that keeps my tension levels in check, precisely because I fear being inactive. It’s the perfect balance of doing and being. My mind can relax and explore, while my hands are still creating, still doing. I am given permission to sit and contemplate for a while each day.
As I said before, I’m still figuring it out, but thank goodness for knitting and slow crafting – without them, I’d be a walking zombie! They are definitely one of the invisible driving forces that allow me to keep going.
- How and why did you first get into knitting and crafting?
My clear first memories and emotional connections, were being with my Nana. Nana was my world, my lucky star and warm safe place. Being with her was time I loved and gravitated to. She would knit – not really a sit down and stay still kind of lady – more a blur of action kind of woman. Knitting was something she treated herself to in the day, a pocket of time for herself – often she would sit on the edge of her bed while knitting at a blinding pace…I see similarities between us the whole time! It was no surprise I took up knitting too, so I could sit there with her in the sun coming in the window and connect with her. I loved that my knitting made her happy and proud.
- What’s the general reaction you get towards your slow crafting, from others who do not do it?
Over the years it was generally confusion and disappointment. Battling the stereotypes of who knits and how people reconciled that with my ‘high energy’ personality has been a real challenge. Once my career took off, it became even more of an issue – I certainly wasn’t turning up to a conference with my knitting, or sharing craft stories in networking events! Although now (for the record), this is exactly what I do! I have literally lost friends, romantic relationships and been treated with suspicion, like there is something wrong with me for doing this thing I love. I distinctly remember the first positive social encounter I had with a male friend and drinking buddy – when he realised I had knit my long fingerless gloves myself. He was impressed, and I was very suspicious to his response. We were having a beer at our local, and he was nodding and telling me they were cool – especially because I made them. I was 30ish and it was the first time I could say this had happened to me – something I look back on now with astonishment. For me, it was a turning point in my life. I started embracing my kooky crafting side, and started finding more people around me that not only accepted my knitting, but were putting in orders and enjoying having something made with love. It was SO fulfilling – best thing I’ve ever done!
- Have the reasons you craft now changed over the years since you started? If so, how have they changed?
Yes definitely changed and changing, as I’ve mentioned, I started knitting to be with my Nana and to enjoy the closeness it gave me with her. Then, I went on a wild ride of immediately designing and enjoying the prospect of being able to create exactly what I wanted – I had discovered a power and I was excited about using it. Over the years, I’ve definitely had long gaps away from knitting, but a back injury in Australia had me laid up for a long time and knitting was my sanity. One project that stands out next was when Mum and I worked together to make a large clown doll for my niece – it was wonderful bonding and gave us many laughs together while we figured out how to do the pattern. Then came the rush of making things for friends before going on to knit for my now husband and then our baby.
Having this business now has meant my own knitting and designs have taken a very powerful creative turn and I have returned to the world of design and colours that I enjoyed when I was younger.
Some days I secretly think of myself as a knitting 3D printer, oh the power to create what I see in my mind!
So, in answer to your question, I suppose knitting used to be a way of connecting with loved ones for me (and still is), but has now taken on more of a creative outlet role – a way to share my ideas and keep coming up with new ones!
- How and why do you think slow crafting helps you live a happier life?
It’s a connection to creativity, to process and to completion, in all its achievement glory – while taking a ride on frustration (sometimes disappointment) – and good honest work that’s been achieved. It is so enriching. Of course I need knitting to balance me, as I’ve explained before… who would I be without it? And what would life feel like if I didn’t make things from start to finish with my bare hands? I really can’t tell. It’s joyful to create, to play with colour and design and it is so truly wonderful to knit with love for someone else – the gift of giving is good for the soul. As an introvert, knitting is one of my ‘life happy’ ingredients, for many reasons, and I am so so lucky to have it.
- Have you noticed your slow crafting having a positive influence on the people around you?
Absolutely! I have had the pleasure of teaching, encouraging and inspiring others to knit, so I get to watch people achieve and feel so proud of themselves. I remember one young lady learning to knit, telling me with tears in her eyes, that making something for her grandmother was her greatest honour. Another new knitter told me it would give her purpose and value on dark days. I am humbled to have shared such an incredible thing with them and keep learning from these amazing people.
Hosting a knitting club for 3 years has given many new and established knitters social development and confidence – seeing the group together and happy has been so fantastic. Through the group I met an active lady, not unlike myself who asked me to teach her knitting. One day she told me she had never been more settled or relaxed – as knitting gave her the missing piece of her puzzle. (This was a real moment for me, as it gave me clarity on myself too). Who would have thought my learning to knit all those years ago could lead to so much?
- Finally, is there anything you’ve learnt over your time as a crafter, that you wish you could go back in time and say to your younger self about crafting or happiness (or both!)?
Firstly, mistakes are ok. Secondly, you can knit without having to sew up – so get on to that sooner and you might actually finish some things!
Mostly, I think I would tell myself to worry less about what people were thinking. I think I would tell myself:
‘You are right to be knitting, be proud of who you are and understand there are other people out there knitting too, just like you. They’re waiting for someone to make it okay to craft out loud – so stand up and be that person.’