Finding joy in slowing down while creating with her hands, knitter, designer and author Christine Boggis credits knitting with bringing calm and focus to stressful times. With more research showing that knitting, as well as other creative activities, contribute to mental wellness, Christine opens doors to creativity by sharing her own designs in her books and providing opportunities for other creatives by as the editor of Knitting magazine.
How did you get started knitting and designing? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
Both my grannies taught me to knit, but it was my granny on my mum’s side, Margaret, with whom I spent the most time, who persevered with me in my earliest attempts, around age eight. When I first started out I knitted incredibly tightly and ended up with stitches I couldn’t move along the needle, so I soon gave up.
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When I was at secondary school (from around age 12) I had a German tutor, Mrs. Dean, who would knit as we chatted in German to improve my conversation skills. She made me want to knit too, so I collected a whole load of scraps of yarn in all different weights and colours I found around our house, and knitted them all together into a scarf on 4mm needles. This scarf with crazy colour combinations that undulated wildly through different yarn weights was the first of “my monsters”. They were a number of insane early knitting and sewing creations. I have kept some of them to remind me of what not to do!
I was a teenager and got interested in fashion in the early 1990s, when retro and grunge style were in. That meant that it didn’t matter how unwieldy my creations turned out. Messy was good. We were all into ripped black tights, oversized jumpers with unravelling cuffs and all sorts of other things. Knitting took a back seat to sewing for me for a while. I shopped in charity shops and jumble sales and then adapted the things I bought to suit my eclectic style. One of my favourite garments was an A-line maxi skirt I adapted from an old woman’s zip-front dress. It had pockets at the backs of my knees. I loved how weird it was.
I got properly hooked on knitting while living in Vienna (see below) but struggled to find patterns I liked. And even if I did find something I liked, I always wanted to adapt and adjust it. As I got more proficient I started making little things up, like colourwork motifs to add to existing patterns, coffee cup cosies and bunting flags. It wasn’t until my current job as editor of Knitting magazine that I wrote my first pattern (another coffee cosy). I learned that pattern writing is by far the hardest part of knitwear design! A combination of a tight budget and the discovery that if you design something for a magazine, yarn suppliers will give you free wool to knit it up means I haven’t stopped designing or knitting since.
Tell us about the “joy of missing out”. How did you come to embrace that philosophy?
As a teenager I feel like I lived under a constant cloud of feeling that a party was going on somewhere else and I was missing it. This was the early 1990s, so with no mobile phones, the fact that I went to a girls’ school and that there was no internet, the chances are that this was literally true. This fear of missing out, or FOMO, carried on well into my twenties, when I spent far too much time and money going out – but still felt like I wasn’t at the heart of anything.
I had my first baby in my early thirties. Along with the joy and wonder of this new chapter of life came a sense of loss that all the stuff I used to do before I was a mum – gigs, bars, parties, even work – was carrying on without me. Social media like Facebook showed me other people’s perfect lives, and as I struggled with the challenges of being a new mum, post-natal depression and later the agonies of going back to work and having to leave my baby, I struggled with a sense of inadequacy, inferiority and envy.
After I had my second child, I accepted letting go of the old life and finding joy in the new. I cut down on social media, tried to stop thinking about what was going on in other people’s worlds and started to become aware of how much joy there was in my new life: knitting, an hour in front of the TV after the kids have gone to bed, a snatched moment sitting outside with a cup of coffee, a sunbeam cutting through bright green leaves – that sort of thing. I realised that the old things didn’t make me happy anymore, but these things did. That, I believe, is what people call the joy of missing out. But I don’t really feel I’m missing out on anything anymore!
When the UK locked down in March 2020 in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, everyone in this country and many others around the world suddenly found themselves having to embrace the joy of missing out – or be miserable! Knitting has seen a massive upsurge in the UK, with online retailers reporting massive growth. People are celebrating their homes and family lives more than ever before. JOMO is the new FOMO!
How do creative activities, such as knitting, contribute to mental wellness?
I’m a fidgeter, and when I am feeling stressed or uptight, I can’t sit still. In my early twenties I took a quite stressful job on an international newswire. Based in Vienna, Austria, I was far from my family and friends. At day’s end I wanted to relax in front of the TV, but I needed more to wind down. Encouraged by a friend and a wonderful local knitting shop owner (who not only sorted me out with yarn but was also happy to help me out when I got stuck with patterns, for example teaching me to pick up stitches right there in her little shop) I started knitting a scarf. Finally I could sit still and concentrate on the TV while my hands worked away.
The other time I personally found knitting to be an absolute life-saver was a few years back when I started having an anxiety attack at the start of a long-haul flight. I got out my knitting, put on a movie and had a drink. By using as many of my senses as possible at one time I could distract myself from the panic; I could start breathing again. Knitting, with its simple regular motion, the gentle softness of the yarn and smoothness of the needles, and the need to concentrate, is incredibly soothing and always helps me to ground and centre.
Beyond times of extreme stress, I find that knitting is vital to my mental wellbeing. Sometimes I like to knit something extremely simple that flows through my fingers without engaging my brain too much. I find the gentle rhythm a soothing backdrop to whatever else I’m doing at that time. Sometimes I love to engage with something incredibly complex that uses all of my concentration and brainpower. Then I get the feeling of satisfaction you get from any mental or physical workout. And then there is the joy of the finished object, the sense of having finished, achieved and created something. That feeling can be sadly lacking in such everyday activities as, for example, cleaning or parenting.
What are some of the other ways you joyfully “miss out”? What do you gain in the process?
I guess my favourite things in life are JOMO-type things. They are things I can enjoy on my own or with close family; almost all are things that weren’t curtailed by UK lockdown measures. Having a quiet cup of tea on my doorstep in the early morning; taking a walk in the woods with my family; curling up in front of a good TV show in the evening; swimming in the sea, which luckily I live close to, learning yoga from YouTube, reading a novel in bed; and of course knitting, any time, any place, anywhere. I feel I’ve gained independence from others and in my mind: I’m able to entertain myself in any situation, so I am less impatient and embrace the rare gaps in my schedule – for example waiting around for something or someone – rather than impatiently wishing them away.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I feel I’m still on a journey to finding my own design style. I absolutely adore quick, simple, chunky knits: the feeling of knitting them, the satisfaction of the quick fix and the look of them. So that is what I focused on in my first book, JOMO Knits. I only really discovered shawls when I joined Knitting magazine. They’re such a knitter’s thing, and I love making them. I love the different ways of constructing and shaping them, and the freedom to play with yarns, stitch patterns, colours and textures. What I’m really interested in is unusual ways of constructing garments. That is something I plan to explore in another book I’m starting to work on now.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Knitted Shawls: 25 Relaxing Wraps, Cowls & Shawls?
I really want more people to benefit from the wonderful health and wellbeing benefits of knitting. There is a mental health crisis going on in the UK (and I’m sure worldwide); I think that knitting could help so many people the way it has helped me. Knitted Shawls is a workbook, so it starts with your very first slipknot and takes you through to extremely complex two-colour brioche lace, with a design to practise each new technique you learn. I’d love new knitters to learn the craft from this book, and established knitters to find something that will soothe their souls, whether that is a bit of relaxing garter or stocking stitch, or giving their brains a workout with a brand new technique or skill.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
No! I have wool all over my house, and am regularly told off for blocking the family’s view of the telly as I hunt for a particular ball of yarn or needle. I take my knitting everywhere in case there is a moment to get my needles out. Also I try to always have a notebook and pen on me in case inspiration strikes. My latest challenge is keeping my wool out of the naughty paws (and jaws) of two little kittens who recently joined our family!
What is your favourite storage tip for your creative supplies?
I recently bought a new bed where the mattress flips up and there is storage underneath. It is like having a whole extra attic space for my stash!
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I like wooden-tipped interchangeable circular needles. I am particularly keen on KnitPro Ginger and Symfonie, which are really smooth and pretty. But I also love lightweight Hiya Hiya needles. For socks I like metal double-pointed needles. Sharp scissors and masses of stitch markers are essential.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
When I’m designing on paper I like silence as I have to concentrate quite intensely, especially on the maths element, which isn’t my forte. I knit whenever I have the opportunity, so any background is acceptable. Recently I got a Kindle and can sometimes read while I’m knitting, which I love. But my favourite part of the day is knitting in front of the TV in the evening. I love watching series, especially any with vampires or murder mysteries; my current faves are Orange is the New Black on Netflix and Bones on Amazon Prime.
When you travel, do you create while on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
Socks are great travel knits but I wouldn’t want to take metal needles through airport security. So the best travel knit for me is a shawl knitted on wooden-tipped needles. Also because it’s a bigger project so I know I won’t run out of knitting if my trip is delayed. If I’m travelling by car or for a long time I might pack multiple projects.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
I would love to interview Elizabeth Zimmermann. I love her common sense approach and the fact that she pretty much threw out the rulebook. She is a great inspiration.
How do you prepare yourself for a session of creative work?
For knitting, I start by clearing away the junk my messy family leaves wherever I hope to sit. Then I make myself a cup of tea and ensure the remote is close at hand. I hate moving once I’ve settled down! For design work, I’ll turn on my computer and maybe brew a cup of coffee. Then I shut out the world – either with a door or just mentally.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
When I was younger, I hoped to become a novelist. I tried for a while, but wasn’t able to complete a novel to my own satisfaction. So I told myself I wasn’t a creative person, and in a sense wrote myself off. When people praised my knitting as creative I simply laughed it off; it wasn’t the exact kind of creativity I had originally aspired to. In recently years I have come to accept that my knitting and designing are extremely creative. In fact I can’t stop myself from coming up with new ideas for designs faster than I can knit them. I’ve also come to realise that my work as a journalist and magazine editor are creative, and to embrace those. I’ve even started to think that one day, perhaps, I will write that novel.
That is a longwinded way of saying that there is creativity in everyone, even if they don’t recognise it. Anyone can nurture that spark. And if they keep working at it they will eventually create something they are really happy with. It’s never too late either – my granny Margaret started painting water colours in her sixties after she retired, and I love the work she produced and have it up in my house.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
I believe distraction is probably the biggest challenge to creativity – and there is so much of it about these days! It’s easier to play a game on your phone than trying to clear your mind, waiting for inspiration to strike. And that is just during those rare moments when your job or your family aren’t demanding your attention. For me, the easiest way to relax my mind and open myself to creative inspiration is to take a walk. I find it’s easier to think when moving than when sitting still.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
Just a lack of time and mental space in between my busy life with family, friends, church and work. The great thing about knitting is that I can often do it while simultaneously giving attention to my husband or children, during my lunch break and sometimes even if I have irritating technical issues at work. Whenever things slow down and my mind is able to unwind a bit, creative ideas start popping into my brain. I’ve learnt not to stress if I’m not having ideas; I just carry on with the many non-creative tasks I have. When I am relaxed enough, the creative ideas will start coming again.
Where can people learn more about you and what you do?
They can follow me on Instagram – @ravenmothercrafts. Apologies, I’m not nearly as active on there as I would like to be! Also please follow my publisher @gmcpublications. They’ll be promoting my book and they have lots of needlecraft books featured on there along with lots of other kinds of books.
Interview posted September 2021
Christine’s books are published by GMC Publications. Visit their website https://www.gmcbooks.com/ and follow them on Instagram @gmcpublications to learn more.
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