Spotlight: Norman Schwarze, Knitter and Pattern Designer
Norman Schwarze has been knitting since the age of 6 and hopes to spread the yarn-joy through his Nimble-Needles blog where he shares tutorials and patterns for knitters at all levels. From traditional Bavarian socks to playful vegetable sculptures, Norman’s work evokes smiles all around.
Why knitting? How did you get started?
I learned knitting and crocheting around the age of 6. My grandparents had a huge bespoke tailoring workshop with 50 employees here in Germany. I spent half my early childhood seeing the people I love most creating things from scratch. So, for me, joining in those footsteps felt only natural. I too wanted to create things. I still remember creating dresses for the Barbie dolls of my cousin. Never wanting to play with them, but creating outfits …that was so much fun!
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I learned the knitting basics from my mother. Back then, there was no youTube, so the rest was self-taught through books and trial and error. This makes providing my own free online knitting school for the next generation of knitters feel all the more special now.
When I was younger, I also loved embroidery and sewing and I still occasionally create a little something, but knitting is a form of meditation and self-care the other crafts don’t offer (me). While I knit, I can forget the world and just immerse myself in the yarn wrapped around my fingers. It may sound strange, but for me, it’s almost spiritual.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Neither! I believe, creativity is something you really need to school beginning from a very young age. Children are full of amazing ideas, but you need to foster that creativity so it can fully bloom. I don’t think there are people who are inherently more creative than others. But there are people who embrace creativity from an early age and others who come to it a bit later.
It really doesn’t have to be knitting, even though it also helps to develop fine motor skills on top of the creativity aspect. There are so many people who say things like: “I am not creative.” or “She/he is the creative part in our relationship.” I don’t buy that. To me, it always sounded a bit like giving up to early. My first knitting projects weren’t especially creative either. My parents probably called them “charming” but… you know…parents 😉
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your work, what would they say?
Erratic, complicated, luxurious yarns, calm. And they would also tell you I am a horrible perfectionist and working with me on the same project can be challenging, lol.
How do you think you differ from other creative knitters?
Gosh! Hard question. There are so many wonderful knitters out there! In America and Europe, most of the knitters are women. God alone knows why. As a result, the majority of the knitting patterns are lovely lace shawls and other projects that were written with a female wearer in mind.
There are so very few challenging scarf patterns for men out there. And I guess that really defines me. I never was a pattern knitter. I hate it when other people tell me what to do. From a very young age, I always made things up as I went. Now, not all projects were a success. In fact, I am a frogging champion. But every unraveled project taught me a lesson. And these days, I just love knitting these tiny little objects. Recently I have been obsessed with mushrooms.
I also love knitting traditional Bavarian socks. Think size 0 needles (2.00 mm or below) and lots of very difficult patterns. For many knitters, that sounds like their worst nightmare, but for me, it’s a lot of fun. Just like trying out new techniques or making new ones up if I’m not happy with the look of a standard knitting technique.
What inspires you?
Anything. And I am saying this from the bottom of my heart. When I am on the bus or on the train, I never stare at my mobile phone. I always look through the window and marvel at the world, even if it’s the most average suburb ever. Inspiration is hard work. If you don’t confront yourself with ever new impressions, it will never spark. And beauty is everywhere (also a quite arbitrary idea!).
I would love to inspire knitters to think beyond the common boundaries. Russia and Japan have amazing knitting traditions, and most knitting charts are quite universal. Also, the general idea behind crochet patterns can be adapted to knitting. And to me, inspiration sometimes comes after walking through a forest or seeing a nice color in a book or looking at the intricate mosaics in a mosque of inner Asia.
In your extensive travels, how do knitting traditions differ in the places you have visited?
I fondly remember visiting a tiny island called “Taquile” on 12,500 ft high Lake Titicaca. Here, only the men knit. But they don’t just knit, they produce the most intricate fair isle designs ever. If a man wants to marry a woman, he has to knit a hat on such fine needles, that if you pour water into it, no water seeps out. If he fails, he has to try again until he acquires the skill to knit a hit that meets these requirements. Isn’t it fascinating?
In America and Europe, there is still so much gender-specific nonsense around. I once went to a management workshop in Austria and one of the attendees said during a break: “Well Norman, you paint, you knit, one could almost think you were gay.” Setting my sexual preferences aside, I really thought that was the most horrible and stupid thing you could ever say.
If men can’t knit or dance ballet, if men always have to act tough and do “manly” things, well, how will this whole #metoo mess ever end? A lot of people forget that society does not only press women into stereotypes, we do the same arbitrary thing with men as well. And as long as one of these survives, the other sex automatically has to fill in the counterpart. What a pity that would be!
How many projects do you have going at once? Or do you focus on one creative project at a time?
I wish I could answer: One. But in reality, there’s probably 10. I think I still need to finish that granny square crochet blanket I started in 2009 but then lost interest. We all have one of these in our drawers, eh?
Seriously though. I currently work on around 3 different projects: One easy project I solely knit for the benefit of my new blog which I will unravel or give away once finished. Then usually a nice challenging pattern for the evenings (currently a cable pattern knitted with the softest camel hair yarn ever). Last, but certainly not least, I am always working on a new pattern. This usually takes a couple of attempts, so I try to split it across multiple days or weeks, because knitting the same object over and over again just to get it right, can be a bit boring.
What is the one thing you wish someone had told you about knitting before you started?
That yarn is addictive. I’m sure most knitters can relate and develop the ‘yarn hoarding syndrome’ sooner or later. If I see an ultra-soft skein of nice cashmere or alpaca, I just have to buy it. Years back, I’d convince myself that I’d knit this and that with it, but I’m way past that point. I’m just buying yarn for the sake of having it. I must have spent thousands on wool. It’s both crazy and oddly satisfying!
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I wish I had! I mean, I have a small office of 10m² in my apartment here in Munich. But it was never meant as a place to run a professional knitting studio. Actually, for 4 years it has been the place where I ran my travel blog. Once this whole quarantine business is over, I’m going to renovate the room and get a proper workbench and storage options.
But the nice part of knitting is you can do it wherever you want. You really don’t need much space or special/expensive tools. All you need is a place to sit down, a set of needles, wool, and you are ready to go.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
This is one of my weak spots. My apartment usually looks super neat and tidy, but don’t ever open a closet or drawer! I think I’d need a Marie Kondo in my life.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Silence. Utter silence. I am hypersensitive and I get distracted by a neighbor three houses down the road sneezing a bit too loudly. It’s actually one of my biggest challenges. In knitting, you have to count so many things: rows, stitches, repeats, cast-on stitches, etc. I learned how to read my knitting so even if I lose track, which happens oft…oh there a squirrel!…I can find out how to proceed. And then I’m taking notes of everything.
When you travel, do you knit on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
This may surprise you, but I usually don’t knit when I travel. I tried, but I just couldn’t face the stares and the questions. On my travels, which frequently bring me to far-flung places like Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, or the Amazonas, I try to keep a very low profile. Also, in reality, these are no places where you can concentrate on fine knitting. I usually read a nice book while on the plane or in waiting areas.
But, I often bring wool, needles, or even scissors back from my travels.
Tell us about your blog and website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I always dreamt of having a DIY blog. But I already had one very successful travel blog, so there was never the time for it. The day only has so many hours, eh? This whole quarantine business changed my world from one day to another. Instead of traveling around the globe, I was suddenly forced to sit at home. Suddenly, nobody was interested in travel anymore. And why should they?
So, I thought, where can I continue to add value? Somehow, I felt my knitting would be the most appropriate thing to share. It doesn’t require expensive tools; literally, anyone can do it, and people do have a lot of time on their hands right now sitting at home.
With the name Nimble Needles, I created a modern space with big pictures and detailed instructions so people can learn how to knit. I worked hard to put together detailed step-by-step instructions for beginners. I also plan to add patterns and ideas for more experienced knitters from 30 years of knitting. And, if I am lucky, I might even encourage more men to pick up knitting. Wouldn’t that be great?
Interview with Norman Schwarze posted May 2020
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