textiles · exploration · misadventure

Madrona-ing, Part V a: Stephanie Pearl-McPhee teaches All About Mawata


In February, 2011, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee wrote two blog posts about a pair of mittens that immediately filled me with lust.
mawata (3)
well-worn pair of multicolored, knitted silk mittens
She created them by separating one silk hankie at a time from its pack, stretching it out to approximately the same density as worsted weight yarn—and proceeding to knit with it. The resultant mittens were coveted by not only her children, but by me plus half the blog-reading world.

I have continued to lust for these mittens, and noticed when she started teaching classes on the method. Alas, the classes were too far away (like, Canada,) already filled, or already over. When I saw the class on the Madrona line-up, I thought to myself, “Now or never, Curvy.”

I got the class, but I got a little something extra, too. I not only learned how to make my own pair of mittens, but because I was present, I heard this:

You are an artist. You are a textile artist. There is a difference between people who choose to knit for a hobby, and people who choose to come to a conference like this one. People who come to a conference like this one tend to think of knitting as a cultural act, and that what they do has an important cultural meaning. You are our teachers, our question-answerers, our missionaries, and you believe that knitting has meaning for our culture.

This isn’t an exact quote, but it’s close.

I don’t think of myself as an artist. I have artistic tendencies. I am creative. I have a lot of knitting and spinning skills, but I’ve only been doing it for four years, and while I am a complete nutjob about it, have worked hard at it, and sometimes make a beautiful item, I am not that advanced.

My boyfriend sometimes calls me an artist. It makes me squirm. In my mind, “artist” does not apply to me. I have an inner artist struggling to come out, but she’s not in the room yet. This isn’t denial, or low self-esteem, or me just wanting you to say, “Yes, you are, yes you are.” It’s that I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right to that title yet. I think someday I will, and I will know when that day comes, but it’s not here yet. Thanks to Stephanie though, I feel like the door is open a little wider, that permission was granted for me to understand artistry in a different way.

How did Stephanie’s words make me feel? I don’t know. Warm. Happy. Passionately grateful I discovered knitting and spinning when I did.

I agree that I am a textile missionary. Absolutely. You do not want to sit next to me on the bus and ask me a question about my knitting unless you are really, really interested. I soak up spinning lore and pass it around like crackers. I think everyone should knit, despite the fact that probably everyone shouldn’t, and some people wouldn’t enjoy it very much anyway (whatever). The genderfication of knitting bothers me, and I have a lot of esteem for men who knit. I know that our world is based on textiles, from the clothes I’m wearing to the computer I’m typing on. (I’ve never read a better rant on this than Abby Franquemont’s. You should check out her blog, too, she is a fascinating, intelligent, articulate woman, and a consummate textile artist.)

Mostly, I’m just a passionate nutjob who does what I do because I can’t not do it. There is hard work in it, and there is discipline, and even in the slogs I wouldn’t choose to be doing anything different.

I meant this post to be about knitting silk hankies, but I’ve digressed, and it’s really late. Really, it’s 2:51am; I couldn’t sleep. Maybe should try again. I’ve been dreaming about textiles every night, since I came home from Madrona.

15 thoughts on “Madrona-ing, Part V a: Stephanie Pearl-McPhee teaches All About Mawata

  1. WOW!!! Just looking at the mittens, I can’t even imagine!


  2. And Kitty, she’s been using those mittens to shovel snow (in Toronto, so there’s some snow!) for three years! They’re in amazing shape; made 100% of silk, which is stronger than steel.


  3. Those mittens are SO GREAT. I voted but it’s hard to decide…your blog keeps getting better and better.


    • Hi, Gradmama! I know, aren’t they though? I love them. I drool a little bit when I look at them, and can’t believe I actually got to meet them in person. Thanks for voting, and thanks even more for the compliment on the blog. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. I’m working really hard on it!


  4. The mittens are amazing. It makes me excited to dig out the silk hankies I have in my stash! And that quote, wow, it gave me chills.


    • Yeah, one of my favorite uses of a variegated, uh, I guess we could call it a yarn, ever. And yeah, I was totally moved/shaken by her comments about artists and artistry. I’m going to have to think more on the topic. Thanks for your comment.


  5. I live your passion. I am not a knitter. Have tried but not my thing so again i admire your passion

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So…here we go. Enlighten me, because my mother in law tried to teach me to crochet many years ago. I managed a (very trapezoidal) baby blanket and a (pretty darn good) scarf. Then we got the kids, and I really haven’t done much yarn-related-self-improvement since. I’ve watched with longing as mothers crochet/knit away while their children play, and we’re getting to the point that I could do it (the hyenas are much less wild)…if I knew how. Probably time to take it back up.

    Here are my questions:

    Is knitting better than crochet? Easier? Harder?

    Where I come from, “hankies” are handkerchiefs, unless you’re referring to a hank of wool (which I think I’ve heard before) but I don’t usually keep piles of silk around. Can you explain that a little?

    If you convince me to knit instead of crochet, what are the absolute must-have basics? The best type of materials for a beginner?

    Already wrote a blog post for beginners that answers all my questions? Just point me to the page.

    Per your post analogy…gimme some crackers! 🙂 (Please.)

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