Kate Davies is a writer, researcher and knitter based in Scotland. At the age of 36, her life changed forever when she suffered a stroke. Polly Leonard sat down with Kate to find out when knitting helped her to regain her strength, and discover a newfound creative life...
Tell us about when you first became interested in knitting.
My maternal grandmother taught me to knit when I was five. As a teenager, I sewed and modified my own clothes, but I really became interested in knitting when I’d just completed my PhD. I was in a Philadelphia library studying 18th-century women’s correspondence when I became fascinated by how these women shared their knowledge about embroidery, lacework and other crafts alongside many other aspects of their lives, domestic and political. I felt inspired to take up my knitting needles.
What was the first pattern you designed?
From the moment I took up knitting again, I started to make things up as I went along. I found I had a sort of natural knack for design, and, being an academic, I also read and absorbed a lot about the technical, mathematical and historical background of knitted textiles. I began creating lots of different seamless yoke sweaters. One of these really captured the imaginations of my knitting friends in Edinburgh, who insisted that I write up the pattern so they could knit it too, and so I did, later making the pattern available to download.
In 2010 you suffered a serious stroke. Did knitting help you deal with this physically?
Absolutely. Knitting quite literally became my lifeline. I was paralysed on my left side, and unable to use my left hand. In order to get my left hand to move again, I had to find new neural pathways, by working with the undamaged parts of my brain that already controlled my right hand. Developing even the smallest amount of dexterity in a stroke-damaged hand is extraordinarily difficult, but knitting really motivated me. Knitting helped to activate fine finger movements in my left hand, and it was also useful in developing the strength of my left arm and shoulder. After my stroke, I worked so hard and so continuously at teaching my left hand to knit, that I eventually changed my style of knitting (I now work in the ‘Continental’ rather than the ‘English’ style, which gives the left hand more to do). But the benefits of knitting extended far beyond the purely physical aspect of therapy.
How did you benefit from the support of the knitting community after your stroke?
The knitting community was there for me in countless ways after my stroke from my immediate circle of crafty friends who offered practical help, to the hundreds of people I ‘knew’ online, who took the time to send a card or a message of support. At the point in my life when I might have felt at my lowest, I was instead buoyed up by the friendship of a global community who knew (like I did) that making stuff really mattered. Thank you, knitters.
Extract from the Surface issue.
Selvedge readers are now in with a chance to win a collection of Kate Davies' beautiful yarns along with a copy her book Buachaille: At Home in the Highlands and a hand-crafted snood, worth £300.