The following is a guest post from our knit designer, Kelly McClure of BohoKnits, recounting her recent trip to Nepal to teach our producers about our Fall 2012 knitting patterns. Sounds like Kelly learned a few things of her own! (photos: Kelly McClure)
I traveled to Kathmandu to spend a week teaching knitting and crochet workshops with women who will be mass-producing my hat designs…a surreal experience to say the least. I packed everything I needed to teach knitting in my carry-on just in case my luggage was lost between Calgary, Amsterdam, Delhi and Kathmandu. I brought needles of all sizes, patterns, tiny “plane-friendly” scissors, tape measure, needle gauge, stitch markers, calculator and, of course, projects to work on while traveling.
I design for a local company, Ambler hats, and spent the week at the Everest Fashion house and offices right in Kathmandu. Everest Fashion makes all kinds of knitted, crocheted and felted wholesale items for customers all around the world, including Ambler. Their compound is made up of about four buildings, including the house, offices, storage and production space. While the city is busy, polluted and loud, the Everest complex is quiet and spacious, with lots of vegetation and small gardens.
The Everest workforce is over 90% female and many of the women knit hats right from home, allowing them to make extra income for their families while still being able to care for their households and children. They are paid more than fair wages and are paid per piece to increase productivity. My main job for the week was to perfect specific designs with the “group leaders” who then go on to teach the design to 30-75 women. Although there was an obvious language barrier between us, we got by with exaggerated gestures, thumbs up signs and dramatic facial expressions. They are wonderful, genial women and I love being around their colourful, sparkly kurtas and bright smiles.
During a tour of the complex, I learned a lot about their production techniques. I watched them create pom poms in seconds, wind tangled yarn into balls from their ancient looking wire swifts, and haul massive bags of fibre around as if it was no effort at all. The compound buzzes with creative energy, greetings (Namaste), and there are mounds of brightly coloured fibre and projects everywhere.
On another day I visited a home called Peace Rehabilitation Center. This is a home for girls and women who have been rescued from human trafficking (see website for more information and stories). Many of the girls come from small villages and are recruited or bought by pimps who then try to smuggle them into India. Fortunately, some of the girls are stopped at the border before they are lost forever. At PRC, the girls are taught all kinds of skills so that they can one day be independent. They learn things like gardening, jewelry making, cooking and, of course, knitting. I was warned before arriving at the home that their skills are very basic and that teaching them something new may be challenging.
To my surprise, when I arrived, there was about ten girls sitting on mats around a huge pile of yarn, all knitting away like their fingers were on fire. None of them speak English, so teaching without an interpreter would have been fairly difficult anyway, but to my embarrassment, I find that their skills at least match my own. Their technical and finishing skills are outstanding and they easily crank out a perfect fingerless mitt without batting an eye.
I have never felt so quintessentially “Western” as I did while I was in Nepal. The smog, garbage and traffic of the city is a major contrast to our open spaces and clean air in the mountains that I’m used to. While attending a full-moon festival, I was clearly the only Caucasian in a crowd of hundreds, although I was graciously accepted. While visiting with the PRC girls who had been sold by their own families, beaten by pimps and worse, I was painfully aware of my own charmed existence. Despite all these differences, I was mostly struck by the similarities between East and West. Namely, the fact that knitting provides a universal language – knits us together, so to speak. Even if you can’t communicate with words, wool is the same, knitting needles and crochet hooks are the same, and even instructions and techniques are the same. A knitted stitch is the same in Nepal as it is in Canada.