Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It is such a pleasure to welcome back Donna Druchunas, whose latest book, Ethnic Knitting Discovery, was just released. Even though I am not a knitter, I am fascinated by Donna's work--she does a beautiful job weaving together her art and social change, as you can see on her Subversive Knitting page. Donna and I have been email friends for quite some time now; I look forward to one day meeting her in person! You can find out more about her work on her website, Sheep to Shawl. I am honored to be a stop on her book blog tour as she promotes her new book; what it has to say about the creative process can apply to any art, not just knitting.

>--Welcome to Fruitful, Donna!

Thank you for hosting this stop on my Ethnic Knitting Discovery blog
tour. Your book Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write
is one of my favorite writing books. It's so inspirational that I
come back to it every time I start working on a new book of my own.

--Thank you so much, Donna--that means a lot to me. You speak about how you prefer to make things up as you go along when you knit. It sounds very similar to my approach to writing. Do you approach other aspects of your life the same way, and how else do you find that your life and your art intersect?

I do a certain amount of planning in my life -- to have some sort of
overall structure -- but I like to let the details work themselves
out. For example, when I went to Europe last summer, I bought my
plane tickets and made my hotel reservations pretty far in advance,
but I didn't plan very many day-to-day activities. Instead, each
night or even in the morning, I would take a little time to think
about what I wanted to do the next day. And I didn't fill my days too
much, so if something interesting came up, I could be spontaneous. I
do approach my writing in a similar way as well. I outline my books,
and sometimes even my chapters, but I allow myself to free write and
disregard the outline as I write my first draft, and even the work
develops. I call it "having a plan from which to deviate." I hadn't
realized it before this blog tour, but several people have asked me
similar questions and it's quite interesting to see how my life, my
knitting, and my writing all function in such similar ways.

--You use knitting traditions from around the world to inspire your work. Why would you say it is important for us to explore other cultures? What have you learned about yourself by delving into these practices from around the world? What do you hope your readers will discover about the world and themselves?

It's so easy to think that everyone is just like we are, on an
individual, regional, or even on a national level, but that's just
not true. I always thought I was a little weird and my family was
strange until I went to Lithuania last summer. Suddenly, I understood
everything! It was like I had finally learned the cultural language
that my family speaks, even though we don't speak the actual
Lithuanian language (I'm learning and will be going to a 4-week
language school in Vilnius next year). We may not be normal
Americans, but even after three generations, we are still normal

I've also been reading a lot about traveling to different places. One
book that is really influencing my thoughts is Grammar Lessons:
Translating a Life In Spain by Michelle Morano. The author explores
how culture and language are all tied together and she is constantly
surprised by her own expectations and assumptions and how they are
continually torn apart by her experience with language and living in
a foreign country. The book is making me want to spend a few years
overseas. I guess I'll have to wait until I can "retire."

I'm finding that learning languages (I spent the last few years
studying German) and knitting techniques from other cultures can
break down the habits of thinking that I've been captured by for so
many years. It's an incredibly liberating experience if you can
overcome the initial fear of "otherness" that might attempt to hold
you back. Knitting -- making small stitches with yarn and sticks --
seems like such a simple task that it's hard to imagine that it can
break down so many walls in your psyche.

--I love how your book empowers knitters by giving them concrete steps for how to overcome their fears. I was particularly taken with the section where you speak of "fear of color" and "designer's block". What words of advice would you have for an artist in any discipline (including writing) who is experiencing some sort of creative block?

I think most -- if not all -- creative blocks are caused by fear or,
in its milder form, anxiety. We are afraid to fail, we are afraid to
succeed, sometimes we are even afraid to try.

I write in spiral notebooks with pink ink so I don't take myself so
seriously that I can't write at all. I write what I consider "pre"
drafts in my notebook, and I only count the material as a first draft
when I clean it up a little bit as I type it into the computer. I
find that when I write directly on the computer, I expect my thoughts
to be as neat as the type is, but when I write in my terrible
handwriting and funky colors of ink in a notebook, I let myself play
with the words and I let myself write whatever comes to the surface
without censoring myself. Some material comes out whole, like a third
draft already organized and polished, and some material comes out
like a heap of garbage with one or two interesting sentences buried
in the middle waiting for further exploration. Either way, the time
has not been wasted and I feel like I've accomplished something by
filling the pages.

In knitting, if I don't like the way something is working, I can rip
it out and start over. That's part of the beauty of the medium. In
sewing, once you cut out your pattern pieces, you are committed to
making a certain garment. But with knitting, you an unravel your
project even after it's completely finished, and your yarn is no
worse for the wear. You just wash it and reskein it, and when it's
try, you can start over again from scratch. Another liberating

I think whatever you can do to make the "work" seem more like "play"
goes a long way to breaking through blocks. I read somewhere that the
best way to overcome writer's block is to lower your standards. I
think that's true. Like Ann Lamott, I strongly recommend letting
yourself write "shitty first drafts."

--Writing is such a process of discovery for me, so it was a treat to see that your title contains the word "Discovery." Could you speak a little bit about the role of discovery in your creative process?

The discovery is my favorite part of the process -- doing research,
trying new techniques, shopping for yarn. The conceptualization of a
project is what excites me. I know this is true for many knitters.
While many writers are afraid of the blank page that faces them when
starting a new project, we knitters love starting new projects. We
may even have 20 started projects hanging around our house waiting to
be finished, and we'll still be tempted to start something new. I
have a hard time keeping the excitement level up once a project is
starting to take shape. Then it's locked down and I feel like the
discovery part of the process is ending. I think all artists should
fiddle with other media because it gives us an opportunity to
approach our own discovery process with a different frame of mind.

--I noticed that your publisher is part of the Green Press Initiative, which is committed to preserving ancient forests and natural resources. I love that the publishing industry is becoming more conscious about their use of paper. I wonder whether the knitting world is working to become more green--in the cultures you describe, there is a real emphasis on using local wool. Is that something that American knitters are exploring, as well?

Yes, I'm very happy that I was able to work with a publisher who has
an environmental conscience. This is a trend in knitting, both in the
use of local fibers and the creation of "green" knitting supplies and
tools. Two of the major knitting publications had issues on the theme
of green knitting this year, and a wonderful book called The Natural
Knitter came out this year as well. Hand spinning and dyeing yarn
with natural materials are also gaining popularity.

--Any other thoughts or inspiration you'd like to share?

I think I've babbled enough already. Relax, breathe, have fun. Enjoy
the process. That's the best advice I can give, even if it's advice I
sometimes have trouble following myself!

--Thank you so much for all of your wise words, Donna--I need to follow this advice myself right now. It was a real treat to have you here again!

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