Today on the blog we invited Chloe Benjamin, author of the new book The Immortalists and self-professed obsessive knitter, to talk about writing and knitting. To celebrate the launch of her book, we teamed up with Chloe and fellow knitters to create a special colorway inspired by the book's cover artwork: We selected our versatile sportweight wool Chickadee in colors Sabine, Honey, Fox, Barolo, Root, and Boreal for them to create something unique and wonderful, inspired by the story.
Take it away, Chloe...
cover image © Putnam Books
I started writing stories at the age of eight or nine, and knitting not long after: when I was thirteen, a family friend, Kitty, taught me garter stitch with two long needles and a skein of Red Heart yarn. Growing up in San Francisco, I took the city busses to high school, knitting all the while. When friends and teachers asked if I’d consider selling my scarves, I came up with a makeshift order form that allowed customers to select their preferred color and stitch pattern. Each scarf was twenty dollars—barely enough to cover yarn!—but I loved the creative process and the thought of making something that the people I cared about could carry with them.
As I moved through college and then graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin, where I pursued my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, I thought of knitting as a contrast to writing. Writing, I thought, was mental; knitting was physical. If writing was intellectually demanding, knitting offered an opportunity for meditation. Writing existed in my mind, or a two-dimensional computer screen, while knitting was deliciously tangible.
By 2016, I had published my first novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, and written my second, The Immortalists. The Immortalists follows four siblings, growing up in 1969 New York, who hear of the arrival of a mysterious traveling woman—someone who claims to be able to tell anyone the date that they will die. The siblings pool their allowance and receive their prophecies; then, the novel follows each of them over the course of their lives, exploring the way that fate, chance and expectation shape their futures.
I had poured all of myself into The Immortalists: my passion and anxiety, my strength and vulnerability, the love I have for the world as well as my fear about losing it. As I prepared for the book’s publication, I tried to write, but was forced to face my burnout. Still, I craved a creative outlet. Even though I’d been knitting for fifteen years, I had never been brave enough to attempt something other than scarves and hats. Now, I went on Ravelry and stared at the astonishing range of garment patterns. Could I really make something so professional-looking, so beautiful, as the kinds of sweaters I thought existed only in stores?
I drove to my favorite local yarn shop: The Sow’s Ear in Verona, Wisconsin, which has three rooms of yarn, the same number of classrooms, and an attached café. Armed with my pattern of choice—the Georgetown by Hannah Fettig, a shawl-collared open cardigan—I selected a heathered gray yarn. At first, the pattern was simple: I chose the bottom-up seamless version, working many rows of comfortable stockinette. But soon, the sweater required techniques I didn’t know. I trundled back to The Sow’s Ear for what one of their staff members cheerfully dubbed a “sanity check.” With their guidance, I was surprised to find I could do a number of things I never thought I would: short rows, seaming, picking up stitches.
It took me over a year, but by the time I finished my Georgetown, I felt invincible—and eager for more. Knitting was no longer just physical and meditative. Challenging myself to learn new things—and thinking through the kind of choices and modifications that would make an item uniquely my own—required the kind of imagination and intellectual precision I had always associated with writing. I began to plan my projects as carefully as I did my novels. I had never paid much attention to fiber content, but now I realized that matching yarn to pattern was an art in itself. Just as the Gold siblings’ prophecies act as a literary device that propels the narrative forward, coloring their every decision, the qualities of a particular yarn—its preparation and ply, its springiness and density—affect the drape, structure and feel of the finished piece.
The more I learned about the fiber industry, the more I became committed to yarn that is ethically, and ideally domestically, made. I first became aware of Quince & Co. through my love for Hannah Fettig’s patterns, which often called for them. Through my research, I learned about Quince’s commitment to natural fibers, chemical-free processing and entirely domestic production. But because they weren’t carried in my local yarn stores, I didn’t see them in person until a work trip brought me to Washington D.C. Of course, I had to visit a LYS—in this case, Looped Yarn Works—and there I found shelf upon shelf of the Quince yarns I’d admired from afar. Naturally, I grabbed them. The spring! The smoosh! The colors! I was sold.
© Nathan Jandl
My first Quince project was another Hannah Fettig pattern, Gable, a modern, feminine pullover with just the right amount of cozy slouch. I paired it with Quince’s fingering-weight Finch in the swoon-worthy Clay colorway, a dusty, terracotta rose. Though I love the garments I’ve made as much as the characters I’ve created, my Gable might just be my favorite handmade sweater. Thanks to Finch, it has that sought-after combination of drape and warmth, lightness and structure.
I found the same to be true of Aran-weight Osprey, which I used for Hannah Fettig’s Art Walk Cardi. I had wanted the sweater equivalent of a bomber jacket in navy blue, and I wasn’t going to stop until I got it (literally: because Quince’s website was sold out of my desired colorway, Peacoat, I called yarn stores across the country until I found one that had six skeins in the same dye lot!). The trick for the Art Walk Cardi was to find an Aran-weight yarn that was structured enough to maintain the shape but not so heavy as to weigh it down. Osprey provided all that and more. This fall, my Art Walk Cardi has gotten the most wear of my handmade garments, the perfect sweater jacket for October and November temperatures.
© Nathan Jandl
From there, I was off! I drove an hour and fifteen minutes to Cream City Yarn to touch Owl, Puffin, Lark and Chickadee. Sturdy, classic Lark lent its warmth and stitch definition to my first cable project, Carrie Bostick Hoge’s Liesl Cowl. Sweet, plump Chickadee in a colorway I’d long pined for, Honey, became a pair of ankle socks.
When my brilliant publisher raised the idea of partnering with a yarn company to launch The Immortalists, how could I think of anyone else? For me, Quince & Co. is the ultimate. Not only do they produce gorgeous yarn, but they’re a company I feel good supporting, as I know that my purchases invest in a vision both mindful and sustainable.
So here’s to you, Quince & Co, for enabling the knit-lit collaboration of my dreams—and to your incredible generosity in creating a professionally-selected color palette based on my book cover, which inspired me to tackle a new challenge: my very first colorwork project. I’m giddy to see what other knitters have up their sleeves, and so honored by the opportunity to bridge the world of reading with that of knitting. After all, as I realized, they aren’t so different: both spring from the desire to create something sensitive, beautiful and lasting—as well as an equally strong desire to enjoy cozy afternoons under blankets.
Through knitting, writing and reading, we appreciate and process the world around us anew, exercising a respect for source materials as we use them to build something fresh.
And here’s to you, fellow knitters, readers and writers! May your holidays be merry, your days woolly, and your creative pursuits as full of comfort as they are adventure.
Thank you so much, Chloe, for sharing your story with us, and for your enthusiasm for what we do! It was so much fun choosing which colors would be just right for The Immortalists, and we look forward to seeing your colorwork project take shape.
We'll be reading, knitting, and following along this month—who else will be joining us? We hope to hear from you!