Confessions of an ADHD-riddled crochet-holic

The unconventional way I got through Zoom learning: crochet

When I was young, my grandma taught me to knit for the first time. I was five years old, sitting on her lap on a cold December day, when she first introduced me to the sport. She held my hands in hers as the needle weaved through the yarn, creating a line of crooked stitches in fluffy red wool.

It wasn’t until years later, a little after I turned 18, that my sister gifted me two pairs of knitting needles and a couple bundles of bright coloured yarn, when I finally picked up the hobby for good.

A couple months before the great gift that started it all, I had received a diagnosis for hyperactive ADHD, coupled up with chronic anxiety — I was in for the ride of my life.

I swiftly moved from making simple tension squares and knitting hand cloths to more intricate projects like… scarves. But in all seriousness, I always got too overwhelmed by having to handle the two needles required for knitting, and never really understood the concept of tougher projects. My goal with knitting was to create something I could enjoy, wear, and pass down, just like my grandma had done for me. But the works of art I was knitting weren’t gonna cut it.

One day, I was thrifting (as per usual), and stumbled across the wall of random stuff that Value Village packages up in little plastic baggies. These are sometimes filled with mangled Barbie dolls, scraps of a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy… you get the point. But this particular day, I decided to intentionally look at what was there, and found a plastic bag filled with crochet needles, all for $3.75.

I decided “Why not give crochet a shot,” making it the 17th hobby I would try out that year. It quickly became a love affair. 

For those who don’t know, crochet is knitting’s little sister; it requires only one needle, or “hook,” and some yarn, or any material weaved into a thread that you can hook onto.

At first, it was just me, my laptop, my hook and my yarn. I learned all the basics; slip stitch, single crochet, double crochet, half double crochet, how to chain, the magic circle, and so on. I started making hats, bags, coasters, and different fun patterns of granny squares.

Instead of overwhelming me, I felt I was able to grow within this form of creative expression, and to this day it has become one of the only hobbies that I have stuck with.

People with ADHD often struggle with holding onto projects, hobbies, or habits you’re either trying to pick up or kick. You quickly get sidetracked by small things that are normal parts of life, and so it’s hard to stay focused and committed to one thing that you love.

When March 2020 hit, and the unthinkable happened, my first year of university was shifted into an environment where being actively engaged with the class material was extremely difficult for me, and pretty much everyone else. I began classes online, and finished my semester cosplaying as a hermit in my partner’s basement, eating junk food and squinting whenever I was confronted by daylight.

When September rolled around, I was ready and excited for my second year of school. In the journalism department, many of the classes are smaller than what you’d expect in a university setting, with most of them consisting of around 20 people. At least I wasn’t in an online class with over 200 participants — sorry sociology majors.

Still, they were long lectures; I realized I wouldn’t get through them if I got distracted by every noise, feeling, thought or impulse I had. However, I am a grown-ass woman, and I refuse to own a fidget spinner. So I started to crochet during class.

All of a sudden, I could get through the two hours of a two-hour lecture and actually grasp the content. My hands were busy, and somehow that opened up my ears to absorb what was being said. I was no longer held captive by my own thoughts, because all I was doing was thinking about my next stitch while I listened to what sounded like a slightly boring podcast on business reporting — how educational!

Even though I had friends kind enough to send me their notes, professors who would share slideshows with me so I could catch up if I needed to, or revise something if I had been too distracted — I didn’t need it.  After learning to crochet, I was able to concentrate and absorb information properly. This has been the best tool I have found to help me thrive in the online environment. 

Now all I have to figure out is how to get professors to allow me to crochet in class… I am only kind of kidding.


Photoraph by Juliette Palin

Student Life

Contemporary Craft: Why We Continue to Produce Textile Art in 2020

Jenna Cleyle, Monika Noble and Rivka Mitchell are roommates. Graduate students in their early twenties, the three friends share an apartment in the heart of Outremont. It’s a cozy place, with potted plants nestled in every corner, fairy lights strung across the ceiling and a huge, remarkably comfortable couch in the middle of the living room. A couple of nights a week, the roommates stretch out here to watch movies and eat junk food and chat about their lives. It’s a welcome break from their hectic schedules.

There’s a ball of blue yarn and some knitt ing needles sitting on the coffee table; evidence of the pair of socks that Rivka has been working on. Having knit since she was a kid, it’s not unusual to find her with her feet up in front of the TV, needles clicking away. Sometimes, Jenna and Monika will knit with her, but Jenna typically prefers to do embroidery and Monika likes to sew. She just recently purchased a sewing machine, as she felt it was finally time to acquire her own after she’d grown up using her grandmother’s.

This image of three young women working together—each of them threading and stitching and looping and cutting—is reminiscent of some scene from a Jane Austen novel. It feels like taking a step into a different time, only instead of sitting in front of a gently crackling fireplace, the women are sitting in front of an episode of The Bachelor and yelling at the TV.

For this trio, creating these projects is a source of great comfort and joy. The fruits of their labour are sprinkled all around the apartment in the form of sweaters, blankets wall decor, some of which they’ve gifted to one another. It makes them feel good to see their hard work turn into something useful.

“I take a lot of pride out of it,” said Monika. “I’ve used my hands and made something that I really like. It’s like, ‘I can do this!’”

A study by the University of British Columbia found that knitting can help ease the anxiety associated with eating disorders.  After attending knitting classes, 74 percent of subjects, all of whom were women diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, reported feeling calmer and less preoccupied with their weight and eating habits.


The psychological benefits of knitting have also been put to the test in correctional facilities. One program, called Knitting Behind Bars, has found great success in a Maryland minimum security prison, where inmates can attend a weekly knitting class. The program has reportedly helped to alleviate stress and tension among inmates while empowering them with a valuable skill.

Rivka echoes this idea. She says that knitting helps soothe her nerves when she’s feeling restless. “It’s repetitive,” she said. “You barely have to think about it once you get used to the motions of it, and I think there’s something really nice about the texture. The wool feels good in your hands.”

Like many young women, Jenna, Monika and Rivka have embraced the same ‘domestic skills’ that their grandmothers likely practiced at their age. Since the turn of the 21st century, a revival in the practice of knitting, cross-stitching, embroidery, sewing and weaving has been steadily growing, largely supported by the rise of social media. Often guided by online tutorials and forums, a number of women are using platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Reddit to share photos of their finished creations. It’s a curious thing—though the roles for women have changed drastically in recent decades, these traditional forms of ‘women’s-work’ have prevailed, finding space even in 2020 by adapting to our modern lifestyles and social networks.

Just last fall, a Chicago woman named Shannon Downey made headlines after stumbling across an unfinished quilt at an estate sale. The quilt, which displays an embroidered map of the United States, was the work of an elderly woman named Rita Smith. Smith sadly passed away before she could complete it, so Downey took to Instagram in search of needleworkers to help finish the project. Over a thousand volunteers offered their services and the quilt is to be exhibited this spring at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky.

Stretching 143 metres long, the Great Tapestry of Scotland is one of the largest tapestries in the world. Made up of 160 embroidered panels, the tapestry chronicles the history of Scotland from as early as 8,500 BCE. Constructed by over a thousand volunteers, each panel took at least 500 hours to complete.

Jenna, who began embroidering a couple of years ago, believes that so many women are gravitating towards the medium as a means of redefining what it represents. “I think it’s about reappropriating something that was traditionally considered a woman’s role,” she said.

Not too long ago, a woman’s knowledge of these various skills was born more out of obligation than desire. In the 19th century, for example, women of every class were expected to have some knowledge of textile craftsmanship. Proficiency with a needle and thread was paramount, because it meant women could elevate their homemaking skills and increase their employment opportunities. The select women who had access to schooling would often acquire these abilities through their formal education; and those who didn’t would usually learn from the other women in their families, just as many do today.

Many early examples of embroidery come from the tomb of good ol’ King Tut (Tutankhamun), the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled from roughly 1333 to 1323 BCE. He was buried with a sizeable collection of clothing items, including tunics, gloves and socks. Many were heavily embroidered with intricate designs and beads.

Although, in some ways, this emphasis on domestic craftsmanship can be seen as oppressive, it did create an avenue into the art world that women previously didn’t have access to. While women struggled to find a place in the realm of sculpture and painting—‘high art’ as some textbooks like to call it—they did gain some notoriety in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century. A reaction against mass industrialization, the movement emphasized the importance of handmade artisanship. It is here that decorative arts produced by women found some visibility, although their works were still largely overshadowed by those of men.

Susan Surette, Ph.D, an art historian who studies the history of craft and decorative arts, said that many women have since experimented with textiles as a means of connecting with these feminine roots. In the 1970s, a number of feminist circles partook in the resurgence of embroidery. Stitching colourful designs into blouses and denim jackets, they produced those iconic staples of seventies fashion we know so well today.

You’ve probably heard of William Butler Yeats, the famed 20th century Irish poet. It turns out he was far from being the only artist in the family: his sister, Lily Yeats, was a successful embroiderer. Lily Yeats ran the embroidery department for Dun Emer Industries, an arts and crafts cooperative that she established alongside her sister, Elizabeth Yeats. Dun Emer was run entirely by women and the cooperative aimed to teach craftsmanship to other working-class women and girls.

“It was [about] getting acquainted with these textile skills that our grandmothers or mothers would have used, these techniques that were part of the absolute necessity for gender construction,” said Surette. “The difference now is that we have the choice to participate.”

Today, textile artworks have become increasingly welcomed into the fold of our major institutions. Toshiko Horiuchi-MacAdam, for example, is internationally celebrated for her playgrounds made entirely of crocheted fibres. Other artists, such as South African embroiderer Danielle Clough, have gained huge followings on social media. Clough has even been commissioned to do hand-sewn portraits of iconic celebrities like David Letterman and Tina Fey.

Surette said it’s unlikely that women will stop experimenting with textiles any time soon, especially as the appreciation for decorative arts grows. She believes that the practice of knitting, weaving and sewing are important extensions of our need to create. “Textiles are so embedded in our history,” she said.

The Arts and Crafts movement began in the 19th century as a response to the decline of craftsmanship in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. William Morris, an English reformer and designer, along with interior decorators and manufacturers, founded the Morris, Marshall, Faulker and Company. It was dedicated to trying to recapture the spirit associated with medieval craftsmanship.

Sure enough, Jenna, Monika and Rivka plan to continue working on their craft and improving their skills. While they haven’t amassed thousands of followers on Instagram, for them, that’s really not the point.

“It’s an outlet of creativity, you know?” said Jenna. “It’s nice to put your time into something and create something out of it.”


Graphics by Kayla-Marie Turriciano, Main photo by Britanny Clarke



A “stitch and bitch” brings knitters together to produce their craft while talking about life

A Stitch and Bitch session was held at Loyola’s Art Hive on Nov. 21, organized by CJLO station manager Francella Fiallos The event aimed to build a community among CJLO volunteers and Concordia University students.

The term Stitch and Bitch was initially coined in the 1950s. Participants teach newcomers, share tips and tricks on how to improve each others’ skills, and of course, bitch about anything and everything. Even though the event is knitting-oriented, anyone with a craft project, from crocheting to scrap-booking, is welcome to join.

Fiallos said she was inspired to create the event because most volunteers at the station rarely get to meet each other. After their shows, DJs usually leave right away. She wanted to create a sense of community between CJLO members and encourage all university students to come hang out and learn about the station.

“We’ve expanded it to anybody that wants to come because we’re a community radio,” said Fiallos. “We’re open to new volunteers and people learning about the station and just people who want to have a nice time.”

Fiallos came up with the idea following her passion for the art of knitting. “Knitting is one of my pastimes, it’s one of my favourite things to do, so I thought I would start [these events] with something I love doing,” she said.

Fiallos started knitting after her therapist recommended it as an activity that could help cope with the idleness of winter and the negative effects of seasonal blues. Knitting has been Fiallos’s main hobby for two years now. Her knitting achievements include mittens, scarves, and her current project, a long grey blanket requiring advanced knitting techniques.

“I just found it such a very meditative, cathartic, enjoyable activity that makes you feel really productive and really balanced,” said Fiallos. She described how the idea is to keep your hands moving but your mind concentrated and still; the activity has a calming and satisfying effect because you can produce something as you sit down, relax and listen to music, a podcast or, if you’re a pro, watch TV.

Knitters were offered how-to instructions, knitting needles and plenty of different colours of yarn, donated by Concordia University’s Centre for Creative Reuse.

Even though everyone’s eyes were on their knitting needles and yarn,  conversation came effortlessly. Frustrations some were having trying to get their stitches to work turned into rants about school, work, bad choices, their personal lives, childhood memories, and funny habits. Members flowed in and out of topics, as they changed from quiet pauses to focus on their projects to laughter.

Stitch and Bitch seems to work for any personality. For introverts, the knitting project provides a shield and allows you to engage only when you want to. Others fill in when you don’t have much to say. For extroverts, your audience is open for conversation and won’t be moving any time soon. The CJLO volunteers are easy going and helpful, and the event proved to be a good way to engage with and meet other students.

While this event was centred around knitting, Fiallos said the purpose of events like these is about building the community and introducing Concordia students to the CJLO radio. Any future events will feature new activities to promote that end.

“Right now it’s a Stitch and Bitch, maybe next time it will just be like a very good old-fashioned pizza night or movie night,” Fiallos said.


Photos by Laurence B.D.


Weaving people and memories together

Collecting Loss: Weaving Threads of Memory celebrates life and death through clothing

I remember when my grandfather was in the hospital. In the final weeks leading up to his death, my grandmother taught herself how to knit. She had never knit before and yet, during the long days spent in the intensive care unit, she had managed to create a scarf for everyone in my family. At nine years old, I did not understand. “Why couldn’t she just read a book?” I would ask. “She is grieving,” my mother would answer.

Many years later, I understood. The practice of weaving offers the mind rest and focus, it is at once creative and emotional. Collecting Loss: Weaving Threads of Memory demonstrates this need to create something that will hold together during times of loss. On display at Yellow Fish Art Gallery in the Plateau, the exhibition is a public art memorial that celebrates life and death through clothing.

Embroidered and patchworked, the garments offer individuals and community a place to mourn and remember together, and demonstrate the possibility of death as something that “weaves” people together. Photo by Britanny Clarke.

The space feels very much like a memorial; a place for grieving and remembering. Clothes hang from the ceiling, holding shape as though they were recently worn and leaving the viewer with a feeling of emptiness. Framed poems are on display at the foot of each garment, and lit candles are scattered throughout the room. It is at once eerie and wholesome; while the items represent loss, many people are gathered to celebrate life.

The items, created of donated clothing once belonging to loved ones, were cut up and sewn together. Embroidered and patchworked, the garments offer individuals and community a place to mourn and remember together, and demonstrate the possibility of death as something that “weaves” people together. From teddy bears, to child-size dresses, to pants, each item is unique and expresses different experiences and memories.

At the far end of the room, Christy Thompson’s work Shroud hangs from the ceiling. An homage to the artist’s brother, Kelly, following his death, the piece is five metres long and composed of his knitted garments. The work, which took Thompson over three months to complete, demonstrates the creative process that helped the artist develop an understanding of their relationship and his loss.

Thompson’s goal was to create a dialogue surrounding grief and loss, while simultaneously exploring alternative ways of dealing with loss and mourning.

Collected, gathered, disassembled and reassembled, the creation of the works follow a similar pattern to the ways in which one’s life is changed when experiencing loss. However, being given the space to share memories and stories, and to fill it with items that have been repaired, offers individuals a place to remember and honour their loved ones, both individually and collectively.

Collecting Loss: Weaving Threads of Memory demonstrates the possibility of creating meaning and bringing people together to create a community of tightly woven individuals.

Collecting Loss: Weaving Threads of Memory is on display at Yellow Fish Art Gallery, at 3623 St-Laurent Blvd., until Oct. 27. Additional information and open hours can be found at

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