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January 2011

Meet the Moms

This Mom Surfs the Knit

By Karen Kullgren

Gaithersburg's Suzyn Jackson learned to knit from Episcopalian nuns in third grade, and the needles have been clicking ever since. Now the mother of 3- and 5-year-old sons, Jackson continues to knit alone and with other knitters, writes about the experience and designs patterns.

Jackson knitted on and off in childhood, then really got into knitting in college, when a friend asked her to teach her how to knit, "and I began to realize how my solo hobby could open the door to a whole community. I discovered I could knit something simple and read at the same time." She couldn't afford to buy patterns in stores, so she had to figure out how to design her own patterns using yarn from secondhand sweaters she would buy at Goodwill and rip up to start something new.

She and her husband Alvaro got married in Central Park two weeks after 9/11 and passersby cheered. Around 2003, she wrote an article called "KnitSurfing the Subway." In addition to submitting it to, she sent it off to a friend, and a "six degrees of separation" chain of events was set off from the time that friend shared it with her hairdresser until it was shared again several times over, ending up with Kari Cornell, acquiring editor at Voyageur Press, who was just in the process of putting together their first knitting anthology, For the Love of Knitting. Later the editor sent out a notice to contributors about wanting to do more knitting titles, and soliciting book ideas. Jackson had read that knitting circles were very hot, so she suggested that as a topic, but the idea didn't move forward.

Knitting Circles

Then she got pregnant and they moved from New York to Maryland, "and life happened." During her son's first Christmas, she was sending out pictures of him ("to everyone in the world") and sent one to her editor at Voyageur. Cornell wrote back asking if Jackson was still interested in a knitting circle book, which she was.

The book, Knit It Together: Patterns and Inspiration for Knitting Circles was finally released in 2009. Jackson edited the book and contributed to it as well, and many of the photos in the book were taken by her husband. She brought in essays from other writers, she says, because, "I wanted the idea of the book being a product of a circle as well."

After having left a knitting circle of her own back in New York, eventually Jackson found her way to one here, "an incredible variety of people. What I've found about knitters is that if you pull out knitting, people want to talk," she says, characterizing it as a sort of nonthreatening backdrop "for starting a conversation with a perfect stranger. There's this incredible community."

Incredible Community

Jackson wrote the piece in the book charting the long and fascinating history of knitting circles, including during the American and the French revolutions. "Because it's portable there has always been this sort of gathering of people…I used the idea of a quilting bee in soliciting a lot of patterns in the book," which is half essays and half patterns. What distinguishes the book from other pattern books, virtually all of which are for individual knitters, she says, is, "All the patterns are designed to be knitted by a group. All are designed to be modular so different people could knit pieces and then get together and make something. Like this amazing kimono made of strips of knitting of different lengths and widths; theoretically, it could be done by a dozen people, then put together…" or, "the Odds and Ends Hats are made by pooling everyone's leftovers to come up with exciting combinations of textures and colors."

Knitting circles are "not just about upper-middle-class American women congregating in coffee shops," says Jackson. "What was interesting to me was the incredible diversity of the essays that came in," like her own story "of a cooperative in Peru working with a nonprofit to sell their knitted garments to the first-world market; they turned around their town from one of the poorest in the country to having a school and a community center. And [Graham Turnbull's essay on] this fabulous thing in London a few years ago called Knit a River, which ended up with a piece a mile long that people carried up the streets of London to raise awareness of water poverty."

Probably her favorite pattern in the book, she says, is the Tree of Life. "I came up with the idea of a knitted tree to complement the knitted river, but my first attempt looked more like a knitted bonsai. I ended up enlisting the help of knitters around North America, who sent me beautiful knitted leaves. I worked up the trunk, and appliquéd the whole thing to a burlap panel—and the result is spectacular, if I do say so myself."

Knitting a Train

I asked Jackson how her kids felt about her knitting when they were together. "'No ninning, Momma!' is what they say! You think you can knit and watch your kids at the same time, but they know that you're not paying attention." I was incredulous when she casually mentioned one thing they did like: "We recently knitted a train." She explains, "I found a fabulous pattern for a blanket and showed my oldest son. He said he didn't like it, he wanted a train. I told him, 'If I knit you a train, the wheels won't turn and it will be squishy.' And he said, 'Yes, I want a squishy train, and it will be my friend.'" So she knitted him a choo-choo train. Later, she made the younger son a bullet train!

Jackson was recently a featured author at the Gaithersburg Book Festival.
You can also find her on Ravelry, a site for knitters and crocheters (she goes by the moniker "knitsurf"), writing wherever knitters gather on the web or blogging on her website,—where you can also find her first indie pattern for sale, the Trellis Cup Cozy, just the thing for your morning latte from your neighborhood barista.

Karen Kullgren is contributing editor for Washington Parent, and she is also a freelance writer. Follow her on Read her blog, "Grace in the Gray Areas: Reflections on Life's Journeys & Joys, Books & Other Blessings" at Contact Karen at