Sustaining a Craft - Knitting Through Generations

My Tata

I have so many memories of my grandmother, my Tata, knitting and sewing me clothes each year. Every Christmas, Easter, and birthday she would give me a matching set of dresses and sweaters. I can still picture wearing a baby pink sparkly knit top and skirt to school, handmade by my Tata. As my grandmother and I both aged, I stopped receiving these wearable works of art and love. I have however, kept and cherished these handcrafted presents. I can still see my Tata’s hands and fingers as she worked on each garment. I know my grandmother spent days pouring herself into each stitch until she made something perfect for me, for my sister, even for my dolls. It was a beautiful practice. Evidence of my great grandmothers’, grandmothers’, and tias’ knitting can still be found in every room of my family’s home. Afghans adorn the backs of chairs and sofas and the ends of every bed. My memories of knitting are tied to my Mexican foremothers. I know they are not the last generation of knitters, but in my family, they are.

  My great-grandmother Mema

Knitting, across cultures and along with many other artisan crafts, has been passed down from generation to generation. It has evolved in many ways, yet is also a symbol of tradition and nostalgia. Knitwear can communicate a memory, a feeling, and a sense of cultural pride. It is a beautiful and practical craft. Being in Lima and visiting knitting workshops has made me wonder - how is the practice of knitting changing? I think back to my own memories. Who in my family will keep knitting? My step-mom’s family continues to knit heavy scarves - beautiful comfort in the face if the bitterly cold midwestern winters. But I have never learned how. Will the communities of artisan knitters that emiLime works with in Peru sustain this beautiful and meaningful tradition across generations? Or will it fade as technology, ideas of gender, and broader access to a formal education evolve? The emiLime team asked a number of artisans that work with emiLime to share their thoughts are on how knitting will develop in the next generation.

We began our search for a deeper understanding of knitting traditions in Peru with Yolanda, the head of over a dozen emiLime knitting workshops in Lima. She spoke to us about how most of the women she supervises are middle-aged or older. Many of them are grandmothers that have been knitting for decades - abuelitas like mine. But many say they have not passed down their artisanship to their daughters. Yolanda tells us the children of today’s knitters often have had access to a more formal education than they had themselves. If their children continue working with textiles at all, they are interested in design rather than production.

Yolanda's knitting group

After speaking with Yolanda, we visited one of the workshops she manages in Lima. We walked in to see a group of women sitting together chatting at a few long tables in a bright blue, outdoor room. They sat amidst heaps of yarn, clotheslines, and a few roaming orange and white cats. Sometimes, they knit together quietly, they explain. Other times they knit as they tell each other their joys and sorrows and share advice. Sometimes they just laugh over the latest gossip. They say they find peace in knitting together. This is where we met Hilda. Hilda has a warm, beautiful smile that reveals a few golden teeth. She speaks of how many young people that come to the knitting group have little patience for the craft. When they make errors, she explains, many simply don’t come back. So who will replace the older generation of knitters? Who knows, she tells us, many children are becoming more educated and have little interest in pursuing the craft of knitting. 

Finally, we spoke to Carolina, head of emiLime’s quality control as well as five knitting groups in Lima. Carolina is a women that gets straight down to business. She has many thought provoking insights about how the economy, gender roles, and technology impact the role knitting has in her community. The 70 women that Carolina manages are much younger than Yolanda’s knitters. Many are in their 30s, mostly mothers and homemakers. Carolina tells us for them and for her, knitting is simply “parte de ser mujer,” part of being a woman. If these women were not knitting for work, she explains, they would be doing it for pleasure and for their families. Carolina herself learned to knit as a child, she learned it as part of what she believes to be her role as a woman. Yet now, many of these women are not passing down this gendered tradition. Carolina made an important distinction - many mothers pass knitting down as a hobby, not a job or a role for a particular gender. Local schools no longer teach knitting to young girls. Additionally, technology is replacing interest in - and appreciation for - handmade crafts. They are simply not valued the way they used to be. Carolina recognizes that without the craft having a higher economic value, many will lose interest in pursuing it. People, she explained, are motivated to make a better living. With the rise and reach of a global economic market, companies can very easily source labor from communities around the world that will accept very little pay. Knitting artisans have trouble competing with such low prices, and are often turned down when they ask for just wages. Carolina emphasizes how essential it is to value this craft as an art form in order to sustain it. With your purchase of an emiLime product, not only are you wearing handmade art with a long and colorful tradition, you are valuing and helping to sustain a traditional craft and local community.

Post by: Aida Villarreal-Licona, Media Intern

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emiLime Handcrafted collaborates with our network of artisan leaders to generate fresh, contemporary designs using locally sourced materials. Our team strives to create professional relationships with each artisan leader in the network of our providers and support them in the development of their independent businesses.