This week’s Tuesday Teamie is Kelli of Accessories by Kelli. Kelli is one of Etsy Handmade Team’s most active members and she can be found in the forums helping out other members and sharing the handmade love! Kelli is the Chairperson of the Survive & Thrive Committee and keeps us updated to important changes on Etsy and how we might Survive & Thrive here. Thank you Kelli for all you give to our team and thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration to us all!
My life spans 2/3 of the 20th century, and so far 12% of the 21st. I grew up in a traditional family. My father taught high school math in a private boarding school and my mother taught piano in our home. Predictably, I married a man whose father taught high school science and mother taught first grade. He became a college professor, and I spent pretty much my entire life on or around private school and college campuses until 1997 when we both retired. I have been a realtor, a banker, an insurance processor, and a librarian at different times in my life, but, contrarily, never a school teacher.
My mother and my two grandmothers were skilled in embroidery, knitting, crocheting, lace-making, hand sewing and machine sewing. They passed these skills on to me (except for the crocheting and lace making, those were too much for me and still are). During World War II, we knitted for the war effort. We knitted 10” x 10” squares that were bundled up in batches and given to the Red Cross. They made them into afghans and blankets for the hospitals near the war zones and also gave them out to victims of the London Blitz.
My grandmothers and mother made sheets and pillowcases for our families from sheeting they bought in bolts, and decorated the edges with delicate crochet patterns. They made lace tablecloths and napkins with matching lace edging. They made sweaters, winter hats, socks, mittens, my aunt even made a full length coat of boucle yarn, it was gorgeous! My mother made most of my clothing when I was young, until I became a rebellious teenager and demanded “store-bought” clothes like the other girls had!
Wool was precious, especially during that war, so any damaged or outgrown garments were unraveled and knit into something else. When I used to stay with my grandmother, every evening after the supper dishes were washed and put away, the radio would be turned on in the living room and we would sit together with our knitting, listening to Jimmie Durante, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and friends, or Fred Waring’s Orchestra. Saturday afternoon at home the opera was always on and we sat and knitted together.
In college I knitted whenever I was not in class or studying. At Bennington College things were very flexible so I knitted argyle socks in class, until one professor asked me to stop. He said that my classmates were distracted, watching the yarn bobbins bounce around as I flipped them from side to side. I knitted sweaters with Norwegian patterns of snowflakes and deer for all my friends, and gave everyone mittens with snowflakes on them. Later I knitted layettes for my babies, and made clothes for them when they were young.
Today I knit while watching television; it is relaxing and at the same time it is exhilarating to me to see an item take shape as I build it. My process is always the same: I select a design and a color palette, and begin building a hat or scarf or bag. As I build it, I make decisions along the way; whether to knit a colorful design into it or knit a lacey pattern into it or make it a solid color with textural features. The process also helps me stay away from the snacks; if I think I want a snack, I always feel the need to knit just one more row before I get up and go to the refrigerator. One more row turns into one more inch, then one more, until an hour has gone by and I haven’t put the knitting down. Once it’s finished I can’t wait to start the next one.
The same works for my sewing. I made a lot of quilts when we first retired, then ran out of people to give them to. So when I make a hat or a bag, I do it the way I did the quilting. I select a style, and a size, then select the fabrics from my stash, and begin building the sunhat or the bag. Decisions are made along the way – shall I add lace edging or rick rack to the hat, how many pockets shall I put into the bag, etc. The process of building it is absorbing and the result is very satisfying. Whether it sells right away or sits in my shop a long time, I still look at it and think “that’s a good one, glad I chose these colors…” or whatever. They are my creations and I am proud of them. If I couldn’t continue making them I would be very bored and unsettled.
The tradition and the personal contact of handmade are very important to me. I love it when buyers strike up a conversation with me. I like the connection; these are my creations that they are acquiring, that I am turning over to them to enjoy and care for. It’s sort of like when we bred spaniels, each puppy that went to a new home I made a connection with the family that was going to love and care for the pup, and I placed it into their arms with love and hope. That’s how I feel about my creations.