Our Tools, Ourselves: Jess Schreibstein

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Jess Schreibstein knitting and spinning

Jess Schreibstein amazes me. She is the blogger behind Witchin’ in the Kitchen and the founder and organizer of DC Food Swap. She cooks and cans, writes, makes paintings and magic spells, does beautiful lettering and illustration work (e.g.), and also holds down a day job at NPR. Oh, and she knits!

In addition to her blog, be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram (among other places linked from the top of her blog). Thanks for taking the time, Jess —

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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I’m primarily a knitter, but I’ve really gotten into spinning this year, and I’ve worked with dyeing, batik, and weaving in the past. When I lived in Los Angeles for college, my aunt and I would travel to this fiber studio in the middle of the desert to weave on these massive, gorgeous looms that look like prehistoric beasts and dye fabric and roving using natural plant dyes with all of these kooky fiber ladies wearing crazy hats. It was really empowering to be surrounded by all of that craft and wisdom in the middle of nowhere.

My great grandma taught me to knit when I was in middle school. We’d sit in her living room in Delaware with the Weather Channel or Days Of Our Lives on the television and bowls of dried apricots within arm’s reach. Her mother was a Polish immigrant and she grew up very poor in a small Pennsylvania town. She learned to knit from neighborhood girls who taught her using metal nails as knitting needles. Pretty amazing. She spent her last years sitting in a big chair in that living room, knitting hundreds of baby hats for newborns, which she donated to a local hospital.

I am trained as an oil painter, but nowadays a lot of my creative work is on a smaller scale, like watercolor and pen illustrations, mostly due to time and space constraints. I also cook a lot. One of the reasons I love knitting is because it’s portable art – I can fit it into commutes and lunch breaks and the other nooks and crannies of my life easily. I don’t typically have the attention span or time for knitting anything beyond accessories, like hats, scarves, and fingerless gloves (LOTS of fingerless gloves).

Jess Schreibstein's handspun yarn

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

Bamboo needles all the way. I’ve tried working with metal needles, and the yarn always gets so slippery! And natural fibers are a must, even though they are so much more expensive than the acrylic yarn my great grandma knit with. They make the knitting process and finished product so much more pleasurable. My favorite comfort-food yarn is Malabrigo’s worsted merino wool. It comes in a brilliant array of colors and I love the way it looks and feels.

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

Most of my yarn stash is stored in a big grass basket in the corner of my room. It’s overflowing with beautiful yarn that I’ve held onto for years hoping that that one perfect project will come along for each one. The rest of the yarn that doesn’t fit in the basket is stuffed into plastic Tupperware bins.

My mom sewed me this fantastic fabric needle holder that keeps most of my straight needles pretty well organized. I’ve also inherited dozens of colorful metal needles from my grandmother that I’ll probably never use (because I don’t like knitting on metal needles) but can’t bear to part with, because they came from her, that I keep in a fabric-covered metal tube thingy that she also gave me. All of my circulars are tangled in a gigantic knot of love in a plastic container.

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress? 

Um, I don’t? I’ve dropped lots of projects over the years that remain balled up in the corners of my dresser. The ones that I’m actually working on are typically in a tote bag by the side of my bed.

Jess Schreibstein's storage tube and scissors

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I really love this one pair of scissors from India that are just beautiful to look at and work with. I’ve had them for a long time and I use them for everything, not just knitting. I also have this one skein of yarn that cost me $50, more than any other skein of yarn I’ve ever bought, that I acquired after college when I had no job or money but wanted it so badly. It’s still sitting in that stash basket, waiting for a project worthy of it to come along.

Do you lend your tools?

I’ll lend needles to my sister, but then I never get them back. I should probably stop doing that.

What is your favorite place to knit?

Most of the time when I’m knitting, I’m in bed, cross-legged, watching a TV series or listening to an audiobook (Game of Thrones is what’s up!). I also like knitting on the couch with my boyfriend or family, especially when they watch shows that I don’t really care for, because then I can still be sociable while also doing something productive and enjoyable for me too.

What effect do the seasons have on you?

Huge. The changing of the seasons affects me so deeply, and knitting is just one piece of how those emotional changes manifest themselves. Once the cool nights start creeping in and the shadows get long, I become more introspective, less social, and more drawn to my knitting needles. I can become pretty knitting-obsessive in the thick of winter when I really want a lot of alone time. Once spring arrives, I’ll typically put my needles away for the summer.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

I only knit accessories. And it’s not that I don’t want to knit a sweater or some other bigger project – it’s just that I know that project will take a long time when I typically have some holiday gifts to whip up, and knitting a whole sweater or garment for myself feels kinda selfish. Even though I know it’s not? And I have a 90% finished sweater stuffed under my bed that’s been there for three years, and I haven’t mustered the energy to finish it. I’ll get to it eventually.

What are you working on right now?

I have a bag of Icelandic sheep fleece that I bought online and am spinning into a double-ply yarn on my drop spindle. I haven’t touched it since the spring, but the nights are getting cooler and it might be time to pick it up again. I also bought a big enamel pot at a thrift shop, and am excited to try my hand at dyeing my own yarn.

Jess Schreibstein's drop spindle

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Sandra Juto

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Photos © Jess Schreibstein

12 thoughts on “Our Tools, Ourselves: Jess Schreibstein

  1. Pingback: feature in Fringe Association’s ‘Our Tools, Ourselves’ | witchin' in the kitchen

  2. I love the comment “I become more introspective, less social, and more drawn to my knitting needles”…I can relate to that so much. It’s a seasonal shift that I absolutely rejoice in.

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  3. What a great story! I, too, get rather NUTS for knitting as the season cools. And I, too, haven’t brought myself to knit a sweater (yet.) With needing hats for gifts and hats to sale, a sweater seems like a time luxury. (Not to mention the learning curve of beginning.) Beautiful photos of Jessica and her studio and tools. So very much fun to get the inside scoop of other artists and studios.

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  4. Yours and my grandma would have been great friends! Haha, that’s how most of my time alone with her was spent, even down to the dried apricots. Not knitting though, I taught myself that, but coloring and drawing. Thanks for sharing!

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