Behind The Stitches: Nkese Lewis
“I could see me! I’m not talking about the outer me, but the inner me who had to learn to love myself on my own terms, unconditionally. I no longer needed validation from outside sources.\”
Sam: Where are you from and where are you currently based?
Nkese: I am originally from a little town in Washington state. I love the Pacific Northwest! It is so beautiful there. I am currently living in Jacksonville, Florida and have lived here since graduating from college.
Sam: Have you always been a creative person? Where do you think your love of crafting comes from?
Nkese: Yes, I have ALWAYS been creative! I’ve always loved the creative process of using my imagination. When I was younger my mom used to take us to the library every other week and I would get another book to last me two weeks. I loved the idea of reading and creating a picture in my own mind of what I was reading on the pages. I think my love of crafting definitely comes from my mom, she has always been a creative person. She always said don’t pay for anything I could make for less with a little time and patience. So that’s what I always did and still do. My mom always made sure I had everything I needed to be my most creative self.
Sam: Do you consider crochet to be your COC (craft of choice)? What got you hooked on crochet?
Nkese: Crochet is definitely my craft of choice because it travels easily. I’m a busy mom and so it’s nice to have something to do when I’m at my kids’ activities for several hours at a time. I eventually want to learn to knit but have not been disciplined enough to set aside time yet.
I started crocheting about eight years ago. It was just something I picked up when my oldest daughter was also learning. I did it as a stress reliever when I was still working. I never realized all the things I could make with yarn and the more inspired I got the more things I wanted to make.
Sam: How would you describe your yarn stash?
Nkese: That’s a good one!! It used to be super chaotic, random, and just too much. Now, because I’m learning more and more about yarn, my stash has changed some. So let’s just say it’s evolving. Other than that I am a bit compulsive about my craft stuff being organized so my stash is SUPER ORGANIZED. Separated by color, yarn fiber, and size. I also have two little bins for leftover yarn that I roll into balls. I have one for the bigger balls and one for the smaller ones. Having everything organized helps me save time by not having to search for things. I know right where to go to find what I’m looking for.
Sam: Are you more of a finished object or a WIP crocheter?
Nkese: Finished object. I don’t like things lying around undone. I think part of the reason for that is because my mom used to start projects and it would take her forever to finish them, so I just learned early to start something and finish within a reasonable amount of time. Although I also realize that life happens and sometimes you put WIPs down and don’t pick them back up for whatever reason.
Sam: You made a post a while back that really struck me. You wrote about your struggle to see yourself as beautiful when you were younger. Can you tell us more about this and how you were able to overcome these insecurities?
Nkese: Another GREAT question. I grew up in a small predominantly white town. For the most part, my childhood was great. I mean there was racism, but as a black person it’s just kind of an inevitable thing and if your parents prepare you for what’s to come it’s less of a shock to your system when it does. I loved the high school I went to, but black girls were never nominated for Homecoming or Prom royalty at our school. This was an era before Kerry Washington and Scandal where it was not “cool” to date a black girl even if she had it all together. See I was pretty popular at my school, even as a freshman in high school. I made good grades, I was an athlete, a peer helper, teacher’s aid, respectful to adults and I was STILL BLACK. It was like being both visible and invisible at the same time. In my time at the school and the years prior to mine and after mine, not one black girl I knew of ever won a royalty title. I based my beauty on that at the time because all my friends, the girls I hung out with every day won these titles year after year and my name never even picked for a nomination. I also had a very slim but muscular body, with thick legs and butt. So I couldn’t fit into my friends’ clothes and that bothered me.
Sam: Are there any inspirational makers of color that you feel people should be following if they aren’t already?
Nkese: Oh man do I! This list is kind of long but here we go. These are in no particular order. @_t.d.l_, @creativececi, @visuvios_crafts, @ocean_bythesea, @whitneymarieanderson, @thedreamcrochet, @ggmadeit, @lolabeanyarnco, @callmedwj, @taliacrochetcreations, @buddyluvscrochet, @detroitknots, @tlyarncrafts, @craftingforweeks, @knotbadbritt, @gregorystitch, @knitsandbobs, @bayronhandmade, @alexcreates, @knitandcroshay and the @therookiehooker. I have more, but I think that is enough for now.
Sam: What is the most meaningful crafted object that you own? It doesn’t have to of been made by yourself.
Nkese: That is a hard question. The most meaningful thing that was made and given to me is a sign that says, “It is well with my soul.” It took me a long time to be able to say that. What makes it even better is that it was one of my grandparent’s favorite hymns and every time I hear it I think of them.
The most meaningful thing that I’ve made would probably be my granny square coat. I had made 11 garments last year before I made that one. So it was special because it was number 12 and because it represents some hardships I went through and overcame. It is by far my favorite piece.
Sam: You have done a lot of pattern testing over the last few months. What lessons have you learned from being on that side of the process?
Nkese: I love pattern testing because I’ve learned so much in the last year. I didn’t know a lot about different types of stitches and different types of yarn. I’ve learned a lot about design as well. Most of the designers I’ve worked with have been really great during the testing process so that has really helped. The biggest thing I’ve learned is how important videos and pictures are for patterns. They can be real lifesavers and can sometimes make or break a pattern.
Sam: What advice would you give to people who are thinking of signing up to be a pattern tester?
Nkese: My advice would be to go for it. You never know what you’re good at until you try it. I definitely think that if someone wants to eventually get into pattern designing spending at least a year testing will really help them figure out which way they want to go with designing. Plus it gives them a chance to learn some new skills and techniques along the way.
Sam: In a recent blog post on thehooknooklife.com you spoke about how self-care is not selfish. How did you come to this realization, and what has this aha moment done for your crafting practice?
Nkese: I spent a lot of years trying to be everything to everyone else. During that time I put other people before myself so in essence, I just kind of ran myself into the ground because I never said no to anyone. A few years back I got really sick and it forced me to only focus on myself. That time in my life also reminded me that I didn’t have anything I really enjoyed doing for myself because I was always doing for others. Crocheting gave that creative side back to me and now I make sure I make time for myself. Self-care now means being intentional with TIME, for both myself and for others.
Sam: How has your relationship with your crafting practice changed over the years?
Nkese: I honestly think I’m way more creative now than I ever was, and part of that is because I have a different mindset and the stress that used to keep my brain cluttered is no longer present. Although craft-wise I know how to do a bunch of things. I have spent the last couple of years focusing on what I’m good at and I’m really just enjoying the creative process.
Sam: Are there any books, classes, accounts, or YouTube channels that you would recommend to new crocheters?
Nkese: When I first started crocheting I watched @bobwilson123 YouTube channel. It really helped me learn the basics of crocheting. The voice was soothing and it didn’t feel like I was being rushed or scolded. Toni from @tlyarncrafts, Jess from @makeanddocrew, and Ashely from @sewella also have great video tutorials for beginners on YouTube.
Sam: What do you like to binge-watch or listen to while you craft?
Nkese: I mostly like to listen to worship music and audiobooks when I’m crocheting. I mostly enjoy mysteries and crime books. I like books that make me think, but I also like to listen to biographies and memoirs. Sometimes I’ll watch something from my Hulu or Netflix playlist, but that’s only when I’m up for watching tv.
What an *excellent* interview. Insightful questions and answers that really resonate. Thank you both!