The power of colour with Milli Abrams
It was an absolute pleasure to speak to Milli about her relationship with knitting. Right now she is the owner of Tribe Yarns, a yarn shop in Richmond-upon-Thames in London but she has also circumnavigated the globe on a yacht with her family and worked with Richard Branson as his CFO. Knitting has been a constant through all her adventures.
Milli also has a qualification in Applied Colour Psychology, and I really enjoyed learning about the theory behind how different colours can impact our mood and energy levels. Since experiencing Hurricane Irma, Milli tries not to become attached to material possessions, so she is also the ultimate process knitter! Not afraid of ripping back to make something exactly the way she wants it, Milli rarely keeps her own knits, and never knits the same thing twice.....this includes socks!
To listen to this episode, click play below or see the full transcript at the bottom of the page.
Milli Abrams, Mia Hobbs
Mia Hobbs 00:02
Hello, and welcome back to series two of the Why I Knit podcast. My name is Dr. Mia Hobbs and I'm a clinical psychologist who's passionate about knitting and its benefits for our mental wellbeing. Each episode I interview a different knitter about why they knit and how it benefits their mental health. This week on the podcast, I'm joined by Milli Abrams, who is the owner of Tribe Yarns, a yarn shop in Richmond, London. Milli has a qualification in Applied Colour Psychology so I particularly wanted to ask her more about this and about how colour can impact on mental health. Unfortunately, there is a crackle on Milli's end of the audio, which we were unable to resolve while we were recording. However, Milli is such an inspiring and interesting guest that I'm sure you'll still really enjoy this interview. Hi Milli, welcome to the podcast.
Milli Abrams 00:56
Mia Hobbs 00:58
I always start by asking where your story with knitting began.
Milli Abrams 01:03
Okay, that's a relatively easy one, I guess. I was about six or seven years old when I started knitting. My mum used to knit and she introduced it to me over a summer holiday and I pretty much got addicted straightaway. And I was the sort of child that never really sat down. You know, I was always a bit ants-in-my-pants, climbing trees and that kind of thing. And so I guess it was as much of a surprise to her as it was to me that I loved it. And I got obsessed and I ended up blowing out all of my playdates with friends outside. I was like, "No, I'm at home knitting." I was determined to get it done.
Mia Hobbs 01:45
Oh wow! So you absolutely went with it straight away.
Milli Abrams 01:48
Yes, straight away. And to begin with, at least for the first year, I don't think I could purl at all. I could only knit. But I really liked stocking stitch. So I would knit a whole line and then I'd give it to my mom to purl back. [Laughs] I did eventually get the hang of purling but I could only do it then for the next little while standing up at the ironing board, for some reason. I was using crappy straight needles back then. You know how we had those awful sort of Aero needles that weighed a little bit too much, I guess. For my little hands they were quite long, with blunt tips. And I used to knit way too tight, like really tightly. So I used to have to use the ironing board to jam the needle into the stitch.
Mia Hobbs 02:29
Oh wow! Yeah, I actually had one of the kids in the therapeutic knitting group I've been running say to me, "It's really surprising that grannies knit because you need so much strength to get this to fit!" . And I thought, "I think someone's going slightly wrong here, because I don't feel like I'm using muscles to knit, particularly!" [Laughs]
Milli Abrams 02:50
No! And then back then (that would have been in the early 80s) we all knit with crappy acrylic wools, so it was really strong.
Mia Hobbs 02:59
Oh yeah, it's hard to break. It's harder than wool.
Milli Abrams 03:02
Exactly. If I'd have started with a proper wool, had I been knitting with the tightness and the strength that I was applying to that acrylic, it would have broken right away, and I would have realised that it was too tight. But I got away with it back then.
Mia Hobbs 03:20
Okay. And what do you think hooked you in? Because it sounds like it was a bit of a surprise, if you were quite an active kid, that you could sit still and knit?
Milli Abrams 03:31
Yeah, it was definitely the challenge of it. But I did feel it was very calming, the repetitive stitches, and there was something about making and creating, and then being able to make your own creative choices. It was a bit like Lego, where you could sort of go your own way with it, and you could spend hours and hours and hours doing it and it just felt good. So yeah, I think it was that, and then RIGHT away I started knitting colourwork and intarsia and that kind of thing, because that was very early 80s.
Mia Hobbs 04:12
That's what I wondered: whether you were knitting from patterns or whether you were just kind of knitting scarves.
Milli Abrams 04:18
Both. No, I never did scarves in the beginning. I just did lots of patches of things. And then I made stuff for dolls, you know, just little things.
Mia Hobbs 04:31
Did you kind of make those up as you went along rather than finding a pattern for them?
Milli Abrams 04:35
A little bit, yeah. So I might have had a pattern that had a chart for some sort of fair isle motif and I would have just used that to make some random little thing for a doll or a teddy bear jumper or something. I didn't play with teddy bears or anything back then, but I just wanted to make little things. And I don't think I had enough yarn to make a big sweater. Then eventually my mum took me to John Lewis and we picked out a pattern, and that was the patchwork intarsia and fair isle cardigan. It was very complicated. But I decided I was going to make that. And then by the time I'd finished it, I could barely get it on. Because I was such a tight knitter, it was so small. [Laughs] And I hadn't appreciated that you had to leave a long enough end to darn the ends in. So they'd started to pull out, so I superglued them down, which made it really jabby inside. It was terrible! It's a horrible little thing. But my mum never knit intarsia or colourwork. She just used to do plain knitting and maybe a few cables. So she couldn't really advise me on that. That was a learning process!
Mia Hobbs 04:35
Yeah, sure. I guess a lot of us learn a lot of how to solve problems in knitting through trial and error.
Milli Abrams 05:49
Yeah, and back then there wasn't any social media or any pressure like that. It's not as though we were comparing ourselves to each other. And no-one I knew knit. So it was perfectly fine for me to keep making all these mistakes and not feel like a total failure. It was just learning.
Mia Hobbs 06:04
But I think also now, if you knew what the mistake was called, you could search on YouTube as to how to fix it, I suppose. Like when I have a plumbing issue that I feel might be within my beginner's realm. So you know, a bit like that if you were a beginner knitter, whereas that didn't exist.
Milli Abrams 06:22
No. And I'd definitely say that there is so much more help. You could Google everything now, with plumbing and everything. And back then I think we did used to do a bit more trial and error. It was either that or spend hours and hours at the library researching something. We used to just try it, didn't we? With lots of things.
Mia Hobbs 06:44
Okay, so did you carry on knitting? So you've knit fairly regularly since you were six or seven?
Milli Abrams 06:51
Yeah, so that would have been 40 years ago. But no, I definitely had breaks. So there were the chaotic teenage years when I had exams and things, when I just probably wouldn't have had time. And yeah, there were times in my life where I definitely let it go for maybe two or three years at a time. And they were probably the times when I shouldn't have let it go and should have made time. You know, it's always the way, isn't it, when you feel like you haven't got time to meditate, that's when you should be meditating. It's the same with knitting. And then I picked it up again, like PROPERLY properly, when I was pregnant with Indy. He's 18 now, so that was 18 years ago. And knit every morning before I got out of bed. I used to get morning sickness, so Darren would bring me breakfast in bed every morning and I would sit and knit while he was making breakfast.
Mia Hobbs 07:44
Were you knitting for Indy?
Milli Abrams 07:45
Yeah, I was knitting booties. Lots of booties. I had this amazing book of like, I don't know, 100 bootie patterns, but it had lots of different techniques in it. So I was learning something every day with a new knitting technique, and I was getting to use different colour yarns and different fibres. I had a whole bag of them and just worked my way through. I don't know how many booties I made. I must have made 30 or 40 pairs of different booties while I was pregnant with him, and I made a big patchwork blanket. But then when he was born, he had enormous feet and he didn't fit any of the booties.
Mia Hobbs 07:54
Oh no! Have you gifted them?
Milli Abrams 08:21
I gifted all of them and they all fit normal babies. Indy had giant feet! And only the giant duck feet fit him. [Laughs]
Mia Hobbs 08:30
Aw! I found that I couldn't get booties to stay on my children!
Milli Abrams 08:34
No, they didn't all, which is kind of why I made them all. Some of them were really good patterns that stayed on and the others just were sort of there for photos, I suppose.
Mia Hobbs 08:42
Yeah. Oh, that's amazing. So it's been on and off, but mainly on, certainly on for the last 18 years.
Milli Abrams 08:54
Yeah. So when Indy was born, we then emigrated to Canada when he was eight months old. And it was really cold there, so I knit lots. And then when he was seven, we moved on to the boat to go circumnavigate, and I did knit on the boat as well. Probably not as much.... no maybe I did. I did, but like different fibres. A lot of silk and cotton because it's hot. And then we moved to the Caribbean for five years, and I knit there as well, but lots of lace weight blankets and that kind of thing.
Mia Hobbs 09:23
Okay. Did you feel like the motivation was less? Or is it not really so much about the final product?
Milli Abrams 09:30
It's never been about the final product for me. It''s never ever been about the final product. I for my whole life have knit things and then just given them away, almost immediately. I don't tend to keep any of my knits for myself.
Mia Hobbs 09:45
Is it more for the process? Because obviously there is a joy to giving things to people for the point of giving a gift, that is more meaningful, but it sounds also a lot of it's about the process for you.
Milli Abrams 09:56
It's the process. It's completely the process, yeah.
Mia Hobbs 09:59
If you were on a desert island with one ball of brown yarn that you had to re-knit over and over again, you'd be knitting it.
Milli Abrams 10:05
Absolutely. And I had to do that in the Caribbean all the time, because we couldn't get anything shipped to us. And it would take months and months. So I would just knit something, rip it out, knit it again. I did that all the time. So it is very much process.
Mia Hobbs 10:19
Yeah. And does it matter what you knit? As in the techniques? Is garter stitch equally valuable to knitting lace or cables? Or does it matter?
Milli Abrams 10:36
I think it depends. It's got to be something new for me every time. So I very rarely, I think never, make the second sock, because I've made the sock and I don't want to make another one. So I almost never make the same thing twice, unless I'm changing the technique or changing something up about it. I recently knit two Badger & Bloom sweaters where I changed the technique quite a lot both times, just to test it out.
Mia Hobbs 10:59
And the colour isn't enough of a change?
Milli Abrams 11:02
No, it's not really. I knit for colour... A lot of the time, it's because of the colour I want to hang out with, so that will determine what I'm knitting. But it's got to be something new that I haven't experienced before. It might be that I have to experience a new fibre. Yeah, I think it's technique more than anything, though. And it's weird, after 40 years of doing lots of knitting and learning all the [inaudible], I'm still discovering new techniques all the time, which is brilliant. I think that's such a cool thing about knitting.
Mia Hobbs 11:31
Yeah, you can't ever run out.
Milli Abrams 11:34
No, you can't really. And I do knit things several times and rip them out, but I've just started a cardigan yesterday which I will rip out today and start again, because there's a couple of things I thought of during the night that I should have done differently. So yeah, I'm fine with ripping out. So about the gifting: yes, I do knit specifically for gifts, but no, usually I'm knitting something and then I think, "Oh, who'd like this? Who would this fit? Who wants it?".
Mia Hobbs 12:05
Okay. I'd love to hear more about colour, because I think you said you've got a qualification in colour...
Milli Abrams 12:12
Applied colour psychology.
Mia Hobbs 12:14
Applied colour psychology. So I'd love to hear about that, and your ideas about colour and how it benefits your mental wellbeing, being around colour. I like the idea of choosing a colour you want to hang out with! Because I think I do that with my knitting projects. I have quite a long relationship with them because I'm not that fast. [Laughs]
Milli Abrams 12:34
Colour is very, very important. I didn't know anything about... I'm an accountant so it wasn't anything that I'd studied in the early days, but I have an Indian background so we've always been very experimentative with colour, with our saris and things. And approaching my 40s, I suppose... late 30s/40s... I got a bit frustrated with how sensible people were being around colour and how coy they were, and how they were embarrassed about using certain colours, and that kind of thing. If you walked down the high street a couple of years ago, all you'd see was grey, khaki, maybe a little bit of mustard. I couldn't buy the colours that I wanted from a shop, so I did use knitting to introduce those colours into my life. But I also realised a long time ago that certain colours do certain things to my mood, and I can use that to my advantage. So when I use really, really saturated bright colours, they will wake me up, so I can use them in the morning to just really get going, or before a meeting to get energised, or something like that. Especially during meetings. So I knit through all my board meetings and things. I would always knit and I'd always pick a bright colour for that because it just energised me. Would you do that historically, as well, when you didn't work in yarn and knitting? Yeah, absolutely.
Mia Hobbs 14:09
And I'm guessing you were the only person doing that!
Milli Abrams 14:12
Yeah, I was the only person knitting. And it was fine. It wasn't fine, right at the beginning when I was a junior. I'd get told off. But as I became more senior, I could tell people that it actually helped me focus and they all got used to it. So I'd sit in a meeting with Branson or whatever and I'd always be knitting. But I also conversely couldn't pick up those same colours and knit with them right before bed. I always knit right before bed, but I can't knit the really really bright colours under a fairly bright light because they wake me up and they don't allow me to sort of gently ease down at the end of the day.
Mia Hobbs 14:51
So you need more than one project on the go for different situations.
Milli Abrams 14:56
Yes. Different for colour but also different for "Do I really want to escape into a very challenging pattern with lots of charts and things because I need to just not think about everything right now? Or do I just want something that is in my hands, and TV knitting, so that I can listen to whatever I'm listening to?"
Mia Hobbs 15:15
That's a really common theme that has come up again and again, and certainly something I relate very strongly to. The idea of having to have something complicated to absorb yourself in when you need to escape from real life, or something that you could knit while you're listening to your kids read, that doesn't require any of your brain. And I certainly would knit through Zoom meetings and training courses, and have never been anything other than the only knitter. [Laughs]
Milli Abrams 15:45
Yeah, it is weird, isn't it? I found when Indy was little, you know, when your kids are little and you have to wait all the time, you've got to wait for them to finish a sports match or whatever, there's just a lot of waiting in life. Waiting at the dentist and all these things. And I just found that if I always had my knitting, I never really minded the wait. Actually, I quite liked the wait. It was a really good time for me to just get into my knitting. And I travel a lot and airport delays were pleasurable, because I had my knitting with me. And it just meant that I could chill out and knit, and it didn't matter that the planes was delayed. I don't know how people that don't knit cope, I honestly don't! I just don't know how they manage to wait for anything.
Mia Hobbs 16:30
I do feel a slight anxiety, I think, if I have to do something like that, that I don't have my knitting with me because I've had too many things to think about and it's just not made it in the bag. But quite often, if I'm going away for a weekend and getting a train somewhere... The other weekend, I forgot the dress I was planning to wear out in the evening, but I had three knitting projects with me. [Laughs] Because that was my priority, in my head!
Milli Abrams 17:00
Mia Hobbs 17:02
I don't know whether you learnt about this in the course you did, about whether there are particular colours that are more associated with positive or negative mood, or whether it's not really like that. Whether different people have different...
Milli Abrams 17:17
Yeah, it's a really, really interesting topic. And it's huge and very deep, so it would take hours to go over everything. But I guess the main points were... I'm very into maths, maths is my background, and there are patterns and wavelengths behind each colour and some colours harmonise because of the patterns and the waves, and some colours don't. So that was one of the things that we learnt a lot about. So, you know, I'm good at putting colours together and I'm good at avoiding certain colour combinations that are horrible. And I know that intuitively somewhat, I guess, from practising a lot, but also because of the maths behind the colour. So there's that. There's the colours that people should and shouldn't wear... well, it's not really a should... it's the colours that suit people more than the colours that don't. So that was also part of the course. And that has more to do with who you are and your personality, as well as your own personal colouring, but a lot more to do with your personality. And it's broken into four separate groups. So I think recently, companies like House of Colour have taken those and called them seasons to try and organise that a little bit more. And that's fine. They've done it completely wrong in a couple of ways, because they've tried to make it equal across the seasons, which is not the case right now, but that's a whole 'nother topic. So there's that, and then there's also the behavioural aspect of how a colour will influence your mood and why you might be drawn to it, and why you might not be drawn to it at a particular time. So for example, if you had an orange dining plate or were sitting in an orange room while you were eating, you probably will eat more. You'll over eat. It's just influence. It opens up your mind, and abundance and that kind of thing. You just tend to over consume with orange. Purple tends to be a colour that is for people that are feeling a bit less sociable at that particular time, or very much more choosy. It's a colour that people are drawn to when they're hungover. It's not all shades of purple, but I'm generalising just for now. Red, you know, we're very familiar with red being a little bit more aggressive, a bit more in your face, just open, just much more bold, And then blue is a really great one for focusing. Again, not all blues. So when Indy was having exams when he was younger and he used to pick up some knitting (he doesn't tend to anymore), then I would have him knit with blue yarns as a little break between study sessions, because it would keep that part of his brain active but allow him to have a little break from studying. So blue was great for that. And I will use it. Like I said, if I need to be really thinking and thinking spreadsheets and that kind of thing, I'll pick up my blue project for a little bit and just calm down with that, and then go straight into my thinking piece.
Mia Hobbs 20:37
So you're very deliberate about your choices of what you're knitting with, to fit the circumstances in your life?
Milli Abrams 20:43
I mean, it just happens now. I think what I'm deliberate about is making sure that I've got enough projects at hand or around. I don't like to have more than three projects on the go, because I am someone that likes to finish. I don't tend to have lots of WIPs. I like finishing. But I do have three that are intentionally quite different from each other because of what they will do for my mental health.
Mia Hobbs 21:08
So that sounds very deliberate in that sense. And I think I certainly would relate to that: that the things I'm working on have to fit different needs for me. But I don't actually think about the colour in that way, which is really interesting. And actually, when I spoke to Betsan Corkhill, who is an expert in therapeutic knitting, she speaks a lot about the idea of using knitting to... rather than it reflecting the mood you're in, thinking about the mood you want to move yourself into. And that sounds very similar to your ethos.
Milli Abrams 21:39
Yeah. And also, with the finished garment, when you're wearing it... Like I'll use the colours of the garments that I'm wearing to convey a certain type of my personality in a public setting, or not. So for example, for my whole life I was an accountant; I so much was drawn to what people would refer to as the winter colours, like cooler colours, and they do suit me, your blacks, your whites, your strong reds, peacocks, that kind of thing. And I was always really drawn to that. But it does make me much less approachable as a person. So when I opened the shop, one of the things that I talked to Angela about (who's like the guru of colour therapy), she was like, "Well, just make sure that you're never in there wearing blacks and whites." So this new business of mine was not like accounting; I needed to be approachable and soft. And I needed to sort of bring out my more autumn aspects. So I wear a lot more rich autumnal colours and navies and that kind of thing, which also suit me but I wouldn't have dreamt of wearing them as an accountant. I didn't want to be that person in that setting, whereas I do now. And then conversely, if I'm going to something else where I just want a bit more glamour, I'll wear black again.
Mia Hobbs 23:00
I wonder whether that was also to do with... I'm guessing you were in a more male-dominated environment when you were in business? Or maybe needing to convey more power than you do in your yarn shop.
Milli Abrams 23:08
Yeah, right in the beginning I was. I mean, I am quite a small woman and I just needed more help with the power that I was exuding when I was telling people no, they couldn't have that money or whatever it was.
Mia Hobbs 23:20
Yeah, sure. I wonder whether there are other ways that we haven't talked about that you feel knitting is beneficial for your mental wellbeing.
Milli Abrams 23:38
We get loads of people in the shop that will come by and say, "Oh, that's lovely. I wish I could do that, but I don't have the patience for that." And I am the least patient person I've ever met in my life. I'm just not patient, I'm not tolerant. And therefore knitting is even more important for me than it would be for someone who already is calm and zen and patient. So I think when people say that, I'd love the people to know... especially men, I think, because they tend to be more the ones that are like, "Oh, I don't have time. I work." And the other thing I hear is "I don't have time." I don't have time, I work crazy hours, but I still find time for knitting. I think it's important to have something, especially in this day and age when we are just overstimulated all the time. If you could have something like meditating or colouring in or knitting, that takes you off your device and gives you something repetitive and small, and it is about those micro movements, that's where the magic is, releasing the good hormones. And with knitting that means not knitting on needles that are more than about 5mm. There's a sweet spot with a knitting needle to keep it micro, to get the maximum benefit with your serotonin. Everyone sort of needs that, I think, these days. I've actually lived on a desert island.
Mia Hobbs 25:17
And even then you still brought your knitting!
Milli Abrams 25:19
Yeah, and I would still bring my knitting! [Laughs]
Mia Hobbs 25:23
I would too.
Milli Abrams 25:24
I meditate and I have done lots over the years. And that comes and goes a lot more than my knitting does, because at the end of the day I feel guilty about sitting down and doing nothing. I just have that. I don't know what it is, but I do feel guilty about that unless I'm knitting. And then somewhere in my head, I know I'm creating and relaxing, and then I can really let myself be in it and sit and do it for hours, which is really important.
Mia Hobbs 25:54
I suppose I've heard quite often the idea that knitting is kind of a substitute for meditation, or a form of meditation. And several of the people I've spoken to, and certainly I think this is probably true of me, have classified themselves as failed meditators, therefore they are knitters, and they get a kind of similar thing from it. It sounds like you've stuck with your knitting maybe more constantly than you have with the meditation.
Milli Abrams 26:20
Yeah, definitely. I have stuck with knitting a lot more. And I think mainly because it doesn't do the same thing for me as meditating. Meditating is definitely much more intense. But I think it's more the portability and the practicality. So I can still do it at a train station and hear when my train is coming and not be completely cut off from the world. And when I do meditate, I do it to get to a much deeper state, and it takes a lot longer, like two or three hours. And it has to be silent, and I can't have the family running around. I can't do that as often. I can pick up my knitting ten times a day and just have a little meditative break with my knitting, so I think that's why I do it a lot more. And these days, yarns are SO much nicer than they used to be, and patterns are just everywhere and so accessible. It's just so much easier to find the right project.
Mia Hobbs 27:23
And in terms of what you're drawn to do you like a variety in terms of yarn? Is that also something that floats your boat?
Milli Abrams 27:32
Yeah, massively. So I love the super, super rustic Icelandics. Absolutely love those. And then I really like my super high end silks and cashmeres. It's important to me that I know where the yarns come from, and then I know that it's ethically made. And it's important to me that it doesn't have plastic in it. But other than that, a wide variety and a wide variety of gauges. And I do knit with chunky yarns sometimes, usually if it's just because I have to make a short sample/I have to bang out a gift really quickly. But my sort of sweet spot for a needle is about the 3.75 range, and that will give me the max pleasure.
Mia Hobbs 28:19
I'm the same actually. I've heard a lot of people on the podcast who don't like knitting on the smaller gauges. And I didn't know whether it was because of that, or just the things I wanted to knit recently, that I ended up knitting with some larger gauge... I mean larger for me, like an Aran weight yarn, so like a 5 maybe or 5.5. I'm quite a loose knitter. But my hands don't like it as much. I find that I don't get RSI at all if I knitted on 2.25 or 3 or quite tiny needles, and knitted with 4-ply. I could do that probably forever. Whereas if it gets bigger, even a DK, I think my hands struggle a bit more. And they don't love cotton either.
Milli Abrams 29:01
Yeah, there's no stretch in cotton. Unless you get a chain knit. I've recently discovered really great chain knits, which is a fairly new thing in the industry, because the old chain knits were terrible. But the new chain knits that they use cotton for have stretch in them, so if you want to knit cotton, get a chain knit. It's brilliant. Okay. But yeah, the bigger needles, and it just becomes more of a macro movement and you tend to involve a bit more shoulder and elbow and things. It's not something that you can just do with your fingertips. Yeah, you need to fight a bit more with the process.
Mia Hobbs 29:14
That's interesting. I was interested in the idea about the kind of things people say about knitting in the shop, because you must have a lot of conversations with people who are new or want to start knitting, and super-experienced knitters, about whether they say things about what knitting does for them, or what kind of questions they ask you, whether they ask for your help with colour?
Milli Abrams 30:03
Yeah, we get lots of feedback from knitters about how, especially during lockdown, it just saved them, for a lot of people.
Mia Hobbs 30:10
Is that more existing knitters, would you say?
Milli Abrams 30:14
No, both during lockdown actually. And then with the experience, I'd say the majority was people that had returned to knitting. So they've had the greatest benefit, and they've usually not done it for a long time and they did it on really old-style needles with old yarn, and everything's moved on to such a huge extent that the tools are just 100% different to what they used to be, and the yarns. So they've had the greatest sort of wow moments. We have lots of people who are experiencing grief who turned to knitting. And actually, I think there's a lot of doctors that tell people that they should try knitting when they're experiencing grief. And it seems to really, really help them just sort of metabolise it, I guess. What was your... oh, the colours. Yeah, colours is my thing, so yes, I do get a lot of...
Mia Hobbs 31:09
So you enjoy having those conversations with people and helping them pick.
Milli Abrams 31:11
That's my favourite thing to do. And it's funny how there's so many people who feel really lost with colours, or really just don't trust themselves with it. And then you can get colours wrong. I feel actually physically nauseous when I see some colour combos, and it affects me viscerally.
Mia Hobbs 31:15
It's interesting that for you, you know more about the kind of mathematical formula of why. Because I think sometimes I probably have looked at a colourwork sweater and thought, "Ooh I'm not sure..." You know, you look on Ravelry and see lots of versions of the same sweater for inspiration, and then think, "Ooh, not that one." But I would just feel like it was my spidey senses or something. I wouldn't be able to put science on it, but that must be great!
Milli Abrams 32:07
Yeah, it is great! But there's also... Angela was always very "You mustn't put this colour with this colour." And yes, there is that, but I also really love to have a disrupter in there somewhere, so long as it's the right type of disrupter. You don't want something that was lovely and energetic, and then had a weird sort of drab colour in there that just made it all fall apart. That's not the right disrupter. But if you had something that was a whole bunch of, say, neutrals with a pastel or something, and then you chucked in one disruptive colour that just gave that piece a lot of energy, that's my favourite sort of thing to do.
Mia Hobbs 32:48
Do you know, my mum says that about... she's like, "You need one (she'll call it) ugly colour in there, to make the others look great." [Laughs] But she's great with colour. She's so good and confident from just, I don't know, natural ability and being artistic.
Milli Abrams 33:08
Yeah! And years of practice.
Mia Hobbs 33:09
Yeah. But she's really good at experimenting and seeing what works, and changing it if it doesn't.
Milli Abrams 33:15
And that's the other thing: you've got to be willing to change it if it doesn't work and to make the mistakes. And if you want to get good at it, you've just got to keep practising and be open to your own feedback and realise when actually no, that's not good.
Mia Hobbs 33:30
Do you think you've always been so good at ripping out? Or tolerant of it? Because I think I've definitely got better over time, and now other people are much more traumatised watching me do it than I feel about doing it.
Milli Abrams 33:41
Oh yeah. Darren used to be horrified that I used to finish a whole thing and then find one thing at the beginning where I would wish I'd stuck a colour in or something, and I'd rip it all back. But yeah, I've always been totally fine because I'm a process knitter and I don't really care about the final knitted thing to own or wear. It's the process. The only thing that really traumatises me, I'd say, (if it's trauma) is I'm terrible about cutting... you know where it says "break yarn". I know that I will very often go back and rip things out, so I beat myself up over cutting a yarn where I probably shouldn't have cut it, and I should have left it attached to the ball because I almost definitely always go back. I don't like ends. I just don't like too many ends. I've knit with silks and cottons so much that ends are a little bit of a trauma to me.
Mia Hobbs 34:25
Because the ends are worse, aren't they, for that? If it was a sheep's wool, we could spit splice it.
Milli Abrams 34:47
Exactly. I don't mind cutting those. I'm awful at having these projects with loads of balls attached because I refuse to cut anything until it's done. [Laughs]
Mia Hobbs 35:00
I would love to ask about a significant knitting project for you. It could be something that feels significant in your journey with knitting or for your life.
Milli Abrams 35:14
That's a good question. I think for a long time, it would have been the blanket that I made for Indy when I was pregnant. That was very personal to him. But I couldn't even tell you where that is now. We might have lost it in the hurricane, I don't know. I make a conscious effort to not be attached to anything physical, so I try not to get really, really attached to the actual thing. But in terms of the process...
Mia Hobbs 35:40
Even just the process of being somewhere significant at a time in your life while you made it.
Milli Abrams 35:47
Yeah, definitely the pregnancy ones. I mean, I like some projects where you've designed it yourself. I guess it means a lot more than when I'm knitting off another pattern. And normally, that's because I've knit it like 7, 8, 9 times and ripped it back and knit it again just to get it right. So you spend a lot of time with it and you're a bit more invested in those projects. I've never knit anything for Darren so I can't say that it's anything massively significant that I've made for family that they hugely appreciate. I knit a hat for my granddad a couple of years ago for Christmas that made him throw up immediately. It was terrible! A beautiful cashmere hat but he overheated straightaway because he couldn't take it off! And then he threw up. So I remember that one!
Mia Hobbs 36:38
Oh no! Lots of people have spoken about things they've made in significant times, like for example grief has come up very often. I think for me, it's often like... I don't know, the first time I needed a sweater and actually made something that fitted me. You know, I knitted a lot of non-gauge-determined items at the beginning like shawls and maybe a hat but they're kind of stretchy and more forgiving than a sweater.
Milli Abrams 37:10
Yeah, I can't even remember the last time I made a sweater, or the first time I made a sweater that fit. I don't think I ever tried to make sweaters that really fit. I haven't really tried to do that until I had the shop and I was leading knit-alongs and things, and I had to teach other people that wanted to keep their knits for some reason [laughs] how to make it fit.
Mia Hobbs 37:34
Have you not kept even sweaters for yourself?
Milli Abrams 37:39
No, I don't keep them. They're all shop samples. I get to wear them, so I'll wear them home or they might sit in my wardrobe for a weekend when I'm at home and then I'll wash them and take them back to the shop and they'll be a shop sample. I don't tend to have my own. Everything really belongs to the shop and then I borrow them.
Mia Hobbs 37:58
So you've got a never-ending stream of new things to wear for a weekend!
Milli Abrams 38:03
I have, yeah! As long as I'm organised enough to remember to take it home from the shop that night, which is great for the shawls and things for some of them are quite dressy. So yeah, I've got like a big tickle trunk of possible knits at the shop that I can borrow whenever I want to. But we've recently moved to a boat, and again, I don't have very much wardrobe space. So yes, I just use the shop as a wardrobe space.
Mia Hobbs 38:28
Perfect! And you can keep on knitting. You don't have to feel guilty when your wardrobe is full!
Milli Abrams 38:36
Yeah! And in Canada, whenever I knit, I used to give all the stuff to my mates and then I'd borrow it back when I was like, "Oh, I really want the... you know". And we all lived fairly close to one another, so I'd just nip by and grab that jumper back for whatever reason. And we sort of just shared all my knits, I suppose. I just never kept them at our home. So yeah, I like that about knitting.
Mia Hobbs 38:59
Does it bother you if people don't... Some people I've spoken to have said, "There's certain people I WOULD knit for because they kind of get it" like a) how many hours went into that; b) how to look after it properly if it's wool or something like that, don't just felt it the first time you wash it. [Laughs] Does that bother you or will you literally set them free into the world and don't think about them again?
Milli Abrams 39:27
I won't make something for someone that's asked for something, if they don't know what it is they're asking for. And people are always asking, and I'll get messages on Instagram or whatever from friend, "Can you make my wife one of those or whatever?" And I'll be like, "No. I mean, I could but it's going to cost you £600. That's my time."
Mia Hobbs 39:51
Well, that's cheap! You've not given yourself a decent hourly rate, Milli! [Laughs]
Milli Abrams 39:55
Well, that is cheap! [Laughs]
Mia Hobbs 39:57
And the yarn!
Milli Abrams 39:58
So no, I don't make stuff for people that don't get it. If they really get it and they really want it, then absolutely, I'll make it for them. And if I know that they're not going to look after it, and they've asked for it, then they won't get it. But generally, if it's something that I was making anyway, and someone's said that they'd quite like it, then they can have it and there's no questions asked. I will mention to them that they shouldn't chuck it in the washing machine or they won't be able to wear it very much. But then if it's theirs, and it's gone, I don't even think about it again I think. You know, after it's gone, it's gone.
Mia Hobbs 40:30
Do you knit quite fast?
Milli Abrams 40:31
Very fast. Yeah, I'm extremely fast. Recently we've had people in the shop... Because I've not been on the shop floor as much, I've been back in the office or downstairs in the back or wherever, and I've heard people say (or the girls have said that another person said) "Does Milli really knit all those knits or does she have like an army of minions in the background making the stuff?" I knit all my knits myself. It's important for me to experience all of the yarn myself, but I am very fast. And I'm small, so I make the smaller size [laughs] which really helps!
Mia Hobbs 41:04
But don't you seem from Instagram to have produced knits that look great on a whole number of family members as well?
Milli Abrams 41:11
The shawls! The shawls fit everyone.
Mia Hobbs 41:14
Are they all shawls? Have I not seen sweaters on Indy or...?
Milli Abrams 41:16
Oh I do do that! I do make my son wear... yeah, I mean, they are small for him. He didn't go out wearing them.
Mia Hobbs 41:22
He's very tolerant of it!
Milli Abrams 41:24
Oh he's amazing. He'll do whatever I ask him to do. He doesn't really care what anyone thinks. He'll just do whatever he wants. But I will quite often put it on him because I want to see what the shoulders or the neckline might look like on a man, or how it'll fit if you haven't got boobs, or what that colour might look like on someone else, or does a very soft mohair look alright on a bloke that's got a beard, that kind of thing. So yeah, I will make the family try... you know, my dad will try on a lot of my stuff. My dad loves trying things on for me and he quite often gets them. He's got loads of my knits in his wardrobe, but I never see him actually wear them after the first time. So I should really take them back [laughs] and give them to someone else. But they are small. I do knit oversize arms. I like really long arms. Maybe that's why they get away with it.
Mia Hobbs 42:19
You like to wear them?
Milli Abrams 42:20
I like to wear overly long sleeves.
Mia Hobbs 42:25
I always end with asking: what's the greatest gift that knitting has given you for the rest of your life?
Milli Abrams 42:34
It's very important. I think it's probably added several years to my life. Just in the calming and, you know, not being frazzled and stressed and giving myself a stress-induced disease, I think. All that time where people think it's wasted, knitting, it's probably not. It's probably adding that much time and then some at the end of your life, you know? It's not a waste of time. And I think the biggest, biggest gift is that it makes me a much easier person to be around and to live with for my family, because I'm not totally frazzled all the time if I've got my knitting. And they get some downtime from me. I'm very A Type. I'm always needing things to do because I can't sit still. But it gives them a break to just sit and chill when they know that I'm not going to bother them because I'm in my knitting.
Mia Hobbs 42:42
In what way specifically, do you think? So it does sound like it really has a regulating kind of function for you.
Milli Abrams 43:40
Massively. And I notice it very much if I have not picked up my needles that day or for a couple of days. I feel like I really need some time, and I'm just going to grab my needles and just be.
Mia Hobbs 43:51
Yeah. I feel like I can feel it physically as well, that I need to kind of have... My grandma used to slightly sneakily still smoke and think we didn't know about it. [Laughs] It was almost like after she'd eaten her dinner, she'd get a bit agitated and feel like she needed to smoke. And I've felt exactly the same about my knitting.
Milli Abrams 44:14
Absolutely. There's times where you just feel a bit antsy and a bit up, and you're just like, "Right, let's just go sit over there, grab some knitting and just calm down for a while." So I think that's the greatest, greatest gift, that you've got a tool that allows you to have instant stress relief, and you can take it anywhere you go, and it makes a lot of the more stressful times in your life, like sitting in traffic (not when you're driving, obviously) or waiting for something where you can just get more and more riled up. It makes those times the complete opposite of what they would have been, which I think is huge. I don't know how people cope! I don't know how people live that don't have the knitting.
Mia Hobbs 44:57
I did end up doing a lot of waiting for hospital appointments a few years ago, sometimes three hours in this particular department that I had to go back to a couple of times, and everybody else had their phones and they'd by the end run out of phone battery. And I was knitting and I thought, "Next time I come here, if I have to come back, I'm bringing extra yarn and needles!" because there were people who were then striking up conversation about my knitting, because I was the only one doing anything other than on their phone, which I think makes people look unapproachable, I guess, if they're looking down at a phone. And they were asking me about it. And I felt so lucky!
Milli Abrams 45:33
Well, because the other thing that makes you more approachable, I think, as a knitter and as a social knitter, if you're someone that has anxiety about social settings and new people, is that when you've got your knitting you can have a really good mix of eye contact with people and then an excuse to break your eye contact in a non-awkward way. So you've always got your knitting that you can look down at, but you can also look up and maintain decent eye contact. There's no pressure or awkward social pressure to keep looking at the person that you're interacting with. So I think that's also why a lot of people that have that awkwardness, it's good for them when they've got their knitting and they feel like they can approach you more, because you haven't got to be that intense with them because you're already doing something. And it's not like, you know, when you're reading a book, you don't want to approach that person because they've got to be looking at their book to continue what they're doing. But you can talk to someone that's knitting.
Mia Hobbs 46:25
And I certainly find my concentration... I have a very flighty concentration span, I suppose. Like if I'm sitting in a busy waiting room, I wouldn't be able to really focus on a book, I don't think, or on a bus. Whereas I totally could knit. But I wouldn't have enough focus to just read, I don't think.
Milli Abrams 46:47
Yeah, I'm either not into the book enough, and I'm not focused because I'm concentrating on other stuff and have to listen for my stop, or I'm so into my book that I'm going to miss my stop. But when I used to get on my little bus in the Caribbean, that took me down to a boat, that was fine. I could read because everyone else on the bus would tell me when it was time to get off at the next stop! [Laughs] And that's fine. I used to really get into a book then. But that's...
Mia Hobbs 47:20
That's not going to happen in London. [Laughs]
Milli Abrams 47:25
I mean, I guess you could ask the person next to you, "Can you just tap me when it's such-and-such stop?" But we don't do that, do we?
Mia Hobbs 47:32
No, we don't. We should be more Caribbean in our attitude! You wouldn't see the same people every day, that's for sure.
Milli Abrams 47:40
Mia Hobbs 47:45
Interesting that you said the more senior you got, the more possible it felt to knit during meetings to help you concentrate. And certainly I've found that as well. But now I feel like I have more confidence. And I think it's helps that some stuff is over Zoom. I just don't believe humans are designed to sit down and do a six hour training course and not move!
Milli Abrams 48:08
No! Not at all.
Mia Hobbs 48:08
And I feel like if I knit, it's the perfect level of: my hands are busy and my brain is available for concentrating. Whereas if I wasn't doing that, I feel like my brain might freelance onto something even more distracting, and then actually draw my concentration away from what I'm supposed to be focusing on.
Milli Abrams 48:27
It's like doodling, isn't it? It's like a form of doodling. But you end up with an actual 3D possibly useful thing at the end of it.
Mia Hobbs 48:36
You described yourself as a Type A person. How much does having something tangible that you've created add to the appeal of knitting? You said you like to finish things. Do you get a certain sense of achievement from... I guess lots of the things we do are on a screen and you can't really see your progress. You've done a day's work, but it's not really visible. Whereas with knitting you have a thing you can show and feel and touch.
Milli Abrams 49:02
You have a thing, yeah. And there's a beginning and an end. I think, for me, that's more important than actually having the thing, because I don't ever really want the thing. But I like that there's a finite end to a thing and you can finish an actual project and it's gone. I think, in my experience with knitting and all the people around me that knit, it seems to be a more male need, maybe, or more important from an actual creating point of view and having a thing that you've sculpted and made. That seems to make the boys... I've noticed that they have a lot more satisfaction about having the final piece, about the creation. I mean, women do too but it's very much more noticeable with guys - that they've got like a thing that they've made. For me, it's more the beginning of it. I genuinely get the same pleasure out of a really great spreadsheet. [Laughs] I love a spreadsheet! Whenever I've got one that I've 'birthed', and then it's finished and it's magnificent, then I love that too. And that's not a tangible thing, so I know that for me it doesn't have to be something I can hold. But I like that there's an ending.
Mia Hobbs 50:15
I think one of the things we talk about, like when we're using knitting for people who are maybe struggling with low mood or something, we talk about having two types of tasks that are helpful: something that's intrinsically enjoyable, and something that gives you a sense of achievement. So even if I tidied my desk or my workspace, that might not be fun for me but I could look at it and think, "Oh, well done me. I did that." But I guess knitting gives you both, and it's harder to deny progress if you can see it and hold it in your hand.
Milli Abrams 50:45
Yeah! And a new learned technique. That's hugely satisfying, when you're learning something a lot of the time, or you're coming across a new colour combo. Do you know, one of the really cool things in the shop is when we willl get a bunch of customers and someone will put a yarn down on the counter that they want, and someone else puts another yarn down on the counter, and they happen to be next to each other and you just think, "Wow! I never would have put those colours together, but wow!" I love that.
Mia Hobbs 50:52
So you're someone who likes the uncharted new territory, aren't you? In the colour combos, but also in the techniques. That's a driver for you.
Milli Abrams 51:20
The learning, yeah, and I think that's really important as well. There's different types of people. There's some people that are the perfectionists and they have to get it right, and they need the finished article, and that's where they derive their sense of achievement and enjoyment. And there's others that are process driven, like me, and then there's people where we just want to constantly be changing and learning and moving and that's who I am. And I think it's really good for... don't they say it's great for cognitive function and the ageing brain, if you can keep learning and keep introducing new skills and rebuilding in all those pathways.
Mia Hobbs 51:58
Yeah! And I guess if you think about your past, you didn't get to be... was it CFO?... and work with Richard Branson, unless you were a high-achieving, ambitious person. And I guess all of that drive is in you somewhere, and it's going in your knitting and learning new techniques.
Milli Abrams 52:14
Yeah, there is that but also, as an accountant, I'm the very outside of the box... you know, creative... I'm not a creative accountant in the bad sense, but I am an outside the box accountant that is driven... I'll look at different things with performance, and holistically as a business as a whole. So my style of accounting really worked for him in that business, and the way that I will lead a team is like that. And it is also the way that I approach my knitting. Whereas Darren, my husband, is an accountant but he's a much more detail-driven in-the-weeds accountant, and he doesn't have an interest in knitting things and wouldn't know where to start with creating a project or chucking colours together, because that's not who he is. Actually it would stress him out. I sometimes say, "What do you think of this colour and this colour?" and he's just like, "What?! I don't even..."
Mia Hobbs 53:03
But that creativity is a driver for you?
Milli Abrams 53:07
Yeah, the creativity's a driver for me but I recognise that with some people, unless they've got the formula and the pattern and it's written out, and the predictability of how the colours will work, they'll get really stressed out about it. But once that bit is taken care of, then they find it equally enjoyable to sit and knit.
Mia Hobbs 53:29
And actually, that's amazing, isn't it? That knitting could be a great task for both different types of people with very different... cognitive needs, we could call it, I suppose. The fact that you can get your needs met in your way, being more creative.
Milli Abrams 53:43
Yeah, so that's very interesting. And that's why I think that it's so good at bringing together all the different types of people. You don't have to be a particular type of person to enjoy knitting; you can pretty much be any background and any type and your brain can work in any way. You could be someone that has to be predictable and methodical, or someone that likes the chaos like I do. Actually, I like the chaos but then I really like the order and the maths side of knitting. So yeah, it all works.
Mia Hobbs 54:14
You're running Knit Nites, aren't you, at Tribe?
Milli Abrams 54:16
Yeah. At the minute they're virtual.
Mia Hobbs 54:23
But they were in person for a while, weren't they?
Milli Abrams 54:25
Mia Hobbs 54:26
Is there anything that surprises you about the conversations that come up, that feels different about the kind of conversations people have while their knitting, compared to if people were in a pub or a restaurant or...?
Milli Abrams 54:38
I mean, we talk a lot more about yarns and patterns and things! [Laughs]
Mia Hobbs 54:43
Yeah sure. I guess many of the people don't know each other? Or do they? Before they come?
Milli Abrams 54:47
Yeah. It's a lot easier to sit in a group when you've got your knitting, than say if you're all sat there in a circle with nothing but each other! And we get new people all the time. Every week we've got at least one new person, and that's great. We've all got something that unites us all, but we all recognise that we're extremely different. And on our virtual Knit Nites we're global. We're all over the world. We've got people in Finland and Australia and the States and Portugal and from all over the place in different time zones on this one call, and that's nice. We're all knitting very different things in different colours, and we can all appreciate what the other person's making.
Mia Hobbs 55:33
I think that's another thing, you know, you were talking about the idea of being able to regulate your eye contact when you're knitting. I guess the other thing is you do just have an automatic topic of conversation, even with non-knitters when they talk to you on a bus or something. It's in a way less awkward. They can ask you about your knitting or...
Milli Abrams 55:53
It's like having a cute baby. I mean that's when you've always got people that will come and talk to you if you've got a cute dog or a baby.
Mia Hobbs 56:00
Yes, this is true. [Laughs]
Milli Abrams 56:01
It is kind of like that. For ages we were thought of as really weird. I was a closet knitter for a very long time in my childhood, because it was not cool to be knitting. You didn't tell anyone that you did it. But it is cool now! It's kind of fine. It's a little bit fringe, but it's fine.
Mia Hobbs 56:21
Yeah, I was certainly... I mean I didn't always knit. Sometimes I was doing other things like cross stitch, and I don't think I realised how much I needed it for my mental wellbeing. But I would always get my revision done quite early, and then the night before exams I'd be secretly in my bedroom cross stitching. Because obviously, if you did that openly, people would be annoyed at you that you'd finished revising, but I just get to the point where I'm done. Psychologically, I can't cram any more into this brain. Now I'm doing something else. But I feel like it almost opened a different trapdoor in my mind, that doing something rhythmical with my hands allowed the revision to percolate in a way, I felt.
Milli Abrams 56:59
Yeah, definitely. And it was a reward for me as well. I'd get a whole bunch of revision done, and then allow myself to go knit a few more line, because it was just so good. I know some people would reward themselves with cake or a cigarette or something, but knitting's a super healthy way of rewarding yourself, I guess, with hindsight.
Mia Hobbs 57:25
I relearnt, actually. My mum insisted I learnt when I started my doctorate in Clinical Psychology, because she thought it was a good thing to do. And it did turn out to be the perfect thing for revision breaks. I was knitting a big shawl, so they had rows, and you could do a row or two rows, and then there's a finite end to your break. And then you go back to the books.
Milli Abrams 57:45
Yeah. You do have to be disciplined enough to say, "I'm not going to just do one more row."
Mia Hobbs 57:52
Or when you're knitting in the round, it's even harder. [Laughs] The rows are less finite. Well, Milli, it has been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. If people want to find out more about you or Tribe, how would they find out more?
Milli Abrams 58:12
Probably through the Tribe Yarns website: www.tribeyarns.com. And then I do send out a newsletter, which tends to be long and has a lot in it, but I only do that once every month or every six weeks. I'm not very good at sending that more often than that. So subscribe to the newsletter. And follow me on Instagram @tribeyarnslife where there's always lots of pictures of me and my family.
Mia Hobbs 58:36
In beautiful Richmond! Thank you so much for listening to the Why I Knit podcast. If you'd like to find out more about therapeutic knitting, you can follow me on Instagram @knittingistherapeutic, or at my website: www.therapeuticknitting.org. If you're enjoying the podcast, I would really appreciate it if you could leave a rating and a review on your podcast app. This will help grow the podcast and let more people know about the therapeutic benefits of knitting. And don't forget to subscribe too. Thank you!