The Yarn Whisperer

Greetings, friends: 

This week’s newsletter is a little different as I’m handing over this week’s From The Curator’s Desk to my colleague Kedolwa Waziri, our design and communications associate at Baraza, and a formidable writer in her own right. I’ll be handing over this section of the newsletter to my fellow colleagues and to Baraza members from time to time, as building community also means hearing from each other. ~ Christine

Apart from my role at Baraza Media Lab, I’m also knitwear designer at a small locally-owned knitwear brand here in Nairobi. I spend a lot of time crocheting and knitting, and over the years, this has become my meditation practice.  

Growing up, my paternal grandmother, like many other Nubian women, crocheted seat covers for a living. We all know them, those intricate, flowery, almost lacy yarn cloths that our parents put on seats, on top of the TV, on the wall unit, and so on. The price would depend on the number of yarn balls your sofa set would need, and the standard charge was fifty shillings per yarn ball.

I never learnt how to crochet from my grandmother, in fact I only remember picking up one of the crochet needles lying around at home and practicing on old discarded threads that I would find sometimes in the backyard, and sometimes on the floor of my aunt’s beauty shop.

I think I was eight years old when I made my first presentable thing, and it was a scarf that I gave to my mother. She still has it. My mother taught me how to knit, and on the very day she taught me the basic purl stitch, she gave me an assignment to make seven washing clothes, one for each member of the household. In a week’s time, the job was done and my mother was proud of me, but she never sat down to teach me anything ever again. I only went to her with questions. Sometimes she answered them.

I took home science in secondary school, mainly because I wanted more time to craft in my boarding school where there was too much emphasis on reading and cramming and duties; you know the drill. I would go to the home science room and just craft in silence, it didn’t matter that knitting and crocheting were by then scrapped out of the curriculum. This was one of the very few things that kept me grounded and sane, up until when I eventually dropped out, but that’s a story for another day. 

Fast-forward to today and not a day passes by without me picking up my needles. I craft everywhere; in matatus, at parks, in restaurants, in waiting rooms, name it. Seasoned mathree touts on my route know me as ‘ras wa kushona.’ For me, Netflix and chill means Netflix and yarn. I crochet when I am happy, I knit when I am sad, I craft to think my way through things, I crochet as a means to connect with myself, I knit as a channel of expression, as a journaling practice, as a meditative practice, I craft to remind myself that I am alive and I am part of a co-creative collective within myself and my communities.  

When I was in university (yes, I made it to university after dropping out of secondary school), I found that it was crocheting that helped me wade through the difficulties of discovery. I was reading a lot on how the world functions, the systems behind the systems and about everything that feeds into and out of all the -isms that hurt and rob and alienate us from ourselves and each other. In my book club, I always showed up with my crafting tools, and in all honesty it was mostly a tactic to keep myself from wailing very loudly. 

There are many studies that have shown that the rhythms of crocheting and knitting help with serotonin release which regulates anxiety and our overall moods. My grandmother says that crocheting calms her and she always felt happy when she was crafting among sisters and friends. 

All this to say that what has sustained me throughout the times that we are living in, besides communing with loved ones, is my craft work. I created more yarn manifestations last year than any other year I have been alive, plus it doesn’t hurt that I have met amazing people through this, collaborated with other yarn whisperers and made some coins all while at it. 

My abuba can no longer crochet, but she is happy that I somehow picked up this craft, and when I visit her I get to show her what I have been whipping up, and she offers guidance where she can. Besides being unofficially named after her, I know we will be connected by this beyond the confines of time and space, and that this bond is incompatible with the idea of finality. 

When you have time, please do stop by our Instagram page and treat yourself to literal colour blessings. Until then, here’s:

  • What We’re Reading: Silence is a woman by Wambui Mwangi, though published eight years ago, it is an article that I go back to often. I like to see it as a love letter to the women who came before us, those who dreamt defiantly and laid it all bare in service of freedom. 
  • What We’re Watching: The Office, a relatively well known show about the daily misadventures of a group of office colleagues. Beyond it being incredibly funny, I see it as a mockumentary about the traditional workplace, standard office personalities and the problem of managerialism. 
  • What We’re Listening To: Left POCket Project, a podcast that gathers and speaks on the history of leftists of color around the world. I really enjoyed this episode where Wendi Muse is in conversation with Yannick Marshall, a researcher on colonialism in Kenya, anti-colonialism around the world and the need to expand the political imagination. Stop everything you’re doing and listen NOW!


Kedolwa Waziri I Design and Communications Associate

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