Housework With: Ani Lee of Close Knit
Welcome to Housework With, a blog series highlighting individuals who embody the idea of holistic homemaking. Through this medium, we will be visiting the homes and workspaces of makers and farmers, artists and wanderers, to gain insights into how they craft a home life that is honest, self-reflective, and considerate of the world in which they are situated.
To inaugurate this series, we met with Ani Lee, a knitter, podcaster, and wonderful human being who currently balances her life between online work in the new frontiers of textile design distribution and her podcast Close Knit, in which she gives voice to artisans within the larger fiber arts community (a group not heard from nearly enough) through her sensitive and insightful interviews, all the while maintaining her personal making practice.
Upon meeting Ani, it is immediately evident that she cares, a lot, from the way that she speaks intentionally, to the focus conveyed by her face as she listens. Her warm smile welcomed us into her slightly disheveled at the moment 1800s-era Oakland home (she and her housemates are all moving out January 1st) where we sat and chatted about sustainable fashion and its problems, whether or not to buy toys for hypothetical future children rather than teach them to believe sweeping is fun, and strange millennial methods for making money.
We spent most of our time in her workspace, a tiny probably 6'x10' room adjacent to her bedroom, which houses all of her yarns, crafting books, spinning wheel, and a desk overlooking her neighbor's garden. It's full of natural light and an organized mess of both practical and decorative objects that range from a pair of sheepskin hides her father acquired on a boat trip he made to New Zealand in the 1970s, to a small closet of mostly neutral tones with a few select contrast pieces.
Exploring the space, both visually and through conversation, it is understood that Ani doesn't allot much room in her life for anything extra or peripheral. Nearly every item seems to hold some sort of significance, whether she received it by trade or gift, such as the bowl of lavender recently given to her by a friend so she could make little lavender pillows for Christmas presents, or inherited it like the aforementioned hides, or purposefully purchased it from a source she's actively interested in supporting like the naturally dyed yarns from Guatemala she currently has on neat display.
What is home to you?
Because I've spent the majority of my adult life so far in Australia, I think about (and fret over) this idea a lot. I remember having many tear-filled conversations with friends in Sydney about ‘home’, and my lack of definition for this word. These conversations were always similar, that the concept of home evoked a feeling: warmth, safety, nurturance, and that maybe this was found through chosen and original family (sometimes with or in place of a physical home).
I tend to think of home, for me personally, as my body. Perhaps this is why I’m so concerned with what I put on it and how I tend to it. I consistently find myself coming back to one of my favorite singer’s (Nai Palm) songs Homebody, which just feels like this gentle surrender, a weary traveling person accepting that ‘home’ may never really exist for them in a physical space, but perhaps only in their body. This idea comforts me.
What is your current living situation like, and what is your relationship to your home?
I’ve been living for about a year in a Craiglist-found Oakland shared house. I was drawn to the original post because it boasted a little sunroom, and it was one of the only places that I could find in the area for $1,000/month. It’s an old house. A lot of people have lived here through the years, and nothing but my own room in the house feels like ‘me’. There is not a single personal possession of mine (except a mug, which cracked in the dish rack the other day) in the common living area.
I find that I don’t spend much time outside my own room, and I think this is in part because I’m a lot more impacted by the aesthetics of a space than I’d like to admit. I’ve slowly and gently transformed my room and sunroom into a cozy nook, and now working space. This works for me, for now. I really like and get along with my housemates, and I think we all have similar expectations for how a shared space should be cared for, so that’s nice.
Do you spend more time at home or out?
I’m definitely a homebody. My mom and I were talking about this recently, how both of us are mostly capable of extroversion, sometimes even the ‘life of the party’, but then we both need to go home to our 'cocoons', as she aptly called it. Now that I also work from my home, I've been making a conscious effort to book weekly co-working dates with friends, take a walk around the block at least once a day, and I try to find a coffee shop that’s reasonably far away from my house to work from once in a while so that I still get to cycle somewhere even though I no longer have a ‘commute’, per se.
Do you have a different section of your wardrobe more dedicated to home wear vs. out-and-about wear?
It’s funny you should ask this because just yesterday I cleared out a drawer in my dresser to dedicate to lounging clothes. I tend to only buy things that I’m comfortable in in all situations, so I have less distinction between the two than most. Oh! And I buy sweatpants and other loungewear that I find aesthetically pleasing, so this makes a difference to me, too.
What are some rituals you practice in your home life?
Ritual is a word that feels kind of foreign to me. I think I have routine. And it’s only been through talk therapy that I’ve begun to notice how much routine I (even absentmindedly) set up for myself. Every day I stitch something - usually it’s just a few stitches or rows on a knitting project. Sometimes I (machine) sew things. But this is on days that I have more energy/excitement about all the steps that that requires.
Weekly, I fill in my calendar with meetings and appointments, as well as reminders to do things for myself, do laundry, see my partner, meal plans. I attend choir rehearsal – this has been a more-or-less forever routine for me. I’ve been singing in an organized choir since I was about 7. This year it’s been the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and it’s generally a pretty uplifting place to be.
Monthly, I often find myself drafting a long note on my phone listing out all the things I did and that happened to me that month, and I try to be as honest as possible – if I did something really rad, I also try to remember the ways that that month kicked me in the ass, and then I often share that publicly. I don’t totally know why. Maybe just to show others that it’s possible to have a simultaneously awesome and very hard month?
Are there any kinds of housework that you hated when you were younger that you’ve grown to love or appreciate?
I’m beginning to appreciate about myself that having an aesthetically-pleasing space is something that makes me feel calm and comfortable.
Up until I had a room all to myself for basically the first time 2 years ago, I’d say I was pretty messy. I shared a room as a kid, then shared a room in college, then moved in with a partner, etc. I left piles of clothes on the floor, resented cleaning up, and was generally just not that nice of a roommate to have. But now that I have my own space, that I curate and decorate myself, I’m a lot cleaner, and it feels a lot easier to be this way. I feel a bit weird and selfish admitting that, but having autonomy over how my space looks, however small, is really important to me. Now, because I keep my room reasonably clean at all times, it’s easier to maintain. I’ve grown to really enjoy tidying in a way I didn’t expect.
What household chores do you find most relaxing?
I really like doing laundry, probably because it means I’m interfacing with my favorite objects, my clothes. I enjoy folding them and hanging them up, and I’ve especially come to enjoy organizing them in my closet in different ways - by color, by type, by season.
Part of my laundry process, though I do it less frequently, is hand washing my handknit socks and de-pilling my sweaters. I use a sweater stone to keep my handknits looking fresh, and that process is always very satisfying.
Your home is also largely your workspace. What are some ways you manage that situation so that they don't overlap too much?
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately! My home has rather recently become my full time workspace because I'm working for a company remotely now. Having the sunroom is a huge factor in this for me. It’s adjacent to my bedroom, so it’s still massively convenient, but it also has a separating door, so I can close the door on my 'office' at the end of the day. I’ve tried working from home in various previous housing situations, with varying success, but I think this has felt successful so far because of the clear separation of spaces, and the fact that I’m working for someone else. It’s much harder to be that disciplined when working on Close Knit stuff. I tend to do a lot of that from bed.
What kind of impact does Close Knit have on your home life?
Almost everything I own, especially clothing and decorative objects, has either been made by myself, by a friend, or I've traded something for it. As I look around my room, I can see drawings, weavings, and embroideries made and given to me because of a relationship that started on Instagram and/or through Close Knit. Much of the clothing I own was made by slow fashion brands that I found through my internet presence and downtime spent browsing for podcast guests.
Because of Close Knit, you're kind of constantly in conversation with clothing. How does it inform the way you think about clothing? When did you first begin having a more proactive relationship with your clothing i.e. knitting, mending, etc?
I remember taking an interest in organic clothing when I was a teenager. I wore (really ugly, to be honest) bamboo shirts and recycled tire shoes. My family has always been concerned with environmental sustainability, so it was a natural fit for me. When I went to college, I found myself shopping to pass the time or to make myself feel better when I failed an organic chemistry test (I was an environmental science major, by the way), and the way that I justified this, both morally and financially, was that I’d do it at places like Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads. I’d buy things and sell back others. And while this model does have an important role in consumer culture, I choose not to participate in it anymore.
Once I started working full time, I felt a little bit of breathing space to begin to consider investing in better made clothing. I’ve always had the interest. With age it’s just been about becoming comfortable with saving up for and investing in quality clothes. In general, I buy 'new, but few' and I’m very considerate when I purchase. Most of the time – sometimes I act on impulse and that can go either really well or really poorly.
This year, I’ve invested in a few pieces from designers I admire, mostly through sample sales and social media trades, and I’ve added a couple pieces via trades - I knit socks and folks sew clothes for me in return. I’ve mended my socks and altered garments that didn’t fit me quite right. All of these things kind of just go hand and hand to me. Once you start investing in better quality clothing, you’re just more likely to take good care of it.
Do you come from a family of makers or are you starting a new tradition?
My mother is a musician, my father is a tinkerer. My mother made all of our Halloween costumes growing up, and my dad likes to tell this story about how he made his own bike panniers using his college girlfriend’s sewing machine. My mother taught me to knit, though she doesn’t knit anymore. I think it’s because she doesn’t want any more stuff, which I get. My father uses machinery to make equipment for science experiments in his day job. Just the other day, I sent him a blog piece I wrote about knitting and self-care and he responded telling me how much satisfaction he gets out of making things in the machine shop, so, while we are not necessarily aligned exactly in the outlets through which we make, we are all makers.
It seems like having plants in your space is really important to you - are we right in this? When did you realize that that detail mattered to you, and what sort of effect does it have on you?
This is the first year that I’ve had any plants in my space, and I have to say, it really makes a difference for how the space feels, and how I feel. It’s kind of tacky to admit, but you can tell my internal state from the state of my plants. I’ve noticed my plants wilting when things get a bit rough for me, and new leaves opening up when big life changes have happened. So, it’s kind of 'woo woo', but there’s something happening there. That, and I probably just remember to water my plants when I’m less stressed.
Same goes for natural light.
When I realized that I had to move back to the US from Australia, I wrote a list of 'must-haves', and the list was 1. Natural light 2. (some) quiet. That’s it. I lived in this shoebox of a room in Hobart that was all windows, and the natural light was everything.
This is another deeply embarrassing millennial thing to admit, but the natural light thing actually stems from a need for me to be able to take well-lit pictures for social media. I wish I could say it’s some lovely, artistic thing about the way that the light improves my mental health, which I do believe it does, but it really stemmed from my photographic laziness. I’m not going to take nice pictures for the internet if it’s not really easy for me to do so, so living in a space with tons of natural light just makes it simple to snap a shot here and there of what’s going on for me, and that’s been an important part of of how I share my work online. Natural light does just feel really nice, too. I’ve always wanted a skylight so that during the day I wouldn't have to use any artificial light. How romantic an idea!
We love the balance that Ani's found between her making practice and her podcast, between well-loved family heirlooms, trades with other makers, and carefully chosen artisan goods. Her home life is currently in a transition period, but the humble space into which she welcomed us was perfectly her own - a lovely and warm reflection of her personal approach to housework.