Updated: Aug 28, 2019
as told to Helaina Hovitz
Shaina Bilow first learned to knit when she was 13 years old. Her mother taught her the basics, and she was hooked.
For one night.
Fast forward four years, she picked up the needles again, and she still hasn't put them down (so to speak). Her first project, though, was a hot mess. It was a multi-colored green boucle wool scarf full of accidental attempts at ruffles, angles, lace, decreases, increases, and knots—not the good kind. However bizarre looking it was, she wore it with pride, because she made it.
"I don't know where it is today, but I do speak of it fondly and use it as a cautionary tale when I teach beginner knitters," says the teacher of over a decade, who teaches knit and crochet to all age groups, from toddlers to seniors.
Her first 30 scarves were garter, but eventually she learned to purl and cast-on, and continued to self-teach through books.
That A-Ha Moment
Becoming a pattern designer wasn't something she always wanted to be when she grew up, but she did co-own a knitting shop with her sister and mother from 2005-2011, and her specialty was custom patterns and shop designs. The walls were full of inspiring samples. sweaters, shawls, scarves, hats.
"Our customers would come in, be measured, and we'd write up a special pattern for them or adapt a pattern we had already designed." Shaina was frustrated that she couldn't find a sweater that would fit her specific body measurements, and remembers the lightbulb going off in her head. "I realized, this is just math. I can measure my shoulders and figure out the stitches I need."
That was the end of adjusting other people's patterns and the beginning of making her own.
When asked to describe how she comes up with her patterns, Shaina says that for her, it's all about the experience. "I want to have the project be something that really makes me feel calm, happy, or engaged as I work on it, and I decided to begin selling my patterns because I figured that there were knitters out there looking for the same type of experience."
The people who knit Shaina Bilow designs are also typically looking for projects that can stand the test of time when it comes to fashion, feature old patterns with a feminine touch, and contain a modern aesthetic. "They don't want to be "too" bored while they knit, so stitch patterns or colors often change as knitters work through their projects," Shaina says. If She's Sitting, She's Knitting
"I have found that it satisfies an urge I have to be productive. Watching TV? I'm also knitting. Sitting through a boring lecture at college? I'm also knitting. Waiting in a doctors office? I'm also knitting...you get the idea." As many often do, Shaina has poured her heart into knitting during both happy and difficult times in her life, and it's been very therapeutic.
"Difficult patterns can completely absorb all thoughts and become meditative, and the easy ones offer a sense of progress and accomplishment that is food for the soul," she said. "Eight years ago, my husband and I were trying (unsuccessfully) to have a baby. Infertility is a heartbreaking ordeal. Knitting offered me a sense of control during a really unpredictable and stressful time in my life. Fortunately, I had a craft that helped me relax." Her son, now two, loves to watch his mother knit, offering to hold her needles, but refusing to wear the adorable designs she makes him because, you know. Kids and clothes. Passing On the Gift
Being a knitting teacher offers Shaina a unique perspective as she writes her patterns. Inspired by her students, she keeps them in mind as she writes.
"I think to myself, "How can I write this more clearly so the knitter has a comfortable time working through this tricky part?' Since I see hundreds of patterns being worked on throughout the year, I have an insiders view of how the best (and worst) patterns are written and pieces are constructed," she says. "I have the privilege of teaching some really talented knitters and crocheters. A few of my favorite designs are pieces that I designed when prompted by a student for a custom pattern."
The One Thing That Always Makes Sense
Knitting is important because it connects us with our hands and minds in a very tangible way. During her classes, all of her knitters share a common bond while creating something beautiful and enjoying the process. "Being humbled by a dropped stitch and then fixing and conquering it is powerful. Making something for a loved one is an incredible gift for the knitter. When we knit for those we love, it is like we fill the project with good wishes and love for them," she says. "Knitting is so important to me because it is one thing in my life that always makes sense. The stitches all have a place, the movement of knitting is relaxing, and being able to make useful items is a fantastic life skill."