Knits for Kids – With Love
Claudia Quintanilla’s book Making Memories is an ode to the women who taught her crafts. We chatted with Claudia to learn more about her life story and design work.
Classic knits, dreamy photography and playful illustrations — Making Memories: Timeless Knits for Children by Claudia Quintanilla is a unique children’s knitwear book, aimed at knitters who want to create long-lasting, quality garments for the little ones. Claudia is a knitwear designer based in Toronto, Canada, where she runs a knitting store called Eweknit & Craft.
Your book includes 25 knits for children: cardigans, sweaters, blankets, socks and mittens. Why did you choose to design kidswear?
I grew up in El Salvador, in a big family. When someone had a baby, the question was always “What are we going to make?”, not “What are we going to buy?”. I think that stuck with me — that a child was a good reason to make something by hand. I remember when I was eleven years old, and my aunt had a baby. I was so excited about it that I took the lacey pink curtains from my bedroom and used them to make a dress for my new-born cousin. I took her out on a stroller and felt so proud!
Describe the book a bit — what are the garments like and how do they reflect your design style?
I aim to create timeless garments with a modern twist that can be worn anywhere, anytime. The main idea of the collection is to cover everything a child would need. Nothing too flashy, but rather something that blends well with a child’s wardrobe.
As far as materials, I always prefer natural fibres that have a minimal impact on the environment. In my store, I also encourage my clients to think about where the yarn came from and how it was made. And to use up what they are buying, instead of buying excessive amounts of yarn.
What is the biggest difference between making garments for children and adults?
From a technical sense, I think it is important that children’s garments are comfortable, practical, and not too hard to make. The material also has to feel pleasant to a child. I personally like non-superwash yarns, however, I understand that many parents want the garments to be machine-washable, so I sometimes have to compromise on this. Similarly, stains are much less visible on a green sweater than on a white one!
Then, there is the emotional side. I feel that anything you make for a child is made with love; it is like giving them a hug. When you knit, you also think about the child and your relationship with them. For example, when I was making the garments for the book, I imagined how they could be worn by my grandchildren someday. And I think that in a sense, we have a relationship with every child on this planet. That is the very essence of living.
You have two adult children of your own; did you knit for them when they were young?
I didn’t make them as many things as I would have liked to. When my son was little, I was a single parent and I had just emigrated to Canada, and when my daughter was born, I was a full-time student and juggling multiple jobs. I think my book is in part a reaction to that — I knitted a sweater and I thought “Oh, this would have been good for my Claudia”, so I named it Claudita after her, and there is also a vest named Oscar after my son.
You first learned to knit as a child in El Salvador and were reunited with the craft after moving to Canada in 1990. Tell us more about this!
I went to a private school run by nuns, and one of them would always sit in a corner knitting. I was 11 years old and curious about what she was doing because in El Salvador it was not traditional to knit. The lady was European, and she had been a physics teacher before retiring. I asked her if she could teach me and she said: “Yes, but you are not allowed to talk.” Every afternoon, I sat quietly by her side — in the end, she did talk to me a little — and learned from her. I discovered a way to express my creativity; to transform my love for fashion, arts and colours into something concrete.
Other crafts—such as embroidery, crochet, and cross-stitch—I learned from my mother and her two sisters. Their mother was schizophrenic and couldn’t take care of them, so when they were little, the girls were put in an orphanage where they had to pay for their living by making things. After they grew up, crafts remained a way for them to spend time together. Even though the story of them learning their skills was sad, crafts were always a big part of our family.
In Canada, I didn’t do crafts for many years. But when my daughter was little, she had health issues that forced me to stay at home with her. I was doing a PhD in literature and arts and was anxious about staying home, so I started to knit again and haven’t stopped since. It made me happy and helped me forget my anxiety.
In the preface, you write that the book started as a “labour of love and grief” after your grandmother passed away. What was that like?
In April 2020, my grandmother — who had raised me and was more like a mother to me — passed away. The airport in Toronto was closed due to the pandemic, and I felt this physical pain in my stomach because I couldn’t be there to attend her funeral. I thought I had to do something, so I started knitting all this baby stuff. It allowed me to move quickly from one idea to another and have five projects going on at the same time. I did all the knitting for the book in the eight months after the death of my grandmother.
What was the legacy you got from her and other women in your childhood?
The ability to imagine things and make them real. They gave me the tools I needed to create something, and I think that is the most meaningful thing you can give to a child. I never thought that I would be designing knitwear or owning a knitting store, I just saw it as a hobby, and I knew I had to pursue an academic career. But in the end, I ended up doing something that these ladies had taught me just by spending time with me.
What has running the knitting store meant to you personally?
It has given me a sense of belonging and the possibility of becoming somebody. Not in the sense of becoming somebody important, but just being able to be yourself in a new country. Knitting is something people remember me by. The other day I went to the hospital to pick up my test results, but I didn’t have my ID with me. Suddenly someone from the back of the office shouted: “Oh I know her from the knitting store, I vouch for her”, and in the end, they gave me my results.
The store was also the reason I started designing. I was knitting my own things and the clients started asking for patterns for them. That is when I realised that people liked what I was making.
You are now sending your book out to the world, which must be exciting! What would be the best possible feedback you could get?
I just hope that people make the garments, that they will be used and then hopefully passed on to somebody else. The reason I chose the name Making Memories is because of the memories we create when giving each other hand-made gifts. Every stitch that I make is a part of me and my history, but after that, the person wearing the garment makes it a part of theirs. In this way, the garment carries memories, both of the person making it and the person wearing it.
For me, knitting has always been a way of connecting: first, with the strong women in my family who nurtured me in all senses of the word, and now with a global community of knitters. To see someone in Germany, or elsewhere, making a sweater I designed makes me so happy!