She doesn’t know who she’d be without her handcraft. SIGNE SIEMSEN describes the itchy, oily wool yarn as a balm both literally and metaphorically. So, it’s no coincidence that she wrote a book about knitting and plant dyeing that feels as poetic as it is hands-on. We visited Signe at home in her apartment in Södermalm.
By Louise Rizell/TWWP and photographer Rikard Lilja/Agent Bauer.
"I’m an inner-city person with an enormous need to be close to nature. I’m also a person who lies awake at night with a million ideas and projects that I feel I need to get done right away, but have no time to finish even a smidgen of them because of two wonderful, intensive kids who kind of take up all my time."
Hey, Signe, who are you?
– I’m an inner-city person with an enormous need to be close to nature. I’m also a person who lies awake at night with a million ideas and projects that I feel I need to get done right away, but have no time to finish even a smidgen of them because of two wonderful, intensive kids who kind of take up all my time.
Tell us about your family.
– I live with my husband Fredrik, and our two children, Alvar, seven, and Assar, three.
Your new book Stickning och växtfärgning (Knitting and plant dyeing) is amazing. How did you come up with the idea, and describe the process from idea to published book?
– I’d actually got started on a book with a different focus, at the same time as I was working on an e-book about plant dyeing. The publisher heard about it and asked if I wanted to write a book. Together, we came to the conclusion that a book about knitting and plant dyeing would be really fun. I’ve mostly been a freehand knitter and don’t consider myself to be particularly mathematical, so in the beginning, writing knitting patterns felt almost insurmountably difficult, sitting and calculating all the different sizes. But when it comes to things that I think are fun, I’m usually a quick learner. So, I took on the task rather than outsourcing the pattern part to someone else. To be honest, I was probably in over my head. But in the end, after countless hours with a calculator and Excel sheets, I solved it anyhow. While doing calculations, I was also plant dyeing and knitting. Winding down with the practical stuff was very relaxing. With just a few weeks left to the deadline, I let the kids’ grandparents take care of my youngest during the daytime (who didn’t go to preschool but was at home with me), so I could focus on the actual writing and completion of the book. Writing a book was an enormously fun process, and it definitely whet my appetite.
Sounds wonderful. We’re eagerly awaiting more books! What does “craft” mean to you?
– I don’t know who I would be without handcraft. It’s always been present in my life in one way or another; I’ve always created with my hands, with textile handcraft as my main vernacular. The softness, malleability, often very time-consuming and, in my opinion, forgiving nature of textile craft appeals to me. I especially like working with very raw, natural products. As soon as I start knitting the torn, lanolin-filled yarn that basically comes straight from the sheep, my hands relax, as does the rest of me in an instant. The itchy, oily yarn is a balm, both literally and metaphorically. I find this work relaxing; it becomes a form of meditation, something that I – someone who likes to juggle a million things at the same time and has never really managed to ‘truly’ meditate – really needs.
In other words, your mental sanctuary. Where’s your physical happy place?
– The forest, by our country house. In the late-summer sun, with a basket on my arm, picking wild plants and mushrooms. I bring a thermos filled with Chaga tea with me. The day is infinitely long, as only summer days can be.
Describe your home and your favorite space there.
– We’ve lived in this apartment for almost a decade. As soon as I set foot in it for the first time, I felt I wanted to live here forever. We lived here when we got married, during both my pregnancies, and one of our sons was born on the floor of one of the rooms here. The love I feel for this apartment is boundless. I adore all the original details, weird angles, and nooks and crannies. Now, as it turns out, I won’t be living here forever. We’re moving at the end of the year. I’ll miss this apartment immensely, and it’s hard for me to let go. But I’m looking forward to getting to know our new home and creating lots of love and memories there too. My favorite space in our home is undoubtedly the living room, which is always filled with sunshine on a sunny day. We call it the fan, because of its beautiful fan shape with three gigantic windows that take up most of the wall. I’m often found sitting working on the floor or playing with the kids throughout the day.
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When it comes to being a mother, do you live by any philosophy?
– I simply want to live with my children, and for me, the key to living together in harmony is to listen and be attentive to what my children and I need, rather than listening to the outside world with its standardized advice and implicit rules. It’s all about truly seeing the children and highlighting them as the individuals they are, while at the same time seeing us as a unit, where I also need to listen to myself and take stock to find the right path. This is something that can be surprisingly difficult when you live in a society where we adults, in many cases, put unreasonable demands on our children, partly forgetting that they are indeed very capable and partly having lost touch with our inner selves. And I’m a big believer in lots of closeness, body contact; it strengthens our bonds and reduces stress in an almost magical way. So, listen to them, listen inwards and cuddle.
Daydreams about the future?
– Nothing in particular. I’ve (since I left my teenage years behind) seldom spent time dreaming about the future and live in the here and now, and I’m happy with that. To my husband’s annoyance, he loves to plan, dream and think about the future.
That sounds like a good combo nonetheless! Where do you find your thoughts wandering nowadays?
– I’m in the start-up phase of my new company, so my brain is mostly busy with that right now. I haven’t quite formulated what it will entail yet; the problem is there’s so much I want to do that I’m not sure it will all fit. But in general, it will be about plants, herbs, art and healing.
Name three things that inspire you.
– My kids, the scent of dark earth and plants whose leaves have silvery undersides.
When do you feel most in tune with yourself?
– Whenever the external circumstances don’t change too much. I find it very difficult to stand firm, when life is swirling around me in my immediate vicinity, even if it means changes for the better.
Are you friends with yourself?
– For the most part. I can certainly be quite self-critical, but I also have a sort of overconfidence in myself. So, it usually evens out in the end.
What’s your top recommendation?
– To take a walk in the forest and feel the moss with your bare feet and hands. It might sound a bit airy-fairy, but it gives (at least me) so much peace and energy at the same time.
I’m guessing the perfect day for you has something to do with the forest then?
– Yep! My perfect day is with my family in the countryside. It’s summer, which means endless walks in the forest and over wild meadows, and hours of work on our knees with our hands digging down into the earth in our garden patch. Or a snowy winter day with a campfire and stick bread down by the frozen lake, followed by a post-sauna plunge in a hole in the ice.