While the world misses nothing because I cannot knit (trust me), it is a much better place because Jacqueline Fink of Little Dandelion can. And we’re not just talking normal knitting here. We’re talking Extreme Knitting (which does require the use of capitals) using unspun wool and industrial-sized needles, 110 cm long and 50 mm in diameter, weighing 550 g per stick. It sounds crazy but the results are amazing.
What is also amazing is how she ended up where she is today and the incredible journey she went on with her mother that helped kick-start a new career. She literally dreamed big. From non-creative lawyer to extreme knitter working in an over-sized ‘woolly world’, Jacqueline Fink is truly inspiring.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I live in Sydney with my hubby, three children, two cats and a gorgeous stray puppy we found just after Christmas. I’m a former lawyer turned creative. I launched Little Dandelion in April 2012 after conceiving the idea two years previously. It may seem like a rapid trajectory but it took two years of intense experimentation to work out my process before I hit the market. I am largely self-taught with no technical training in fine arts. I wasn’t even an experienced knitter by any means. Hence, I made a load of mistakes during that time but was undeterred.
When did you begin exploring with yarn and how did you come to work with over-sized textiles and doing yarn installations?
The short version of a very long story is that my mum was diagnosed in 2006 with a terminal lung disease. By then, I had been searching for something of my own for quite some time and some heavy conversations with mum post-diagnosis certainly hastened my quest to change my life. I had been carrying with me a very strong yearning to be creative. I knew it held the key to my fulfillment. Curiously though, up until that point I had never considered myself to be creative by any means and so I had no clear concept of what a creative life would look like for me except for the fact that it would involve the use of my hands.
Fast forward three years, mum received a life-saving double lung transplant with only moments to spare. It was an insanely dramatic time in the life of my family and I found myself in a bit of a haze (albeit happily) in my mum’s post recovery. It was during that time that I had a dream in which a big loud booming voice said, “You have to knit and it needs to be big”. I know it sounds bonkers but it is what it is. The very next day I set about discovering what knitting big meant to me and I haven’t stopped since. I took the directive very literally hence my focus on textile pieces and installations being of an over-sized and generous scale. I love the physical challenge that the over-sized scale represents as much as the creative challenge.
You describe your work as a slow craft and the knitting needles you use ginormous! Tell us more about the process, how do you do it and how long does it take?
Knitting, like most objects made by hand, is a slow process. Nothing happens quickly in my woolly world. An average sized throw made from unspun wool will take a week to make. I knit the piece using industrial sized knitting needles which have a diameter of 50 mm and a length of 110 cm. Unspun wools are very fragile and so extra care needs to be taken during the knitting process to ensure they don’t break. I am also very exacting about my tension and this all adds time to the clock. Once the piece is knitted, I felt the wool. This is a very labour-intensive and hands-on process. The throw then needs to dry which can take a few days. Once the throw is dry I then finish it off with a trim in a blanket stitch, usually in a contrasting colour.
My K1S1 Extreme Knitting Yarn has been developed to do away with a lot of challenges of working with unspun wool. It is a fully felted merino wool yarn which replicates the same scale I am able to achieve with unspun wool without any of the hassles. All you need to do is knit. I can knit a K1S1 throw in a day. It’s very tiring to do extreme knitting in one sitting and I wouldn’t recommend it. But, there are times when it needs to be done and it is wonderful to be rewarded with such a beautiful creation in what is a relatively short period of time by knitting standards.
How do you like to work best – what are your ideal working conditions and environment?
In an ideal world I would have a beautiful and ample white warehouse space with all my bits around me. For now, I work in our living room in amongst all the chaos of family life and I’m more than happy with that. I just make do with what I have.
Having said that, I do enjoy the quiet when the kids are at school. The solitude helps me to recharge and refocus. I am the most creative when I am alone, lost in my thoughts.
What is or has been the hardest or most challenging part of what you do and setting up your business?
The most challenging part of my work is the physicality of the knitting. Intense periods of knitting can leave me feeling pretty wrecked and I make regular visits to a chiropractor to keep me in check. I dislike the admin side of business so much and I’m not on top of it at all. I’d love to handball the paperwork to someone else and not have to bother with it.
What’s some advice you’d give others wanting to do the same?
Just make a start. Do something every day to turn your idea into a reality no matter how small it may seem at the time. It is also important to cut your own unique creative path.
Tell us five reasons to love slow craft and handmade?
- Slow craft is cheap therapy
- Slow craft is relaxing
- Handmade is authentic and sustainable
- Handmade is soulful
- Both are beautiful
Now that you’ve embraced large-scale extreme knitting, do you ever just knit a regular old scarf? What other hobbies do you have?
Oh gosh, no. Never. I find knitting on a regular scale too tedious. I don’t even own regular sized needles and I’m not that well versed in the language of knitting to get my head around complex patterns. Knitting is also very mathematical and I tend to avoid maths as much as possible.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time for other hobbies. Extreme knitting is both my creative outlet and my vocation but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What would be your dream project or have you already done it?
I’m a bit fixated on always pushing the boundaries so once I’ve completed a project I’m happy to move on to the next. I’m actually not very sentimental so I don’t often look back and reflect. Each new project offers up challenges and opportunities to explore my creativity and so they are all unique and wonderful. I’m working my way to more large scale commercial installations where I can really test my physical capabilities and I’m very excited about this development. I am forever curious about what two hands can create, on a massive scale, without any mechanical intervention.
It’s not very cool, but I really like … Cadbury Snack Chocolate, 80s music and the movie Elf.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
All the time, actually. I’m very proud that I’ve created something for myself out of nothing. It’s been a tremendous amount of hard work – I have not stopped since launching in 2012 – but my efforts are rewarded by lovely affirmations from my children about my work and support from my family. I’m now a part of a wonderful and engaging creative community.
Tell us about any future plans.
I am currently writing a book to be published by Lantern, Penguin in 2016. My deadline is actually fast approaching and so I’m burning the midnight oil at the moment. The book is essentially about my journey to living a creative life. I also profile other makers of handmade that I admire greatly. I have some exciting things planned for the launch of the book including an exhibition of new work. It may seem far away but I need every bit of that time to make the relevant pieces.
Thanks so much Jacqui for an insight into your background and creative life!
For those in Sydney, she’s running a workshop on November 7 at Megan Morton’s The School.