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I needed a travel companion. I was going solo to a wedding in the Berkshires and wanted some company. My mother was on the fence and wouldn’t commit. While making my plans I investigated distractions nearby which might be appealing, as she likes to walk and explore. I found a charming yarn shop in Lenox across the street from an inn where I planned to stay. That tipped the scale and she was on board.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon in late July and, without delay, proceeded to make our way over to the shop. Now, some of you may already know about Colorful Stitches, but we had not. It is a light and airy space filled with all sorts of inspiration. By chance, Bonnie, the owner, was alone in the shop and gave us a warm introduction to the place. As she walked us through the first floor our heads were spinning with infinite possibilities.

We were winding down our tour when we reached an array of circular needle sets. Frankly, though I had seen them before, I had been more intrigued by how they looked than how they worked. Bonnie explained the advantages as well as the issues with interchangeable needles and shared her experience with the different brands. You don’t want to have your tips fall off when you are in the midst of a project!

At this point, I was observing something in my mother I couldn’t pinpoint. She was especially attentive about what Bonnie had to say and I could see her mind working.

Then she said, “I have been thinking about getting an interchangeable set for a while, but I feel like my needles are a part of me.”

It was such a moving thing to say. And it struck me how emotionally tied we can be to our tools when we make things.

My mother’s collection of knitting needles is stored neatly in a simple linen case. The needles tend to be wood or plastic, as she finds those materials feel better to touch. A few were handed down from my father’s grandmother. Even the needles that give her trouble she finds hard to part with, as they all remind her of not only of her creative history—but, by extension, the story of her life.

She also has a sewing box filled with an array of stitch stoppers, markers, and holders, as well as pins and needles and many more items that she as acquired over the years. She has the cutest pair of red scissors which give her delight to use. They coordinate with the crimson graphics on her old Susan Bates Knit-Chek. Growing up I always admired her “tool box” and would study the specific design and function of each item. Her orange Fiskars scissors and multicolor sphere-topped pins were the first items replicated in my own little sewing kit.

In the MDK Shop
“With the right tools, you can do anything.” ⁠—Ann’s mom

I enjoy my own tools. I suspect I may have become an architect because I connected with the items used in drafting. I loved the process of drawing with my mechanical pencil, sharpener, pounce, and erasing shield. I felt my drawings came alive because of how they all worked and contributed to the process. These things all felt right in my hand and allowed for a fluid connection between what I imagined in my head and what I put on paper.

At this point, my drafting tools have mostly been displaced by the computer. To offset this I delved more intensely into freehand drawing and painting to fulfill my joy of making. These artistic practices have their own tools of which I also have my favorites. For example, particular paintbrushes allow me to paint more freely than others. And, like my mother, I find it hard to part with brushes or pencils that I haven’t used in a long time, or that show age and use.

All these tools are extensions of our hands. When designed well they enhance our creativity. Some tools are understated in their simplicity and efficiency of use. Others are designed so that they are a pleasure and delight when we use them. With use over time, they become personal tokens that allow us to complete the simplest to most complicated tasks. They can even entice us—to try something new or to improve on what we are doing already. Whether in sewing or art, I have been often been drawn to a tool based on the beauty of the design before I had the need or use for it.

My mother is still mulling whether to buy a set of those needles. But she keeps mentioning a return visit to Lenox.

About The Author

Amy Routman is an architect and designer living and working in New York City.

The daughter of a consummate knitter and sewer, Amy has spent years looking at knitting pattern books and fashion magazines with her mother, and is excited to explore the art of knitting through her watercolor illustrations.

Follow Amy on Instagram to see her latest illustrations, art and design work.


  • Yes! My tools are important to me too. (And my husband, you should see his shed!)

    I recently culled my collection to donate the extras to Project Knitwell. I hated to part with them, even though I hardly ever use them. And even though I knew I would be helping someone else learn to love knitting and all the benefits it brings.

    Thanks for putting into words the feelings that I’m sure we all have.

    • I will have to tell my mother about Project Knitwell. What a wonderful idea!

  • Love the Berkshires, such a welcoming area. I would make an overnight stop when traveling to my family in Sudbury, MA. And yes Colorful Stitches was a stop. I still have a few cakes I purchased from that shop. Ohhhh the memories, hope you enjoyed your travels and the wedding.

    • I love the Berkshires, too! What an inspiring area!

  • Growing up, I admired my mother’s notion container, which was a decorative cookie tin filled with needles, treads, buttons, beautiful pieces of lace, scissors (never to be used for school projects), seashells, and other small ephemera that fascinated me as a young child. For my wedding shower I was presented with my own decorative cookie tin filled with presumed necessary notions to start a crafty home. My mother announced that this special gift was from the elderly and beloved family dog. Indeed the card was “signed” with her paw print. Today this cookie tin is scratched, dented and a survivor of multiple moves over 47 years. Some contents are original and some have been replaced but these cherished memories are priceless.

    • What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing!!!

    • Omg… tearing up reading this. How incredibly touching! I so wish I had my dear mother’s button tin,

      • I remember my grandmother’s button tin very well. It was a blue and white Wedgwood cake tin, acquired in England when I was born there while my Dad was serving in the USAF. It had wonderful buttons, among them little ones shaped like hearts, clubs spades and diamonds that she saved from a special cardigan she had for when she played bridge.

        I don’t know what happened to it but I now have one of my own. I walked into a local thrift shop one morning and saw that exact tin. Tears welled up in my eyes twice: once when I saw it and again when, without a word from me, my husband walked over to the counter and bought it for me. My buttons are a bit less interesting than my grandmother’s but they have the same lovely home. Every time I look at that tin I think of my grandmother and smile. And sometimes cry.

    • This gift! This story! Makes my day.

  • Lyle’s Golden Syrup are to the old fashioned conneseur what knitting needles and fluffy wool are to the traveller in search of honesty integrity and a whisper in the wind ‘Come this way – the Eternal Way’ never to be forgotten
    Forever in our Hearts and Souls

    • I will have to look up Lyle’s Golden Syrup – sounds delicious!

      • Don’t you have lyles golden syrup in the states? It is such an integral part of British comfort eating! I totally get what Caroline means 😀

        • Until fairly recently Lyle’s Golden Syrup was hard to find in the States. My grocery store started carrying it several months ago, and I immediately bought some, but have now only used it once. But I had wanted Lyle’s Golden Syrup for so long!

  • Thank you for sharing this awesome part of your relationship with your Mother and knitting!

    • My mom and I had a nice little adventure together – glad you enjoyed the story!

  • I love this story! When my grandmother passed in ‘92, at the age of 92, I inherited all of her tools and more. She was a seamstress, crocheter, knitter, needlepointer, embroiderer and the best cook! I have her worn and bent crochet hooks, scissors, thimble, framed embroidery on silk, finely crocheted doilies (even collars!), pillows, antique button collection, button hooks and even her old Singer sewing machine in it’s Victorian cabinet. I’ve used many of these items, and added much to it over the years but could never part with any of them. They are definitely a part of me as is she.

    • My great aunt (a Londoner who lived in the Shetland isles for many years) recently passed away, at the ripe old age of 91, and I am now the lucky inheritor of three different sized table top looms, a spinning wheel, all her knitting needles, so much yarn and fleece I’ve had to donate some to charity, her button tin (in which all the buttons have been stitched onto cards in sets and ordered by colour) and all her ufos! I am only hoping I can eventually find the time to do more than just knit with the yarn!

    • Your grandmother’s collection sounds amazing – what a painting that would make!

  • Colorful Stitches is a wonderful shop! I’m glad you had a chance to visit there. I wish someone had provided me with more information before I bought my first (of five) set of interchangeable needles. Having your work come apart mid row is not fun.

    • Oh no! I hope you didn’t loose too much work!

  • When I started knitting (Jan 2018) I visited my Mom for help casting on. She started knitting when she was 16. She’s 88 now and doesn’t knit much anymore. She gave me her old circular needles which I tried using but the cords are too stiff compared to today’s material but I keep them because Mom made beautiful knits with them. She also gave me all her old pattern booklets. They used to be published & sold by yarn companies; Columbia-Minerva, Patons, Bernat. Cost 50 cents to $3 for booklets & leaflets of more than 1 pattern! I get all my patterns on line but I love looking at the styling in these old pictures and Mom has notes written on the ones she’s made. They’re keepers!

    • How lovely that you appreciate her tools and patterns! And that you learned to knit, too!

  • Loved this story! I, too, love my fiber, bead, & paint tools! I would be bereft without them cluttering my studio.

    • So glad you enjoyed and can relate to the story!

  • After three weeks in Norway, when I successfully carried my knitting on every imaginable conveyance (planes, trains, streetcars, busses, boats), I left it on the plane when we returned home. (I was SO jet-lagged!) A weekend on the phone with airport personnel and a touching e-mail correspondence with someone in Keflavik, Iceland finally led me to recover it. While I grieved the almost-finished pair of socks for a friend, what really crushed me was the thought of losing all my tools (a zillion stitch markers that I seldom use, those scissors that don’t work very well, ancient hardened rubber things you put on the end of DPs). They tie me to my own past (when I wasn’t a good enough knitter to recognize decent tools) and to my mother, who was always a knitter. I TOTALLY get this post!

    • Wow! What a story! I’m so glad you got your tools back!!!

  • Thank you for this. I have tools from my great grandmother that I don’t know what they were used for. And I can’t sew a stitch without my shiny metal thimble.

    • I’m thrilled you enjoyed the story!

  • Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you Zoe! I’m thrilled you enjoyed the story!

  • A funny side note. I was reading this at work (I know, I’m bad) and suddenly had to attend an impromptu webex meeting. I needed to share, and don’t you know, the share started with this screen!! One of the developers said, “I know you’re crazy about knitting, but now you’re looking at artwork of knitting?!” I just said, “Yup!”

    • Too funny! The ‘yup’ says it all!

  • I love your paintings of all your tools. An inspiration to me and aren’t you lucky to take a trip with your mom!

    • Thank you, Ivy! Yes, I am glad my mom decided to come along with me!

  • Let me guess. You stayed at or near The Red Lion. The best time of year to come back up Route 7 is the late fall -late October- when the leaves are so colorful and still on the trees. It’s sweater weather there this week. Next time you are coming to New England, consider the NY State Sheep & Wool Festival. Some of my knitting group are taking a field trip. It’s in Rhinebeck, NY. Along with the Berkshires, there isn’t a more beautiful place to be in the fall.

    • You are SO right!! I remember our trip there with fond memories! Fall, Red Lion Inn, Sudbury…… fabulous. Should do that again.

    • You are so right about the beauty of the fall time. I need to plan a trip asap!

  • Love this story and the drawings. ❤️

    • Thank you Vivian!

  • Tools, oh tools. I love three generations of sewing tools. In the way back time of pre-computer architecture, I went with a date to pick up something at his office. He had a full set of Berol Prismacolor pencils in the black box with the cardboard prop on display. Reader, I married him.

  • Loved this! Am always so in awe of people who can take 3-D objects and translate them into 2-D expressions of beauty! So much talent exists on this website! I think that’s what I absolutely adore about MDK: how you manage to corral talent from everywhere in the world in such a mindful way. I just had to say how much I appreciate MDK.
    Happiest of New Years to you all!

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