Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions, interview with Donna Druchunas

My friend, Donna Druchunas has a Pubslush campaign for her and co-author June Hall’s upcoming book, Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions. In the book you will learn about the traditions and techniques of knitting in Lithuania past, present, and future. Plus find more than 25 mitten, glove, and sock projects to knit.

They are more than 60% towards their goal that ends May 30. Please check the campaign details by clicking here.

Donna Druchunas, Author
Donna Druchunas, Author

Loving travel myself, I was curious how she has crafted her unusual and successful business with her passion for knitting.

I would love to hear you talk about travel. Can you paint a word picture of the tone of the different forms of travel that your career and heart take you?

I consider myself a gypsy and I mean that in the best of ways. I’ve never been attached to one place or one parcel of land in a way that defines my identity and ties me down for life. I love exploring new places. This is manifested in my life in several ways.

First, I move every decade or so. Not across town or to a bigger house, but across the continent and to a different state. I’ve always lived in the USA, but I’ve moved from New York to Tennessee to California to Colorado to Vermont, with stays of several months in Texas, Georgia, and Lithuania as well.

Second, and this is a newer adventure, I love to make shorter trips to explore new places and have new experiences. Sometimes I travel to teach, sometimes to do research, sometimes to visit family, and once in a blue moon, just to be a tourist or take a vacation. I don’t make the deep connections that living in a place for months or years gives me, but I find a different kind of connection in short-term travel, a connection that reminds me that people everywhere are more alike than they are different. But the differences are fun and interesting, and I wouldn’t want to lose the variety of traditions and languages and lifestyles that people enjoy around the world.

Songs of Palanga
Songs of Palanga by Donna Druchunas

In what ways does travel feed you?

I can’t even begin to explain this. Every time I travel, my well is refilled. It may be from seeing sights, meeting new people, breathing different air, reading different regional magazines, or smelling different flowers. I just know that whenever I am away from home, my inspiration level goes through the roof. When I go home, even after a trip of just a weekend, I have enough material to keep me busy writing and designing for months on end. I need the cycles of travel and home to balance out over the long term, because I rarely get any “work” done when I am on the road. If I’m teaching, that’s all I have energy for and if I’m doing research or just hanging out, I still don’t have the right kind of energy to sit down and write or design a knitted garment. When I’m home, I have all of my photos and sketches and ephemera that I’ve gathered on the road to use for spurring on long spells of writing and knitting design.

Suvalkija Beehives
Suvalkija Beehives by Donna Druchunas

How does travel direct your choice of pattern and color?

Most of my designs are inspired by something visual — so the landscape, architecture, folk art, and style of a place is entirely where my choices of pattern and color come from. It’s a very intuitive process though, and I rarely make conscious choices about these things. I’m not even sure anyone else can see the connections in my work, but it underlies everything I do.

Vytis Lithuania’s Knight
Vytis Lithuania’s Knight by Donna Druchunas

How much did you plan for your trip to Lithuania, how much was left open to exploration?

Oh, it’s mostly winging it! At least when I go on my own. I just show up and see what happens. Planning research in Lithuania is quite different than it is in the USA. Here, if I want to see a collection in the archives of a museum, I have to make an appointment months in advance. In Lithuania, when I’ve tried to do that, the response has been, “Give us a call when you’re here.” And when I do that, the follow up is, “It’s wonderful that you’re here. Would you like to come today or tomorrow.”

I have gone to Lithuania with specific goals on several trips, however. One year I took a 4-week Lithuanian language course at Vilnius University. Another year I studied Lithuania’s Jewish culture and history at a 2-week class. And on one trip with my co-author June Hall, my husband and I traveled all around the country visiting knitters and spinners and folk artists. We had an initial plan but we modified it each day depending on who was available to see us.

June and Donna in Vilnius 2013
June and Donna in Vilnius 2013

What did you hope to learn or find, and did you?

Each trip was different. I felt good about all of my trips and found fascinating information about the history of knitting and textiles in Lithuania, as well as a lot of surprises. That’s the best part of research, I think–the things you stumble on that you didn’t even know to look for. So I’ve been happy with everything I’ve learned.

Rumšiškės in Summer Mittens
Rumšiškės in Summer Mittens by Donna Druchunas

Is travel essential you your creative vivacity?

I think I answered this above.

What is the biggest connection between travel and knitting?

Knitting is just one way to get to know people and their history and culture. Because it’s been considered women’s work for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, it provides an interesting way to approach a new place that is different than what is often presented. I think that whatever your passion is, you can use it to find connections to people around the world. For me that passion is knitting. For many authors, it’s food. There are so many “foodie” books that are about travel and connecting to people around the world! They’re not even written for people who will cook or travel and eat the foods. I’d love to see knitting and needlework/textile topics find this same broad audience. We all eat. We all wear clothes. These are universals that have local differences and variety that can help us understand what it means to be human in different places and times.

Donna buying wristers in Vilnius Lithuanina
Donna buying wristers in Vilnius Lithuanina 

I  hope that all of these things are expressed in Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions. While the book does have patterns for things to make, these knitted items are in a large way illustrations to the stories that are in the book. More than half of the pages–7 out of 9 chapters–are stories about the Lithuanian people and history and culture. Only 2 chapters are technical knitting information. I am hoping this cross-genre book will be one of a new breed of knitting books that are interesting to a general readership and provide an interesting experience to women and men who may never decide to pick up knitting needles or travel across an ocean to a faraway land.

 Green Bridge Riešinės
Green Bridge Riešinės by Donna Druchunas

All the best with your project, Donna! 

"Lithuanian Knitting", book cover

“Lithuanian Knitting”, book cover

To find out more about Donna, read her extensive and fascinating writing, learn about her offerings like “Online Cruise Class” cruise over to her site.

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