A PATTERN OF RECOVERY

Couples’ hands-on art shapes brighter futures

Laura Jean Schneider
ljschneider@ptleader.com
Posted 12/31/69

 

 

At rock bottom, Lise Solvang set down her knitting needles for good.

At least, she thought she did.

While her bespoke silk gowns were coveted for Hollywood’s …

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A PATTERN OF RECOVERY

Couples’ hands-on art shapes brighter futures

Local knitter Nancy Nash is a regular at Fiber and Clay. She completed the complex wool sweater she’s wearing in a matter of weeks.
Local knitter Nancy Nash is a regular at Fiber and Clay. She completed the complex wool sweater she’s wearing in a matter of weeks.
Leader photo by Laura Jean Schneider
Posted

 

 

At rock bottom, Lise Solvang set down her knitting needles for good.

At least, she thought she did.

While her bespoke silk gowns were coveted for Hollywood’s red-carpet events, her disenchantment at the extractive nature of the fashion industry, coupled with alcohol abuse, shuttered her creativity.

“I was never going to put knitting needles in my hands again,” Solvang admitted last week in an interview held at the Quilcene shop Fiber and Clay, a joint endeavor between the fiber artist and her partner, potter Scot Olson.

But before they met, Solvang got sober while living in Ojai, California.

She immersed herself in service work, one of the elements of recovery that 12-step programs recommend. One morning, while helping at a gratitude breakfast, a woman commented on a shawl Solvang was wearing. Solvang admitted to knitting it, and the woman said she wished could do something like that.

Solvang found herself saying, “I can teach you.”

And just like that, she started working with Stephanie, a young woman recovering from addiction.

A STITCH IN TIME

Solvang would sign Stephanie out of her sober house, and they would go to a coffee shop and just talk and knit, Solvang said.

“We were the same person, except I was White, and she was Black,” Solvang said, still marveling at their similarities after being sober for 15 years.

For Solvang, holding those two needles in her hands again was empowering.

“English is my second language,” she said, looking around her shop. “This is my Norwegian heritage.”

A rack of wool sweaters with traditional Norwegian motifs hung near the door, with sizes ranging from small child to adult. Mannequin heads displayed an assortment of hand-knit classic wool hats. (Solvang said she imports wool from one of the oldest mills in Norway, in addition to carrying an impressive array of local fibers.)

Reconnecting her heritage and her wickedly impressive mastery of various fibers, Solvang turned a clear head and steady hands to launching a program in California called “One Stitch at a Time: Knitting in Recovery.”

“The teaching is the smallest part,” she said, while at work on a multicolored red stocking.

Most important, she found over time, was that folks had to show up for themselves every Thursday to focus on their craft and sobriety.

The knitter’s approach stretches the brain, as activities that use both hands in conjunction do, and the rhythmic motions are a kind of meditation.

“It’s the most important part of my life; recovery,” she said, opening her arms to encompass the studio.

She wouldn’t have all this, she said, if she was not sober.

“TOGETHER, WE PLAY’

Solvang’s partner is also in recovery.

They met after she bought a teapot from a little gallery in Ventura that she worked in.

The next day, right after the gallery opened, in walked Olson.  And, she discovered, he had made her teapot.

Their work was side-by-side then, just like it is in Quilcene.

Solvang never intended to move to the Pacific Northwest, but she had the feeling that once she went, she’d want to stay. Friends of hers in California had another home near Brinnon. After an autumn visit, Solvang and Olson sold their house the following May and moved there, too.

A store was not on the horizon for either of them, but a visit to Gearhead Deli in Quilcene changed that.

“We weren’t meaning to, we were just having lunch,” Solvang said, laughing. Then Debbie, one of the owners, asked them to take a look at the space downstairs.

Quilcene Fiber and Clay has now been open since 2017, at 294963 Highway 101 in Quilcene. The store is chock-full of locally made gift items, from airy alpaca shrugs in sorbet colors knitted by Solvang to clay egg cups by Olson, topped with a  tiny “cap” by Solvang.

“Together, we play,” she said of their tongue-in-cheek creations.

She held a bright orange dish in her palm for a moment.

“This is a heartbeat bowl,” she said. Olson hand-shapes the clay to the rhythm of his heartbeat.

There’s a lot of good energy in them, Solvang said, and each one is different.

Olson’s work ranges from traditional vessels to the whimsical, including a line of mushrooms with personalities that he dubbed “Fun-guys.”

A COZY PLACE

The store felt extra cozy as the afternoon passed under a heavy drizzle of rain. Bright-colored knit bowls held buttons and clasps. Locally made wooden shawl pins and darning eggs were beautifully displayed, and a local knitter’s stuffed toys with lifelike details, from an octopus with a mouth beneath a vibrant green body, to a comical duck, showed off a sense of humor and incredible skill.

Nancy Nash, Solvang’s friend and a fellow knitter, sat cozied up in a wool sweater she’d just finished, working on a hat.

Solvang said that Nash has singlehandedly knitted enough hats to decorate an entire Christmas tree at one of two food banks Solvang and her knitting friends are giving hats to this season.

“We feel really lucky,” Solvang said, to be doing what she and Olson do.

“We both know recovery comes first,” Solvang added, but she doesn’t get hung up on religious dogma.

“God is just a word,” she said. “You can put an extra “o” on it and it’s “good.”

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