Reverberate Episode 10: 11 Questions with Chinua "Chin" Matthews
On today's episode we are visiting with Oakland-based designer, Chin Matthews. We hope you enjoy this episode!
Adrienne: Question 1 -- What is your definition of craftivism?
Chin: So I was thinking about this a lot. Because I don't know if there is such a succinct answer for this, because I think that all craft is really like craftivism and especially in a society like ours, that is so based on consumerism -- any act where you're creating is definitely like a radical and rebellious kind of act. But for me, I've been really inspired by the Seam Allowance meetings at Verb and also just like, being more intentional about your fashion choices and prioritizing slow fashion over fast fashion has definitely been a big part in my craftivism journey. That's only been for what, two years now. So I'm still learning about it more and trying to be more mindful in my practice of it.
Also I just started being a part of the fiber community about two years ago. I started knitting when I was 10 or 11. But due to issues with my sexuality and not wanting people to think that I was gay, I guess while I was younger, I didn't knit as much in public, so I'm still trying to get used to everything and I think that my time at Verb has definitely shaped me a lot into thinking how craftivism can really just be all crafting that you're doing. And eschewing fast fashion by taking more slow counterparts and also how slow fashion can end up lasting longer than fast fashion, especially if you're doing mending yourself or the visual mending practices. I think you all have a book about Japanese visual mending which I think is important because I know a lot of my clothes do break down pretty fast that are fast fashion.
So I think that craftivism for me is mainly just being present and intentional with your crafting and making pieces that you're aware of and sustain for a while which is really important in these times, especially, and in our country. That is so focused on consumerism I think.
Adrienne: Question 2: How do you practice craftivism?
Chin: So one thing that I think I do. That was the most important in my craftivism is teaching a class at my job. I work at La Clínica de la Raza. It's a free health clinic in Oakland actually in three counties in the Bay area, Alameda, Solano, and Contra Costa County. And so at my job, I teach a beginning knitting class as part of our wellness initiatives with the HR department. And I think it's really valuable for not only me, but the students as well, because they get a chance to learn how to knit and get all the great benefits that knitting has to offer including health benefits, like lowering your blood pressure and decreasing arthritis and delaying onset mental issues which are related to aging, such as dementia and Alzheimer's as well. And this has been -- there's evidence-based science showing that the effects (of knitting) are generated by knitting or doing bimodal by neuro-crafting or other activities. So I think it's a very good practice for me and all of our staff who are very committed to social justice and they're on the front lines, providing health care to underserved communities that are not prioritized a lot of times in America. And so I just feel really grateful to be able to give back something to them that they can use for fighting compassion fatigue and just improving their health outcomes in general.
Adrienne: Question Three -- Why do you knit and what does it mean to you?
Chin: So the funny thing is when I first learned to knit I was going to this kind of like progressive middle school. It was a private school and it's actually not too far away from where I live now actually. But one Friday, I remember they said so we're about to go into English class, but if you want, we also have this teacher who can teach you how to knit. So you can either stay in English or you can go and learn how to knit. And I was like, okay, I'm definitely going to learn how to knit. So, I left my English class. And then I just started knitting a bookmark -- was a project that we're working on. And also where I learned that chopsticks can be a good and cost-effective method of learning how to knit. And so I started knitting there, but basically it was just a way to escape and also do my problem solving and thinking.
I had always been drawn to string arts and crafts in general. I used to make a million of both little boondoggle lanyards, like all the time and all these different shapes and arrangements. So I was really into that and then maybe it was like a natural extension from that. So I started knitting all the time pretty much after that. Even though it was more private and not in public especially as I got older and went into high school it was less of a public thing and more for me to do, to get through my, or to work through my feelings and also be able to solve my problems that I'm having in daily life.
But as I grew older, too and like became more comfortable with my identity. I also started knitting more for other people and making a lot of gifts and whatnot. I just made the first knit that item for myself, I think like a year ago. It was a hat and then I've since made a all for myself as well.
But I feel like knitting for me is a stress reliever and then also a way to give meaningful gifts to my friends and people in my life who I value. And especially in the last few years, I'm working on La Clinica. I've been making a lot of baby garments and whatnot. A lot of baby hats too, which I love because it was so quick and satisfying. And I can tell that they're going to be treasured and valued by the people that I give them to you. And that really makes me feel like maybe it's magic or making like, well magic because they'll have this item that they've coveted and used and will possibly give back to their children as they grow older. Like my mom had a knitted sweater that one of her friends made and when I was born and she gave it to me last year, I think, or year before that. And it was just cool seeing how someone had made this and then it was preserved so greatly throughout the years. And so I just want to impart that or a little bit of that onto the people that I make gifts for.
Adrienne: Question Four -- you just released your first knitting pattern, The Sloop Beanie. What compelled you to begin designing?
Chin: So I've always had an inclination towards fashion and how I present myself and how fashion is an extension of your identity. In high school, it wasn't as much knitting related, but I was always reading like GQ magazine and different menswear blogs, trying to make the latest trends and fashion concepts work for me in my body and also what I'm comfortable with presenting out to the world. And so I think that was a big driving force behind wanting to design. And especially when I started getting into more modern knitting patterns two years ago, I was realizing that there was a big gap and like male presenting fashion that could definitely be filled with some of my work I believe. And I don't think that clothes really have a gender. Any clue or any item can be worn by anybody. But I do think that there is a call for like male presenting bodies or female presenting bodies. And it's good to be clear about that because it'll affect the fit on the person themselves. So when I saw a lack of these male presenting bodies patterns I definitely thought I could help fill the void by bringing some of my own designs and thinking and patterns into the world. And yeah, I think it's just important that there are more basics in the male presenting patterns and naming spaces because it'll help people transition from fast fashion to slow fashion and making their own clothes that they feel comfortable and stylish and having when wearing. So I think that is a lot of what I think is driving me to design.
Adrienne: Question Five -- When approaching the designing process, what do you find inspirational?
Chin: So. Since I've only released my first design. This is a little bit harder for me. I guess one thing that I would say is definitely like menswear I don't really like the term as much now as it's like excludes different gender identities, I feel like, but that kind of styles what inspires me a lot and I like streetwear and the like, so I think that those are a big driving force behind my designs moving forward too. And also with the Sloop Beanie, because it was heavily inspired by different menswear trends with fishermen’s beanies and whatnot. But I also try to make something that is sustainable. And that could be worn for a long time and as a versatile accessory. I know that will be different for garments, but I want things that you can really wear and mix and match with your wardrobe. So it's actually a part of your rotation and the different clothes that you wear. So I think that's very important. And then also one of the biggest things that I think is a barrier for people transitioning from fast fashion to slow fashion is the amount of money that it can cost because we know slow fashion fabric and yarn, a lot of the times can be more expensive, but you have to think about it as in how much you're going to be wearing it and the value that it will bring. Through being able to wear it for a much longer time period of time than fast fashion, and also trying to make sure that it is not as harmful to the environment as fast-fashion is and the different production methods associated with it. So I think yeah, mostly menswear and then trying to make items that you will actually wear on a daily basis, so you can just grab and throw on without too much thought and then feel good and comfortable in the clothes that you're wearing
Adrienne: Question Six -- When choosing yarn, what characteristics speak to you?
Chin: So one thing that's a little interesting is I don't really have that much of a stash. I'm looking over here now and excuse me. My stash is only about like a tote’s bag worth of stash. Since I only really started buying yarn. To fill my stash about two years ago. And most of the time it's for yarn intended for project. So most of my stash, like half used skeins and balls right now. So just just an FYI into my yarn, that’s the situation. But a lot of times I always go for plied over single strand. I don't know why, but a lot of the times I'm going for plied yarn, which I love high plied yarns, such as like three or four are honestly my favorite. But I have been working with a lot of two ply yarns recently, which I'm starting to get more into, especially Even Tinier Annapurna, which I'm looking at now. I just started my Sloop Beanie with the Resplendent skein which is gonna turn out great.
But another thing I look for is softness versus hardness. I'm always more partial to soft yarn, honestly. But I'm starting to look into getting used to some more hard yarns, just like Lett Lopi, which is kind of infamous for that. But it does look so good in color work, which I do like. Also this is probably gonna make people scoff or think that I'm out of it, but I do like tonally dyed yarns a lot more than variegated depending on the pattern, especially I think that...yeah, I'm always going to reach for a tonal over variegated yarn most of the time. But if the pattern is like pretty vanilla or meant to show off the color of the yarn, I think that it could work, but for me, I'm mostly more of a tonally based yarn person. Also one other thing that's important for me is the strength, the tensile strength of the yarn. I'm a really hard wearer of clothes. So the tensile strength, that's really important for me. I don't want things that are going to break down very easily because of creating more waste and whatnot. And also while I'm knitting is hard too, because I'm a very tight knitter and I normally size up two needle sizes every time I make a project. And so if the yarn isn't that tight, tensile, strong, I'll end up breaking it myself, just through my knitting process. So I want to make sure that it has a good amount of strength in the yarn. And then other than that I like, I prefer to work with wool obviously. I use most of my Merino wool, or just some kind of form of wool for most of my yarn patterns.
But also getting into MCN (merino-cashmere-nylon) bases a little bit. I know that the nylon is bad. But I feel like in the future, that you can find more sustainable options for it. Maybe some plant-based like tencel or more environmentally sustainable ways of making that yarn. But I do kind of like the workhorse nature of MCN yards. One of my friends sent me a skein that they were using for designing and it was a sample from the yarn company. And I made a simple shawl with that and I was like, I do love this workhorse nature about it, but the nylon inclusion has gotten me a little wary of using it too much, but we'll see how science progresses and if we can find more sustainable alternatives for it. But yes, I think plied over non plied tonal over variegated and high tensile strength with softness. It's like my yarn dream list.
Adrienne: Question Seven -- What is your favorite color -- how does it make you feel -- and what does it represent for you?
Chin: Okay. So whenever people ask me this question, it makes me think of Elf when he says, “Oh, your dress is very purple-y today.” Because purple is my favorite color. And one thing I've noticed when. I've been living if not, most adults don't really have a favorite color, which I do not understand. And I think that everyone should have a favorite color regardless of your age. But for me, purple is definitely reminiscent of royalty. Back in the early days, I'm sure you all know purple dye matter was a lot more sensitive. So the only people that could afford purple fabric were the rich and like rulers of different nations and whatnot. So it definitely brings me back to my heritage and reclaiming my blackness as an American and also just feeling more powerful in myself. And then a lot of purple dyed fabric was indigo based and indigo has a long history in the slave trade and also how it was cultivated and practiced. So I like using purple yarns to kind of reclaim that part of our history and make it something new for ourselves. So purple is definitely like one of my power colors. I don't have that many purple items in my wardrobe now, which I need to change. But it definitely makes me feel more powerful and secure in myself when I'm wearing or working with purple. So yes, I'll definitely have to make some changes and get some more pieces of my rotation that are purple.
Adrienne: Question Eight -- What are you reading?
Chin: I'm a pretty avid reader. I haven't been in the last couple of years, but before that, and when I was a kid, I always used to go to the library with my mom and get different books picked out for me. And sadly, my local library that I used to go to was just torn down which makes me a little bit sad but yeah, I spent many a days there reading books and just getting lost in the world of fiction. When I read most of the time it's -- Oh God, I always get this confused about which one is the real one about real life and which one is made up stories, I think fiction is the made up one. So I always read fiction books as an escape. Right now I'm reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. It's a pretty geeky like fantasy novel. That's very thick. It's like almost 2000 pages. And it's the first in the series of the Stormlight archives. I think he just released his fifth book. And the series, which I'm a long ways out from, but I really like it. It's about like magic and like these big storms that happened in this world that hold a magical energy that can be harnessed and used for different spells and supernatural abilities kind of. It reminds me of the Game of Thrones, somewhat in that the world is more of the main character then the character's themselves. So it goes between I think three to five different character's stories and showcasing how they get along in the world and what their past and present is bringing them. And there's a big kind of mystery part that I haven't gotten to figure out yet. I'm sure it'll happen by the end of the book, but it's very intriguing and keeps pulling me back for more. And I am reading it physically in a paperback. I don't know. I haven't got that into audio books yet. I should try it probably because I can listen to it while multitasking and doing something else, but I still have to break that barrier. So paper books are the way for me now and I also have a nice collection of books that I like to keep around the house. But yeah The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, I would definitely recommend it. I am a Stormlight archive series in general.
Adrienne: Question Nine -- you live in Oakland, you like living here and why?
Chin: Yes. About a year ago, I moved to the Fruitvale district of Oakland and I really love it here. It's honestly great. Most of my qualms will come with coronavirus pandemic, but besides that I really love this neighborhood. It's mainly (composed of an) immigrant population and working class neighborhood. So it feels more like a living, breathing neighborhood than where my parents live in suburban kind of track home developments. It's like everybody knows their neighbors and they're always checking up on you. And they're always getting together and talking or just like bringing over a meal or doing something together, which I think is really nice and it makes me feel more connected to where I live. So I love that aspect. And I feel like that's the same with a lot of places in Oakland. It's just very rich culturally diverse with vibrant neighborhoods.
The only thing that is somewhat worrying me about Oakland is the rise of gentrification with the tech boom that has started a couple of years, or, well, at least five years ago, you could see the real differences starting. As I said earlier, I went to middle school very close to where I am now. I could actually walk there if I wanted to. And so a lot of the places that I go now are from or places that used to frequent in my childhood, but there's still a lot of change and movement culturally in this area. So a lot of houses are being sold and or flipped because people can't afford the prices as much or getting big buyouts from like the tech companies and people who are working for them. So I'm a little worried about the gentrification of these like working class families had to have been stationed or have been living here for years are getting pushed out by the rise of housing prices and demand. So I'm trying to find ways to help with that and like my activism and whatnot. But yeah, there's a lot of work to do with that. And also unfortunately the homeless or unhoused population, I should say. I live right next to Bart's Fruitvale Station actually. And there's just a lot of unhoused encampments around here, which I feel really bad about and wish I could be more to help them. But working at La Clínica we do offer health care to a lot of those people so I feel like I'm connected to my job in serving the population in that sorts, but I'm always looking for more to do.
There are some good programs like the East Oakland Collective, which I need to officially reach out to and see if I can do some volunteer work for them. And also the People's Programs of Oakland, which just changed from the People's Breakfast. They were spawned or inspired by the free lunch programs that the Black Panthers pioneered in the seventies, eighties when they were active. And also I feel a rich tradition from the Black Panthers because my mom was actually a doctor for the Black Panthers and gave free health care during their free clinics and whatnot supporting the communities. So Oakland definitely has a very special place in my heart. And I hope that I'll be able to live here throughout my adulthood and make it a warm and welcoming place for all that want to live here.
Adrienne: Question Ten -- If you had to give one piece of advice to a new knitter, a tip or a tool that you think would really help them in the long run, what would it be?
Chin: Hm, I think that if I had to give a new knitter advice or a tip, it would be that if you're not getting it right away, it's okay. Because it is a new skill that you haven't learned before, and so as an adult or maybe like an older person we don't do as many new things as we did when we were a child. And so a lot of times people can get really frustrated easily by not getting something so quickly. But you have to think back to when your child, like when you're riding a bike for the first time without turning wheels or doing art or learning how to read and write. These things didn't happen overnight. You definitely had to start slow and then build up your progress, but you can't discredit the progress that you're making, even if it is small. So I would definitely say to new knitters -- Don't give up and keep persisting and keep practicing and you'll see development. You just can't give up at the first sight of an obstacle or a difficult session that you feel like you can't get a hold of.
Also another thing that I would say -- To be open-minded and critical or use critical thinking in your learning because a lot of the times people will be super afraid or terrified by a new knitting technique. But realistically, they already have the tools in their tool sets to learn or apply and perform those techniques. So when I find teaching knitting to a new knitter, I try to have them think critically about what they're doing and not just give them exactly what they want to hear. Which is a side note, why I'm kind of skeptical about how education is set up in the US right now it's focused more on memorization then actually understanding the material and working with it critically. So I try to impart that little bit of wisdom on my students as well, and thinking that they already have the tools to understand it but they're just discrediting themselves from the beginning. And so they won't make any progress if they continue to do that, but I'm teaching them to think more critically using things like the Socratic method and whatnot. They can come to an answer of what a knitting technique is even from just hearing the name.
So my two pieces of advice would be to don't give up early. Small progress is good progress, and also to think critically its most likely that you have the tool sets and skill sets already to perform any knitting technique, but you just haven't thought critically about how to perform it.
Adrienne: Question Eleven -- What is the one food you love? And you think everyone should try at least once.
Chin: Okay, of course, I'm thinking about this. And I was like, there's no way I can just choose one. So I'm going to give a couple. I'm an avid cook and have been since I was a child, I always used to watch -- what is it the Food Network -- all the time. Just like learning new recipes and then different techniques that I could use while I'm cooking. So my first food is going to be oxtail. I know it sounds a little weird probably. And it is that early cow tail, but it is really so good. Most of the time it's cooked in a -- Do you like a curry? It's very tough at first. So you have to cook it overnight for about like 12 hours for it to really be tender and like fall off the bone, but it is so good. It's a staple in Jamaican food, I believe. And there used to be a Jamaican restaurant at the Public Market, which has now kind of gentrified, but there used to be a Jamaican restaurant there. And I had great oxtail and I will get it like all the time when I went there and with like some plantains on the side -- was so good. But yeah, oxtail is definitely a must.
And the other one I would say is Ethiopian food in general. It's so good. They have a great selection of meat and vegetarian options. I am a vegetarian now -- I'm a recently converted one. So I love the vegetable combinations at Ethiopian restaurants. A lot of the time they'll have like lentils and spinach. And also some like potato curries and things like that, which are really good.
And there is also a very good dish, which I used to get back when I ate meat, (called) doro wat and yebeg tibs and some others, I can't remember. Doro wat I used to love. I'm pretty sure its the one with the hard-boiled egg in it and chicken - it is very good. And then yebeg tibs. If I think, lamb? That is like submerged in some spicy sauce is really good. And of course the star of the show when you're eating Ethiopian is definitely the injera -- the special bread that they make. It's like very spongy and has like ferment-y kind of the vinegar-y taste to it, might not appeal to everyone, but it's honestly so good. And you should try it at least once. If you're open for this it is also served family style most of at the time, and they don't use utensils, they use the injera to pick up the food and then just eat it kind of as an added carb and also utensil. So I love that as well. So, yeah, my two favorite foods or foods that everyone should try at one point in their life is oxtail stew or curry and Ethiopian food, whatever kind.
Thank you, Chin for chatting with us.
We invite you to follow Chin's Instagram account so you can stay up-to-date with Chin and his newest designs.
And thank you for listening!