As we start to head out of lockdown I was super excited to have a Zoom chat interview with an incredible up and coming knitter who was born in Soweto, South Africa. I met Xoli a few years ago in Westport and was immediately drawn in by her gorgeous African accent and bubbly personality. While speaking with her, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful cornflower knit sweater that she was wearing. After a brief conversation, I learned that Xoli actually knit the sweater herself, and had a passion for knitting that was undeniable.
Xoli came to the United States about fifteen years ago and hopped around the country doing various jobs Coast to Coast. She started in New Jersey but moved through California, South Carolina, and Florida, ultimately, landing in Connecticut in pursuit of achieving a nursing degree. While working on her degree she started her first live-in care job for an elderly lady who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s. Xoli says that at the time she was completely unfamiliar with the concept of “Alzheimers” as back in home in South Africa, no one used that term, memory loss was simply seen as something that happened when you got older. The experience taught her to use various methods to ease the anxiousness of her new client. Then one day after living in the home of her employer for two years, Xoli made a discovery that changed everything.
She opened a door in the house of her client and discovered a closet stocked full from top to bottom with skeins of yarn. She remembers how oddly excited she was to see all the yarn. Especially since back in school in Soweto when she was younger, she had always hated the knitting section of her obligatory “Home Economics” course. What was even more surprising she said was the response of the client when she asked her about the yarn. She said “Yes, I knit’ with so much assurance and ease that it almost felt like she had just finished a sweater yesterday. Even the daughter of the lady was amazed when Xoli asked about the yarn and replied that she had figured her mother would not even remember that chapter of her life.
The funny thing is that she did remember and she was able to teach Xoli the basics of the Knit and Purl stitches. They spent many hours and days knitting together and in the next two years she took on a few projects, most notably a massively long scarf, and it was then that the obsession and “yarn journey” began.
The more she knitted the more passionate she became about her craft. She spent hours researching different yarns. While her knitting was limited to the winter season her productivity started to rev up. One winter she made hats for everyone. Excited at the idea of making friends smile at finding something in their mailbox other than the standard bills and junk mail. Finally, one of her friends said: “Xoli, these hats are beautiful, you need to be selling them instead of giving them to us!”
This is when Xoli started the transformation from hobbyist to a professional knitter. Like most makers, this new step took place on Etsy, where she started her first shop in 2012. Then she started to branch out to craft markets both locally and out of state. One of her favorite Craft markets was the Unique Market in L.A. which she attended in 2018. Her most recent market gig was a coveted spot at the Westport Market in February of this year. The last market day was right before we went into lockdown and Xoli laughs at the irony of it because that was one of her most successful markets ever.
It is obvious that Xoli’s passion and dedication to her craft is really starting to pay off as people are starting to take notice of her bright and gorgeous knits. Most notably Lupita Nyong’o who was wearing one of her sweaters and tagged her in an Instagram post. As expected the nod won her a few hundred followers instantly. That put her on the radar of some of her best customers who patiently wait for her stunning hand made creations. Because she is dedicated to using the best yarns her knits range in price from $470 -$520. There are a few exception pieces like this stunning full-length rainbow coat that took months to knit that fall in the price range of $2,000.
This summer in order to reach a larger market she will be concentrating on making a small collection of a colorful array of cotton sweaters with her signature detailing and offering them at a lower price to reach a larger audience. Additionally, she wants to start writing her own patterns so that knitters all over the world can make and wear her creations.
As a knitter myself, I know that I can not wait to get my hands on one of her patterns so that I can make and wear my own Xoli creation piece. In this new landscape where black-owned businesses are finally getting the recognition, they deserve this beautiful impassioned knitting wonder from Soweto who has a future that is definitely bright!