BY FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
“It was about 2014 when I started crocheting again,” says Charity. “Mum was unwell and I wanted to make her something to make her happy. Just… something. She’s the one who taught me how to crotchet when I was 10 years old; I didn’t like it back then because it felt like a chore. So she taught me and I’d help her. We were making sofa coverings, ha-ha, little dresses, and we’d sell them and make money.
She saw me crotchet when she was unwell and she said it gave her joy because she felt that the art and craft is not lost.”
I sip my cup of hot chocolate and say to Charity, “Let’s talk about the first time someone bought an item you’d crocheted.”
She thinks for a minute then smiles. “The first sale was to a parent in my son’s school. He was in class two, which was in that same year, 2014. I’d worn a cowl which she liked and she asked me where I’d bought it from.” I also didn’t know what a cowl is until after I Googled it. “I told her I’d made it, so she told me to make one for her. She really insisted and I told her it would cost her, and she said fine. So I made it for her. And she paid me.” Charity chuckles. “She paid me 1,500 for it but I really didn’t know how to price it. I didn’t know the market value for such an item so I just came up with a ballpark figure to cover my cost and the time I sat down to crotchet. It was really tricky.”
“How did that sale feel for you?”
“It was exciting!” Charity beams. “It was exciting that somebody had actually paid me for something I had made. I wanted to frame that 1,500, ha-ha, but only for like five minutes,” Charity chuckles some more. “And she liked it! And said she would wear it everywhere and if she gets another order she would tell me. A week later, I had three other orders. Clients would ask, ‘so you can make a scarf, can you also make a table cloth? Or a poncho for my daughter.’ And from that it sort of grew.
“Things just flowed one into another and grew, none of this was ever an intentional move.”
Will and I are in Charity’s home, it’s in the belly of Tigoni, Limuru.
Limuru is beautiful at whichever time of the year you visit.
In January, when Nairobi is sun-weary from bearing all sins of the debauchery from the Holidays, Limuru rises itself up and effortlessly shakes off the excess.
In April, when half of Nairobi is like a ship under water and the other half is marooned on what feels like a remote, suffocating and forgotten island of the city, Limuru gracefully soaks in the rains and its hills and valleys sprout a new carpet of green that scrubs its air clean.
In July, when folk of Nairobi squint their eyes to look into the vast yawn of the sky – a sky stripped of colour, a sky so steely, so determined, so unmoved by our chatters – folk of Limuru take this same winter in stride. They light up real fires with real logs in their real fireplace of their real living rooms and, I imagine, sit around infront of it nursing their metallic mugs of hot milky tea and listen to the patriarch play the guitar. Maybe they even sing along.
The drive from Nairobi to Charity’s takes about an hour. Charity had WhatsApp’d directions, they went something like this: “(1) Head southeast toward A104 (2) Turn left onto A104 (3) Turn right onto Kamandura-Mai Mahiu-Narok Rd B3 (4) Turn left onto Limuru Road (5) Turn left (6) Continue straight (7) Turn right (8) Turn right…”
Those directions only made sense to me up until Narok Rd B3. They made sense because that’s the road that we take to our shagz in Kaplong. I was last on that road in December driving down to shagz to join my folks for Christmas. It was a hot day, but it’s drizzling on this Tuesday.
It’s an incessant drizzle that falls on the car in a soft whisper, it creates this achingly romantic impression of a rural farmer’s life that is stuck undisturbed in the eye of an epoch: We see women from the shamba with gunias of sukuma, others have those unmistakable baskets for tea pluckers on their backs; there is a long line of labourers tilling an expansive field of cabbages. It’s picturesque.
Our soundtrack is Elani, their album – Barua ya Dunia – spits from the car stereo.
We drive up and into gentle dips, around the brows of the green hills.
It feels like we are in one of those Audi ads that are shot in the mountains of Ireland. (Although, I’ve just Googled to find out where these ads are shot and it turns out that they aren’t shot on location. They’re shot in the studio – the cars they use are miniature models; the photographer is a specially trained miniature photographer; the landscapes are crafted by hand (ha! How did that just slide in without me even trying?): the creative director, for example, makes the road runways using foam, sandpaper, LEDS, and desert dunes are made fine powders called polvo fino. Just when you thought your eyes couldn’t be deceived any longer, you hear this.)
Anyway, we drive slow like we are shooting an ad.
I ditch Charity’s step-by-step directions and use the PIN she’d dropped me, instead.
We obey the Google maps chick when she tells us to “drive on for another five kilometres and take the next left turn to…” It feels like we are voyagers in the sea, Will and I. Or wanderers. Or like we are the three wise men from the East and we’re being guided by the Star of Bethlehem to the manger.
We drive past a juice factory whose name I don’t remember. Under a railway bridge. Past a petrol station. Past the nondescript entrance which takes you to Limuru Girls, past Brackenhurst’s. We finally take a right turn and onto the road that’s the tail-end of our drive.
Charity’s home sits on an acre of arable land here. A black gate opens to another black gate, and the drive from one gate to the other is flanked by healthy bushes of tea. The other half-acre is Charity’s maisonette. She lives here with her three kids, her husband and their very shy white Pomeranian dog.
Over cups of hot chocolate and plates spilling over with fresh-from-the-shamba ngwaces, Charity and I sit down to chat. She’s sends the kids away and shuts the living room door.
I turn on the voice recorder, Will clicks the record button on the camera.
Charity Kinegeni-Nturibi is 42 years.
She tells me she has an undergrad in tours and travels from Utalii College. She graduated in 1997 then worked with KQ as an in-flight attendant for four years before taking a career break in 2002 to return to school for a diploma in HR management. She didn’t practice any of the HR she’d picked because she didn’t want a desk job, so she returned to the skies.
She stopped flying in 2007 when she was expecting her son, Mutugi. She had her daughter, Nkatha, the following year. She and Dennis now have three kids.
Charity’s first experience with running her own business was in 2009, when she started a business called Clear Cut Suppliers. She started the business because she was unable to find printers that could do work to her high standards.
She supplied stationary, printing and branding materials to a handful of clients. There were several such businesses in this town – still are – but what made her stand out, she says, is her attention to detail and her pursuit of perfection.
“Define for me ‘perfection,’” I ask.
“I’d do things over and over, and I’d get a reeeally good designer who knows what I am talking about. I didn’t just want us to do a job to finish, I wanted us to do it so that it’s done to perfection. But when you’re seeking perfection,” Charity scoffs, “it’s difficult because what I think is perfect perhaps is not what somebody else thinks is perfect.”
“What did running the business teach you?”
“Perseverance. Perseverance.” Charity exhales and shifts in the couch. “Because the competition in the printing business is extreme. Everyone was – is – doing printing, it’s a wide spectrum, so you had to know your niche in this spectrum then be very persistent with following up your clients, making sure you do a good job, and cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s so that your clients don’t have the same problems I had before I started the business.
“It also taught me I needed to devote a lot of time to get work finished and delivered. It was just a lot of time, time which I didn’t have.”
Charity grew the business to profitability but slowed momentum when her husband relocated abroad to further his studies; he’s a wellness doctor, he was away for eight months.
Charity became a stay-at-home mum – or a homemaker, she says – and spent time with her kids, she focussed on teaching them after-school hours. “I have made learning a fun activity for them,” she says. When the family moved to Tigoni in 2015, she homeschooled them.
“I’m still running Clear Cut,” she says. “They’re the ones that did the branding for Knotty Things.”
“Tell me about Knotty Things,” I say between mouthfuls of ngwace.
“Knotty Things…” Charity trails off as she chuckles. I suppose it’s the pun in that name that gets her every time she says it. You knotty knotty girl, hehhe.
“Knotty Things is a business that has been there for a while but I came up with the name recently,” she says. “I’ve been making macramé, it’s an old art of plant hangers called macramé. It includes making different knots of different kinds that you turn into designs and hang your plants. That is how the name of the business came up, because we realized that even crotchet is basically making small knots out of yarn into fabric.
“I monetized the idea about four years ago, when I was making warm stuff for Mum.” Charity later opens up about the nitty deets of the illness and says that Mum is much better now, thank God. Everyone is much better.
”Recently,” she continues, “I met a lady from Craft Afrika and she’s the one who told me that I need to put myself out there, that I need to show my products. And she had a platform that she was doing, the popup market where you met Dennis and–”
Nkatha, Charity’s daughter peeks her head in the slightly-open door and rushes in to whisper something into Charity’s ear. I wonder how many times Charity gets things whispered into her ear by kids, hehee. After a few seconds, Charity says to her, “OK, but if you come in again I won’t be happy.”
Nkatha says “thank youuu!” in that squeaky girly voice of hers and scampers off. She’s adorable. And exuberant. She’s a ball of eight-year-old energy – she makes me think of a bowling ball barrelling down the lane to knock down all ten pins.
Charity looks over her shoulder and tells her, “I’ll come out after one hour. At 2 o’clock. I’ll call you. Please shut the door.”
Charity crotchets using yarn, she uses polyester or cotton strands for the macramé knots. She buys the yarn from Biashara Street and River Road, mostly. A ball of regular yarn costs Sh450, a ball of soft yarn costs Sh800.
She buys them in bulk because it brings the cost down. Also because she crochets blankets of many different colours.
The crotchet needles are also from Biashara Street or River Road. But she imported some because there was a time, she says, she couldn’t find the fat needles anywhere. She imported the set you see up there from Amazon for $12.
Needles are numbered with their size – the diameter of the body and the size of the hook. Charity shows me. She says, “There are some thin ones for using thin yarn, and there are giant ones for making things like toilet mats and heavy blankets.”
The sizes range from 0.06mm to 11.5mm. The largest needle size Charity uses is 6.5mm.
The price range is from Sh50 to Sh150, depends on the size.
The needles she uses are made from aluminium, which means that they can last a lifetime. Charity says, “I’m still using some of the needles my Mum used to use, the ones she gave me when I started crocheting when I was 10. In fact, the longer you use it the smoother it becomes, it’s even easier to use because it doesn’t catch on your yarn.”
Charity continues, “For the patterns, I get inspirations from many places and from people. Also from Pinterest. There’s a friend of mine who wanted me to make for him a blanket like the one in his baby pictures.” Charity chortles. “Sometimes I see designs that I like and I figure out how it’s done. Sometimes figuring out is easier than other times, some designs are harder, some are easy. Sometimes I sort of just remember it from my Mum. I look at the stitches and realize that this is something I’ve done before. It’s like a stored memory.
“The stitches I use are not that difficult and not that many. I use single stitch, double stitch, triple stitch, cluster stitch, loop stitch. There are those that give you big spaces like the blanket I’m finishing, it’s called lacy stitch. Also depends on what the client wants – do they want a light summery blanket or a thick blanket with no holes? Do they want the stitches tight or medium?
Lacy stitches take a shorter time to finish than this one that has double cluster stitches.”
Charity adds when I ask, “It takes me about five to eight days to finish one blanket if I’m in a rush, 10 days if I’m relaxed. Then I take about two hours to darn off the edges. The edges depend on whether the client wants tussles or pompoms, something to make the edges more interesting.
“I use between 20 to 22 balls of yarn, depending on the type of stitches I’m using. Tight stitches, for example, would take about 24 balls.
“The blankets I’ve been making are 60 inches wide and 72 inches long.”
I’m swallowing so much info from Charity that it could choke me faster than the ngwace will. I say, “Tell me how you feel as you see the stitches come together and this blanket is created.”
“It’s amazing,” Charity says with wide eyes. “You see, I hardly do the same blanket twice, unless someone really really wants it. I want to do different things, I want every blanket to have something different, though I don’t know how well I’ll manage to do that but it’s what I want. I get excited when I’m doing stitches I’ve not done before. The first time I was doing these stitches,” Charity shows me the lacy stitches on the yellow-grey blanket that’s still in progress, “I tried and tried and tried, I kept frogging it and undoing it, and when it actually does what you want it to do, you keep going and going that you even forget to sleep.”
Our convo can’t end without me asking Charity about sharenges. She says, “The Kenyan market is not open to homemade handmade items. Why would someone pay 6K for a throw when they could get a duvet and pillowcases and bed sheets,” Charity laughs, “imported from China for the same? So to carve out those people who would, the people who value something that is handmade and unique, has been a really huge challenge for me.”
What Charity crotchets and offers
> Table mats: Sh400 each
> Blankets: Sh6,000
> Cowls/scarves/neck warmers: Sh1,500
> Macramé flower pot hanger: Sh1,000
> And anything you want, really: Each with its own price
Phone number: 0722-804040
Watch the video on our YouTube Channel here >> Charity of Knotty Things
Photo credits: All photos by Aegean Will, for Craft It.
Image copyrights apply. None of these photos should be used elsewhere without the express permission of Craft It.