Welcome to this episode of The Intersections of the Spectrum Podcast. The intersections on the Spectrum podcast is the brainchild and passion project of Doug Blecher and Kelly Bron Johnson created to discuss intersectional issues within the autistic community and give disability and amplification to the marginalized, oppressed, unrecognized, or erased identities and issues. We aim to introduce you to the people and stories you may not have known about but needed to hear and hope that by seeing yourself represented in the community allows you to feel seen.
Doug Blecher (00:34):
And today we are joined by Corin Purifoy, she/they who is a knit and crochet designer and fiber artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Corin, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and Kelly today.
Corin Purifoy (00:49):
Yeah, thanks for having me.
Doug Blecher (00:52):
We always like to start these conversations by learning about your identities. What are the identities that you feel like you're most connected with?
Corin Purifoy (01:02):
Oh goodness. I'm just a mishmash of identities. I am black, I am queer. I'm non-binary, socialized as a woman, autistic, of course, I am disabled both emotionally and physically and let's throw low income in there. There's a lot of different things in there that kind of come together to make me.
Kelly Bron Johnson (01:35):
All of us are like that, but we don't always think about that, or at least some people don't think about it. So you began working with yarn in 2012 after walking to a group therapy session where everyone was crocheting. "I'm not domestic, you thought, I'll never do that." Three days later you were crocheting your first blanket. What is it about crocheting that worked for you and has it stopped you crocheting to this present day?
Corin Purifoy (02:04):
I think the obvious thing is that it's a stim, it's a fidget. It's something that I can do with my hands. It's something that takes my mind off of whatever's going on around me and something that I can use to focus on while I'm doing other things. Whether it's something that takes my focus, something that requires me to be social, I can always rely on crocheting to kind of divide my attention so that I'm not thinking so much about am I making the right amount of eye contact or is this person making that face because they're mad at me if I'm not looking at their face, I can't be thinking about those things. So it provides a lot of comfort in that way. And then also it's all those things that autistic people love. It's repetitive movements. It's like I said, it's the stimming it's idea of inputting the same movements over and over again and getting out the same stitches, the same patterns, and knowing exactly what you're going to get every time. It's something that's predictable in a world that isn't always predictable, and it's very calming for me because it's something that is a creative outlet that I didn't always have before.
Kelly Bron Johnson (03:53):
But that's so interesting. I never even thought of it that way in terms of knowing the outcome all the time. I've knit. I know that as a kid, as a young kid, I was like five or six. My babysitter taught me how to crochet, but I forgot. I don't know how many more and I would like to relearn. I actually have one of those kits to, but I have a very hard time watching a video. They tell you to watch a video and do it, and I can't have a very hard time with that. So I want somebody to sit with me and actually show me. I think I would really enjoy it again. But anyway, yeah, I agree with that in terms of its stim and it's repetitive action that's relaxing. So yeah.
Doug Blecher (04:35):
I remember watching my grandmother knit and I thought then and now I don't think I have the motor skills to knit or crochet. So for many of us as autistic people that those things can definitely be challenging. How would you go about in teaching or supporting someone in terms of thinking about motor skills and knitting?
Corin Purifoy (05:06):
I would say depending where on the spectrum you are of having your motor skills, having your fine motor skills, there are ways to adapt. There are different needle sizes, different yarn sizes that you can use. You can always use thicker yarn and bigger needles if that would be easier. There are also people out there who are making knitting machines that are easier to use in just the way that you crank the machine and it does the knitting for you. There are knitting machines that will hold the needles for you while you manipulate the yarn so that you only have to think about one of the things at a time. There's a lot of different adaptations out there because in the end, we do want this to be accessible to as many people as possible.
Doug Blecher (06:03):
I think making mistakes is an essential part of our growth. And thinking about that, something that you posted on Instagram that knitting is never going to be perfect, it's about making mistakes, which I love. When you think about the topic of making mistakes, how has knitting impacted your mindset around that idea?
Corin Purifoy (06:28):
I have always been a perfectionist. I've always been the sort of person who's like, if I try something new and I don't do it right, then I am a big failure and I should never try it again and I'll never pick it up again. And this has been the first thing that I picked it up and I didn't immediately do it right. And I just kind of said, you know what? This is something I love and it's worth learning to do, and it's worth making those mistakes. And even when you are making those mistakes, you're still getting something beautiful out of it. You're still creating something that didn't exist without you out of it. There's something in this world that didn't exist before and it came from you. And I find that to be a really inspirational idea, and it's an idea that doesn't take into account how many mistakes you made and left behind in your project.
And one of the things that I heard that really helped me was a bit of folklore where I believe it was in Ireland where people would leave mistakes in their knitting so that any bad spirits that were wandering the maze of perfect stitches could find a way to get out so that there would be no bad spirits in your knitting when you gave it to the person who was the intended recipient. And that just took so much of the stress out of it for me, just this idea that so many different cultures had this idea of, oh, things aren't supposed to be perfect, and in fact we're going to go out of our way to make it not perfect. And that just erased most of the stress for me. That was just, oh, well, I can do it and if I make a mistake, then fine. There's a mistake.
Kelly Bron Johnson (08:45):
That's actually really profound in looking at it that way. When you were talking, I was thinking about when I was a kid, so I was around eight when I learned to knit and I was knitting a scarf or something, I don't remember, something super basic, and I would bring it to school even I would bring my knitting to school and I was knitting and stuff, and at some point my grade two teacher picked up my knitting and she was looking at it and she's confused. She's like, I don't understand what happened here. You lost a stitch, but then you gained a stitch. And she's like, what's going on? She's trying to figure out. And I brought it back home and I told my mom, I said, my teacher's super confused. But it turned out my mom, when I'd lost a stitch or something at the end of the night when I went to bed, she would go and fix it or she would add it back on for me, and then I would just keep going, I don't know, I'm going to keep going. And so there were little holes, but it got corrected kind of thing. So yeah, it was just interesting how my mom was fixing my knitting at night when I was asleep, and then I'd get up the next morning and just keep going.
Corin Purifoy (09:50):
Just ignore all the mistakes. Just keep going.
Kelly Bron Johnson (09:53):
Yeah. So I see a lot of knitting behind you. I see a lot of yarn behind you. Is that what it is? So yeah, for listeners who cannot see what we're seeing, yeah, there's a shelf with lots of different colored yarns all behind you. And so now your love of knitting seems to have become, or at least your love of yarn at least has become a business called I Knit You not, and you sell the patterns that you create. So what have you learned about yourself through this entrepreneurial process?
Corin Purifoy (10:25):
I have learned that I am not an entrepreneur. I don't have that capitalistic spirit. I don't have the means of marketing myself, whether that be because of my autism and how awkward I can come across at times or whether that just be because that's who I am as a person. It's very hard for me to constantly, when I come out with a pattern to market it properly and to say, Hey guys, this is what I have coming out. Let's hype up the pattern and drum up all of the excitement. And that does not come naturally to me. And so I don't look at it so much as a business. I look at it as I'm just kind of vibing with yarn, and every so often I'll drop a pattern, and if you happen to see it and you happen to vibe with it too, great, you can buy it and make one too.
And we'll vibe together. We'll make these things, we'll create these things and we'll have fun doing it. And so one thing that I think of is in terms of social media, I regard my social media as a personal page. I don't think of it as a business page. And so that confuses a lot of people. When I do things like post about things that aren't yarn, I'll post pictures of my cat or post pictures of my Dungeons and Dragons dice or things like that, and people don't really say anything. But then I end up losing followers and people have this kind of unspoken expectation that because this is my quote unquote business, that that's what I'm going to stick to, when really all I'm doing is going on this journey, creating things that are fun to me, creating things that I think are beautiful and hoping that other people find them beautiful too.
Kelly Bron Johnson (12:51):
I think that idea of co-creation can still be an entrepreneurial kind of pursuit or mindset. I dunno. The way I do it is I believe that I'm running an anti-capitalist business, so it's a social enterprise. So I always say, the more that people support and pay me, the more I can give back to communities. So let's make this money so that I can give it to the people that need it. And that's kind of how I reconcile things. I'm certainly not rich from it, but I'm funneling things through. I'm trying to make sure that things get into the hands of the causes and the people and the communities that I believe in, and that's how we're working together in that sense.
Corin Purifoy (13:31):
Right, for the longest time I worked on my patterns were free and worked on a pay what you can model, and it was only a couple years in that I started putting in a minimum price and still working on to pay what you can pass that minimum price because of what you said, I can only keep doing this if I have the money for raw materials and things like that. So it is kind of a anti-capitalist, let's share type deal. You help me and I'll keep putting out these things that hopefully we can all make together and create a community around round.
Kelly Bron Johnson (14:22):
Do you find that people pay more or adequately? How about that? When it comes to pay what you can, my experience when I've done pay what you can workshops is that people in my perception who had the means to contribute did not always. And those who from my outside perspective, seemed to have the least were the ones that were contributing the most and that seem right or fair to me. . Has that been your experience?
Corin Purifoy (14:55):
Yeah, that was exactly the experience. People that I knew didn't have the means were the ones that were giving the most, and people that I knew for a fact could afford a pattern, which are already not very expensive. Were using my discount codes to get them for free. And that's part of why I changed my payment model. It feels very unfair to have to do that. I really struggled with doing that for quite a while because my ideal is access. I want people to be able to access these patterns. I want people to be able to do the craft that makes them happy. And so it was very hard for me to say, hey, I deserve to be paid fairly for the work that I'm putting into. But it took a few other people telling me exactly that I deserve to be paid to just say that just a few people were ruining it for everyone else.
Kelly Bron Johnson (16:12):
Doug Blecher (16:16):
Corin shifting away from knitting, I read where you said that as an autistic person that music just kind of hits you differently. In what ways do you think your autism impacts how you listen to music?
Corin Purifoy (16:31):
I think I feel it more viscerally than a lot of people do. I've always heard some people say, oh, I just don't like music that much, or I just don't get into it that much. And I cannot fathom that that's something so completely just foreign to me because it's something that music just gets under my skin and it scratches an itch in my brain that nothing else really can. And it's something that I get so passionate about and I want to share with everybody because it's a way of talking about myself that I can't do with language, that I can't do on my own. There's been plenty of times when my girlfriend will ask me how I'm doing and in response I'll send her a song because I don't know. But this song perfectly sums it up. I think that I definitely stim to music, I feel it in my sternum, I feel it in my head, feel it in my hands.
Yeah, it's a full body experience for me. And not a day goes by that I'm not just constantly listening to music as a means of calming myself as a means of expressing myself. I'm listening to music on repeat. I'm that autistic person that will listen to a song like 120 times in a row and never get sick of it, just hear the same song, but hear new things in it every single time. And then go and show it to everybody else. Listen to this wonderful song I just heard. And they're like, okay, yeah, that's a song. And I'm like, no, you don't understand. It's the greatest song. So yeah, I just get really, really, really excited over it.
Kelly Bron Johnson (18:50):
For me, music is a whole body experience. There's soul songs. There's songs that just speak to you in a different way. So I get it, I get it.
Doug Blecher (19:02):
I need to use that strategy. Corin, when I get so frustrated, will, my spouse gets so frustrated when she asks me, how are you doing? And I have one word, or that doesn't come out sometimes, so I'm going to send her songs now. I'm going to play it each day. I like it.
Kelly Bron Johnson (19:22):
If you always sang the same song though, it make get confusing for her at some point. I dunno.
Doug Blecher (19:28):
Oh no, I can't send 78 days in a row. I can't send the same song to her
Kelly Bron Johnson (19:34):
Corin Purifoy (19:35):
Doug Blecher (19:35):
Corin Purifoy (19:37):
I dunno. I mean, sometimes that's what it is.
Kelly Bron Johnson (19:40):
Yeah, well that's why. So it's difficult. I think it's really difficult. And like you said, I think that I hear things that other people aren't hearing or they're not, or I hear it in a way that, I dunno, when you said it gets under my skin Exactly. That it's exactly, it's inside me. I feel things inside me. I dunno, that sounds, I know it sounds really weird.
Corin Purifoy (20:03):
That's what it is though. There's a song that I've been kind of obsessed with lately that's called I Dreamt We Spoke Again where it's especially the baseline and the drums. I heard it the first time and it was like, this is a very strange comparison, but it felt like cool egg yolk running down my feverishly hot brain. It felt amazing when I played it for other people, they didn't even hear the base. And it just weirded me out. I was like, how do you not hear that? It sounds amazing, but was something so slight. And so in the background that most people don't even pick up on it.
Kelly Bron Johnson (20:55):
And for me if you're like this, but if somebody is listening to a song I want to listen to, we have to be silent. They can't talk through it. I don't want commentary. You need to just shut up and listen to it.
Corin Purifoy (21:08):
You need to sit and be quiet for the entire four minutes.
Kelly Bron Johnson (21:12):
Corin Purifoy (21:13):
And then I need a book report on how you liked the song.
Kelly Bron Johnson (21:16):
It'll be like, okay, and then this part sounds like a doorknob and nobody else is. Everybody else is like, what the heck is she talking about? I'm like, no, no, no, it's this. So anyways, okay, we will move on. So Doug has another podcast, Autism Stories. If people haven't listened to that one, also go and take a listen to that one over there. And I know that Doug interviewed you and he was saying that you were the first Jeopardy contestant that we've ever interviewed. So what was your experience being on that game show and meeting Alex Trebek? And I have to say Alex Trebek was a big part of my life growing up. My father was a huge Jeopardy fan. My father should have gone on Jeopardy. He would've won Jeopardy, like a hundred percent, no problem. He had all the answers, but she didn't want to go and try out. He didn't really want to do it. Sad, sad thing for me anyway, so that Alex Trebek Canadian swore like a sailor, was hilarious, was amazing, and we all miss him. But anyway, what was your experience like?
Corin Purifoy (22:22):
And he was such a gentleman for the very short time I knew him. He was the sweetest person on Earth. Yeah, that was the tape day was the best day of my life. And the day my episode aired was the second best day. I did the online test in 2018, I believe, early 2018, and passed that for the first time. I had taken the test for once a year, for a couple of years. I finally passed it and they contacted me for an audition. I went out to Detroit to audition, and I thought, if this is as far as I get, this has been amazing just to get out there. And I met some of the clue crew and talk to some of the crew from the show. And then they put you into a contestant pool and they kind of say, okay, well you might hear from us in the next 18 months.
Good luck. And they gave me just long enough where I started to think, oh, well, I probably didn't get on. Well, that's okay. And then I got the call that I was going to be on, and I answered without thinking. I was like, of course I want to be on, not a question without thinking how am I going to pay for plane tickets to get out to Los Angeles? That wasn't a question I was going to get to Los Angeles if I had to crawl, because this had been a lifelong dream of mine. And so I begged and borrowed and got out there and woke up way too early on the day of and dressed up and wore way too much makeup. Horrible, horrible makeup, horrible autistic experience. But actually being on that show for the 30 minutes that I was on stage was exhilarating.
I ended up coming in second place to a man who ended up being one of the most successful super champions of all time. So I have no regrets about that. If I had to lose to someone, I'm glad it was him, and I'm glad I put up a fight. And yeah, it went really fast. It was a blur of just a whirlwind of emotions the entire day. And then I came back home and waited for the episode to air, and I couldn't tell anybody what the results were, which was very difficult because I just wanted to tell everybody what it was like. But we had a watch party in a pizza parlor where all of my friends and family came out and supported me and cheered when I got questions and booed when they got questions. And it was absolutely amazing. It was like I said, the greatest days of my life.
Doug Blecher (25:49):
And Corin, lastly, how can our listeners learn and connect with you beyond this interview?
Corin Purifoy (25:58):
I think the best place to find me would be on Instagram at I Knit You Knot. I'm not sure if you're going to be linking to it because it's a bit of a pun. So there's some misspellings and everything. But Instagram is where I do most of my posting and waxing yarn. And yeah, I have a website iknituknot.com where I post most of my designs. Those are probably the two best places.
Kelly Bron Johnson (26:33):
That's how we found you, I think.
Doug Blecher (26:36):
Yeah, we found you right there and encourage other people to find you there. So Corin really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. Thanks so much.
Corin Purifoy (26:46):
Thank you so much for having me.