Creating an awesome work environment By Dana Staats December 11, 2020

From Sticks and String to Cozy Things: The Nitty Gritty on Nelnet’s IT Knitters

We’ve all been spending more time at home this year, and that means we’ve had to get creative with how to keep ourselves entertained. While some Nelnet associates have picked up new hobbies, others are doubling down on beloved pastimes. With the temperatures dropping across the country, we thought we’d check in with some of Nelnet’s IT knitters and resident fiber artists to see how their stitching skills help them stay cozy and content.

When did you learn to knit or crochet?

Becky Zick, Product Owner Manager (NDS IT): Circa 2008, after my sister-in-law gifted me my first set of needles and yarn. I’ll never forget asking Carrie Hafele (Product Owner) to show me what I was doing wrong with my purling – she grabbed two pens and the lanyard for her badge and demonstrated for me right then and there!

What originally sparked your interest in knitting or crochet?

Becky: Growing up, I didn’t have any knitters in my family. My sister-in-law is a knitter and I loved seeing all of her creations! There are also a fair number of knitters at Nelnet, and everything they made was so beautiful, as well as useful. I couldn’t seem to get the idea out of my mind. I dropped my cross-stitch crafting and never looked back!

Nicole Francavilla, Product Owner: I had tried knitting a few years before, but didn’t stick with it. I had a friend who told me to try crocheting and took the time to teach me.

Jenni McDonald, IT Manager – Unifi Design Studio: I used to work for a woman who was fond of bartering for services. So she traded an entire eCommerce website for knitting lessons and supplies. I was a new mother, super busy, and needed the cash at the time, so I was not pleased with this arrangement. To spite this, I vowed to get my “money’s worth.” It turns out I really enjoyed it and haven’t put the needles down since.

What do you love most about knitting or crochet?

Becky: Besides creating items that are useful and (mostly) beautiful, the ability to switch to the creative side of my brain brings me a lot of calmness. I also get a strong sense of accomplishment from producing something from nothing more than what is essentially sticks and string!

Nicole: It’s a great way to de-stress while also getting to use my artistic side.

Jenni: Working through the process, and then putting on the finished product and having intimate knowledge of every stitch.

What are some of your favorite things to make, yarn to use, etc.?

Becky: Hats and socks are quicker projects that are more portable and I love to gift them. J I am always wanting to learn a new technique or to use a new-to-me yarn.  I prefer working with natural fibers, but have to admit that anything with a hint of cashmere in it is a dream!!

Nicole: I love picking out patterns with my daughter, and then letting her pick the colors so she can “design” it herself. Also, stuffed animals typically work up pretty quick for the kids to play with.

Jenni: In the last couple of years, I have found that I enjoy Lopi-Icelandic Wool. It knits up very quickly and is bulky but has enough loft that it’s airy. It makes a very comfortable and colorful sweater. These projects are suitable for times that you need to complete something and then bundle up in it.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever made?

Becky: Since I’m always seeking to learn new techniques, it seems the coolest thing is always my most recent project.  I just finished my first color work sweater where I needed to hold 2 different yarns to create the pattern in the yoke.  So proud of how it turned out!  On to the next…

Nicole: A blanket (Ha! I don’t know how to make this sound cool – it is really pretty and was a fun challenge to get the whole thing done!)

Jenni: That’s a difficult question to answer. I love to try new things and challenge myself. I like to have a simple, mindless project in one basket and a technical knitting project in another. Although the giant octopus that’s sitting in the Madison office is pretty cool.

How has the quarantine affected your knitting or crochet habits?

Becky: Honestly, it has brought even more calmness into my daily life, as well as the ability to be more patient.

Nicole: My daughter has been doing remote learning since March and my son will turn 1 in a few weeks, so I actually put my crochet projects to the side and took up cross stitching during quarantine. It involved less counting and was something that was easier to do with the constant interruptions. I’m still trying to carve out a few hours during the week to wrap up random things I’ve started and never finished.

Jenni: I think that I am relying on the respite it brings even more lately. I’m also focusing on creating pieces that will please me, rather than for other people. It’s more about the process and not as much the finished product.

What advice would you give someone who wants to learn how to knit or crochet?

Becky: DO IT!! YouTube is such a great source for helping to learn to knit, new techniques, etc.  The knitting community (world-wide!) is full of amazing teachers, designers, dyers, store owners… all willing to help and encourage and celebrate along the way.  Also, everyone always starts with the standard scarf… but you don’t have to! Pick something simple, yet still keeps you interested to move forward.

Nicole: Just like with learning any new skill, be patient and keep practicing.

Jenni: Don’t give up, and take advantage of all the great videos that are out there. And reach out to friends – I think you may be surprised that there are some secret knitters out there that will love to knit along with you.

Ready to join the tight-knit team at Nelnet? Check out our open positions and find one that’s right for you.



Dana Staats

Senior Corporate Communications Writer