Back when Cecilia Nelson-Hurt’s grandmother taught her how to crochet at the age of seven, no one would have been able to predict how her professional and personal lives would unite as an adult so seamlessly.
But for Nelson-Hurt, that childhood pastime turned into an adult passion for knitting, one reflected in her role as vice president of diversity and inclusion at L’Oréal USA, where her job is to help weave together the company’s community of 11,000 employees.
It’s much more than a metaphorical connection, though. Last year, a social media blogger ignited a firestorm in the fiber community (knitters, yarn producers, et.al.) with racist comments that ignited a conversation about the lack of inclusion. Nelson-Hurt, who counts 17,000 followers on her @CreativeCeci Instagram account, where she showcases her creations and her life, quickly became a key voice in the ensuing debate.
She led a panel on diversity at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, traveled to events across the country to give talks, had a YouTube conversation with influencer Kristy Glass Knits that garnered over 36,000 views and wrote a piece for Yarn Market News called, ‘Open to All: Can Your Store Really Be a Happy Place If Not Everyone Feels Welcome?”
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“It’s been an amazing catalyst for conversations, so this summer when the racial levees broke and I was able to navigate critical conversations at L’Oréal, I got a lot of attention about being able to have these conversations in an engaging way,” said Nelson-Hurt. “I said, I have practice, because for the past year, I’ve been having these conversations in knitting. It is an amazing circle.”
Nelson-Hurt’s job has intersected with knitting in other ways, too. Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, traveling was a key part of her job. In every city she visits, Nelson-Hurt makes a point of seeking out the local yarn store. She estimates she’s been to over 150, and now her husband, too, is part of the quest. He even has his own hashtag: #yarnstorehusband.
“He was in Tokyo and FaceTimed me from a yarn store in the middle of the night so I could talk to the owner,” she said. “I’m always looking for something exclusive to that place, because today, yarn is global.”
On average, Nelson-Hunt makes about a sweater a month, and at any given time has a couple of projects on the needles. (She’s also big on shawls, cowls and pillows. But socks are the big “mohair elephant” in the room — “socks require attention and you have to make two of them,” she laughed.) “It’s such a satisfying feeling to turn a ball of string into something amazing,” she said. “My favorite kind of project is something that teaches me a new skill or technique.”
She knits everywhere — on a plane, at the end of the day, while watching a movie. “Knitting is my zen,” said Nelson-Hunt. “Since reconnecting with yarn, both my mom and grandmother have passed away and I was able to knit myself through my grief. After 9/11, I developed a fear of flying, and when I started knitting on planes, I didn’t have the same level of anxiety.
“I’ve always felt the connection to the experience of knitting is something cathartic,” she continued. “It has really been a lifesaver.”