Article 25

Knit, and the World Knits with You

In Uncategorized on 09/15/2012 at 3:31 pm

Crochet, and you craft alone

By Anne Skove


Not really! But it is true that, like archeologists and anthropologists, Pepsi/Coke, and Marvel vs. DC Comics, there is a fundamental knit/crochet schism. Why is that?

Could be due to overcoming misunderstanding. There is a tendency by those not in the know to lump all crafty yarn activity together. Friends of mine who opened the Knitting Sisters yarn store in Williamsburg, Va., ran into this. The owner of the shopping area thought they were too much like another existing shop, which was devoted to all things embroidery. String, yarn, baking, whatever. It’s all women’s work, right? Thus, knitters and their sisters in craft, crocheters, can get a bit defensive.

Yes, some men knit, and they are brave and awesome and dexterous, but more often than not, knitting is like a book jacket with a picture of a cocktail and high heels – a girl thing. At least one man we know would love to learn to knit, but he claims his hands are too darn big. We hope that someday he meets a pair of rolling-pin-like US 15 needles and a skein of super-chunky yarn so that he can make that bacon scarf he wants so much. Until that time, we will keep knitting for him.

When knitting, “Who’s it for?” is a common question, next to“What are you making?” and “What is that – crochet?”. Knitting for Peace; Knitting for Good – these aren’t just suggestions; they are the titles of books for socially conscious knitters.

Since when did knitting become a public political act? Since a bunch of people decided so. Since people decided it is O.K. to be who they are. Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch, by Betsy Greer (Dear Editor: yes, that “!” is in the title. Not my fault this time!!!) includes, among the blankies and hats, a pattern for a condom amulet. AIDS affects post-menopausal women (yeah, you know, knitters). A little knit pouch around one’s neck, the theory goes, helps these women remember to bring a condom along. This puts a little spice into those questions, “What are you knitting?” and “Who’s it for?”

Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time, by Betty Christiansen, opens with a chapter on “A History of Wartime Knitting.” The author/knitter explains how war, peace and knitting fit together. During World War II American girls and women, as you may have heard from relatives, knitted for the troops. Was this supporting war, or supporting the troops? Pre-Vietnam, people didn’t think of that distinction in quite the same way. Knitting was a way to help.

This way of helping goes way back to the beginning of our nation, when colonial women knitted during the Revolution: “America was founded in an act of noncompliance, and it’s no surprise that colonial knitters stitched in that spirit as well.” During the Korean War, “relief efforts toward Korean people, especially orphaned children, spurred knitters affiliated with organizations like Church World Service to knit once more.” But a generation later, Christiansen notes that “little evidence exists of knitting either for troops or refugees during the Vietnam War.”

Knitting for Good! encourages knitters to knit in public. Like PDA at a Chik-Fil-A, this act is meant to bring knitting out of the parlor and into the public eye. Knitting openly challenges stereotypes. If you thought knitters wore glasses, had children and carried tote bags with the slogan “Knitting is My Super Power,” well … you’d have me. But you’d be missing the spectrum of knitters, from DIY hipsters to children – I have taught both girls and boys to knit – to older women who can tell you how they knit argyle socks in the ’30s and ’40s. Knitting happens around the world, and knitters are as diverse as the whole wide world.

“Worldwide Knit in Public Day” happens once a year for some people. Is it such a big deal to let people see you knit? I’ve knitted at my daughter’s gymnastics practice, on airplanes (the Transportation Security Agency finally realized that knitting needles differ from “sharps”), in numerous waiting rooms, in restaurants and even at soccer games – which I’ve been told should be illegal.

I learned to knit at a former job, where we took a weekly break from working on court administration policy to focus on knitting. I was in my late twenties at the time. Knitting carried me through the most difficult times of my life – the stillbirth of our first child, my aunt’s illness and death and my mom’s breast cancer. As one of my co-workers in the knitting group remarked, we were “knit together” as a group. Interestingly, that group was considered a “henhouse” by male and female co-workers who out-salaried us.

Would I have knitted in public earlier, if I’d known how? In the late ’80s, it was important for women to be taken seriously – though, just how seriously, with that hair? Knitting might not have fit into that equation. Knitting isn’t designer, at least not the way I do it.

Is knitting a team sport? Yarn bombers would say yes, and then punch me in the neck with a ball winder. A German woman once complained to me that Americans baffle her with our book clubs and knitting groups: “These are not things to do with others!” But learning to knit is best done in person. Having a die-hard knitter help me overcome my horror of ripping out mistakes (and teaching me how to fix them afterwards) made me the fearless knitter I am today. In the past, knitting circles were like quilting bees or barn-raisings – something done by and for a community.

The biggest public display of knitting I’ve seen came from the denizens of Stars Hollow. What do we do now, without the Gilmore Girls to guide us into the beautiful communal craftiness of personal change? We knit. We learn, we teach. Knit on a bus, on a park bench, a library. To paraphrase Dorothy Day (or was it Gandhi or Mother Theresa?): Knit simply so that others may simply knit. And have a snappy answer ready for the person who walks by and asks, “What’s that you’re baking?”



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