Saturday, January 15, 2011

To knit or not to knit, that is the question

I've been knitting for almost a year now. I'm not very good but I'm getting better. One of my best friends, Julia, has been knitting and crocheting as long as I've known her and I've always been fascinated by what she does. When we lived together, I left one morning in a depressed funk and when I got home from my long day she had knitted me a stuffed turtle. She thought it would cheer me up (she was right). So that's what I love about knitting, it makes people feel good. One moment there was just yarn and the next moment there's a stuffed turtle that my friend made by hand while listening to NPR.

I've been reading quite a bit about knitting culture and history. I love how the government was pressuring women to knit for men during WWI as if it were their patriotic duty. What a great idea. "Well, you're sitting at home without your husband, you might as well be helping him over seas stay warm." I'm wrestling with the question of whether or not this is super sexist. Did this propaganda condemn knitting to always be synonymous with matronly women? Is there something wrong with that? If my boyfriend was fighting in WWII I know, propaganda or not, I would be knitting, mostly because know that it would brighten up his hard times.

Let's face it, knitting and crocheting is dominated by women. But why? Men are creative, why don't they want to knit themselves a nice sweater? I know I have the impulse to do wood work and jump at the opportunity to work with power tools but why doesn't my boyfriend want to learn to knit?

I rejected the idea of learning to knit for a long time because I did not want to become Suzy Q homemaker or June Cleaver. I already like cooking, gardening, and having a clean house, I didn't want to add knitting to this. I might as well start wearing white pearls and heals! But I saw how much fun people, like Julia were having with it. Julia got commissioned by someone to knit male and female genitalia, which turned out bad ass. Once I learned that people were using knitting and crocheting for street art and not just knitting socks for their boyfriends overseas, I figured why not. I don't have to be this stereotypical picture of "The Perfect Wife", I can still be me and like what I like. I'm still a feminist. I'm still the type of girl that likes doing things that are stereotypically associated with male interests and that's okay.

Magda Sayeg once told me that "We knit out of love, we don't knit out of hate." and this phrase keeps circling in my head. When I make something, there is usually someone in mind. I knit a scarf for my sister's boyfriend because he lives in freezing Cold Boston and I want him to feel like he's welcome in our family. I need to keep telling myself I knit for me; I knit for love. I don't knit for my country and I don't knit to embody some role that society thinks I should be.

FYI Wikipedia's Knitting History...

The word is derived from knot, thought to originate from the Dutch verb knutten, which is similar to the Old English cnyttan, to knot.[13]

One of the earliest known examples of knitting was cotton socks with stranded knit color patterns, found in Egypt from the end of the first millennium AD.[14] Originally a male-only occupation, the first knitting trade guild was started in Paris in 1527.[15] With the invention of the knitting machine, however, knitting "by hand" became a useful but non-essential craft. Similar to quilting, spinning, and needlepoint, knitting became a social activity.

Hand-knitting has gone into and out of fashion many times in the last two centuries, and at the turn of the 21st century it is enjoying a revival. According to the industry group Craft Yarn Council of America, the number of women knitters in the United States age 25–35 increased 150% in the two years between 2002 and 2004.[16] The latest incarnation is less about the "make-do and mend" attitude of the 1940s and early 50s and more about making a statement about individuality as well as developing an innate sense of community.

Within the 1940s, English knitting rose in popularity while Continental knitting fell. This is due to the fact that continental knitting originated within Germany and was spread by immigrants. During World War II, continental knitting fell out of style due to its relationship with Germany. It wasn't until Elizabeth Zimmermann publicized continental knitting in the 1980s that it again was popularized.[17]

Additionally, many contemporary knitters have an interest in blogging about their knitting, patterns, and techniques,[18] or joining a virtual community focused on knitting,[19] such as Ravelry, affectionately known as Rav to fiber-lovers around the world. There are also a number of popular knitting podcasts, such as the Manic Purl Podcast and the Savvy Girls Podcast. Contemporary knitting groups may be referred to in the U.S. as a "Stitch 'N Bitch" where a group of knitters get together to work on projects, discuss patterns, troubleshoot their work and just socialize.[20] In the UK, the term has been "knitting circle" since the early 20th century.


  1. Wow! Fascinating post. :)

    I also struggled with the idea of being a feminist knitter, but I like the point you made about jumping for chances to bust out the power tools *insert tim 'the Tool Man' taylor grunt here*. Creating stuff strikes me as a totally human impulse, and I'm just as happy in a woodshop {santa, pretty please} as I am on the bus with my knitting.

    Perhaps, the way to bridge the gender gap is to encourage people to be comfortable with all sorts of ways to making stuff... maybe we should all learn to knit in kindergarten, and then build birdhouses, too.