Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why Knit?

When we were in the Adirondacks last month with friends, four-year-old V. was not in any great hurry to interact with Andy and me. We spent all of Friday (except for the couple hours' drive) together, but it wasn't until late afternoon on Saturday that the breakthrough happened. Ben was napping, and I pulled out my knitting, and suddenly V. was practically in my lap, animatedly asking questions about history and technique. Score one for knitting.

My friend M. recently posited a theory (via his wife, my friend C., so if I'm missing a nuance or two, it's due to Telephone) that knitting is so popular because husbands and boyfriends are playing video games. I imagine his idea is that women want to be in the same room with their Katamari-rolling menfolk, rather than going to another room to watch TV (or banishing the men to the basement and using the living room TV) or read the Interwebs or a book. Or taking turns with the Katamari. I don't buy it. For one thing, I don't buy that so pervasive a fad has its roots in companion activity rather than some kind of itch that needs scratching in the breast of its adherents. Besides, it doesn't explain why knitting. Why not needlepoint? Why not any other of the blue million crafts you can do on your lap in the living room? The biggest reason it doesn't ring true for me, though, is that I hate when Andy wants to play a video game during my knitting hours. Video games are impossibly dull to listen to and only slightly less dull to watch, and knitting only takes up a fraction of my attention. I like watching TV while I'm knitting, especially if it's a show that doesn't rely too heavily on visual information. So it wouldn't surprise me if the enthusiasm for knitting is in some way connected to the uptick in good-to-excellent TV and the availability of whole seasons of same on dvd. But obviously there's more feeding the knitting beast than good TV.

I picked it up again myself because I wanted to knit for Ben -- I remembered enjoying knitting as a teenager, and remembered my mom's enthusiasm for knitting for littles because it takes up so much less time and wool. And if I'd stopped after the second or third project for Ben, or put the knitting away for even a week since I picked it up, that would be an adequate explanation for my interest. But I've knit almost as much for me as for him, and since I started last winter, I've hardly gone a day without knitting, and generally have at least two and as as many as five or six projects going at once. I read knitting blogs. I take photographs of my projects in progress and post them at Ravelry. I started plotting Christmas knitting in April, and am nearly done with my first Christmas present.

I enjoy the feeling of cozy domestic industry. I like that I can feel productive while sitting on my ass watching TV. And the things I produce are genuinely useful objects, performing the satisfying task of protecting me and my loved ones from the chill. You can't say the same for something like, say, scrapbooking or needlepoint, or for any of the other lap-top crafts I can think of.

There's a kind of gentility to knitting, bestowed in part by a venerated history: mother before mother before mother sitting by a fire clothing her kin, all the way back to the clever person who took a hard look at fishing nets and had a good idea. Crafting in general is popular, but most of what you can find at the Jo-Ann's or Michael's couldn't even sort of be described as genteel, and can't claim the thinnest patina of history. But knitting doesn't lose its appeal to the bedazzling masses by appealing to the be-Dansko-ed elite, or vice-versa. Sewing doesn't have the same appeal despite a similar history: you can't keep it in a basket and do it on the couch.

You might think, especially in this economy, that thrift plays a part in the enthusiasm: why buy a sweater when you can make one? Except in nearly every case, even if you don't count your time at all, knitting an object costs more than buying a similar one. If you buy really cheap yarn, sure, but there's something infinitely depressing about spending thirty hours knitting something that can't be nice because the raw materials were shitty. Good yarn is a pleasure to work on. Cheap yarn isn't. I'm knitting Christmas presents this year, and rather than saving money, I'm working hard not to end up spending a lot more than usual.

Friend C. went into her local yarn store this past week to inquire after mother-daughter beginner knitting classes, and reported to me later that she could practically feel the dollars being tugged out of her wallet by a new hobby: the tools, the materials, the books! (The other women bemoaning how much they'd already spent this month!) Score another for knitting.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Play Kitchen

Ben is a little young for the kind of pretend play that takes place in a play kitchen (they're usually aimed at three-year-olds), but he's a big fan of kitchen tools, knobs, and cabinets, and he spent nearly all the time we were at the Fs' in July bashing around their play kitchen. So we decided to get him one. Only, Andy being the buildy sort, we're making him one.

Yesterday was the first effort: plans made and tweaked, materials bought, construction started. Here's what it looks like so far:

I can't tell you how awesome it is to co-parent with somebody who's willing and able to build play furniture. It opens up so many possibilities. I looked at dozens of play kitchens online, and the only ones I could get enthusiastic about were the unbelievably expensive ones like this one, three hundred bucks for just the stove! Or this one, which at least you get stove and sink for your $250. There were others I could have been ok with, like this one or this one, but they all had something I objected to, however nitpicky: they looked ricketty, or had microwaves (where's the imaginative fun in pretending to reheat something?) or fake clocks (a particular peeve) or my favorite bugbear of design for littles: ungodly over-embellishment. This is a big toy that's going to be taking up visual and actual space in my house for the next two years or more -- a lot more if we have another kid -- so it mattered to me that it wasn't going to be something I learned to hate the sight of.

But Ben's kitchen is going to be great. Sturdy, in colors I don't hate. It's going to have a stove and a sink and cabinet, and if he uses it enough and wants one, we left room to add a fridge. We even had fun wandering around Lowe's yesterday, looking for bits and bobs to be repurposed. We scoffed at the package of replacement oven knobs ($20!), when little wooden discs would do just as well and look cuter, too. We plotted how to paint neat circles for burners using shelf paper and a compass (Andy being Andy, we have a compass). It's a great nexus of Andy's craftiness and mine.

This morning I searched "play kitchen" tags at Flickr, and wow. A lot of people like us are building play kitchens, and some of them are pretty fantastic. I mean, wow.