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.


Shopkeeper said...
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Shopkeeper said...

(I was rudely interrupted by a customer; and when I returned to my post and published it, I saw that it wasn't finished. So I'm re-doing it here)

I, too, learned to knit at about 8 years old. And took it up again, with much greater enthusiasm, when I married. In the interrim, I learned to embroider at my Great-aunt Edith's knee. Embroidery can be done, as knitting can, in front of the TV. And it's a joy to have the product of that skill as well. I must pick up some cross-stitch again.