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17 January 2011
Knitting as cultural artifact

Thirty years ago it was something your grandmother did in her farmhouse on the prairie. Now it’s something your 26-year-old neighbors do in their third-floor walkup. Knitting is everywhere, especially this time of year. And not just the usual socks, sweaters, and scarves, but—in the virtual pages of the notably hip online magazine “Knitty,” for example—table decorations, necklaces (literally, neck laces), and even earrings.

And oh, the vocabulary. It’s a whole new world—cast off, purl, bobble, stockinette, slip—full of unintentional metaphors and instructions that sound suspiciously like guides to the good life. “Place marker and join to work in the round.” So even if you’re not purlwise, join us in asking what knitting makes of the world.

1. What does knitting assume about the way the world is?

Knitting assumes that the world is cold (or at least cool)


Knitting assumes hands.

BJ Smith

Yarn/thread through proper skill can be fashioned into cloth used for a variety of purposes, even clothing such as the rich scarf which keeps me warm in central PA during the winter.

Thomas B. Grosh IV

Knitting assumes hand/eye coordination.


That math holds, for one thing. That order can produce both the practical and the beautiful at once, that patience is possible and worthwhile, that small repetitions can keep you warm, engage the senses, turn string into strength, show love and yield endless variations—a bit like a Bach composition. Lastly, that things made by hand (excluding machine knitting) have a distinct worth and value.

Anna Broadway

Hmmm.  Knitting assumes . . . Genesis 3:7.  :-)


I like Fred’s comment.

2. What does knitting assume about the way the world should be?

That we ought to be able to make our our clothes, instead of buying them. That we ought to be close to the ground (the sheep behind the yarn).

Paul Grant

That the world is not apathetic and is patient.


That garments and other fiber objects made according to the particularities of circumstances, supplies and relationships are worth creating, and produced under conditions whose increase would better the world or be indicative of a better quality of life. What conditions? Say, intimacy, persistance, diligence, collaboration, love, generosity, resourcefulness, creativity, patience, joy in the tactile, and so on. Knitting “fibers” can range quite broadly—from the above-mentioned wool to synthetic materials, bamboo, linen, silk, nettle, and even repurposed plastic bags. Thus, knitting assumes that the world should be a place where even the worthless can be redeemed and made into something useful, beautiful and enduring.

Anna Broadway
3. What does knitting make possible?

Intergenerational sharing of wisdom. Sometimes it’s a bit much to talk and listen, unless you’re doing something quiet, creative, and repetitive together. Knitting lets you do all that while facing one another.

Paul Grant

In the less complicated forms, knitting enables the creation of a craft while you’re chatting with others, listening to music or watching a film.  In contrast to let’s say scrapbooking. ... that is an external observation from one who has never picked it up ;-)

Thomas B. Grosh IV

Redemption of time (spent waiting in line, say) and materials. Gifts whose humility is no measure of their preciousness to the recipient (depending somewhat on the circumstances of creation and exchange, that is). The development of patience and skill in almost anyone willing to try and persist long enough. And lastly (having seen a group of co-workers come together to make a cancer hat and patch-work shawl for a woman we’d worked with), community.

Anna Broadway

knitting makes possible: to give to others, knitted square’s make a blanket, to give to others to keep warm; Knitted hats for neo-natal babies; Knitted Teddies for children who have suffered trauma, brings love, hope, joy and comfort. Makes you think outside your own world

4. What does knitting make impossible (or at least a lot more difficult)?

typing. it is very difficult to type at the same time you are knitting.


Lots, anything else you need to do with your hands.

Theresa Grosh

Distraction of certain kinds (I can sometimes read while working simple patterns). Waste (of the materials put to use in a project). And complete freedom—in that knitting requires one’s submission to a particular order and certain instruments or at least shapes for creation (I think I may have once substituted a pencil for a needle I’d lost).

Anna Broadway

It doesn’t leave your hands free for anything else, so it allows one to focus on the task at hand .. a positive and negative

Sewing Table
5. What new culture is created in response?

My daughter is in a knitting club at the high school.

deets johnson

This just a little tidbit I learned from my wife’s Yoruba (W. African language) classes: “Sweater” in Yoruba is súwêtà (sound it out). That’s one of the benefits of being an English colony.

Paul Grant

The re-emergence of knitting and similar crafts in a popular manner reflect how many are re-discovering the satisfaction of investing in making something of one’s own versus consuming mass produced clothing and accessories for adult, child, and even one’s favorite doll. ...

A number of people have realized the value of the practice as a quiet, creative outlet which can occur during various social settings (parties, meetings, time with friends etc.).  Knitting clubs appear to be relatively new (joining the ranks of quilting clubs) and at times have shared tasks (e.g., donate clothing for hospital newborns), but for the most part are individual projects with specific end goals that do not demand the others in the room (unlike the quilting clubs which produce a communal product).

Note:  We have friends and family who never lost the practice ;-)

Theresa and Thomas Grosh IV

One of collaboration, joy and persistence, but also one that embraces the simplicity and finitude implied by garments and objects made by humans, not machines.

Anna Broadway