Thursday, July 31, 2008

I was born a rebel

The Secret Knitter, prompted by an article in The Guardian, asks: Is knitting a rebellious activity?

The knitting revolution seems to be hitting the point where the media is doing stories with one of two themes: (1) The knitting revolution is over; (2) Did you know there's a knitting revolution?

The Guardian piece falls into theme #2. Knitting as public art; knitting as a youthful pastime; knitting as a post-feminist reclamation of domestic arts -- all make their appearance in the piece.

On the other hand, NPR's Marketplace recently aired a story conforming to theme #1. Seems that some local yarn stores that opened a few years ago in Davis, California to cater to the new hordes of knitters were closing -- victims of the decline in knitting in general, or of the move to online suppliers (the piece offers both explanations, which is a bit contradictory).

Admittedly I'm immersed in the knitting world -- not in real life, but online -- and so I'm befuddled by both themes. I interact with plenty of those rebel knitters, but nevertheless the majority of the folks on Ravelry are my age or older, with a large contingent of grandmas who've been knitting for decades. And contradicting predictions of the knitting boom's imminent demise, I see online shops sell out of coveted yarn in minutes thanks to electronic passing of information. Many online retailers are internet extensions of brick-and-morter local yarn stores, and so they don't fall into the dichotomy set up by the Marketplace report. They're offering more product all the time, and are having a harder time keeping it in stock.

I argued a few months back that Ravelry, the hundreds-of-thousands-strong online knitting and crocheting community, is a perfect example of the way virtual tools and networking can strengthen real-world phenomena -- creating markets and stimulating the production of new physical realities. Now I'm one of the two leaders of the Ravelympics, a project to see how many finished objects can be completed within the span of the 17 days of the Beijing games. According to a still-incomplete count, 3012 people have signed up to create 7202 knitted and crocheted items.

When I think of all the sweaters, scarves, afghans, premie hats, chemo caps, prayer shawls, mittens, lace, stuffed toys, lingerie, socks, bags, and who knows what else, that will suddenly enter the world during these two and a half weeks, conjured out of cyberspace and abetted by thousands of enthusiastic joiners and cheerleaders and team organizers, I see a force that has the potential to be truly revolutionary. It rejects throwaway consumerist culture in favor of creating something to be used and repaired and handed down and given to those in need. And it is at the same time independent of the limitations of real-world community, which requires proximity and synchrony, and gives birth to real-world community.

So while I'm not out there pumping a fistful of knitting needles into the air or taking a sledgehammer to mechanized looms like some crafting Luddite, there's an aura of rebellion around the knitting that I and my fellow Ravelers do. We're not the front lines, but we're fighting the good fight -- and we're probably the coziest revolutionaries around.


Adam Villani said...

Hey, have you ever knitted anything with qiviut? This is the under-wool from musk ox. In Palmer, Alaska, there is a musk ox farm where they raise them for their qiviut. They're cute! But anyway, qiviut is crazy expensive. We saw a ball of yarn available for $92.00 in Ketchikan. Qiviut is totally soft and is way better at retaining heat.

Also, musk ox!

Donna B. said...

I've never knit with it, but I've heard of it (and seen yarns and projects made from it). Although $92 is steep for a single skein, hank, or ball of yarn, I do have an $80 skein of yarn in my collection -- a blend of buffalo and mohair. (Luckily for me, it was a gift.)