Lit Knit: An Introduction

January 13, 2011

When [m] recently dug up her long forgotten Sleeping Beauty scarf, finished in January 2008, she mentioned something interesting to me: It was leftover yarn from this very project that I had used for my own first piece of knitting. And I’m not talking about my first finished garment here, but literally about my first piece of knitting or, more precisely, this:

...ok, apparently blocking and bind-off weren't part of that first set of lessons...

As some of you already know, I picked up knitting in March 2010 because I’d been exposed to [m]’s knitting mania for so long that I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. Next thing I knew, I was sitting next to her on our couch with a couple of needles and a ball of her leftover yarn in my hands, trying to turn the latter into some sort of fabric. If you look at the above photo you can easily see my progress, learning all the basic techniques along the way: It starts on the left with simple garter stitch, soon followed by stockinette, then a stretch of k2p2 ribbing which, after a short while, is replaced by stockinette interspersed with lots of yarn-overs, so as I’d learn to make button holes. After that, it’s back to stockinette – to get more practice – and finally there’s three or four rows of k1p1 ribbing. Then I got bored with the thing and decided to start on my first proper project, a cardigan for my then newborn niece…

...and here's a detail of all those yarn-overs - presumably enough buttonholes to fill the Albert Hall...

The next step I took, instructed by [m], was to create an account on Ravelry, the world’s largest online community for knitters and crocheters with more than a million members from all over the planet. Just like other online communities – think Facebook – Ravelry offers the opportunity to enter as little or as much personal information in your profile as you feel like sharing. It also offers the opportunity to join groups with their own forums and discussion boards. If I remember correctly, the first group I joined was The Piano Has Been Knitting, a space for knitting Tom Waits fans, followed by other “special interest” groups like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan Fanclub and Medieval Textiles. I also joined some more practice-oriented groups, e.g. Men Who Knit which often features interesting and useful discussions about knitwear for men and suchlike. Then I almost joined a group dedicated to beards, and at that point a doubtful voice in my head made itself heard… Now, don’t get me wrong: I like beards and I’ve worn a beard myself ever since the hormones in my body decided it was time to let some hair sprout on my face, but I do not feel an urge to discuss beard-realted stuff in an online-forum. So, the voice in my head asked, why was I even considering joining this group? Could it be that I was trying to create a decidedly male profile on Ravelry by joining “manly” groups? Could it be that I was experiencing my own private piece of gender trouble upon becoming a knitter?

I still haven’t come to satisfying conclusions as regards these questions, but what I’ve definitely learned in the last nine months is that men who knit are regarded with suspicion and bewilderment by society, especially by non-knitting, heterosexual men. To give you a telling example: One of our male friends, when he heard I was learning to knit, asked “So, next you’re going to be wearing dresses?” And this came from someone who’s well educated and open minded, self reflective and socio-critical, and generally not prone to any form of machismo or chauvinism… Not that I’m complaining. I don’t take this kind of thing personally and am quite happy to be considered somewhat of an oddball ;-)

Still, to finally get to the point, this whole experience has made and is still making me increasingly aware of how knitting is viewed by the general public, of the essentially female and domestic associations that come with it, and also of the way it’s represented in the media and in literature. Indeed, every time knitting gets mentioned in a novel I’m reading, I now make a sort of mental note saying “ah, that’s interesting”. And though I never was aware of this before becoming a knitter myself, it’s quite surprising in how many works of fiction knitting does get mentioned! In fact, there’s so many of them that, in order to keep track of them, mere mental notes might turn out to be insufficient in the long run. I have, therefore, decided to start writing them down, and what better place is there to do so than this here blog? So, from now on, you will occasionally encounter posts – both by myself and [m] – under the heading Lit Knit which will talk about works of literature featuring knitting and knitters. The first of them will be appearing soon and it will deal with the knitting exploits of Granny Weatherwax and other characters in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.

And, to add one last remark, I just discovered that there’s actually a group on Ravelry dedicated to Knitting in Fiction, which makes me hope that the proposed kind of post will meet a certain interest…

2 Responses to “Lit Knit: An Introduction”

  1. Katrin said

    Gender issues are unfortunately a common thing in the textile field, which is overall often seen as a women’s domain. You’ll find, however, that most female textile folks (and that of course includes knitters) will be delighted to find men in the field. Hooray for males in the textile arts!

    • [c] said

      Oh, maybe I should have mentioned that I did get quite enthusiastic reactions from my female friends when I started my knitting career. It’s really mostly (heterosexual) men that are freaked out by it ;-)
      And you are, of course, right about expanding the discourse to include all textile arts rather than just knitting…

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