Sunday, January 22, 2012

In defense of knitting when times are tough, part one

I posted this on my website long ago, but now that I have a real blog I am repeating it--and it's nine companions--here.

It's hard not to think about growing economic uncertainty. Whatever the outcome, we will probably face changes that mean examining how we spend. And what will happen when we have fewer dollars to spend on our knitting--this activity that calms, inspires, and sustains us? How do we justify knitting in tough times?

But it does seem that knitting has always been with us through tough times: during the depression; during previous centuries when the concept of disposable income was unheard of for most; during the early days of our country's settlement, when leisure time was equally incomprehensible.

So why has knitting survived? And why must we continue to knit?

I have many more reasons, which I will explore over successive posts. But here's part one.

Knitting clothes us.

When I was young, knitting was cheaper than buying. If I wanted a sweater, I went to the local yarn shop and bought the yarn to make the sweater I wanted. This was the less expensive option. And if I bought a sweater, someone might ask "Why would you buy that when you could knit it?" Good question! Most of what we wore was simple and easily knit.

What happened in the intervening years, as we all know, was globalization. Sweaters became cheap (based upon cheap labour and cheap oil), yarn became expensive (because it could). Knitting became something women with disposable income could afford . . . with little concern as to how the garment fit because she could easily buy what she wore. In the last 50 years, someone might ask "Why are you knitting that when you could buy it?"

What we gained in those years was an appreciation for knitting as process. (A Norwegian woman saw me knitting socks and said "I used to do that: I don't have to do that anymore." She clearly never learned a love for knitting-as-process!) It was a glorious time, and I'll certainly speak about knitting as process in subsequent posts.

But what we lost was knitting for product. Some of us are perceive as having lost the ability to make our garments fit. (A woman I met made The Gray Cardigan from MOTHER-DAUGHTER KNITS and had the following reaction: "What a beautiful sweater! I thought it looked hand knit but then realized it couldn't be because it fits you so well!") And some of us lost the sense of knitting that simply clothed our families. (I also met another woman who said she wanted to knit her son a sweater--so asked what he wanted. His answer was a red crew neck sweater. She said "If you only want a red crew neck sweater, you just go buy one!")

We can, and should, re-gain knitting for product. We should take every pattern-drafting class we can. We should look at our closets--at what we wear often and well--and knit versions of it. We should learn to fit our families. We should re-join women from the depression, from previous centuries, and from our country's birth who clothed themselves and their families.

Our disposable income will go to the knitting of sweaters we will wear. At the same time, we'll stop buying. We might produce 3 garments that we cherish rather than 8 that fill our closet without giving us the same satisfaction.


  1. Your last comment is so perfect! Too much space wasted in our closets with store bought stuff that was a bit of a mistake! I love the idea of filling the closet with albeit fewer garments, but ones that are WONDERFUL for you and hand knit.

  2. I love this post, I agree with every word.

  3. Brilliantly said! I have found myself really thinking about the garments I like and the garments I buy to get a better sense for the truly nice garments I will invest my time, money and talent on. They will bring a heart satisfaction for years, and a sense of purpose and worth to boot!