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The personal (knitting) is political

When I started knitting a year ago, little did I know just how political that would be. Here I was, just looking for a nice, quiet hobby for after all my mind-wrecking thinking about the state of the world. I was wrong (and frankly, I should have known better, because, uh, everything is about politics). And just as I am, I don’t ignore politics when they come up.

What makes knitting so political? Following the coolest (Indie) knit designers and yarn dyers on Instagram, I was at first overwhelmed with the positivity of the community. In fact, the feel-good-media Instagram became my favourite place to be after a sapping day. But then I turned away from Hygge-Scandi-Designers towards the more, I’d say, edgy part of the community and that’s when politics came in play.

  1. Feminism

Knitting is about body positivity. Unless you are knitting cute baby clothes or patterns for all your family members but yourself, you are creating something beautiful to put yourself in. You are spending time to choose a beautiful colour which would compliment your style and a pattern which flatters your body. You put effort into producing a handmade item just for your own pleasure. Your beauty is defined and underlined by yourself. I for my case particularly like very feminine patterns with a retro vibe which are hard-to-find items in any clothing store. Knitting is art on your own body. But this body positivity is not granted for everyone by everyone. Plus size knitters, as I learnt, often find themselves excluded from size charting. Patterns go up to a L-size or maybe a XL, but that is about it which excludes quite a group of knitters and reflect omnipresent trends of bodyshaming. People are larger sizes for different reasons, and I am in no position here to judge any of that. Knitting should be about self-care, wellbeing and body positivity. It is nice to see that some of my favourite designers have reacted immediately to the call for size inclusivity from the community and are working on expanding their charts (which really is just a matter of putting data into an Excel sheet). Change is possible, after all.

  • Solidarity and Pride

June is (was) the month of pride and solidarity with people from the LGBT+ community all over the world. While LGBT+ people often face tremendous institutional and day-to-day discrimination, rainbows have become fashionable lately and many big companies make money out of their pride merch. In the knitting community, some of my favourite designers celebrate (their) queer art and love on their profiles and through their designs. This year, one Instagrammer came up with the idea of a #QuietQueerCraftalong which invites everyone from the community to craft-along (knitting or crochet) using patterns and yarns from LGBT+ crafters. The idea was particularly an invitation for introvert, crafty LGBT+ who are tired of big, funky pride parades, but still want to spread substantial rainbow vibes, to take part in a more cosy, yet community-based expression of their pride. A craftalong, knitalong or crochetalong means that a group of people work together on the same project or for the same cause, sharing their ideas and experience. The Craftalong had a fantastic response in no-time and I am very excited about new artists from the community I could discover this way.    

  • Racism

Racism creeps through all aspects of our life. White privilege is all around. I am a white woman and I did not even think that something as personal as knitting could potentially be racist. I was wrong (again). Is this the privilege speaking? Generally, it is not that knitting in itself is prone to racism and exclusivist, but knitting as a modern, online, instagrammed thing has become racist. Why is that? The Western public sphere is dominated by white and male interpretations of how life should be. In the knitting community, the male notion is skipped, so female whites have taken the lead. When I was new into knitting, I followed some hashtags like #knittersofinstagram, #knitting #knitstagram – you name it. The pictures you get are all of one sort: Beautiful patterns, lots of yarn, works in progress, a hot or cold beverage with a piece of knitting etc. You don’t really see too many people, unless they are sporting one of their finished pieces, but if you do, they tend to be rather on the whiter spectrum of race. Pushed towards the topic I did some research online and found this article on VOX which describes the ways of discrimination and exclusion people of color (POC) experience in the knitting community.

“Rose said she noticed the whitewashing of the community when she’d post a photo of herself, or part of herself, after long stretches of only showing yarn or other images. ‘I just noticed the space was easier to navigate when I didn’t show who I was, because then you wouldn’t assume that I was a black person,’ she said. ‘When I didn’t show myself, people would assume that the picture was from a white person. That’s when I knew it was really whitewashed.‘“

The hashtag #diversknitty had been installed (and then later contested for different reasons) to display the diversity among knitters. “Black People Do Knit” is a slogan against the prejudice that only white people would pick up two needles and yarn. Just like that VOX article points out, when picturing the average knitter most people would think rather about an old granny in a rocking chair knitting unwanted Christmas sweaters and itchy socks, while the needles dance in her thin, white fingers. But knitting is not a white art and it has been around the world for a lot longer than our stupid modern conceptions of race. In fact, a lot of beautiful knitting techniques historically originate in the Middle East and Central Asia. Remember how other parts of the world had all these amazing inventions and architecture and technical progress going on while Europeans did, uhem, nothing (maybe pray and fight?). Think again about how whites should have a monopoly on knitting (or anything, for that matter). 

  • (Class) Discrimination

 The discrimination does not stop at race (it never does. Discrimination is always complex and multi-layered). The first wool I bought came for 5€ the skein out of which 2 made a baby sweater, so it was a sweater for 10€, I consider this affordable. There is also cheaper, yet good wool for as little as 1,50€ the skein (50g) which means that if you would knit a female sweater size M it would cost you between 12 and 15 Euros, depending on the pattern. You could go for a free pattern or copy a pattern from a library book, so that would make a pretty decent prized sweater. But as mentioned before, knitting is not only a way of making clothes anymore; it is a thing. If you want to have likes for your stuff, you’d have to go for hip indie wool and nice patterns, and they come with a hefty price tag. Hipster knitting is not really an affordable thing for the wide masses, I’d say, just like a hipster lifestyle in general. You could argue that one should not be thriving after all that insta-stuff, but honestly – there is a difference in quality of patterns and yarn if you invest more. And it must be frustrating to stick to your target wool which is good, but plain if you see all these wonderful, splashed, freckled, deeply saturated yarns around. You might want to go for one of these really fancy fade designs where different colours flow through your shawl and you might want to knit one of these truly exceptional sweaters everyone is posting about. Recognizing that knitting is becoming more and more exclusive is a first step towards more inclusivity. I am generally all in for anti-capitalist initiatives and I was very pleased to discover a concept of scaled prizing which allows people to choose from different price tags based on their income. I find this a very brave model to put out in the internet, because it really is based on trust. I have to admit though that the only reason I went shopping for a pattern and a yarn even though there was not really a need for it, is because I wanted to support the creators behind this payment model as long as I am still on a good scholarship and not potentially unemployed.

@ArohaKnits sells wonderful designs inspired by her Maori heritage with a scaled pricing system

The one-woman project @promised.fibers follows a similar track by collecting donations to make fancy yarn available to disadvantaged knitters. 

Are you surprised to the extend of politicization of the modern knitting community? I most certainly was, but I am very pleased to see all the debate and re-thinking that is going on online. I am definitely very thankful for the eye-opening contributions by different knit artists who fight to make sure that knitting stops to be whitewashed, exclusive and elitist. It immediately makes knitting more fun, and less old-fashioned and I love that.

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