Beki Grinter

Knitting Needles dont Knit, People Do

In empirical, research on December 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I keep hearing this line about guns. Guns don’t kill people, people do. So I thought it would be interesting to explore the argument via knitting needles.

I knit, I create knitted artifacts. But, the knitting needles I use are pretty crucial to the experience. It’s not impossible to knit without knitting needles, I’ve tried with chopsticks, it’s possible but not as satisfying. You can also use the knitting needles for other, non-knitting things, I’ve used mine to tie my hair up. But they are better for knitting than as hair decorations.

Knitting needles shape the experience by being very intentionally designed for that experience (e.g., the different thicknesses suitable for different thicknesses of yarn, circular for working knitted objects in a round, double-pointed for socks, as well as the traditional straight needles). Knitting needles are designed to help people who knit knit. Without them people could knit, but the experience of knitting with knitting needles is the most common one and it’s not surprising, they were designed for it.

Beyond the design/function argument there is something else about knitting needles and knitting. When I have knitting needles in my hands, I am visibly a knitter. I’ve written before about the types of conversation that that starts up, about how to knit, what I am knitting, recollections of family members who knitted. It makes me a part of a world in which I am seen as a knitter, and in which others are a canvas of potential knitters or people who are curious. Just the other day I was knitting at my Godson’s school play, and so was the person sat next to me. Not only did we have conversations about our favourite local yarn stores, but we also received joking commentary from others about “keeping the knitters together.” I still don’t know her name, although I do know the name of her granddaughter who was also in the play (and about the same age as the children in the shooting that has triggered this reflections on knitting). Sometimes the associations are less amusing, I fly with knitting needles, its allowed, but it doesn’t mean that others on the plane don’t look at me, and the needles as if they are weapons and I am potentially a risk. Context matters, its uncomfortable for me to be seen as a terrorist risk when I knit on a plane, but it’s a space where contexts transform the meaning of the technology.

When I knit the technology that helps me do that is knitting needles. It changes what I can do, as well as supporting me in that, but it also changes my relationship to the world itself. I become associated with my needles. So, I don’t think you can separate guns from people, because you can’t separate the needles from the knitting.

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