Now I’ve finally finished Kate Orton-Johnson’s piece on the study of Ravelry, and at the end I find myself asking what is knitting?
Her argument, which resonates with me strongly, is that social media have broadened the experience of knitting. And as I reflect on this, I am inclined to agree.
I don’t really know what triggered the reawakening of knitting for me. Knitting as a child waned in my teenage years. Long before sewing did, I sewed basically up to University. I even made a few garments for my trip to Irvine. But for some reason knitting reappeared. But knitting now isn’t what it was for me. It is strongly changed by social media.
I’ve been a keen amateur photographer, but even I was surprised at how useful the picture-taking skills I learned would be for knitting. One of the most significant changes for me is that picture taking is part of my new experience of knitting. Just like Orton-Johnson describes in her study of Ravelry users (of which I am one), part of participating there (and elsewhere) and to do that photographs are required (of the yarn, of the project in progress, of the completed article). It’s hard to take pictures of yarn. Especially certain colours which are difficult for the digital camera to reproduce (purple-blues seem especially hard). Then there’s also the lighting to manage. I find myself back to all my techniques for handling autumn colors, the hope for bright flat even lighting. There’s technique involved in arranging the finished article to convey size, texture, and so forth. Focusing in on the stitch work brings back memories of many evenings of macro photographic practice.
I didn’t expect my photography and knitting interests to merge.
There’s a whole social world on Ravelry too. One that I am not very engaged with, I have three friends on Ravelry. But, I have had interactions there, not just with colleagues in HCI (although that is very nice, hello W.P. 🙂 Most surprisingly to me, but also rather fun, is that after I knitted my first socks (I was in fear of socks, I really thought that I could never knit socks and then it happened much to my surprise and delight) I heard from the author of the book I had used to make them. She complimented my socks and added me to a group of people who have knitted her patterns. She is obviously straddling a social world, and one in which she professionally promotes and gets feedback about her texts. Its an interesting connection. It felt very similar to being sent a friend request on Facebook by someone whose work you admire and feel that they are a leader in the field. Its professional, but it’s also something else. And I didn’t expect that with knitting.
The transformation of knitting into an online and public experience, not just in meetings or places, but also through Facebook has also been a new part of my hobby. It extends the types of conversations I might have with people. People who knew me as someone interested in ethnographic methods, or as someone they went to primary school with, now know that I knit and do other crafty things. I know it of some of them too. One of my FB friends, and someone I went to high school, makes the most amazing jewellery (you, C.H.), and I hope she’ll start selling it soon. For people that I see face to face its broadened the conversations that I’ve had to include knitting. (Knitters of the world unite, we have nothing to lose except our stitches).
Another dimension of the online experience that I’m not so engaged with, but I have used it, takes me back to some of David McDonald and colleagues work on the role of YouTube and others in its ilk to learn. Orton-Johnson also talks about this in her paper. When you don’t have a peer network of people who can teach you new techniques, how do you learn. The Internet is filling in for where my Grandmother and my Great Aunt. It also translates for me what my mother would show me, but she knits in the Continental method whereas I knit the English way.
Knitting as a child was something I did by myself or with members of my immediate family. It was relatively solitary and only likely to survive if I kept a social network around me that could teach me, and with whom I could share the products. It has returned to a different world, one in which I construct these social circles not via proximity (very marginally at best) but with the help of dedicated and non-dedicated social media sites, each of which plays something of a role in growing, sustaining and nurturing my hobby. And much like the experience of knitting in public, one of the things I find really rewarding about the role that Facebook plays, is that it starts unexpected but very welcome conversations with colleagues who in most worlds I just would never know that they were knitters, or curious about knitting.