Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘knitting in public’

What is Knitting?

In crafts and craftiness on April 1, 2014 at 10:33 am

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.


Knitting in Meetings

In crafts and craftiness on March 31, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I was just re-reading a great paper on how sites like Ravelry transform knitting in a variety of ways. One thing that comes up in the paper is a discussion of knitting in public. Knitting is typically not a public act, the paper suggests, and sites like Ravelry through their focus on advertising local events provide opportunities for people to get together and knit outside of the domestic circle.

I’ve been knitting in public for a while now. It’s an interesting experience. I’ve written about it before. I also knit at work. I’ve said less about that. At first I felt the need to explain to colleagues that when I was knitting my concentration was better than it would be without yarn. I tried to explain that for the things I knit in meetings, I don’t have to know the patterns because they are encoded in my finger and hand movements. Its a physical knowledge, not one that requires mental attention. If it does, I have to stop and either deal with the knitting or wait until we have a break to do something like, say, count the number of remaining stitches.

Explaining the presence of the knitting is different from justifying the laptop or phone. The laptop is easy to explain, as a machine with a keyboard it seems obvious that one could be taking notes. Although that’s not the only things that laptops are capable of doing during meetings. The phone/tablet is more curious. I don’t see my colleagues justifying using these devices in meetings, even though its pretty clear to me that they are not note taking devices. Knitting ought to be in the same category as the phone, and yet, I’ve not gotten there with it. I think it’s because I believe it to be unfamiliar to many of my colleagues. Unlike phones—where we all share a global understanding of their pros and cons in meetings and what work they might do, or not—knitting is not something I expect my colleagues to know about. I thought that they might wonder whether I was so focused on the knitting that I was essentially not present.

Also, I still have a list of work related meetings I won’t knit in. Obviously, I can’t knit and teach. I could knit during class presentations, but again I feel that the students might not understand that I was concentrating. Their unfamiliarity with knitting (presumed by me of course) along with their unfamiliarity in giving presentations makes me leave the sticks behind. There are also meetings in which I think even the presence of laptops/phones is frowned upon. Meetings about really important topics. I don’t take my knitting there either.

Over time, I suppose I’ve started to think about my workscape in a new way, places to knit, places not to knit. Who are the stakeholders in each setting? What do I owe them? What can I assume about their knowledge? (Interestingly I get far fewer questions about knitting from my colleagues even when I do it in front of them than I do when knitting out in public in Atlanta). Asking, can I knit here has been an interesting way to reexplore the place I work.


In European Union on December 29, 2008 at 7:02 pm

In one of my previous riveting posts, I mentioned that I have this problem with my accent, in that it causes people to pay me compliments on it. Nice, but strange.

So, I have discovered a way to avoid people saying anything about my accent. It was a bold and radical solution, but it involved the first ever routine use of a handbag by yours truly. Prior to the purchase of this particular handbag I was strictly a wallet in jeans type of person. And I was that type of person because I have engineered my entire career to be able to wear denim on a regular, daily, basis. (Much to my elder relatives surprise).

So, I got this handbag, but it serves as a diversion because it’s a plush monkey shaped bag. I think it’s meant for 8 year olds, but they are not having mine, and heck for the price it’s not clear to me that they can afford it. Anyhow, it turns out that the bag is a brilliant diversion, now people comment on the monkey. It actually receives a range of responses, from those who yell “monkey” all the way through to those who ask what precisely it is (to which I always respond a bag), and then those who grab it by the head and start making strange noises. Yeah, really.  Of course if you either the former or the current President of the University I work for you have a more cautious approach to the bag. It’s more like the French response.

But, just recently I’ve discovered another diversion. So now my accent and bag go unnoticed. Knitting. Knitting in public in particular really attracts comments. I thought for a long time that it was going to be exclusively women who commented on my knitting. One night I had four conversations about the knitting, all while the monkey handbag was in plain sight, and all of which I believe I engaged in using my English accent… nothing about either topic.

But, most recently, I had a conversation with a nice barman about my knitting. It turns out that if you go to the same place with your knitting in different states people notice. Whoo hoo! That’s my type of bar, a place where people care about the state of one’s knitting. The place where you can get Abita on tap. The place where the red beans and rice take you back to NOLA. Thank you Fontaines.