Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘knitting’

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.

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.

Adventures in Yarn

In crafts and craftiness, HCI on April 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Last week I went to Stitches South! It’s a yarn convention, there are demonstrations and classes about yarn techniques. I’m used to going to conferences, it’s an occupational hazard in Computer Science. Bring on the tote bag (free) and the t-shirt to commemorate the event (for a price). I’m used to selecting among sessions and also trying to decide what, if anything of the vendors who come, typically with books, I would purchase.

Other than that yarn is quite different. Most strikingly, the gender balance of course. There were some men at Stitches South, I even recognized one of them (he organizes the men’s knitting group at a local yarn store I purchase wool from). But, they were few and far between. As a friend of mine pointed out, they also fall into two distinct categories. Those who knit, and those whose wives knit.

And while there were books for sale, there were other things too. Yarn of course. Lots and lots of yarn. I wish Computer Science conferences had the diversity of alternatives as yarn conventions. It would be like looking among Commodores, Amigas, ZX81, as well as the PC or Mac question. And then there were all the unnecessary things you have to buy to make knitting fun. That’s probably the equivalent of a laptop case (even though you have several, you can be persuaded to buy more, well I can). I’m going to a conference in my professional field soon, CHI, and I wish there were more things to amuse my purchasing interests. After a long day in sessions, I think there’s a target market for the whimsical purchase.

And since I’ve written this much…

…the most ridiculous thing I purchased at Stitches South was a contraption that allows you to wear a ball of wool. It has a bangle like attachment from which a stick suspends with a cap below. You attach the bangle to your wrist, thread the stick through the centre of the ball of wool and then use the cap to ensure that the wool doesn’t fall off. Now I can look like a complete knitting pratt. But it will save those embarrassing accidents in the cinema where you begin knitting with wool on lap and then somewhere, usually during the darkest scene in the entire film, the wool falls off and down into the murky world of “below the cinema seat.” Not only is the process of fishing around for it usually futile, there are all manner of disgusting things below the cinema seat. Old popcorn is among the least offensive. So, I’ll be saving that particular gadget for the next trip to the movies, or perhaps for this Friday when I can recreate cinema conditions watching the Royal Wedding before dawn while knitting.

My knitted clock

In crafts and craftiness on June 28, 2009 at 5:39 pm

I made a knitted clock today, well more accurately I finished my knitted clock today. I got started on it a while ago, but then I stopped perhaps I was nervous about whether it would actually work out as I had planned.  Anyway today I finished it and it gives me real joy (I also added a snapper to a bag I had made myself, repaired a pair of shorts, and a bag, and even a toy dog… wow, it was a day for completion).

A pattern of sorts, more of a description, but hey this was what was in my head…

Take one ball of Bernat, knit an oblong, felt it into a 10in square using the shrinking formula (85% wide and 75% long). After felting, and drying (I recommend under books to flatten it), apply interfacing to make it stiff enough to hang without drooping (no-one wants a droopy clock).

Then using Pattons Classic Wool knit two squares, one red, one black, again felt. Cut circles out of the squares (4 in the red, 8 in the black — use a button as a guide).

Cut a hole in the center of the clock face which the clock mechanism can poke through. Assemble clock according to clock instructions. Once assembled, wind clock hands around to determine where to glue on the circles.

Off script crafting

In crafts and craftiness on June 5, 2009 at 10:53 pm

I’ve always practiced a variety of crafts (OMG, this is so cool, collaborative offscript crafting). From an early age I sewed, embroidered and knitted. And then I stopped, knitting first, sewing as a teenager (after the point where modding school uniforms proved useful), and so there was a hiatus.

Until now.

Is it a mid-life crisis? Well I don’t know.

Some of it is motivated by being tight fisted. I refuse to pay hundreds of dollars for curtains. I mean, there are better things to spend hundred of dollars on. The state of curtains in the United States is horrible. Expensive and ugly, ugly beyond belief. Revolting. What were these people thinking?

So, part of it is that sewing ensures that I don’t have financial or asthetic crimes against humanity hanging over my windows.

But that doesn’t explain the skirts, and it sure doesn’t explain all the other fabrics. The fabric I got from IKEA (please imagine a heraldic sound as the word IKEA is uttered because IKEA is a type of religious experience for me, and I only recently heard about the whole take an IKEA product and mod it while you’re making it up… what a brilliant idea).  So, the fabric I got from IKEA to make tote bags for kids (why shouldn’t they be introduced to environmentally friendly shopping, and have bags that reflect what they are able to carry, no, no reason at all—it also doesn’t explain why Mom is using it for her crochet, but that’s a different story…).  It also doesn’t explain the time that my husband went away on business and I chose to spend my time in a pattern store loading up on boat-loads of cheap patterns for skirts. Or the magazine I recently purchased to teach me more about modding clothes.

(It turns out, and this is not so surprising, I hate following instructions… virtually everything I sew starts in my head and not on paper. When I do follow patterns I usually like to customize them. Add a pocket, change the length, do away with the zipper—I hate zippers—and so forth). Sewing is actually a remarkably creative thing for me, and something that gives me significant pleasure when I see the end results. Even if I always rather rush to get there, patterns in my head appear to have a short life span in the head.

Embroidery was like this. I don’t do it now, but I have a shirt. The back features an embroidered elephant. It’s my own creation. An elephant in a ceremonial dress walking along. I made the pattern and selected all the threads to create it. Not embroider by the numbers or within the lines. I don’t wear the shirt often, but I keep it as a reminder of creativity and imagination.

Knitting is the latest one to make a come back. I don’t really know how or when it happened. Well, that’s not quite true. I tried to teach myself to crochet. It was a disaster, how can something like that completely mystify me, I don’t know, I still don’t know. But I know that despite my best efforts I can not crochet. I guess it was Christmas, perhaps last year that I wanted to teach myself. But it turns out I bought a load of wool and then couldn’t actually do it. So I needed to do something else and knitting (as I have mentioned before) speaks to a past, a family, memories of long ago, not just of people but of motions with my hands.

But, I am taking to knitting exactly as I took to sewing. Patterns bore me, well the ones I think I can make do. So, one of my first projects was to reverse engineer a robot. So, that’s how I learnt, the hard way, to do intarsia knitting. I then discovered that that’s considered not what a beginner does. I’m not sure I know anyone whose taught themselves intarsia knitting from the experience of reverse engineering the entire pattern (I had to decide how many stitches, how to knit the piece, etc… there were no instructions, I just thought it out, thought carefully, and then started knitting).

So sewing, embroidery, and knitting are pretty creative me, whether it’s modding school uniforms, making elephants, adding pockets, or imagining a pair of shorts and bag… whether it’s knitting a robot or just knitting a bag… it’s a very creative process, and one that is very visual for me, which is perhaps why patterns don’t work so well for me. It’s about the idea and then a full force of creativity to get there, not being too worried about a mistake along the way, because the confidence comes from knowing that nothing is irreversible, even if you are not quite sure how. How is this different from research? Well it happens over a shorter time span, but it requires the same types of skills, an ability to think outside the box, a degree of comfort with ambiguity while things are “in progress” (and potentially not going well) and a degree of confidence and optimism that things will work out.  It’s like risk taking in the small, but if you don’t craft don’t underestimate what it means to go “off pattern” or the experience of what might result if you go off pattern and then begin the process of innovation.


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.