Knitting a New Social Fabric

Have you been shaking your head at the state of the world? Want to do something to make a difference, but can’t decide what to do? Don’t loseWeight Exercise heart – even the tiniest action can be an act of resistance, so stop sitting around and start knitting!

Yes, really, knitting. But needlepoint, crocheting, sewing and other related crafts work just as well. Traditionally the pastimes of our grandmas and aunties, needlework and textile crafts are gaining popularity with a much younger set and play an important part in do-it-yourself culture, a growing movement that emphasizes personal creativity, while rejecting consumerism.

As a do-it-yourselfer, I would much rather knit my own sweater than, despite the long hours of work involved, than run out to the mall and buy one. By making something myself, I can move away from consumerist practices by putting time and effort into creating something that I know I will take good care of. If my hand-knit sweater breaks, it can’t be easily replaced by something I can pick up at American Eagle. By making my own clothes, therefore, I’m engaging in a form of environmental activism by not buying into the attitude that consumer goods are easily disposable and replaceable. Knitting is a way of using up fewer environmental resources, and helping to make sure that the resources we have are still around for the next generation.

If I knit my own sweater, I can also help support good business practices. Most mainstream clothing store chains outsource their labour to overseas sweatshops, which employ cheap and unethical labour practices. By making my own clothes, I can be certain that what I wear has not been produced under poor conditions. Knitting also allows me to support local and Canadian businesses, as many yarn and fabric stores are small and locally owned. It’s also easy to support Canadian yarn and textile companies. One of the most important yarn companies in Canada has its head office in Listowel, and knitters can help encourage local jobs and support local workers.

Knitting can also be a form of feminist resistance. Knitting has traditionally been viewed as “women’s work” and hasn’t received a great deal of respect. Today, we continue to dismiss knitting as the work of little old ladies. The skill involved in knitting and the practicality of the craft, however, should demand respect, not derision. Hand-knit clothes have kept generations of people warm, before such garments were available commercially. Because women have been subjugated by men, the work women have historically been responsible for, including knitting, hasn’t been granted its full value, and has never received financial remuneration. This has contributed to keeping women financially dependant on their husbands. Knitters today, however, have reclaimed the craft and demand that it receive the respect it deserves. In doing so, the contributions of the long history women who have been knitters and seamstresses to their families are being honoured. The historical contributions of women are therefore viewed as equally important to those of men. By reminding people of how important women’s contributions were, knitting is losing its reputation as a trivial hobby and is being taken up by people of diverse backgrounds, including women and men, and is becoming less of a gendered activity, helping contribute to sexual equality.

Once, when I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was part of a knitting circle, his reply was, “What are you guys, a bunch of grandmas?” Rather than take offense, I was proud – my grandmother is an avid knitter, and therefore a revolutionary in her own way – by knitting she’s been contributing greatly to the quality of life for her family, and has made a difference in my life in so many ways, but one of the most important is that she taught me to knit. And if knitting has in turn taught me anything at all, it’s that our grandmothers, and the work they did, rock!