The super-connectivity of modern life has transformed the craft of knitting. Thirty years ago when I was fanatically knitting in college classes and in coffee shops and on buses, I would rarely encounter another knitter. Now, I use Ravelry (an online knitting community of 3 million users) to “meet” other knitters, find patterns, get advice, follow trends, get a knitting fix, rant, find out about events, and discuss yarns, patterns, designers and techniques. I also follow “knitting blogs”; lots of knitting blogs. It is easy to find fellow fanatics once you get online.
I was taught to knit by my grandmother and mother. Every knitter I met had learned how to knit this way, from an older, usually female knitter, who would teach the basics and then hopefully be around to help fix up mistakes and provide some guidance. If you needed any help, the only place to get it was from asking another knitter, usually at the yarn shop, or buying a book and teaching yourself. Now there is youtube. If there is any knitting technique you do not know, it is almost certain you can find a video on youtube where it will be explained and demonstrated. And, unlike asking your grandmother to help you fix your mistake, youtube is never sleeping, nor in California, nor needs her reading glasses to see. Ravelry and youtube together are like having thousands of grandmothers (and thousands of young, cool, hip fashion stylists) who never sleep and have an answer to every question.
When I started out, my choice of yarn was very limited. There were a few big companies who produced mass-market yarns. Now, there are hundreds of specialty yarn producers and dyers. Many of these are small producers, who try to provide organic, ethical yarns. Many of them specialize in particular breeds, or in astonishing colours, or in hand painting yarn. There are huge and very popular knitting and wool shows where small producers can sell their wares. But their viability as businesses are based on the internet. (A word here – I love to be able to find small producers on the internet and support their businesses. I also believe, very passionately, that you should support your local yarn shops. You can do both. The world would be a much sadder place without the local specialty shop, be it for yarn or books or vegetables. And no matter how good, or how convenient, the internet, there is nothing that compares to a fine shop run by knowledgeable staff.)
My life as a knitter has been transformed by the internet. This transformation has been almost entirely positive. However, there are certain things I find annoying about the whole inter-connectivity thing (and my reaction to them). First, it is rather addicting. I spend an awful lot of time, every day, looking at knitting on the internet. I check to see what my “friends” are up to, I check to see what patterns are trending, I check to see if there are any interesting discussions taking place, I look at projects and yarn. Sometimes, these forays take a minute or two, but other times much more. Now, the sad thing about this is – when I am online, I am not knitting. In fact, I have noticed that there seems to be a trend of knitters getting so sucked into Ravelry that they virtually stop knitting all together. (You know the type – they have 4 projects on their project page but have written 32,417 posts.) And, the more time I spend on Ravelry, the less I feel I can lecture my kids to get off of Facebook.
I have a favorite group on Ravelry. I follow it religiously, every single post, every photo. It is a group in which the members strive to make 12 completed adult-sized sweaters a year. There are lots of knitters in this group, about 1500 of them, and a nicer, more supportive bunch of people is not to be found anywhere. Most of them, like me, never get to their goal of 12 (I knit 7 sweaters in 2011 and 6 in 2012). Quite a few of them manage to hit their target. This is a personal goal – there are no prizes, no penalties, just a wonderful group of people cheering you on, and providing advice, and sharing a huge love of the craft. There are also quite a few fabulous knitters, who not only knit the most amazing, technically-proficient, stylish, well-fitted garments, but who can easily knit 30 or more of them a year. I love to follow their progress and cheer them on from the sidelines. Sometimes, however, I look at yet another sweater which seems to have literally flown off the needles of one of these super-knitters, and I find myself thinking “I should knit a bit faster. Perhaps, if I knit in the car on the way to work…. or, if I knit while I’m stirring the soup….or, if I give up reading and knit instead… or perhaps, if I double my knitting speed… I can knit more sweaters in less time.”
I then have to take a deep breath and remind myself “Knitting is not a competitive sport.” I knit because I love it, not to be faster or better than anyone else. I wrote a post last year about my personal history as a knitter (you can find it here), in which I talked about my difficulties with deQuervaine’s tenosynovitis, a repetitive stress disorder, and how it led to surgery and many years of not knitting. In order to knit again, I had to purposely slow down my knitting, and I also have to purposefully limit the amount of knitting I do each day to avoid hand pain. Trying to keep up with the super-knitters would be crazy (and, let’s face it, impossible). To all you super-fast fantastic knitters: I love that you can do this. I think you are amazing. In the very back of my mind, I really, really want to knit 38 sweaters a year to your 37. But, hey, knitting is not a competitive sport. I will make a sport of watching those beautiful projects trip off your needles. And I will console myself with the fact that I spend a hell of a lot less money on yarn than you do.