knitsploitation

I've been trying to explain this for years, and I keep on failing. But here I am, trying again.

It seems like no cultural activity is safe from exploitation by those out to make a quick buck. From food to sex to sports to work, religion to politics to a fondness for puppies: there are calendars, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and countless other tchotchkes trying to divert revenue from the main thing people want to spend their money on to some useless "themed" item.

So the person who loves golf gets bookends made to look like golf clubs. The cat aficionado gets a sweatshirt with a romanticised picture of kittens on it. And knitters get earrings shaped like balls of yarn, bookmarks that say "I'll start reading this again as soon as I get to the end of the row," and books with people talking around knitting, rather than about knitting itself.

I can't stand any of this stuff. Here's just a short list of the reasons why:
  • I knit the way smokers smoke. It's a nervous habit that I find relaxing. The main difference is that at the end of an evening, I'll have a sock done whereas the smoker will have a full ashtray. That really is the main difference.
  • I knit because I am a tall, big woman. I learned to knit when I was about nine. I stopped growing (at 1.75m, taking a North American size 14) when I was 12. If I wanted a sloppy fisherman-knit sweater, the kind that was popular when I was 12, I was going to have to bloody well make it myself. For the kind of knits I like to wear, that still holds true today.
Furthermore:
  • I resent the pop culture norm that "real knitters don't knit with acrylic." I have had the honour of knowing several master knitters who knit exclusively with acrylic. They were all old enough to remember when substandard wool was the only option, and they were thrilled when the synthetics came on the market. Maybe you disagree with them on their fibre choices, but that doesn't make them bad knitters. I for one am grateful to have the choices of fibre we have today, and that includes working in synthetics when it's the best tool for the job I want to accomplish.
  • Furthermore, I really hate it when people are snobby about not working with acrylic, but cheerfully buy off-the-rack clothes made with synthetic fibres. You know who you are.
  • I also resent the consumerist attitude that says knitting today is more about buying yarn and less about making stuff. I like making stuff. The purpose of buying yarn, for me, is to make stuff. It is not to "fondle", or satisfy an "addiction", or any other sex/drug metaphor people want to use to cover up buying habits they seem to be vaguely ashamed of. Sure, I like a nice skein of nice fibre as much as the next person. But I'm not going to buy it unless I have some idea of what I want to do with it.
  • Most of all, I hate the assumption that knitting today is a "hobby," a "pass-time" that no-one "has" to do. If I want the clothes to fit, I have to make them myself, or else hire a dressmaker, or else shop somewhere that is very well stocked in the medium to larger sizes. If I want cardigans with sleeves that go down to my wrists, I'm going to have to make them. "Hobby" is a put-down for all the years I've spent making sure my skill levels were good enough that I could make things that didn't scream, "this was hand-made by a non-professional."
I have been knitting for 75% of my life. I knitted in high school between classes and put up with other kids calling me "Little Suzy Homemaker," growling back at them (long before Lily Chin appropriated it) that I was an "urban knitter" who was "in it for the fashion." In university I used knitting to convey character during drama class. During my first career as a high school teacher, the half-hour of knitting on the bus to and from work was my only leisure time on workdays, and ensured I'd have something comfortable and decent to wear to class while I tried to cover rent on a part-timer's salary.

For the first twenty years of my knitting, my grandmother was the only other knitter I knew. I raided the public library for books to teach me techniques (Oma lived an hour's drive away and wasn't always there to show me how to do things when I was ready to learn them). We made our own knitting culture, creating work that was about a good job done and the usability of the finished product. We had no trends, no peer pressure, no romance of an imagined "tradition". We just knew hand-made socks were superior to the store-bought ones, and that machine-made hats don't keep your ears warm in Canadian winters.

Now hawkers of "heart-warming" books want me to buy their wares so they can tell me amusing anecdotes about uneven stitches (uneven stitches? I can't make them if I tried, not the way Oma taught me to work them), mother-to-daughter bonding (my mum hates knitting, and my grandmother was taught to knit at school, not home), overcoming "fear" (Oma gave me a bagful of odd balls so I could experiment before working a usable item. I never had a chance to be afraid.). Finally, they keep insisting that knitters are helpless to resist when it comes to buying yarn, even if they can't keep their tension consistent for the length of a row, never mind a whole sweater.

It makes me angry. They are taking my lifelong nervous-yet-constructive habit away from me, then distorting it to push the consumerist angle that it is better to be a good yarn buyer than a good knitter. They are insulting me by telling me that people with seven years' experience in this 800-year-old craft are "experts," even though my thirty years of knitting makes me feel like an intermediate who is finally getting the hang of it. They want to infantilise me and take away my hard-won expertise, my ability to judge what is right for me to create and spend my money on.

Hence "knitsploitation." Like "sexploitation," it's taking something people like and then twisting it until it's merely a set of consumer goods. And like the cigarette smoker who wouldn't necessarily appreciate a book on modern tobacco cultivation, the last thing I need in my life is a book trying to give me the warm fuzzies about a craft that is already warm and fuzzy all on its own.

Make it stop.