as my thesis takes shape, it seems to me that practicality is a major part of it. i’ve nixed projects that i originally planned to do on itty bitty needles and with cables. i’ve pared back to some very basic shapes. i’ve noticed in this that the version of knitting history that i hold up is very particular.
now, you may be thinking that of course a gallery show of useful knit goods has to be about practicality. but it is truly making me think about what is practical. how to show care and make beautiful peices, but also be simple enough that one can execute it in the midst of daily life. historically, there must have been quite a fine line in between what was acceptable as beautiful and what was frivilous. and for that matter, what was acceptable as ingenuity in pattern- there must have been a tipping point when ripping just wasn’t worth it anymore, when working out the pattern had to stop.
although i appreciate (and buy) such things as handknit table runners, doilies, and bed spreads, i am not a victorian knitter. i am not primarily concerned with such things. the things that we surround ourselves with (down to our doilies) are all important, but i don’t find doilies to be as satisfying a knit as a hat that someone will wear.
within the christian tradition, it is particularily important to affirm matter. if we believe in a creator who made the earth and called it good, then we better take matter seriously. so many christians think that it’s all going to be blown up anyway, so what should we care. but really, if God (who you believe is an all powerful creator), called it good, i’d take him at his word any day. besides, being redeemed and being blown up are two totally different things.
as matter goes, a handknit doily is good (and will be redeemed). it is beautiful. however, it is not as deep an object as something one wears. the more connections something has to the earth and its ecosystems (including human communities), the deeper the item. Albert Borgmann would argue that in modern consumptive culture, objects lose their depth. objects like wool hats should mean something beyond mere commodity. they should at least mean sheep. and if they mean sheep, they should mean grazing and the earth. if they’re handknit, they should mean caring hands, love, etc.
circling back to thoughts on practicality, simplicity, and beauty. i’m a knitter who is known to rip things out if i don’t like them, or if they don’t feel right to me. in opening my little shop, i’ve been forced to find a fine balance for myself, making things that mean something, are beautiful, and yet somewhat simple to fit into my everyday life (and that are worth producing for sale). if i rip something out, it is not as big of a deal because i’m not using my smallest needles and the most complex pattern. the time is worth it for the beauty. the item has not reached the tipping point.
i am currently blessed with the freedom to knit in any size i’d like for the thesis and so very little ripping is happening right now. all these thoughts of knitting and ripping make me think this quote from No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting speaking of 19th century knitters, “But since garments seldom required a good ‘fit’ of chest or bust, few knitters brooded about final measurements. In children’s clothes, if the garment didn’t fit, a child was found to fit the garment.”
it seems to me that there is a difference in between a good fit and a fit that trumps the fact that knit items have a purpose beyond fashion (warmth etc.). another balancing point. when do we become frivilous in our knitting? there is feasting, there is fasting – knit items that are celebrations of the people they are for and of beauty (i made some lovely cabled socks once) and knit items that are purely useful with little dabs of personalness like my friend amanda’s dad’s hat. our affluent culture of consumption does not encourage such thoughts (i may not go buy $900 worth of yarn to make 9 sweaters for myself – oh no!) but i think that they are important. i think the tipping points still exist, and that we can still fast and feast. but all feasting (or all fasting) is not healthy for anyone- us as individuals or for the world.