Why do we gather together to knit? That was the question I started with when I began to think about this week’s show and essay. Why is it that there are so many knitting groups around, what is it about knitting that makes people gather together, why don’t we see fishing groups springing up at angler’s shops or carpentry groups at wood yards?
There is a tradition to knitting in groups though. We all know that many families used to use knitting to clothe themselves and supplement their income by selling some of what they made. Indeed whole industries grew up in places based on home knitting, and because there was no television one would assume that the family members sat around as a group working on the items. And although many knitting groups can feel like family, I don’t think that is the reason that knitting groups abound.
I began to think about whether we gather to knit, or do we knit to gather. Is it the knitting that creates the group or is knitting just the excuse for the group? I have a feeling it might be the latter.
I have been a member of many groups over the years, and I’ve noticed a distinct difference between knitting groups and pretty much every other group I’ve found myself involved with. Over the years I’ve been an editor, a president, a vice president, a technical officer and a sergeant at arms – currently I’m a secretary of part of the International Brotherhood of Magicians; but in the knitting group, not only have I never filled any of these positions, the positions don’t exist to fill. The formality that characterises so many other groups is lacking in many knitting groups – we don’t meet to have a meeting, we meet to see each other, that’s a good enough reason.
This very informality is one of the best things about the knitting groups I attend. Because there’s no formal structure, we can do just about anything, and talk about pretty much anything, and we do. Of course there is plenty of discussion on knitting subjects, yarns, techniques, successes and disasters, but the topics range much further a field than that. It got me thinking that I know more about some of the people I see at the weekly knitting group, people I’ve known for a few months, than I do about people I see daily at work and have for the past 8 years.
I think it’s because of the knitting, and how we knit. I’m getting to the stage where I can almost knit without looking at my hands, but for anything more complex, including tongue knitting, I have to watch my hands pretty carefully. Tongue knitting, incidentally, is any technique complex enough that while you’re trying to do it your tongue pokes out to help. SSKs do that to me, it probably explains why people don’t sit next to me on the train while I’m trying to knit lace. But because we often need to watch our hands, it makes it perfectly acceptable to talk to someone without looking them in the eyes all the time.
Now this might be a bloke thing, but I find I have much more meaningful conversations with my friends of either gender, when sitting next to them, rather than across from them; much more meaningful conversations when driving to or from a dinner than when sitting opposite them at a table. And knitting lets me do that too. I can sit opposite another knitter and we can talk about pretty much anything with just the occasional glance, and so sharing is so much simpler.
This idea that knitting groups, at least the informal ones, are really groups of people who gather and do some knitting, or needlework, or crochet or whatever, answers one of the most common questions I get asked when people find out I go to a knitting group, “How good do you have to be?” The answer is, “You don’t”, in fact you probably don’t have to be able to knit at all, an informal knitting group is probably the perfect place to learn, there are always others willing to help you get started; all you need is an open mind and a willingness to learn. Remember, knitters are generous people, we give away hundreds of hours of our time when we make things for others; we’ll gladly give it away helping others learn the craft. Most knitters really enjoy helping others learn, so by going along with that willingness to learn, you’re giving some happiness to those helping you.
The other wonderful thing about a knitting group is the diversity of people who knit. Because knitting isn’t, any longer, pursued by any particular kind of person, knitting groups tend to have a glorious variety of people in them: men and women, gay and straight, young and old, Liberal Labor or Green (Democrat Republican or Green if you’re in the US) and I would suspect all range of religious beliefs as well. I don’t think there is anyone who wouldn’t fit into a knitting group somewhere.
Yes, I know that there are some groups that make outsiders feel unwelcome. I have heard stories from other knitters of those who don’t fit the mould being encouraged not to return, but those stories are far fewer in number than the stories of people having a wonderful experience. If a group doesn’t make you feel welcome, that’s their loss, there are plenty more groups; and if you can’t find one, start your own. Lara’s suggestion in the interview of the Stitch and Bitch handbook is a good place to start. Or find a pub or café, check with the owner and then put a sign up in a local yarn shop and keep at it, as Lara said, “If you start it, they will come.”
I know many of you are already in knitting groups of one form or another, but if you’re not, if you’re wondering if you’d fit in, a bit hesitant, just do it. There is a huge community of knitters already and they are waiting for you to come and join them.