In the final essay of series one, I wanted to draw out the individual themes that had run through the shows. When the series began, I didn’t really have a nicely laid out plan for how the shows would evolve (I haven’t got one for series two either) because I just got started to see how it would all work out – if I’d planned I might never have started.
When I looked back over everything, I realised that the one thing that has been present in every show was the idea of a community, in some shows that has been obvious – the Interknit and ‘Knitting a community’ have both talked about the community of knitters that we’re all a part of, the two ‘What Men Want’ shows looked at a subset of that community, the other shows though have looked at the other communities in which we are all involved, the communities of our families and friends some of whom may knit with us, most of whom don’t.
It was the trip to Nundle that got me thinking about the influence we as knitters have on the wider community, those not attached to us by family ties or friendship. As you would have heard in last week’s show, the Nundle Woollen Mill wasn’t always there, although it looks like it’s been in place for a hundred years, it’s only been there for less than ten. And it wasn’t put there because of the huge glut of local wool and the need for another mill, it was put there to help the community. The tourists it attracts and the jobs it creates help keep the town of Nundle alive, whether it’s the pub or the local service station or even the local police station all depend on there being enough people, and hence enough income, to keep the town economically viable.
The woollen mill is just one very visible example of the actions of knitters (and others) helping the wider community. I am sure everyone knows of the various charity knitting events that take place every year, from local events for the homeless or knitting for newborns on the other side of the world, knitters, and others, reaching out into the community to share our good fortune; after all if you’ve got needles, yarn and the time and ability to make wonderful items, or even just knitted squares, then you are more fortunate than many.
Every time we knit, we affect people around us. Even if the item we are knitting is for ourselves, the calmness that usually results is often appreciated by those around us. I, for example, used to dislike being stuck with an exam supervision at work, but now, I look forward to 45 minutes of uninterrupted sock knitting. And as long as I keep moving around, the kids can’t tell if I’m looking at the knitting, or at them and their work. It means I’m usually in a much better frame of mind at the end of the day.
If the item is for someone else, then they of course are affected by it. A birthday or gift giving holiday has once again rolled around and in amongst the presents they have received is a hand knitted garment of some sort, possibly not for the current season (knitted cardigans and jumpers are quite reasonable Christmas gifts, but down here where the temperature is in the high 30s in December, they’re probably not even going to get tried on). When the weather cools down though, out they come and with them the memory of the gift giving and the person who made it. I have many books and DvDs that I’ve received from people over the years, and with a few exceptions, I have difficulty remembering who gave them to me (unless they wrote in them). Yet I can tell you exactly who made the few hand knitted items I’ve received even though they are many years old, and each time I get one of them out I have a happy memory of the different aunts who made them.
There are others that we affect with our knitting. If you knit in public, people see you. Given that about 15% of people know how to knit (but for some unexplained reason don’t) I would bet that at least one person has seen you contentedly working away at some amazing object and decided to pick the sticks back up again, maybe only in private, and rejoin the knitting community.
As knitters we affect others in more direct ways too. The fibres we use in knitting, with the exception of acrylics, put money back into farm economies the world over – and as we all know, there are few farmers who are laughing all the way to the bank. Farming, that livelihood that until a few hundred years ago was what almost everyone did, seems to be a pretty hard way to make a living today, whether it’s growing crops or growing animals, and although not as labour intensive as it once was, much of it seems to be hard work. When we buy our yarns, especially if we buy locally produced product, we give some money back to those people for their hard work.
A few weeks back I was shown how to skirt a fleece, the process where you take out all the wool that will be unsuitable for spinning, this particular fleece was from a ram called ‘Nibbles’. Once we’d got rid of the mucky bits around the edges, there was a fine brown fleece ready for spinning. Someone asked the sheep’s owner how much the fleece was worth, “about $60” was the answer. I was struck by how little this was, Nibbles had been hand fed for most of the past year because the drought has made it almost impossible to grow sufficient pasture. Now I’m assuming that hay isn’t too expensive but I’m pretty sure that $60 doesn’t leave much profit in growing a year’s worth of wool.
Buying local wool (or other fibre) therefore means that local farmers keep going and that means that their local communities remain viable too. Now, of course, local and community are relative terms. Although I generally prefer to buy Australian wool, I include New Zealand wool as the same, after all, many famous Australians are actually from New Zealand (Russell Crowe is Australian when accepting an Academy Award, but a New Zealander when returning a phone).
But the knitting and fibre community is wider than just one country or region, we can pretty much include people in other countries producing yarns for us, growing animals or plants, dying, spinning, and trying to provide for their families and local communities. Or consider the independent small business person or family business, people who have taken a gamble with their financial security to do something they enjoy and are good at, and which gives us a huge range of stunning materials with which to work.
When we knit we affect others, both close by and far away. As knitters we need to consider all the members of our community, whether they are someone we see regularly, or someone on the other side of the world whose work we know only from the internet So when buying yarn, or knitting, remember all the people that are affected by your actions and decisions, because we’re all connected, there are no loose ends.