Daily Archives: December 10, 2008

Book Review: Knitting for Good

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a short while, you know that I tend to consider my knitting a relatively selfish pursuit. By ‘selfish’ I mean that I mostly (though not exclusively – my sock-knitting list and current Christmas knitting are testaments to that) tend to knit things for myself, and I orient myself towards knitting based on what I want to make and what I will get out of it. I am generally pretty comfortable with this. Here is why.

I came to knitting at the beginning of the 5-year journey that was the completion of my PhD, and it made a lot of sense to me because unlike the long, often isolating and distressing, and very nebulous experience of finishing a degree, knitting was extremely gratifying because it gave me a sense of accomplishment (I could quite literally see my progress, then wear or use the results almost instantly), and small boosts of confidence (there was once a time when I was alternately afraid of cables, socks, fair isle, and big enormous commitment-heavy blankets. Now my knitting eats fair isle for breakfast. HAH).

I also came to knitting at a time when I was coming to the end of a long series of commitments within my membership of an organization highly dedicated to volunteer work. I did this work for so many years because I believed it was good work (and I still do), but I came to the point of needing to step away. It had become something that exhausted me and for which I could no longer explain my motivation. I was spending huge amounts of my own time, energy, and sense of self doing something that I wasn’t fully committed to, and I needed a time-out. Knitting filled that void. With knitting I could be as self-directed as I wished, set my own challenges, and even connect to other human beings outside of my own living room, whether in person or online. Knitting has connected me to a great many of the friends I have now. It has also meant that I can wear handmade socks and sweaters every single day of the fall and winter. I can’t remember the last time I purchased a commercial pair of wool socks.

I buy a lot of yarn. By ‘a lot’, I mean that, while I don’t buy it every week, yarn is the consumer product that I purchase more often than anything else (even clothing), I have more yarn than one knitter reasonably needs, my sock yarn basket overfloweth, and if I didn’t see the inside of a yarn shop for the next few years I would probably manage just fine. Although I occasionally still shop from discount retailers (have I told you about my arsenal of Knit Picks Palette stash that will quite possibly never get smaller?), more and more often I purchase from smaller local yarn shops in Toronto or on my travels. This is a balance that works for me, personally.

So, why am I telling you all of this in a post that is labelled as a book review? It is because the book in question is a book that will start you thinking about what your personal knitting story is, and whether or not you would like to change it. This book is Knitting for Good!, by Betsy Greer.

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This book is written in three sections: Knitting for Yourself, Knitting for Your Community, and Knitting for the World. Greer writes very much from the perspective of her own trajectory of knitting, and each section is filtered through her own stories as well as those of other knitters she has consulted in the process of writing the book. These other stories are, I would argue, some of the high points of the book. There is one story, for example, of a woman who started a project to knit cozies for walking canes, because when she covered her own walking cane with knitting it immediately changed the way people perceived her disability. Another is from a woman who lived for a year on the barter system and learned a lot about contemporary cultures of consumption as a result.

Many of us in the knitting blogosphere are already familiar with much of what Greer writes in the first and second sections of this book. We know that knitting can be a gateway to self-confidence and meditative action. We know that the DIY experience is about more than the sum of its parts, and that creating handmade items can stand in direct contrast to the consumer culture we live in. We know that knitting is about more than individual human beings working in isolation. We know that knitting is often representative of contemporary feminist identity, as an affirmation of the significance of traditionally domestic activity and the power of collective action. We know that knitters can be extremely generous people. We know that knitters are capable of effecting great change at multiple scales.

As a result, I found myself reading the first several chapters and thinking, “I know this. Tell me something I don’t know.” By the time I reached the end of the book, however, I came to the conclusion that even if much of this is repetitive, it is still worth repeating. The ultimate statement behind this book is to consider how the ‘personal is political’ is relevant to the world of knitting, and if I’m being honest with myself I know that just because I agree that this statement is true, it doesn’t mean that I actually think about it all the time when I’m knitting.

This is a short and reflective read, and I think it would be an interesting gift for knitters who are perhaps less “connected” than others, and who are open to thinking about knitting beyond the skills they are learning. It might also be an effective “recruitment tool” into knitting for people who are interested in the world of craft and community, but who haven’t yet been introduced to knitting. There are even a few simple patterns scattered throughout the book, for things like blankets, hats, and socks.

Greer asks her readers – in the third section especially – to consider how knitting fits into the contemporary consumer world, and how the potentially isolating act of knitting individually can be transformed into local and global activism. It is very hard to be presented with questions about these sorts of things and not start to answer them for yourself as you read. And, just because the questions are familiar doesn’t mean that I’ve come up with an answer yet for myself. I’m going to work on that.

Still to come in book reviews: ‘Continuous Cables’, and ‘Shear Spirit’.

May your knitting be close by!

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