Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Knitting: The New Arts and Crafts?

We've all heard the book titles and the catch phrases: Zen and the Art of Knitting, "knitting, the new yoga," the new meditation, the stress reliever...

This Thursday I'm giving a speech at my local Toastmasters club, my project involves visual aids... and I need your help. A bit of background first:

They don't have an overhead projector, so using images becomes difficult. I thought about talking about topics from my general exam reading: the history of bibles in the US, images revealing the cult of domesticity in the 19th century, Warner Sallman's famous "Head of Christ" and other images of Jesus. But really, they don't want to hear me give an oral rehearsal of a general exam answer. They want to be entertained. And the main thing I think of these days when I think of entertainment and visual aids is (of course!) knitting.

Knitting as a speech topic raises another knotty problem: people know what a sweater is. A scarf. A sock. If they had to think about their store-bought ones for long, I'm sure they could come up with a guess or two about how it's put together. A few of them might even find the history of knitting to be interesting, but I rather doubt that they'd really want to know that much about different types of heels, shawl construction around the world, or traditional fair isle motifs. After all, I'm the only one who pulls out knitting during meetings, and usually I'm something of a curiosity ("what's that? It's pretty.").

So how on earth am I to do a speech (in 5-7 minutes) about knitting that wasn't totally facile or boring? Last night, as I was telling Coffeeboy about the Arts and Crafts movement and how it makes me think of knitting, he suggested doing my speech on knitting as the new Arts and Crafts.

Now all you knitters are saying, what's that? Why should I care? Well, the Arts and Crafts movement was a late 19th century movement that started in Britain with elite men who wanted to escape the sense of alienation and malaise brought on by industrialized society. Buying tables and chairs at stores rather than making them themselves made these corporate leaders of an increasingly capitalist world uneasy. So they went back to the land, or at least to the workbench, so to speak, creating beautiful tables, chairs, chests, and other works of art. Think of the popularity today of artisanal bread or farmer's markets, and I think you get a flavor of what these Arts and Crafts leaders were getting at.

Every time I read about Arts and Crafts, I feel a weird chill down my spine when I think of the knitting in my backpack. Why do I knit? Like these 19th century folk, I remain tied to the capitalist order: I still buy my clothes at major stores (and I have no desire to, say, live off the land on a farm, shearing my own sheep to eventually make clothes), but man, it feels good to dance around with a new pair of homemade socks!

Here's where you come in: does any of this resonate with you as knitters? Do you think an audience of non-knitters would find it interesting I'm always interested in how the past sheds light on the present, on where the world we live in came from, so *I* think it's interesting, but I'm a geeky grad student (we gave our Halloween pumpkin glasses. Seriously.) Does my brief description of the Arts and Crafts movement make sense to folks not currently in school studying the cultural and religious history of America? What other contemporary examples can you think of that involve a similar impulse? For visual aids, I'm planning to use both handouts of Arts and Crafts images, as well as a few carefully chosen knitted items on my own body, just for kicks. Nothing risque, of course, though I might go with a hat, scarf, and socks. I think a sweater might be too warm! Thanks for any and all comments you may have!

The Striping Sleeve?
For those of you following the saga of the striping sleeve, I frogged it. Not because of the dye lot changes, though; the friendly knitters at Woolbears and those who hadn't seen this blog said they didn't notice anything when I asked for comments about possible problems. So I decided to plunge ahead and pretend it was supposed to be like that. When I was a few inches from done, I tried on the sleeve and it was just too tight. I suspect I cast on an incorrect number of stitches at the armpit because something looked off. My gauge might have been a little tight, too. So, back to the drawing board with that one!


keri said...

You could always do a cat bordhi immitation, hopping up and down on one foot while doing a moebius cast on behind your back! =) Hehe, j/k.

I think what you're saying makes sense although I"m no muggle. I would choose something lacey to bring if you have it as well as other basic objects, hat, socks etc. It may help them to relate.

Sheepish Annie said...

When I started reading this post, I kept thinking about how knitting is a "connection" for me. I knit useful items for a purpose, of course. But I could purchase most of them more cheaply. However, when I skein up some handspun on my antique skein winder or use my great, great grandmother's swift and needles, I become a part of something that has traveled through time. The sweater will unravel at some point. I know that. But the skill that created it will live on well past my visit on this planet. Backward and forward...I'm touching both at the same time. Here's hoping that made as much sense in print as it did in my head!

Zarzuela said...

Your thoughts bring to mind something that Brenda Dayne has addressed in her podcasts. We are making something by hand because we are "raging" against the "mass market made". I can't think of the right words at the moment, but hopefully you get the idea. Basically, we are surround with things made from/by machines and we are adding the human element back into our lives. Something simple. Something handmade with love and attention. I think that might resonate with more people than the knitting itself. Just a thought.


Greta_Jane said...

We all know that I want to join the arts and crafts movement, so I feel like I am a bad test case. But yes, I am with you. Except that I wish I had the money to go back to the land...

Kristina said...

Here is my two cents. I used to work a high pressure job, suits, long hours, travel, etc. No real time for hobbies. When I decided it to opt out of my corporate career, I still needed to have goals, challenge and competition (with myself if not others). I tried basket weaving, general crafty stuff,scrapbooking, and also cooking, gardening and knitting (the last three were a fit for me) My saying no to the chaos of the corporate world gave me time and space for the other things and yet I could still challenge myself and grow with my new hobbies. Knitting and cooking and gardening are all ways I express my individualism and also my "skill set". I don't climb the corporate ladder, but I still climb an internal ladder. This may be way too much information, but there you go! :)

rose said...

I've always had a thing for WIlliam ('if a chap can't compose an epic while he's weaving tapestry he had better shut up') Morris, and I've always enjoyed the Arts & Crafts movement. I think it's important to have something real/physical in life, especially where we, as the intellectual class, spend so much of our time inside our own heads. I knit because it's physical. It takes me outside of my head and into my body. It's the same reason that I dance and go for hikes. It forces me to pay attention to everyday things, and to take things as they are, not to be constantly analyzing and judging.
It's grounding. It's also satisfying in a way that cataloging isn't, and never can be. I have so much more pride and accomplishment in the socks I've made, or the shawl, than I do when I've processed a book, or printed out a report.
Knitting is a way of livind deeply, if you want to drag Thoreau into it.

As for your speech, I think the Toastmasters will get it. If you're worried about it, start off with an opener asking them what they do for hobbies. How many dance, how many fix cars, how many do something they don't have to do but enjoy doing nonetheless.

Good luck. I really want to hear/read your speech.

Old Knitter said...

Until your question....I never thought about why I knit. I think when I knit for others the gift seems more intimate. I certainly still shop and buy pretty knitted items for myself, but I love wearing a sweater or socks I made by hand. Knitting is and art and a brings the possiblilty to create to the knitter. We do make a pattern our own.

I think this is a great topic for oration.....but, then again, I'm a passionate knitter.

Diana said...

I once "entertained" a group of nonknitters with knit talk. I started passing around fleece, then roving, dyed roving, showed them a spinning wheel, all the way to the finished knitted project. If you decide you want any roving let me know.

Lone Knitter said...

Knitting should be in every lecture, presentation, and used as a visual aid everywhere. You are carrying the torch and spreading the word of the new depths of the arts and crafts movement in the contemporary world. Of course everyone is interested in different types of heels, aren't they?