Fraser Forum

Knitting—the joys of producing and consuming

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Julian Baggini’s recent review in The Guardian of Darian Leader’s new book Hands: What We do with Them and Why closes with a discussion of Leader’s observations on knitting.

Baggini observes that Leader, “notes the irony that while knitting today is celebrated as a reaction against passive consumerism towards active creation, its appeal is also explained in precisely the same values that drive the consumer society: ‘The importance of personal choice, the sense of autonomy, the search for pleasure and a work of self-improvement.’”

As a knitter, it is incumbent on a me to add a few thoughts to Leader’s observation, because I think he leaves out one really important thing.
Knitters do, indeed, celebrate their craft as a reaction against passivity. We like to (try to, anyway) create precisely the objects we desire, and we like to know that we have done it ourselves. We like to keep busy. As a result, the world has far more adorable hats, whimsical scarves, breath-taking lace shawls, and cozy sweaters.

But I’ve always thought that while we knitters deserve all kinds of praise for keeping the people we love warm in fetching ways, we need to stop claiming that knitting is somehow “anti-consumption.”

Every knitter I know delights in glorious, glorious consumption.

From yarn, fleece and sheep shows like Maryland Sheep and Wool or the near legendary Rhinebeck festival, to events like Stitches that focus on classes but have a market with hundreds of vendors, it’s hard to find a single weekend when a knitter can’t go out and consume like crazy.

It’s true, the things that knitters consume are often transformed into objects of beauty and purpose, but let’s not pretend that most knitters don’t have a closet somewhere that’s stuffed with yarn they will never use. Indeed, non-knitters who search for images tagged “flash your stash” will find it hard to believe that they’re looking at collections of yarn owned by individual knitter and not by yarn stores.

Aside from that, very few knitters I know work with a sense of grim purpose. We don’t knit just because we like the final product. We knit because we like to knit. It’s fun. Knitting, all by itself, is a consumption good.

I love the focus on personal choice, autonomy, pleasure and aspiration that drives the market order and the “consumer society” that is so often frowned upon. As a knitter I’m a joyful producer and an equally happy consumer.

Isn’t that the best of both worlds?


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