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Flawed Shawls – Responses to Knitting as Lifestyle

Thank you so much for all the insightful and thoughtful comments to my piece on why I worry we are slowly killing off the craft revival. I am going to highlight a couple of responses and then, perhaps paradoxically, I am going to respond to my own post.

Austen wrote about her own personal and professional experiences in Craft/Life and also linked to this fascinating blog post about similar(?) issues in food blogging (skip halfway down for the good bits). Heather took her cues from one of the many Twitter discussions and examined the representation of the Self in everyday knitting. Finally, Ellen wrote quite a meaty response in which she pondered knitting as a subculture.

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I have been mulling over my own response.

I am not sure where knitting is heading as a community but I worry we are starting to talk way too much about ‘personal brands’ and ‘lifestyle’ instead of talking about the actual things we make. I love the act of making something – seeing something come into existence because my brain and hands made that thing happen – and I love seeing what other people make. Making is an act of story-telling and it is a story so much more powerful than any photo of me holding a branded ‘limited-edition’ purse with needles sticking out. No, the branded purse photo does not exist but it’s the sort of thing I worry we will see emerging on social media a year from now.

(You don’t see this happening? That’s okay. I don’t think I would have felt the urge to write all this if we were already in this place. Like most future predictions, this is all about the paths we choose to take right here, right now.)

So, let’s talk more about making things. Make things you love, not because you think you should. Choose to make things because they will bring enjoyment to you in your life. Share the things you enjoy making and do so with pride. Making stuff is not a race and not a competition – everybody’s life is different and that is fine. Make only that which is beautiful and useful to you at the pace you find most compatible with the rest of your life. And if making something sucks, it’s okay to stop making it even if everybody else thinks it’s awesome.

(And if you do not agree with me in any of this, that is sort of the point too.)

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Yes, part of it also comes down to my personal struggle to think kind thoughts of myself. I have a strong streak of perfectionism in me and I never feel like anything I do has any merit (until six months later when I look back and am surprised by how nice something is). And this makes it tough to accept compliments. Louise once said something to me when I was having a bit of a wobble:

We are [all] like the shawl that gets admired and we cannot help but say – “Oh! but there is a hole here that you can barely see. I am showing you this because I made a mistake. Am I not a less accomplished knitter due to this flaw?”

This struck a chord with me because one of my pet peeves is when somebody comes up to me wearing a beautiful shawl they’ve knitted and then react to my compliment by pointing out all the places they’ve deviated from the pattern. I tell them to own the shawl they have made, to celebrate their accomplishments as a knitter and as a maker-of-things, and yet I do this knee-jerk self-effacement myself when people say nice things to me. Working on accepting compliments is on my list.

So, when I receive emails talking about “lifestyle branding strategies” – well, it weirds me out a bit. Partly because I am not sure why anybody would want lifestyle commandments from me and partly because I’m not really sure who I am. Life is an on-going process and we all contain multitudes – so why try to pin things down? Why not just throw ourselves into this wonderful mire we call life and try to muddle our way through? And maybe, just maybe, try to make sense of it all by making stuff (creating order from chaos!) and sharing our making efforts with strangers who may/may not become friends?

We are all in this together, flawed shawls and all.

8 Thoughts on “Flawed Shawls – Responses to Knitting as Lifestyle

  1. Alison Mayne on May 18, 2015 at 5:26 pm said:

    I am finding these posts so interesting – you’ve hit on a profound issue for a number of people, I think. I don’t know if you have access to the journal TEXTILE, (I had to go to the Bodleian to get sight of it as not held in my university library) but this, by Emmanuelle Dirix, picks up on a number of key points for the original post –
    Stitched Up—Representations of Contemporary Vintage Style Mania and the Dark Side of the Popular Knitting Revival
    Dirix, Emmanuelle
    Textile : the journal of cloth and culture 2014 Volume:12 Issue:1 Page:86 – 99

    I agree that the making is the thing – we are saying a great deal about ourselves in the creating, wearing and often gifting of what we make. Working on the item – the flawed shawl – is just part of figuring all that out… and perhaps learning about self-care in the process.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I remember reading years ago that traditional knitters would deliberately leave a flaw as ‘perfection is the prerogative of the almighty’. May not be true, and one doesn’t have to believe in a higher power to get the idea. I still tend to criticise what I make and also to criticise myself. The strangest thing is looking at photos from 25 years ago that I hated at the time because of double chin etc, etc – now I just think I looked young and absolutely fine, and why on earth did I waste my time stressing.
    It seems like we have more and more pressure, on how we look, weight, and now for a particular ‘lifestyle’. I so much hope that the current wonderful revival of crafts and indie designers, yarn dyers, fabric makers does continue and doesn’t just get dismissed as ‘out of fashion’. I especially love the inclusiveness of things like Ravelry where modern designs and traditional can blend, and many different people can interact without any sort of ‘creative snobbery’ or lifestyle police.

  3. This resonates with something about my own experience that I’m becoming very aware of. A little anecdote from the I Knit Fandango festival this weekend: someone commented that I wasn’t wearing any handknits. I swiftly brushed the comment aside, replying that I was wearing my MSF t-shirt, so wanted the focus to be on that. The reality? I’m so aware of the pressure to turn up at knitting events wearing your most fabulous fresh-off-the-needles item, that I have simply opted out. I mean, just imagine turning up in something that was a bit old and amateurish! It wasn’t a conscious decision, but somewhere along the way I must have decided to just stay clear.

    • yes! I went to the first Edinburgh Yarn Festival without wearing a handknit and felt I was letting the side down.. so wore a shawl to the second even though I was TOO HOT!

  4. Since I read your last post this issue has been going round and round in my head, trying to formulate the words and articulate how I feel. It’s no secret that words aren’t really coming out as they should at the moment and why, but I can’t not say something!

    I’ve been outspoken about personal branding, and how damaging I find the veneer that gets presented. I grew up with constant judgement about what I should say and what I should wear and and soon as I see comments suggesting that some things shouldn’t be said or that some people have no (online) filters, I’m instantly back in that dark place again. People should be free to be who they are without criticism or judgement (social faux pas are no different to knitting mistakes or typos – they have to be allowed to happen. We are *human*), and I find branding judgemental, by way of exclusion. At least I think that’s what it is that bothers me about it. That and the fact that I find it incredibly detrimental to mental health.

    I need to think about this some more and get to the bottom of why the current direction bothers me, but for now all I have is feelings, not words. Making should be the thing, and I too will be working on putting my perfectionism back in it’s place.

  5. Terri on May 20, 2015 at 9:43 am said:

    Another post where I find myself nodding as I’m reading! (Except for the bit about perfectionism, not something I struggle with :)). As for compliments – being so awful at accepting them I’ve realised that on occasion I’ve accidentally/awkwardly rebuffed them so badly that I’ve actually been rude to the person who has been nice to me! Not a good feeling, now I try to either keep quiet and say thanks or at least think before speaking :(. Oh, and I didn’t wear any handknits to Iknit Fandango either!

  6. This is a really interesting discussion. I read a lot of knitting blogs, and gravitate towards the ones where the blogger makes interesting things, tells interesting stories, and doesn’t have a terribly distracting website layout. I follow the blogs of designers I admire, but I’ve never felt them to be trying to brand a particular lifestyle. Knitters are creative people, designers are making a business out of their creativity, and with that comes some level of public image. Perhaps unsubscribe from the people pushing lifestyle branding on you? There are a few blogs I’ve read where I felt that all I got out them was a sense of their blog as A Maker Place, not as a vehicle for their words/stories/self… and I tend not to return to those spaces.

  7. grace on June 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm said:

    When I was going through a tough slog one of the best pieces of advice I received from an older friend was “Just shut up and say ‘thank you’!” It works in a multitude of places: when someone asks if they can help with something, when someone admires something you have made, when someone says you look fabulous that day. Many times I hear Irv’s voice in my head with that quote and it makes it very easy to just say “Thank you” with much gratitude.

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