Knitting as Identity? - Reflections 1

The next few posts will be extending the talk I gave at Glasgow University as part of the Handknitted Textiles & the Economies of Craft in Scotland workshop series. I was working at the Public Day event at Glasgow's The Lighthouse Design Centre when I was approached by a journalist from STV. Among her many questions, she wondered how Scotland influences me as a knitter and as a knitting designer. It was an obvious question to ask given the context, but I had to think about my response because the twin questions of identity and heritage hang over what I do.

I do not think I would be working in a creative industry and specifically as a designer-in-progress if I did not live in Scotland. Glasgow has been good to me in the sense that I feel very supported and inspired by the artists and creatives working here - and crucially I have been welcomed by them and given opportunities to do stuff that I do not think I would have been given in my erstwhile hometown of Copenhagen. Copenhagen plays host to many artists and creatives, but theirs is a closed circle by comparison.

The Knitting SalonSo, geography plays an important part but it is not my only concern.

Trevor Pitt stopped by Glasgow to exhibit his The Knitting Salon, an art installation exploring the role of class, gender, community and urbanity through knitting. He gave an enthusiastic talk Friday about his own background, what informs him as an artist and what makes him so interested in wool as a medium. I was particularly interested in his working class background and how this influences his work.

I think my own background has a lot to do with how I approach knitting as a practice and why I am not always easy around knitting-as-practice. I wish I could twirl around with my hands in the air and shout about how much I love knitting - like so many of my readers do - but I have a complex relationship with knitting.

I am a working class kid myself. I grew up in rural Denmark with a family who worked as day labourers, farm hands, cleaners, and unskilled construction workers (if employed). They obsessed over pop culture and football - but they were also the local eccentrics. My family may have been huge (and hugely complicated) but it also shared a pervasive sense of self-expression and creative exploration that was at odds with its working-class status. We never had any money, but we had paintings on the walls and sculptures in the garden. I was kept in a steady supply of handmade garments and knitted jumpers. I was very young when I realised I could do stuff and make things.

For me, doing stuff meant moving away from rural Denmark and getting myself an education. Knitting is an uneasy practice for me because it is something which is directly connected to my working class roots. I worked so hard to get away and now I am back where I started more than thirty years ago: sticks and string in my hands making things.

So, knitting as identity-making?

For me, identifying myself as a knitter is more than "just" being affiliated with a collective of (mostly) women who use a traditional handicraft to connect with others via knitting groups and social media*. For me, it is acknowledging and finally admitting to kinship with previous generations and my complex family history. It is uncovering family roots and exploring what defines me as a human being. Can I ever make peace with knitting-as-practice?

Obvious questions to ask: Am I really at liberty to define and create myself and my own identity (I would have said YES not so long ago whilst arguing that the concept of a stable identity flies in the face of everything philosophers have had to say over the last 100 years). Or are we caught up in a matrix not of our own doing? Pre-determinism seems like such a dinosaur and yet here I am knitting away..

What is it about the practice of knitting that is so tangled up with identity, I wonder?

* I'll be writing more about knitting and social media in a later post.