"These Charming Knitteds Will Flatter.." - A Brief Look At Knitting & Language


When Caroline posted this photo to her Instagram account, I don't think she expected the discussion to revolve around the language usage in the caption.

Lately we have had some great discussions about knitting language at the great round-table of Twitter. What is the right past tense of the verb "to knit"; is it more correct to say "I knitted a hat last night" or "I knit a hat last night"; why"knit/knitted" but not "knat"? Susan posted a lovely poem from 1915 as part of that discussion.

Caroline's photo didn't spawn as big a discussion, but several people noted the odd phrasing. "Larger sized knitteds are so often.."


I was sure I could explain this odd word, but first let's cast an eye at the word itself. A Google search throws up about 10,600 results, most of which refer to an outdated way of referring to knitted items (particularly baby items). Geographically I mostly get referrals to Antipodean knitting sites. My favourite dictionary tool gave me many results, but all of them gave "knitted" as an adjective or as a verb - not as a noun.

So, what is my explanation for this curious language usage? I am not saying it is necessarily the right explanation but it is a likely explanation. Please add your thoughts in the comments!

First, we need to look at figures of speech. Everyone has heard of metaphors:

Martha is a gem.Martha isn't actually a precious stone, but the word "gem" is used so we can all see that Martha is precious and valued.

Knitting with this yarn is like knitting with butter. The yarn isn't actually a greasy dairy product, but its qualities are likened to the softness or pliability of butter. This is a specific type of metaphor that is called a simile (note: although I have seen the butter simile used often in knitting contexts, I must admit it still baffles me).

Then we move to a figure of speech that fewer people have heard of - metonymy. While metaphor draws comparisons between two very different things (Martha & a gemstone; yarn & butter), metonymy refers to something already associated or related.

Jane downloaded Arcade Fire last night. Jane did not download an entire Canadian band last night, you know. Here the band name does not refer to the actual, physical incarnation of the band but their music.

And via metaphor, simile and metonymy, we get to the figure of speech known as synecdoche. Synecdoche is when a part of something is used to refer to the whole. Confused? I promise you use synecdoches all the time without realising it.

I'll get my needles. Any knitter will know that actually means "hang on, I'll get my knitting project which comprises yarn, knitting needles, and possibly a pattern".

Harriet put on her woollies. This is a quaint British English phrase which essentially means that Harriet is putting on a woollen jumper. The jumper's material becomes short-hand for the jumper itself

Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song .. even the Beatles understood the value of a good synecdoche. They just want you to listen, not do a Van Gogh (and "to do a Van Gogh" is a metonymical figure of speech!).

But where does all that leave us? When Caroline posted her photo, I began wondering if "knitteds" is not a synecdochical noun phrase (!). Much like Harriet's jumper, the material quality of the item becomes short-hand for the item itself. A hand-knitted cardigan or hat become "knitteds" - the adjective "hand-knitted" is shorted to "knitted" and is turned into a noun which can become pluralised whenever needed.

And suddenly something that looked like very strange grammar in an old knitting magazine can suddenly look like charming shorthand for discerning knitters.

I love language.

Changing the Game

It is not often that people are praying for my soul when I'm at knitting group. Tonight was certainly different. We got caught up in evangelical Christians protesting the play Jesus Queen of Heaven outside Glasgow's Tron Theatre which involved the press and some (rather bored) policemen. As odd as the praying thing was, it did not compare to walking outside and seeing some very offensive anti-gay posters and billboards being held up by Respectable Citizens. Such people seek confrontation and thrive upon attention. I was not willing to give them any satisfaction and I resorted to quietly shaking my head at the candle-holding and chanting men and women as I made my way home. The twentieth century is slipping away before our eyes:  one of its greatest intellectuals, Claude Levi-Strauss has died. I always assumed that he had passed away before I began studying critical theory, although I cannot tell you why, but instead Levi-Strauss lived to the ripe old age of 100. Rest in peace, you structuralist giant.

On Beauty

When I was at university back in Denmark, I'd walk across the Amager Common from my student halls to the faculty. I'd pass by a huge rose bush with beautiful yellow roses, D.H. Lawrence's Gloire de Dijon echoing through my head. The roses have long gone, thanks to urban development, but the memory of their beauty remain. Beauty continues to matter to me. Throughout my life I have discovered beauty and savoured it. Poetry, art, rock formations, landscape, things people have said, music, colours and textures. I mentioned poetry first, not only because it epitomises and distils beauty and I experience the world through words, but also because the etymological root of 'poetry' is the Greek ποιητης - poïêtes which means 'artisan, creator, maker' (you still find that in the Scottish term 'makar'). Beauty is poetry is creation. And this brings me to a new way of experiencing beauty that I have only recently discovered.

I am currently finishing a lovely red cardigan and I find myself getting lost in its beauty. The stitches are slightly uneven and the buttons are a touch wonky, but it is beautiful. I work with wool which is clearly the product of a sheep's fleece, the colour is stunning and I already have beautiful memories* tied to making the cardigan.

And then I happened across this blog entry which says it so much better than I ever could:

People talk about friendship and community and getting back to the roots of handcraft when they reference [craft] blogging as a movement, but there's something else about this craft movement that I think is really special and I haven't seen folks talking about, and that's beauty. Redefining beauty. Taking beauty BACK from the magazines and the movies and the Botox parties and the red carpet. Taking it back into our own hands.

I have always seemed able to capture beauty, but I had no idea that I could get caught up in its creation too. It is a wonderful, empowering sensation.

* Mags, a good friend now living in London, unexpectedly showed up in Glasgow yesterday whilst I was finishing one sleeve. I will think of her every time I wear this cardigan.

PS. This all links back to ideas I have about feminism, craft and knitting groups, of course.

Getting My Geek On

I finally got hold of Alex Lloyd's third album, Distant Light the other day. It's the aural equivalent of me snuggling up in a blanket on a spring day: it's invigourating but also deeply comforting. However, most days I'm listening to Canadian band Alaska in Winter - their album continues to worm its way into my ears.

And most days I am passing time by harking back to my roots. My grandmother sews, knits, crochets, embroiders and works with paper; my mother crochets, works with paper and even writes songs; my uncle P. paints, does graphic design and builds small castles in his back garden.. you get the picture. We are a creative bunch. I can sew, knit, crochet, do calligraphy, work with paper, paint and dabble in photography with quite good results. Right now I crochet and am re-discovering my love for textiles, textures and multi-dimensional shapes. It is exciting to see something I have in my head suddenly begin to appear between my hands just through using a hook and some scrap yarn. Exciting, I tell you!

And then you get people who think of crocheting as a mathematical exercise. The Institure for Figuring has an entire subsite dealing with Hyperbolic Space. It's actually really damn cool:

We have created a world of rectilinearity. The rooms we inhabit, the skyscrapers we work in, the grid-like arrangement of our streets, the shelves on which we store our possessions, and the freeways we cruise on our daily commute speak to us in straight lines. But what exactly is a straight line? And how do such “objects” relate to one another?

This question, so seemingly trivial, lies at the heart of a conundrum that dates back to the dawn of the Western mathematical tradition. Though seemingly obvious, the property of “straightness” turns out to be a subtle and surprisingly fecund concept. Understanding this quality ultimately led mathematicians to discover a radical new kind of space that had hitherto seemed abhorrent and impossible.