Knitting, Politics

Confervo Ergo Sum: I Knit, Therefore, I Am

OK, the title of this post is a bit of a cheat, since the Romans didn’t engage in the craft of knitting as we know it.  However, the Latin verb confervo means “heal, grow together, knit,” so I’m stealing it for the purpose.

I first wrote the post below on Ricochet more than five years ago.  However unlikely it might have seemed to me then, things have changed a great deal, most notably with the Great Ravelry Dust-Up of 2019, in which everybody’s favorite knitting resource on the web suddenly announced that it was banning all support of Donald Trump and his administration on the site, because reasons.  The most compelling one they dreamed up was that anyone who supported Trump was “undeniably support[ing] white supremacy,” thereby impugning the motives and integrity of a large swath of Ravelry members. That’s their right, I suppose.  It’s their sandbox, and they can play whatever games they like, with whomever they like, in it.  Still, I know lots of Trump supporters who are most definitely not white supremacists, nor could they in any way be tagged as “supporters of white supremacy.”  So Ravelry’s action rubbed me the wrong way, and I said so at the time. Subsequent behavior and commentary on the site, didn’t change my opinion.  It still allows “[Expletive] Trump!” patterns of all sorts, and some of the forums and most vocal groups seem to be populated by sad and bitter people who rage on, day in and day out, and who, even though they’ve driven out those who disagree with them, still seem consumed with spewing venom and misery at those who are gone.  (My own experience with this was mercifully short, before I bowed out–I’m still a member but I haven’t bought anything there over the past year, and don’t plan to ever again.  After objecting to the new policy, I was attacked as a “bot,” accused of joining the site only to tear it down–I’ve been a member since November 2008–and told that I’d never bought any patterns from any of the designers–false, I’d bought dozens over the years–so I had no right to speak.  Very. Nasty. People.  Not all of them. Not even most of them. But quite a few of them. Good Lord.  Why not simply enjoy yourselves and welcome all others of goodwill to enjoy themselves with you?)

I have to say that I am enjoying myself here.  I thank those of you who’ve signed up as followers and subscribers, and those who’ve bookmarked the site.  And once and for all, and to be perfectly clear:  Everyone of goodwill is welcome here.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  This is my site, and I make the rules (just like Ravelry).  I welcome agreement, disagreement and differing points of view.  Incivility and personal attacks are off limits and won’t get through.  End of story.

Almost a year after the Great Schism, I’m happy to see that knitting goes on, and that new communities are emerging and old ones are re-forming.  I’m glad to see that many of those who initially fell victim to the mob, and whose livelihoods were jeopardized as a result, seem to be thriving again.  I suspect that’s not true of all, and I’m so very sorry for those whose paths to earning a living through their craft were cut short.  I dread reading the formulaic, rote statements that people who aren’t, and have never been,  haters or discriminators of any sort themselves, are forced to put on their websites to counter the real haters who’d like to destroy them.  I cringe when I read the repeated and groveling apologies that people have been forced into for the silliest of reasons, or for no reason at all.  And I honor and respect those who are brave enough to state their political positions on all points of the spectrum without fearing the consequences.  And those who simply refuse to let politics infect their knitting at all.

This short post, written not all that long ago, in some ways seems to belong to a different world and time.

And yet I cannot help thinking that political fads and fancies will come and go.

But knitting endures.

More than half a century ago, my great grandmother’s maid of all trades, Maudie Nichols, put two small plastic sticks (IIRC, they were green) and a piece of yarn in my hands and started a life-long love affair.

Maudie was a tiny person, less than five feet tall, who functioned as kitchen maid, lady’s maid, house maid, and gardener to my great grandmother’s family. She was an ageless, agile, bundle of energy who never complained at what must have been a dull and hard life, and for me, she was the bright spot on the obligatory visits to my Dickensian Great Granny, who could have given both Miss Havisham and Mme DeFarge a run for their money any day of the week.

But Maudie was different. She loved children, and she lavished attention (and sometimes chocolate) on generations of us. Small, strong hands, skin like sandpaper, rubbed Vicks on our chests when we were ailing. Tidy, quick little feet walked us to Victoria Park to feed the swans. And one day, with infinite patience, and in spite of the repeated mistakes made by my fumbling five-year old fingers, Maudie taught me to knit.

And I’ve been at it ever since.

Now, I want you to flush out of your heads the mental image you’ve just conjured up

for the following reasons:

1. Knitting is TRENDY.
In fact, it’s probably the most trendy hobby I have.

Lots of people knit.

Kate Middleton knits. Julia Roberts knits. Darryl Hannah knits. Kate Moss knits. Glory be, Monica Lewinsky knits. Scarlett Johansson knits. Ryan Reynolds knits, Tracey Ullman and Uma Thurman knit. Antonio Banderas knits. Vanna White has her own brand of yarn, as do Martha Stewart and Deborah Norville. Katherine Heigl knits, and so does Catherine Zeta Jones.

I’ll freely admit that I don’t have much in common with most of these folks (unless it’s that we’re all really ‘hot’), and I think knitters, in general, do lean more to the left than I, but I’m sure they’re all lovely people. When they’re knitting. (The only cruise I’d ever seriously contemplate might be one of these–because I just know that a ship full of knitters, most of us in our Birkenstocks and elastic-waist pants, wouldn’t give a damn about dressing for dinner or who’s sitting at the Captain’s Table every night.)

2. Knitters are smart.
Have you ever actually read a knitting pattern? Can you tell a ‘left leaning double decrease’ from a ‘cable two right’ or even a ‘wrap and turn’? Can you interpret these directions, and act accordingly–VDD, k9, k2tog, [p2, k2] twice, p2, k2tog-L, k1, p3, [Braid Left, p3] twice, k2, VDD, k2, p3, [Braid Left, p3] twice, k1, k2tog-R, [p2, k2] twice, p2, k2tog, k9 sts?

And would you know what to do if you saw this?

If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, regardless of whether you’ve ever picked up a pair of needles, you just might have secret knitter lurking inside!

There’s a lot of math to knitting. And sometimes, the people who write the patterns don’t get it exactly right. And if, like me, you’re the sort of knitter who doesn’t always use the specified yarn (sometimes I spin my own), or if you like to veer off the beaten path, you have to be able to think on your feet, and work out the math for yourself. (‘Knitting’ regularly appears on the lists of things like crossword puzzles, and logic problems, that you can do to boost your concentration, your brain power and your memory.)

And, astonishingly, knitting’s even making a comeback in schools and extracurricular activities.

3. Knitters form communities
The connection between knitters is immediate and unmistakable. I see the same sort of thing among men who have served in the US Marine Corps. Two of them can walk, at different times, through different doors, into a room of 98 other people, and within 30 seconds, they have recognized and found each other.

It’s hard to find a female analog for this (nurses can do it, I think). But knitters are a breed apart, for this reason.

Knitters are tactile.

I would never walk up to a pregnant woman I haven’t met (or even one that I know quite well, actually) and ask her if I can touch her belly. However, I’ve seen lots of people do this in elevators and shopping malls. It’s very weird.

But, let a complete stranger wearing an obviously hand-knit something, in a gorgeous soft, fuzzy, or shiny, natural fiber approach me, and I’m lost. I’m all over it. I’ll touch, poke, prod and question. And she (or, less occasionally, he) will be delighted. And I may have a new, and lifelong, friend.

Trust me, if Billy Crystal had been wearing a lovely, hand-knit, merino/cashmere blend sweater when he had lunch with Meg Ryan at Katz’s Deli, and if she’d been a knitter, she wouldn’t have had to fake a thing. And she’d have won the Academy Award.

Because knitting is a contact sport, we knitters love us a good LYS (local yarn store). Unfortunately, we don’t always have one handy, so knitters increasingly rely on sites like Ravelry, and online stores like KnitPicks, and the thousands of tiny artisanal shops that flourish on the web. As the immediacy of the bricks and mortar shopping experience has declined, the feeling of ‘belonging’ to the larger knitting universe has increased. Much credit for that is due to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the yarnharlot, (wish I’d thought of that moniker). Who would ever have thought that a Mom and ‘certified lactation consultant’ from Toronto could garner worldwide fame, hundreds of thousands of followers, and several New York Times best-selling books, all the while writing about–wait for itKNITTING? But she did.

4. Knitting is for families
My mother was a spectacularly good knitter, in her day. My dad’s mother was a stalwart charity knitter, assembling the ladies of Birmingham for Monday afternoon wartime knitting circles ‘for the troops.’

When other girls my age were sneaking off to some sunny and warm hot spot for spring break, my family was travelling together. Going to places like this. And this. And this. And I’ve still got the stash* (some of it almost as old as I am, and far too precious to use or give away) to prove it.

5. Knitting is good for the soul
If you’re a lifelong knitter like me, picking up the yarn and needles is a way of righting the universe, settling things down, and putting things in order, especially when all seems athwart (like everything has for me so far this year). I’ve knit through terrible family calamities, weather emergencies, exciting sports events, time spent waiting for a baby (two, or sometimes four, legged) to be born into the world, and, if you believe Mr Right, once through an entire upper division Chaucer class in college. I’ve even knit on airplanes, where they don’t seem to think twice about allowing a couple of twelve inch steel pins with pointed ends, or a 40-inch nylon cable with sharp metal tips, at the same time as they’re confiscating my Chapstick and toenail clippers. Go figure.

Knitting always settles me down.

I think I’d be a completely different person, if I didn’t knit. And I think I’m a better person because I do.

I’m grateful to Maudie Nichols for that.

*I’m not going to say much about the knitters’ stash. That’s a very private affair. If you’re not a knitter, you don’t need to know what it is, where it is, how big it is, what things your knitter has rearranged in her life in order to have room for it (remember when she announced that she’d given the second car away because it was taking up too much space in the garage?).

That had absolutely nothing to do with the stash.

Nothing.

I hope we’re clear on that.

2 thoughts on “Confervo Ergo Sum: I Knit, Therefore, I Am”

  1. Thanks, a lovely post. I’m a knitter too, but think I must have learned by osmosis as I can’t remember being ‘taught’. I do recall, I think quite early on, my sister ‘helping’ me knit a sweater for my teddy (which probably meant she knit it). Still have teddy and sweater!

  2. I think it’s possible to learn by osmosis, in a family where there are lots of knitters. I have to confess that I had a lengthy hiatus for many years of my working life, but knitting’s like riding a bicycle, one never forgets! Lucky teddy, to have been snuggly and warm all this time.

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