Sunday, December 4, 2011

Knitting, or: my other creative outlet.

I'm letting the NaNo novel "ripen" (take that how you will!) for a few weeks before plunging into the editing process.  The less fresh any stupidities are in my mind, the thinking goes, the easier it will be to spot them.  In the meantime, I'm knitting.

The Washington Post ran an op-ed piece last weekend about twentysomethings taking up crafts, including knitting, that their mothers and grandmothers wouldn't have touched with a ten-foot pole.  The writer came up with various reasons for it, feminism chief among them.  I don't know which feminists she's been talking to, but this feminist has been crafting since she was a kid.  I was doing embroidery before I was ten, sewing and crewelwork in my teens, needlepoint in my twenties.  In short, I was crafting before crafting was cool.

I also doubt that the author has stepped away from her jam-making to visit a local yarn shop, or she would have noticed that it's not just twentysomethings who are picking up needles.  I didn't learn to knit 'til I was in my forties, and I'm certainly not the only knitter coming late to the game.  I think one reason middle-aged women are getting into it, or getting back into it, is that nicer yarns are more readily available.  There are only so many things you can make with the cheap acrylic worsted in brassy colors at the chain crafts stores.  But these days, you can walk into an independently-owned yarn shop (or find one on teh intarwebz) and oooh and aaah over handpainted and subtly shaded yarns in colors that don't look like they came from your kid's crayon box.  And older knitters have the cash to pay the premium prices for these yarns.

I have my own theory about why these homey crafts are becoming popular again.  A lot of us spend our working lives in an office, pushing (virtual) paper or answering phones.  You don't create much of anything tangible at a job like that.  I suppose you could tally up the number of calls you answered or e-mails you sent, but it's not like you can take them home and hang them on the wall.  Radio news is even more ephemeral -- you write a script, you read it on the air, and poof!  It's gone forever.  You can save scripts or tapes, sure, but who would be interested in them next week or next year?  By contrast, crafts allow you to make something to hang onto.  The hat I made in a day last weekend will still keep my head warm several years from now.  Talk about longevity.

The author of the article got at least one thing right:  women enjoy doing crafts today because we don't have to.  When I was teaching myself colorwork, I did a little reading about the women who invented Fair Isle sweaters.  They were churning out a sweater a week, using skinny yarns in intricate patterns, to supplement their household income.  A sweater a week!  I can't imagine they were having much fun.  And I would bet you money that they never picked up the needles for relaxation.

Speaking of money, I have a friend who's been after me to set up an Etsy site for my knitting.  I think I've finally convinced her it wouldn't be worth it.  Once you add up the cost of the yarn and something approaching a reasonable hourly rate for the labor, the item would be so expensive that nobody would buy it.  In addition, I suspect I would end up like those Fair Isle women, having all the joy sucked out of the craft in order to make a quota.

I have noticed something else about my own knitting: when I wasn't writing regularly, my knitting projects were much more creative.  I have been known to sit down with graph paper, yarn and needles, and devise my own colorwork pattern.  It's been quite awhile since I've done that; in fact, lately I've been downloading a lot of ready-made patterns.  It's not that invent-your-own-design knitting isn't fun for me any more -- I think it's just that lately I'm flexing my creative muscles in other ways.

And when it comes to writing and publishing e-books, the materials costs are negligible, storage space is minimal, and the inventory is inexhaustible.  Sounds, to me, like a much better return on my investment.

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