why I knit

I had a eureka moment recently.

It started with me turning on tv for the first time in months and what just happened to be on the screen? A glamorous Amanda Seyfried talking knitting with Ellen DeGeneres. I was struck by the way it was being discussed as you would discuss any other kind of hobby, like fishing, golf, cooking, gardening. No one said “Oh, I’ve heard knitting is hip”…..

Thankfully, the USA seems to have gotten over that phase. Knitting just IS. Popular. Empowering. Acknowledged. Main stream. Phew.

When I moved down here to NZ in 2007 I was disappointed by the negative attitudes to knitting. Sure, it was popular in some quarters, but much less so than in the USA. This puzzled me, because worldwide, New Zealand is known as the land of sheep, and I knew that there were knitters hiding in plain sight. Whenever someone exclaims that knitting is popular I sigh and wish that it were universally true. In my knitting classes I’ve met women who are laughed at and teased by their co-workers because they knit. Comments like “oh you’re such a granny” are common. The derision comes not so much from men, but from other women.

I think about this a lot. Why I knit. Why others don’t. Why some who know how to knit choose not to, or make fun of those of us who do.

Recently a thoughtful woman asked me about my dedication to knitting. She told me that she never learned to knit because her mother was a bra-burning feminist who was determined to discard the shackles of domesticity that her own mother had felt burdened by.

This was my epiphany.

My mum always had a job. She needed to earn money. Her weekends were spent doing all the domestic things she loved, that she didn’t have time for during her working week. She sewed, knitted, gardened, cooked, raised chickens. I realized that to her, domesticity was a luxury and an escape from the drudgery of, yes, work!  She passed that feeling to me and my sister, and we never felt the need to toss off her apron strings. We’ve both had careers, but we didn’t discard the wonderful creative hobbies of our mother. Why would we when we saw what pleasure our Mum derived from them?

Here she is in our kitchen in Christchurch, probably on a Saturday, curlers in her hair, looking happy to be at home and in her element.

My Mum worked until she retired at 65. Much of her working life was during the 50s and 60s when it was unfashionable for women to work in much the same way it’s now unfashionable not to. Retirement was a thrill for her. She thrived on spending every day being productive at home.

I thank her for giving me her work ethic and a love of making things.

Here she is with my father, wearing her favourite blue and white crocheted dress. She was emancipated in another way too: her naturally black hair started turning grey when she was in her 20s, and she never dyed it, except for a blue tint in the 60s. Credit must be given to my Dad, who encouraged her to keep her natural colour every time she felt the pressure to dye it.

20 Responses to “why I knit”

  1. Renna Says:

    What a nice post! And your mother could add beauty to her long list of attributes. :-)

  2. Marian Says:

    Mel that is such a joy to read. I love the phrase “knitters hiding in plain sight” – oh so true.

  3. Jane Says:

    That kitchen looks just like the one at my Granny’s house in Tauranga! And I love the crocheted dress – very Missoni.

    I agree – I love doing all the domesticky things when I am not working. Whilst I enjoy my work I need a more creative outlet when I get home.

    Also it gives me a huge thrill to think I am doing something that has been handed down from generation to generation. A cultural inheritance that is as much part of me as my genetic inheritance.

  4. Jane Says:

    Just an additional thought. Do you still have the pattern for the dress? I’d love to make one just like it.

  5. Kristina Says:

    I love this post; I have much the same memory and feeling. And I love the photos of your mom- so great!

  6. Lois (@basicallylois) Says:

    Anyone that doesn’t do something because of feminism has missed the point of feminism entirely!! My mum’s hair went grey in her 20s too and she never dyed it either! Your mum is stunning in that dress x

  7. Mel Says:

    Jane,

    Unfortunately the dress and pattern for it are long gone. I wish I still had them!

  8. Nicky Says:

    I used to be a bit guarded before telling people that I knit. These days, I don’t mind telling people. I am not sure whether its become more acceptable to knit, or whether as I have gotten older, I don’t care if people think I am strange.
    I think it may be a little of both.

  9. lisa Says:

    Mel- what a great post! Love your mother what a beauty! I can just imagine her wonderful domestic weekends with the two of you in tow!
    It is such a lovely story, and so true…. why should we foresake anything that has been handed down from generation to generation. Our love of
    ritual. So reminds me of my childhood…..xo

  10. Crochet with Raymond Says:

    gorgeous, your photos of your Mum are just lovely and so understandable why she loved domesticity as an escape from work. I meet a lot of women who say they love crafts but can’t do it because of the times they grew up in, I totally understand, society changes over time, but lovely to hear a story about your Mum doing what she loved and being different.

  11. Charlotte Says:

    What a lovely post. I especially enjoyed the photos!

    It’s good to see more of the understanding that feminism isn’t about doing only ‘manly’ things, but having the choice to do what you want! I choose knitting : )

  12. Elizabeth Says:

    what a lovely story! my mother was a lot like your friend’s bra-burning mom. she worked during much of my childhood, as a potter, and although she was drawn to sewing (and did sew clothes for me when i was really little), she looked down on all fiber arts, because she believed they were too feminine. now i’m an unfashionable at-home mom who knits.

    your mom sounds like a gem.

  13. KarenJ Says:

    What a beautiful love letter to your mother. I no longer live in the U.S. but in Portugal. I wish I could feel comfortable and pull out my little bag of in process socks while waiting in line at the grocery like my daughter at home does. When I try to explain the enormous popularity of knitting in the States and Canada, about fiber festivals , about the plethora of blogs, instructions,etc. available on line they never even begin to understand the scope. Knitting here is still an old lady’s type of thing.
    By the way, my mother did know how to knit, just not very fast. She was a stay at home Mom who devoted immense amounts of time to the community. When my brother was born she started a sweater for him – in a size six. She figured it would take about that long to finish it. When she died just after his twenty-third birthday I found the yarn and the right front of the little cardigan among her things.

  14. Karen at Struan Farm Says:

    You were very lucky to have your mother be such a wonderful role model (and also be so chic!). For many us this skips a generation: , my grandmother taught me to sew, knit and cook, not my mother. And I babysat for a lady who taught me to needlepoint. So I know it’s possible to find people willing to adopt and mentor you creatively if you reach out.

    There are people who understand the need to create and make things, even if they don’t do it themselves, and there are those who just don’t get it–that’s their loss, no hand knit socks for them! But also frustrating when you’re put on the spot repeatedly to justify your passion, not that you should need to do that to anyone. BTW, don’t they know knitting needles are sharp objects?

  15. Nellie Says:

    Another US transplant in New Zealand. My Kiwi friends here say that, because of import restrictions, they all had to knit their own jumpers when they were young. Once they could buy knitted goods, they shouted hurrah! and put their needles away. They are starting to pull them out for grandchildren now!

  16. Carla Says:

    I wrote a post called “Why We Knit” a few months ago, but yours is much more evocative! Here is mine:

    http://www.handknit-habitat.com/2012/01/why-we-knit.html

  17. Claire Says:

    I live in the US, am 25, and spend most of my free time knitting. It is definitely still made fun of, mostly by people my age. I also bake, because I love to and my dad taught me how, and when people find out I do both they frequently sneer “how domestic!” at me. I always respond calmly (knowing I have needles at my disposal if things get ugly), that I prefer the term “accomplished.” Knitting is a skill like any other, and I am happy to expand my narrow-minded compatriots’ association with the fiber arts beyond something that little old ladies do.

  18. Mel Says:

    CLaire: I love your term “accomplished”. I wonder what are the accomplishments of those who sneer?
    Mel

  19. Kathleen Says:

    I can sure relate to everything discussed here. I learned to knit when I was about 8 and am now 50. In the 80’s and 90’s, when I would knit in airports in my business suits, I would hear all manner of negative comments along the lines of …you look like an old granny doing that. Even my own mother once took a picture of me as a teenager, passed it around at a family gathering to make fun of me… “Here’s Kay looking like she always does hunched over her knitting.” For the last decade or so, I feel knitting has become much more “acceptable,” even sort of trendy.

  20. Mel Says:

    Kathleen: isn’t it great that it has become acceptable?

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