Knitting is the new black

Handicraft not just for grandmas anymore

  • Matthew Dyck and Ayame Ulrich

There’s a war going on right now.

A cozy, itchy war that not many people know about.

I’m talking, of course, about the war on grandmas.

In recent years, the grandmanian pastime of knitting has been taken over by that haughty, ironically bespectacled crew - young, urban hipsters.

The exact origin of the hipster reappropriation of knitting is unknown, but it could have something to do with the release of the Stitch ‘n Bitch books a few years ago.

The term “stitch ‘n bitch” is hardly new - according to Wikipedia it came into parlance as early as the Second World War, when groups of sassy ladies got together to (presumably) knit stockings for their men overseas and shit-talk the Führer.

Fast-forward a few decades to 1999, when Debbie Stoller, editor-in-chief of BUST magazine, started a stitch ‘n bitch group in New York.

The next year, she wrote about her group in BUST, and copycat stitch ‘n bitchers spread like woolly wildfire across the U.S. In 2003, her book Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook hit bookstores and sold over 200,000 copies in its first six months.

And now, it seems, you can scarcely walk down the street without getting hit in the face with some young punk’s unwieldy knitting needles.

Indeed, even I have fallen prey to the fuzzy allure of knitting.

A real-life grandma tried teaching me the art of knitting some months ago, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

My so-called scarf quickly unraveled into a messy, glorified rope.

To find out more about the explosion of knitting and other handicrafts, I spoke to a real-life knitting aficionado: 27-year-old student and master of all things crafty, Kristin Pauls.

“I picked up my first knitting needle about seven or eight years ago,” she said. “It was a very exciting moment for me. One day this feeling just overwhelmed me - ‘I want to learn how to knit.’”

Pauls grew up watching her mom and Oma knit, and these two strong influences inspired her to try it out.

But she knew she wanted to teach herself.

“I went to Michael’s and picked up a starter kit, and once I started to learn, no one was going to stop me.”

Pauls and her friends host their own version of stitch ‘n bitch gatherings, where they get together to knit, crochet and teach each other their skills.

Though Pauls started knitting of her own accord and not out of any societal pressure to be cool, she has noticed that knitting and crocheting has become trendier in recent years.

“I remember being in a class at U of W a few years ago, and this girl was sitting there knitting,” she said with a laugh.

Pauls credits knitting’s popularity with a desire for creating something with meaning.

“I think because the way things are manufactured nowadays, knitting takes a lot of time to do - people put in time and effort,” she said. “People want to be more about the heart behind the gift than the gift itself.”

Growing up on a farm, Pauls said her family was often strapped for cash. Her mom made much of the family’s clothing by hand, and often worked late into the night to finish the perfect outfits for her kids.

“I think that value is coming back,” she said.

People are embracing knitting these days, not necessarily out of hipster reappropriation, but an appreciation for value. And since so many young people these days identify as broke students, the embracement of knitting only makes sense.

“It’s not about ‘What can I buy for you?’ but, ‘How can I invest in you?’”

Rest-assured, then, grandmas - the war is over and the future of knitting is in good hands.

Published in Volume 67, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 28, 2012)

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