Knotty Bits: Knit Crit Essays (or Long Winding Yarns)

New year, new energy, new ideas! Knotty Bits will be a recurring feature of the hAMImono blog focusing on controversies in knitting. Lots of people “preach to the choir” about the joys of knitting. As an ardent choirmember, I sing the praises of fiber and fibre play as well. However, I notice a gap among the community of barmy yarners in addressing knitting as seen and experienced through the eyes of the majority world of non-knitters. The knitting minority lives with and among non-knitters and must, in some way, mediate/negotiate/interpret the craft with them. There are aspects of this which lead to tension, misunderstanding, and in some cases, discrimination. Those issues are what we will address in Knotty Bits.

Real knitters love to knit, appreciate knitting as a structure and art, and have an urge to practice their craft. True knitters will, in the absence of proper materials, knit with sticks and grass, or pens and twine, or shishkabob skewers and kitchen string, or chopsticks and ramen. (Disclosure: guilty on all counts). Once stricken, dedicated knitters are passionate about knitting and will knit when not otherwise engaged. Take me, for example. I am about as far from the demographic of the steretyped grandma-in-a-rocking-chair-knitter-of-gaudy-polyester-potholders as possible. Not old, not female, not sedentary, not devoid of taste. Why do I knit? Fascination with the architecture of the stitch, the evolving structure, process of planning and creating and editing to closure, and the knitting-with-breath zen/meditative aspect of the act itself. I am well aware that I could achieve the same experience with almost any strong interest properly executed but it is knitting that does it best for me. Those who have uttered to cliché that “knitting is the new yoga” are trying, in vain, to verbalize the “zone” of the artist/athlete/thinker in process. Impossible. One might as well try to truly explain ecstasy, or grief, or sublimity. All transcend language.

So. one either “gets it.” Or not. But the “not” is not necessarily a fixed-forever thing. Barring a stereotyped barrier (“Guys don’t knit.” “Knitting is for sedentary couch potatoes.” “It’s a weird granny thing.” “Knitting is boring.” “I can’t do that.”), one can be introduced to knitting and knit-art, or “re-see” them if knitters and knit communities can frame them thoughtfully. Art, fashion, design, and decoration are all ways of expressing emotions for which we have limited vocabulary. Knitting falls into all of these groups, thus is an expression, a language. Unfortunately, it isn’t a language that everyone speaks.

Which brings me to the contemporary street art of “yarn bombing.” Like many young knitters, I revel in a concept of yarn art that is populist, naive, ubiquitous, celebratory, and subversive/inexplicable. I get that the spontaneous eruption of color and “sweatering” of inanimate objects can reframe sites and the art for both knitters and non-knitters. Alternately, I am conflicted. Primarily, I find most of it—- like most, but not all graffitti— ugly: too bright, too random, too slapdash, too unreflective of the site, too susceptible to an even more unattractive degradation in the elements, too divorced from accessible concept. Secondarily, I irrationally bemoan the hours of time and miles of yarn wasted on something that is often kind of pointless. Lest you misunderstand, let me elaborate on my complaints. Bright colors are not bad but there is bright and there is bright. I admit to not being a fan of bright color in general, except for the POC (pop of color) design technique. Rather than whatever-random-yarn-was-available, I would rather there be a palette or color story or some aesthetic that engages with the site or background. Yarn bombs, because they are often applied in unusual conditions, on irregular shapes, in darkness, in a hurry, are often applied crudely, often broadly mattress-stitched together. An example that looks really ugly to meAnother ugh-ly example. And a lesser offender. Don’t mind this one as muchTacky: looked better before. Stupid and pointless. Everything on this page is ugly, inharmonious, and cheap-looking. Really? As for degradation, as a native of New Orleans, I am an afficionado of the elegant decadence of degradation: the mossy tree, the moldy wall, the patina-ed spout, the pitted brick, the faded poster, the tattered flag. Filthy unraveling polyester, on the other hand, looks like none of those things. Concept: is there a goal for this art experience (other than promoting a business or busying the restless fingers of the youth)? Is it one that people can/will access? Will it potentially lead to dialogue and community (transparent, uniting, including), or division and opacity and exclusivity?

Just to let you know I’m not a complete crank, here are what I consider good examples of “point-ful” yarn bombing: decorating a park with items for anyone to use/recycleI love and totally understand and appreciate these,  artful and color-sensible, huge collection of both good and hideous examples here.

In summary, I like the idea of yarn-bombing. In practice, I want the knit-work to be well and thoughtfully placed and executed for maximum engagement. I don’t want it to be a) pointless and b) uglier than what was there to begin with. I want non-knitters and knitters to have a conceptual and aesthetic bridge to Knit-iopia!

Do I have a point? Am I knit-picking? Am I just stitch-bitching?