I’ve recently began to knit and the process of learning a new skill strikes me as akin to immigrating to a new country. There is an entire language to master. Terms like stockinette, seed stitch, garter stitch, gauge, bind off, cast on, quickly became part of my everyday vocabulary. Acronyms also abound: KAL, LYS, K, P, K2Tog, M1L, M1R, the list go on… Types of fiber: wool, alpaca, cotton, linen, mohair, silk, and all combinations of the above… Thickness of yarn: cobweb, lace, fingering (or sock), sport, DK, worsted, aran, bulky, super bulky…
Just like moving to a new place may involve realizing that the new community you are joining is more diverse than you imagined, I soon discovered that the knitting community cannot be easily generalized into one type. There are many different subcommunities and a tendency to ascribe forms of identity based on preferences. You are either a DPN knitter or a magic loop knitter, one that promotes metal needles or wood needles, lace vs straight knitting… This past week I learned a new one. I was asked whether I was a process knitter or a product knitter. A process knitter is someone who knits for the actual act of knitting. The process knitter doesn’t really care all that much about the finished product as much as he or she enjoys the process of making it. The product knitter is focused on the finished product. He or she gets inspired by the specific cardigan or shawl rather than by the process. I suppose I fall more into the latter category. I can get bored in the middle of working on a project. I feel impatient to finish and try it on. I am totally focused on the end product.
Whenever these questions are brought up at my knitting group, we talk about it lightheartedly but I cannot help but notice the passion with which some justify belonging to one subcommunity or another or how an identity formed on a preference for a particular technique can quickly become a fixed identity. A woman at the store was once faced with the problem that she did not have the right size of double pointed needles – which are used to knit circular projects like sleeves, socks, hats – to finish a project. I suggested she used her circular needles since they would achieve the same result and she would not have to purchase another set of needles. She looked at me horrified and said “I cannot do magic loop (which is the technique used to make small tubes with a circular needle), I am a DPN knitter!” The tone seemed to imply that if you do one you cannot ever do the other without betraying yourself, which is kind of silly when you think that both techniques basically involve splitting the stitches between a number of needles (2 in one case, 3 or 4 in the other) and knitting back and forth.
The great danger of course is when you exclude, limit yourself, or make assumptions based on these forms of identity. I see many knitters who have not knit lace declare that they could not possibly follow a pattern because they only do straight knitting. Or that despite having been knitting for years,they cannot possibly read a chart. Which is akin to a musician saying he or she could not possibly learn a new instrument because they already learned to play another one. Or the hurt tone on the voice of the woman was too quick to dismiss using her circular needles because she was a “DPN knitter.”
I have no overall conclusion about any of the above. These are just reflections about my journey into a new community.