Monday, May 25, 2009
knitting on the web
It's just the UK edition, but I'm in Wired magazine this month. My life as a z-list knit-celeb and that of an academic researching science in popular culture collided, and I was interviewed about why there is so much maths and science themed knitting.
Or rather, we discussed the way 21st century gender and geek identities have collided within various areas of the nerd-knitting subculture, and this ended up as a piece on science themed knitting. I got the impression the journalist was more interested in why there is so much knitting on the web, and was just talking to me for a bit of (likely to be unpublished) background. But clearly other deadline/ interests/ editorial constraints came along. There a pretty graphic of a ball of yarn tangling into a double helix, and I'm quoted with the explanation that 'creating 3D objects out of coded formulae - that's what a knitting pattern is'.
Still, it is a shame that the topic of knitting on the web wasn't taken further - it's an interesting issue. Knitting and the web have gone together for a long time. I remember listening to a Woman's Hour piece on female web-use a couple of years back, and some expert (can't remember who) argued that some of the first female-led podcasts were knitting ones. Now podcasting is so widespread, there are a quite shocking number of knitting ones. Perhaps there is an obvious reason why: you can knit while listening to a podcast (some of us read and even type while knitting, but it is easier just to press play on itunes). However, I wonder if the broader point isn't also true: that knitting is always at the forefront of women's uptake of new media technologies.
(I know lots of men also take part in the online knitting community, but you have to admit it is dominated by women).
Arguably, knitting has been there at the start of all the major new media developments of the last fifteen (more?) years, often producing some of the most polished and innovative products. Even in the largely pre-blog days, there were/are knitting listservs. There were/ are also knitting homepages, complete with patterns, advice and knitting calculators, often members of a bunch of knitting web-rings. There was/is some first-class knitting e-zines, even if the notion of the e-zine has generally been reinterpreted/ dissapeared. Today, many of us play with twitter and flickr, various blogs have come and gone, but really its is all about ravelry.
As I said to the journalist, I think we can read this in the same way we look at science-themed knitting: there are a fair number of knitters out there who like code, so its no surprise that computing abilities and an interest in knitting overlap. This is only part of the story though: the web is a way of communicating and helping to form and strengthen communities, and knitting has always been about communities. Whatever media knitters have taken - from magazine to scrawled handwritten notes lent to a member of our local knitting circle, from television to facebook - they talk, share, discuss and deconstruct whilst they click-click away. We should also remember that knitting is a bit weird, and the web does help special interest freaks find each other. Moreover, knitters like making stuff, whether it is coded or otherwise. Knit-themed blogs often contain references to DIY, baking, sewing or other craft: blog-building is part of this too.
It is these last three (non-geek) reasons why, I think, knitting on the web has exploded in the last five to ten years. Today, you don't need much of a nerdish inclination or any specialist computer knowledge to use most online knitting media. All you really need is a desire to share ideas and nose on what other people are doing, and those are much more widespread characteristics of knitters.
So, in the absence of Wired picking up on the topic, and in the wake of the ravelry twitter trend-bomb last week, I'd be interested to know what the readers of this blog think. I only really got into knitting four or so years ago, so I came to the knit-web reasonably late - I know there are some early adopters out there, what was it like on the knit-web frontier? Similarly, what about the newbies/ non-knitters, were you shocked when you first discovered quite how humongous the online knitting community is?