Your thoughts, please …

Textured Shawl in grey tweed work in progress

… on two matters. First: this shawl. I’ve had disturbingly little time to knit the past couple of weeks, and an extra short attention span, so it’s mostly been this grey mindlessness. I had the idea that I’d like to see the textures of the Textured Shawl used in three equal swaths rather than as alternating stripes. And thought that would look nice if it were a little larger and heavier. But I told myself it had to be knitted from stash, which, quantity-wise, meant either my kelly-green Manos (my first choice) or the rest of this grey Kathmandu Chunky. The Manos didn’t want to be wound (silly story) so I went with the grey. And at this point I’m pretty underwhelmed by it. It’s just not the best marriage of stitch pattern and yarn — the yarn looks better in stockinette and garter than in the textured stitch, but I’ve created this sea of the textured stitch. (I’m convinced it would be great in the green Manos.) So I’m debating whether to finish it, rip it back and knit textured stripes, or frog the whole thing. But I’ve come this far! And it’s pretty much moot once it’s bunched around my neck anyway, right? What do you think?

The second matter is more meta, and something I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on. The other day on Twitter I was bemoaning the lack of words for what we do — something I run into constantly in writing and thinking about and talking about this blog (and the shop, e.g. even the header over there). The two most common lacks are: 1) a word for people who make things out of yarn, and 2) a word for people who make their own clothes. The former should encompass all the yarny pursuits: knitting, crochet, weaving, even spinning and dyeing. The latter should cover both knitting and sewing. So I inadvertently sparked a good discussion on Twitter about, mostly, the first of those. Caitlin Newman Storify’d the gist of the exchange, and there’s more here, here, here, especially here … oy, everywhere. In the course of it, I came to like the word “yarnsmith” as a catch-all for yarny people, and will be trying that out. But still no ideas about the other. Then Caitlin also wrote a thought-provoking blog post about the perception of ‘handmade’. I have no conclusions (nor, apparently, anything very coherent to say) about any of it at the moment! Just would love to discuss it with you all. So please voice your thoughts …


44 thoughts on “Your thoughts, please …

  1. Personally, there is no way I would come that far in a shawl and then rip it out. Even if I hated it, I did that much work I would finish it and give it as a present. Only exception would be if I was absolutely in love with the yarn and didnt want to give it away.

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  3. I’m glad you’ve brought the discussion to your blog! I’m interested in hearing more thoughts. I do think that the perception of “handmade” needs to change before we can fully own a title that implies what we do is professional and artesianal. (Yarnisans???)

    It’s also really tough because I like to think that I’m well-rounded when it comes to craft. Knitting will always be my first love but I like to sew and embroider and cook, etc. Domestic artisan really sounds like euphemism for stay-at-home mom (and I’m not knocking SATMs, I’m just a working childless lady!) so there’s that, too!

    • “working childless lady” cracked me up. But I recoil at the word “domestic,” no matter what. Probably leftover from coming of age in an era when it was NOT cool (and possibly even a betrayal to one’s sex) to know anything about cooking, sewing, or any other traditional “women’s” stuff.

  4. I also love the way the shawl is looking as-is; so forge ahead I say!
    On the other topic- I love that there is a conversation about this– I think yarnsmith is a pretty good contender, but I would also submit yarnista if it hasn’t already been mentioned.
    As for a word to encompass all handmakers, I’m at a loss.

  5. Hmm, I looked very intently at your shawl and tried to find the boring in it but all I see is lovely texture and depth so I say keep knitting ~ I think you’ll end up loving this shawl in the autumn weather. I recently had two separate conversations about what to call what we do ~ the word “hobby” kept getting thrown around (mind you, I had these conversations with non-knitters) and it made me cringe. Not that there’s anything wrong with having a hobby but the passion and creativity I feel for my knitting feels bigger than a hobby. I haven’t been satisfied with any suggestions made but I am liking “yarnsmith.”

    • I make a lot of things. Quilts, up-cycled clothes ( I find something in a thrift store and work embrodriey over it) jewelry ( like found objects+ polymer+ industrial) plus knitting and crochet. I’ve even been know to hook a rug or two. I like the term Yarnsmith or Yarnsmithy, the ista has been over done. I consider what I do “craft” not Martha Stewart craft day craft, more like poetry and other kinds of writing requires craft. I’d be interested in more on this. Handmade in knitting brings up the image of Aunt Marge’s awful lopsided sweater you got at Christmas.

      • I’m not wild about “-ista” but it also comes with its own limitations — if I don’t want to have to say “knitters and crocheters” in order to include everyone, I definitely don’t want to have to say “yarnistas and yarnistos”!

    • I make a distinction between “crafting” and “a craft” (in the sense of “honing one’s craft”) and would draw the same line between “a hobby” and that same sense of “a craft.”

      But one of the interesting things about the Twitter conversation, which I didn’t see coming, was all the knitting professionals feeling like they need a way to distinguish between what they do as a legitimate and profitable business versus someone else’s hobby or pastime.

      I was just really looking for one broad word that would encompass knitting, crochet and weaving (rather than having to say all three or just say knitting, which is sad). And I think “yarnsmith” does that fairly well. I don’t know how to solve all the problems around labeling and earning respect for the profession. It’s such a big issue!

  6. I think your shawl is really lovely and in the picture the yarn looks good in all the varieties of stitches. Could you bear to finish & gift it? I couldn’t frog anything I’d spent that much time on!
    The dilemma about what we call ourselves is a good thing to discuss – I normally just refer to myself as an obsessive knitter, if I need to refer to it, which leaves out my crochet and now I come to think of it has a slightly negative deprecating tone to it…. Hmmm I guess I don’t much talk to non knitters & crocheters about it. I work in politics, there aren’t many opportunities to bring it up! I think the distinction between handmade (implying craft) and homemade (implying having a go) is important.

    • I think a lot of us don’t bring it up in other spheres or realms (like a work environment or even a dinner party) because you saying “knitting” and people immediately jump to all sorts of silly conclusions. I have no opinion of Julia Gillard as a politician — knowing exactly nothing about her worldview — but I was stunned that she agreed to be photographed knitting. For whatever reason she did it, it was hugely risky.

      • OK here’s the one I use in Bios or when the subject comes up Fiber Artist. or Fiber Arts. It coverers a lot of territory.

        • To me, a fiber artist is someone who’s making conceptual and/or decorative things. (Meant in a totally non-disparaging way.) Things that are meant to be viewed, not used or worn. I make sweaters and accessories — which I don’t think of as either Art or “crafting.” But that’s me.

          • I am all about putting some “useful” in my own work, which I think is why knitting appeals to me so much. For instance, I find the phenomenon of yarn grafitti fascinating, but would never spend that much on something that’s…what…just for show?

            I recently made a hand-knitted, machine-felted, needle-felted and applique lands/seascape. I didn’t want it to be “just” a picture, so I deliberately designed it as a bag, with handmade linen straps, a lining, and a zipper. Now that it’s mostly done, I realize that I probably won’t carry it much…but I *can.* : )

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  8. maybe it’s because i’ve reached a place in my knitting life ( and life) where underwhelmed on anything doesn’t have much chance . i think you should slip this off the needles and wind it back into a ball to save for a future project (that will be LOVED). then wind the manos by hand if you can and cast on your green. there is something liberating about undoing a project, and really i think it is honoring the wool to be the best it can.

    for most of my life i wished for a better name that would give meaning to what i and millions of other people were doing. i was the stay at home mom, who sewed and knitted most of my babies clothes, and did many other handcrafts. i’m happy though, even if the words haven’t quite gotten there yet, the respect for handmade (and sahms ) finally has.

    i’d like to see woolsmith, as in madesmith, which is a pretty awesome word too.

    • When I look at this photo, I wonder what my problem is. But it really does lookly much homelier in person. It would do its job perfectly well, but I wouldn’t even give it to anyone. It has that whiff of the dowdy homemade object about it. And you’ve said it very well about “honoring the wool.” And I love the word “woolsmith,” even if it is limited in its own way. That’s just a beautiful word.

      I do wind everything by hand, by the way — it’s one of my favorite things to do — but these two Manos skeins are tied in some strange stranglehold way that I wasn’t managing to decipher that particular evening.

  9. I’m with Lori. It’s all about love. If you’re not loving it, I say – unwind, woman! We all need to trust – and act on – our higher instincts. Even for a shawl.

    • it does look beautiful, but even so, something in you is not feeling it 100%. there is the possibility of blocking that could up its status to well made vs homemade. but i feel if you are thinking about it…

      i used to wind by hand too, and still do on occasion, but i think the swift is the worlds best invention (i have a wooden clamp on one but yearn for a lovely tabletop version).

      • A swift would be lovely, but I’d still wind it from there onto my thumb. I know a ball-winder would save me time, but I genuinely enjoy a handmade yarn cake. It’s how a new project begins!

      • Not sure if those q marks are meant to imply joking or sarcasm? In case they’re not, nope. I put the skein around two chair backs and wind a center-pull ball (or “cake”) on my thumb.

  10. If you have to ask, I think you know the answer. Listen to your gut. It’s difficult to trash your work, but if the end result is something that you enjoy making and using, the effort is not lost.

  11. Love Manos. Love green. Having admitted my biases up front, my vote is to frog this and start over with a color that you know makes you happy.

    And yes, I am very interested in how we name ourselves. Sometmes I think of what I make as “just” craft. This is almost always true if I am following someone else’s pattern. Sometimes I use someone else’s joking words to describe what I do. “I knit. What’s your superpower?” “Yarn makes me happy.” “I’m not easily distracted—-oh, look, yarn!” I think that’s there’s also a grey area in which you take someone else’s idea or pattern and make so many creative modifications to it that it’s much more than just a craft project.

    When I make something up myself, all the way from intial idea to finished piece…well, I guess that’s art. Fiber art. Textile art. Knitted art.

    • Yeah, that’s a big part of why I mostly don’t like to just knit someone else’s design, straight up — there’s no ME in the finished object. On the other hand, sometimes the whole point of knitting is that I just want to do something with my hands and not have to think or plan or make any decisions, just DO.

  12. If it’s not working, kill it. Don’t bother making excuses for work that’s ‘just okay’ because that’s going to hang on like a dried up booger. Make something totally rad.

    Oh, and I should mention that the term “Yarnsmith” has grown on me since our Twitter conversation. I like it a lot.

    • I think it’s probably pretty opaque to people who don’t do the things we do, but then locavore didn’t mean anything to anyone when it was first coined. Obviously (according to Google results) there are lots of people already using the word “yarnsmith,” but maybe we with more widespread usage we can get it to a tipping point where others understand what it means.

  13. I suggest putting the shawl away for a week and then coming back to it. If you still aren’t very excited, rip it out and do something else with that gorgeous yarn. From your picture, I agree with you that it is stronger in garter and Stockinette, so maybe some simple color work (I’m thinking, combine it with a soft natural cream) with a garter edging would make it pop a bit more. Also, swatch with the other yarn to see if it really does look as great as you’re imagining in that textured stitch.

    • I was thinking the same thing — put it away and see how I feel about it some other day — but now Gridjunky has me thinking of it as my booger shawl!

      • *chuckles*
        Something else I was thinking is if the yarn says ‘stockinette’ then put more in there. Maybe rip down that outer garter section, and insert a stockinette section. It’d unify the composition a little, I think.

        • I just keep wishing there was a magic wand tool (as in Photoshop), or a find-and-replace.

          But most likely what I’ll do is set it aside and decide some other time how far I want to rip back and what I want to do in that midsection. I like Andrea’s ivory stripe idea.

    • One of these days I’ll stop embarking on random projects without swatching, I swear. This is one of those cases where it makes sense to me to just let the thing be the swatch. But actually, a swatch probably wouldn’t have saved me here. I recall liking the textured part just fine until there got to be too much of it — too much for how (not) good the stitch looks in this yarn — which I wouldn’t have realized in swatch proportions. Oh well.

  14. Hey, that’s not the Acer :)

    If you don’t like it Karen, frog it and find something you truly love. I know exactly where you’re coming from with this (although it hasn’t happened since I look to Fringe Association for ideas and skills, not kidding here). Personally, I love the shawl. I love the color, it’s beautiful.

    I’m not sure what to say about the term you’re looking for in the second paragraph. I’ve done both – I’ve sewn since I was 8 and have sometimes called myself a “sewist.” I’ve been knitting for just a couple of years or so and I’ve never even thought of trying to label that. Hmmmmm. I do like “yarnsmith,” and I have a friend who calls me “yarnie.” I know, not the professional sounding terms you’re probably looking for….. I’m curious as to what you guys come up with for this.

  15. I’ve got to be honest and say I prefer the textured knitting with that yarn. And it most certainly does matter, even if it is just bunched round your neck. It ties in with the concept of hand-made.

    As the number of years of my knitting experience grows, I realise that the details really do matter. Initially for me it was just about finishing a project and moving on. Now it’s become more about how it looks. So I suppose I’ve moved from the home-made to the hand-made. And proud of it.
    But unless you are in like-minded company i.e. yarnsmiths, there is no difference in the two concepts. It is all regarded as rather twee, “different” and “being creative”. I put those in quotation marks as they are all meant in a negative sense.

    At the moment I’m straddling the two worlds with serious thoughts of becoming 100% yarnsmith. But even in this community there is much snobbishness about what you create and how you create it. Perhaps us yarnsmiths should sort out our own house before we attempt to put the rest of the world in order.

  16. This is such an important conversation. I think there’s a big difference, for example, in the perception of “homemade” vs. “handmade,” with the latter (to my mind) sounding less childlike/more legitimate somehow. But then, I hate that, because I feel like a snob. Sigh.

    I think that’s the big thing we need to get over. There is a difference between a pastime (even on that you feel is part of your identity) and a profession, and there is a difference between homemade and handmade – I think the main thing is to find ways to discuss these differences without privileging one and denigrating the other. It’s symbiotic, and while we should be able to talk about professionals in a different way than we talk about a pastime, it’s also important to realize that one begets the other. That Ravelry blurs these lines so much might be where things get tricky, but it also makes the conversation so much more interesting!

    • Interesting, and thought-provoking. “Handmade vs. homemade” was a distinction my mother—not someone who made things by hand—made. (Though she was very creative in other ways.) She was a self-taught collector who took me to garage sales, thrift stores and consignment shops from the time I was little, and was always thrilled to find beautifully-made pieces that she said, “look handmade, not homemade.” Oh, and I think that Ravelry is part of the very shift and cultural re-definition that we are talking about! I love that it is a forum for everyone from professionals to those who are proud that they made their first scarf/sweater/lace, etc.!

  17. Oops, I’m late to the party! Super interesting, and useful, discussion. I dream of living in a world where we don’t need a special word for people who make things out of textiles, because everyone will at least have some knowledge/experience with textile craft. I’ve found that bringing up craft with my ostensibly “non-maker” friends, has taught me a lot about who they are, and shown me that more people have more textile experience than they realize (the other day, my boyfriend mentioned in passing that when he was in college, he made weird improvised sea-creatures out of old gym socks and gave them to his friends). So, whatever words we use, let’s find any and every excuse to talk about making stuff. :)
    I happen to love the shawl so far! If it were mine, I’d find a big ol’ lacy border from Barbara Walker, and finish with that. I’ve also found that the items I end up wearing *all the time* aren’t necessarily the ones that wowed me right off the needles.

    • I started wondering over the weekend if there isn’t a word for “people who make their own clothes” because for so much of history that word was “woman.” Or wife, or girl, or whatever. It wasn’t out of the ordinary, or a point of discussion, when someone knew how to knit and/or sew and was in the habit of making some or all of their own wardrobe.

      But I agree with your other observation, as well. I didn’t think I knew anyone who knitted, until I started mentioning to people that I had learned. And I was amazed at the number of people who responded with the fact that they knit. People I’d known for years, but it had just never come up in conversation. Often it turns out they know how but rarely do it — very often they got stuck at the rectangle-of-garter-stitch phase and lost interest. But that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

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