A hobby that commands so much of a crafter's time, supplies and demand, knitting is a diverse activity that can play the part of hobby, occasional source of income or even a full-time job - depending on who's holding the needles. It's gone through many advancements and iterations, with its current form and practitioners differing drastically to those of yesterday, in some very drastic ways indeed. For this instalment of the Past Impressions blog, we're going to take a broad look at the rise of knitting during the 21st century, even peeking just a little bit into the beyond...Classic Reasons to Knit
Knitting has, throughout its European history at least, lent itself to a wide variety of everyday goods. From the earliest known knitted items - created by Muslims employed by the Spanish royal family - to the Fair Isle techniques of Scotland & its eventual emergence as a past-time in the 19th century, knitting has has to adapt and survive to the times in numerous ways. The rise in fashionable knitwear in the 1920's was just as quickly replaced by necessity during the great depression, with this humble needlecraft coming time and time again to save the day.
Britain & America's war effort was greatly bolstered by balaclavas and gloves made by the twiddling public during WWII. The severe shortage of wool were responded to with public information campaigns urging needle wielders everywhere to unpick and reuse their own unused clothing. Knitting's severe decline in the latter half of the 20th century was down to a number of things; increased commercial production of machine spun clothing and the resulting rise in everyday tracksuits and sweatshirts, along with a lack of continued focus on the art in schools. Evidently, these were to only be a temporary setback...
One new advancement in the way we knit is mega-knitting. We're not sure how recently the term was coined, but it basically refers to anything made with needles greater than or equal to half an inch in diameter. The same stitches and techniques are used, but special hooks are carved into the needles to provide better control of the work. Mega knitting creates a bulkier, almost chunky fabric, depending on the weight or type of the yarn.
As a traditional art-form, knitting has otherwise stuck to the same tools and tricks, at least in the working fingers. The way crafters go about their hobby has gone through some technical advancement mind you. Computers, particularly iPads/tablets, now provide patterns & guides, plus podcasts, online 'zines have been born out of all sorts of gadgetry. You can even download convenient counter apps. Perhaps most striking is how synonymous blogging has come with the knitting community, where photographing and annotating your work in progress and finished garment becomes integral to the overall experience.
When knitting began to evolve away from being a necessary skill to a hobby, it began to embrace the call for communities (as well as coffee shops...). The increased simplification of patterns and their expanded availability has inspired knit-a-long's; where a table of enthusiasts work their way through a design. Whilst mostly relaxed, this took an athletic new height with the arrival of the 'Knitting Olympics' in 2006, which pitted knitters against each other in events like the "afghan marathon" and "scarf hockey".
But more important than what modern day groups of knitters do together is how they get together. The online community of knitters really peaked to a phenomena with the arrival of KnitList, and now social networking sites like the openly exclusive Ravelry - founded in 2007 - connect thousands to share, inspire and, with the likes of Etsy, even sell and support themselves.
One of the strangest, yet most intriguing ways knitting has broken out in our modern world is by literally decorating it! 'Yarnbombing'. as it's fondly known, is a form of street art that swaps out chalk and spray-paint for finely knit fibres and a desire not to deface, but to wrap up warmly. Generally agreed to have begun by the inventive fingers and mind of one Magda Sayeg in Texas, from the Knit Knot tree in Ohio to the founding of 'Yarnbombing' day (11th of June, just so you know), we can think of few things that sum up modern knitting quite so finely.
Having come so far in so long, and with its purpose as a hobby and creative tool far more emphasize than in previous decades, it's unlikely that we'll see as a dramatic decline of knitting as we did last century. On the contrary, we might see the internet, its growing economy of handmade wears and the constant recycling of trends and ideas pushing the artform further than ever before.
What's next though? Thanks to awesome astronaut Karen Nyberg, we got to see quilting in space last year, but we're looking forward to seeing some zero gravity-jumper knitting before too long. Perhaps Google will provide us with the first self-knitting needles, potentially with the power to teach and guide novices the various techniques, and of course we're very interested to know what materials we'll be weaving together in the years to come, and whether or not the planet will appreciate them as well.
Do you have any plans for this year's yarnbombing day on Wednesday? Where do you see the next big advancement in knitting coming from? Let us know in the comments, or you can share your ideas with us on Facebook, through Twitter or via our Google+ page.