Knitting in the Digital Age

Once we turned the clocks back and it started to get dark around 4:00 pm, I immediately broke out my knitting supplies and resumed my favorite winter activity of making scarves, hats, sweaters, and mittens. Not only does it feel cozy to knit once it is dark and cold outside, it is a tactile hobby that is very rewarding after staring at a phone or laptop screen all day. I’m not the only millennial that feels this way and has learned to knit. Many of my friends and peers are knitters or crocheters and it is a common trend among 20-somethings. In response to this demand, there are numerous online “knit kit” companies that make it easy to learn to knit, learn new stitches, and start new projects. There are also numerous local yarn shops to buy supplies and find a community of knitters. Online, there are knitting communities like Ravelry that are a great resource for patterns and YouTube has a trove of video knitting tutorials.

Pair of hand knitted mittens

Pair of mittens I knitted this year.

In a fashion industry that actively hides the systems and conditions of production from the consumers, hand knitting brings the production right into the consumer’s own home. By knitting the item, knitters know that workers haven’t been exploited and there are no harmful environmental side effects when making the garment. (This is only true if the yarn used was produced in an ethical way.) The allure of doing the work yourself is possibly in response to a romanticizing of a pre-industrial revolution society. This nostalgia manifests as a trend for personalized, bespoke items that reject the unethical and ecologically harmful production methods of large fashion corporations. Knitting is a more accessible way to accomplish this production at home compared to sewing. Sewing requires more tools and knowledge, whereas knitting can be a casual activity that is done in front of the TV or talking with friends.

Knitting needles, ball of yarn, and knitting pattern

Hat in progress with pattern instructions.

Knitting is also related to the “hipster” trend of enjoying analogue objects like records, typewriters, and polaroid cameras. To millennials and other young people, these items could be reminiscent of a time when lives were not based in the digital world but in a physical, tactile one. They are also a brief respite from the digital world where we view glowing screens and have our touch mediated through a mobile device, laptop, or TV. Physically touching knitting needles or a polaroid camera is how a new scarf or polaroid picture is created. There is no mediation of touch through a screen and the product it creates, unlike digital images or applications, is available to touch and manipulate in real life. In this age of instant gratification, knitting is also a lesson of patience. Sweaters and scarves can take hours and hours to make (especially if you mess up a few stitches!). This, along with the physical product, makes finishing a knitting project more rewarding than anything accomplished on a laptop or phone.

Purple mittens and blue hat

Personally, I enjoy knitting because it lets me design my own scarves, gloves, and sweaters and I can make great personal gifts for my friends and family. I like having control of the design process by choosing the type of wool, the color of yarn, and the pattern to create exactly what I’m envisioning. This winter I am attempting to knit socks – a technical challenge I have not mastered yet.

Sources:

Knitting Is Cool: 20-Somethings Taking Up Knitting, Crochet. Huffington Post article

Handcrafted Fashion: Why We Crave It in the Digital Age, WSJ