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Rachel Marie Stone

Knitting Without a License

On Elizabeth Zimmermann.

Seven years ago, I began knitting in earnest. Though in childhood I had made more than my share of uneven scarves and lumpy potholders to be worn and used by doting adults, I had never progressed beyond the rudiments of the craft. Perhaps my failure to acquire greater skill with fiber and needle can be attributed to the general perception, around the time I entered my teens, that knitting was an activity to keep grandmothers, or perhaps great-grandmothers, busy. If I'd ventured to hint that my own grandma take up knitting, she would have laughed and swatted me with a rolled up copy of Ms. or The New Yorker.

"You're not a 'knitting' grandma," I observed as an elementary schooler, much to her amusement.

She wasn't. Perhaps for her, knitting was like the Yiddish she spoke in childhood. Rather than being something to be cherished and lovingly taught to the next generation, it was something Old Worldly and primitive, something to be cast aside to make room for things urban, sophisticated, American, modern.

Indeed, knitting is a homely, humble, and ancient craft. Like other such crafts—pottery, brewing, spinning, weaving—it is also, in contemporary society, entirely unnecessary, which may indeed be one reason why those who knit love to do so.

Even as North Americans spend more and more time tapping their fingers against screens, we grow more and more enamored of "unnecessary" crafts: home brewing, sewing, food preservation, and, yes, knitting. Mason jars are stylish among people who've never "put up" anything; the lumberjack look is favored among people who earn their living behind MacBooks. Just as the Great Depression gave hand-knitting a boost in popularity, the economic downturn of 2008 seems to have coincided with widespread nostalgia for "homey" crafts, and greater numbers of young people are picking up needles and fiber and, often with the help of YouTube videos, teaching themselves ...

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