Sunday, September 27, 2009

What I like about you

Recently, I was travelling by plane. In anticipation of the hours of relative captivity, I had packed myself a cake of sock yarn and a set of DPNs, to pass the time in transit.

My flight was really a series of two flights, and on the first leg, which was shorter, I happened to be seated next to a very chatty fellow. I boarded the plane, found my seat, settled in, pulled out my in-flight entertainment materials, but then this man started chatting me up. He was friendly, so I indulged him and was friendly right back. Normally, when this happens, it doesn't really last very long - we chat for a bit, but after a short while the stranger will usually get distracted with something else and stop talking to me, at which point I can get back to my own diversions. I feel like it would probably be perceived as me being impolite if I were to knit while talking casually with a total stranger. I'm not a very good conversationalist, so these sorts of little chats tend to be short - I guess I'm not very interesting.

Except to this guy. This guy had travelled the globe, and in his travels had become interested in the wide variety of languages he's encountered along the way. So it turns out I had some things to say that he found pretty interesting, and we chatted about language variation and language learning for the whole flight. It was a pretty short flight - 45 minutes gate to gate - but still, that's a record for me talking to a stranger.

Anyway, towards the tail end of the flight - probably as we were beginning our descent - he worked up the nerve to ask me about the weird little packet that was sitting in my lap. The yarn cake. I had taken it out immediately, but hadn't actually started working because he'd been chatty. He asked me what it was, and I told him it was yarn for knitting. He looked surprised, and said to me, "Wow. You don't look like a knitter." I just chuckled and put it away, knowing I wasn't going to be casting on during this flight anyhow, so I might as well stow it now instead of in the rush to get off the plane. I was pretty sure I knew what he meant when he said what he did, but he continued on to be crystal clear: "I mean, you're not a grandma."

This is the stereotypical image of the person who knits. The person is an elderly woman, and she's knitting ugly chunky sweaters for unfortunate family members and friends. Even when I hear the word knit, if I haven't got my own projects on my mind, this stereotype flashes through my head.

The friendly guy didn't dwell on my knitting for very long - my potentially neverending monologue of language information held far more appeal. But I have this feeling that part of him wondered why I would knit. Sometimes people ask me this - not often, but I get the sense that they sort of wonder about it in their heads.

The obvious and quick answer is that I like it. That just leads into another why? though. Not in a you-must-justify-your-hobby-to-me kind of way, and not in a convince-me-why-this-is-a-worthwhile-hobby sort of way either. I don't take offense. But it did get me thinking. What's the appeal here?

Well. I like the process of knitting. I enjoy having my hands occupied, I love the feel of the yarn in my fingers, I find the action of forming endless stitches on the needles very soothing, and when knitting with variegated yarns, I find the ever-changing alignment of colours in the stitches as they form to be quite entertaining.

Then there's the productivity aspect of it. I like video games, but when I play there's a small twinge of guilt that I'm spending time on an activity that gains me nothing in the real world - no skills, no remuneration, no tangible product. I still do it, because it's pure entertainment, which we all need. Knitting, though, is also entertainment for me, but it satisfies that part of me that feels like one always ought to get something for one's efforts and time spent. I knit, I'm entertained, and at the end, I have a usable garment. Wonderful.

Then there's the creativity of it. By combining different yarns, different colours, and different patterns, I get to create utterly unique items. How can you go wrong with that?

Finally, there's the ego boost. Knitting makes me feel ever so clever! I mean think about it - you start with some sticks, and a length of string, and using just these and your hands you make stitches that end up becoming fabric. You're not limited in the shape of the fabric being created either - you can create squares and rectangles, or tubes, or really any shape that you need for your garment, like raglan increases for the sleeves of a sweater. You can also manipulate the stitches as you make them to make your fabric take on a certain texture - ribbed, garter stitch, seed stitch, cables, bobbles, lace. You're doing all this with just sticks and string. How can you do all that with such simple items, and not feel like a clever cookie?

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