Thursday, March 17, 2011

Curiosity and Knitting Innovation

Two weeks ago Jumbleberryjam asked if my survey on the knitting experiences of black women had yielded results. The answer is "yes", but nothing usable. Unfortunately, it wasn't circulated to enough women to get out of the circle of women whom I know are knitters or crafters, whose contacts would more likely be knitters. I have tried to pursue the question on Ravelry (an on-line community for knitters and crocheters which is wildly popular). I did so by searching for groups that would-by name/subject of interest-suggest predominantly minority involvement. Most of them I confirmed by examining more closely individual member names and icons. It appeared that more of those groups were crocheters than knitters.

You might wonder why this question makes any difference to me at all. Well, some of it is curiosity. I just like to know who's doing what and why. Some of that curiosity can be easily satisfied by publicly available statistics; that wasn't the case with knitter demographics. The other reason I am interested is that I have enormous fun with my knitting. It also relaxes me, helps discipline my mind, and produces beautiful items for personal use and for sale. I want to share this with people and encourage others who may not have found their crafting niche to try it.

Aside from the above noted research, there are several things in my personal experience that lead me to think black women are underrepresented among U.S. knitters. First, when I am out at the market knitting and selling my stuff, people often stop to comment on their own experiences with knitting (their personal knitting or that of family members). These people are never African-American. Second, among my own acquaintances I only know a few black knitters, while I know many black crocheters. Third, only rarely has a black woman asked about joining the group of knitters that are my weekly companions knitting in a very public place. This experience has been echoed by some of the other black women I know who knit.

Lately I have been obsessed with nontraditional designs for scarves. I want to show a few of them and describe how they came into being. The top scarf was knit with self-striping yarn, a Noro that is primarily silk and cotton. I wanted to create some three-dimensional pieces extending from random parts of the scarf. To do so, I knit down a row to the spot I wanted to use, cast on 15-30 stitches to my right-hand needle, then used both needles to cast off those same stitches. That produced a two-row, coiling piece that could be pushed to the front or back of the piece before I continued to knit and complete the row. On the second photo you can see the triangular holes. I knit the posts in between the holes without a real plan, just knowing that I had to either start wide and decrease to a point or start with one stitch and increase gradually. I tried to keep the same number of rows in each triangle so the segment wouldn't make the scarf crooked. I cast on stitches in between their ends, picked up the end stitches of each triangle at the appropriate spot, and eventually had a new row to proceed from. This scarf has a variety of stitch patterns along its length, including a segment of cables and some rows of drop-stitch.

The experiment with the second scarf is knots. I wanted to create three-dimensional segments by making strips of scarf that would form knots or with other strips. I chose a place to start a strip, knitting and turning for a three- or four-stitch piece until I had several inches to work with. Then I finished the original row, keeping the piece in its place to form a loop. In some later row I would come close to the width that the first loop arose from and start another strip. When the strip was long enough to reach through the first one and back to it's home row, I would thread it through and then finish it's home row. I did this with vertical and horizontal loops, as you can see in the photos. By the way, that yarn is two lengths worked together, a bamboo from Southwest Trading Company.

Hope this is clearer than mud.