Knitters versus People Who Knit

We went to the supermarket yesterday, and both boys had fallen asleep in the car, so Steffen went shopping alone while I stayed with the sleeping babies. I’m always happy to do this, because I get a chunk of uninterrupted knitting time (it’s very rare for me to drive anywhere without my knitting… Although I have a licence, I don’t really drive, so I take my knitting, even on a 10 minute drive).

As Steffen was getting into the car, there was an elderly lady getting out of the car next to us who asked what I was knitting, then said something to Steffen about how he knew what it was like to live with old people. He smiled and nodded, and then realised that she had assumed I was old because I was knitting and she couldn’t see my head.

I get this a lot. Not so much people thinking I’m much older than I am (I look and dress younger than my age), but comments like “oh, you knit. That’s unusual, fewer and fewer younger people knit these days.” I don’t have numbers to back me up, but I’m pretty sure that’s not true. I think the internet in general and social networking in particular have nurtured a knitting renaissance amoung people under the age of 50 or so. I think the only people who think knitting is a dying art are those who knit, but aren’t familiar with sites like Pinterest and Ravelry. In short, people who aren’t knitters.

I’ll explain what I mean by that. I suspect that in my grandmother’s generation, almost all women knew how to knit. This doesn’t mean they did so regularly: I never saw my grandmother knit (she was a terrific seamstress, though). But lots of them did, and still do. There’s a difference, though, between “people who knit” and knitters. At least there is in my mind. When I think “people who knit”, I think grannies who make the hats they give away in maternity wards. The old aunts who make the ill-fitting scratchy acrylic sweaters for Christmas that give handknits such a bad rap among those who don’t know better.

When I think of “knitters” I think of a slightly embarrassingly hipster subculture. I think of people who spend too much on kettle dyed wool and carbon fibre needles. People who blog about knitting and shun the yarn aisle at craft stores, even though they sell decent wool at decent prices, because they’re worried someone might see them and think they’re buying a giant ball of bright red 100% acrylic Panda Magnum (American readers: think Red Heart). I realise this makes it sound like buying the right paraphernalia makes one a knitter, and that’s not the case (this is largely an unflattering description of me). Knitters are people who like to knit new things from patterns with new techniques they’ve never tried. People for whom knitting is more about the process than the product.

Not all the people I’ve met who I consider knitters are young, or even youngish. There were a couple members of a knitting circle I used to belong to who were in their 80s at least. By all accounts my great grandmother was a true knitter until she died. Older knitters are less likely to be active on social networking websites, of course, but they still tend to be aware that knitters have an online presence. At the very least, they seem to be aware that there are an awful lot of young(ish)  people who are shopping in the trendy looking local yarn shop.

It’s not the true knitters who are surprised that someone my age knits. It’s also not the people who don’t know the difference between knitting and crocheting.  It’s the “people who knit”.

I’m not sure why this annoys me so much. I’m genuinely amused that the woman yesterday thought Steffen was taking his granny to the shops. I think it’s that there’s so much evidence of knitting subculture around (the tree outside our library has been yarn bombed, for example, and I see younger people knitting on the bus often enough, and often when I get into conversations about this the person who knits will tell me that her granddaughter, or her daughter-in-law, or her doctor’s receptionist, or some other younger woman she knows is also a knitter).

Maybe I’m just cranky from sleep deprivation.

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