Mam, Dad, I have something to tell you. I……make.

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November 8, 2012 by New Capel Street: Fabric Division

That’s not a sentence you hear very often. Nor is ‘coming out of the stash closet’ seen as a cultural Thing, or A Big Deal. I know for a fact that my mum adores knitting and fabric shops, goes into creative businesses to recharge her batteries and inspire herself. It’s one of those little things that tells me that all of those people who tell you that turning into your parents is inevitable might be on to something.

And yet, there is a certain reaction when you crack out the knitting or other WIP in public, or when there are other people around. A blink. An incredulous stare. And of course, the even more incredulous “Are you knitting?!” No shit, Sherlock. Or, you mention knitting and there’s the pause, followed by “…okayyy…”

On paper, it sounds like your hypothetical conversational partner is vaguely disinterested, but in a polite way. In person, I tend to read it as your HCP is freaked out by your comment, and is treating it as a confessional rather than an interchange of conversation. I don’t understand why that is. What’s the disconnect? What causes it? How do you interact with it, identify it, flag it?  How do you smooth the disconnect over in order to create conversational flow? I should have paid more attention in my material culture class. Maybe then I’d understand why “I like knitting,” can be treated with the same level of confusion as “Actually, I can’t meet you for coffee on Thursday, I’m off to juggle yaks” might be, if one were of the yak-juggling persuasion. Which, now I come to think of it, seems unreasonable considering the weight of the average yak, and the juggling capabilities of most humans. (I’ll give you a hint. It’s significantly less than a yak. Even if it’s one yak, that’s been chopped up into pieces. But no juggler would do that, and I need to change the subject right now.)

Of course, the flip side of those people who are weirded out by your craft pursuit of choice is that they will, in a huge number of cases, be amazed and astonished by the fact that you made the thing they’ve just complimented in this strange hypothetical conversation. I’m not going to lie, it makes me feel like a bit of a rockstar. If rockstars knitted blue slouchy hats I’d be Brodie freakin’ Dalle. At the same time, the phenomenon of the craftsman’s nod is far more satisfying. There’s a convention among crafters, you see. You make something, and a non-crafter’s knickers spontaneously combust in awe. A crafter sees it, and takes a proper look. Here’s how that conversation might go:

“Nice choice of yarn. I like the stitch definition.”

“It’s nice yarn – but I messed this section up completely (pointing at a thing) and the cast-off’s all wrong.”

“Sure you’ll know how to fix it next time. No, it’s a nice jumper, it turned out well.”

“I’m overall pretty happy with it! By the way, I was admiring your blazer, did you make it?”

 

The primary difference here is that it’s a lot easier to express admiration for an item when you know how to make the item. But you’re less likely to be effusive, because you know you can do it too. So instead, you critically analyse or read the work. You look at the techniques and tricks that became a garment or an item of furniture, appreciate how they were combined in this artefact, and talk about that. There are obvious exceptions, where you look at an artefact and realise it’s a masterpiece. And if you become effusive here, you’re basically making the maker’s day. But they’ll still criticise and point out how it could be better done.

I’ve gotten somewhat off the point, and I’m still confused. It may be time to dig out the old anthropology notes and see if I can find good sources on material culture.

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