My grandfather died yesterday. Which isn’t what I sat down to write, but it’s relevant. Last week, I sat in my grandmother’s chair (who has also passed) and whilst I waited for him to die it occurred to me that I’d lost my two teachers. The people who first taught me to crochet (which I loved before knitting) are now gone. I am to be the enduring legacy of that part of their life. His time in the Navy, her WWII upbringing, have resulted in me. This isn’t what I sat down to write about either.
I sat down to write about arrogance, privilege and money. I sat down to write about heritage. I sat down angry, in fact. I think most of my readers are savvy enough to see through the adverts and know that knitting is a business. It’s about commerce, advertising, “aspirational living”. But what’s being sold? And by who?
My grandparents did not knit with wool. Wool was less soft, less enduring, more pricey. My grandfather lovingly crocheted a christening stole in purest “baby-melter” acrylic. They are not complicated pieces. They lack the soft focus photography of a Ravelry best-seller. But they are real. I can touch them.
What I cannot touch is the knitting “history” sold to me in upmarket books. I can’t touch the neatly delineated lineages that turn 1000 years of world history into a series of perfume adverts. Narratives that sell us our own dreams of authenticity, purity and self-sufficiency by growing a community of knitters whose ancestry, magically, skipped that last 90 years.
My remaining grandmother says it is impossible to buy Shetland wool. I remind her that it can be bought for £5.50 from the website I’ve shown her. Yes, she affirms, impossible. To her, a £5.50 ball of wool is beyond thought. It cannot exist. I do not mention the £200 of silk dk that is sitting on my nightstand back in London.
The heat-lamp of the internet grows strange-fruits. Our community has grown massive and financially powerful. But my root passes through my grandparents; working class people who felt clever and valuable because they could make an acrylic jumper for their grandchildren. So now, at the end of catwalk season’s annual glut of “Not Your Granny’s Knitting” articles, I find myself angry. But it’s not just at the lazy journalists who trot out the same poorly researched bullshit. I’m angry at a knitting culture that thinks itself better than it’s teachers, that fosters a better-than-you attitude about the war generation, that doesn’t recognise that yarn-snobbery operates along class lines. The word snob is *right there*.
I’m angry that our communities loudest response to these articles isn’t “actually, yes it is my granny’s knitting” but “oh dear God, no it isn’t and actually it hasn’t been for ten years fnar fnar Debbie Stoller feminism alpaca mohair.”
I’m not saying I’m innocent. But I am saying I’ve been rude. I think a lot of us have. I’m sad about that now.
This is my new project.
It’s a jumper for me. The acrylic yarn for the entire garment came to less that £5. The colour, steradent green, does not exist anywhere in nature or fashion. It exists only in the world of budget acrylic DK. Wearing it will immediately communicate home-made, not hand-made. Well so what? I’m poor. My family have been working class for five generations, why should I pretend to a wealth I don’t have and don’t come from? My history, my authenticity and my tradition are better expressed by this garment than any technical lace or complicated colour-work. My craft is my granny’s craft, it is my grandfather’s craft. I come from a strong living tradition of hideously coloured acrylic. This feels like a home-coming.