Finding a Connection Between Knitting and the Occult

Knitting seems like an ancient craft with no connection to technology or the outside world, but the history of social change with knitting is much more interesting.

After doing the exercise in today’s class I had a loose idea for another research rabbit hole surrounding the intersection of Gothic fiction, knitting, and witchcraft/mysticism.

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on gothic fiction and female relationships between characters. It is always in the back of my mind as something to look into. So, I decided to put that topic on the backburner for now, but there are elements of esoteric knowledge, isolation, and madness, that could come into play depending on how some of my research goes.

My suspicion is that somehow the link between these three things has to do with isolation, madness, and stigma around mental health, but it feels like I may be trying to do too much.

To try to keep my momentum going I decided to continue interrogating knitting after class. It was then that I remembered something that I forgot to put in my post-it note frenzy: female spies were caught knitting code during World War II.

Many of my post-it notes have to do with codifying language surrounding things.

Knitwear is one such aspect that was been political, social, and changed dramatically. The revelation of Ravelry made it easy for knitters to congregate online and for independent designers to find knitters for their patterns.

Recently, however, the site fell out of favor in part for instituting a ban on talk about Trump’s politics, and in part for embarking on a redesign with no regard for accessibility.

I found an article in The New Yorker called “The Unravelling” that dissects the site’s downfall and gives a brief history of knitting.

The article also talks about the political discontent within the fiber community, specifically around the elections of 2007 and 2020, and how the two founders of the site Cassidy and Jessica spent a lot of time trying to insulate the craft community from outside, industry influence. As a result, it’s just them and they’ve been left to decide what to flag as inappropriate content.

Jessica admitted that Ravelry has struggled to pinpoint exactly what constitutes inappropriate content. “Some of this stuff is so nuanced,” she said. “Think about what tweet got Trump banned. It was not about attending the Inauguration.” She went on, “We went through some pretty crazy rabbit holes: ‘O.K., this is an eagle, but it isn’t really the Nazi eagle. Or is it?’ It’s just, like, ugh.”

This had me thinking about who decides what knitting patterns are out there. While for a while I was sure it was just publishers like Interweave, it’s clear that on this site, it’s two people.

It also got me thinking about how knitting got to seem so politically neutral. The article details few social change efforts, including knitting socks for soldiers during the world wars. After that though, knitting seems to be less work and more of a hobby.

Knitting was a way to escape the dynamics that caused people to fight incessantly online, and its adherents are uniquely bound by the ethics inherent in the craft. I can think of no other activity that punishes cheating or impatience so brutally, as evidenced by my thousands of yards of tangled knots or hours spent tearing out projects after I’d taken shortcuts.

I have to wonder if the culture of knitting has become such that it feels like it’s being gatekept from people who might be interested.

I ran some general searches trying to find work that might fit my two topics. I found a few notable projects that may produce conductive threads.

The Bare-Hand Knitting Project was a crowdfunding campaign launched in 2016 that aimed to make knitting more accessible, by focusing on material and not tools. From the looks of the page, they only reached a nominal amount of the funding they were seeking but it looks like a book did come out in 2019 from Waldorf publications.

I also did a search for NYU and fiber artists and a search for NYU faculty and the occult, and I found a couple of faculty members that I want to reach out to. I also found a club called The Naughty Knitters sponsored by the NYU Office of Civic Engagement, but from the looks of their site, they may not be actively meeting at the moment.

A search for faculty at NYU led me to find two conferences. First, there was the 2013 Steinhardt Occult Humanities Conference co-organized by Professor Jesse Bransford.

And then there was also the Scholars of Fright Night post from NYU news in 2019 that profiled four professors with an interest in horror, the occult.

The last thing I looked into today was knitting and witchcraft and I found a series of posts that talk about knitting and witchcraft including some knitting spells.

I also found a couple of podcasts that I will be listening to this week as well:

This then led me down the rabbit hole of knitting spells and spellwork and messages within knitting.

Madamedefarge is a character that has inspired my own online identity on Instagram and who is known for knitting names of those to be executed into her finished objects. I was always aware that this was possible but I wonder how it may connect to spellwork.

Then I found a few accounts of people who use knitting as a meditative practice and who use knitting as a way to cope and process. There is also a movement called slow knitting which is about the process of making and not so much the end result.

All of these elements are starting to crystalize into something that feels like it’s beginning to go somewhere. I plan to mindmap later to try and distill some of these thoughts further.

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A place for thoughts, musings, notations, and synthesis of ideas for my thesis research.

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Lauren Busser

Lauren Busser

Grad Student at NYU Tandon. Associate Editor for Tell-Tale TV. Pop Culture enthusiast. Writer with a dog. Knits.

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