Some Quick Answers to My Mid-Term Feedback
After my midterm presentation last week I decided to push forward and see what new threads developed.
Last week I presented my mid-term presentation, and I got a lot of positive feedback and a lot of interest. So I decided to take a moment, look at some of the questions I got via the Miro feedback board and see if I could answer them!
This particular note was a serendipitous coincidence because I literally just placed an interlibrary loan for this book Sunday night.
Fun fact, Bobst had a copy of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Innovation by Erik Davis but it’s currently billed as lost. I am super excited to read this and I hope that NYU is able to help me get a copy of this book soon.
This note about Molly Weasley’s knitting machine in Harry Potter also crossed my mind before.
In the put-something-into-google-and-see-what-happens days of this project, I typed in Knitting AND Magic and the first thing that came up was “knitting charm.”
It’s a canonical part of the Harry Potter universe used by Molly Weasley to make knitwear for her children and by Hermione Granger to make clothes for the house-elves.
The idea of the knitting machine and automation isn’t new, but it often doesn’t look like freestanding needles. This leans a bit more into the enchantment that we associate with handknitting.
There is also a practice of fairytale and theme-based pattern books being released. Tanis Gray released an anthology last year called Knitting Magic that is the first Harry Potter pattern book backed by Warner Bros. and she just released a second one. Alice Hoffman also released a book called Faerie Knitting.
Knitting techniques also feature the word magic constantly. For example, a circular knitting technique is called magic loop, and a technique for creating certain stitches is called illusion knitting.
Another note that made me think of things I’ve seen that have caused me to draw these three threads together included a mention of Alchemy Yarns.
While knitting and witchcraft may not seem to go together, there is a lot of overlap in the knitting space.
There are also some yarn shops that cater to a more mystical inclination. Ritual Dyes for example offers solstice and equinox offerings quarterly and has a series of yarns based around the zodiac signs. Circle of Stitches is a Salem, Massachusetts-based yarn shop that also sells tarot and other mystical items.
This one has the potential to be a rabbit hole, so of course I interlibrary loaned a couple collections of “new fairytales.”
So here’s what I was getting at in my presentation, the act of knitting, defined as the use of two sticks, is fairly young with its roots coming from around the 15th century. The yarn tales you tend to hear about in mythology are centered on spinning or weaving.
Those are still important aspects of the practice, cos knitters needed yarn or thread to make their wares. You do see other characters who knit in contemporary literature.
One quote that I still remember to this day in the opening pages of Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. It’s not even a representation of knitting, the character’s husband finds a lighter in her car and asks what it’s from and her response is, “I got bored with knitting, I’m taking up arson.”
One of the most popular examples is Madame DeFarge in Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities who used to codify her knitting with names of noblemen who were to be executed. She too has inspired knitting books.
Another is Serena Joy Waterford from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. One of Offred’s observations is that she often sees Serena knitting elaborate things but also feels like she never sees her finish anything.
I’ve thought to myself since reading the book that this speaks to the economic nature of knitting. After taking a class at Vogue Knitting Live, years ago, the instructor, a designer known as Bristol Ivy put it eloquently, “At the end of the day, you’re still left with yarn and sticks.”
However, I also found a lecture happening in two weeks time at Vogue Knitting Live’s virtual event which I think I am going to attend and take some classes for in addition to the lecture on knitting myths.
This one has actually come up in the reading I’ve done so far.
The thing about knitting is that the deeper you get the more consumerist it can get. The paper I read called “Fabricating Activism” talks about how over time knitting tends to get more consumerist and expensive.
Observing Ravelry over the yarns it’s not uncommon for myths to develop around things like keeping your pattern queue long (apparently you can’t die until you complete it all), or accumulating a yarn stash until you reach S.A.B.L.E. status (stash accumulated beyond life expectancy).
Not only has this kind of vernacular sprung up around knitting but games too. There are still active communities online that issue challenges like Nerd Wars and the Harry Potter House Cup that release assignments and let knitters compete to win points for their team.
Ravelry has also run an Olympics tournament that spans the Olympic season every year and several years ago, a game of Assassins was developed amongst sock knitters called Sock Wars.
What does this mean after my midterm presentation?
The presentation and feedback gave me some good things to think about, but it also made me realize that there is really an expansive field, and while I want to read it all, if I am going to produce two chapters by December 17th.
The things that are really speaking to me is this idea of a utilitarian hobby turned into a aesthetic. In a recent attempt to do some searching I found an article called “The Folklore of Small Things” that talks about craft and how it feels ancient but was likely just homework.
It also speaks to the gendered gathering of folklore thought the lens of knitting and craft, and this mysticism surrounding crafts of old and the idea of it being folklore feels like it has legs and does tie into this idea of ancient, myths and enchantment.
There’s probably going to be some mind mapping that goes on this weekend and I may finally sign up for the next their of Miro because that may be the easiest way to organize my thoughts.