no & st kn a Je lg an it t h i s a O e be ti rl tc an h d
looking at the past in contemporary culture in the context of knitting
â€œYoung women knitting their way back to the world of their grandmothers.â€? (Minahan and Wolfram Cox 2007 p. 14)
To Rosie and Valerie
II. Knitting and stigma: postmodernity 22-33 and craft in the digital age III. Knitting and the future: sustainable practices and memory in knitwear
References & Bibliography
I. Knitting and revivalism: defining and redefining nostalgia
loop lo op
p loop l o o
Introduction My granny taught me knitting at a very young age, and like most children, I was only occupied by this for a few hours. The act of knitting did not interest me again until a few months before starting a course in fashion and textiles. On a whim after reading an article about knitting, I was spurred into going onto Youtube and watching someone else knitting. Following the process, I taught myself to cast on and knit stocking stitch within the hour. The journey of teaching myself to knit, and consequently developing my skills, showcased the want and need for a young woman to interact with memory and nostalgia in the context of knitting. Once I learned to knit, I gained a skill I could discuss with my grandmother, my mother, and a skill that continued to develop and improve throughout my time at university. Knitting and the process of knitting have, in contemporary society, become intrinsically linked to nostalgia and memory, and analysing the development of that involves many differing threads; from how we embed memory onto clothing, how hand knitting has developed throughout the 20th century, with modern designers subverting the loop and the stereotypes placed onto knitting itself.
Gschwandtner (2007 p. 4) argues that “Knitting has become an important way to reassert the tactile and social pleasures we all crave”. Elements of nostalgia allow this to happen, and since the loop is deceptively easy to create, yet imbued with the ability to both be rigid and soft, innovative and traditional it allows for coding and metaphors to be placed upon it, and nostalgia to be used in conjunction with it. Hence, I hope to analyse why and how that happens, by looking at how we as a culture look to the past while creating the future. The implications of the ‘traditional’ being associated with knitting and knitwear contribute to contemporary perceptions and use of knitting, as without the stigmas of gender, femininity and ‘rural’ having been placed onto it, there is nothing to subvert. However negative, they help to have raised knitting from the ‘humble craft’ to something that is considered art. We as a society continue to look to the past, and this can be seen in the continuous cycle of the fashion industries need to return to decades prior for inspiration for trends. As our use of the digital increases, our perception of the past and its lack of technology releases a strong sense of loss for a less connected, more humble time. The perceptions of knitting and the use of nostalgia correlate and I hope to look at the development of that throughout history and into today.
I am increasingly interested within my work in how nostalgia impacts the way we interact with the world. By the grafting of traditionally seen hand knits with the more modern, innovative machine knit techniques it enables me to highlight the importance of craft while looking to the future, and finding the space in between the old and the new. In addition, the process of knitting itself allows the maker to create the fabric as they are making the garment, allowing for a sense of responsible use of material. This theme of sustainability manifests itself in this analysis of nostalgia, as I explore how the idea of embedding memory onto clothing provokes nostalgia from the owner or wearer. The inability to let go of something like a hand knitted jumper is integral to this analysis of nostalgia and the knit stitch, and it is important to include experiences of myself and others experiences of object permanence and tactile memory throughout to validate the theories proposed. By looking at nostalgia, memory and tradition in knitwear, the coding of knitwear past and present, object permanence and tactile nostalgia, and post modern knitting and craft culture, I hope to answer how nostalgia and the knit stitch are connected, and why we as a culture are obsessed with the past, are fascinated by the past, and use the past as a comment on the present.
Chapter one Knitting and revivalism: defining and redefining nostalgia Before an analysis of knitting in the context of nostalgia and traditional connotations can take place, an understanding of the evolving definitions of nostalgia must be acknowledged, beginning with identifying the traditional notions of what nostalgia meant, and how that has evolved to shape definitions and perceptions of nostalgia in contemporary cultures. Mad Men, a modern television programme that drew heavily on 1950s culture, poignantly explained the definitions of nostalgia through its main character. Draper (cited in Jenss 2013 p. 107) spoke eloquently about the concept in an episode, saying that nostalgia is “delicate, but potent”. Arguably one of the most concise descriptions of what nostalgia is seen as today, but depicted through a 1950s lens, it highlights a self-awareness on the part of its writers - they knew how utilising a specific time period was nostalgic - and a certain irony that occurs often when someone knows they are harking to a particular era. However, nostalgia began as a noticeably different word. Draper (cited in Jenss 2013 p. 108) mentions that in Greek, nostalgia could be literally translated to mean “the pain from an old wound”. That focus on the word pain derives from the original medical connotations of nostalgia, where its use to describe homesickness is far more archaic now. Jenss (2013 p. 114) continues by affirming that “the term nostalgia became steadily demedicalized as well as demilitarised, and disconnected from its original meaning of homesickness and, instead, the understanding of nostalgia shifted to crosstemporal longing.”
It is never used in a literal sense of sickness, and the more shifting form of displacement when someone is longing for something they knew, or thought they knew. In the present, nostalgia represents someone literally looking across time to a different period by remembering. Its original uses as a literal meaning for homesickness evolved to mean a more fluid and visceral theory which allows us to comment more on the present than the past it looks at. A sense of longing for ‘what has been’ is inherently what the concept of nostalgia has turned into. Moore (2006 p. 16) corroborates this by detailing how nostalgia is “not a way of representing history, but of experiencing it, which is where the pain comes in”. It becomes easier then to understand how nostalgia is inherently serious in its form of remembering the past. (Guffey 2006 p. 20) Keightley and Pickering (2012 p. 115) explain how nostalgia is “both existentially and socially valuable as a way of trying to understand change”, and this allows it to be used to understand how culture has developed. Nostalgia occurs on a collective and on a singular scale, (Moore 2006 p. 20) allowing for a sense of understanding of how we as a culture interact with history and the future. Nostalgia is fundamentally more embedded in culture, and through that lens of looking to the past to evolve the future is how knitting and knitwear have been used throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
The individual and the community are paramount to the idea of nostalgia as a whole, and knitting is a mechanism within that through its ties with ruralism and traditionality. Keightley and Pickering (2012 p. 112) argue that the entangling of the individual and collective processes of remembering are the foundations of nostalgia. The interlinking of a single persons interaction with nostalgia with that of a community is paramount to nostalgia, and details the connections and parallels with knitting as a whole - knitwear broadly encapsulates a society, yet each person has a connection to knitting on a more personal level. These parallels offer a distinct understanding of how history plays a part in modern society. Ultimately, nostalgia plays on the direct consequences of post modernity, and the separation between what really happened and the expectation of that. (Keightly and Pickering 2012) Guffey (2006 p. 19) succinctly explains that “nostalgia is itself a complex emotion, often representing the past with a sadness that is blended with a small measure of pleasure. It can be private… or… it can be collective, providing a source for identity, agency or community”. This explains how a single person uses nostalgia along with how we as a society interact with its concept, thus showing its impact in a more modern sense. By accepting that nostalgia is hard to define, and acknowledging that it is fluid and temporal like the concept itself, we can began to understand more the reasons why people both collectively and individually turn to the past instead of the present, and how that says more about the present than the past.
Particularly in our more digital age, when people become disconnected they look to a period in history which seems better than the current situation. But the act of remembering is inherently unreliable, as we are unable to remember accurately often, let alone ever, and that is where the iterations of nostalgia come to the fore. Keightley and Pickering (2012 p. 112) back this up by saying that instead of “speaking independently, they express feelings about the effects of this as members of a specific generation or social group who feel temporally displaced, strangers in a new world that seems radically disconnected from an earlier one.” Through this, we can understand more why in particular in our more technologically advanced age, more and more we are turning to the past, and why particularly in industries such as fashion, the terms “cyclical” and “recurring trends” keep on cropping up. Through this we can argue that although nostalgia is integral to our contemporary society, the act of misremembering highlights how nostalgia can be negative if improperly used. Having established the technical formations of nostalgia, and remembering that it is a fluid entity that is prone to being inaccurate, it becomes easier to understand how nostalgia, and more broadly memory and the act of remembering, are inextricably linked to the process of knitting and knitwear itself as a whole. To understand how knitting plays its part within a broader social context, we must first understand what knitting is, technically, before we can look at it metaphorically.
Many academics within knitting have defined knitting, and paradoxically the process itself is deviously simple, yet the mechanics of learning it and mastering it are complex. Steed (2016 p. 140) explains how the word “knit” developed from an old English term cnyttan, and the process itself is described by Lorant and Warburg (1980 p. 8) as being “constructed by making one yarn loop, called a stitch, then adding more loops, which in turn have yarn pulled in and out of them in various ways with the aid of simplistic tools such as knitting needles.” Using two needles and a ball of yarn, an individual can create anything from a pair of socks, to a jumper. The materials involved are easy to access, and the process itself is simply creating continuous loops next to loops, paradoxically creating holes while wholly forming a garment. Turney (2014 p. 29) describes this juxtapositional paradox well by saying how “knitting is the creation of a surface through the looping and entwining of a single thread. With each knitted loop, the fabric is formed and a deliberate hole made, an imperfection which contributes to the creation of a potentially ‘perfect’ whole; a paradox”. It is this paradox which offers up so many interpretations in knitting as a form of design, of art, and craft. And it is these stigmas which will be delved into further on that offer up opportunities for artists and designers to play with. Predominately, the codings of nostalgia that allow for knitting to act as a vehicle, so to speak, for nostalgia, is allowed mainly from its connotations as a traditional form of craft. This derives from islanders in Shetland developing a knitting cottage industry in the 1920s, when the Prince of Wales was seen in a Fair Isle jumper (Arnold-Solomon 2010).
Before this, knitted jumpers were primarily a workwear garment, for sailors, for fishermen and those in the army. It’s simultaneous softness and hardiness while being close to the body lent it well to being worn on the sea and in the cold. More importantly, it was never remotely considered fashionable (Knitting’s golden age 2013). These occurrences as a traditional, functional garment for the working class and made by the working class meant the stigmas placed upon knitwear were that it was of lowly importance. Only when it was worn by the Prince of Wales, as noted in Knitting’s golden age (2013), “no one had seen a jumper quite like it in society, let alone on a Prince”, was it considered a highly fashionable and covetable piece to acquire. A garment that was comfortable and convenient to wear had not been seen in high society until then, and it began a huge craze for knitwear. Thus, the cottage industry boomed in the islands, and many archive pictures showcase fishermen’s wives working on the fields while knitting. Knitting’s golden age (2013) continued to highlight this important supplement of income; “it was a livelihood… it wasn’t done as a hobby as it might be done now… they could knit whilst walking along, and so they were never idle, and their hands were always working.” Illustration 1 shows a Shetland family photographed in the 1920s, all gathered around a log fire. While the men are sat idle, the women are not missing out on potential income and all have knitting entwined in their hands. For them, knitting was not nostalgic, it was something that allowed them to continue living if normal threads of income could not.
“...they could knit whilst walking along, and so they were never idle, and their hands were always working.” (Knitting’s golden age 2013)
However, the popularity of hand knitting to earn was not to last, and as Starmore (cited in Turney 2013 p. 50) explains, “the effect of Shetland’s oil boom on knitting was considerable. Knitters - or their husbands - could find well-paid employment in oil-related industries, and many gave up knitting commercially”. The oil industry offered a more lucrative form of employment, and as mass production and consumerism rose exponentially and offered clothing at a fraction of the cost of a hand-made and crafted garment, the Fair Isle jumper and its peers were deprecated and left to become moth-eaten. With the garments left in the view of traditional knitwear, hand knitting and what it created can be argued to have forcibly been left to be seen as rural, as traditional, and derided as a lesser form of craft. Turney (2013 p. 50) goes on to corroborate this by detailing how “the idyllic presentation of traditional forms of knitting as unchanging renders them static, unable to move on or indeed compete in the contemporary marketplace other than as ‘heritage’ or tourist objects”. As nostalgia relies on the remembering, or lack thereof, it can be argued that knitwear is kept in a box primarily for the consumption of tourists, and never for locals. It is unlikely to ever be a true representation of what it truly was. Memory as a literal meaning helps analyse how this has continued to happen even in contemporary society.
Arnold-Solomon (2010 p. 1) explains how, in Shetland, “professional hand knitters born before WW2 seem to have been taught to knit by maternal osmosis or by imitating their female relatives as children learn to speak. They never used knitting patterns consisting of linear coded abbreviations”, additionally, Dawson (1976 p. 9) adds to that narrative: “the invaluable knowledge possessed at that time was never committed to paper but was passed from one generation to another by word of mouth”. Knitting history is so tenuous, so misremembered, because of how it was passed on generation to generation. Grandmothers to mothers, mothers to daughters, it was taught nearly as another language, and the instinct to knit was literally using memory. The ability to remember knitting patterns as well as using objects to knit something else means that knitting and its history have routinely been lost as people lose the ability to remember. This, then, sustains the unrealistic coding of knitting - with a lack of history people can place their misremembered and inaccurate histories and myths onto knitwear. Paradoxically, a particularly well recorded myth seen in knitwear as a whole is the Aran jumper myth. Routinely romanticised, the Aran Jumper is a symbol of Irishness, with its distinctly rustic yet polished look, it is a sign of globalisation of a traditional and rural craft - and everywhere it travels it is alongside a story about how it originated (Carden 2014). However, the actuality of this story is that it was concocted as a marketing strategy to appeal to the heritage and tourism industry. Page 19
This implies a concocting of a narrative, a mishandling of nostalgia, and something which nostalgia is repeatedly used as by brands today to appeal to peoples’ need for the past, and the need for something seemingly ‘traditional’. Turney (2013 p. 57) appeals to this idea by saying “This is the reproduction of tradition to meet the needs of the consumer, merely an aping of the ‘original’, which to anyone other than the connoisseur is acceptable and ‘genuine’.” In this instance, it applies to knitwear as a whole and not merely the Aran jumper. Revivalism is imbued into knitwear, and there has been a misunderstanding that has evolved into a whole new level - where knitting and knitwear cannot, and, almost, will not, extract itself from its sentimentality. (Turney 2013 p. 49) Nostalgia arguably can be toxic, and the stigmas associated with knitting play on this to differing levels. As Harold Pinter (cited in Turney 2013 p. 57) noted: ‘The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend to remember.’” Even if knitting is going through a revival, if it is all based on sentimental views of the past, if it is all nostalgic, is it completely revolutionary? Contrastingly, if the nostalgia allows for knitting to be continuously utilised, even if it is thought of as bastardized, it can be argued that it allows a sense of sustainability in an industry that is continuously cyclical. These ideas and ideals that Turney points to in Culture of Knitting:
“Within Western popular culture, merely the word ‘knitting’ conjures ideas and ideals surrounding the cosy, homely, familial, traditional, thrifty, feminine and hand-made. Such linguistic associating positions knitting with an ahistorical and sentimental framework, which is simultaneously past and present, and therefore symptomatic of a permanent state of nostalgic longing.” (Turney 2014 p. 21)
This is arguably what keeps knitting relevant in contemporary society. As aforementioned, these stereotypes allow for knitting to be coded into art and design and used politically and in commentary, as the act of subverting the stitch is metaphorically important.
Chapter two Knitting and stigma: postmodernity and craft in the digital age When McFadden (2009 p. 8) asks, “How does something as innocent and harmless as knitting become subversive?”, it begins to unravel the idea of the stereotypes of knitting being the driving force behind its metaphorical significance. By even asking that question it prompts whether the innocence is actually what gives it the ability to become subversive. It is these stigmas of knitting and knitwear that give it the gravitas in contemporary culture that we all crave for. Analysing what these codings are begins with unravelling the multifaceted reasonings, as they link into knitting’s historical significance, the gendered constructs that arose in war time Britain, and the hierarchal tendencies of fine art and the reduction in importance of craft. Realising that knitting is largely reduced to nostalgia is partly due to the fact that the development of war time knitting and the “make do and mend” propaganda heavily instilled stereotypes into knitwear that continues to this day. In both World Wars, knitting morphed from a hobby into a hugely useful pastime that allowed women and children to contribute to the war effort. Bevan (2014 p. 45) says of that time: “women knitted for their husbands, brothers and sons sending parcels with their regimental number hoping that they would find their destination. As the war continued knitting for the troops became a point of national duty.” As factories at the time began to run out of materials, the impetus was placed onto citizens, particularly women and girls, to contribute to the war effort by unravelling and knitting again for their country.
A woman in Knitting’s golden age (2013) remembers that time “when a knitted item wore out you just pulled the whole thing apart… then we had to knit it all up again. We had to recycle it.” Illustration 2 shows an advertisement from a knitting wool manufacturer, and really shows how important knitting was considered at the time. Arguably, there is parallels with the multi-tasking of the Shetland islanders - knitting while walking in the fields - except this time it was during air raid sirens and bomb threats. Once again, there were no idle hands, and the implications of the hard work by these women through two wars was a deep-seated and instilled connection of the process of hand-knitting to “women’s work”. Peel (cited in Rutt 1987 p. 139) described “how women knitted socks, mitts, body belts, helmets and other comforts for the soldiers in France. They knitted at the theatre, in trains and trams, in restaurants and canteens as well as at home.” It was, in many ways, an epidemic of patriotism which no other craft has seen before or since in Britain, and in that respect it has left a larger imprint on knitting as a craft than any previous has felt. By being an “expression of the past”, Turney (2013 p. 82) acknowledges that knitting has become a “medium to metaphorically comment on the homely, women’s work, the harmless, and warmth and softness”. This affirms conclusions drawn from Chapter 1 and the connections between knitting’s rural past, and how the development and association of the craft with the feminine has meant it has continued to be seen in that light.
Black (2002 p. 8) acknowledges that “the perception which persists - in Britain at least - is [that knitting is] frozen in wartime memories of ‘make do and mend’, knitting for victory, knitting for economy and women’s work. The knitting industry is relatively young but knitting as a domestic activity is embedded in our social history and collective consciousness, and still evokes highly emotional responses and memories.” These instinctual reactions to what knitting is and the stereotypes that continue to persist offer it the ability to not only regurgitate what once was, but use that to become something wholly new. Knitting and what it entails can be simply described as a craft, and that therein lies a stigma - craft has and continues to be seen as lesser than its bigger, more important cousin, art. Rutt (1987 p. 25) defines knitting as being “best called a craft. It serves life and is relatively ephemeral. It gets worn and wears out (hence museum collections are sparse). It can be expensive, but is almost never precious… Therefore knitting is widely practised by non-professionals and tends to be a people’s craft.” Despite being a comparatively good history of hand knitting, this depiction of knitting subtly implies it is less important than something like a painting that is hung in a gallery. Steed (2016 p. 143) explains how it is the seemingly easy process of knitting that enables these thoughts to occur: “It is essentially created using two stitch or pins based on two stitches. It is highly accessible, portable and simple, which may suggest that little skill or mental application is required.” However, knitting is deceptive in that it takes time and skill to become better at it.
Illustration three As hand knitting continued to grow and wane in popularity, machine knitting has continued to offer artists and designers ways of commenting on femininity and the past because of the stereotypes placed onto and embedded into knitwear. Because knitwear can at once use the hand and the machine (RMIT Gallery 2010 p. 3) it can mould shapes both two- and three-dimensionally, simultaneously forming a fabric and a garment and allowing for closeness to the body - it as a fibre stretches and holds close to the body as well as having an infinite potential for structuring and patterning (Black 2002). RMIT Gallery (2010 p. 3) concurs with this by stating how “knitting allows an ability to create both the textile and the garment simultaneously.” Black (2002 p. 9) continues by highlighting how “artists are increasingly utilising the knitting medium to harness its rich metaphorical power, and clothing features more frequently in the gallery context.” Celia Pym is just one of those simultaneous artist-cumdesigners who utilises knitting as a medium. Pym collects knitted garments that have received wear-and-tear and endeavours to graft and darn them using conspicuous yarn and thread to comment on how clothing receives memory. Pym’s pieces routinely receive critical acclaim, and the use of memory highlights how nostalgia comes to play in a fine art context while using knitting as a medium really drives home how tactile the knit stitch can be used metaphorically. Illustration 3 demonstrates one of Pym’s pieces. A Fair Isle sweater recovered from a call for ravaged knitwear, Pym has used the contrasting darning to comment on the sweater’s continual use to its eventual destruction.
Continuing on to look at the stigmas surrounding knitting and knitwear, we can begin to look at how knitting is notoriously coded along gender lines. Think of knitting and knitwear, and what is your first thought? Old, rural, traditional; a granny in a rocking chair. Why is it that when someone thinks of a ball of yarn and needles they instantly think of an old woman knitting for grandchildren? Turney (2014 p. 22) affirms that notion when saying that “knitting is both familiar and familial, the stuff of everyday life, epitomised by the enduring image of a granny knitting in her rocking chair. Although ‘granny’ may not be the ideal poster girl for contemporary knit, she remains a potent signifier of knitting as a female and familycentric occupation”. The key thing here is that ‘granny’ is not what should be first thought of when knitting is discussed, and therein lies the problem. Nostalgia has reduced knitting continuously with grannies, when it really should not. Knitting’s golden age (2013) confirms that knitting was “something that demonstrates, firstly, house wifey skills, but it also demonstrated how good a mother you were going to be”. Skills in knitting were used primarily for children and babies after the Second World War, and it became superfluous and associated with the hobby. This is where the recent revival has begun to play on prior assumptions of knitting being a feminine hobby. Steed (2016 p. 141) explains how hand knitting is “experiencing a revival of interest that challenges many previous assumptions that it is more concerned with the preservation of the past rather than as a medium that can be forward-thinking and progressive.” Young women are turning to hand knitting - but why?
The internet and contemporary society are largely due to this. Knitting becomes linked with a sense of nostalgia for a time that is seen as slower, less fast paced and allows for thought that is not prescribed by digital functions. This also runs in parallel with a modern woman’s need to turn away from fast fashion. Greer (cited in Gauntlett 2011 p. 56) stated that ”there is a resistance, a political choice, in not buying those things and choosing to make your own instead. It is in this way that traditional crafts such as knitting… have come to take on a gentle revolutionary dimension”. By using the internet as a vehicle, a community is formed which then allows others to want to become part of that group. Social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram) allows for a community to share values of craft and makes other young crafters want to join in (Gardner 2016). By doing this, Gardner (2016 p. 28) gleans that “The women… are reclaiming a part of femininity that is often undervalued and downplayed by a society dominated by masculine culture. Women, in being unapologetic about their craft, are engaging in resistance against a society that dictates how they should act and who they should be.” It is a subversion of what it means to be a woman in the digital age, turning to knitting, and positively uses the connotations of the ‘granny’ to change the perceptions of what knitting is and should be in contemporary society. Gschwandtner (2012 p. 414) succinctly puts that online knitters are “dauntingly aware that making a sweater is, in a way, writing history.”
knitters are â€œdauntingly aware that making a sweater is, in a way, writing history.â€? Gschwandtner (2012 p. 414)
Where knitting’s history was lost and neglected by academia because of negative connotations, a new one can be created through the paradoxical adoption of a hand craft and held to a standard on a digital platform. Myzelev (2009 p. 149) iterates that knitting “provides a conceptual link and helps redefine the historical and contemporary significance of domesticity in society”. Nostalgia lets young woman place themselves in a new context of domesticity that is fully theirs and theirs alone a concept that can be construed as positive.
one that is only accessible to those with the means to do it. Cyberfeminism is defined as a practice by Luckman quoting Arnold (cited in Minahan and Wolfram Cox 2007 p. 16) as “the domain of people who have three great cultural wealths: education, time and money”. Is it inherently privileged to practice knitting as a hobby? One could argue that despite it offering an ability to break conceptions and stigmas, that if it ignores other women and their struggles then it cannot be a wholly positive movement.
But then, nostalgia has another facet to it that could be defined as inherently privileged, and the revival is a key part of this. Myzelev (2009 p. 149) continues by explaining that although it is a worthwhile hobby, knitting is “a decadent, selfindulgent, and subversive action.” How can this be, if knitting allows a modern woman to reexamine her role in femininity and gender?
That therein lies the problem of nostalgia, is in its “claiming of others’ territories and memories” (Myzelev 2009 p. 154) and how the “the past can never be understood as it was originally” (Turney 2013 p 45). The limitations of memory and the privileges afforded to those who can be nostalgic means that it cannot be universally accessible and proven to be a positive. It is important to acknowledge these deficiencies in the concept of nostalgia in the view of knitting and knitwear, however, continuing to work on nostalgia and the knit stitch and how it can serve to improve sustainability in the fashion industry serves to benefit everyone on the planet, which is further analysed in the following chapter.
Minahan and Wolfram Cox (2007 p. 15) highlighted how “there are still far too many women around the world who are required to work at these tasks for poor pay rates and in difficult conditions… they live in a world of very basic and inadequate technology and where there is no nostalgia for craft - it is a reality that brings income to the household”. This showcases how nostalgia allows an implementation of Western privilege, as there are women around the world who cannot afford to be nostalgic about a hobby, as it is not just merely a hobby - it gives them a needed income. By explaining how “for some, nostalgia may be neither claimed or desired” (Minahan and Wolfram Cox 2007 p. 16), it shows the ugly side of nostalgia, and how the modern ‘craftivism’ is Page 32
Chapter three Knitting and the future: sustainable practices in knitwear It is not just the process of hand knitting itself that contains metaphors, but the knitwear that is formed from it is arguably just as, if not more so, imbued with literal memories, smells and experiences that only wearables can offer. In this sense, it can be argued that the crafted object becomes an imprint of a particular memory of a time, a place, a person. The innovation owed to the studies in the previous chapter continues in this analysis of the tactile memories involved in knitwear, and how that process can be used to positively impact the problems of sustainability in the fashion industries in modern times. In this instance, it is looking less at the theory of memory, but the literal usages of memory and the tactility of knit and how that can evoke certain responses in people. The impact of cyclical fashion on the industry itself very much balances on the idea that clothing is just material, and less a connection to memory.
â€œThe magic of cloth, I came to believe, is that it receives us: receives our smells, our sweat, our shape even.â€? (Stallybrass 2012 p. 69)
This chapter, then, turns to look at how an individual object can make an impact on the wearer, and how clothes cause us to remember physically rather than metaphorically. Specific object stories found in Kate Fletcherâ€™s work Craft of Use, as well as my own tactile object histories, will serve to analyse how an object can provoke response, and how we as a society curate a museum in our own wardrobes. In parallel with this, case studies of innovative use by artists and designers in industry utilising the ideals of object memory will serve this analysis and help to question and provoke the understanding of the object archive and whether it can become a more sustainable process within industry.
How important is tactile memory in coding nostalgia in knitwear? One can argue that objects, and specifically, knitted objects, contain coded archives and histories that compel the wearer to keep a garment for longer lengths of time than a garment that was mass manufactured. The only time a garment may move on is if it is shared, and normally that is within a wearerâ€™s own family or a close friend. I have received two pieces of knitwear from family members, and over ten knitted jumpers (mass manufactured) have been passed on to me by my best friend. The following two object histories contain knitted garments passed to me by family members, and with photographs show the progression of an object in its use, and with my own words I describe how the objects provoke feeling from me.
Illustration six Illustration seven
Mother to daughter
Grandmother to granddaughter
Illustrations 4 and 5 show scanned 35mm photographs of my mother, Rosemary, wearing a cream cardigan with a striped button placket, emblazoned with various imagery - including various peacocks and swirls. On the back of Illustration 4 is a date - the 24th February 1991.
Illustrations 7 and 8 show photographs taken in 2015 and 2016 respectively showing myself wearing a colour work cardigan knitted by my grandmother, Valerie. The pattern is by Kaffe Fassett, a well known and revered knitwear designer who uses Fairisle and colour.
The cardigan was knitted by her that year, and was worn on and off for many years after that. It was knitted and worn primarily due to the need for warmth and comfort, the relaxed fit (known in knitwear as a positive ease) allows for movement and the wool chosen reflected the need for softness.
My grandmother knitted this in the 1980s, and it was for my late grandfather. It was a perfect size and used very often by him. My grandmother then, upon learning of my fondness for knitting, decided to pass it on to me as it was not being used by him now. The size of the cardigan in comparison to my own is huge, but that adds to its comfiness.
Illustration 6 shows a photograph taken by the photographer (henceforth referred to in its more popular form, selfie) by myself, wearing the same cardigan, which was shared on the image-sharing application, Instagram. The cardigan was passed on to me a few days before the image in Illustration six was shared online, and since then has been worn for the same reasons as it was created. It is a huge, chunky cardigan that, due to its quilted lining, offers a huge amount of warmth. Since receiving the cardigan my living conditions in Aberdeen during winter afforded little warmth - one flat I resided in did not have central heating - and this cardigan kept me warm.
The cardigan was my grandmotherâ€™s first attempt at colour work and looking at it closely you can tell from the yarn slightly unravelling. I take great care when wearing it so that it does not snag on anything, but even then it is hard to stop it unravelling when it starts. Eventually I will decide to not wear it so as to keep it intact, but for now it not only offers comfort and warmth, particularly in winter, but lets me think back to when my grandfather was still alive, and reminds me to phone my grandmother.
These two garments attest to the power of a garment, and a knitted object, to provoke strong feelings of memory. The nostalgia that is created by wearing these garments is one that is definitively positive. A knitted object given with love will offer comfort and nostalgia in its purest form, and in the instance of washing it evokes a great sense of loss for a garment that is irreplaceable. Nostalgia has its benefits, and implementing it in this way is arguably a positive thing. Dawson (1976 p. 9) states that “even if you work from an existing pattern, where every detail has been worked out for you and is given in row-by-row instructions, the resulting garment will still be stamped with your individual mark.” The garments passed to me hold a great significance because of the mistakes created by the hands of my family members, and show a sense of individuality despite having been created through the use of patterns. Knitting, then, helps to curate a form of nostalgia because of it being part of craft. A crafted object is inherently formed by hand, and a hand will inevitably make mistakes. Paradoxically, the mistakes themselves may detract from an object, in this case a colour work Fassett cardigan, becoming perfect, but the mistakes hold a ‘temporal link’ (coined by Turney) back to the person making it.
Illustration eight Page 42
Turney (2013 p. 141) affirms this when saying that “the sweater demonstrates a temporal link, a progression, in which the owner imagines a memory of childhood through the object. It is indicative of a relationship not solely between mother and child (owner and her mother), but of an understanding of family in which the owner remembers all of her female relatives knitting.” The two cardigans I have in my wardrobe and continue to use, instil a sense of affirmation in the craft of Page 43
knitting that my mother and grandmother took part in, and still do to this day. These knitted objects are different, then, from a piece of clothing you merely pick up in a high street store. They inhibit huge parameters of memory, an important way of provoking sadness and happiness, that many objects just do not do. Through the act of wearing these objects they invoke nostalgia, but by simply not washing this can also happen. Because the properties of wool mean it absorbs scents and stains yet does not warrant routine washing, memories can be linked with a knitted garment that would easily be lost in something made from cotton, something that needs to be laundered once it has been worn once. Fletcher (2016 p. 147) goes into detail about the “the stories of ‘never washed’” and displays the paradox of how “laundering is high impact and yet not laundering is socially unacceptable”. Fletcher (2016) poignantly puts that garments push the envelope of societal expectations by never being washed, because the fear of losing something seen as precious in the wash such as the scent, the memory or how it fits is against the grain. Fletcher (2016 p. 145) continues then by highlighting how “wool’s properties in the physical realm are augmented as holders of meaning and memories - and together fibre and sentiment influence the practices of use. In these stories, laundering was delayed because of a concern that soap and water would ‘wash away’ emotional connections and its somatic triggers, often a scent but sometimes visual stains and because of wool’s propensity to shrink if not laundered correctly, washing could mean that both the garment and the Page 44
memory would be lost.” Arguably, no other fibre allows for this to happen as well as wool does because of its proficiency in simultaneously absorbing and bouncing off stains and odours. Wool is societally allowed to not be washed as often as undergarments, meaning its place in society as a signifier of memory is higher than any other fibre. Nostalgia then occurs far more often in a knitted garment - whether it was hand knitted or mass manufactured, crafted or machine-produced. Memory, and how it is used literally, are paramount to how knitting and knitwear build on nostalgia. In many ways, nostalgia in these scenarios is profoundly positive and allows a person or a community to look back on history and remember experiences in a positive light. A responder in Turney (2013) conveyed how a cream Aran knitted sweater that was passed down in her family is not necessarily comfortable to wear, but signifies a strong sense of emotion that the original knitter is pleased to see it is still in use. Turney (2013 p. 142) continues by stating that “the familial bond exhibited… is embodied in the knitted object. The interviewee does not knit; she will, not, therefore, pass these skills on to her children as a continuation of a family tradition, but the jumper (an otherwise ordinary object) will become an heirloom item.” Heirloom items are usually something made from a precious material, or hold a monetarily significant value. When a seemingly simple Aran sweater can be considered an heirloom item in a family shows that despite being deceptively simple (yet complex) to make and craft, it can hold emotional and familial significance. A sweater cannot simply be a tie to a familial member, can it? Williams (2005) argues that “there is something about it that Page 45
necessarily sparks memories of care and attachment, no doubt based on the fact that most people are taught as a child, by a probably female someone of enough involvement and patience to have been important. Everyone who can knit, in other words, has a knitting narrative.” The narrative associated with knitting, and how nearly every person can associate knitting with a predominately female family member, is how a jumper can evoke such a in-depth response. My own experience ties extremely close to this analysis of knitting and its important weaves into themes of familial longing and nostalgia. Having had knitted objects passed on to me, as well as having the experience of being taught knitting at a young age, shows how natural it is. In addition, a study conducted by Gardner (2016 p. 22) detailed how “Six of the ten participants had previously encountered their craft, knitting and crocheting, through older family members, mostly their grandmothers. Their family members taught them as a child and when they got older, participants retaught themselves via YouTube.” This is how knitting became so intertwined with the domestic and the feminine: a vast majority of female crafters can relate the exact same experience. The mention of Youtube is again a notable one, as it corroborates the aforementioned use of the digital to learn the handmade analysed in Chapter 2. Arguably, it is not just knitwear itself that can have memories placed upon it. Thrifting and the use of charity shops means that clothing with histories unknown to the buyer can receive a new lease of life. Oatman-Stanford (cited in Jenss 2013 p. 109) explains how “it’s special because of the idea that there’s Page 46
a pre-existing history for that item, whether you know it or not, whether it’s been passed down to you or you find it in a thrift store”, and Stallybrass (2012 p. 69) beautifully puts that “bodies come and go; the clothes which have received those bodies survive… Clothes receive the human imprint.” In that respect, it highlights how not only is used clothing receiving these thoughts and imprints, but mass-manufactured clothing can also be lived in so much that memories are embedded into them. In a way, this cannot be argued so well when we consider the mass consumption in today’s society. Knitwear as a concept allows far better for nostalgia to be used in conjunction with it because of its uses within the family, and the concept of using a set of needles and yarn by hand. Clothing that is produced for mass consumption simply does not receive the same treatment, largely in part due to the fact that “we see little intrinsic value in material goods and their qualities. We don’t know how things are made, having little idea how they work as they do. We can’t tell one fibre from another by a quick appraising rub between finger and thumb. We don’t revere the things we already have.” (Fletcher 2016 p. 139) The giving of clothing to charity backs this ideal, if we are so keen o throw away clothing, even if it is more sustainable than just throwing it like waste, then it does not act as a vehicle for nostalgia as successful as the craft of knit does.
Conclusion The knit stitch and the past are irrevocably linked
It is hard to argue that nostalgia does not owe itself to knitting, and vice versa. It is unavoidable for knitting to extract itself from its stigmas, but in many ways those stereotypes aid it in its metaphorical importance. When you realise how exciting and persistent knitting and knitwear truly is, how it becomes our underwear, our outerwear, our textiles, our homeware, we can then begin to understand how despite its ties to nostalgia routinely stagnating it in traditionally rural designs, it will always be considered innovative. As a craft it can cross the boundaries between art and design, traditional and innovation through its processes within hand and machine. It will always retain a presence in the heads of those who knit and pass on knitted objects, and create memories that evoke memories of times that have long gone. Something knitted can say so much with so little, and that in its own way is simply incredible. Nostalgia and knitting go hand in hand, in many ways knitting can never remove itself from its stereotypes and can only continue to use them to showcase how versatile the knit stitch is. It is extremely difficult to separate the two from each other as they are so interwoven. Turney (2013 p. 221) evokes this simply: “The world is indeed full of ugly jumpers, but it is also full of wonderful, innovative, frightening and challenging knitted objects.” The old is there, the unseen jumpers exist, but so do the memories involved with them, and the innovation that can be made with a simple loop on loop on loop, is amazing. Page 48
“The world is indeed full of ugly jumpers, but it is also full of wonderful, innovative, frightening and challenging knitted objects.” (Turney 2013 p. 221)
Knitting manages to encapsulate the old and the new, the traditional and modern, and it is this that continues to fascinate me and continues to inform not only my own practice, but how I interact with my family and develop relationships. Knitting and knitwear creates stories and memories that only knitting can create, and that is something special. Craft is alive, and traditional ways of working are alive still, theyâ€™re not stoic or stale in any shape or form, and nostalgia for it can be seen as privileged, but when it allows for so many memories to be created it should be acknowledged. Its simplicity and complexity offer it up as a medium of the past, the present and the future - a nostalgic entity with the power to change the world.
Illustrations Word count: 7996 With thanks to my family for allowing me to scan personal photographs, and write about them.
1. RATTAR, J. D., 1920. Photograph of women knitting. In: L. G. FRYER, 1995. Knitting by the Fireside and on the Hillside. Shetland: The Shetland Times. 2. Knitting’s golden age. 2013. Episode 1, Fabric of Britain. [television]. London: BBC4. 18 September. Screenshot from the episode. 3. PYM, C., 2011. Hope’s Sweater 1951. [online]. Available from: http://celiapym.com/work/hopes-sweater-1951/ [Accessed 29 November 2016]. 4. OBERLANDER, J., 2016. Scan of Mum. Unpublished photograph. 5. Ibid. 6. OBERLANDER, J., 2014. Screenshot of Author’s Instagram. Unpublished photograph. 7. OBERLANDER, J., 2015. Screenshot of Author’s Instagram. Unpublished photograph. 8. MUNRO, K., 2014. Jean. Unpublished photograph.
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Appendix A Discussion with two peers - Cathy and Emma about clothes & memory Author (A): OK, So can you tell me about a piece of clothing that like you’ve maybe imprinted certain memories or kind of reasons for why you can’t let go of it? You’ve got loads of memories tied to it so you’re not let able to let it go. Have you got history? Emma (E): I do, I have a pair of shoes that were my grandmother’s shoes and we’re actually the same size feet, but I don’t ever wear them because they’re a little heel. The story behind them is that when I was little I used to always go into the cupboard and take out the same pair of shoes and they’re black and they have a little patent toe and they have three crosses like just above the toe after the patent bit stops and I always used to think they were little stars. I put them on and I used to go clomping - what I used to call, clomping - around their house, felt quite grownup. When she passed away I kept her shoes because they always remind me of her. It’s really sad. What’s really really sad is that I actually wore them to her funeral which is kinda, really quite morbid, but it was really cute at the same time.
A: True, what about you Cathy? C: Mine’s somewhere along the same lines, because my mum had a dress that she had for an event in the 80’s and I always used to be allowed to, to wear it growing up or like dress up in it, in the same way you would plod round the house, I would plod round the house quite literally in her dress. A: Did you say she made it as well? C: She made it, she was, um, it was kind of from an old pattern cutting book and she had flatmates who made dresses, so for them if they had events in the same way we would always want something individual now, she would, like instead of buying stuff would always want to make something, for herself. A: There was definitely more of a culture of that, at that age, then as well.
Cathy (C): I don’t think it’s morbid I think it’s a reflection.
C: For sure, but then that’s kind of nice and I wouldn’t ever wear that dress now but I still want to carry that forward and wish to kind of, that inspires me to make my own stuff.
E: I wanted them, like, with me.
A: You’ve made loads of your own things as well...
C: Yeah, it’s something that made you feel close to her so you’ve taken that forward so that’s really nice
C: Yeah, um that dress I would never wear but I would always keep, it’s one of the things I would never throw away.
A: She would have appreciated it, it’s so nice.
A: Yeah you don’t want to ever, like, wash it or use it.
C: Some say it’s morbid just wearing black.
J: Because it’s got all thoseC: It’s got this timeless essence that reminds me of her that I will probably then pass on to my daughter if I have a daughter. J: If you ever washed it or used it, it would lose thatC: Value.
were from an important event in her life and she’ll never wear them again, but hold such a strong value in our family in the wardrobe that they would never be thrown away, because, what, it’s like throwing away a photograph it’s almost throwing away more than a photograph because it’s physical and takes you like, you were saying like the smell, it takes you back to the time. Yeah. J: Thanks so much guys.
J: Value of it, yeah. E: I think it would stop being hers. C: It would stop being hers entirely. E: It has like, those memories, like I will never wear those shoes, they’re an ornament that I keep, essentially, but like i used to wear them when I was little with her and then she would wear them as you do normally but I’ll always remember that you know? LikeC: Even the smell of old clothing likeJ: It takes you back to a particular experience or event... C: Like some of the other dresses, I have other dresses from her now thinking about it, that she made for her bridesmaids which were her cousins at the time so we still have all of those dresses they’re not even her dresses but she kept them all because she made them all and they still have the same value and aesthetic of the fact that she made them and they Page 64
Appendix B Qualitative survey questions sent to various young and online-engaged crafters The survey was disregarded as questions did not reveal any new information that would be of interest 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Age Gender you identify as Race Are you a student? Do you participate in craftwork (knit, weave, embroider, sew etc.)? 6. How long have you been crafting? 7. How did you learn (family member, taught class, taught yourself, website, video)? 8. What do you get out of participating in a craft (selffulfilment, stress relief, instant gratitude, income source etc.)? 9. Where do you get inspiration for your projects from (family, Internet, books etc.)? 10. Do you share projects online? 11. If so, where? 12. Why do you share your projects online? 13. Do you have any unfinished projects currently (I have about six on the go at the moment)? 14. Is there a reason why you started crafting? 15. Do you intend to continue crafting into the future? If so, why?
A final year dissertation on nostalgia and the knit stitch.