Saturday (June 8th) was the ninth worldwide knit in public day. The idea is to get people together in a celebration of knitting, allowing like-minded people to meet, form friendships, and try to inspire others to learn the skill.
Among the events that took place in the UK, one of the largest that took place was at St Pancras Station in London where ‘loveknitting’ teamed up with Rowan yarns and provided the space, materials, and tuition for people to knit a mug cosy. Throughout the day hundreds of people knitted, exchanged tips and tricks, chatted, or simply watched. It was a hugely visible display of something usually quite solitary and domestic.
Photo from the St Pancreas Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StPancrasInt
Closer to home Paper Village pom-pomed a tree opposite the shop and I took my half-finished sock out for a coffee in the morning sunshine. Knitting in public is nothing new to me really; I’m part of two knitting groups, so I’m regularly spotted out and about with my knitting. I also hate sitting still without anything to occupy my hands, so whenever I’m in front of the TV or a passenger in a car I’ll have some needles clacking away. I love it when we spot other knitters on the motorway!
Knitting in public always reminds me of a paper I read a while back by Jack Bratich and Heidi Brush (2011) called Fabricating Activism: Craft-Work, Popular Culture, Gender. In it they make the argument that knitting in public is out of place. They claim it can be jarring, for it ‘turns the interiority of the domestic outwards’ by exposing that which is usually enclosed; an invisible and unpaid (feminine) labour of home life. Suddenly the usually invisible is opened up for public consumption, there for all to see.
The mix of reactions to this act is astonishing – just think back to the outcry last year when a young woman was caught on camera knitting whilst watching Murray play Baghdatis on centre court. I was watching at the time and remember cheering at the sight! She was knitting without looking at her work and certainly didn’t seem to be distracting those around her. But logging onto Twitter after the match had (finally) been won by Murray I was shocked to see that others were genuinely outraged by her actions. I was even more shocked to see that someone knitting at Wimbledon made the news the next day! ‘Knitting woman’ was all over the papers. No sign of ‘texting man’, or ‘tweeting teenager’. The display of pink yarn had managed to incite all manner of reactions in people, and I really couldn’t decide whether to be angry that this was a news story at all or happy that people were actually paying attention to the act and skills of knitters.
Given all this, it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that knitting in public has been described as an act of craftivism – that curious combination of craft (as production, creativity, skill) and activism – in the way it can become political. This might be through space-making or community-building, or by raising awareness. Not only does knitting in public expose hidden labour, then, but it also highlights that public spaces are never static or permanent, but process that are always under construction. Furthermore, this construction doesn’t always have to be geared towards capitalist venture, but might instead focus on building values of mentorship, community, or gender empowerment. Knitting, and handicrafts more broadly, also sit wonderfully at odds with the contemporary imperative towards hyper-production through creating a slow space in which the regime of technology and the culture of speed are brought into question. I think this juxtaposition comes right to the fore in the WWKIP event at St Pancreas with the contrast of people sat knitting in the midst of a flurry of high-speed trains, rushing passengers, and frantic announcements. It just adds a whole new layer to the composition of places, and I for one think it’s brilliant. The best news is that WWKIP day has been such a roaring success in the past 8 years that it’s now become a week-long event. So if you’ve not had a chance to take your hooks, needles, and yarn out and about there’s still time!