knitting a network

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by Adam

My loving partner has a mistress, but we have an understanding. I have my own mistress as well, but … well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Karyn’s other lover is knitting. Of course, there’s much more to her than the single dimension of a long line of yarn, but for the sake of this essay let’s ignore her great literary taste, photographic genius, and loving devotion to her family and neighborhood school. For now, let’s imagine her whole identity is woven, er, knotted… tied? stitched? … knit (and purled) into her collection of natural fibers. If you, too, are paired with a knitter (not simply someone who knits), you will understand what this means. The act of knitting is ritualistic and embedded into many other features of one’s life. People identify their selves with projects and process, and I’ve come to respect actions such as “turning a heel,” “tying in the ends,” and “decreasing,” as well as other stunts I’m less adept at describing.

Strangely and fascinatingly, knitting isn’t the solitary pursuit that I would first assume it to be. It is ridiculously social compared to the stereotype. Karyn heads to Portland, OR at the end of the month for a “sock summit,” and she sorely laments the fact that Crossroads conflicts with an annual knitting retreat in the mountains. (She’s a good sport, though, and will hopefully spend a weekend in San Antonio instead, needles in hand, camera at the ready.) Weekly meetings with friends revolve around the knitting act as well. And then there’s “Ravelry.”

Ravelry has had my attention since Karyn had joined and started telling me about it. This was well before either of us were connected to Facebook in anything more than a superficial way. Recently, Farhad Manjoo described it and its novelty at Slate.com. He does a great job of explaining what makes Ravelry not just special, but actually useful and integral to the craft of knitting and its social experience. You should read this yourself — I won’t bother restating his observations at length; for my purposes its enough to explain that Ravelry allows knitters an identity that is connected with their craft and projects, gives them a space to document not only the results but the process and progress of their endeavors, and provides an arena in which to get advice and ideas from others.

Jealous? I am. It doesn’t drive me to knit, but it does make me wish for a deeper connection with my own mistress, science education. We have places to dump out the results of our work, but really this is not much more than a display case for a cabled, wool sweater. We do little to model our work in its most authentic forms; we seldom have the opportunity to pull up our pant leg and show off our new socks as we’re wearing them. And, most lamentably, we don’t get the chance to talk about and display the processes of our efforts as we’re in the midst of them. We could learn something from knitters.

Okay, it’s true that we created Crossroads specifically to meet these needs. San Antonio, for many of us, provides us with a moment to show off those socks and other projects, most of which are still on the needles or perhaps still being patterned. And, I’d never want any online, social network to replace the actual face-to-face-to-face-to-face-to-etc. of our physical retreat. It couldn’t. I still wonder, though, if our collective group, with all its technological savvy, gumption, and higher degrees, could come up with a better way to keep us connected. Is there a Ravelry we could be making for ourselves? And as I ask this out loud, almost rhetorically, I wonder if I should be looking at myself (and a few helpful others) to take responsibility for answering the question.

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