The same applies to writing; an informative, well-written article always finds its audience, and the knitting world is a great example. Though hand knitting never disappeared entirely from the American scene, a new generation picked up the needles to knit for victory during WWII and went on to use some of their new leisure in the 1950s to knit for family and home.
Over the next three decades the craft was enriched by comprehensive publications on technique as well as no-nonsense guides for expressing personal creativity in knitting. This legacy of empowerment was exemplified by the British-born Elizabeth Zimmermann, who wrote with her tongue firmly in her cheek, “Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and slightly below-average intelligence.” (Knitting Without Tears, 1971)
In our modern age of the wiki, Elizabeth Zimmermann would have been right at home. Her vision of ordinary knitters in charge of their own knitting has never been more real than it is today. Any knitter with an internet connection can offer a pattern for sale, buy yarn and tools from anywhere in the world, and claim solidarity with the latest “viral” pattern or technique. Books proliferate, but it’s the amount of internet participation that fascinates me.
Top of the “hit list” is Canadian blogger Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka The Yarn Harlot. McPhee has been blogging for six years and is the author of six popular books on what it is to be a knitter; in December 2004 she founded Tricoteuses sans Frontières/Knitters without Borders to raise funds for Doctors without Borders, challenging knitters to give what they can. The total just rolled above one million dollars. Her eager readers have watched her daughters grow up, shared her family’s joys and troubles, and celebrated the joys of knitting love into every stitch.
In 2006 McPhee “got an idea” and launched the Knitting Olympics, inviting knitters to begin a project during the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies and finish in the sixteen days of the Games. Four thousand knitters signed on for the fun. Now that’s influence!
Knitters can search Youtube for instructional videos on knitting (41,800 hits); download podcasts; read free online knitting magazines; buy yarn from mega-sites or home-based processers and dyers; and search Flickr for photos tagged “knitting” (881,000 pictures). But the modern mecca for knitters (and crocheters) is a social networking website called Ravelry. Established in 2007 by husband-and-wife team Casey and Jessica Forbes, the site recently went out of beta and has over 600,000 members from around the world. As I’m writing this, there are over 3,000 Ravelers from 40 countries logged in to the site.
My generation has the best of both worlds. My grandmother first put needles and yarn in my hands; her English was minimal but the language of knitting doesn’t require words. Yet words and pictures, flashing to my screen, now connect me with the worldwide community of crafters who love knitting and love to write about it. The challenge is there for designers, just as it is for writers: how to catch that wave, how to be THE ONE that everyone’s talking about? It helps to be good and to work hard, but there’s an intangible something else…we may never be able to define that “something else” but when it comes our way, we need to grab its tail and hang on for the ride.