Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Solitary Knitter

Knitting is a solitary task. Most often, I knit when I'm in front of a tv or a passenger in a vehicle. Sure there is usually someone else there, but I'm the only one knitting. Even if I am knitting with other people, my task is mine alone. In my knitting group, "What are you knitting?" is an acceptable question, but an infrequent one. The conversation revolves around family, friends, politics, current events, with only a little discussion of knitting. Sure, we are all knitting, but the knitting is just a sideline, an excuse for getting together.

Perhaps there are other knitters who disagree, those who say their knitting group focuses on group projects, encourages interest in each other's knitting, or those who consider knitting a social event. Nonetheless, I feel I am on firm ground with this statement. The results of Clara Parkes' Knitter's Review Survey agree.

She's summarized her findings in the linked article, but she's covered a lot of topics in her questionnaires. I wonder if Clara is planning a new book from all these surveys. Is The Book of Yarn to be followed by The World of Knitters?

Reading through her findings, I came across several common answers that surprised me --responses that are contrary to what I thought about knitters:

Most knitters don't go to guild meetings. In explaning why they don't go, they say they don't enjoy guild meetings or don't like the other knitters at the meetings.

Knitters often don't care about how their knitting affects others. They want to knit and they don't think anyone has the right to object. (Probably I already knew that; I've got another post drafted on a similar topic.)

Looking at some individual survey responses told me:

Most knitters aren't interested in knitalongs.

Most knitters are blissfully unaware of negative opinions of them and their knitting.

Really. Just a couple of days ago, I heard a non-knitter (male) describe his trip to a yarn shop. He was there at my suggestion to buy a single ball of yarn to mend one of his favorite sweaters, and expressed his amazement at the behavior of those in the shop. He was first surprised as he waited at the counter watching a woman who was buying "a dozen tiny balls of little, thin string of one color, and several more of different colors, three that were green, two yellow, and so on." He was shocked that they cost $7.00 each and at her remark, "This is for a new pattern, and I just can't wait until I get home to start it." "Was she serious?" he asked me. "What did she mean by a 'new pattern'?" "Was it just out, or did she write it?" "Why was she so excited?"

As he walked through the shop, he saw some women sitting on a couch knitting socks. He thought it very funny when one said, "I have my husband's sweater at home I need to finish, but I just can't stop knitting these socks." Laughing, he repeated, "I just can't stop knitting these socks." Since I couldn't explain this behavior to him, other than to confirm that it is very common among knitters, he now thinks knitters are strange.

Strange? I don't know, but certainly they are solitary, by the nature of the task. I'm wondering if someone's preference for a solitary task, one that she "can't wait to get home to start" indicates unsocial behavior? Is it a marker for someone who is introverted, meditative, or just plain shy?

I should be the last one to become convinced that there is a coorelation between knitting and personality. I am the one who says that knitters have nothing in common but knitting. I disagree with all those who generalize this group of crafters to be generous, kind, thoughtful, etc. I think that there's too much variation among knitters to allow anyone to say without qualification, "Knitters are ...." any more than anyone could say "People are...."

I've seen no research which would analyze personalities of knitters. I could judge based on those I have met, but I wonder if my judgment would be skewed by my exposure to on-line knitters. There's a general assumption and some studies which assert that internet usage and shyness are related. I can understand that internet use would be considered a less social activity. However, I thought there must be some variation among those who use the internet, ranging from shy to social. I assumed that bloggers are the more social of the on-line knitters.

I looked into my theory about bloggers and found a study that tags bloggers as neurotic. That is not what I expected. Looking at the "Big Five" personality traits, this study has found a coorelation between blogging and neuroticism (defined as having a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily). There does seem to be some logic to this coorelation. After all, most bloggers are just writing about their opinions. Surely someone who often is angry, anxious, etc. would have strong opinions.

Possibly, this coorelation may not apply to knitbloggers, most of whom are blogging to show and track their knitting projects. Surely they would score equally as high in Openess (marked by appreciation for art and curiosity) and Conscientiousness (a tendency to show self-discipline and to aim for achievement). I have no proof of this, since I didn't find any study of the personality of knitbloggers.

Based on my own experience in blogging, I can see some evidence of conscientiousness. I find that putting a project in my blog motivates me to complete it, just as starting a post motivates me to rewrite it until I'm ready to publish it. I've published this one because it has been sitting in my drafts folder for several weeks. Now that the end of the year is a few days away, I suddenly want to "clean out" those old drafts.

I've got a couple of other drafts stuck in my craw and hope to either publish or delete them in the next few days. Blog traffic is very slow during the holidays, so a few contemplative posts might fit in well. The people who are traveling or otherwise away from the internet won't miss this post since it has no photos of knitting, and those who are reading probably have some spare time since they may be off work.

Now there is just one worry that is biting at the edges of this "clean out". I can see where some of these posts might be have been inspired by some emotion I was experiencing at the time. Am I fitting the correlation with neuroticism? This is getting depressing. So far I've got that knitters are strange because they get excited about knitting or neurotic when they blog about it, unsocial if they use the internet, or shy if they prefer knitting alone.

I'd much prefer to believe that knitting has been shown to calm and relieve anxiety, increase self-confidence as new skills are mastered, provide opportunities for social interaction and, if nothing else, turn out a darn good dishcloth. I'll review these old drafts and try to sift out their positive aspects. Maybe I can work them into some New Year's resolutions.

Thank you to everyone who wished me merry. I have been making merry a good bit, but still fit in some knitting. I hope you all have had a fun and pleasant holiday that included a bit of knitting.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting comments from that guy in the yarn shop! I don't believe knitters are necessarily unsocial. I just think they're exceedingly creative and artistic people, and they are excited by possibilities of design and color - wouldn't you agree?

Wool Enough said...

Have you ever known a guy who restored antique cars? These folks go to special shows, are excited when they find a certain piece, spend hours alone in the garage tinkering with the beloved object, and they probably blog about it too. Sound like familiar behavior? I think everyone is pretty much the same way about any hobby that they enjoy. Not solitary or introverted or (heavens!) neurotic at all.

caroline said...

Um. Have you ever seen the behaviour of sports fans (male)? Half naked in freezing weather with 1/2 their paunch painted blue (or whatever color) and the other yellow? Anything that one is excited about and inspired by/devoted to is going to look a bit strange from the outsider's perspective, I think. And as to bloggers, it's so widespread and embedded in the culture now that I'm not sure how you'd say 'Bloggers are..." any more than you'd be able to say "People are..." as you pointed out. As with any other human activity there is community, hilarity, snark-ity, and yes, probably neurotic behavior, too. The full spectrum. Interesting post, chica! Thanks! (waving from deep southern Utah, neighbor!)

Marjorie said...

I never really discussed my knitting with anyone else until I began blogging. My work colleagues in the 1970s and 1980s thought it was a quaint pastime, and even my years of hanging around the playground with mothers of toddlers did nothing for my knitting (which I did on the bench, to the amazement of the others). For me, blogging and finding other knit bloggers who have equal enthusiasm has been fabulous, and I have become more outgoing with regard to knitting.

But exercise is the same for me. I'm a solitary swimmer, and I rather like the quiet of the sloshing water. I've just considered that when I want to be outgoing, I engage in another sort of activity.

I think men who have similarly engrossing hobbies, such as woodworking, are as passionate as we are.

vlb5757 said...

Luni, you never fail to entertain me. I was shaking my head up and down when you said that those who were reading this entry were probably off from work and had spare time to read. That is me to a T. Back from Christmas vacation and catching up on my blog reading thrills me as much as knitting itself. I enjoy knitting with others as well as alone. I have learned that when knitting with others I have to knit mindless projects. If knitting alone, my projects are more complex. I blog because it keeps me in check with getting things finished and my MIL and SIL can keep track of me via the blog. My MIL knits and crochets. Validation for myself and from my peers brings both comfort and satifaction. Are we nuts? Who cares. Are those who make models or collect things any less nuts. Nope. I think that we can all agree that we love what we do or we wouldn't be doing it and the rest just doesn't matter. Wonderful blog entry! Reflection from time to time is a good thing.

Jenny Girl said...

Very intersting post. I think the knitting community/knitters are different depending on where you are.
I am a very friendly person, out going, always makes friends. But I am also content to just be by myself. I have always be very independent and gone against the pack, if you catch my drift.

With regards to knitting, there are no guilds in Philly I am aware of. I have tried to make friends at some meet-ups, and I have to tell you, the majority of knitters I have met are not the most friendly and accepting of new people around. Why? Couldn't tell you. They are very cliquey.

Don't get me wrong, I have made a few friends, one of which I consider a good friend. It's just for the most part, knitting ends up being a solitary thing for me because of the circumstances. I knit everyday at lunch with my two fellow knitters, but otherwise, it's just me and my knitting.

Blogging has brought me new friends and patterns to my stash. I may not always have projects to post, but it doesn't seem to matter. We may meet over knitting, but it's the person that keep us coming back.

If it makes you feel any better, I just read the survey results you mentioned, and I didn't fit in with that either. But I think that's a good thing.
You are not alone :)

knitabulous said...

This is one of the best posts about knit blogging and personality I have ever read.

I sometimes think that the knit blogging attracts creative narcissistic people who crave acknowledgement and popularity. It takes a lot of commitment to keep a permanent knitting blog, a combination of talent, good writing, perseverance and networking skills are needed to really make one 'successful'.

But generally I think that because knitting is predominantly a solitary pastime, and because humans are basically social creatures, the internet has given knitters the opportunity to create, share and talk to one another in ways that were never possible before. And people, being inquisitive and social (even if they are shy) have embraced this opportunity.

How else would I, a suburban mother of two on the East coast of Australia, be talking to you about such personal things? Or even know you at all?

It's a wonder, this knit blogging phenomena, there's no doubt about it. It has definitely enriched my life in a very significant way.

Although I definitely agree with the neurotic comment. (Not US, of course!) Have you read some of the rav boards? Neurotic would be a mild description..