Mar 29, 2015

Fucking Hipsters

I have been listening to a new podcast – Woolful. It’s a fantastic format: every episode features discussions with two people within the fiber world. Every episode is unique and interesting, and the podcast covers a full range of topics. My only problem with this podcast is that it can be the yarny podcast equivalent of the annoying flannel-wearing, Intelligentsia-Coffee-drinking, will-chastise-you-for-drinking-pilsner, douchebag hipster.

I suspect that every area of interest has this type of person – the one who does it the “right” way, who not only tries to find the old, real, authentic, sustainable, eco-friendly, earthy, intricate, difficult, way to perform and love their craft, but values that above all others ways. It is the last part that really burns my toast. I actually fall in line with a lot of these things: I love finding local, small-farm, minimally processed wool. I try to avoid commercial wool that was no doubt processed in China and is environmentally unsound. I enjoy small-gauge knitting. I will happily spend more on yarn or tools that people might call “artisan”. I will go for the lesser-known and rare breeds over merino. I do all these things, but the difference is that I don’t think that makes either myself or my knitting qualitatively “better” than that of someone who doesn’t. It is better for me, but not necessarily for my friend or for a total stranger on the other side of the country. 

The most recent episode I listened to (I’m way behind) featured a guest* who went on about how “worsted has its place” but the only way to really get true value out of your craft is to knit at a finer gauge and to knit pieces that take longer.  The exact quote that took me to threat level rage:

“If you look up knitting on the internet all we see is like worsted, bulky, chunky, worsted, worsted, chunky, and the reason for that is because it’s easier. I mean, more people are doing it because it’s easier. I mean, the craftsmanship is there, yeah sure, but I mean if you were to take the time to do something at a higher gauge at a higher resolution, so to speak, it would be more beautiful and would demonstrate your craftsmanship better. It would represent knitting much better, and that’s why I tend to do it more often is that not very many people are doing it for one thing, but also because it’s a good thing to commit to.”

The level of pretentiousness and highly insular, classist and downright snobby thinking is staggering.

I say insular because both people in this conversation (the interviewer went on to fully agree and support this view) are from California. They eventually do note that they might find more utility for heaver weights if they lived in colder climes, but there is no sense of a connection between utility and the values expressed above. You get the sense that if they lived in a colder climate they would knit more with heaver weight yarns, but only out of necessity, not desire. I would love to see one of them explain to people in Iceland or Ireland how their Lopi and fisherman’s sweaters fail to “represent knitting” in the best way possible.  That is, however, basically what they are saying: all you people in colder climates who knit heavier-gauge garments? sorry, but they’re lacking in beauty and in their ability to show off your craftsmanship! 

The thing is, beauty is subjective, and craftsmanship depends on the crafter, not the materials. This notion that a finer gauge “represents knitting” better is like saying “lemon mascarpone pancakes truly represent and show off the craft of pancakes best”. For starters, it is nonsensical. Any pancake can represent pancakes, no matter the style. But fine, you want something that is a true representation of a LARGE and VARIED craft. In that case, you look to the purest iteration thereof. THAT is why when you “look up knitting on the internet” you get a lot of worsted stockinette. It is the purest essence of knitting. It truly represents the idea, the craft.

But if it is faster, that makes it easier and reduces the value, right? Larger gauge knitting does indeed go quicker, but the larger stitches also mean that it is significantly more difficult to hide mistakes.  A slipped stitch, rowing out, uneven stitches, a missed or backwards cable cross, etc. is all more highly visible in a larger gauge than in fine gauge.  Sure, it can be quicker, but that doesn’t make it easier. 

Again, we come back to craftsmanship coming from the crafter. There is a reason that a plain, stockinette sweater can win over an intricate finer-gauge colorwork sweater in a knitting competition: craftsmanship. Craftsmanship comes from skill, knowledge and experience, not from the materials. In the same way that I could make a truly shitty cup of coffee from fair-trade organic, single-estate, unicorn-blessed coffee beans, I could also make a poorly knitted, terribly constructed piece of garbage sweater from finer-gauge materials. I could also make an expertly crafted bulky acrylic blanket. If you are relying on your materials to do the work of displaying real craftsmanship, then you are not a craftsman.

This type of opinion about knitting (or any other craft, really) also displays a level of classism. Not everyone has the means to knit the way you do. To place a greater intrinsic value on your preferred methods of knitting  by definition takes value away from others’ methods. As I stated before, I have certain preferences when it comes to my yarn. I know that, for me, a commercial superwash merino is pretty low on my desirability scale. FOR ME. That I desire it less, doesn’t mean it lacks value in the world of knitting. It only lacks value in my little one-person world. Same with acrylic or Big Box yarns. I don’t desire them and they hold no value in my knitting life, but only mine. That someone knits with a worsted acrylic from Michael’s doesn’t make their knitting any less knitting-y. It doesn’t make my knitting a better representation of knitting, nor does it mean that my craftsmanship is automatically better or that my knitting is more beautiful.

TL;DR: Don’t be the fucking pompous, douchebag, hipster knitter. Just because you value certain methods/materials doesn’t devalue the knitting done by knitters using other methods/materials. You can express your love of these methods/materials WITHOUT making other people feel worthless for loving other methods/materials. You can educate, share your love of methods/materials and try to convince people of their relative good without (nonsensical and false) blanket statements about intrinsic worth that alienates nonbelievers. You can be a force for change even without being a dick. DON’T BE A DICK.

*I don't want to call the guest/host out by name, because, while they exhibited a rant-inducing level of hipster pompousness, they are not the only ones who do so. I hear this shit all over the place in different forms from various types of knitters. This just happens to be the most recent (and, again, rant-inducing) version.