Thursday, 14 April 2011

How we can defeat global capitalism by knitting socks

Right. Following my previous post about how much we spend on crafts, I have had further thoughts and now I have a Theory which is going to embrace all sorts of things from the marginalisation of the craftsperson to Heartless Global Capitalism, so I would go and make a nice cup of tea before you start. (Thank you so much to everyone who left interesting comments which made me think further, and especially to Rachel over at Growing Things and Making Things, who wrote a very interesting blog post referencing my blog post, which I agree with. So now I am going to write another blog post referencing her blog post, and thus the world turns).
Circle shrug. I did not have a shawl pin but never mind! I had a leaky biro!
This is my Theory About Knitting. Although many people have been knitting all the way through, I think it is fair to say that in internet and Meeja terms, knitting had a bit of a renaissance in the last 10 years or so, and I think part of the reinvention of knitting – and of craft in general – was people making an effort to show that crafts were not cheap embarrassing things, but that they could produce desirable, luxury products. Now, I agree: I am completely sold on this. I think handmade things are better, and I thought this when I had no time to make them myself, too. And if I was a process knitter producing beautiful complex lace/ colourwork/ entrelac socks and really enjoying every single yarnover, I can’t see any reason why I wouldn’t want to spend every bit of disposable income I had got on the yarn and the tools. I can’t see why I would want to economise, because it would be a treat purchase (assuming I had the money, obviously) – the yarn I liked would make the process much more enjoyable, and the enjoyable process and the luxury end product would be the whole point.
Shalom cardigan. It is very warm
However. As I have said before (and I hope they don’t take my Ravelry account away ;-) ), I’m not a process knitter. I’m not really a process anything. (although I like writing. I am a process writer. You can tell, I blog too much). And one of the things I would like to do is make things that are better and more economical (not necessarily cheaper up front, but more long-term economical) than things I could buy. At the moment, I feel like a lot of craft supplies are marketed to encourage people to make small luxury accessories, because I suspect most people can’t afford, on a regular basis, more than about 2-3 skeins of a lot of the yarns that are out there. 200m of something soft and handpainted for a cowl? Lots of lovely choice. But if you want to buy a job lot of affordable hardworking yarn to make a functional jumper to wear in the garden, you’re perhaps not quite so well catered for.
I cocked up the buttonholes a bit. But it's fine! I can force a button through!
Now, I think it is fair to say that the people who are making the small luxury accessories are making much more interesting things than Mr Gradgrind-type people like me would knit, but, for me, the joy of craft is in making things I would normally buy, not only in the art of it (I suspect this makes me unusual. Don’t hate me). So, if I can only afford enough yarn to make an Ipod cosy, however beautiful that Ipod cosy might be, that just depresses me. Because although having beautiful luxury Ipod cosies out there in the world is a wonderful thing, for me, I think only having (metaphorical) cosies (obviously except killer rabbit ones, which are both useful and wonderful), encourages the idea not that craft produces beautiful high-end things – which it does – but that it is something you do as an extra hobby, not something that could realistically replace the things you buy. And that marginalises it.
Right everyone, put down that alpaca laceweight and start knitting wonky garter stitch trivets like me. What? Do I hear dissent?
I don’t want to go back to the days where you had to walk about with your great big long double pointed needles in a leather sling knitting a jumper for your husband to wear down the mine while you were milking 50 cows (or whatever), but, look, I am sitting here knitting anyway, I would like to knit something that I find useful. Because, as I have bored on about before, I think being able to make things is very powerful. It stops us being sheeplike (ha!) consumers: it implicitly makes us informed critics of capitalism.

To me, it is a bit like cooking. Whenever I watch celebrity chefs on TV, there they are waving their truffle oil about and banging on about the importance of good quality ingredients, or going visiting people down country lanes who are producing honey from heritage bees and charging £10 a pot. Well, I agree that the world needs the £10 honey, and there are many reasons (political/ eco ones, too) why good-quality ingredients are better. However, the truth is that if you make a Victoria Sponge out of value flour, random jam you made from foraged hedgerow bits, and week-old butter from the corner shop, it will still taste nice, and it will taste much better than if you had bought one ready made from the supermarket. And I think sometimes celebrity chefs banging on about expensive ingredients – which most people can’t afford, or get regularly – means people are discouraged from using basic, cheap ingredients everyday, so cooking becomes a thing you do for special occasions rather than an everyday thing. But I have found the important thing in terms of taste, health, cheerfulness, everything (and I am conscious of the irony of this after the fondue post) is that you cook it yourself. Great when you can get excellent ingredients, and make an effort to get them by all means: but if all you can get/ afford is a tablespoon of lard and a floppy carrot from the local co-op, cook anyway. I feel the same about knitting/ crocheting.

So this is a manifesto for everyday knitting/ crocheting, making things we use. Not all the time, obviously, because I still want to knit a dalek and also I saw a Gargoyle on tatknitcat’s blog the other day and I might want to do him. But let us use our knitted items, sometimes make boring functional things, and wear the things we make, proudly. Let us get out there with our beautiful shawls and make non-knitters jealous. Let us knit socks which are a million times better than the ones you buy in a threepack (like condoms! And actually practically no more durable!) from Asda.
Good functional socks drying on the radiator. Now Elizabeth Taylor has sadly shuffled this mortal etc etc someone has to fly the flag for Glamour
Let us think about what we buy, and think if perhaps we want to make it instead, because making it instead is a radical act (although I agree we don’t want to do it all the time. I knit very slowly. Right hand thrower, hand off needle). I know this doesn’t help with the ‘yes but yarn is very expensive and that is actually the whole reason you are doing this blog post’ issue, so I am going to go away and think about what things I have knitted that are actually, truly cost-effective, and ways of making the whole thing financially manageable with a view to doing another post at a later date. In the meantime I shall go and weave in ends.


Amy said...

OK...I could spend loads of money on substances and what not to calm my nerves when they appear, but I choose to spend money on yarn I can knit to keep myself calm and on balance. My main purpose for knitting is relaxation. Second...the pursuit of useful items. I try to balance making useful items with making those that are not cost effective or random. I enjoyed your post.

Rachel said...

Interesting thoughts! ... and thanks for the ref :-)

I suspect the marketing emphasis on small, luxury items has something to do with the fact that most people, especially beginners, don't have the patience for bigger projects. If they're only going to buy a small amount of yarn, better get as much money out of them for that little bit as possible. Also, if the finished product is fabulous, they're more likely to have a go at something else. Either way, I agree that this emphasis pushes crafts into the hobby/domestic-arts-for-ladies-of-leisure bracket.

Your link with cooking reminded me of a line in a book I read years ago. I don't remember what the book was, but it was set in the future, and the line that stuck with me was something like, "People had stopped cooking their own meals not long after they stopped making their own clothes." At the time, ready meals were pretty much unheard of, at least in our neck of the woods.

Interesting to note the parallels in the loss of the mundane, everyday cooking and making stuff, alongside the Domestic Goddess phenomenon.

We must reclaim the mundane!

Rachel said...

PS I have nothing against knitting as hobby/relaxation etc. Straight after reading this post, I blog-hopped along to one entitled, "I knit so I don't kill people." Sadly, I just don't have the budget for it. Though if I did have money for a hobby, I'd probably rather learn to paraglide.

Rachel said...

PPS My brain automatically started thinking about what I would cook if all I had was a floppy carrot and a spoonful of lard. The options aren't great, you know...

Marushka C. said...

Great conversation you've got going here, Susie. I'm a process knitter (as you've probably noticed) and I tend to collect yarn then decide what to do with it. I tend to make things that look interesting to make, rather than focusing strictly on the question of what to do with the finished object.

That said, there are some very useful items which I can't be bothered to knit, though I could. I am not knitting covers for the dust mop, for example. Others may choose differently & I'm 100% supportive of that. I just choose to spend my time on things I like to make or things where my handmade version offers some advantage that makes it worth the time, effort, and yarn money.

Susie said...

Ha! No I'm not going to go and knit covers for a dust mop either. (Because then I'd have to buy a dust mop ;-) ).

Thank you everyone again for interesting points! It's a difficult one, isn't it? I'm just off to Loop in Islington and I know I'm going to stand there loving all the yarn, but wishing there was something basic as well that I could afford to buy lots of. It will be like an objective correlative of my inner state ;-).

Rachel, it is absolutely about reclaiming the mundane, you are right. It's like the cupcake phenomenon - lots of books ATM about baking cupcakes which are a fluffy extra thing rather than everyday food (but then it doesn't make cupcakes any less nice. Hmm, cupcakes).

And we will see what I can do with a floppy carrot and lard when it is the £1 food challenge...

Susie said...

Also, I think by useful I mean, things we use, wear and love, and replace things we would otherwise have to buy, so Marushka your last sentence is right on the money.

Voie de Vie said...

There's a lot to chew on here! I actually craft things I want to use ... and that I think are good looking. I use my handcrafted bags when I go out all the time and wear my shawls to the grocery store (you can ask the person who stopped me one day to ask about it). I also agree that to craft in this way is a statement against capitalism ... of a sort.

Of course, the best way to make it non-capitalized is to buy/barter locally. Bye-bye big box stores, and all the fuel it costs to ship everything everwhere everyday. And that's where it gets tricky. I have no simple answers.

However, I'm still gonna craft my own stuff and make my own food. (I'm doing the 1 pound challenge, too - so I'll look forward to comparing notes. :) )

Susie said...

This is very true about buying locally. Now (says she thoughtfully) I have not bored everyone with a post about my Efforts To Not Use The Supermarket recently, I will do one this week! I am not good about buying yarn locally (even nationally) though and I should make more of an effort there.

AC said...

!! I think we have pretty much the same knitting philosophy. I think the ultimate compliment is when someone asked me where I bought a knitted garment. I want to make nice, higher quality versions of mass produced garments that I COULD buy if I wanted to. The sticker shock the first time I made a sweater has never quite worn off.

That said, I'm not really sure what could be done about it. I usually turn to Cascade 220...

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to consider how long an item lasts when deciding cost reasonable-ness.

Example: I can buy a small ball of dishcloth cotton for $2.78. I can make 2 dishcloths out of it. These dishcloths last me about 4 years, whereas storebought ones (3 for $5) are hole-y and rather useless after about 2 years.

Each storebought cloth costs $1.67. Divide by 24 months = $0.07/month.

Each handmade cloth costs $1.39. Divide by 48 months = $0.03/month.

So the handmade are more than half as economical!

judith said...

I'm clearly arriving way late to the party, but never mind, i'll throw my 2c in...
To buy good quality yarn, often made locally, i buy vintage - there's plenty being sold out there, from charity shops to local fairs, etsy and ebay....
i managed to source fairly good sets of yarn (i.e. typically 400-500g) for a reasonable price (probably what it would cost one of the fancy new hanks).
It doesn't mean that I don't occasionally buy new fancy wool, but usually I like to look for vintage or old stock (i.e. de-stash) to save a very good sum.
On the other hand, there are now options for wool produced locally at a fairly reasonable price (not saying cheap).
Interesting post and points, thanks for writing!