The picture to the right is of my grandmother and mother (circa 1933), in Flekkefjord, Norway. My grandmother, taught by her grandmother, taught my mother to knit. My mother did not like to knit and taught me only the basics; it was my grandmother who encouraged and nourished my love of it and of many other traditional hand crafts.
To me, knitting is personal and rather familial. So it was with a bit of a surprise – despite my education and having been a college professor – that I read “Ivory Tower Fiber Freak Comes Clean,” by Jennifer Burek Pierce (The Chronicle of Higher Education 4/1/13). An associate professor at University of Iowa, Dr. Pierce holds a Ph.D. in Communication and Culture, and her research area is publication as a means of sharing new ideas and creating the cultural record. My doctorate is in political science and my research area was domestic public policy. So I am almost embarrassed to say I never considered the potential for knitting as a research area beyond the fields of history or art.
The article recounts how Dr. Pierce recently discovered knitting (and her passion therefor) and, even more important for an academic, how the craft fits in her research field. She notes: “Having already studied the way information is translated, appropriated, and republished once demand develops, I was struck by the myriad outlets conveying knitting information … That practitioners of a decidedly retro handcraft adopted new technologies to share and preserve information seemed to add a new dimension to media researchers’ contention that new technologies don’t automatically or absolutely displace older ones.”
Dr. Pierce discovered Ralvery and notes what we seasoned knitters have long known: “As I watched knitters communicating online, I became convinced that knitting was far more complex than the private, quaintly domestic activity of lore and stereotype.”
Dr. Pierce ultimately drafted a research proposal titled “Do 21st-Century Knitters Dream of Electronic Sheep? Constructing Theoretical Frameworks for the Study of Contemporary Fiber Arts Practices and Related Online Communities” (love the title!), but was dissuaded from pursuing her research. The response of one of her mentors was discouraging for an untenured faculty member: “I’d rather be shot through the kneecaps than read about knitting.”
While she shelved the project temporarily, it never left Dr. Pierce’s mind. Discussing her interest with a colleague, his more encouraging response was, “Are you kidding? I write about video games.”
(Curious, I think, is the fact that video games cater to male gamers and knitting caters to females. Could gender be the crux of the discouragement she received from many of her colleagues? But I digress.)
Eventually Dr. Pierce was able to return to her research interest in “the way information about knitting is published and shared.” She concludes: “I’d like to think that my grandmother, who started saving for my college education as soon as I was born, and who knitted garments I wore as I child, would be pleased.”
To the left is a picture of my grandmother with her great-granddaughter (my daughter), in Stavanger, Norway, taken in the early 1980s.
The knitting tradition in our family continues.