Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In Which I Throw a Tizzy

I majored in history. It's something I take very seriously. This means that I occasionally do peculiar things: I study old furnaces and watches in search of date of manufacture; I often laugh aloud during dramatic moments in historical films; I've made the not-to-be-repeated error of discussing trench warfare in the bedroom (boys do not find this as charming as discussions of the shenanigans of French urban explorers). Also, lazy research can send me into a blind fury.

Please, behold this religious image of the Virgin Mary knitting:


Now, please examine the following text from the introduction of The Knitting Man(ual), by Kristin Spurkland:

"People across Europe were employed in the knitting cottage industry, primarily outputting socks and stockings for the wealthy classes. (para) Surprisingly, these early knitting professionals were unquestionably men. In the beginning, knitting was a strictly male endeavor, and remained so until the Industrial Revolution mechanized production. While both men and women followed knitting into the factories, hand-knitting at home began its transformation into a feminine art..."

I call bullshit. Moreover, I call bullshit on five key points:

Firstly, the Virgin is not admiring her boyfriend's knitting in the above-featured 15th century altarpiece panel by the Master Bertram. The creation of this painting rather pre-dates the Industrial Revolution, as do many other depictions of women knitting.

Secondly, both men and women have knit since, well, the dawn of knitting, although who knit what and why varies depending on era and country. Sailors and goatherds, and others who spent a lot of time waiting and watching (soldiers in the trenches I'm not supposed to talk about) often knit. As did women who had a lot of other things to do with their time, but also needed to clothe their families.

Thirdly, the author seems to have confused cottage industries with knitting guilds, which for several centuries (like most official professions) employed only men. Cottage industry often employed whole families; everyone from toddlers old enough to sort colored thread and buttons to grandparents would take part.

Fourthly, a case study: the early Lowell's textile mills in America. When the mills first started, they tried to hire almost exclusively young, single women from rural backgrounds. The idea is that women could be paid less than men, and women isolated from their families were less likely to make a fuss about wages or hours. And, when mills were rare and the wages comparatively high, it's true that they didn't. That didn't last long. I encourage you to google Lowell's mill women. When men and women did work in factories, the work tended to be gender segregated.

Fifthly... "began its transformation into a feminine art"?! Not only is that patently inaccurate, but it paints a very Victorian middle-upper upper-class picture, with women only knitting christening gowns and dainty gloves... because knitting practical garments like socks would indicate that one needed to work for a living. Spurkland's introduction ignores the realities of knitting, and trivializes women's history with it in the interest of making it appealing to men again.

Pant. Pant. Sigh.

By contrast, review the following brief excerpt from Michael del Vecchio's introduction to Knitting With Balls:

"People knit because they were poor (and cold) and the politics of gender had little to do with it."

What a nice and concise way to briefly acknowledge the nature of knitting without needed to give people a wildly inaccurate history lesson. I approve.

And to think, this came about because I wanted to tell people about some of the devices I like to see in knitting books. Maybe later.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sore Fingers

I've been terrible with holiday gifts. I mean this is the most generic way possible, as, having no holidays of my own, my giftgiving season started this year around Eid and detoured through Christmas and Solstice until it seemed silly to hand people packages any longer. Except, well, I actually feel obligated to hand a few other people gifts.
It took me far too long to put these together. The wire bits required maybe five minutes of my time apiece... but finding the right leather crimps? Choosing lobster claw clasps over whatever those other ones are called?

Now that they're finally finished, of course, they're just taking up space on my table. I should rectify that.

PS: my measuring tape decided it didn't really like hiding in my bed anyway, and has now come out and agreed to continue being of good use.

Friday, February 1, 2008

One of those days...

Ever had one of those days where you just... lose something? Where you know it's not really gone gone, but it's skittered off to some hidey-hole where you won't find it until you stop searching?

Uh-huh. I'm having one of them right now. There's a pristine little gauge swatch on my ironing board as we speak, but... my stupid friggin' measuring tape is off having a night on the town (I assume).

Measuring tape, if you're out there-- whatever I said, I didn't mean it. Just come back.