16 August 2007

Knitting: Gentle Religion Or Rabid Cult?

Knitting is the new yoga. Knitting is the new meditation. Knitting is Zen. Knitting is therapy. You've probably heard one variation or another on some of these themes. To me, knitting is an addicitve, enjoyable hobby that keeps me from throttling people.

Let us consider the parallels between knitting and religion or cult status.

Religion: 1. A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe. 2. Something one believes in and follows devotedly. (Courtesy of www.dictionary.com)

All right, then. Let's start with definition number two. Something one believes in and follows devotedly. With religion in the spritual sense, we read scripture, sing songs of praise, decry evil, and do charitable good works. In the knitting world, we read magazines and books, sing the praises of our favorite yarns and designers, decry the evils of poorly written patterns, and do charitable good works.

Definition number one concerns beliefs concerning the universe. Spiritually, we wonder why we're here, what we're supposed to do, whether we can affect our ultimate destiny, and whether or not our chosen deity is pleased with us. Knitwise, we wonder why we chose this pattern or yarn, what we should start next, whether we should alter the pattern to suit us, and whether or not our chosen deity is pleased with us. Judging by the snarls of both yarn and voice, He or She occasionally is not.

Deities. In knitting, as in war, there are no atheists. Who among us has not asked for divine intervention during a difficult project? Perhaps we speak to The Man Upstairs (or Woman, if you prefer), perhaps we appeal to one of the lesser members of the pantheon. Designers, editors, yarn mentors.

As with church services, knitting has its own set of rituals. Gauge swatches. Collecting of supplies. Handwashing before starting to knit. The setting aside of a special place for knitting. Those small, calming bits of music or birdsong that filter into our consciousness. Congregations.

Let us not forget charity. We give to the poor our sweaters, afghans and socks. Teddy bears for children. Yarn to missionary groups.

Missionaries! Anyone who has ever taught another person to knit is a missionary in a very real sense. You are passing on a set of beliefs. "This is fun, this is something you should try."

All of this makes for a good argument in favor of knitting as religion. But what about cults?

Cult: 1. A group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing. 2. A religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader. (Courtesy of www.dictionary.com)

Oh, dear. Bound together by veneration of the same thing. This sounds like a knitting guild to me. False, unorthodox or extremist. Can any of us say that we have not, at some point, been ridiculed for our choice of activity? "Knitting is stupid. It's old-fashioned." Or the ever-popular, "How can you just sit there doing nothing?" And my most recently received jab, "What kind of idiot wants to play with wool on a day like this?" Extremist, indeed.

Living outside of conventional society. "Why knit one when you can buy it?" Or, "Why are you wasting time and money on such a self-indulgent little hobby?"

Under the direction of a charismatic leader. Name your favorite. Kaffe Fassett and his hypnotic dances of color. Lily Chin and her beguiling accessories. Elizabeth Zimmerman and her soothing cadences of encouragement.

Both religions and cults have their responses ready when accosted by non-believers. So do knitters. Turn the other cheek. "Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Or say." How about, "Try it; you'll like it!" There have even been a few instances of righteous wrath: "One more stupid crack and I'll jam this needle where the sun don't shine!"

Perhaps knitting falls somewhere in between. We have faith in our skills and our designers, but we are not (usually) so blind that we accept without question. I hate that color, I'll use another. I could make that, but not while I'm looking after two-year-old twins; it'll have to wait a few years. This pattern CAN'T be right, I'll end up a stitch short unless I do another increase.

Religion? Cult? Something more or less? Whatever label you choose (or reject), there is one you can wear with pride. "I am a Knitter."


Nichole said...

Great post! :)

I AM a knitter...

Dianne said...

I, too, am a knitter...

fillyjonk said...

I suspect that just as in religion, where you have the people who use their faith to deepen and inform their lives - who use it to challenge themselves to "be better" and you also have people who are, to be nice, obnoxious about what they believe, in knitting, I think we have the people who use it as a path to comfort and joy and those who use it for more insidious purposes...

look at the commentary on KR about "online cliques" for an example. I admit I feel that one a bit - I'm NOT a well-known blogger at all, I've never been approached about writing a book, I'm not on Ravelry, I don't have a pattern in Knitty or MagKnits....and it's so easy for me to say to myself, "no one loves you in blogland, you should just close up shop."

But, to paraphrase a bit of advice I've seen ascribed to both Mother Teresa and Billy Graham, "It's not between them and you; it was between you and [knitting] all along."

I do think like anything (including religion), it's possible for some people to overdo things or go into whackjob territory, and that can hurt everyone else involved...

Jackie said...

Great read and thanks.

By the way 'I am a knitter'.

Jen C said...

Truely excellant post!!!

One person's religion is another's cult. go as far back as you want. Even Christianity was considered a cult in the beginning of way back when. So I will go with a religion, we have enough followers to make our 'point'.

Tom King said...


I never suspected knitting as a sport could be funny. I added you to my feeds. Look forward to reading more of your stuff!

One question. Please explain what "Winfield" is?

Jillster said...

Google it, Tom! It's right at the top of the search results! ;)

Mags said...

Wow..lots of comments on this one..I too am a knitter!!

Babs said...

Knitting is a religion. Within the knitting religion, there are cults. For example, the sock knitters cult. The Zimmerman cult (not everyone who likes Zimmerman is in the cult). Avoid-seams-like-the-unwashed-heathen cult, which is very like the Zimmerman cult. That's my 3 cents.

Mary Beth Temple said...

I am a knitter, but I am also a crocheter. One of the aspects of cult or religion, take your pick, is the occasional lapse in respect for others' interpretation. I have never quite gotten the knitters vs crocheters war, and hope one day we all get over ourselves and overcome it!

Great post!

Criquette said...

Hi! I just linked over here from Dianne's blog. Not only am I a knitter, but I knit and blog here in KC. BTW, I belong to the cult of scarves.