Jenny: Bicraftual

There are many intense, deeply-felt rivalries and arguments in the world.  Many of them appear silly to people outside them.  Historians argue over whether there was a real Robin Hood, whether the North won the Civil War or the South lost it, or whether the word “feudalism” should be thrown out and which word should replace it.  (I share my office with a Medievalist, and because he knows “feudalism” is not a very good word but there really isn’t a better alternative, he compromises by employing finger quotes in his lectures.)  Football fans here in Lubbock rabidly love Texas Tech, and equally rabidly hate the University of Texas.  In my own religious heritage, churches have split and deep resentments have grown up over issues like Sunday school, single or multiple Communion cups, instrumental music in worship, the payment of ministers, missionary societies, and more.  Many of these controversies, maybe all of them, probably seem silly or even incomprehensible to those who are not a part of them.  The wearing of red versus burnt orange, of vital importance to a Lubbockite, would not concern a person in Minnesota particularly (or if it did, it would have to be for a completely different reason).

There is also a rivalry, sometimes intense, occasionally even nasty, among those who make things with yarn.  This is the infamous knit-crochet dichotomy.

The Muggles on the outside, of course, know nothing of this debate.  As a matter of fact, they generally have no idea which is which; while knitting, I have had people remark that I’m crocheting, and vice versa, and it gets more absurd from there.  I’ve been asked if I was sewing (while I was knitting), or if I was weaving (while spinning at my spinning wheel).  I have learned that if, while I am demonstrating knitting, a daddy comes up and whispers to his little girl, “look, that lady’s doing needlepoint!”, the best thing to do is just smile and pretend I didn’t hear.  I have seen women at craft fairs pick up a skein of handspun yarn, remark on its softness, then ask what it’s for or how it is meant to be worn.  Muggles such as these would find the whole knit/crochet situation as incomprehensible as the Church of Christ instrumental music fight would be to an atheist.  In fact, I’m not sure how widespread the discord is even among yarncrafters; as I understand it, it’s a largely American thing, or at least largely a Euroamerican thing.  I think in Japanese, for instance, “knitting” and “crochet” are actually the same word.

That might be healthy.

In my experience, though, as an American, knitters and crocheters are sometimes at odds.  A very funny and quite pointed essay by Franklin Habit describes the phenomenon, here: http://blog.lionbrand.com/2013/05/08/play-nice/.  In short, sometimes knitters feel that crochet is good for only useless dustcatchers like doilies (not that I entirely agree even with this, some doilies are very pretty, and I have also used them for yarn-bombing purposes,* but leave that for the moment), nasty stiff sweaters that pretend to be knit but aren’t, ugly afghans, bepompommed toilet paper cozies shaped like poodles, weird kitchen doodads like clothing for wooden spoons or hotpads with faces embroidered on them, and the like.  Anyway, these unnamed knitters seem to think, at its best crochet can only make a poor imitation of knitting, and why bother with that when you can just knit?  Knitters can be the elitists who look down on others.  Simultaneously crocheters, as people sometimes do when they regard themselves as a downtrodden minority, can sometimes be defensive and prickly, and seem to feel that learning to knit would be selling out, going quisling, turning coat, giving in to The Man, cravenly crumbling under pressure rather than bravely sticking to their guns (or hooks, as it were).  Then there are those with a different and (supposedly) more factual form of the prejudice: “Knitting is harder to learn.”  “Crochet is stiff and unflattering, with no drape.”  “Knitting is slower.”  “Crochet uses up more yarn.”  “Knitting makes my hands hurt.”  “Crochet makes my wrists hurt.”  And so they dismiss whichever craft is not theirs, because this or that is wrong with it.  Only, it turns out, none of those “facts” are necessarily true all the time, or across the board.  Knitting and crocheting may either be easier to learn, depending on the person; crochet can be beautiful and shapely with lovely drape; whichever craft you are better at is probably the one that goes faster for you; yarn usage depends on the pattern in both crafts; and it can make a big difference how you hold your needles or hook.  And no, in all my time as a crocheter I have never made a toilet paper cozy.  It is not mandatory, nor is it reflexive.

Nevertheless, the prejudice exists.  And like all prejudices, it can lead to rude, distasteful, mean, or (at best) silly behavior.  Yarn shop employees may direct customers (revealed to be crocheters, not knitters) to the cheaper, less-nice yarns, assuming that crochet somehow requires scratchy acrylic or that crocheters just don’t know the difference.  Crafters of either type may refuse to incorporate the “enemy” craft into their projects in any way, even when it would be entirely appropriate and much simpler: knitted ribbing on the hem and cuffs of a crocheted top, for instance, or a crocheted lace insertion on a knitted top.**

Why and how did this happen?  It’s apparently relatively recent.  In Victorian publications, for instance, knitting and crochet often coexist happily, with crocheted borders and edgings on knitted garments and so forth.***  In the 1970s (as discussed in my last couple of posts), even if they weren’t in the same projects, they certainly shared the same magazines.  What went wrong?  Maybe it was the fact that, historically, crochet was used to create lace that was cheaper and more readily-available than the expensive and elite needle and bobbin laces, giving it a sort of air of “knockoff”.  Maybe it was because Irish crocheted lace was particularly prominent, and the English (later the Americans too) despised the Irish.  Maybe it was because during the 1970s, crochet was sometimes used for things that crochet should never be used for, and that’s still within living and painful memory.  Maybe it’s because most crochet can’t be made by machine, so knitting is more common and mainstream and within everyone’s consciousness.  Maybe it’s some combination of these, or all of them, or none.  I don’t know.  But it seems to me that all of those are pretty poor reasons for limiting one’s own crafting options, and certainly for looking down on other people, whichever side of the thing you fall on!

The good news is, this prejudice seems to be weakening.  Don’t misunderstand, it does still exist, but it seems to be growing less powerful; Ravelry may be part of the reason for this, since people can now see a lot more of whichever craft is not theirs.  Knitters can actually interact with crocheters, and see that they are just as fond of nice yarns and just as eager to make projects that are clever, attractive, trendy, or generally not-tacky.  Crocheters can actually interact with knitters, and see that they are not arrogant and snide fuddy-duddies, closed to all that crochet can offer.  We can all see new patterns that happily mix both crafts, taking the advantages and beauties of both.

Recently a term has come into pretty common usage among yarn-folk (though you won’t find it in Wiktionary, at least not yet): bicraftual.  This word describes those people who move happily between knitting and crochet, using each where appropriate, and not infrequently, both together in the same project.  These are the people who, though they may be better at one craft than the other or prefer one over the other, choose not to take sides.  We are all using yarn to create magic!  We are all producing beautiful things!  We are on the same side!  Let’s get along, people.  Hook or needles, we are all brothers and sisters in yarn!

I admire that attitude.

I have recently begun a new project.  This one:

This top demonstrates the peace that can exist between knitting and crochet, and how good they can look when combined!  See how much better things are when we all just get along and work together?

Link to project page on Ravelry: http://ravel.me/jennpaxt/l3uhf.

*Yarn-bombing with doilies, Ravelry project pages: http://ravel.me/jennpaxt/59403, http://ravel.me/jennpaxt/647zn.

**Knit-and-crochet shell, Ravelry project page: http://ravel.me/jennpaxt/m19v6.

***Victorian knitted beach bag with a crocheted edging, Ravelry project page: http://ravel.me/jennpaxt/bzx7w.

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