Thursday, August 9, 2012

Look but don't touch? Forget that!

Cascade Kid Seta

Sites like Knitty and Ravelry have brought us within a mouse-click of millions of amazing patterns, and online merchants have similarly enabled our yarn-stashing habits. Occasionally, one even hears about knitting video games, although no knitter I know plays them (and as the first comment on this post from 2010 makes clear, gamers don't seem clued in enough to know the difference between knitting and crochet--if there's yarn, they'll call it knitting, like all the other morons nice friendly people I meet when I craft in public).

It's obvious why knitting video games haven't been really popular, of course. Cost of a Wii = $149.99. Cost of knitting needles and enough yarn for a scarf = $14.99, tops. At the end of the Wii game, you have...a Wii. On which you can play the knitting game again until you get bored with it. At the end of the knitting, you have...a scarf! And needles, on which you can knit another scarf, or anything else you like. Duh! Real knitting totally wins.

Cascade Kid Seta

Beyond that, though, there's the fact that knitting is not a look-but-don't-touch pursuit. Knitters are touchy people (yes, in every sense). In fact, our handiwork involves all kinds of sensory signals. I often smell a skein before I buy it. I refer to colors as "delicious" or "tasty," and talk about yarns as being "creamy" or "crunchy." Our needles click and whisper, our swifts creak and our ball winders whir. Even our jargon is onomatopoetic--as my friend Julia explained to me, it's called frogging because you "rip it, rip it, rip it."

That sensory involvement in one's work is a familiar thing to me in my other professional life, too. As a film archivist and someone who teaches others to work with film and other materials in need of preservation, I've been thinking a lot recently about how much touch and feel, direct personal experience, and embodied knowledge are essential to understanding. This is just one more way in which knitting is connecting to my academic and intellectual life, I've discovered, so I'm going to think out loud here about both of them...

Cascade Kid Seta

That Wii knitting game really does have some interesting aspects--for one thing, it looks to me like it'd be helpful as an introduction to charted patterns, becoming comfortable with patterned stitches, and learning to read your knitted work-in-progress--but it presents knitting as a largely theoretical exercise, and knitted fabric as a straightforward product of idealized, sequential motions. It doesn't even hint at the dozens of signals a skilled knitter receives simultaneously through their eyes, ears, and fingers as s/he works. Like the hard little bump a purl stitch makes tugged against the needle in your right hand when you forget to bring the yarn back before working a knit stitch after it. The annoyingly raggedy loop of a split strand sticking out in the row below, and the satisfaction of dropping that stitch back and reworking it with the full strand. The way the weight of your project gradually tips from the left hand to the right as you work across a row, or the bunching and stretching between the needle tips that subtly influences you to push out stitches to the right and gather them up to the left as you work, without ever really stopping to think about it.

Cascade Kid Seta

All these little things have some kind of analogue in film handling, I find, where we also have joins and twists, and colors and smells, and where the way a long strand of something is wound and manipulated can create wonderful effects or catastrophic tangles. And while you can read about film preservation techniques online, or watch all sorts of stuff on YouTube--including knitting demos, of course!--there's really nothing like the real thing, which is why I've been doing Home Movie Day for the past ten years.

Thanks to punkybuddha for this great pic from 2010's Upper Valley Home Movie Day event!

For me, it's all about getting your hands on the stuff--finding places and ways to do that will yield so much rich information, as well as more satisfying products, and deeper, more lasting knowledge. In my next post, I'll be having a contest in which you can win both digital prizes and ones you can touch with your own personal digits, and I'll ask for your own thoughts and stories on what you've learned by doing and stay tuned!

1 comment:

Steven said...

I loved the home movie day I attended here in Austin with you! In the course of cleaning this week, I found the ones I brought again, and thought of that day.