Arts vs. Crafts

Creating useful art through knitting has the potential to connect us to the earth in a way that not all arts can. In fact, it is knitting designation as a “craft” that even further reminds us that we are carrying on a tradition of handiwork that create item that are can be useful first, and artistic second. Even the ugliest acrylic Mary Maxim unicorn sweater your grandma knit you for Christmas 1982 can still keep you warm!

Despite its more prominent role in our everyday lives, “crafts” have always been ranked lower than “arts”. Crafts are women’s work; children’s games and what are ancestors did before they could go to Walmart for the latest licensed merchandise. It is perhaps the utilitarianism of the knitting arts that allows many people to undervalue knitting as an art and undervalue the time, skill, and energy of the people who do it (mostly older women, I might add). The face of knitting is ever changing and, with it, the value of crafts.

The demographic of knitters seems to be getting younger …I was curious if this was just my impression or a reality…I found an article that was pretty thorough, a letter to the editor response in “American Demographic” (July 1, 2003) by J. Fetto who says:

“…The average knitter in 2002 was 55.7 years old, while knitters three years before that were 56.8 years old, on average – quite a feat, considering that the population of the United States as a whole is aging. On top of that, 31 percent of all knitters today have either a bachelor’s degree or a postgraduate degree, versus just 26 percent who held such a degree just before the turn of the millennium. And with more schooling comes more money: In 2002, the average knitter personally earned $39,756 a year, compared with $31,640 earned by the average knitter in 1999. That $8,100 difference represents a lot more money knitters can spend on yarn!”

I find it really interesting that knitters are not only younger, but they are more educated and they earn more! They can afford luxury yarn and support a practice that was once done out of necessity: It has become a common practice for the middle class in society. As knitting is an art with a changing demographic, this too comes with a change in its meaning.

In no other time has it been more important to hold on to the artistic side of knitting, to appreciate a knitted item as a work of art. Recently, I have been commissioned to knit a blanket and have quickly realized that, between the yarn and actually paying myself a minimum wage ($10), the cost is far more than many would even consider. We have all been spoiled by machine knits and hand knits made abroad in women’s co-operatives (some of which are pretty amazing and support ladies in South America who are essentially knitting local themselves). Unless you are a knitter, it is hard to fathom the number of hours (not to mention swearing, frogging, and sleepless knits nights over a misplaced stitch) that go into a hand knitted garment. That’s why most of us knit to give to others: For family and friends, or for charity. We can’t put a price on our time because what we make is not necessarily about the necessity of the item: It’s about the message it conveys to the receiver. My clients hired me because I am creating a work of art that is a collaboration and is to convey a message to someone they love. This is a blanket that will arrive to its eventual owner with my love too!

We live in a time when virtually everything we own is completely replaceable. As knitters, we have the ability to create irreplaceable things. At the end of the day, a similar item can be made by machine and bought at the bargain store, but it is the time, the emotion and the love that goes into it that gives it a different, “artistic” meaning to the receiver. All knitters are artists because, even as they follow a pattern, they are putting their experience into the work. They are also creating an opportunity connect others to what it means to have something that they can’t REALLY go out and buy, something many people living a middle class life in North America have been missing for a very long time.

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