help me define “a knitter”

It’s easy to get into an “am not!”/”are so!” fight about things that don’t actually matter, and being a knitter is one of those.

In my heart, I’m not a knitter, and this despite the evidence to the contrary.

That evidence would consist of the stash of yarn in the corner of my bedroom, the hand-knitted socks hanging to dry in the bathroom, the unwanted knitted gifts crumpled at the back of dresser drawers all over the country, and the “Knitting Patterns” folder on my hard drive. And my Ravelry membership. That’s some of it.

Ivy used to say I was a knitter, and I’d negate her with an intensity even I found over the top, but in my mind the demarcation was that a knitter makes a sweater, and I’d never made one (except for the Barbie sweater, which doesn’t count. I’ve noticed “that doesn’t count” coming up a lot.)  But today, I’m at a bit of a crossroads.


Yeah, that’s almost done, except for weaving in the ends and knitting the closure ties. So why am I still not a knitter? And I’d better figure this out fast, because it’s time to call Father G from our parish and re-pitch him the knitting ministry he told me to discuss with him after the New Year.

The best I can come up with is this: the people I think of as “knitters” have not only technical skill and a mountain of yarn, but also drive. Need, I guess. I think about my grandmother, who came home from school at age ten to crochet hats so her family could sell them for income. I think about the women who knitted a sweater because their kid needed a sweater, and then when the kid grew, unraveled the sweater and re-knit the same yarn (with a stripe of another color through the center) in a larger size.

More to the point, a real knitter is one of those Scandanavian girls who was required to spin enough yarn for a sock every day, and then knit it up in addition to her regular chores. Every day. Not someone like me who goggles over sock patterns designed in homage to The Hobbit.

But I’m not consistent in my reverse snobbery, because if someone demurred that she wasn’t a real writer “because all I write are poems and letters to the editor — I don’t need to write” then I’d tell her nonsense. She’s a writer. Not writing for income or necessity, perhaps, but all the same a writer, because writers write. And yet according to my paradigm, knitting doesn’t make you a knitter.

Thoughts, anyone? Raucous laughter? Spare Noro Silk Garden?


  1. Elizabeth

    I think you define “a knitter” as someone who knits to meet a felt need in themselves or someone else, not just for recreation or to expend creativity. I don’t think you see it as a big enough part of your life to define yourself by it, as you do with your writing.

    Not that I know you at all. 🙂 Just my 2 cents.

    1. philangelus

      Oh, I like that! I started knitting and crocheting “for real” during a time in my life when I was grieving. It was very simple stuff, but I found it incredibly soothing, and I could pray while making scarves, and then I’d give them away to the Mongolia project, and some dude in Mongolia would be warm and I didn’t have to think about it again.

      So inasmuch as the knitting is only to meet my own needs, it’s selfish and not to meet a need in anyone else. Ergo, it’s “not real.”

      That clarifies a lot. Thank you!

  2. Karen Williams

    Even though I know you wrote this piece “tongue in cheek” you did me a great service in helping me own up to the fact that I can respond with “I am a writer” when asked by other retired folks “what do you do/” Sure I may still be 30,000 short of my first novel but I am making progress!

  3. Lorraine E. Castro

    Perhaps you are rebeling against being categorized as anything in particular (with the exception of an author, which hold cache). After all, knitters seem like old fashioned single ladies who knit because they have nothing else to do. That’s what someone told me when I said I crochet blankets. As if there’s no difference! Harumph! Knitting is much harder than crocheting. Perhaps you are simply a Renissance woman, capable of spanning many crafts and ages.

  4. Pat

    I’m in exactly the same place. My daughter’s boyfriend, who has never spent an evening here without seeing me with knitting in my hands, would be very puzzled at my saying that “I’m not a knitter.” But I’ve never made a sweater, or a sock. So I’m not a knitter. Until I can use DPNs without feeling like I’ve just shaken hands with a porcupine, I’m not a knitter. Besides, the owner of the local yarn shop wouldn’t know me if she fell over me in the street.

    But I’m trying to find a pattern for a vest. Then I’m going to the LYS for the yarn. If I actually knit this vest, will I be a knitter? (Nope. Not until I manage those socks.)

    But you’ve got socks, and now you’ve got a sweater. You’re a knitter, Jane.

  5. Ken Rolph

    This put me in mind of an incident from 1970. Jan and I married while we were still at university. I choice of vehicular transport at that time was a small motorcycle. One afternoon we were travelling down a main (three lane) road when I noticed people looking at me strangely. Stopped at a red light I turned around to see what was unusual. Jan was sitting in the pillion seat knitting. But she’s not a knitter because she didn’t keep it up.

    Knitters are of 2 kinds. There are the older ladies who have always done it and keep on doing it. They explore and develop as well as making practical things. I will meet these ladies next Sunday when I go into town to get some more wool for my latch hook rug (Astro Boy). They want me to bring in the current rug to show them. These are knitters-of-the-past. They often found time to do it because they weren’t in employment. They create family heirlooms.

    The other people who are knitters are young women. 20s and 30s. They have careers. They also meet in cafes as groups with names like Coffee and a Yarn. They knit as a political act to reclaim their femininity. Their grandmothers knitted. Their mothers gave it up to have a career. But these want to have it all: career, babies, domestic arts. Some even go so far as to knit covers for public objects, like power poles.

    The pool of knitters in Australasia is fed from teenage girls who knit penguin jumpers. That’s probably sweaters to you. Penguins who get caught in oil slicks have to be washed in detergent. It makes them vulnerable until their get their own waterproofing back, so they need a coat for a while.

    So you are a knitter if you knit for:

    Power poles

    It’s that simple.

    1. cricketB

      Agreed about the political act — or maybe self-defining act. I loved the juxtaposition of competing well in male-dominated fields (math, science, driving stick-shift, camping) while also enjoying traditionally female crafts.

      Also, I can create beautiful things (useful and not-useful) with nothing but sticks and string. Something from nothing, and without the hassle of power tools, sharpening, sawdust, paint brushes or ear protection.

      1. Ken Rolph

        Something from nothing is the lost art. When my kids left home to make their own families we were left with a lot of junk. I found the latch hook and some chopped up thick wool in the cupboard. Instead of throwing it out I started to tinker with it. The simplicity and pointillist geometry of it appeals to me.

        There are things I have time for now that I am on the corporate scrap heap. Some years ago lightning struck my sister’s pear tree. They saw it as firewood. I asked for a couple of the larger branches. After drying them for a year I was able to cut pieces out, enough to make a small box. Something for nothing, although it did use power tools. That’s part of the fun. Perhaps it’s a bloke thing.

  6. xallanthia

    I feel odd, like something’s not right in my world, if I don’t have anything on the needles. I’d say that’s what makes me a knitter – not the five sweaters or six pairs of socks or untold numbers of hats and scarves and gloves or the patterns I have for sale on Ravelry. If you can stop, and not feel weird, then I’d say you’re a person who knits. If not, whether you’re doing an Alice Starmore sweater or a simple garter stitch scarf, you’re a knitter.