It took a while, but my yarncromantic magic worked and I now have a finished sweater, made using the remains of a sweater I ripped back. And maybe another knitted T-shirt. And a skein of yarn I had to buy after losing at yarn chicken…But! It’s complete, I love it, and I have no regrets. So here’s the lowdown.
First off, I took scissors to my Sunset Highway sweater, and ripped it back into 2.6 skeins of Chromatic Yarns Sturdy Sock yarn (and some smaller balls of yarn used for the colourwork elements). I then reskeined the yarn, gave it a good wash and whack (literally whacked it against the side of the bath as I was taught to when I briefly handspun my own yarn), and voila! Yarn brought back to life and ready to knit. I also repeated this process with yarn from my rarely-worn Magpie Tendency, knit in the spring of this year. It didn’t fit my wardrobe, so no point leaving that to gather dust at the back of the wardrobe!
I settled for the Sweater With No Name pattern by Paige Parkin (@knitdiaries on Instagram), and promptly began knitting. I mis-judged the amount of yarn I had, and ran out just before the shoulders, so ordered some more from Chromatic Yarns. I’d estimate that I used a total of 2500 yards of yarn in total. This pattern eats yarn.
The finished object is big, slouchy and my new favourite item to wear. I’ve never worn cold shoulder jumpers before, but this has me tempted to start! Not to mention eyeing up other yarns to make another in (a) different colour(s).
So. The moral of this story? Rip back knits and raise those lovely yarns from the dead in the form of something newer and better.
Of course I had a project lined up in preparation for my PhD viva exam. What kind of knitter do you take me for? Whenever there’s a life event looming, my needles are on the go. I’m not superstitious, but you bet I was going to have a knitted item in the room with me for…luck. I could give you the boring Ravelry details about yardages and such. Or I can tell you why they’re one of the most important pairs of socks. Ever.
I had a skein of GamerCrafting Sparkle Sock (merino/nylon/stellina) that my pals Pip and Heather picked up for me at a yarn festival in 2018. The yarn’s colourway name was “Harley Deserved Better” and obviously they had to snag it for me. It then sat patiently in my stash as I spent a year trying to decide what it needed to be. Even then I knew it would likely make an appearance at my viva. It was Harley themed yarn, how could that skein not attend with me in some shape or form?
In the summer of 2019, I got my viva date. November. Knowing the building I was likely to have the exam in, I instantly ruled out a shawl. For some reason, the heating in SMLC has to be cranked up so high, you could probably fry an egg on a desk. The idea of sitting and sweating, face bright red for an hour trying to answer questions about my thesis? No thank you.
Dungeons and Dragons came to the rescue. I was playing in a regular game at the time and needed a project to work on during sessions. Socks! Easy to transport and shove in my bag, simple enough that I could put them down and pick them back up for dice rolls, lots of comforting and meditative stitches.
I settled on the Fika socks from Pom Pom magazine, Spring 2015 issue. I’d knit several pairs of these socks before and knew that this pattern would show off the yarn whilst fulfilling my knitting needs. I did make some slight changes as I’m anti-cuff-down socks, so instead cast them on toe-up, and swapped the heel out for a German short-row heel. If I’m honest, the pattern was more inspiration and I merely reverse-engineered it (as I had the previous times I’d knit it!) Either way, I had a cracking, utterly stress-free time working on these socks.
I finished the socks with weeks to spare, of course. And wore them to my Viva. Nobody knew I was wearing them. For one thing I didn’t announce it to my examiners, but they were hidden from view by my boots. But I knew they were there. You honestly can’t beat the comfort of buttery soft merino stitches, and I defy anyone not to feel confident when there’s stellina sparkles involved too. I really like the ankles on these; the twisted rib is pretty, obviously, but it also makes them fit snugly.
I love these socks. I see summer D&D games and rolling dice. I see my friend’s office where I sat and prepared the hour before the viva. I see my examiners and remember the enthusiasm and praise they had for my Harley chapters. I see myself walking out of the building having passed. They’re a bloody good pair of socks.
I’m going to wear them to my graduation. Socks for a viva. Socks for a doctor.
I recently did what most knitters consider unthinkable and ripped back a sweater. Some may see it as a destructive act, but I see it through the nerdy lens of necromancy; bringing the yarn back from the dead (the finished jumper) by re-purposing it into a new garment that will give it a new life, and me something I’ll actually enjoy wearing. As far as I’m concerned, good yarn shouldn’t go to waste, so here are some reasons on why you should have courage and join me on my unraveling crusade of yarncromancy.
It’s not quite your style anymore You might still be an emo at 29, or your style tastes might have changed. Where you were once into neon knits, you might be more about the neutrals now. You might prefer more fitted garments. Or looser ones. It’s okay for styles and tastes to change. If there’s still something about that shawl or garment that you love and want on your body, rip it back and transform that yarn into something that better fits your personal style.
It doesn’t fit There’s myriad reasons why this might be the case. Your body may have changed, your gauge might have been off, or the yarn grew like crazy when you washed it (looking at you, Drops Merino Extra Fine!) so now your fitted cardi could fit 12 people in one sleeve alone. Whatever the reason, your knits should fit you how you want them to fit. You wouldn’t wear shoes that are too big or that give you blisters, and I’m willing to bet you’re not going to be wearing a hat that barely fits over your head, or a cropped jumper that wouldn’t even cover a nipple. If such items are at the bottom of a drawer or back of your wardrobe because they don’t fit either anymore or they never did… rip them back!
The designer is a bigot In as polite terms as I can manage, you won’t want to wear the ideas of someone who turns out to be a bully on your body. It’s the main reason I frogged a sweater recently. The design was very identifiable, and I didn’t want to hurt people who had been hurt by that designer by wearing her ideas on my torso.
There’s a “mistake” that bothers you Mistake, error, design element – whatever you call it, sometimes a section using the wrong technique like mixing up your brioche rows, dropped stitches, or a few stitches in the wrong colour might really bother you. I’m pretty laidback and have left in purl bumps and such as it makes my items personal to me. But I can see why having sleeves of different lengths or a section of lace that doesn’t match up would be an annoyance. In which case, rip back – nobody has time to feel slightly resentful of the shawl they’re wearing.
It doesn’t meet your expectations I get this feeling a lot when shopping. I fixate on how that dress will somehow make my life infinitely better and I’ll look beautiful in it… Then I try it on, and I feel ridiculous. Sometimes, garments or accessories don’t live up to the vision or expectations we had once they’re off the needles. They might not fit the need we had for them – fabric that’s too transparent may not be your ideal work jumper, for example. You just might not be able to pin down why it’s not making you feel wonderful. If you try it on in a shop and you don’t like it, you wouldn’t buy it. Apply the same logic to your knitwear. Then add scissors.
Chances are, you used some beautiful yarn in those projects – colour, fibre, texture, whatever – and it deserves to be in a project that you wear and adore; to be shown off, not hidden away at the back of your wardrobe! You deserve knitwear that brings you joy and comfort. Get frogging.
I think I’ve found my calling in life. Forget the PhD, the CV, the traits that, depending on who you ask, make me either a wonderful employee or not nearly sociopathic enough an employee (I’m looking at you, civil service screening tests). Nah. Stuff that. My calling is now that of the yarncromancer.
But Cia, what the hell is a yarncromancer?
Well, random reader, I’m glad you asked. We’re all familiar with necromancy, yes? The magical practice of raising the dead (found in fantasy settings, I’m not talking actual…oh nevermind) Well think that, think your friendly neighbourhood Grave domain Cleric, only for yarn.
Or, in layperson’s terms, on Friday morning in a coffee-induced haze of madness, I took a pair of scissors to a sweater and over the course of the day, unravelled it so that I could turn the yarn into something better. I raised the yarn from its grave of the sweater I hadn’t worn 12 months so that it could live again as something new. Necromancy, but for yarn. You’re welcome (I had contemplated Knitcromancer but it excluded crochet, so consider yourselves doubly welcome that I went with the grand title of Yarncromancer).
In all seriousness though, the sweater in question was one I loved. Until it turned out the designer wasn’t that fantastic a person and I felt that, ultimately, I didn’t want to wear what was essentially that person’s ideas and values on my body*. So the beautiful yarn used to make that sweater sat in a box, unloved and unworn. Yes, I suppose I could have gifted it or donated it to a charity shop. But, in my mind, that was simply shifting the problem and my feelings of discomfort elsewhere. Plus I really liked that yarn (and how I looked wearing it!) So out came the scissors. As an aside, I would be interested to know what others have done with projects designed by problematic designers. Do you still wear/use them? Donate/gift them? Unravel them? Equally, if you’re unsure what to do, I’d love to hear your thoughts too!
First cut is the…hardest?
It took me a while to work up the courage to make the first cut. The sweater did sit in a box for months before this moment arrived. But, once I started unraveling strand after strand of now-crimped yarn, I rapidly became drunk on my own power. It turns out there’s something weirdly invigorating about unraveling (and kinda destroying) 6 weeks’ worth of hard work. I can understand why some would balk at the idea of rapidly undoing something they’d worked on for such great periods of time.
However, I’d counter that with the fact that something beautiful has since gone unused and unloved. And in my case, the annoyance that I’d used some darn fine yarn to make something by someone with some pretty shitty values combined with the knowledge that the yarn could still be repurposed far outweighed any feelings of fear or potential for regret. Key thing here: the sweater was gone, but the yarn was not. This wasn’t an act of total destruction; only partial. That lovely 4ply yarn was freed to be raised from its knit-up, sweater-shaped grave and given a new and better life. Yarncromancy, y’all.
All in all, I advocate being honest with ourselves when it comes to our finished objects and the happiness they bring us. If life is too short for [insert thing here], why is it any different for handknits (or crocheted items) that don’t satisfy us or make us feel anything close to the brilliant beings we are? Having done it once, I’m certainly less afraid of hitting Level 2 Yarncromancy and doing it again to another knitted item that doesn’t bring me joy. Have courage and raise that yarn.
*I am not naming the designer or sweater. They do not need or deserve what essentially boils down to free advertising by me mentioning them here and y’all going to check out their spaces online.
2020 is apparently my year of doubling up when it comes to knitting. I’ve just got my 6th sweater of the year off the needles and it…looks remarkably like some of the others already in my wardrobe. So much for finding repeat knits boring! However, it’s a global pandemic, up is down and it’s 146th March, right?
Cards – and knitting needles – on the table, this sweater didn’t turn out entirely as planned. I made an AquaMarline last year, and it’s one of my favourite sweaters – cropped, cosy, massive dramatic sleeves. I’m going through a phase of enjoying slightly longer knits (what can I say, it means I don’t need to worry about having clean black vests and doing laundry so much) so decided that this AquaMarline would be a tad longer. Just an inch or two.
And then it somehow became a dress.
It’s not what I envisioned but I am actually in love with this sweater. It’s got 10 beautiful skeins of yarn from some amazingly talented designers, and it gives me serious Jem & the Holograms vibes. Are the sleeves impractically big? Yes. Do I love waving my arms around to make the fabric swing back and forth? Also yes. Is it way too warm to wear this behemoth of a jumper?Most certainly.
As Ravelry has gone to hell in a bad LiveJournal aesthetic with a side order of rendering itself inacessible, I thought I’d include some details for the curious.
I made the 5th size. I tend to knit things that are listed as 46inches at the bust and upwards because I like a little positive ease in my garments. I did not measure anything because I am a chaos merchant. I couldn’t tell you how long the body was before I joined the sleeves, or how long the sleeves were – I simply knit until I ran out of yarn. I probably used the correct sized needles… I just grabbed what looked like the right size from my needle case. I know, I’m the worst.
The yarns. Are you ready for this? I used:
1 x GamerCrafting BFL 4ply in Fuck Cancer Operation Social Justice Warrior colourway. The yardage wasn’t listed but I’d estimate it to be about 400yards. (@gamercrafting)
1 x Down Sheepy Lane BFL/Nylon 4ply sock set in Paint Splattered. (@downsheepylane)
1 x HeyJayYarn Sparkle Sock in Queer & Cosy Operation Social Justice Warrior colourway, (@heyjayyarn)
2 x Countess Ablaze Lady Persephone Sock (BFL/Nylon) in Ministry of Truth Twisting and I’m Good, Thanks. (@countessablaze)
2 x Twisted Squirrel Merino/Nylon sock in De Rolo. (@twisted.squirrel.yarn)
2 x Chromatic Yarns Sturdy Sock (BFL/Nylon) in Necromancy and Hamster Unicorns. (@thecornerofcraft)
Plus assorted remnants of skeins used in other projects including more Chromatic Yarns Sturdy Sock, Skein Queen Blush and FibrePunk Lustre.
If you’re looking to stashbust or use up leftover half skeins from other projects, AquaMarline is a magnificent stash buster. It’s cleared a lot of single skeins from my stash that I was struggling to find projects for that would show them off. The beauty of AquaMarline is that the marled effect of holding so many strands of yarn together gives each yarn a chance to shine, as colours pop against each other or tone together. It’s great for gradients, or “fades” if you’re an Andrea Mowry fangirl.
If it’s not clear by now, this pattern is simple and well-written, and extremely easy to adapt. If you’re looking for a first garment, this is a good option. I’ve knit it twice, and I may knit another.
Alright, the knitting and cyberspace/cyborgs thing. I’d like to say that I know where I’m going with this but, ach, let’s just see. Let’s muse and shout into the void like it’s LiveJournal circa 2004.
First off, one thing to make clear here is that anything involving cyborgs and cyberspace and lit theory connected to those things is my jam. I could roll around on piles of books about them the same way Scrooge McDuck rolls around in gold coins. The main cyborg piece I played with in my thesis was Donna Haraway’s oft-used in undergrad lit theory courses essay, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ (1985) which Warwick Uni really helpfully have a nice PDF of for you to enjoy. The super simplified, pumpkin spice latte basic version of this that you need to know is: Haraway uses the image of the cyborg in order to propose how feminists might reject and evade patriarchal societal boundaries and limitations of gender through adoption of technological advances; it’s also a means for feminism to include marginalised voices excluded from major narratives. Obviously this was written in the 80s (and therefore a totally different wave of feminism to the one we’re now in), so it’s worth keeping this in mind when reading Haraway’s words. I.e. it ain’t perfect. However, one thing I do like about the piece is the idea that a cyborg is a “chimera”, it’s this amazing hybrid of human and technology. I mean, c’mon, it’s pretty cool. In my research, I take this and I twist it and play with it and apply it to superheroines and fangirls; most notably Barbara Gordon. Welcome to my favourite theoretical sandbox. Chimeras, technology, humans, gender.
So. When I play with this wee piece of theory, I take the very basic view that a cyborg is someone who enhances themselves and their means of interacting with the world through technology. Yeah, you could view a cyborg as someone with computers and wiring and metal bolted to their body a la Victor Stone/Cyborg in DC’s Teen Titans and Justice League. Or, you could take the view I do in that we are all quite literally cyborgs now. I’m talking to you via my laptop and a blog right now. You could be reading it on a computer screen, or your phone screen. You could be using an e-reader. There’s more though; I navigate parts of the world via GoogleMaps; you probably do too unless you’re off camping or just like maps. I visit online stores instead of physical ones. I hang out with friends in the cyber landscapes built within World of Warcraft, or even Zoom rooms. As far as I’m concerned, you and me? We’re cyborgs. We don’t simply experience the world with technology anymore, we experience it through technology. And that’s one helluva filter.
As for cyberspace… This is where things get all the more fun. You could view space as quite literally the room you’re in. It’s physical, it’s tangible. Cyberspace? It’s big, nebulous, sprawling. But there’s some more theory that I enjoy and I’m going to just ram it right in here like a mediocre cishet white man who never bothered to learn about foreplay. Doreen Massey has produced some amazing work (Space, Place and Gender in 1994 in fact!) in which she looks at space and place through social relations and interactions (and surprise, surprise, gender factors in here too). A room, a building, a park – whatever – aren’t static or frozen in time; countless interactions occur here and they are experienced differently. Again, in the PSL basic short of it, a space is interactions, it’s community, it’s the people. Now think about what that means for cyberspace. If we’re chatting fans, think about AO3 where you can find all that juicy fanfic. Think about Twitch and Critical Role….
Alright Cia, but I came for the knitting and you’re boring me right now.
Okay, so, knitting doesn’t seem like a cyborg-y thing at a glance, but how many of us used to devote large chunks of time to Ravelry and its forums? How many of us bought our patterns there? Formed friendships? How many of us now use Instagram instead of Ravelry, or used it as well as? We knitters are cyborgs. I mean … using knitting needles in order to interact with and enhance our yarn and patterns, and create something that essentially enables our further interactions with the world? As an aside, tell me a jumper or pair of socks doesn’t enable your greater interaction with the world and I’m just going to point you to a weather app and note that public nudity is pretty frowned upon in most places. Pretty sure you need to wear something even when answering the door to that Amazon delivery you ordered using the app on your phone. Just saying. So anyway, as far as I’m concerned, those pointy sticks are a cyborg enhancement right there. Ditto the tablet you’re reading your pattern from. You’re a chimera of flesh and blood and yarn and wireless networks.
So. We’re cyborgs and we make our home in yarny cyberspace. In an ideal world and taking a wee pinch of Haraway’s theory, Ravelry – AKA a yarny city writ large on the internet – we could have the potential for some kind of cyborg utopia of knits and purls and treble crochets that doesn’t share the same regressive, restrictive values of patriarchal society. Except…we don’t. I’m not even sure we could say we did have that before Ravelry’s current decision to jettison accessibility and cut thousands of knitters and crocheters off from their cyber homes. Not when marginalised members of the community haven’t been made to feel welcome or safe within knitting and crochet-associated physical or cyberspaces. At the moment, we seem to have a significant volume of cyborg yarnies completely adrift in cyberspace with no home or community. Think about where this may eventually lead.
One question that I return to a lot is that of what actually happens when we become cyborgs, and how this changes how we relate to one another; how we form those communities. Those spaces.
When it comes to fandom studies, it’s been posited that cyberspace forms a refuge for fans typically excluded from the physical space and major discussions. In most of the fandom literature I’ve come across, it’s covered by gender; fanboys get the comic book stores, fangirls get cyberspace. Obviously this lacks a fair amount of nuance, but you get the idea. Cyberspace provides(ed) fangirls a space in which they could evade the hostility and aggression of fanboys; a refuge of sorts. I’m sure we can make some extrapolations here, but the potential for curating our identities or creating entirely new ones online, as well as finding friendships on LiveJournal or AO3 are hardly new concepts. Rhiannon Bury has written some great material on fandom and cyberspace and I recommend checking it out, if you can. While you’re hitting up Google, Suzanne Scott, Benjamin Woo and Henry Jenkins are some other names you may want to add to your search bar. Their work is brilliant.
But how does this connect to knitting? For me, it raises a lot of questions. In contrast to fangirls, knitters are not necessarily “forced” into cyberspace or hanging out on Instagram to avoid hostility from the dominant figures of a culture or subculture. It could be that academics – myself included – view cyber fandom through rose-tinted glasses. However, it cannot be a coincidence that knitting cyberspace – Ravelry for the most part – has come to be structured somewhat similarly to an online element of a geeky fandom. Ravelry became increasingly integral to day-to-day knitting life – enabling more knitters’ cyborg awakenings – against the backdrop of G*mer and then C*mics- gate. The rise of toxic fandom, and fanboys’ seeking to “regain” dominance over fandoms they felt belonged to them and were being tainted by women and marginalised fans. G*mergate, and its associated protesting that “it’s about ethics in gaming journalism” wrote the handbook on targeted online harassment. It’s simultaneously surprising and predictable that knitters – despite being a community built of the very people fanboys seek to silence and push out – have begun to replicate toxic (gendered) fannish behaviour. Despite the potential of Haraway’s cyborg, knitters appear to have dropped a few stitches along the way.
In the two geeky gates I’ve mentioned, a large element of toxic fandom in cyberspace revolves around forgetfulness; forgetting that the people at the other end of that wireless connection are humans, and not unfeeling machines. In science fiction, we see anxiety about humanity and our reliance upon technology played out time and again. In living in cyberspace for so long, and taught by the fanboys of the gaming and comics worlds, are cyborg knitters losing their humanity? Their capacity for empathy, certainly. How often do we see comments on an Instagram post designed to gatekeep? How many times do designers or dyers need to Tweet reminders that they are humans who do not deserve to wake up to an inbox full of rude emails, nor are they printer repair experts? The fact that Instagram has aided in turning business owners into celebrities – deepening the feeling that knitting is a fandom and not a community – perhaps has not aided this. Rather than creating cybernetic friendships, it has elevated these talented people to new heights whilst also rendering them increasingly accessible to the cyborg ‘grammers, in the same way that Twitter made female programmers and comics writers easily reached by fans and ill-wishers alike in 2015. The filter we’ve chosen to lay over the lines between human and computer, celebrity, friend and fan is pretty blurry, and doesn’t necessarily improve the picture.
As I write, we’re several weeks into a Ravelry update which has rendered the site inaccessible, casting thousands of knitters adrift and leaving them homeless in cyberspace. Smarter, more eloquent people than I have written and Tweeted and ‘grammed about knitting becoming a victim of Instagram lifestyle and influencer culture. And then…there’s the rise of would-be Ravelry replacements offering knitters new real estate in cyberspace, only to reveal they’re also okay sharing that space with Nazis. Google C*micsgate (be careful!) and this is sadly unsurprising. We’ve had alt-right knitty YouTubers and Instagrammers for a while, and if we’re following in the cybernetic footsteps of geek fandoms, what else could we yarny cyborgs expect? Are we at “Knitgate” now?
Haraway hoped that embracing our cyborg identities could lead to something better. I can only really speak of what I alone have gained from blending yarn and technology. So I still hope. But perhaps we really need a reboot.
When we knit, write fanfic or produce fan art, we are ultimately playing with other creators’ ideas. When we work with yarn and follow patterns, we are blending creators’ ideas and the values they put into their creations with our own. You may be a knitter reading this and be thinking, “what the hell, Cia? I don’t do that fanfic stuff.” Well, you may not write actual fics where Cap and Bucky are living together in an AU, but that sweater you just finished? It’s fanfic. In fact, you can probably read Ravelry and the indie knitting world as a fandom itself. This is perhaps two more blog posts, but humour me. I say after spending 2 posts doing a basic bitch, pumpkin spice latte comparison with another fandom.
The cake is a lie, your pattern is a comic
First off, knitters are fans, and the designers and dyers are our comic book writers and illustrators. Ravelry might once have even been our AO3, our fanfiction.net, LiveJournal and tumblr rolled into one massive sprawling hunk of cyberspace. Right now it’s an absolute mess, but in honesty, fan spaces have a history of ripping themselves to shreds so at this point… Insert a shrug emoji here, I guess. I’ll return to this at some point though.
For now, let’s have a wee look at knitting patterns, shall we? Those are to knitters what comics are to comics readers. In the comics world, comic book writers (and artists, colourists, letterers, editors… I’m simplifying here, I know it takes more than one creative) devise the story depicted across panels, and pages, and issues, and entire series.In the comics world, the writer (and artists, letters, editors, everyone who usually gets forgotten) create the comic. This is where my link gets tenuous as I’m technically linking a mainstream culture with an indie one, but bear with me. In the ~predominantly cyber~ world of knitting, Ravelry and indie pattern designers make up the main culture. It’s a weird cyber mainstream thing. Now, those designers (sometimes involving tech editors, sample knitters, testers, photographers – more often not for reasons they themselves have more eloquently explained every few months on their own blogs when select people complain about paying £4 for a sweater pattern) create a knitted text – a pattern. Comics are image/text forms – to put it simply, a combination of images and text. So too is a pattern. Comics readers read and interpret the layout of the comic’s panels, the images (symbols!), and the text contained in speech bubbles, internal monologues, sounds etc. Knitters read and interpret the same way a comics fan does their own primary text as they follow written instructions, read charts (symbols, my friends!).
If knitting designers are our writers and artists, and the patterns are their texts, I suggest that yarns are our characters. The designer takes those yarns on a journey and each change in technique and new row is a different plot point in that garment or accessory’s overarching story. Sometimes it’s a single yarn, others it’s different fibres and colourways and weights. Just as in comics, it can sometimes be a single hero fighting crime alone, a team, or even a crossover involving characters from different titles or even publishing houses (think using several indie dyers as akin to DC and Marvel allowing a Justice League/Avengers crossover). Though I am referring to the objects created by writers, designers, artists, dyers here, representation and diversity isn’t something isolated to the panels and characters of a comic. Those that designers and dyers choose to collaborate with, the people who dominate(d) Ravelry’s Hot Right Now lists and are regularly seen in knitty magazines, whose posts are prioritised by the Instagram algorithm…
“But where does the fan fic thing come in, Cia?”
I’m getting there, I swear! I’m going to take a gamble here and say that those of you reading this probably didn’t write any of Stephanie Brown’s storylines in the original or post New 52 canon in DC comics. I’m also going to say that unless TinCanKnits or Andrea Mowry are reading this, you also didn’t design the Love Note sweater or the Find Your Fade Shawl. You may have knit them though. Chances are, those patterns led you into knitting some of their other patterns. Perhaps the Lush cardigan, or the So Faded sweater. And then more. You might have bought their books. And from that, upon seeing that they have a design in a magazine like Pom Pom or Laine, perhaps you then thought, “Hey! I like this designer’s stuff before, it’s in this magazine. I’ll probably like the other stuff in here!” Or, “I’ve supported this designer’s work before, I will continue to support them by buying this publication. It might be pretty good if they’re choosing to work with it”. Alternatively, “I like this dyer’s superwash sock base, and I love their repeatable colourways. I think I’ll give their DK weight a shot”
Comics fans kinda operate along a similar thought process. Some follow writers or artists specifically and will find their purchases and tastes go a little all over the place – I got into Critical Role partly because Babs Tarr, my favourite artist, started working with them and I got curious. Some will follow characters and titles – I love Nightwing, I’ve been known to try new creative teams’ runs to see if I like their portrayal of him. It can get a bit nebulous though, as superheroes and comics aren’t just confined to comics. There’s then cartoons, movies, live action television shows and assorted merchandise which also gets thrown into the mix. So let’s keep it simple for now.
“But the fanfic thing!”
Okay. Now, the key thing to note here is that fanfic – or fan fiction, fanfiction, fic, whatever you personally wish to call it – is the result of a transformative act. It is taking the ideas of the original creator – usually a writer, but I will get onto fan art in a moment – and creating a new story, adding in your own ideas in the process. I could talk about fan fic (and superhero comics) for hours, but the important and interesting stuff to note here is:
What is in the comic is canon, it is seen as “official”; fanfic extends beyond canon, it allows writers to create a new canon, one which explores elements they want to see more of, that might be missing from the comic. Mind my first post where I said superhero comics are written for the fanboys and those fanboys are a very narrow (and bloody awful) group with very limited (and dull) tastes? Fanfic takes what the fanboys are given and completely reshapes it. BIPOC, LGTBQ+, disabled, working class, older, fat – so many! – fans are excluded from the main canon and fanfic has the potential to put these fans into the narrative. Representation matters. And for the most part, it is these underrepresented fans who create these transformative works. Lots of fans write fanfic. For many reasons. But beyond representation, it also provides younger fans with a place and means with which to explore and process the world around them. I’ve recommended it before, but The Secret Loves of Geek Girls has some amazing personal stories from artists and writers and members of the comics community, sharing how fanfic shaped their lives and identities. You should also absolutely check out Anne Jamison’s Fic: Why FanFiction is Taking Over the World. It’s an awesome, fun read about fanfic and has everything from comprehensive explanations and analyses of both fanfic generally and some specific titles (Harry Potter, Twilight…), to all the juicy gossip from the days of fanfiction.net and 50 Shades of Grey.
Part of the beauty of fanfic (and indeed fan art, which is also a transformative work) is that it deviates from the original text, from wider canon. It’s not part of the official sanctioned canon which fanboys love to use to gatekeep, but it’s part of someone’s personal canon. Sometimes more if it is shared with other fans. Knitted finished objects, as far as I am concerned, fall under this too.
When it comes to knitters following a pattern, they can follow that pattern exactly. By which I mean, they can use the exact same yarns as the designer and (somehow) achieve the same gauge on the same needles, and create a finished knitted object completely void of mistakes or accidental stripes from different dye lots of yarn. Sure. It can happen. But it’s more common – as recent discussions on Instagram have brought up again – for knitters to deviate, to transform that work as they knit. And this, my friends, is where their garments, their socks, their shawls and baby blankets all become fanfic; knitted love letters to the original text and protagonist(s).
So, the pattern is our comic and the yarns are our characters. It’s rare for a knitter to use the exact same yarn down to the colourway (and even dye lot) as the designer. So here comes our first fan art-ish act. The knitter will opt for different yarn, depending on their budget and what is available to them. Imagine the indie designer behind the original text – the original garment or accessory – knit that canonical piece in a mainstream yarn brand such as Drops or Sirdar – these are our Batman and Superman. The knitter may opt to use an indie dyed yarn, or yarns. Choosing that indie dyed yarn allows them to transform a character. Bruce Wayne could be replaced with Kate Kane. But who wants a story about Batwoman and Superman? Sure, seeing them duke it out could be cool. But the knitter may opt to add another yarn made by a different dyer. Choosing that indie dyed yarn allows them to transform a character, or add another into the mix. So in our fanfic, what if Superman was then replaced with Cyborg or Cassandra Cain? By using one or more indie dyed yarns from different indie dyers, our knitter can change the narrative, who is being represented in their finished object. Their fanfic.
There are other ways to transform a pattern according to fannish practices. I might be verging into Death of the Author territory here, but let’s face it: the fanboys, the gang who gatekeep your fave superhero fandoms do believe very strongly in ideas of what is canon, what is official and what was standalone, and which writer did what story arc and how that run is the true run and other writers are just fake news. Knitters…sometimes fall into the Death of the Designer Land, and they have to knit a carbon copy of the pattern sample. They might also think this designer is the only designer. Now, as I said, they can potentially follow that pattern exactly. But human error, happy accidents and deliberate changes can occur. Sometimes, a knitter can knit several rows when they should have purled, or they deliberately choose to extend ¾ length sleeves into full sleeves. By making these changes – however consciously – a new story based around the original ideas and characters is created. Harley joins the Birds of Prey, or Black Canary’s career as a rock star is extended by a few more issues within a run. Dropped stitches, or that accidental extra row of eyelets? They could be the plot holes that the fanfic writer forgot to resolve when they came to the end of their fic. Or that they left there so that they can pick them up in their next fic. Just as those fic writers can pick up on holes they left in their own works, or that the writer of that comic left, knitters can learn from each project. In their next piece of colourwork, they might knit the item inside out to make sure their floats are longer and more even in comparison to that glove from last month. Sometimes fic writers like to produce crossover works. I’ve touched on combining different yarns, but sometimes two entire publishing houses or even characters from a book and a film get thrown together. Think of this as crossing over two text – two patterns – by different writers from entirely different backgrounds. Knitters do too, sometimes combining two or more patterns to transform a sweater into a cardigan, or add the lace panels seen on a cowl into some sleeves or a sock. In fanfic and fandoms, the possibilities are endless; the same can be said of knitting.
50 Shades of Brioche
Whilst I’m playing with the whole writer/designer as god/dead [delete as appropriate], another thing we may want to factor in is that these wonderfully talented people do not necessarily start out as these godlike figures, benevolently sending forth their spandex-clad or knitted word to the masses. No, they also have their own fannish roots, and sometimes their best works came from their fanfics or other fannish interactions. Babs Tarr was pretty darn famous for her Sailor Moon fan art before her Batgirl days and has some Tumblr roots to boot. Noelle Stevenson has written She-Ra fanfic (that show Noelle produced? Yeah that). Remember how 50 Shades of Grey started out as fanfic of Twilight? Cool. Look at brioche knitting and how that exploded in popularity a few years ago. There are countless designers who openly cite Stephen West’s brioche and other patterns as inspiration. Well who has Stephen mentioned in relation to his brioche skills? Nancy Marchant. Tell me these designs are not kind of fanfics which have been elevated. But…without the really bad sex and questionable, well, everything (stressing that this is an example of direction and trajectory; these designers are infinitely more talented than Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James, before any of us get carried away).
This post has gotten pretty hefty – and there’s plenty more to delve into. Obviously I’m returning to this – I can’ t not, and I have so much to say about cyberspace, fandom and knitting alone. But for now, the crux of it is that we knitters are fans. And all of those FOs, all of those stitches, are handknit fanfics.
In terms of physical spaces, there are some similarities between the comic book store and the local yarn store. Both spaces cater to existing and new customers; readers who have read comics since childhood and knitters who were taught at primary school, as well as those picking up their first comic or pair of needles. Both often stock items from commercial giants, whether it’s Marvel and DC, or Sirdar and Drops, alongside the works of indie creators. Just as comic book stores sell merch – T-shirts, collectibles – and host signings and talks, the local knitting store will sell needles, yarn bowls, and project bags, and occasionally see the trunk shows of dyers and designers. Both spaces can be havens for those who choose to enter and there are people who prioritise making these spaces safe and welcoming, as well as accessible. Sadly, this is not always the case, and the walls of a comic book or yarn store can house some people who are… super not great too.
Both places have hierarchies which are based around the stuff I’ve described in the previous post, and indeed the literal physical stuff above, as well as plenty of sub-groups. Like finds like, and then usually excludes someone else. DC fanboys flock together. Then you get down to fanboys of specific characters or titles. – Red Hood fans will find each other, for example. Sometimes someone who doesn’t fall under the key criteria of the fanboy label gets to stay. This is where sometimes, being the baggage of a fanboy – usually their girlfriend – allows someone to slide under the radar. However, they’ll forever be “X’s girlfriend” – as if they’d ever get their own name or identity. Alternatively, if you’re someone who rocks up and don’t fall under the narrow criteria of fanboy-ness, if you happen to have extensive knowledge of your chosen fandom, you might just be able to fight your way in and stay there. But your being welcome is often based on your being able to keep up with the knowledge whilst doing all that you can to either minimise or apologise for your not being an actual fanboy.
More likely , though, all non-fanboys are excluded from the very visual “mainstream” or status quo, and wind up finding a group elsewhere, sometimes as an extended part of the physical space (a reading group, their own friendship group, etc), a lot of the time cyberspace tends to be the chosen hangout space. In short, they end up semi-hidden from the stuff that is immediately obvious to the hacks who are adamant they discovered comics in 2019 or that knitters still knit in 2020. The concept of “fangirls” (a term I find problematic as, oh hey, it still excludes a massive bunch of people!) residing in cyberspace so that they can circumvent fanboy hostility isn’t exactly a new idea, and writers such as Henry Jenkins and Rhiannon Bury have some great things to say on the subject. I’ve presented 2 papers reading Batgirl and her readers as cyborgs. They’re not exactly readily available but I can chat about this for hours. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, shops! I’ll bang on about cyberspace and throw you some cyborg chat because that shit is my jam in another post.
I’ve digressed again. Back on topic we go! The yarn store may not be “as bad” as a comic book store depending on one’s perspective, but there are times when knitters – either store staff or fellow customers/store knitting group members – can, as I said above, be total bigots, and they can mimic ye olde Aquaman fanboy interrogating a fellow reader in order to ascertain whether they are indeed a true fan. Sometimes knitters who have experience will patronise newer knitters before they will help out fixing a mistake or interpreting a pattern. There’s the knitters who sneer at acrylic, and those who repeat the “jokes” about other customers’ husbands “allowing” them to spend their money on “so much” yarn or patterns, or go to festivals. Because in this day and age, and in any space, women still apparently need the permission of men to spend money on their own interests, or enter a space. Equally, both also have people who feel the need to violate physical space, be it groping someone’s backside, or touching the sleeve sweater someone is wearing. Because who doesn’t love a stranger touching them without permission, in any context? And that’s just some of it.
Another thing to recognise when it comes to both the yarn store and the comic book store is that they are ultimately places of business, and with that comes money. Whether you read comics or knit – or both – your hobby is going to cost you. Obviously money being involved anywhere makes things all the more complex and stressful. The TL;DR version of this is that creators in both industries have bills to pay, regardless of their status as mainstream or indie. And for fans and knitters to be active – and this is the key word here- participants in their chosen interests, money needs to be exchanged.
I’ve yet to encounter someone in either the superhero world or the yarny one who has managed to get by without spending money at some point. Sure, you can borrow a comic or a pattern book or some needles, and yeah okay, gifting and winning prizes can happen. But even then, there has still been a transaction involved in order for someone to initially obtain those items in the first place, or a business has swallowed the cost themselves.
Sure, you can learn a fair whack from Wikipedia, but how do you think those gatekeeping readers of Iron Man know so much about Tony Stark and each different suit design he’s had? Or which specific issues of Wonder Woman were written by Greg Rucka? How do they know which writers and artists have produced iconic works in the past, or are up and coming stars with a run to watch out for? There’s only so much readily available online, and whilst lots of blogs and sites may get previews of an issue or two to share, trust me when I say that you won’t get the entire comic for free. I say this as someone who grabbed as many images of comics for her thesis from the internet to avoid doing battle with my scanner. You can only get what’s there. Sure piracy is a thing, but that’s a dick move.
It’s a bit similar on the knitting front. Knitters aren’t exactly instantly able to knit intricate lace patterns or form solid opinions on how a yarn handles or drapes without much firsthand experience. Sure, you can find all the technique videos on YouTube, but ultimately, patterns and yarn need to be sourced from somewhere. Much as I love that The Sims now has a knitting expansion, it isn’t really a substitute in this instance. Plus you still have to buy it…
For some, owning one of very few limited edition printed copies of a comic gives a reader a lot of value within the circle of fans they’re hanging out in. I remember when I started knitting, being able to knit with a skein of Wollmeise or Madeline Tosh (for those of us here in the UK at any rate!) would cause fellow knitters to ooh and ahh as they admired those rare and difficult to acquire yarns. Though these yarns do not necessarily hold the same levels of exclusivity or struggle to purchase as they once did, there are still yarn dyers whose yarn or makers whose project bags are coveted by knitters. There are designers who have huge waiting lists of people eager to test their designs, as well as knitters who eagerly stalk their social media waiting for that next, much-teased design to drop. As I write, there are multiple conversations occurring across knitty social media regarding financial accessibility (as well as a few other related themes, including the value placed – or more often not – on the hard work and products of designers, dyers, and other makers). Whilst there are creators in both the comics and knitting world who are in high demand, there are others who are still carving out their place – and being undervalued and undercut in the process. There are readers and knitters who cannot afford items in their cultural sphere which are perceived as valuable and a necessary means to gain them “respect” – for want of a better word. These are conversations which need to continue, though perhaps not necessarily on a photo-sharing app which was not designed to hold lengthy and nuanced discussions.
Although I’ve mentioned the stores here, it’s worth remembering that superhero comics and the knitting world have reaches beyond their walls, and there are festivals and conventions galore for both around the world. These are also – or at least should be – connected to ongoing discussions concerning gatekeeping, accessibility and inclusivity. I’m not going to delve into the fun of festivals here. I’m saving that for the next post.
The Stereotypes In The Physical Spaces*
There are some interesting differences when it comes to the (gendered) binaries in both groups, and how they interact in their main associated physical spaces. Where women are trespassing in the superhero world, men who knit do not seem to receive the same treatment when they rock up to a local knit night or wander into a store looking for yarn – both of which are, more often than not, composed of and run by women. As with above, there are likely some exceptions, and again, a reminder that I’m writing this on a super simple level.
Now. The comics side of things When I’ve gone to pay for a comic, I’ve had (usually male) cashiers interrogate my knowledge of what I’m buying; I’ve had to prove that I’m actually a fan of Batgirl and I’m not there as a fake geek girl. Though there may sometimes be the same “are you shopping for your partner?” that women receive upon entering a comic book store, male knitters seem to be more welcome to the point that they’re fetishised. When I worked in a yarn store, neither I nor my colleagues ever felt the need to quiz a male customer about his purchases or knitting plans – “do you really know what a 4ply yarn is though? How many different colours are available in that brand of yarn’s mohair line, not including the exclusive ones made for a yarn store in 2012? Do you know when you should use a tubular cast-on instead of a cable cast- on?”
I’ve also witnessed conversations where knitters have whispered excitedly, “he’s a male knitter, you know!” when a man has shown up at an LYS. I’ve cringed alongside friends as other knitters have introduced them as “Bla, the male knitter”. Obviously not all knitters feel compelled to do this…It’s interesting and I can only guess as to how the poor bloke on the receiving end of it is having been introduced as “a girl gamer” and “a girl president” in geek circles. And this is just me chatting the simple stuff. It’s flipping cringe, right? Imagine how bad the more complex, nuanced stuff is that took me multiple drafts and edits over 5 years for my thesis is. And the stuff I’m not touching on because honestly I lack the depth of understanding, knowledge, experience and confidence to do it the justice it deserves. Nevermind this garbage we’re apparently still engaging in in 2020. I know. 2020 is like all those retellings of The Killing Joke that no Batgirl fan asked for but got anyway.
Anyhow! There’s also the way dyers and designers’ husbands and boyfriends get referred to as “Mr *name of brand here*” on social media and when they assist at festivals. Whilst I’ve seen posts in which this trend has received a lot of eye-rolling, I have to admit that seeing a bloke reduced to being the baggage of his wife instead of the other way round – he is the Yarn Boy to a Yarn Woman, whilst Babs Gordon is the Batgirl to Bruce’s Batman, and Kara is Supergirl to Superman. Sure we have a Superboy, but I don’t see Kate Kane Batwoman with a Batboy (don’t start me on the hierarchy and characters who make up the Batfamily, I wrote my thesis on it.)
Part of my viva feedback was that while I’d noted in my that presenting women as the lesser baggage of the male superheroes is shitty, I hadn’t noted that doing it to men was too (despite the fact it doesn’t bloody happen in fanboy-land), so here’s me eye-rolling a bit as I note that reducing anyone to being the baggage of their partner – or simply the romantic interest, property of, etc -is bad. I mean…it is. But we’ve got to admit that it is a bit of a switch up, even if in this instance, it’s somewhat twee and can get linked back to ideas that women still need men in order to succeed, or just have their existence validated.
Another factor that bears touching on is the behaviours of male knitters who have reached levels of prominence within the knitty world, be it as a designer, dyer, or podcaster. There’s a marked difference to how they are represented and received versus women creators working on superhero comics. Whilst writers such as Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick have worked hard to get to where they are today, they are still outnumbered by male writers in the comic book industry. When I was researching the New 52, Gail Simone was one of very few female creators writing a New 52 title (of which very few were superheroine titles) when the line launched – something which came up at San Diego Comic Con via “Batgirl of San Diego”, and DC didn’t respond to these concerns in the best or most convincing way, as she states in this interview. Writers like Gail are occasionally “trotted out” as it were, as a tokenistic gesture to prove that “but we do have female creators on our teams! Look, here’s one!” Even then, the levels of harassment (veiled as criticism) or the tweets in which their own work is mansplained to them is bonkers. That’s not to say their colleagues don’t or haven’t received the same. But Scott Snyder isn’t exactly used on a regular basis as proof that DC works with male writers.
Male knitters – be they designers, dyers, or podcasters – are definitely outnumbered. And as I said, they are fetishised to a degree. But companies don’t seem to feel the need to cite them as examples of diverse collaborations – i.e. “but we do work with male designers! Here’s our single token one!”. In more recent months, they’ve not seemed to need to prove themselves and their abilities in the same way as other designers who have spent years carving out their careers, some often alongside other day jobs. If anything, these figures seem able to enter the industry and assume a level of authority quite easily, and often whilst pushing some seriously outdated and reductive values. I recently recall a male knitter who released a book about knitting and dieting. I’m not linking it in this instance purely because I think it’s patronising bullshit and he doesn’t deserve the extra PR. But it boiled down to a book in which he was going to profit from women shrinking their bodies and voices, all whilst elevating his own. Obviously there was a significant response to this on social media letting the knitter know that this book and the values within its pages were not wanted, needed, or welcome additions to a fair few communities within the knitting industry. The fact he got a book deal, TV appearances and magazine space whilst so many more experienced and talented women are crowd-funding their design books, yarn lines, stores and studio spaces in an industry coded as feminine speaks volumes.
This neatly brings me on to the people fans and knitters are, wells, fans of. And that seems a suitable place to pause, for now. I’ll continue this in another post, where I’ll also try and talk cyberspace a bit more because y’all know that cyborgs are my jam. Join me in post #3 for some selfie opportunities.
This was going to be a somewhat laidback, chill blog post expanding on some casual tweets I’d made in the past, somewhat cheekily noting some similarities in the behaviours I’d seen in the knitting world and superhero comic book fandom. But there’s more academic in me than I thought, so look at me bringing in some sources. For the most part, this is a chill blog post though.
As I don’t know at this point who reads anything on this blog, or who may come across this post, I’d like to make a few things clear before I begin: this post is me playing with my research into the superhero comics fandom (stressing the comics part – not the movies) and my enjoying knitting in my time far away from panels full of breasts drawn by artists who I can only assume have never seen a woman naked, or know how gravity works. As such, I’ll throw in references to any texts I used when writing my thesis that I think might be of interest or are just plain cool. If you want academic or anecdotal/less formal stuff on knitting… sorry, but you’ll have to Google that. But when you do, be respectful of the spaces you go into, and if anyone has a Ko.Fi account or similar, please pay them for their labour and any educational resources they’ve created that you use. This isn’t going to be some catch-all post that covers every aspect of either group that I’m discussing here. I’d need a monograph for that. With that in mind, I’m going to make some assumptions and generalisations for ease, and I’ll simplify things as best I can. I am writing from a position of privilege, so it’s also important to note that my experiences and perceptions of both the superhero fandom and the knitting world will both align with and differ vastly from those of others. That does not make what I say more valid, nor does it make those of others less so. We cool? Right then.
The Stereotypes & the Binaries
Let’s do that cringey thing where we chat definitions before we bite into the meaty bit. For the sake of argument, I very basically define a fan as someone who really, really bloody likes something to the extent that they engage in fannish practices with the object of their fandom (for a more comprehensive and academically phrased version of what I’m saying, check out Mark Duffett’s Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture (Duffett, 2014)). As someone who has lived in geek culture since being an annoying tween, I’m usually referring to them, but that’s not to completely exclude football fans, Britney fans, or Hamilton fans. This post is therefore going to make comparisons to mainstream superhero comic book fans – think DC and Marvel, not the indie stuff – but I do not doubt that comparisons could easily be drawn from other areas. When I refer to “fannish practices”, what springs to mind for me is activities including (but not limited to) cosplay, writing fan fiction, posting online in forums and blogs, making fan podcasts, producing fan art, attending conventions and festivals, and buying associated merchandise – think comics with variant art, T-shirts, mugs, figurines, etc.
What’s a knitter? At the most basic level, someone who knits. But as I’m about to go into below, we have a lot of ridiculous stereotypes that make even that simple a definition go somewhat out the window. Can I get a “hashtag not all” over here?
Both the superhero comics fandom and the knitting industry operate along some gendered binaries, and produce some frankly ridiculous and offensive stereotypes. To put it mildly. Despite countless journalists cheerfully noting over the years that “girls read comics too!” (give me a break!), the superhero fandom – and indeed most geek fandoms – continue to operate along a binary which I summarise in my thesis as essentially “fanboy or not fanboy” (yes, this is problematic, and I will get to it, bear with me). Many fans, critics and academics have pointed out over the years that the fanboy seems set to inherit the earth – assuming he hasn’t already. Let’s be realistic here; fans in most geek fandoms are presumed to be straight, white, abled men, generally aged 18-34, with the occasional exception. Hell, there’s books on it – Matthew J. Pustz’s Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers (1999)and Gerard Jones’s Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (2004)to name a couple. Women present in fandoms generally get treated to objectification, perceived as the baggage of another male fan (mother? Sister? Girlfriend?) or labelled a “fake geek girl”, aka someone entering the sacred fandom so that she can break the heart of a fanboy and basically destroy the fandom because she’s apparently the bogeyman. Having had that one thrown at me during my presidency of a gaming society, all I can say is: lads, y’all give us too much credit, you’re more than capable of fucking up that thing you love all by yourselves in your nicely gate-kept castles long before we even so much as blink at your comic or TV show or Magic: The Gathering cards. But I’m digressing with a big old axe to grind that a lad chucked there during my GUGS presidency.
This is the important bit! Do you notice someone missing here? LGBTQ+, POC, disabled and older fans barely get a footnote. Look in the panels of a comic, read a mainstream journo article (“did you know that girls read comics and D&D is cool now?!”), check out some books and academic texts, and these fans are barely acknowledged or represented, if at all. As someone who does see herself represented in these books – however wonderfully or poorly that may be – I am still there. Loads of my friends and colleagues and people I’ve still yet to even meet are not there. They’re excluded, they’re written out, drawn over, pretended to not exist. To say that the comic book industry, academia and a heck of a lot of other places need to do better would be a massive understatement. There are a few movements and sections of people who believe otherwise, but y’all can Google that, but do so with caution. It’s not pretty. One is a word ending in -g*te. Knitty folks reading : think along the lines of the groups that got butt-hurt when Ravelry said “nae Trump”, merrily harass designers and dyers online, and at some point came up with some nonsense about green socks on Instagram.
To return to the comics stuff: however much things may or may not be changing, you’re often reduced to whether you’re a fanboy or you’re not. Fanboys good; not fanboys, bad. And that is very much reflected in panels of comics, at conventions, in comic book stores, in critical texts, and the very image that comes to mind when we see or hear the word “fan”. Wee aside here: two books I used during my thesis that I really rate – and happen to touch on this! – are Suzanne Scott’s Fake Geek Girls : Fandom, Gender and the Convergence Culture Industry (Scott, 2019) and Benjamin Woo’s Getting A Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture (Woo, 2018). I recommend checking these out, they’re very well-written.
Now for the knitting stuff. My perception here would be that the knitting industry suffers from some similar assumptions when it comes to what a knitter looks like. If you live in the UK, I’m sure you’re somewhat familiar with the old Shreddies adverts, where “nannas” (white actresses in what were very obviously cheap grey wigs, frumpy clothes) would sit in rocking chairs knitting the cereal pieces. As with superhero fandom, anyone actively engaged within the knitting industry – or a knitting community such as a local knitting group or similar- will be aware that the stereotype doesn’t necessarily match the reality. The past 18 months alone has seen some extremely important discussions about racism in the knitting world, as well as more recently conversations about ableism after Ravelry – the website to be on if you’re a knitter – gave itself a makeover. I won’t be placing links here as I do not want to redirect any readers to Ravelry when the site is – at time of writing – causing seizures, migraines, and is just downright unsafe. Wee reminder to please respect the spaces of knitters you go to and pay them for their labour and resources here!
Knitters aren’t typically presumed to be groups of blokes; an obvious contrast to that of the comic book fan. I’m not entirely sure if there’s a particular group of knitters who are the “true believers” or “of tomorrow”, but as it’s a craft that’s perceived as feminine in a patriarchal, capitalist society that undervalues such things, I doubt it. Men who knit certainly exist, and they make up some of the most successful and prominent indie designers, but they don’t necessarily spring to mind when someone – particularly someone well beyond the reaches of the craft – hears the word “knitter”. Generally, it seems to be old ladies or, according to one drunk bloke in a pub I once encountered, “pregnant lassies” because, and I quote, “well why else would you be knitting if you’re not making something for your baby?” There’s probably plenty to unpack there, but as with the superhero fandom, why would a woman be engaging with something if it wasn’t connected to securing a male partner and later reproducing?
When it comes to knitters and fans – and indeed most other groups – one thing that is really, really obvious is that language kinda needs to evolve. When I started my PhD five years ago and did a slight veer into the whole fangirls thing, there wasn’t much by way of material on anything other than male fans versus female fans. It was an either or game, and the idea of “fangirl” being anything other than a derogatory term (and delightful slice of toxic masculinity because ew, girls apparently) was around but still in the process of being reclaimed. Writing my thesis was a nightmare – did I want to write out “female superheroes” ad nauseam (even if it would bump up my word count)? Much as I wanted to use plain ol’ ”superheroes”, it too usually conjures up images of the lads in their tight spandex, and wasn’t helped by the fact that so many critics and other fans use the terms “superheroes” and “female superheroes”. If you want some cracking further reading on this, I suggest you look out Carolyn Cocca’s Superwomen: Gender, Power and Representation (2016), or for some accounts straight from the mouths (keyboards?) of fans, The Secret Loves of Geek Girls (2016) and/or more recent “sequel”, The Secret Loves of Geeks (2018). Note the uses of women and girls there. The Secret Loves books do contain a wide and diverse range of contributors who share very personal stories and experiences around their fandoms. Geek Girls alone includes playground bullying, drag, shipping, crushing on Dragon Age characters (hard relate), relationships, cosplay, comics, creating sexy fan art… These books aren’t perfect, but in 2016 on the heels of that chat about ethics and gaming and journalism, it was cool to have something that didn’t assume that all geeks were members of The Big Bang Theory Cast. I’d hope that an anthology made in 2020 – or later, it’s a pandemic right now and we don’t need to leave lockdown with a publishing deal and a ripped physique – might be all the more inclusive and intersectional. More nuance. Less exclusion.
The same goes for knitters and the image we conjure up when we hear “knitter”. Whilst the fact that language around knitters may be a relatively interesting contrast to superheroes and female superheroes with knitters and male knitters, we’re still returning to something limited that completely excludes a significant portion of knitters. I include myself in writing this post. Whilst these conversations may be happening online – they have yet to reach the mainstream. Sure, huge swathes of the population can casually reel off details about Harley Quinn previously only a dedicated cartoon viewer or comics fan would know thanks to Hollywood, the same can’t be said for yarn, needles and the people using them to create colourwork sweaters. When knitters talk about “the knitting community” on Instagram, this comes with the assumption that everyone who knits uses Instagram and is aware of the conversations occurring there. Or, in the past, that every knitter made use of Ravelry. The changes in understanding that are occurring in these spaces and groups needs to continue to expand. I think. I’m on one cup of coffee right now, and I’m not an expert in linguistics, but it would be remiss of me not to, at the very least, mention this. In short: language at present is not entirely reflective or inclusive of the communities, groups, cultures, and sub-cultures it is used to describe. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve kept this super basic. PSL-drinking basic, and even that is by no means ideal.
Did you think this was all of it? Oh mate, goodness no! I wrote this entire thing out in one and it was well over 3000 words so lucky you, I’m splitting my yarn and spandex chatter across multiple posts. This was just the tiny tip of a very noisy and somewhat spiky iceberg. If you’re willing to humour me, the next post will expand on what is here, and (hopefully!) cover spaces. After that, I’m thinking I’ll tap into celebrity, and… we’ll see. Along the way, I hope to touch on as much as I can, all whilst trying to keep things light and breezy, bloggable and bite-sized. In the meantime, I’m always up for a good chat here or over on Twitter, and honestly, the more points of view – the better. Mine isn’t and shouldn’t be the only voice.
Of course I was going to find a way to combine my love of comics and yarn. Of course it was going to become a blog post! Put down your needles and join me in the panels?
First off, when knitting enters the panels. I’ve followed Katie Green for a number of years, and I was thrilled when she began writing knitting comics for Pom Pom Quarterly, a knitting magazine I have been a long-time subscriber of. Fast forward to 2019, and Katie published those comics (with a few additions!) as a zine, More Than Yarn, and I picked up a copy at Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Katie’s comics are all personal, touching on how knitting has changed her life; the impact it has had upon her mental health, her body image, and her relationships. There’s even a cute comic about a mitten, as well as one on the potential of yarn. One page was turned into a print a few years ago and now hangs in my flat. Katie’s comics are beautifully written and illustrated; there’s something comforting and familiar to each one. I particularly enjoy how she employs different colouring techniques for each one, which really cements the different tones and atmospheres as she shares her personal experiences. I know these comics pretty well, but I still enjoy returning to them. It’s a gorgeous collection, and I defy any knitter not to fall in love with Katie’s comics, or relate to them! I really appreciated Pom Pom publishing these comics in their magazines too. Like most comics readers, I’m somewhat bored of mainstream media and bookstores occasionally peddling the “oh my goodness, comics are for everyone!” or “comics are for children, graphic novels are for adults darling!” nonsense. It was great to see these included without question in the magazine. Plus, y’know, more stunning images and words to enjoy alongside the patterns I’d eventually go on to knit. In short; more comics about knitting! And if you haven’t already, check out Katie’s work and her amazing autobiographical comic now!
You didn’t think I wouldn’t include some knitting inspired by comics, did you? Of course I am that level of geek!
Let’s go with stuff I’ve made. Please note that links here are to Ravelry pattern pages and unless you have switched to Old Ravelry, they will open in the new Ravelry format. There’s the Wonder Woman shawl by Carissa Browning – a free pattern no less, and I think there may be a crochet version too! Garter stitch, short-rows, and free. What’s not to love? I made mine a few years ago using long-stashed yarn from Old Maiden Aunt merino/silk yarn, and then wore it to a conference where I presented some of my Batgirl research. So many knitters have made this shawl, and I love seeing the different colour palettes they’ve used to interpret it; from sticking to Wonder Woman’s traditional costume colours, to using greys and neons.
Here’s two projects I’ve not thought of in a very long time. I was seeing a guy who was a big fan of The Punisher… At the time I couldn’t find a pattern, so I charted up the logo and made him a hat and some mittens. I don’t have a picture of the completed hat, but I did remember to take a picture of the mittens as I felt rather proud of them back then. I have no idea if he still has them – he tried to give me back a pair of socks I made him…uh no thanks dude, you wore them, also why those but not the other stuff? Men… – but I was pleased with how these turned out as at the time, I wasn’t a big or remotely experienced colourwork knitter. Not bad considering!
This is an unofficial one, but I was gifted some Harley Quinn-inspired yarn from two of my best pals. The colourway was “Harley Deserved Better” and was dyed by the fantastically talented dyer, Gamercrafting. As an aside, I got her Birds of Prey mystery club yarn for my birthday, and like this colourway, it was Harley to a T! Anyhow, once I had my viva date set, I knit these socks to wear to said viva. When half of your thesis is on Harley Quinn, you can’t not, right? Well reader, I wore them to my viva and it was a very relaxed and enjoyable viva. Were these Harley-inspired socks lucky? Maybe. Either way, they’re my favourite socks and I wore them whilst typing up my corrections over the winter.
This is, of course, the tip of the ice berg. There are a plethora of comics-inspired patterns available, some for free. Captain Marvel fans are in for a treat as there are some beautiful colourwork mittens and shawls featuring the Captain Marvel logo out there. It makes me wish I was a bigger Carol Corps fan, to be honest. There are plenty for Wonder Woman fans too. Beyond the shawls, there’s amigurumi to enjoy, and a stunning sweater which is on my list to tackle one day. Harley also makes an appearance, and seems to be popular with crocheters. Need a hat inspired by Harley’s old jester costume or a Harley plushy? Designers have you covered. Batgirl, much to my disappointment, has yet to become a firm source of inspiration for designers, but there’s still time. If you are a designer though, I could totally use a Batgirl shawl or sweater. Just sayin’. You can never have too many nerdy knits. And I want to see more knitting in comics.