wisdomIn Finland needlework is taught in elementary schools where girls traditionally choose to work with textiles and yarn while boys prefer woodwork. Needlecraft has a long history in the national curriculum. From the 17th to the 19th century knitting socks, mittens and other clothing was an important business for many, especially the poor, for whom it offered a way to earn extra income without a large initial investment.

Unlike what one would imagine, knitting was an everyday chore among women from all walks of life. It was a symbol of a hard-working Finnish housewife, and often women carried their work with them while travelling or visiting neighbours. Maybe it is this outdated definition of a good wife that makes some modern women absolutely hate knitting.

Failure to teach left-handers, or dull patterns and materials, is what many adult women recall of their knitting history. Some still think knitting means old spinsters making wool socks while drooling over Jari Sillanpää on TV.

Luckily, the internet has made luxurious yarns and fashionable patterns accessible while local yarn stores also have a good selection of delicious materials. There are free videos to guide you through techniques whether you are right, left or even three-handed. So if you are feeling even mildly interested in needlecraft, don’t worry. As legendary author Elizabeth Zimmermann put it in her book title, it is possible to Knit without a license.

Knit happens – all over the globe

It is argued that is was Debbie Stoller’s book Stitch ‘N Bitch that started the phenomenon. With its witty titles, sassy easy to pick up – patterns and sensible but easily replaced yarns it got young Americans knitting. From there the whole idea that knitting can be fun and you can knit whatever you like for whomever you want started spreading.

As the 21st century is all about going online, that is exactly what knitters have done. Today there are such a large number of e-zines, blogs, mailing lists, homepages, galleries and tutorials that whatever you’re trying to find, it’s there. If it’s not, then there’s umpteen places where you can ask other people about it. And knitters are usually newbie-friendly.

One very popular site for knitters and crocheters is Ravelry. A knitters’ Facebook, in many aspects it represents what modern needlecraft is all about. It is a meeting place for people with a variety of skills, and the main idea is sharing. People share their experiences, learn from each other and there’s little emphasis on hierarchy.

Dude, where’s my needles?

Currently a crushing majority of knitters are women, but men are present as designers and wearers of knitted garments. As some women have openly expressed a peculiar urge to knit for their significant other who aren’t as open about their willingness to wear knit garments, there are a large variety of discreet patterns fitted to suit men’s selective tastes.

Apparently men have noticed and found needlecraft useful, at least in some situations. A few years ago a trend swept over Finland where teenaged boys got hooked into crocheting and made beanies for skateboarding and snowboarding.

Social aspects of knitting

The information revolution has brought about many new communities and forms of socialising, and it is asked whether the feeling of belonging is real or not in these unconventional groups. True or not, traditional get-togethers are doing well, although in new forms.

Knitters organise through blogs, forums or the like and meet in public places over a cup of coffee to chat and, of course, knit. These KIPs are open to anyone, and the group has no actual hostess.

If one cannot join a KIP, then how about a secret knitting pal? After joining the swap online, you check out your SP’s homepage to learn about their tastes and to post (yes, by snail mail) them some knitting-related goodies. Passing on your precious is a good way for a yarn-a-holic to relieve a yarn-shopping hangover.

Need more blood, sweat and tears? You might want to consider a knitting challenge, which is usually about sheer speed.

All the above are new phenomena and represent an ongoing change: 30 years ago women of a set geographical area assembled in courses to knit regional or national patterns, and foreign magazines and patterns were a rarity. Today knitters are very experimental and eager to pick up a pattern no matter what its nationality. Many knitters abroad have also grown fond of Scandinavian patterns; the very same ones many Finns still underrate.

For those who don’t know, purl is one of two basic stitches used in knitting!