Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What to ask?

I do have a knitting content post all planned out. I finished the mitts for Younger Daughter's teacher, and I started a project (wait'll you see this one -- craziness) for my mother's birthday, plus there are all those other things already OTN that I am poking away at. But for today, I have questions for you.

First, some background. I think I've mentioned that I've been contemplating for a while whether I should do something that I've been wanting to, and start a research project that involves this fiber world that I find so endlessly fascinating -- essentially, an ethnography of knitters. It's not just the fun of knitting itself that captures my attention, it's all of the people who knit and who are involved in that world and who write about that world. There's something there, I think, that deserves consideration and even theorization (there's the academic in me coming out) and to have its story told. When I've mentioned this here (and to people at, for example, my LYS) in the past, the response has been pretty enthusiastic, which I appreciate and find incredibly encouraging.

I should also say that the kind of research that I do in general consists of projects that are inherently collaborative, and that create something that (I hope!) is useful to the people I'm working with. I tend to think that's pretty important; there's something to be said for research that's grounded in the real world, and which responds to the needs of real people. I think that some of that is an inherent leaning I have toward what anthropologists call "participant-observation", that is, research which starts with the researcher immersing herself into the lives of the people she's working with, so she can start to understand what they do from their perspective.

Now, with knitting, to some degree I'm already hip-deep in participant-observation. And therein lies the danger. There's a serious temptation to think about what I find important about knitting, to answer the questions that I wish someone would ask me (Jocelyn, what do you find compelling about knitting? Well, Jocelyn, it all started for me...; I may have occasional split-personality moments, but that way lies madness), and to focus the story I tell that way. I often tell my students that while our personal experiences are not unimportant data, neither are they all the data; an N of 1 does not tell the whole story.

As I sat knitting and thinking yesterday, I asked myself how I could go about finding out what other knitters would want someone to ask them, and why they might think it's important to research and write about knitters and the knitting community. And then I thought, hey! I know a few people who knit. (Just to be clear, that would be all y'all.)

So, here it is. In the long run, what I'd like to do is to put together a questionnaire that people could respond to anonymously (I'd run it through another site so that this blog doesn't become Research Central); if anyone then was willing to let me interview them further (either in person or on the phone, depending on distance and circumstances), they could let me know that at the end of the questionnaire. But I need to figure out what questions are worth asking. I have some ideas, of course, but there's an inherent bias in relying solely on me for my input. And here's where I hope you'll come in. If you're willing to help me out, I have two questions for you:

Question the first: What do you really wish someone would ask you about knitters, knitting, and/or the knitting community? Remember, you don't have to answer that question right now; you can wait until your answer is wholly anonymous. What I'm asking here is what question(s) would give you a chance to talk about what you find most important/interesting/compelling about this fiber art we all engage in, and the world of people associated with it.

Question the second: If you happen to think that researching this community matters in some way (and you don't have to, by any means!), what is it in particular that you think matters? That is, why might it be important to document/talk about/explore the community of knitters? In yet other words, what purpose(s) could that documentation serve?

I, of course, have my own answers to these questions, and I'll share them with you after everyone else goes first (heh). You don't have to play along if you don't want to; we will return to our regularly-scheduled knitting content in the next post. But if you do, I'd so love to hear what you have to say. And if you think your readers/real-world friends/neighbors/colleagues might want to participate, too, please send them my way. If you've got questions to share with me that you don't want in the comments, you can always email me at jahlersATcsusmDOTedu. And if you want to create a completely anonymous identity to use in the posting of questions, please also feel free to do that.

And really -- thanks.


marit said...

I'll have to read this a few times to see if I fully understand it- that's the problem with not having English as my first language, I'm not sure if I get it all right! (But I would love for you to come interview me! I'll make us a pot of tea, and we can sit in the garden- or by the fireplace;-))

Anonymous said...

These are complicated questions!
I have all sorts of questions in my head but I am not sure they fit your two questions. I will have to think about this and will let you know :)

Nana Sadie said...

YES. I'll be happy to help. I want to think about your questions first, of course, but yes...and tho' I wish it could be in person, I know it'll be via phone. That's okay, too! (ohhh!! Goody - academic research - do you know how much I miss it?)

And I've just given you a blog award. Details on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Came by your blog through Rabbitch's. My questions:

1. what makes knitting so addictive? (compelling, as you put it)

2. what is your involvement with the "knitting community"? ie knitting you do with others, either in person or on the internet. why do you think the internet community has grown into the global phenomenum that it is?

3. statistical stuff: knitting hours per week; amount of yarn; dedicated room? (because I always have to compare myself to others)

4. Have you ever been able to figure out how it is that you can sometimes warp the space/time continuum? (because we all want to know how to do it regularly)

I would love to talk or email with you if you do a survey.

Lynne said...

I so want to be part of it [the academic in me too?] but I can't think of a thing right now. Let me ponder for a while and I'll get back to you.

And I'd be happy to be interviewed but you may want to do that by email! LOL

BTW, my word verification was "coment"! How could I not?

Lynne said...

Wow! I can't believe this. After posting my 'coment', the word verification was 'cardi'! That's what we Aussies call cardigan/sweaters!!

Willow said...

I would be happy to participate at all levels, Jocelyn. And I think my two dd would too since they're both totally in to anthro stuff.

I think it would be interesting to know background of the knitter, as in age he/she learned to knit and who taught them. That might help answer the question of WHY the new knitting interest and whether this is a fad or a true resurgence of the fiber arts.

I hadn't thought of Daisy's #2. The social aspect of knitting (you can tell by my own comment that I tend to be a solitary knitter).

Betchen would be proud of us!

(Little note: my son just got accepted to UCDavis anthro dept for grad school! Daughters are salivating.)

EGunn said...

Hmmm. The right question is everything, isn't it? I would like to know why people find knitting so satisfying, and why they feel that being "a knitter" is an identity that automatically makes you part of a bigger community (this seems to be relatively recent, and it would be interesting to look at how it sprung up).

I've often thought that it would be interesting to know why older people kept knitting, even when it was unpopular and even mocked. There are so many grandmothers out there that have returned to their needles time and again; what draws them back? How does knitting connect us to others (through space and time, across income and generational gaps, from culture to culture)? And, perhaps for the linguist in you, how does our language limit/influence our ability to describe something that has such fundamental appeal? Is craft, like song, a more basic way to communicate than language? Is that enough? I could keep going...

Anonymous said...

My first thought was about the internet community, it has grown amazingly from lists and boards to Ravelry and blogs, but then I thought about all the knitters who have no idea about the internet, like the Bulgarian women in a recent post by Celtic Memory and the Greek (?) woman Panopticon photographed. What keeps them knitting, do they have a sense of a fibre community or do they have a sense of community and tradition that is not specifically fibre.

I am sure you will get lots of ideas from your readers, but it will be harder to connect with the non-internet people, and the contrast would be a great starting point.

Good luck.

Jane said...

I'm with Willow, it's the how you got started that i find interesting and why

Mary Lou said...

Interesting -- I must ponder this and respond. I'd love to participate.

Katie said...

I think your study is going to be very cool. I'd be thrilled to participate.

Some things that I always wonder about/have ideas about:

Why are some of us so driven to create with our hands? Is this a personality type? A developed trait? Most knitters I know are also driven to other crafty areas, cooking and such. Do some knitters find this to be acquired, or have they always felt this drive?

How dependent is knitting upon the tools at hand? For instance, before I found the huge knitting resources for knitting on the internet, I stopped knitting for years ~ the patters and yarn available to me were so blah that I lost the will to knit. Yet I see others attack any pattern and any yarn with entheusiasm.

Unlike other knitters, I rarely just knit. I must be doing something else at the same time (chatting, watching TV). Even with complicated patterns, I feel guilt if I simply indulge in knitting alone. How many knitters are like this, and how many others knit silently and happily along?

SO many other questions!

Ann said...

My biggest interest is in how people reconcile their identities as knitters with the societal notions of what a knitter is--how they fit or defy stereotypes, their feelings about that fitting or defying, how they react (internally and externally) when a muggle calls them "grandma," etc. Another is if/how being part of a specific knitting community has changed the knitter's work--if communities of different groups of people or different media have had varying effects on difficulty or size of projects attempted, for example. I would be happy to respond to a questionnaire and to speak to you further!


Reading through the comments, I am loathe to comment.

I took a class from Katherine Cobey and she began by asking why we knit. Most answered, "for comfort." To comfort themselves or those they loved, or orphans or refugees.

She, of course, knit for ART.

I like to knit because of the hand/eye/mind thing. We are primates and we work with our hands. When we work with our hands, it makes our brain grow.

(Aside: Too many modern engineers have never held a screwdriver!)

I knit for my hands and brain. It works the one and soothes the other.

Rachael said...

Good questions, both. I would like to know why people knit, I'm sure there are a number of categories that people fall into, comfort, production, stress management, etc. I would also like to know why I feel compelled to it habit, and if it is, how did it get that way - is it some innate need to be productive passed down through generations?

Why do some people have this need, be it through quilting, cooking, cross stitching or any other craft, and other don't?

And one is it that the knitting community has been divided on the idea of gifting? Why do some knitters think less of knitters who only knit for themselves, and other knitters feel sorry for knitters who only knit for others?? Why does it matter?

What I think matters is seeking out the root behind it, going back to one of my questions above. What is about knitting that fulfills us? It crosses cultures, it crosses genders, it crosses all forms of career paths, all ages, it goes back to something that hte yarn harlot said in her last book, there is no demographic, so what is it REALLY about the human soul that is so tied to creating that there are no common characteristics shared by all it's knitters?? Is there an evolutionary thing going on? Is it going back to our roots? Is it that modern life has sucked all creativity out and we feel a need to fill that gap?

ACK. So many questions! ;-)

Of course I'd be willing to participate in whatever way I can be of assistance.

Anonymous said...

I think this sort of research would be wonderful! Questions I would find interesting are:
Why/how did you start knitting?
Do you feel connected to a knitting community? Have you always felt this way?
Why do you choose the projects you do? Techniques, styles, art, practicality, etc.

Anonymous said...

A researched project such as you envision is an excellent idea. I'd be game to participate. Here's a thought for kick-starting the gathering info: Set up a space at Sock Summit 2009 to interview participants. (with the blessings of the leaders) This would give you the opportunity to pick a specific focus area (socks); as SS's debute there should be an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm by all attending. Maybe I'm just saying this cuz we hope to be there as vendors and then we could meet up. :-)

Anonymous said...

I love Dawn NL's question - is there a difference between knitters linked in to the internet community and those who have knit solo or in face-to-face groups. A question for a given knitter would be how has your knitting/your attitude to knitting/your involvement in knitting changed since you connected with the internet knitting community?

I think there is something, too, in the question of how has the increased availability of knitting knowledge changed your knitting/attitude/involvement... Kathy has a recent post at that speaks to the influence of naming on how important we think things are. How does that influence knitting?

And, yes, of course, would love to participate in any way you'd find helpful.

Carol said...

I love that you want to do research about knitters. So far, you've certainly received a ton of great suggestions and I heartily agree with all of them!

I imagine you'd get an enthusiastic response to be interviewed from all the knitters at your LYS, such as moi. Contact us when you're ready!

Northside Knitter said...

Just to echo what others have said, and to try to simplify one of the points - what is the connection of new technology and fiber arts. In particular, are the "newer" knitters more inclined to use electronic technology to learn about knitting, connect with others, and share personal progress.

The idea of research in this area is fascinating and you will surely find many willing participants.

Stell said...

this is a great idea, I guess I'd want to be asked why I knit, and what makes knitting so rewarding to me, and retailers would want to know what I look for in a yarn, designers would want to know what i look for in a pattern, editors what i want in a magazine.

I'm happy to help in any way.
I'd also like to know more myself about the online knitting community and enable-ment ..... you know that blog, ravel-sphere we are very much part of .... what drags us in and captures so much of my will and time.

my word verification was fixicast - which is so close to fixation its not funny

Caroline said...

My master's thesis was on "food in ethnic literature," but the only reason that it wasn't "knitting in literature" was that I thought I'd have to work too hard finding solid, scholarly resources. I love your idea.

One question that I might ask is for people to describe the evolution of their knitting. I knit alone for years, ordering yarn from Iceland and Canada...and then yarn shop started to pop up in the late eighties. It was so exciting.

I'd love to be interviewed. I miss academic research too, but I love having more time to knit!