I am sure that you have all noticed that knitting has experienced a resurgence in popularity as of late. My boyfriend has been knitting for 18 months and has made scarves, cushion covers and jumpers of increasing complexity and beauty. It’s genuinely impressive, and having tried knitting for myself not once but twice, I can attest to the fact that it requires manual dexterity, patience and a head for counting. I know that I don’t have the patience to knit, and I certainly wouldn’t find it relaxing. (Well, maybe things will change, but I can’t imagine it from where I’m sitting right now.)
There are Stitch ‘n Bitch events running up and down the country that are not solely populated by women of a certain age. Knitting has become hip and socially acceptable – even in cafés or on public transport. By the counter at Waterstones I spied a book that I will pick up for Toby at some point:
In short, this is definitive proof that knitting has entered the public conscious. But while we can admire the skill in the craft, and while knitting has become trendy as a pastime for hipsters, would we ever call a knitted garment “fashionable”? Is something more or less fashionable when you have made it yourself, rather than paid through the nose for someone to have made it for you? Wool can actually be less cheap than one might expect, but it’s still certainly cheaper than a luxury brand cardigan. What are we paying for when we buy an item of designer clothing? It’s obviously not just the cost of the materials that went into the creation of that piece (unless we’re talking about leather goods or jewellery). There’s an exclusivity inherent in the brand, and a feeling of luxury that we experience when we wear clothes by a respected designer. We’re also paying for the vision of a talented creative director, and we’re buying into acclaimed design credentials.
In contrast, when we make an item of clothing ourselves, unless we happen to be Frida Giannini, we’re going to have a harder time selling it to the wealthy masses, and we’re going to have a harder time getting an article written about it in LOVE or Vogue magazine. We knit, sew and craft things according to patterns that are written down and according to techniques that have been honed and handed down through generations. Craft is an organic thing by nature; when we purchase ready-to-wear from clothing brands, we’re also purchasing the mystery of an item that is beautiful beyond our comprehension of how it got there; we’re purchasing the convenience of something that fits perfectly and draws the eyes of passers-by, and all we had to do was pay the money and slip it on.
I love designer clothes and I wish my wardrobe had more of them. Luxury clothing has glamour that is decidedly lacking from clothes that have been crafted by family and friends. However, there is a different kind of respect that is due to those who have the talent to create their own garments, however they choose to do so. Recently, Toby and I went to an exhibition at the V&A called “The Power Of Making” which displayed the products of various labours of love, both hand-crafted and machine-made to impressive effect.
These were innovative and often avant-garde creations, some of which look similar to what Lady Gaga has worn as an expression of her own outlandish sense of style. And thus we come back around to fashion – this time, the celebrity clout is needed to transform something from a wacky personal experiment to a fashion statement. But that’s another discussion… The fact that the V&A was choosing to exhibit these items and put the focus on creation went somewhat against the usual grain in showing the process that goes into the items that we see around us every day on models and on shop shelves. The question comes down to how interested in that process we are. Is it just the end result that matters? Those who knit, who practise a range of handicrafts, would argue that they have a great time creating their garments and accessories – this seemed to be the case when Toby and I visited a craft fair and event in Brick Lane last autumn. Even I, with my reluctance to knit, enjoyed making a felted robin – it took a while, but as I laughed and joked with the other people at the table, we not only learned a new skill and created dodgy-looking animals, we had fun. This made me appreciate why people enjoy crafts and how it might bring them together, even if it is not my personal choice of pastime.
“Advanced skills may take a long time to learn, but the feeling of being ‘in the zone’ can be experienced by anyone – from a four-year-old to a master artisan. When you are absorbed in making, things happen that you didn’t plan. The experience is intuitive, like sport, and it can be meditative, like music.” (Daniel Charny, Guest Curator of The Power of Making at the V&A)
There is room to combine the two though, or perhaps find a midway point. For anyone that has watched Gok Wan on How To Look Good Naked, often in his battles with High Street vs. Designer, he will customise clothes he has bought on the high street to make them more fashionable. Adding sequins, rhinestones, fabrics, bows and anything else you might imagine puts a unique spin on mass-marketed clothes. These creations are periodically voted more fashionable than the designer pieces – so an element of craft is considered fashionable. But I don’t foresee there being knitting programmes – however much it’s entered the collective social conscious as of late – and knitted fashion shows on television anytime soon. And perhaps there doesn’t need to be, but it’s interesting how knitting and crafts are socially more acceptable for younger people, and yet they still aren’t considered fashionable unless there is a ready-to-wear element to it. We don’t appreciate the process as much as we perhaps should, and at the end of the day it comes down to our definition of what fashion is.