My iPod is always on shuffle. It helps me to vary my podcast diet, since I can just put in the headphones and get the day’s random selection. It also means that I am often months behind the times in listening to my favorite shows, since they come up all out of order. Today, I heard a YKnit podcast from June. If you’re into podcast listening, you should give this program a try; it’s one of the better shows out there, and I really enjoy it.

This particular podcast was called Hot for Harlot, an interview with Stephanie Pearl McPhee. This may be the best interview with her that I’ve ever heard, largely because it was so informal. It wasn’t so much an interview as it was time spent hanging out with the Yarn Harlot. I was listening on the bus, and it was all I could do not to laugh out loud. Good episode. Go listen.

One of Stephanie’s comments was about how she is relatively young compared to other knitters, and that some of her more philosophical “discoveries” are things that older knitters have known for a long, long time. This particular thought, mentioned only in passing, has been rattling around in my head all evening.

So often, when something is “rediscovered,” we forget that it has a past. We use its long history to validate our interest, but we don’t stop and really learn that history. This happens in science all the time; someone discovers something “new,” cites an old paper to show how long it’s been important and not understood, and never reads the older literature.

While this does help us to feel like we’re doing exciting and edgy things, it doesn’t necessarily help us to truly appreciate the depth and the nuance of our topic. So much of the knitting craze has been about the newness of knitting, how it’s “not for grannies anymore,” how young women are “taking back” craft, how we’ve “left behind” the gaudy acrylics and the itchy sweaters that Grandma made that no one wanted to wear.*

I know that much of this focus on what knitting used to be and isn’t anymore derives from a desire to uproot stereotypes that might keep people from wanting to knit. I know that becoming a knitter is a process of discovery for each and every person that tries it. This wheel is reinvented every time a new person learns to take two needles and some yarn and turn it into something more.

But I wonder if we’re not missing out on the true, lasting culture of knitting in our haste to define our hobby as different than that of our grandmothers. We’re so caught up in the fad that we miss the fact that many people have been knitting longer than we’ve been alive. It’s always interesting to hear the reasons why a person starts knitting, but wouldn’t it be just as interesting to know why so many have kept knitting, even when doing so classed them as hopeless throwbacks to a repressive culture and shelved them as old women?

Many of the new and enthusiastic knitters that are so prominently displayed in the media (of all kinds, not just the professional media) are newcomers to the field, as I am myself. Our discussion of the “knitting experience” so often lacks the deeper, more resonant tones of experience, abandoning them for the lilting excitement of new discovery. Younger knitters bring a tone of wonder and excitement to an old craft, but we don’t yet have the perspective that years and years of participating in and living with knitting will give us.

I wish that there were more interviews with old knitters, people who have a lifetime’s worth of stories to share, and who probably feel a bit shut out of the rebirth by all of the hype about knitting now being a hobby for the young. They’ve been knitting longer than we’ve been alive, and very likely will continue to knit quietly in the background long after the current knitting fad passes. Some of the new knitters will undoubtedly also continue to knit after the craze dies down, but it will take us years to gain the sense of knitting over a lifetime that others among us have today. We talk about knitting culture, but do we even know what that culture is? Have we ever really asked? Even if knitting isn’t just for grannies anymore, I can guarantee that there are a bunch of grannies out there knitting. I’d really love to hear more of their voices in the discussion of what knitting means today.

*I have to add here that my Grandma has only made me one sweater, when I was about 10. It was a pink short sleeved shell, and I absolutely loved it. If I hadn’t grown out of it, I would wear it today. It was made with a very nice yarn, beautifully knit, and absolutely not itchy. I’m not sure whose Grandmas made ugly, itchy sweaters, but it sure wasn’t mine.