Saturday, June 4, 2011

Novelty and Knitting

I'd been reading this thread here on Ravelry as well as other that have cropped up about handmade work, and it seems the general opinion that as we learn to make machines do more, handcrafts are going to become more and more endangered (in the market that is, I'm sure handcrafts as hobbies will endure as making for just yourself is still fun and easy).

I'd like to offer a different opinion. They have said that space is the final frontier, and in terms of geographical exploration it certainly is the most vast frontier. But truly the next frontier (I don't believe we'll ever reach a "final" frontier) is that of knowledge, creation, and novelty. In an age where everything is becoming more and more digitized and simplified, it's becoming less about what you can do and more about who's going to have the next great idea.

Novelty, as I would casually define it, is something that carries a sense of new wonder and awe. The thing or the experience itself may not be a new thing, but to the individual experiencing it, it captures their whole attention and provokes their mind. Terrance McKenna has some very interesting ideas about novelty as expressed in this interview and his thoughts about the Object.

One of my fundamental beliefs is that we are rapidly approaching a new turn in our evolution, and that turn may or may not be connected to any sort of 2012 end of time event. I rather like McKenna's idea about achieving infinite novelty in 2012 and I think if anything does happen on that specific day, his theory is the most likely. I'm also reserving judgment on our ability to pinpoint a specific date until we see it happen.

But on a simpler level, I think that the drive for novelty will continue to keep the handcrafts trade alive. Why is it that crafts like knitting, crochet, sewing, and even more specialized crafts like lace tatting endure (with natural rises and falls in popularity) even in an age where we can buy inexpensive machine made goods? Because as humans we still have an appreciation for a well made craft that shows true innovation and creativity. We made have stifled that appreciation under all of our consumerist tendencies, but it's still there.

By learning how to make things ourselves, we not only give outlet to creative expression which is then fuel for novelty, but we also free ourselves from repeating habits. As I chose to abandon shampoo because it's a habit I no longer need to clean my hair, buying things already made for us is a habit. We've been trained trade money for things we need rather than use our own ideas and skills and resources to provide for ourselves. After WWII, consumerism experienced a renaissance like boom, partially fueled by the rise in television's popularity (therefore giving advertisers a new and vivid medium to suck in new buyers). Everyone wanted a piece of the pie, and the perfect Levitt Town American Dream.

BUT our inovations are only as smart as we are. We may have taught our machines to do a lot of cool stuff for us, but machines cannot improve if we ourselves do not keep learning, researching, creating, inovating. Even if you're just following a pre-existing pattern in a book, you're still creating something new, something that wasn't there before. Life is a ever-turning kaleidescope, and by taking sticks and string to create a shawl or pair of socks, you have participated in manifesting that new kaleidoscopic mandala of novelty. It might seem silly to think of something so simple as knitting as being so quantum, but chaos theory says quite plainly that even the tiniest element of the microcosm can have a vast effect on the macrocosm. Knitting is merely a fractalized miniaturization (or macrorization) of nature's own intrinsic creation.

And to bring this back around to the decline of handcrafts being viable in today's market, I think we will inevitably see an upswing in the demand for handcrafted items and the knowledge to make them. Knowledge is (I think) destined to become the new currency as people continue to become disillusioned with consumerism; people are starting to realize that buying a house and making it look like a magazine picture does not equal happiness or satisfaction. As knowledge of how to create for oneself spreads, we will begin to value handcrafts again and appreciate things that are real, made by real people, with real energy in them.

(And because I can't help myself, if there is any sort of apocalypse in our lifetimes, people who have these "real" skills to create will be very much in demand)


  1. Like your last full paragraph. Good hypotheses. I have a friend designing my biz logo and she was open to barter :O).

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    Every time someone suggests that knitting/crocheting/etc is something old-fashioned and rarely done, I point them to Ravelry getting to a million users in just a few years.

  3. You always have such thought provoking posts.