Cyber Monday Reflections: 15 Ways the Internet Changed Knitting
Imagine a sparsely populated world with no mechanism for long-distance communication. Humans live in small societies separated by long distances or natural barriers. Each community knows it’s not alone—they understand that other people inhabit this world—but they can’t find each other easily. That, my friends, was the world of knitting before the internet, especially before the internet of the early 21st century. On a day like Cyber Monday, as you pull out your credit card and offer prayers of thanksgiving for easy online shopping, don’t forget those intrepid crafters of yore who did their thing with pencils, paper patterns, and Polaroid cameras.
Life Before Cyber Monday
Back in the day, knitters could feel really isolated, wandering around the landscape like hunter-gatherers with sticks and balls of yarn. Lucky folks lived near an LYS, which became a hub for nearby crafters. Not-so-lucky folks counted on serendipity: maybe we’d find a great pattern book lying under a tree or stumble across some yarn running wild in the next valley.
Magazine subscriptions could keep us going, but we didn’t know when the next magazine would arrive in our mailboxes, and there was no way to find out! We also had to walk to school 10 miles each way. Uphill in both directions. In wet, freezing weather. Without enough handmade knitwear to protect us from frostbite. (If you enjoy tales from the past, there’s more knitting + internet history below the list.)
How has the internet affected knitting and knitters? I personally can’t imagine knitting without it and now call it “the interknit.” Sometimes when I compare knitting now to knitting then, all the convenience brings a tear to my eye.
1. Videos and online courses offer knitting lessons in everything from basics to the most advanced techniques. Since knitting involves moving needles in specific ways, it’s helpful to watch teachers perform the actions dynamically. I learned to knit from a magazine and felt lucky that it contained diagrams to go with the words.
2. Patterns, patterns, patterns—knitters can easily find instructions for anything we could ever want to make. We can also acquire instructions in different formats, such as free PDFs, blog posts, pattern clubs, e-books, e-mags, knit-alongs, mystery knit-alongs. We can choose between hard copy and digital patterns (those of us with failing eyesight, limited storage space, and/or a love of devices appreciate the latter).
3. Pattern support is just as important as the patterns themselves. Nowadays when we get stuck on something, we can get virtual help in forums, on Ravelry pattern pages, or straight from the designer.
4. Mods (pattern modifications) make knitting even more fun. It’s inspiring to see how other knitters play with color, tweak a design, or borrow a motif from a pattern and apply it somewhere else.
5. Knitters love to cheerlead for others (and themselves). We can show off our WIPs and FOs all over the internet. Hey, don’t knock a humblebrag if it encourages someone else!
6. It’s easy to organize your knitting life. Cataloging one’s pattern library, yarn stash, projects in progress, planned projects, and so on has gotten much simpler. Otherwise we might end up buying the same pattern twice! (Or was that just me? At least I’m consistent.)
7. Knitters who want to destash can now find willing victims. If you’re eager to buy, sell, or swap yarn and tools, make friends with eBay, Craigslist, or Ravelry.
8. The magic of the internet can even help us connect in person, since it’s easy to find all kinds of crafty people and events. Knitting circles, yarn tastings, and charities that want knitted donations all get a boost from online publicity.
9. Designers and knitters can find each other. Several prominent designers have built successful careers solely on the internet rather than traditional publishing media. Knitters can follow a favorite designer so they can jump on a new pattern as soon as it comes out.
10. Knitters can discover cutting-edge trends in fashion and apply them to projects. Would we have embraced hygge if we hadn’t heard about the Danish decorative trend on the web? And isn’t it cool to see knitwear on a Fashion Week runway then create personalized knockoffs? But there’s no great gain without some small loss.
11. We have access to many free patterns online, but they may not be edited carefully or checked for accuracy. Sometimes it’s worth paying for something to make sure you’ve got a solid pattern.
12. “Free” patterns may actually be pirated, which means the designer doesn’t get royalties.
13. You can’t wear virtual knitting. We can spend so much time looking for patterns, organizing a stash, or showing off projects, there’s no time left to actually knit. Or we can spend all our money buying patterns and tools, leaving ourselves no budget for yarn.
14. It’s too easy to forget about your LYS. Internet shopping can’t replace the personal side of brick-and-mortar stores. I’m fortunate to live in a town with 4 such stores; every time I visit them, I’m reminded that they remain a hub for crafters. Don’t miss out on everything your LYS can offer.
15. Knitting envy has become a thing. All those beautiful photos of gorgeous knitwear can ramp up our knitting insecurities in a big way.
More Tales of Olden Times, B.C.M. (Before Cyber Monday)
By the 1990s, knitters had access to the internet. These were the Web 1.0 days when websites contained useful stuff but didn’t aggressively market it. People mostly shared tips on listservs, message boards, or a few handy destashing websites where people could post equipment for sale. Information traveled slowly, but it did travel. We could survive the earsplitting whine of the modem dialing up, or web pages that took 10 minutes to load, if it meant sharing news and information. The hunter-gatherers could now direct each other to caches of free patterns or plan meet-ups at fiber and yarn events!
When the internet morphed into its present-day form in the early 2000s, everything changed for knitters. We could find each other through social media or Yahoo! Groups. Amy R. Singer decided to take her knitting blog to the big leagues in Fall 2002. She created Knitty, a free online magazine offering patterns and articles on knitting (and later other fiber crafts). In her introductory letter, Amy wrote –
When I started my blog last year, I didn’t realize how a passing mention of knitting would bring other knitters out of their lurk. They wrote me and invited me in. There are a lot of us. We share patterns and knitting secrets. We inspire and encourage each other. It’s all very good.
Five years later, when Jessica MF and her husband Casey launched Ravelry, “very good” got even better. I often describe this site as “Facebook for knitters,” but it’s so much more than that. We can connect with all kinds of people who love fiber in all kinds of ways. Those of us who like to organize our crafting lives can track our stashes, pattern libraries, FOs, WIPs, and plans. (Back in the day, if I wanted to match up yarn with a pattern, I had to page through all my magazines and books looking for compatible pairings. It could take days.) Community members can ask for help on a pattern, share their modifications to projects, and sign up for friendly competitions such as Nerd Wars, Ravellenics, or Tour de Fleece. At this time, Ravelry has 7.4 million registered users; while most live English-speaking parts of the world, there’s somebody on Ravelry from every continent except Antarctica. I keep hoping a penguin will set up a Ravatar just to round things out.
Has the internet changed knitting for you? Explain in the comments.
Wishing you and yours a holiday season filled with yarn, laughter, and love,
Featured Image: Knitting before the internet: solo entertainment on a different level. [Photo by Kondo Photography | Getty Images]