Knitting identities: creativity and community amongst women hand knitters in Edinburgh
Lampitt Adey, Katherine Mary
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This thesis explores how women form, perceive and communicate their sense of identity by hand knitting for leisure. Leisure, defined here as time outside of work or caring responsibilities, was selected as the focus of this research because women have some choice over how they spend this time and express themselves. Writing on contemporary knitting has tended to frame knitting within political, artistic or commercial contexts (such as Black, 2005, 2012 and Elliot, 2015). This leaves a gap in our understanding of why women who knit for leisure do so. This is partially addressed by recent empirical research (for example Fields, 2014) that has studied social processes within knitting groups. However, research has devoted less attention to the wider motivations of women who knit alone or in groups. This is important if we consider that identity formation happens in a broader context, and may involve a constant interaction with people (Jenkins, 2004), objects and ideas, as is suggested by the findings of this study. The research employs a qualitative approach based on Charmaz’s (2006) grounded theory by way of a staged design which aims to respond to the data and minimise the influence of preconceived ideas. This aim is particularly important given the historical and contemporary stereotypes associated with knitting, and my own background as a textile historian and maker. Application of social research methods also aims to further develop the role played by empirical research in the area of textile scholarship. Data was collected in three stages; a pilot study, questionnaires with women textile bloggers and the main research stage which consisted of semi-structured interviews with knitters living in Edinburgh. Interviewees were contacted by volunteer and snowball sampling. Content analysis was supported by QSR*NVivo and involved descriptive and theoretical coding in order to identify themes in the data. Analysis suggests knitting provides immediate social interaction and support. This could be associated with Jenkins’ (2004) proposition that identity is formed by ongoing social interaction. However, there is another dimension here as knitting also enables the solitary knitter to access interactions with ideas and other people through objects and the personal memories held within them as well as through online communities. Three key findings are that knitting presents a way to be creative, productive and social. Firstly, respondents describe knitting as a balance between challenge and perceived ability, as might be described as ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 2002 ). Secondly, this meets a need for a leisure activity that produces a tangible manifestation of effort and skill. However, the process of knitting is also seen to be as important, if not more so, than the final product. This insight reinforces the usefulness of empirical study of the experience of making textiles, and reveals additional data than studying only the final object. Thirdly, knitting is presented as a means to access meaningful social interactions and a sense of belonging to a community whether or not the knitter is a member of a knitting group. Such interactions might be online or provide a sense of continuity with previous generations of knitters in their families or women in general. Knitters see this as a way of building social capital and support. Overall, findings suggest that identity formation and communication should be seen as a complex process that does not only involve direct social interactions but interaction with the idea of other knitters, past and present, and the practical experience of making.