Creating conversations: anarchist knitting

A photograph of the author’s knitting supplies. There are multiple sets and colours of yarn. The ones in-focus are blue, purple, pink, and a muted green. In the top left corner is a multi-coloured project with a knitting needle sticking out of it.
Where we’re going we don’t need knitting patterns. Maren Savarese Knopf

What is anarchist knitting, why is it important?

Last year I wrote a list of resolutions for the new year. On that list was “knit a sweater.” At the time I knew nothing about knitting other than the words “knit” and “pearl.”  

Every year I like to write myself a list of resolutions – very original, I know. However, what’s different about my resolutions is that they are never goals meant to measure my success over the year but rather they are creative acts that I’d like to try. 

Since writing my resolution to knit a sweater, I have accomplished this feat. In fact, I’ve knit over 10 sweaters in a style and methodology that I have coined “anarchist knitting.” 

In principle, anarchism refers to a social and political theory that calls for a replacement of government rule and/or existing social systems with a system of self government and social systems of self definition. So, what’s the connection with knitting, you may be asking yourself.  

Well, I stumbled across the answer through my own stubbornness and I have decided I am willing to share. You see, I have never been one for rules. In fact, where I can, I like to reject them in favour of doing my own thing.  

This is kind of the basis for anarchist knitting. Instead of following patterns, guidelines and ‘rules’ about how to use yarn, what type, with what needles, etc., anarchist knitting reimagines the possibilities. 

I’ve never read a pattern. I likely never will. That’s not to say patterns aren’t useful and knitters who make and use patterns are knitting the wrong way. On the contrary, anarchist knitting suggests that there is no right or wrong way to knit. 

When I pick up a size US12 needle and use an ultra thin yarn – that’s anarchist knitting. I have chosen not to use the needle that patterns and guidelines would tell me I should in favour of reimagining how to make a sweater and what constitutes a sweater.  

One of my favourite things to do is shop at thrift stores for random balls of yarn. These are usually the left-over bits from your granny’s project. I collect all those small bits and knit whatever I can stitch together from them. The result is often fabulously wonky and unique sweaters that are one of a kind, straight from my mind. 

Although fashion is marked by trends and mainstream status quo, it also possesses the ability to reject social norms. And therein comes anarchist knitting. Wondrously nonconformist! 

Recently, I joined a local knitting circle. Most of the people there are older than me and of course they are following patterns; they know what each stitch is called and are generally well-seasoned knitters.  

So, when I showed up with my balls of random yarn, my lack of ‘formal knowledge,’ and my anarchist knitting philosophy I did feel a bit out of place. Anyone who’s ever been a part of a knitting group knows the question, “what are you making,” is bound to come up.  

However, I love this question because I love the one that follows when I answer just as much. I usually say something like, “Oh, I’m an anarchist knitter and I’m making a nonconformist sweater.” This answer is unexpected, so the next question is usually “Oh, what does that mean?” and then we get to have this great discussion about social norms regarding knitting and many other things beyond knitting.  

What tends to end up happening once we start having these discussions about social norms within our circle of power is that we then start to have discussions about other issues. Most recently, we discussed harm reduction in our community. 

So, I guess what I am saying here is that the things we do or want to try are open to re-imagination. And by reimagining them we might also begin to re-imagine elsewhere. 


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