In the Loop

This collection of essays goes well beyond glossy photos and patterns, weaving together a serious assessment of knitting, its role in activism, art and more, says Kaite Welsh

, 8 August 2010

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“Knitting is many things to many people – it can be cosy, sexy decorative, classic, oversized, micro, clinging, enveloping, chunky, see-through, sophisticated or theatrical.”

Sandy Black’s words in her essay, ‘Knitting technology comes full circle’ could serve as a mission statement for this diverse and witty exploration of essays. Edited by Jessica Hemmings, In the Loop: Knitting Now examines the craft’s renewed popularity in the context of activism, modern literature and contemporary art.

Books about knitting and related crafts have proliferated in recent years – Debbie Stoller’s Stitch and Bitch was the first book to analyse and celebrate the trend and countless others have followed, but none have come close to the intelligent discussion of third wave feminism’s favourite hobby displayed here.

Anyone expecting a light-hearted look at knitting – a few patterns, perhaps, mixed with some yarn porn – will be disappointed. There are no knitted bikinis or artfully-shot pictures of phallic needles to be seen.

Instead, we are treated to essays like Lacey Jane Roberts’ ‘Craft, queerness and guerrilla tactics’, interspersed with glossy photographs of Louise Bourgeois’ Red Room and Mark Newport’s knitted superheroes.

“On the one hand, picking up needles and wool are admirable pastimes again; but simultaneously, taking shape is a far more challenging dialogue about the meaning and potential of knitting.” – Jessica Hemmings

The book is divided into four sections, each one dissecting a different facet of the craft’s resurgence. ‘Rethinking knitting’ explores the act of knitting itself – its image, the community surrounding it and the role played by the knitted objects themselves.

The emerging symbiosis between craft and grassroots political activity is revealed in ‘Site and sight: activist knitting’, and ‘Narrative knits’ offers a critical look at knit lit, South African fiction and the art world.

Past and present are woven together on ‘Progress: looking back’, a collection of essays that includes the innovative and fascinating ‘Tracking knitting and translating code’ from artist Rachel Beth Egenhoeffer.

In the Loop is academic without being inaccessible, a book that equally at home on a coffee table or a women’s studies reading list. In a world where women’s hobbies are so frequently devalued, dismissed as trivial or time-wasting, it is refreshing to find a collection of essays and artwork that explores the role knitting plays both in the lives of women and society as a whole.

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