I was knitting at a party, keeping my hands busy and out of the potato chips when Sal, a man I didn’t know well, asked me why I was bothering. If I wanted a sweater, why didn’t I just go to the store and buy one?
Anyone who knits in public is bound to get that question eventually and it doesn’t surprise me that it came from a man. Women will ask me what I’m making, but mostly, they look at me a little warily as if they’re unsure if they should feel inadequate for not having acquired this traditionally feminine skill themselves, or if they should accuse me of setting the cause of equality back by decades.
But knitting has empowered me in ways I had never imagined. For most of my 37 years, I hadn’t realized that I’d been letting strangers limit my fashion options. I’d never tolerated limited choices in any other part of my life. I began my career in technology knowing I could out-geek any of the guys. And that if it didn’t work out, I’d be able to try any of a dozen careers that struck my fancy. But every time I go clothes shopping, the fashion designers and the store buyers treat me as if I’d be happy to choose between being a stenographer, a librarian or a housewife with no other options. Why else would they present me with countless variations of the same three designs, none of which fit my style?
“You need a new top for the office? Well, you can have what’s on these two racks, or nothing. Oh, you look like you’ve been dead for a week when you wear yellow? Well, that’s your problem isn’t it?”
I always walk into a clothing store full of hope, dreaming of the kicky new outfits I’m going to be taking home with me. When it’s time to leave (with one pair of socks), I’m exhausted, disheartened, thirsty and in need of a cookie. I am woman, hear me sigh as I face another weekday morning slipping into something ill-fitting, worn out and reasonably appropriate for the office dress code. The variation for the weekend is that I can lower my standards—I just need to wear something that will cover my body in a weather-appropriate manner.
What kind of feminist was I being anyway? Why was I leaving my self-determination at the entrance to Macy’s? When I learned to knit, I was able to decide to take back my power and I started to make my own darn clothes.
I answered the man at the party with a quip about saving the world from mass production, but really I was saving myself from the limited options the fashion industry thinks I deserve. There are more knitting patterns to choose from than styles of sweaters in any store. And many are so stylish that imitators appear at the mall anyway. With cotton and linen yarns for summer and animal fibers for winter, I can supply myself with tops for any day of the year. My favorite yarn stores give me a dozen or more colors, instead of the five I have to choose from at a department store. The sweater I was working on at that party was a certain shade of light green that looks perfect on me, but hasn’t been spotted in stores since the mid 90s.
With every stitch, I dream of a closet filled with clothes made with my own hands. Everything custom made at a fraction of the cost of hiring someone to make them for me. I fantasize about cardigans with vintage buttons found at thrift shops, pullovers with flattering silhouettes and tank tops that don’t put my bra straps on display.
I can go out and conquer the world without worrying about how I look because I can make things with sticks and string.
The man at the party finally understood after I explained that no one else in the world was making that pattern with that exact yarn in that color. I was making something unique and just for me because I wanted to. I am woman, hear me squeal with glee when I try on my one-of-a-kind-looks-fabulous-on-me cute sweater.