The Dunedin based group Take Back the Knit seeks to reclaim domestic crafts that were rejected by early feminists. In this piece, Stella Lange reflects on the growth and evolution of this once common activity.
Walk through the main library building at Otago University on a Thursday night, between 7pm and 10pm, and you will find a large social group of knitters, Take Back The Knit. The knitters bring the project they are working on, and any FOs – finished objects – to celebrate with the group.
These crafters welcome new members, who discover the group either in person, through friends or online. Members include local indie-dyers, designers and practitioners; many travel to attend national events such as KAN in Napier, Unwind in Dunedin and WoolFeast in Christchurch; and many teach at these events and online. A side group meets monthly as a ‘study-group’ to explore techniques, materials and processes – keenly aware of innovations and interpretations of traditional methods.
The group was formed in 2006 – three knitters met online, then began to meet in person. The Dunedin Take Back The Knit group meet in the Link, a public space at the university. They connect to discuss important topics, designers, yarns, new techniques and tools – and of course bond with each other over not only knitting but life in general. A decade on there is a vibrant community, with an expanding series of events: an annual secret knit swap and midwinter meal, an associated study group, and a weekend retreat away – the Autumn Knit Camp.
The group’s name, Take Back The Knit, is a play on the Take Back the Night feminist slogan and movement. Take Back The Knit members claim the right to knit in public, echoing early photographs that indicate knitting was once a common public activity. With its name, the group seeks to reclaim domestic crafts like knitting that were rejected by early feminists.
Membership is fluid, free and flexible – at any one time between twelve and thirty people meet publicly and weekly. This membership is contemporary in structure and practice, very different to more traditional subscription-based groups. Take Back The Knit has no formal structure; there is no chair, no formal meetings, no subscription or fees. In addition to the weekly physical gathering there is a collective online meeting place, a group set up on Ravelry.com The online group has 176 members, all with a firm connection to the Dunedin knit scene, though many are located elsewhere in New Zealand or around the world. These remote members have all spent time in Dunedin and knit with the group – while living elsewhere, they choose to retain connections to the Thursday-night Dunedin scene.
Because Dunedin is a university city and the group meets on university grounds, many members of the online group are graduates, completing postgraduate study or post-doctoral students, while others are employed at the university – but not all have a university connection, some just like to knit. Several knitters are well travelled, and some return each winter to take part in the midwinter knit swap, while spending summers in Europe or North America. Many members join online at Ravelry.com before meeting other members in person. The introduction page clarifies many first-timer questions, such as ‘Do you really meet every Thursday?’ – to which the answer is ‘Pretty much, every Thursday night the library is open we’re there. Over the summer university break we meet elsewhere.’ There is a smaller group who gather earlier in the night for a cheap and cheerful meal at one of the many cafés near the university prior to joining others for knitting. The World-famous-in-Dunedin ice creams sold at the Rob-Roy Dairy are a must for returning knitters who insist on a pre-knitting meal and an ice cream as part of their knit-night experience.
The group communicates and shares online and in person. Through the online network of knitters and crafters that is Ravelry.com, individuals easily share information about their projects and access a powerful body of collective knowledge. Contemporary knitters are confident and adaptive in digital spaces – uploading progress photos of their work, entering details of customisations and linking to resources and designers. Ravelry, like many online communities, provides ways for groups to share and connect and for individuals to ‘follow’ those they find interesting. The kind of sharing and easy communicating that takes place in the online world transitions smoothly to in-real-life gatherings where knitters recognise projects they have seen online, discuss yarn choices and pattern details or simply touch and handle something they have seen online.Knitting is a traditional craft yet New Zealand’s contemporary knitters join a global connected community using networking technologies of the twenty-first century. Individuals in the Dunedin group shift seamlessly between online conversations with displays of their practice and localised face-to-face conversations, a highly contemporary expression of a craft-based community of practice.
Header image: Morag McKenzie, Designer and Indie Dyer of vintagepurls.co.nz, knitting a Tulip Cardigan. Dunedin, 22nd June 2017. All Rights Reserved, Stella Lange