The Power of a Knitting Circle
In 2020, yarn companies credited their record sales directly to individuals learning to knit or crochet or reengaging in their childhood hobby. Many folks turned to virtual fiber arts circles, or knitting circles, not only to learn to knit or improve on their skills but also as a means to have a covid-safe social experience. Before the year of coronavirus, I never participated in a knitting circle or knew much about their value or histories.
A year ago, Friday, March 20, 2020, I hosted my very first virtual knitting circle (or a “Virtual Stitch-n-Bitch”) for my fiber arts Facebook group of lawyers. California had just entered lockdown and I wanted a way for me to feel social despite being homebound. Until this group, I had friends who knitted, but never did I have a regular group with whom I regularly met solely for the purpose of knitting. I didn’t know what to expect or how to lead this group; my only goal was to meet similarly situated individuals, who were stuck at home hoping to meet other individuals like themselves—folks working in the legal field and interested in the fiber arts. This is how I joined and started my first knitting circle and began to learn about the important history of knitting circles.
This group is made up of women, though men who knit are welcomed. Our group is from both American coasts and middle-America along with one lone Canadian attorney. We are diverse in age, experience, and career trajectories. At first, we primarily talked about our individual projects and how we came to knitting. Interestingly, we all started knitting because of our legal careers. Some of us learned as children, but began to take our knitting seriously when we entered the legal world, because we needed an outlet separate from our education or careers. One of the members told a story of her knitting with friends as they voted for President Barack Obama to become the first Black President of Harvard Law Review. I too can trace my knitting directly to my legal career. I taught myself to poorly knit in law school, but my former managing partner taught me to properly knit when she wasn’t mentoring me as a young associate.
As I engaged in my knitting group, I began to become curious about the role of knitting circles or other fiber-art circles to women and other groups. Until my group, I kept my passion for knitting a bit secret because of the negative stereotypes associated with knitting. Knitting or sewing circles are equated with gossip circles where women meet to gossip or vent to complete strangers. This stereotype focuses on a circle’s members sharing of information but downplays the quality and the importance of communication between its members.
Historically, fiber-art circles can be linked to major historical events from newly freed enslaved people to World War II to the more recent “Pussy Hat” worn in the women’s marches. In the 14th Century, knitting guilds were social clubs where male knitters met to improve and develop the art of knitting and to exchange ideas on marketing strategies to sell products to their clientele. Former enslaved people used sewing or knitting circles to help newly-freed Black Americans adjust to lives of freedom. Black women used these circles as a way to share information, share resources, or educate each other in a private setting. In World War II, both American and British governments asked for knitted socks and other knitted items for our soldiers. British women began to knit secret codes by knitting a series of knots into their projects which were then delivered to military officers who used this information to evade German attacks.
More recently, men’s knitting circles have gained popularity for both straight and gay male knitters. Similar to women’s knitting circles, men’s knitting circles are safe spaces for male knitters to meet and share information about knitting and their lives.
Knitting circles offer knitters a space where they can meet with others who may not be a part of their familial, professional, or immediate social circles.1 My knitting circle is unique in that we all work in the legal field, but we came together because of our interest in knitting. Historically, knitting circles also include a variety of age groups, life experiences, and expertise in the art. The diversity of membership lends itself to sharing of information not limited to knitting. The circle allows its members to share information about their personal lives, discuss politics, and seek guidance from others with more life experience. Knitting is the modality for the shared common experience.
In my group’s case, we are a wide range of experienced knitters. One member took up knitting as her “corona-hobby,” picking up knitting to ease quarantine-related anxiety. While we initially started talking about knitting, our conversations have evolved to include a wide variety of subjects and hard issues such as race, politics and gender. In this year, we provided support to each other on a wide variety of levels – one member caught COVID-19, while another’s parent passed away. We all mourned the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and knitted RBG-themed garments. We also discussed the differences between American and Canadian legal theories then quickly turned to discuss our current favorite cult docuseries. We also laugh and laugh so hard that we can’t breathe. Personally, I have sought career advice from my group as I navigated my first year as a solo practitioner.
My knitting circle has become my safe harbor during very turbulent and uncertain times. Like circles before mine, my circle is not only a space for me to meet with a group of knitters, but also a group where I can seek guidance or share my personal wins and losses. Ultimately, I am forever thankful for the gifts of my knitting circle and impressed that it offers me far more than a space where I knit.
Note: If you are interested in joining the knitting circle, you are most definitely welcomed. Please reach out to Mary Grace at (firstname.lastname@example.org).
1.“Stitching Together: An Exploration of Women’s Sociality Through an Urban Knitting Group,” Gillian Barbara Ruland, Georgia State University, 2010. https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1040&context=anthro_theses