Hunters, Gatherers, Stabbers, Grabbers

Thoughts on Crocheters & Knitters
Guest Post by Tory Light

I live in the country of Yarn Nation, in the province of Knitting. My primary language is Knit.

Recently I left Knitting Town (my village) and flew across Yarn Nation to Crochet Land for a conference. Not a knitting conference with crochet on the side. No. Knitting. None. Everywhere I looked, crocheters were wielding blunt hooks, not pointy sticks.

And every crocheter was amazingly friendly to me, which was weird, because many knitters I’ve encountered are only superficially sociable to strangers, if they acknowledge them at all. By contrast, I made several genuine friends during that weekend of crochet, thanks in part to the event’s tradition of providing both a mentor and a buddy to newbies like me.

It got me wondering: Here I was, still inside the borders of Yarn Nation, but clearly this other tribe was not like mine back home. We all live in Yarn Nation, and we all make pretty things.

Are Crocheters all that different from Knitters?

anthropological dig
Are they going to find knitting needles or crochet hooks in that pit?

I felt like an Anthropologist leaving a culture of Hunters and entering a culture of Gatherers. Now in the guise of a participant observer doing fieldwork, I perceived at least two distinctly different “ethnic groups” within the overall culture of Yarn Nation. A whole dissertation could grow out of this topic, but I’ll focus just on tool use, a classic way to study civilizations. I’ll also point out some linguistic implications based on the names of our main tools, the knitting needles and the crochet hooks.

Let us leave aside historical differences and differences in the technical characteristics that distinguish crocheted textiles from knitted. Let us also leave aside demographic evidence that participation in crochet (versus knitting) skews more toward crafters with less disposable income, sculptors/artists, African-Americans, males, crafters in rural areas, prison inmates, crafters who can’t or don’t use 100% wool; and so on. (Google Trends search 1/3/19)

Tools That Stab and Tools That Grab

Let’s analyze only one thing—the use of one tool vs. another—to illustrate possible differences in each tribe’s social values. These differences might be as obvious as the contrast between tools that stab and tools that grab.

Consider the main tools that we yarn crafters use, and the words and images that we associate with them:

Needles.​ Or “knitting pins”, as some people still say. They have the same shape as sewing needles and pins, so it takes little imagination to see why they have the same name. If you sew, you know that sewing needles and pins are very sharp.

At least knitting needles won’t draw blood, so in that way they are closer to crochet hooks, but still, they are not allowed in prisons. (Martha Stewart’s famous poncho was crocheted.) Remember when TSA forbade them in your airplane carry-on? On second thought, knitting needles would make great weapons. More than one murder-mystery author has chosen this ploy. And there’s practically a whole arsenal in the hands of someone working with five double-points. Just imagine the potential of a circular needle as a garrote! ​

Knitting needles are for Hunters.

Auckland Museum [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]

Hooks.​ A hook is used to pull something toward you. A shepherd’s crook, the catchy part of a tune, advertising—all are hooks of one kind or another. Hooks—as in hook and eye—connect two parts of a garment. Hooks—as in coat hooks—are a handy support, keeping your belongings clean and off the ground. I’ll bet you yourself use a crochet hook if for no other reason than to catch a dropped stitch and help it back up.

Crochet hooks are for Gatherers.

There’s visual symbolism going on, too: Hooks are curved. A curve is soft. From our species’ earliest days, humans have associated curves with comfort and safety. Starting with our mothers’ bodies when we were babies, to environmental features such as rolling hills and rivers, curves signify security. Conversely, humans associate pointed objects with danger and fear. Claws, thorns, jagged mountains—you get the idea.

Make a Friend; There’s Room for All

So, fellow Knitters, I know that when you attend events with your friends and do not want to socialize with strangers, you do not intend to appear cliquish. When you snub those who do not work with pure wool, you do not intend to appear superior. But sometimes you come across in negative ways. Your tool of choice literally is the more aggressive one. Maybe it plays a role in the way you interact with other people.

And that’s OK: The world needs both Hunters and Gatherers.

But here’s the thing: we are not servants to our tools. We can rise above the primitive sticks in our hands. The next time you see a Crocheter or even another Knitter, take time to get acquainted. Make a new friend. As some of Yarn Nation’s wise “bistitchual” Elders like Edie Eckman, Rick Mondragon, and Myra Wood have shown us, it is possible to thrive in both cultures.

Heading home to Knitting Town after my inspiring visit to Crochet Land, I realized that there is another Yarn Nation village I must explore sometime. It’s in the “flyover” region between Knitting and Crochet. I’m curious about that tribe of crafters. You know who I mean: Tunisian, anyone?

About Tory

The opinions expressed above are those of guest blogger Tory Light.

I started knitting as a child; I post on Ravelry; I’ve been published in a few pattern magazines. I also have my Craft Yarn Council certification as a knitting teacher, so if you were once a beginner (and who wasn’t?), maybe you’ve had a class with me. I go to at least one big knitting event per year, soaking up as much education as I can. Basically, I am very familiar with those two pointy sticks—my street creds, if you will.

You can find Tory on Ravelry, Facebook, and Instagram.

A Note from Edie

Tory’s Crochet Land conference is more commonly known as Chain Link, the Crochet Guild of America’s annual conference. Although that conference is crochet-centric, you can find crochet and other Yarn Nation crafts at other conferences around the country.

As this post is published, I’m winging my way to California for Stitches West, a conference where all types of fiber arts are welcome. Check out my Workshop Schedule for upcoming venues where I’ll be teaching both crocheting and knitting.

Yarn Nation is a nation united!

5 Replies to “Hunters, Gatherers, Stabbers, Grabbers”

  1. I love this analysis! There’s a body of work on embodied cognition that you might really enjoy. It speaks to the interaction between our body’s movements and the way we think about the world. Very interesting!

  2. I absolutely LOVE this post. Have just read it for a second time and shared with my friends. A fantastic call to action – “rise above the primitive sticks in our hands”.

  3. “And every crocheter was amazingly friendly to me, which was weird, because many knitters I’ve encountered are only superficially sociable to strangers, if they acknowledge them at all.”

    This entire article resonated with me so soundly! But when I read the sentence above, you were writing what I’ve known for so long. I have yet to find my true crafty-tribe. I knit and crochet, crochet being my first love of the two. I spin and am learning to weave. I love them all. My yarn use ranges from Red Heart to Miss Babs. And I love all yarn. And I have a hard time finding someone who is like-minded. I have felt especially alienated in yarn shops. When you walk in, people look at you as though you have a large growth! I never understood that because when I walk into a yarn shop, those who are there should assume that we already have something in common and treat me warmly. That is not the case. I have visited one shop that made me feel like I was a friend. One shop. And I’ve been to A LOT of LYS/Local Yarn Shops.

    Thank you for putting into words what I’ve experienced. It was so validating!

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