In this article, I draw attention to form creation in knitting, and by doing so, I challenge Tim Ingold's favoring of the morphogenetic over the hylomorphic model. Drawing on research on knitting in Austria, I further argue that in addition to following the materials—which Ingold rightfully advocates for—it is worthwhile to also follow the property of materials.


AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus:, Crafts, knitting, gender, materials, needlework

I wanted one of those very long jelly bag caps with differently colored stripes. It was really all about its length. I wanted it to hang down my back, including a tail and a pompon. . . . This jelly bag cap had been present as a grand idea from the beginning.

when Stefan first wanted to start knitting, he asked his neighbor, whom he knew to be an excellent knitter, for instructions. He wanted to knit the cap described above because he could not find it in any shop. This idea was going to guide the planning and execution. It was an idea born out of his being-in-the-world, his engagement with the environment—a virtual, intuitively imagined form that was going to be realized and made tangible by using his very own hands, or to rephrase with the quite Ingoldian-sounding words by the folklorist Henry Glassie: "Art is not mind purely; it is a record of the mind in the world, a blending of will and nature" (1991:260).2

In this article, I draw attention to form creation in knitting and, by doing so, challenge Tim Ingold's favoring of the morphogenetic over the hylomorphic model of form creation. Illustrating his position by looking at crafts such as basket weaving, metallurgy, and brick making, Ingold describes artisans as wayfarers who follow the flow of materials. In accordance with this premise, he favors the morphogenetic model, where form is generated through practical involvement and movement, over the hylomorphic model, according to which an idea is enforced on materials (2013:17–31). [End Page 193] One afternoon, he took his students to the shores of Aberdeen to weave baskets out of willow. At some point, they asked themselves when to stop and insert the separately woven base. They did not know because they had no expectations regarding what the basket should look like or which form it should acquire (2013:22–4). It is rather easy to criticize the hylomorphic model if one goes about weaving a basket without any idea or expectation in mind beforehand. There are, however, several craft techniques in which it is crucial to guide their execution based on expectations with reference to form and appearance—where a virtual, intuitively imagined form is being materialized in and through practice. Knitting is one of them, proving an exciting example for joining these debates about form creation for at least two further reasons.

Firstly, an examination of knitting aims at complementing Ingold's work on knotting and weaving in his chapter on traces, threads, and surfaces (2007:39–71). By looking at techniques and materials he has rather ignored so far, his notion of form creation may be amplified. Secondly, knitting has been an integral part of the everyday lives of women of all ages (and a growing number of men) in Western societies. Nonetheless, both anthropology, which has been turning its attention to its cultural "home" recently, and European ethnology (formerly Volkskunde, a.k.a. germanophone folklore studies) have been neglecting this cultural phenomenon and its meaning for social relations such as establishing and maintaining relationships through gifts, labors of love, or communal knitting.3 In European ethnology, from the end of the nineteenth century until the second half of the twentieth century, knitting and textile crafts were viewed as (folkloric) techniques that had to be prevented from vanishing. For that reason, descriptions and instructions were collected in order to prevent craft knowledge from disappearing (see, e.g., Stradal and Brommer 1990). The focus was on textile objects and techniques and not on the human and/or human-object relations they create or make visible. Form creation in knitting, however, cannot be seen independently from the relational context in which the knitted-piece-in-the-making is embedded.

In terms of folklore studies, knitting is an example of the confluence of material lore (things made with hands) and customary lore (things people make with their actions) (cf. Wilson 2006). As a technique used to transform threads into surfaces and eventually into wearables, knitting is a site of the production of knowledge. When body, mind, and matter join, then sensory, bodily, numeric, proportional, and aesthetic knowledge are in the making.4 Looking at the making (processes) of the things themselves allows for insights into the temporality of materials and its affordance for the social embedding of craft techniques, an aspect that is mostly neglected in Ingold's otherwise stimulating work on making, craft, and skill (e.g., Ingold 2000, 2011a, 2013).

My elaborations are based on the condensation of the totality of my field experiences, my observations, and the narrative accounts I gathered during my on-andoff research in the region around Graz (southeastern Austria) and the province of Vorarlberg (western Austria) during the years 2011–2013. Apart from having had numerous informal conversations (documented and reflected upon in a research diary), I conducted 17 formal interviews, each lasting up to 3½ hours, with knitters. Methodologically, I subscribed to an autoethnographic complementation of ethnographic interviews and field observations. With varying degrees of intensity, I engaged [End Page 194] in the studied practice myself (for a similar approach, see contributions in Marchand 2010 or Ehn 2011). Having been socialized in a country where needlework is part of the curriculum in primary school, and having developed an interest in textiles from an early age, I had already acquired firsthand experience. While conducting the research, I aimed at refining my skills of self-observation and self-questioning by reflectively immersing myself in the technique and developing an improved perceptual and kinesthetic awareness. Employing and reflecting on what Sklar refers to as kinesthetic empathy (1994), I allowed for bodily and affective insights to emerge.

Before diving into the world of loops, needles, and twirling threads, a few more clarifications on the specific research field and the issues that cannot be dealt with in this article should be provided here: my line of argument regarding form creation stems from research among knitters of all skill levels who plan their knitting, some meticulously sticking to instructions and others guided but not "enslaved" by instructions, using them in a playful way.

While hand-knitted items can be sold in both conventional and virtual markets and serve as a source of income, most of my informants only knit for themselves, kin, and close friends. Their main goal is to establish and maintain affectionate relationships; their knitting makes social networks and genealogies visible.

Lastly, this paper is not a prescriptive account of how knitting needs to be done. Instead, it is an incomplete picture of one particular, culturally bound way of going about knitting, fully acknowledging that other people in other places might approach their knitting in a different way.5

Numerically Bound Form Creation

Technically speaking, knitted things consist of numerous, sometimes thousands, of loop stitches.6 A loop stitch is characterized by its potential to be easily undone without deforming the thread.

The loop stitch is a noeud coulant: a knot that, if untied, causes the whole system to unravel. It is an element in making stockings, in knitting and crocheting, and the particular way it is formed is dictated by the tools employed and by the use intended.

What is being created by simply poking the needle into an existing stitch and pulling the yarn through is a whole fabric of vertically and horizontally interdependent stitches. These interlocking stitches confront us with a somewhat reconfigurable creativity.

Knitting begins with casting on a certain number of stitches. This number might be altered in order to bring about a certain shape. The initial number cannot be adjusted unless the principle of reconfigurable creativity comes into play; the knitted stitches are unraveled, and the knitter starts from the beginning—with a different number of stitches to be cast on. This detail is crucial, as it sheds light on knitting as a numerically grounded Form-Denken (knitting as thinking through form, which is itself bound to stitches and numbers). Knitted surfaces are being brought into the [End Page 195] final shape from the outset. One cannot retroactively "add" a specific shape with a pair of scissors, as the fabric would practically undo itself before the knitter's eyes.7 The knitter needs to envision the final shape from the beginning and knit accordingly (deliberately decreasing or increasing the numbers of stitches per row), based on instructions, calculations, real-size cut templates, and so on. The shape co-evolves with the fabric-in-the-making (forward) rather than being merely "attached" to it at the end (backward).

The numeric basis of knitting means that form is a continuous practice. The numeric is not only a concept or an abstract basis of form. It originates in the tool-grounded movement. Knitted things are manifestations of number relations that go beyond them, constituting a textile translation of bodily measurements. The counting and calculating—the concrete handling of numbers—should therefore be understood as a materialization of numeric thought.

Knitting, furthermore, entails continuously relating form to materials, tools, patterns, and knitting bodies as well as wearing bodies. These elements (or parameters) form a web of relations that, on closer inspection, turns out to be more like a web of relations of relations that are in dynamic relationship with each other: yarn (fine, thick, fluffy, plain, patterned); needles (size 2, 3, 4, etc., double pointed, circular, short, long, wooden, plastic, metal); pattern (fisherman's rib, plain stockinette stitch, cable stitch, rib stitch, garter stitch, seed stitch); body (knitting body, wearing body, tall, small, child [still growing], grown-up, slim, corpulent).

Complex patterns will usually not be knitted with yarns that will obscure the complexity, underlying manual dexterity, and skill (e.g., yarns that are fluffy, patterned, etc.). Some patterns are significantly more elastic than others, which has implications for the chosen shape. Patterns that are more elastic do not necessarily require a tailored shape in order to fit well, whereas patterns such as the plain stockinette stitch are quite inelastic and will fit much better in combination with a tailored shape. Knitted patterns are not only an aesthetic issue. "They [knitted products] carry the elements of their richest ornaments in themselves in their construction" (Semper [1860] 2004:211; emphasis in the original). Patterns and shapes are thus never only about design but, to a much greater extent, about the technicalities entailed in the emergence of the garment. They are technically constitutive elements.

Intentionality and Temporality

Although needles and hands move quickly, knitting is a slowly progressing activity. A sweater may take a couple of weeks to finish, even if the knitter works on it every night for a few hours. On the one hand, this lasting character is rooted in the technique itself, according to which a textile fabric is created stitch after stitch, row after row, stitch repeat after stitch repeat. On the other hand, it is enabled by the specific properties of textile materials. In comparison with clay, which desiccates if not processed fast enough, threads are a stable material.8 Although they might become fragile after a couple of decades, in contrast to clay, they seem rather atemporal.

The materials required for knitting (a ball of yarn and up to five double-pointed knitting needles) are, furthermore, very portable. They do not take up a lot of space [End Page 196] and are not heavy, which makes knitting a highly mobile practice. Nonetheless, knitting has been strongly associated with a specific locality, namely, the private home. It is worth mentioning that textile craft practices and especially knitting—though having been an integral part of the (proto-)industrial production in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and having been carried out by both genders, young and old—have become strongly associated with domesticity at least ever since this time. Particularly in the bourgeoisie, knitting was supposed to happen within the secluded context of the home and was not allowed to bear any monetary value. It was relegated from a craft organized in guilds and carried out by men to the "worthless" context of female, feminine, monotonous, continuous, demonstrative, and unpaid labor of love. Though it is technically a mode of production—and above all a very portable one—dominant collective cultural memories and imaginaries link knitting with the reproductive, emotionally stable, and intimate sphere of the private home.9

Knitting is also a very silent activity. Merely the chattering needles (depending on the materials from which they are made) are acoustically present. All of the mentioned specificities make knitting an activity that allows the knitter to remain included in a social context, especially when taking into consideration the way the knitter's hands move automatically at times. Knitting and communication do not exclude each other; on the contrary, they abet each other—as can be seen very well in numerous group knitting activities that have prospered all around the globe—thus making knitting prone to disruptions. In this light, the question of flow dealt with by Ingold (2013) should be revisited. While it is clear that it is virtually impossible to develop a catchall ontology of making, I argue that we should not only follow the materials (Ingold 2011b), but also, and to a much greater extent, follow their properties.10 By also looking at properties, the focus may be extended onto the temporal aspects of the materials, thus making it easier to trace the relations between certain materials and the social—and, more specifically, gendered—dimensions of the respective craft techniques and practices. I will return to this aspect in the next section.

Furthermore, form is subject to the intentionality of the makers. Ingold's student weavers also went about making a basket, and not a ball, a cube, or a plait. It is not sufficient to follow the materials, as the entanglement of humans and materials is always guided or at least accompanied by intentions that might themselves be rooted in social, aesthetic, and gendered ideals. This notion of intentionality resonates well with what Glassie refers to as the "conceptual context" within the broader context of (making and using) material culture (1991). He argues that the conceptual context of an artifact is there from the beginning; it precedes creation and hence the "enactment of compositional competence. . . . Ideas of composition and context interpenetrate in the creative act, so the object is not only in context: context is in the object" (259–60; emphasis added).

Ingold's illustration of his preference for the morphogenetic model of form creation is based on techniques whose processed materials differ fundamentally from textiles with regard to their temporal properties and qualities. They are subject to a specific kind of temporality in the sense that clay or iron require a constant water or heat supply for their moldability to be guaranteed. It is understandable that Ingold favors the morphogenetic model11 in this regard, as the materials would suddenly solidify [End Page 197] if the human did not constantly and actively contribute to their moldability and keep up with the flowing materials. Knitting, in contrast, allows a different approach, as the materials being processed are subject to a different kind of temporality. The specific material properties of yarns as a relatively stable material inform the temporal particularities of carrying out knitting. Materiality and temporality (and, as we will see later, sociality) go hand in hand. While metallurgists and brick makers work against time and are forced to constantly follow the materials and their dynamics, knitters work with time. In turn, this means that time needs to be structured differently as the textile material allows disruptions due to its specific temporal properties and qualities.

Before I delve into different sources of disruptions (which indirectly structure time) in the next section, I want to provide a personal anecdote that will illustrate this idea of the temporality of materials more vividly. A knitter might manage to knit a sock in one evening; he or she will, however, not manage to knit one complete back part of a sweater. Half-finished parts and their gradual completion are more the norm than completed knit pieces. However, at times it can be difficult to "call it a day" and stop knitting. "Just one more needle, just another needle. Or, if I knit stripes or if I use a yarn which is multi-colored with colors blending into one another . . . just until I get to that color. All of a sudden two hours have gone by and I haven't noticed at all" (Uschi 2013). Just until the end of this stitch repeat; just until I have finished this ball of yarn; just until the end of the next stitch repeat, and so on. When the material is patient (and the body is fit), tools, colors, and stitch repeats (try to) assume the role of the time structurer. In Cognition in Practice, Jean Lave briefly describes a similar observation, pointing out the specific mutual shaping of knitting and simultaneous reading:

I might read while knitting a row, but wait to turn the page until the row is finished, or stop reading in order to pick up a dropped stitch. At other times I read to the end of the page before starting a new row, knitting faster if the plot thickens, slightly tighter when it gets tense. . . . Knitting is a structuring resource for the process of reading and reading provides structuring resources that give shape and punctuation to the process of knitting. They shape each other, but not necessarily equally. Usually one is the ongoing activity, the other is given shape more than it shapes the first.


The resumption of knitting might sometimes feel like a restart, especially when the rediscovery of the once smooth and fluid sequences of movements lasts much longer than wished. During an intensive time of my fieldwork in early 2013, I thought it was a good idea to start knitting a cardigan for my husband. I will leave out the details here about initial struggles when calculating the correct number of stitches to cast on, about the back part turning out too small despite having knitted a gauge, and so on. As a matter of fact, the cardigan is still not finished. At some moment, I neglected it for a short period of time, although I had placed it well within eyeshot on the sideboard in the living room. After a while, I deliberately ignored it until I finally removed it from my sight so I would not have to constantly feel bad for not continuing once it caught my eye again. The mere thought of continuing to knit [End Page 198] this cardigan makes me cringe. Knowing that it will take a long time in order to remember at which point I stopped has already prevented me from resuming for many months, although I (sometimes) feel like picking it up again. I have been avoiding going through the trouble of recalling where I am "numerically, spatially and 'rhythmically'" (Urton 1997:131). The longer I wait, the more difficult resumption will become. However, I think I have long surpassed the critical point after which it does not matter if I resume today or in 10 years. The connection between the virtual and the actual form is gone.

The possibility for time to drive a wedge between the knitter and the emerging fabric is rooted in the temporal qualities and properties of the textile material. For this reason, time, the structuration of time (by the material, the body, or other factors; see below), and the elapsing of time should be regarded as essential dimensions of what it means to knit and bring about "processes-made-things" (Coupaye 2013:13).

Disruptions and Relationality

Some materials are deceptive. They do not live up to the expectations that knitters project onto them. One winter's day, I was looking for a lower-cost alternative to a yarn for a summer top I had seen in a knitting magazine. I asked Uschi, an experienced yarn shop owner, for advice. She looked at the specifications of the respective yarn and instantly shook her head. A silk-linen blend would be wholly unfeasible as the soft silk (animal fiber) and the friable linen (vegetable fiber) do not combine at all and become tatty upon knitting, even more so when being worn multiple times. She suggested a suitable alternative for half the price.12

The elegant brilliance of the yarn had seduced me. I felt almost betrayed when I realized it was all tinsel and glitter. How could such a beautiful (and expensive) yarn be so unsuitable for the purpose it was created for? The creative flow did not even have to be disrupted as the material never came to be processed. I was disappointed that such an enchantingly beautiful yarn had unmasked the relationship between material and body as a sometimes-conflicting area of contact.

Needles also might cause disruptions in that they prevent smooth and fluid movements. Upon experimenting with plastic needles, I came to realize that while needles generally enable the exertion of the knitting technique, they might also impede its execution. If rhythmic moving is impeded, movements cannot smoothly blend into one another (for a similar argument, see Ingold 2011a:60, with reference to Leroi-Gourhan 1993). Tools are not neutral instruments; depending on their material properties, they have their own agenda and are perceived as animated (cf. Verrips 1994) via their knitting-hostile "nature," which becomes specifically apparent when it squeezes itself between yarn and hands.

Apart from yarn and needle, the at times almost automatic knitting process involves the potential risk of disruptions by way of unnoticeably dropping stitches. This means that stitches are being released from the needle without having been knitted, which in turn might lead to their unraveling for up to a few rows downward the hitherto knitted fabric. Most of the time, dropped stitches are only noticed when the pattern (i.e., stitch repeat) suddenly does not correspond any more or—for less skilled/less [End Page 199] frequent knitters who like to keep track of the numbers per row by counting along—when the number of stitches suddenly alters. Less-experienced knitters might rely on numbers as a guiding medium through which to comprehend the knitted structure as a bridge to understanding. More experienced knitters, on the other hand, have internalized patterns as images and sequences of particular movements to an extent that one look at the knitting or an odd movement (i.e., different stitch) will tell them where the problem lies, or at least that there is a problem. With reference to Grasseni (2004), the latter might be termed skilled vision. In her attempt to rehabilitate vision in the light of the often-criticized Western ocularcentrism, she argues that "there is no seeing without looking. Skilled practitioners know well that bodily knowledge entails discrimination and disciplining the attention of the senses, including that of sight. Skilled vision implies an active search for information from the environment, and is only obtained through apprenticeship and an education of attention" (53). In the case of knitting, this means thoroughly inspecting the textile structure in search of irregularities—as barely detectable as they might be.

The good news is that correcting dropped stiches is possible; however, it might be quite laborious and time-consuming. Depending on the pattern chosen, this might involve unraveling the whole fabric up to the row where the dropped stitch is recognizable. The mentioned principle of reconfigurable creativity entails the potential for a thread to be entangled, unraveled, and entangled in different ways multiple times. However, this also bears the possibility and the risk for stitches to unravel themselves unintentionally.

Additionally, the knitting body itself is not only the source of creation but also a source of disruption. Knitters' hands are not machines. The elderly Mrs. Geiger avoids using chunky needles as they tire her hands more easily. Beginners' bodies, especially, might use too much force, which will lead to their hands and arms exhausting much more quickly. They will have to learn to allot their bodies' power in a more efficient way: as much as necessary in order to hold and guide the needles securely, but as little as possible in order for the yarn-needle-hands-arms-conglomerate to move smoothly. The knitter's back might ache after crafting along and not having moved for hours. If the material does not dictate any temporal structuration, it is the body that makes demands and imposes itself as a time-structuring element because it struggles with the endurance of the material.

Due to the already mentioned lengthiness of the knitting process (itself enabled by the specific temporal qualities of the material), knitting is predestined for disruptions. These are, in fact, part of the social nature of knitting. A historically gendered activity such as knitting that can be executed parallel to the requirements of everyday life needs to be interruptible. Put differently: knitting is only suitable for inclusion into everyday life because it is easily interruptible and spatially unbound (cf. Barber 1994:29–30). The same goes for Andean weaving, as is illustrated by Urton (1997): "Since a Mama rarely, in fact, has a free, uninterrupted moment to weave—she is constantly being diverted by such interruptions as a baby that wants to nurse, children having an argument, or a fire that needs stoking—she will return after the interruption, count off thread pairs to determine where she left off in the weaving of a particular design, and then resume her smooth, instinctual weaving movements" (131; emphasis in [End Page 200] original). In this respect, I furthermore argue that the specific properties of textile (yarn) materials lend the technical processing of yarn to its embedding in social and, above all, gendered fabrics.

Historically seen, knitting and other textile crafts could be instrumentalized in the construction of femininity (see, e.g., Parker 2010; Ehrmann-Köpke 2010) specifically for this reason: textile materials and their manual processing allow for combination with other realms of activities (household, care) that have been strongly associated with women at least from the age of industrialization. Drawing on Brown's work on pre-industrial societies (1970), Barber states that activities carried out by women had to be reconcilable with the care and feeding (nursing) of children if a given society did not want to dispense with female contribution to production (1994). She refers to spinning, weaving, and sewing; these conclusions can, however, be easily transferred to knitting as well, as this activity bears similar characteristics.13

In the Habsburg Empire, up until the eighteenth century, knitting was organized into guilds (i.e., professionalized). After it was released from guild laws, hand knitting was moved into the amateurish (i.e., unprofessional) female realm (Freiß 2011), especially as it was easily reconcilable with bourgeois ideals of the hustling woman and caring mother. The gender of knitting (and probably textile crafts in general), therefore, lies not least in the specific properties of the materials and the resulting affordances on social levels. These tempo-material qualities of yarn (both its light weight—which renders knitting a portable craft practice, thus allowing for parallel engagement in other activities—and its relative temporal stability permitting uncomplicated interruptions and resumptions), in conjunction with its manual processing by utilizing a couple of needles, make knitting particularly prone to the aforementioned instrumentalization in sociospatial and gender-specific terms.

To resume the initial train of thought, the social is not only a source of disruptions; it is the driving force par excellence, as is also illustrated by the anecdote about the cardigan I began to knit for my husband. In my research context, knitted things were mostly intended for a specific person, even if it was for the knitters themselves (see, e.g., Turney 2012, who also discusses the intimate character of knitting). Knitting in this regard is not a kind of l'art pour l'art activity; it happens for the sake of a recipient, which articulates the relational character of knitting (Liebesarbeit—labor of love) very clearly.

Angelika, my central research participant, who has been a fervent knitter for more than half a century, is a prime example. She knits for her husband, her daughter and son-in-law, her granddaughter, and her friends' children, among others, and thus her knitting epitomizes the relationality and social boundedness of form (creation). For her baby granddaughter, she carefully designed and knitted a vest without seams in the bodice so the baby would not feel them when lying down. Another participant, Selina, provides her entire family with knitted and crocheted clothes, especially her 20-year-old niece who repeatedly asks her for knitted pieces. Another example is Mrs. Geiger, who knitted a sweater for a young woman who had initially wanted to give away the yarn to her. After each Christmas, my own grandmother resumed knitting in order to present all of her descendants (around 40) with hand-knitted socks the following Christmas. This list could continue forever. [End Page 201]

If knitted form is socially bound (relational), it is also intentional. I agree with Ingold that the form-generating process stems from a concrete and practical engagement with materials. However, the maker will always have to toil away on the underlying intentions (which might themselves be rooted in social relations and/or vibrantly imagined ideas). Making in the context of knitting does not only imply a "correspondence between maker and material" (Ingold 2013:xi; emphasis added), but also a sometimes conflicting confrontation of the knitter (or his or her body) with materials and tools as well as the tempo-spatial and social environment. Knitting, thus, is less of a craft practice that readily submits itself to the flow of materials. Instead, we deal with a historically and economically influenced and, above all, gendered social (craft) practice during which the creative action emerges as a continuous negotiation between following the flow of materials and realizing intentions-guided, virtual forms.


Knitting is more than looping stitch after stitch. Transferring imagined (virtual) webs of relations into bodily actions and the resulting actual fabric requires an understanding of materials and their relation to needles, patterns, cuts, and knitting as well as wearing bodies.

The hylomorphic model criticized by Ingold should be rehabilitated, especially in the case of knitting. Even if knitters report that they cannot stop knitting at times and that they are virtually addicted to the knitting process, which points to the morphogenetic model of following the (flow of) materials, this fluid engagement is always grounded in intentions with respect to form and appearance. I, therefore, argue that knitting—and most probably other kinds of crafts as well—cannot be specified as adhering to either the hylomorphic or morphogenetic model of form creation. In fact, knitting involves a constant oscillation between practice-guiding intentions and ideas as well as the practical and fluid engagement between materials and bodies that makes for occasionally losing track of time. This flow is, however, constantly at risk of being disrupted due to the material (and hence temporal) properties and qualities that should be brought to our attention, in addition to what Ingold refers to as following the materials (2011b). Therefore, I argue that in expanding Ingold's approach, the interplay of materials and their multidimensional properties and qualities, on the one hand, as well as social and, more specifically, gendered relations, on the other hand, becomes much more evident.

Lastly, these accounts uncover the obstacles inherent in the craft, demystifying the craft of knitting at least to some extent. In fact, the biggest obstacle throughout my research and writing was indeed my own idealization of the craft. I felt seduced to romanticize craft, to play off crafts against industrial production. It took a great effort to see the connections and ambiguities and to allow them their legitimate space in my field and interpretations. [End Page 202]

Lydia Maria Arantes

lydia maria arantes is Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology at the University of Graz


I am indebted to the guest editors Viveka Torell and Anneli Palmsköld as well as to Katharina Eisch-Angus and Susanne Küchler for their helpful, critical, and insightful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


1. The names of the informants have been anonymized. Furthermore, all translations are by Lydia Maria Arantes.

2. In this context, it is worth noting that I understand virtuality in the style of Henri Bergson ([1896] 2005). Inherent in the virtual is a kind of potentiality that is being realized in the actual (the opposite pole of the virtual). The virtual might be characterized as ideal but not abstract even though it will only be sensorially perceptible once it has been transferred into the actual. In this respect, I conceptualize knitting as transferring a virtual form into the realm of perceptibility. Imagined webs of relations—taking shape in dialogue with the material outside world—are being materialized through the practice and made palpable.

3. Other disciplines such as sociology and design history have brought forth interesting works on knitting; for example, Joanne Turney's book The Culture of Knitting (2009). Possible reasons why European ethnology has rather avoided this subject in recent decades are discussed in Arantes (2019).

4. For more perspectives on the relation between the body and knowledge see, for example, Jackson (1983) and Marchand (2010).

5. Among others, there are regional differences in how the needles are held.

6. In order to be terminologically clear, I use the term stitch when referring to the basic unit of knitting, the loop stitch, and the term pattern when discussing a combination of (different kinds of) loop stitches; knitters call these stitches. Also, I do not deal with patterns generated by using yarns of different colors.

7. Unless one intends to employ the technique of steeking. This involves some planning as extra stitches have to be included where the piece will then be cut. Steeking, which is mostly associated with Fair Isle knitting, allows for a knitted fabric to be cut vertically after the stitches have been secured. Using this technique, a cardigan-to-be with an intricate color pattern may be knitted in a circular way (e.g. like a raglan sweater) so that the knitter can stick to (more favorable) knit stitches (instead of purling every second row when knitting a flat piece).

8. Relatively, regarded in the context of a lifetime.

9. For more details, see Arantes (2017).

10. I do not refer to property in the sense of Ingold (2013:23–4, drawing on David Pye), opposing property (objective, scientifically measurable) to quality (subjective). I employ it as a neutral term in order to draw the attention to certain specificities of materials.

11. I would nevertheless argue that, in this case, the context, specifically Glassie's "conceptual context" and, to be more precise, culture as a system of meanings, are always already there as well. Even if one goes about making in the most freestyle way possible, culture—associated (craft) traditions, techniques, values, (bodily) skills, and knowledge, though maybe deliberately rejected—will have been there before, enculturating whatever we do or (intentionally) do not do a priori.

12. Field note by Lydia Maria Arantes, February 6, 2013.

13. This might have to do with the fact that the knitting technique is much more recent than the other textile techniques mentioned, dating back to at least the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (see, e.g., Thirsk 2003).

References Cited

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