The Knitting War of Words — A Reaction

god-morgenEspen Søbye’s knitting book review in Morgenbladet sparked hundreds of Facebook posts, many letters to the editor in Norwegian newspapers, and a number of editorials.  Inger Merete Hobbelstad wrote in Dagbladet.  “Hvorfor foraktes strikking, men ikke fisking og ølbrygging? Det er kvinnehobbyen strikking som blir kritisert.” (Why is knitting despised, and not fishing or beer-making?  It is a women’s hobby that is criticized. In Norwegian) The television show God Morgen, Norway (Good Morning Norway) asked for responses to the editorial, and 135 people posted.

Heidi Borud responded in Aftenposten on January 12, 2016, and an English translation is provided below.

With the Wrong Side Out

by Heidi Borud


Why is it time for a knitting renaissance? What does the increasing interest in handwork and craft say about the times we live in? Photo: Heidi Borud

Espen Søbye is a philosopher by education, and a book reviewer I regularly read in Mogenbladet.  In a two-page review he took up nine of the 50 knitting books that were published last year.  He clearly demonstrated that he has a big problem grasping the fact that modern, well-educated women play on many strings—that we purchase knitting books, nonfiction, art history, and philosophy.

Søbye lays out a clear disparagement of female forms of expression. How is it possible to rattle off so many hateful remarks in a book review?  Especially against the “Knitting Queen” Dorthe Skappel, but also in general against women who knit. You can hardly call the text a book review, and you would expect a better knowledge of the genre.  Søbye writes for example on Skappel:

Dorthe Skappel's books sell well. That's what bothers some men.

Dorthe Skappel’s books sell well. That’s what bothers some men.

She has every reason to smile.  In her transformation from Norway’s pin-up to the country’s knitting queen, a “womens pin-up, as it is called in The Sandvik sisters’ book, Right on the Thread, she has found her way into all bags and sacks and socks.  She smiles indulgently at Gunnar Myrdal’s thesis, lures young women to dress in sack-like sweaters while she herself prefers tight-fitting bathing suits — all while the money rolls into her bank account for every stitch that Norway’s women knit.

Does this belong in a book review?  Søbye obviously thinks so.

It is more interesting to investigate why knitting and other handcrafts are enjoying a renaissance. What does the increasing interest in handwork and craft reveal about the time we live in?  Handwork is related to both memory and following in the footsteps of the past, on tradition and the transmission of knowledge.  Handwork and craft tell the history of everyday life, of power and status, and continues to be regarded as something primordially female.  To get to the bottom of why women knit we must, like Søbye, seek the answer from the father of psychoanalysis.  Søbye writes,”

In order to investigate them (editor’s note: meaning the knitting books), it was necessary to put to use those parts of the consciousness that Freud felt that the super ego had forbidden.   An investigation reveals that knitting books comprise a major component in a formidable battle over what kind of feminine ideal will matter in Norway as we approach the second decade of the 21st century.

Last year there were several art exhibits that touched on these themes. The author  Vigdis Hjorth showed her own embroidery at Blaafarveværket in Modum, and she opened the large exhibit Nålens øye (The Eye of the Needle) at the Kunstindustrimuseet, which took up contemporary embroidery, both as an artistic expression and a traditional women’s pursuit that has been a form of expression over many generations. Hjorth is interested in the meaning of handwork and in connection with the exhibit she wrote to Aftenposten:

In a very restless and changing world, embroidery is meditative, slow, and permanent–something we need today. Embroidery and sewing, not the least repairing clothing, sewing and mending things together beautifully, is a counterbalance to an extreme consumer culture.  It is recycling.

I think Hjorth is quite correct.  Many authors and feminists have written along the same lines, among others Danish Suzanne Brøgger and Jette Kaarsbøl.  On Thursday the exhibit “Pottery is Back” opens at the Kunstnerforbundet, and the theme is another women’s pursuit: ceramics. This is only a good thing.  The disparagement of traditional women’s forms of expression that Søbye gives voice to is passe.  The women of 2016 know better.

(Translated by Robbie LaFleur)

One thought on “The Knitting War of Words — A Reaction

  1. Lisa Bauch

    Well said, Heidi! Knitting is creative, meditative, and practical. My grandmother was a wonderful knitter–she used to knit intricate little sweaters for my dolls! When she was on her deathbed, she looked sadly at her hands, crippled with arthritis. “I used to make such beautiful things,” she said. Making beautiful things is a perfectly valid way to spend one’s life! Knitting allows us to nurture our connection to those who came before us, those who taught us these skills. It also allows us to make beautiful things for those we love, nurturing more connections that will continue after we are gone. It allows us to help those in need, giving them warms blankets, socks, and hats with our prayers and good wishes included in every stitch. I’ve knitted booties for babies just joining our world, and blankets for those nearing the end of their lives. If it is women’s work, I am proud to do it.


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