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  • Writer's pictureTamanna Rahman

Building Fabric




Learning to knit is a revelation for a sewist.


Sewing feels like a feat of engineering, a mathematical manipulation of flat pieces that somehow transform, origami-like, into a dimensional shape. If you do well, this shape will enclose a negative space that precisely matches the one occupied by your body, in stasis and in movement, and look good to boot.


Knitting, by contrast, feels like an inherently artisanal process - a celebration of the hand of the maker. You knit tension gauges, testing how loosely or tightly the yarn passes through your hands - YOUR hands, your individual hands, and this will determine the tools you choose, the materials you employ, the sizing of your garment. If I am having a bad day, beset by anxiety, I may grip the yarn, knit tighter rows, compress my work. Or if I've had a glass of wine or two, and pick up my knitting, I may find that my stitches flow looser - in both cases, ultimately changing the look and feel and flow of the fabric.


And this - understanding the hand knit piece as fabric, this was the revelatory part. If sewing is an architectural endeavor, knitting is more like bricklaying - piece by piece, row by row, you are actually building a fabric. You are shaping the final garment inch by inch, and (if you are like me) constantly holding it up to your body as you go, watching as it takes form. Even the terminology was intoxicating as a sewist discovering knitting for the first time. The nomenclature surrounding not the making of a final object, but the making of the fabric itself.


In sewing, there are decisions that must be made about how much to display or hide your work, but the ability to make and execute these decisions is a matter of skill - the invisibility of the maker's hand is prized, and the phrase "looks home-made" is not generally a compliment. Of course, one may deviate from this framework (see visible mending, Alabama Chanin, handsewing movements, outside seams, patchwork garments, etc etc etc...), but in large part, developing the skill to render your handiwork unseen is valued. No such thing in knitting. Seeing the individuality of the work, the mark of someone's hand, is what gives value to the end result. In this way, it feels more to me like embroidery, which is as personal as a signature, than the garment construction I've been familiar with. More on that in a future post.


For now, back to my knitting!

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