It’s Just Yarn-Overs

April 17, 2008


So this thing happened a while ago. I was working on the baby blanket for Hannah, and I showed it to Meghan (my therapist). She was kind of floored by it. I was like, “Well, you just go around and around on double-pointed needles, and these holes here are how you add stitches to it when you switch needles. Then later you add more stitches, and that makes it ruffle-y. It’s just yarn-overs.” She told me that she couldn’t knit, and I didn’t believe her. I amended it to “You don’t know how to knit yet.”

Or like another time Noah asked me if I built bikes – I’ve got three bikes that I ride (one for commuting, one for touring, and one for going fast) and I’ve put just about every part of each one where it is myself, including installing two out of three headsets and lacing and truing four of my six wheels. I told Noah no I don’t build bikes, because I don’t know how to weld – I don’t build frames.

I have this kind of huge tendency to think that anybody else could be coming up with and doing the same things that I do. Like here’s another story – the other day Scott was telling me about James Turrell, who bought himself a crater in New Mexico and has been transforming the shape of it with bulldozers so that when you’re in the bottom of it it feels like the sky is upside down. Through a random coincidence I already knew about this – an ex went to school with his daughter, who got married in the crater. But what I thought was, “Oh, that’s funny, I know another story about an artist with a crater.” Like somehow my assumption was that a whole bunch of artists had craters – New Mexico must be full of them. Oh, that Spiral Jetty!

In a sense, it is just yarn-overs. I’m attracted to simple, do-able, low-talent, low-tech, often economically impossible forms of art-making. Knitting is really simple and repetitive, which is part of why it’s so great. Just about anybody with a ton of time on their hands who can knit in the round can follow the pattern to make the anemone blanket – even the fringey bits are just cast-on-bind-off.

But also obviously the stuff I do is way more than yarn-overs. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where this all comes from – the it’s-just-yarn-overs thing touches down all over the place in my life, like punk rock, my family, my super-awesome grandpa, and my ideas about what art is what I want to use it for and why I do all this crafty, arty, fixit stuff in the first place.

This is gonna be super long, so I’ll stop here for now, but I’m gonna keep poking at it and see what happens. Stay tuned.

(Illustration from howstuffworks.com. Go there and learn all about increases.)

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2 Responses to “It’s Just Yarn-Overs”

  1. knithound brooklyn Says:

    I like the way you think. I've been thinking about some of this stuff too. How something so simple can be confounding to some. Is it that we can just break the tasks down to their elemental steps that allows us to conceive of them? Or do we see the big picture first and just plow our way through? I'm working on stripes. What they can bring to a piece, how stripes are repetetive, like knitting itself. Whether adding stripes just makes things even more obsessive compulsive. I don't know where this stuff will lead, but I'm turning alot of it over in my mind lately.Thanks for the post. Very thoughtful and insightful.

  2. Mama H Says:

    It's interesting what you say about wondering whether there are other artists out there doing the same things.There was a fascinating article in the New Yorker recently (exact date and title escape me) about inventors which talks about the same thing. The argument was that, in fact, there are certain inventions, innovations, etc. that are just floating out there in the air. If Edison hadn't invented the telephone, there's a good chance a guy living not too far away from him would have done it… in fact, I think they submitted the patent a few days from each other when Edison caught wind of what the other guy was up to.So, in a sense, though you (and all us creative types, I suppose) are creating in our own little worlds, there's this amazing synchrony that goes on. I suppose there are a few singular souls who have created things that no other has ever considered, but as humans we seem to mysteriously chart similar waters, perhaps in response to our condition.Sometimes this makes me feel like, "Oh crap. My ideas aren't singular enough." In another sense, it's sort of amazing and comforting. Just like knitting. We're all using the same process, as you say, and in its midst we are elaborating little bits on something someone before us has discovered. That is quite powerful!


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