The knitterly community has a habit of bragging on how wonderful, how generous and kind we all, as a group, tend to be. I would like to believe that this is generally true, and I do think that for the most part our craft does tend to attract a nicer sort of people than the overall population in most cases.
All populations have their stinkers, though, and their politics and their snits. There is a fine right case of poor behavior and misguided self-righteousness going on in the Twin Cities at the moment, and I for one am not at all pleased with the situation.
For years, the State Fair has been a bit of a problem for many knitters. I have sat through several September Guild meetings during which knitter after disgruntled knitter gets up and reads the judge’s comments on their entries, sneering and laughing at what the judges had to say, dismissing the constructive criticism with an “I know better than the judges” attitude. There is an ongoing joke about how many comments the judges make about the buttons on a garment, and even though the judges have been careful not to make these comments for the last several years, many of the guild members just can’t let it go. (Not all, mind you, but enough to make it quite noticeable to anyone present.)
For example, I sat there in one meeting and listened to a woman complain that her socks had not won a ribbon, with the judge citing a too-tight cast-on at the top of the cuff. The woman proudly proclaimed “I made that cast-on tight on purpose so the sock would stay up.” I cringed and slid down in my seat with embarrassment for her, seeing as I know from experience (and I’ve only been knitting for about seven years now, less at that time) that socks stay up when they fit properly and have enough crisply-knit ribbing at the top. A loose cast-on (or bind-off in the case of toe-ups) is necessary so that the thing will fit easily over your heel and to prevent an angry red line and cut off circulation at your calves.
It seems to me that most of this childish sneering is related to saving face, or preservation of pride. People have a hard time taking criticism, especially when they are proud of something they worked so hard to create. They want to be recognized for their hard work, and the State Fair is one of the few places we knitters to go to get real validation. So when they don’t get it, they turn to sour grapes. Scapegoating.
Well, that little issue is ongoing, and I will probably go to the September meeting (assuming family business allows) and I will probably see much of the same behavior. The State Fair judges tend to have fairly thick skin – they have to – and their positions are, as far as I can tell, relatively secure. Not to mention that the average person complaining about the judges has no idea who the judges are. Nothing new there really.
The new issue is a step worse, and I am much more bothered by the way things seem to be headed. There have been some rumblings – in internet forums and in coffee shops, probably in yarn stores and elsewhere – about certain knitters who’ve won “too many ribbons.” People are complaining that certain knitters enter too many things, that maybe they should give some of the other knitters a chance to win. They are finding “reasons” why specific knitters shouldn’t be allowed to compete any more – claiming that they are “professionals” and therefore ineligible according to the rules.
Okay, since she’s gone public about this on her blog, and has talked about it more eloquently, with much more calm and logic than I ever could in her position, I’m going to point you to Susan Rainey’s blog. Susan got an anonymous letter in the mail the other day. An anonymous letter trying to bully her out of entering the Fair any more. Please go read Susan’s post about it and see for yourself how all this has made her feel.
But also see how this has made me feel. I heard about this business first in an online forum, and then in a coffee shop here in town. Some people are campaigning for a crack-down on keeping “professional” knitters out of the Fair. They seem to think that anyone who has taught a class, or who has written a pattern for sale, should be disqualified from entering. Someone even implied that dyeing yarn for sale would qualify a person as a professional, and therefore maybe I – me – Shelly Kang – should stop entering my things in the Fair.
When I heard that – and it was from someone whom I highly respect – my heart just sank like a brick. I have won my share of ribbons, blue and various other colors, in the maybe four or five years I’ve entered things. I love entering things in the Fair. I love seeing them on display in the glass cases, I love standing there listening as people walk by and admire my work, unaware that the creator is standing right next to them. I’ll admit it, I love telling my friends and family that I won first place for that little sweater or the hat I designed. I love looking forward to the first day of the Fair, and going in the morning to get some mini-doughnuts and slowly walk through to see if my items have a pinned-on splash of color. As Susan said, it is like Christmas morning, only better.
I have been looking forward to entering that damned mitered-square blankie in the Fair pretty much since I started it, dreaming about seeing it on display as I sit and knit away for an evening.
And now, now because some people are jealous, or feel bad that their work has not measured up to the work of knitters like Susan and her ilk – knitters who spend years perfecting subtle techniques like the perfect stretchy cast-on or setting in a zipper just so – because those knitters want to, in my opinion, dumb down the competition to their level – my chance to ever enter in the Fair again may be in question.
Because, damn it, I’ve probably earned about the same amount of knitting cash as Susan during this past year, and maybe will earn a tiny bit more with the yarn business. Yes, I bring in a little bit of cash between my patterns for sale in the shops, my teaching, and now the yarn. But when I fill out my Schedule C on the tax forms, I’m barely breaking even after the business-related deductions like yarn (yes, we have to buy the yarn to make our samples most of the time) and needles, and paper and ink for the printer, and various equipment like ballwinders and niddy-noddies. Never mind things like the hot water and the gas for the stove when I’m dyeing yarn. If I were to add up all the tiny little costs, it would put me well into the red, and we wouldn’t want to trigger a tax audit.
But because people are looking for a reason to make their chances at a ribbon a little easier, because apparently they don’t understand the idea of improving their skills and taking the time to pay attention to detail, Susan and I and many other fine knitters in the state are worrying about this issue tonight. We’re just trying to have our version of fun and at the same time advance the craft.
I, for one, will be incredibly sad if the angry masses convince the Fair superintendents to “do something” about this “issue.” I don’t want to be left out of the fun, but more importantly, I don’t want to walk through the Creative Activities building and see blue ribbons on knitting that hasn’t been blocked properly, or on intarsia and Fair Isle garments that pucker, or even, god forbid, on a sweater that is otherwise perfect but has horrendously clashing buttons. I don’t want to stand in front of the cases and listen to people point and laugh, wondering who would bother knitting when all they can produce is wonky-looking sweaters and things nobody would want to wear.
Now let’s all go give Susan a group hug – she must be having a hard week, when she should be truly enjoying her hard-earned success.
Next up, as post In Which We ARE Very Pleased…