The Community Roots of Fiber Crafts

Bertram's Knitting Madonna

While it's hard to say when and how spinning, knitting and their associated fiber arts originated, history does reflect that people have been playing with wool, silk and yarn for a very long time, with physical evidence of knitted products that go back as far as the 11th century. There are even pieces of art such as Bertram's Knitting Madonna that depict the Virgin Mary clicking away with creativity. Traditionally, the fiber arts have been a very social craft as projects were both a labor of love and a necessity of life. Though modern manufacturing has changed the way we live significantly, the social life of the fiber arts is still an important and fulfilling part of the craft.

From Grandma or Auntie With Love

If you were lucky enough to be taught to knit, crochet or spin from a loved one, count yourself very lucky! (LeAndra learned at the feet of her maternal grandmother and cherishes this precious introduction to the fiber arts.) Though knitting was once a profession that only allowed men, it soon became a household craft, with the necessary life skills of yarn work passed down from mother to daughter or from aunts and grandmothers. For centuries, it was common to find women and girls clicking away as they shared community news at a social or domestic gathering. Perpetuating the craft was taken for granted - without a skill base, families likely didn't have access to knitted essentials like socks, shawls and mittens. During the Revolutionary War, women like Martha Washington were regularly seen with yarn balls used to knit socks for the troops, and knitting groups were an active way that women of the time protested social and political conditions where they otherwise had little influence.

Socks from Old Birch on BFL/Seacell

From Homemaking to Hobby

The 1900s were a roller coaster ride for fiber crafts. The industrial revolution meant that it was no longer necessary for every household to spin, knit or crochet. Still, factors like the Great Depression and World War II resulted in a resurgence of frugality and self reliance, and this included an upswing in knitting and a renewed effort to pass on the art to the younger generation. By the 1950s and 1960s, modern manufacturing introduced bright colors, synthetic fibers and high fashion, resulting in easier access to both instruction and supplies. It was cool to create, and cottage industries around fiber arts became quite common in the age of home parties and increased leisure time. The fiber arts had effectively transformed from a utilitarian craft to something that was largely seen as a hobby. Within a single generation, however, technology took hold, causing handcrafted goods to go out of vogue. While children of the 80s and 90s were often still taught to sew in home economics classes, the entire fiber industry took a significant hit, and many people considered yarn work to be a dying art.


A Social Media Resurgence

While there has long been a controversy about how the advent of the Internet has changed our lives, there is no doubt that social media transformed our creative world. By the mid 1990s, DIY of all types was experiencing a rebirth. Crafting message boards morped into dedicated forums that moved to Facebook groups like our very own Created by Elsie B community.

In 2007, Ravelry became the go-to way for fiber artists to connect and remains an important social outlet for knitters today. Commerce also transformed, allowing a creative outlet for the handmade goods that were suddenly back in demand. While our grandmothers generally gained their skills from a close family members, many younger artisans are self-taught, and it's as common today to learn from YouTube as from someone you know. This has created a community that is equal parts new and familiar. There is a huge diversity in the fiber world, and old and young crafters mix and mingle, sharing differing generational perspectives while carrying on the arts that we all love. There is room for both environmental priorities and traditional techniques, and this has breathed both life and longevity into our craft.

In digging into how the fiber community has evolved, it's clear that our connections have always been important to the world of spinning, knitting and weaving. Without the social ties that have spanned the ages and allowed us to thrive, Created by Elsie B would not be the same. We are privileged to share our passion for fiber with each of you!

 P.S. We're sorry if you've noticed a bit of a blog blackout this month! Our copywriter broke her wrist at the beginning of October and had to have surgery and time to recover. (It was ouch, but everything went smoothly, and I'm recovering very well at not quite a month past injury.) Stay tuned next week for the second part of our combo spin tutorial!

How were you first introduced to spinning, knitting and other fiber arts? Were you taught by a grandmother or other relative? Did you pick up the craft via YouTube or other social media resources?

Rosa Zerkle

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