April 28, 2012

Day 4: Hipster Portland and the Knitting Conflict

Anne Hathaway. Even she has been carried away
in the hipster flood. What about Ella Enchanted?
"...all the hot girls wear glasses..." such is one description of a hipster Portland girl through the proverbial eyes of "Portlandia," the satirical and spot on sketch comedy show. It is no secret that I love this show; I have blogged about it, even written my own imaginary script for it and love it so for what I see as it's hilariously accurate depiction of my hometown. What does this have to do with knitting, you say?


People who live here understand the peculiar juxtaposition of the hipster influence next to almost everything (I would argue that we are affected even if it is subtle or even subliminal). And knitting is no exception.

Hold on! you say, the Ravelry Day 4 post for Blog Week is supposed be about seasons, not attitudes.

We do have seasons here. In fact, I'd say that here in the Pacific Northwest, we have some of the best summers anywhere in the world. Usually.

Some of own boots, but only because they are in
style right now. Now that's hip.
Most often, we are defined here by our rainfall. Our seasonal weather can consist of rain, rain and more rain, with little drizzle and mist sprinkled in. We may have a couple of snowflakes here and there in January and when summer arrives (if it does), there is no guarantee of a great one, or at least a long one.

No, we live often in perpetual moisture, in one form or another, and, while we do so cherish our lovely and precious summer days and blue skies, we typically live as though it will rain at any time. The rain has become such a part of who we are that natives of Portland rarely use umbrellas, boots or even hats. (This makes the newcomers stand out like hot red boots in a rain puddle shining in a sun break)

Do we knit for the weather? All the time.

In spite of our habitual lack of galoshes (we just wear crocs all the time) and rain ponchos, we are not totally clueless the our habitat. For example, we know that wool is the best "wet" fabric. It holds up to 25% of its weight in moisture before feeling wet, it is warm, it lasts for all time and it the most beautiful, diverse and fabulous knitting fiber. My fave. Once I discovered it, I wanted nothing else. And others are certainly with me.

My own recent thick socks. I love them.
And I realize that I need some more
 knitting photos soon!
Wool is great for the outdoor lifestyle here, too. Hiking, biking and just sitting-outside attire is often best served by this fabulous fabric. Because of all these things--monochrome weather (grey), lifestyle, lack of super hot stretches of heat--we can also knit any item we like, pretty much any time of the year. No one will look at you askance for knitting thick boot socks in August on a park bench. In fact, they may even say, "hmmm...maybe I should think about that...you never know when you might need those. She is really planning ahead!"

This practical aspect of knitting habits aside, we must return to the "hipster factor."

As I said before, it permeates our lives here right now. And because it is "new-ish," it presents some interesting issues.

Knitting has been around a long time. A really long time. There are paintings depicting the Virgin Mary knitting in the round on dpn's and it is widely believed that Roman soldiers wore knitting socks--in their sandals no less.

If you visit us here in the Northwest part of the U.S., you definitely will see people in Oregon and Washington wearing thick socks in their Birkenstocks summer, spring, fall and winter, but these folks are usually the "old school" knitters, artisans, artists (we have lots of awesome glass blowers here) and/or hippies. These people are typically the more the down-to-earth traditional hip people. Hippies and hipsters must not be confused.

Often, hippies (as I love and think of them) uphold more traditional knitting styles--things that can be expected. Big, long bulky aran sweaters and thick socks are wonderful examples of traditional semi-past knitting culture at least (last 40 years or so).

They are often the real deal in other ways, too. They may have actual sheep that they own and sheer. They may have been spinning and dying long before it was so popular and they have understood what it means to grow one's own organic garden long before "everyone was doing it." They started living their lifestyle long ago, because they believed in something, wanted a healthier change, personally or socially. At any rate, they are genuine. They may even embody the "pioneer spirit" that is often used to describe the social feeling here in the Northwest.

Enter the hipsters. The newer, distorted look of the pioneer spirit. This does not describe an age group exactly, but an attitude--a small, yet pervasive one.

My kids used to use a word that fits here: "poser." This word means that someone is trying to be something they are not. Like a shallow facsimile of the the real deal.

Instead of deep meaning, hipsters aspire to lofty knowledge without firm foundation. They pride themselves on knowing things before their friends do and spend a lot of time learning things--via the internet or otherwise--and lord it over everyone. They are the ones who simply must be first and best in a conversation, throwing around unsolicited social opinions on anything from the latest band to the latest research blog from The New Yorker.

The key here is the word "latest." They must be first, they must be smartest, they must be best. And in a very short amount of time. It's hard to keep up minute to minute with absolutely everything, so I must assume the quality of the information is absolutely doomed to suffer. This differs greatly from truly skilled or knowledgeable people who spend time learning their ideas and crafts.

Traditional Hipster glasses. On the way out? Better get a
pair soon. Then you, too, can be ironic.
The shallow hipster approach to being number one even leaks into fashion. Seems silly, but it does. One day you here from a friend that absolutely everyone is wearing leg warmers, the next, the same friend tells you that leg warmers are "so over!!" and cites a recent online article from someone allegedly in the know. Did you buy a pair of hipster-style glasses, thinking they were cute and fun? I personlly heard just today that they might be "over," too! This thinking could leak into sweaters, fibers, dying, absolutely everything.

What about knitting?

How do you reconcile a traditional, ancient art such as knitting with a callow, hollow attitude towards everything but the aspiration to be first? Do we worry about trends, alleged though they may be, and rapid fire new ideas here in Portlandia? Do we fret about that yarn we bought 3 years ago and worry if it will be in style now? What about that pattern you purchased years ago, with the intention of becoming skilled enough someday to make it? Can we use it now? What if you just now learned about spinning and dying and wanted to put on it your bucket list? Can you?

Will you miss the window of opportunity? Will it all come crashing down? Will your sweater pattern, purchased in the 90's, be mocked today?

First of all, the dream of the 90's is alive and well here in the greater Portland Metro Area (see Portlandia opening montage). So go ahead and dream about that sweater pattern.

But more importantly, if one were to care about social acceptance here--and let's face it, those of us over 25 (and many of us under 25) no longer care--there is always a hipster "out." Adjunct to the desire to be first, is also the desire to be ironic. It may even supercede the desire to be first. So go ahead, learn to knit, spin, dye. Whenever you want. Make that 80's cut boxy sweater (I am certainly about to... I like the cut) and wear it all with pride.

No worries: as quickly as something is "over," it is "ironic," meaning that as soon as wear an "outdated" item, you have already started a new trend. And so the cycle continues. Old concept? Sure. Just a new word.

We can rest assured that is is completely safe to cling to the ancient, the tried and true art of knitting. In all its forms, shapes and styles.

After all, at the end of the day, there are absolutely no new ideas under the sun anyway. No matter how many ridiculous words we come up with to express them.

Knit on, folks, knit on.


anna said...

Have you watched portlandia season 2?
They have "the dream of the 1890's" and they talk about how people are knitting, sewing clothes for their children, growing mutton chops, brewing their own beer and wearing glasses like contact lenses have never been invented.
You should definitely watch that clip, if not the entire season.
Portlandia season one is over!

The Knitting Muse said...

Dude! I seriously am addicted. Not only have I seen season II, I have watched it probably 3 times : ) And I love the whole Amish nature of that clip. "Uh, your dress is more like a flapper...." And I hope to soon memorize the "anthem" for Portland. Ha! So glad to hear from you, happily engaged friend!!!!