A material world

'Knitting is getting a better reputation and younger people are not seeing it as something just for old people anymore' - Robin Zelder, Knit 'n' Nosh Club

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The fashion world can be very confusing and the latest obsession with knitting is no exception. Sightings of Julia Roberts knitting in public have sent young wannabes in search of their grandmothers' needles to create everything from iPod holders to handbags and even bikinis. Over the past few years, the trend has seen "Stitch 'n' Bitch" knitting groups spring up throughout Europe and the US, but where are Jerusalem's knitters? Robin Zelder, the organizer of the city's most popular knitting club, the Knit 'n' Nosh Club, says the worldwide boom in all things woolly has made it here as well. "We have been in existence for two years but our numbers are definitely growing," she says. "Knitting is getting a better reputation and younger people are not seeing it as something just for old people anymore. They are realizing that if they want something to fit them and to be a certain color, then they can just go ahead and make it themselves." Textile designer Talia Donag says the trend is also an attempt to get back to basics. "I think the reason for this return to knitting is the desire to return to nature as opposed to technology and mass production," she explains. The knitting comeback, it seems, is not just a quirky fad or the elaborate PR stunt of a handful of celebrities. Instead, it appears symptomatic of a fundamental shift in public opinion: the rejection of commercialism in favor of something a little more unusual. Whereas nylon and machine-knitted garments may once have been the height of chic, nowadays handmade items are making fashion fanatics go weak at the knees. If knitting can transport society back to its humble beginnings, then, some enthusiasts argue, it can also reconnect women with their own pasts. Zelder recalls that it was her mother who taught her to knit. "I started about seven years ago, a little before I made aliya to Israel from the US. My mother has always been a knitter and she would knit me sweaters all the time. I really wanted to learn from her while I had the chance." Even feminists seem to agree. Molly Malekar, director of the feminist peace organization Bat Shalom, says: "I think some of the women I know who are feminists are looking for ways to renew women's tradition. They use it [knitting] to create bridges with their own mothers and grandmothers." Malekar points out that the revival of this ancient craft shouldn't necessarily be equated with a regression of feminism. "Some women are rethinking the more militant forms of feminism as they are concerned that this path forces them to deny the soft and feminine parts of their identity," she says. "I know one political and feminist activist who used to knit during very passionate and intensive discussions, so I guess a woman can do both." Leading feminist intellectual Galia Golan says the fact that we even associate knitting with women is the real problem. "In itself it is not bad for feminism. It is just a question of how much the image of women is once again reflected with knitting needles rather than a computer, for example. "The fact that men are doing it is good," she adds. But are men in Jerusalem really doing it? While the sheer Web space devoted to worldwide male knitting suggests that men are turning up in droves to exchange their electric drills for needles and a ball of yarn, in this particular city male knitters are keeping a very low profile. One of the rare exceptions is 13-year-old Nadav Roiter, who arranged to take private knitting classes by placing an advertisement on a community Web site. "I've always seen people knitting, making their own scarves, and I think it looks kind of cool," he explains. However, Zelder says that since she started Knit 'n' Nosh only one man has attended their meetings. Similarly, Haya Meyerowitz, who leads a knitting group for the over 60s in Ramot, admits that she does not even know of any male knitters in Israel. "I've invited those men who seem interested in the process but so far it's turned out that the ones I've met are more interested in our products as gifts," she explains. It seems that the majority of Jerusalem's men have yet to catch up with the younger generation and the latest way of keeping warm by looking cool. However, considering that knitting was a male-dominated craft for centuries up until the invention of the knitting machine, perhaps it is time that men also started getting back to their roots.