Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why bother to knit it myself

I was looking at a Norm Thompson catalog last night and noticed that they offer quite a few cabled sweaters. This got me to thinking about how a sweater that I hand-knit is different from one that was machine-knit or hand-knit by some underpaid worker in a third-world country.

First of all, I knit because I love the process. It's nice to have something to wear when you're done but let's face it, I don't finish every project that I start. I know! Shocking isn't it? I have been known, just recently in fact, to rip out a sock that was nearly finished and do it over just because I didn't like the way it looked on my foot. And I didn't complain because I love to make socks more than I love to wear them.

Long before I learned to knit I was a hand-knit sweater junkie. I spent a lot of money on sweaters because I loved that warmth, the bulk, the comfort and the style of a hand-knit sweater. While I was buying these sweaters I wondered who made it and what conditions was it made under. I like to think that I was helping a woman earn some money so that she could help her family live a better life. But really, for all I know those sweaters could have been knit by a chlid who knits 10-12 hours a day in exchange for a bowl of rice. Or a political prisoner. Or a grandmother who likes to earn a little extra spending money. I have no idea because the label just doesn't usually give you that kind of information. And even if the label said it was knitted by a cooperative of Peruvian women who would otherwise have little or no source of income, how do I know that's true?

For many years now I have refused to buy anything that was labeled as hand-knit or hand-crocheted. Maybe it's irrational but I just won't take a chance on condoning the exploitation someone who is, in my opinion, creating a work of art. It's one thing to be shackled to a machine turning out widgets and a totally different thing to be packed into a room with piles of yarn and told to knit or crochet. Why do I think it's different? Because people like me look at those hand-made items and we think "Oh, how lovely!". We can't tell whether it was made by someone who loved what they were doing or by someone who had no choice.

I'll get down off my soap box now. Sorry if I got a little carried away.

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