Thursday, January 11, 2007

so, is that a big deal?

The Yarn Harlot's post today has prompted me to tell a story. It is similar to her tale of how the outside world discounts knitting and knitters. (or is it women's small businesses?)

I've been freelancing for 4 years. At first, I denigrated I was, this "educated" person in a smallish college town, and I couldn't find a job. No one had to make me feel bad, I did that myself, although I had some humdinger comments at interviews that did make me feel bad. I was offered jobs, that wasn't it. I wasn't offered career oriented jobs. Sure, I could teach part-time or work as a receptionist. I was offered those gigs, which would pass the time but kill my future career goals. I wasn't ready at 30 to throw in the towel and say, "Absolutely, I gave up my tenure track community college job in upstate New York to do this rinkydink job because here, my full- time job is biology professor's wife." I decided there had to be something better for me.

I started freelance writing, designing and teaching and doubled my income every year, but it still wasn't much of a living. In 2006, I hit 5 digits. I earned about one third of what I earned teaching. Yet, in October 2006, I accomplished something huge. My first article was published in Vogue Knitting. To me, this was a tremendous moment. Like having my name up in neon lights or something. I was bursting with pride.

A grad student friend of ours, a nice guy, was a house guest at the time. I rushed to show him my article. So, he's this bright, articulate, generally sensitive guy....and he says:

"So, uhh, is this a big deal? Should I be impressed?"

Woosh. That was the sound of the wind leaving my sails, let me tell you. This Socks that Rock club thing reminded me of that Woosh moment. Since this is a quiet day, I'm going to show you some things that Yes, I think are big deals.

The teal sweater, above, that I'm modelling in the not so great photo is 100% silk. I bought the yarn for around $100 on sale. It's anny blatt silk, and the kind of yarn is so out of date that I could not find it online. I designed this. Definitely one of a kind and looks better than the photo: Two color slip stitch body, feather and fan lacy scalloped sleeves, and a sailor collar. I hope to wear this to my brother-in-law's wedding in May. (that's the dogs' Uncle Ben, who gave us the pink fuzzy ball, for those of you keeping up) It fits me like it was made for me and I know no one, anywhere could purchase this in a shop. I did this. I'm a knitter.

About 11 years ago, my mom made this cardigan for me. I love it. I wore it when I was teaching in inner-city DC, in suburban Reston, VA, when I went to grad school in North Carolina and when I taught in Buffalo. This sweater's been around.

Sadly, over time, one of the cuffs frayed. This is because I loved the sweater. Not because I chewed on it or anything like that.

My mom bought me a skein of matching yarn to fix the cuff. I mentioned the sweater in this article, so the thing has been needing a fix since 2004. Today, I fixed it. The sweater will never be new again, and the cuff looks new. That will change in time, but it's like I've saved an old friend through fixing this. My mother knit this incredible sweater--and, let me tell you, she's a knitter. I fixed it, kept one more sweater for use instead of throwing it away or turning it into a blanket, because I'm resourceful and skilled. I'm a knitter.

This story that the Yarn Harlot related today, about a successful woman owned business that was told, "gee, you can't be making this much money from knitting"--well, it got me in the gut. I've heard it before. There's a scary truth for you. You can be writing for international newsstand magazines, designing both one of the kind sweaters and widely distributed patterns, tutoring students and attracting notice, but you know, like, is that a big deal? I mean, it's only knitting. What it sounds like to me? Well, it's only a woman. Yeah, like that--and I know a lot of us have heard that one before.

The kicker? We've got a WOMAN in charge of the U.S. HOUSE now. Oh, and I hear that one bank is going to get a heck of a lot of socks, or at least hear it from a lot of us knitters. Read this! We are knitters. We are women. We have power. Hear us roar!


Blogger Robert said...


You have had an article published in Vogue Knitting? Wow. You see there are men who understand. And the isolation from the real world is not only an issue facing women, I know it too. Anyhow, I have been watching your page because I happen to know your husband and sort of work in the bio dept. Dr. Meier, I think, told me about your site. Take a look at:

Let me know what you think. I think you'll understand that you accomplishments are appreciated here. And so is your clutter...

January 12, 2007 at 12:16 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

Your silk sweater looks great Joanne, I love the detail shot of the body and sleeve.

Thank you for reminding me to Just Do. It's amazing how difficult it is to take that first step.

January 13, 2007 at 1:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great design on that sweater!

January 14, 2007 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger Melanie said...

Your silk sweater looks wonderful and it could not have a more perfect fit.

January 14, 2007 at 2:11 PM  
Blogger Donna D said...

Great post, thanks.

I wonder if the attitude about women's work and knitting, etc., has to do with where you live. I have not run into this attitude in Colorado or California. I just got back from visiting friends in San Diego, most of whom work in the tech industry and who are men. I showed them my most recent book, and they all thought it was really cool that I am freelancing and making enough money to live on without having to do the cubicle thing. No one acted surprised that I could make a living writing about knitting. They all assumed that I am doing the same thing I was doing in the past when I was doing tech writing about computers, only now I am doing tech writing about a different topic.

I think maybe we need to learn how to frame our work in a way that people understand what we are doing. My career is not about knitting. It's about tech writing, or about fashion design, or about historical textile research, or about womens studies, etc. Knitting is my medium of choice for my design work and my current topic of choice for my writing, but what I do is much, much more than "knitting."

I don't know if that makes any sense, but just trying to figure out why you have had such a different experience than I have when we are both really doing the same things.

January 20, 2007 at 10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Joanne for the inspiration of your post. I am a very new fledgling in the freelance knitting/writing world and it's great to hear of others who have been there before me and achieved success!

I will be popping by regularly :-)

January 29, 2007 at 3:50 PM  

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