Tensions: Thinking Through Hand Knitting

UoM administered thesis: Master of Philosophy

  • Authors:
  • Jude Robinson


Taking knitting as a sensory practice, I consider how the skill and craft of knitting is practiced, to explore the interrelationship between touch, creativity, emotions and praxis. This focus on the micro level of the domestic is intentional and enables me to consider issues of everyday cultural practice and explore how these link to social and emotional relationships and are sustained over time. To understand the everyday, Okely (1994) suggests that anthropologists should embrace the total sensory world of participants and ensure they move beyond their verbal accounts. Pink (2010) applies the term sensory ethnography to an interdisciplinary approach to studying the senses drawing on visual and other methods. Tensions is concerned with how four skilled knitters experience and understand their practice of knitting. The tensions I identify include how: limited access to resources can stifle or stimulate creativity; the hours taken to produce a garment of quality can be appreciated or ignored; how the emotional dimension of knitting means that knitting for profit can decrease the pleasure; the desire to reference the past can affect innovation; and, how the choice of materials interacts with sensory and practical considerations. These tensions run like threads of yarn through the themes, and elements of these tensions and themes are woven into all data. To capture the embodied praxis and wider spaces, I use film, audio recordings and photographs to document the women's knitting and these form four short audio and audio/visual pieces to accompany this text. Following Stewart (1996) I have included images throughout as stitches to complement the written material, and collated images and narrative fragments in a photo essay in the final section of this thesis. Taking a hypermedia approach (Pink, 2006), through this illustrated text, the collection of narrative fragments and four short audio and visual pieces, I explore how the women consider they use their senses from pattern and yarn selection, through to knitting and finishing a garment. Of particular salience is the sense of touch through hands, and through the audio and visual media I explore how hands move and create while knitting, and how the hands, needles and yarn interact, often with minimal engagement with eyes (Csordas, 1990). The women articulate how knitting feels as an embodied practice, and what they think as they knit, and how they situate their own knitting in relation to their life, their mother's lives and the wider historical and cultural landscape of knitting.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2019