I haven’t been knitting on the bus to work lately; I’ve gone back to walking half the journey and am finding myself tending to read for the other half, so in nearly two months I’d only managed to knit one of my Dunkerton Sweet socks and the cuff and half of the first leg pattern repeat of the second. And then I went to Nine Worlds yesterday and after knitting my way through panels on Historial Headcanons, Women and Fanfiction, Unlearning Bias and Doctor Who and transhumanism I had finished the second sock and had to sit through the panel on the Fantasy of White History knitting-free (result: one chewed thumb, because I am a fidget and can’t keep my hands still).
I actually had to start these socks twice; the first time I used a 2.25mm needle, as recommended by the pattern, but the yarn I was using (Brown Sheep Wildfoote) is quite a substantial sock yarn and on a 2.25mm needle it was really hard to work the lace pattern, especially the centred double decreases, so I ripped it out and started again with a 2.5mm needle which was much easier. I found the heel flap a bit fiddly the first time round, but much easier the second time; I also struggled slightly with the question of how to rearrange from having 33 stitches on the top of the foot and 27 on the sole to 30 on each for the toe, though this is mainly because I didn’t follow the pattern’s suggestion to place a start of round marker in the middle of the sole and therefore couldn’t do as suggested and just count stitches from there. In the end I opted to move one stitch from the inside of the foot (where the pattern goes furthest down towards the toe) and two from the outside on each sock, which seems to have worked, but I should probably have used the marker.
As for my first con experience, it was fun but exhausting. Partly that was because I only went for the day, which entailed getting up at 6am, leaving the house at ten past seven to get a bus into town for the 8am coach to Heathrow and getting to the con at 10am, then doing the whole thing in reverse in the evening (though it was quicker then, and I ended up home only two and a quarter hours after heading off at 8pm) which made for a long day. Partly it was because there were so many people around, and there didn’t really seem to be anywhere to just sit and breathe for five minutes; the panels were scheduled with half an hour between them but that really only seemed to be time to find the room where the next panel was, with maybe time to say hello to a couple of people in passing, or go to the loo or get a cup of tea if the queue wasn’t too long, so it very much felt as though I spent 10 hours alternately rushing around and listening to intellectually stimulating discussions. There wasn’t any downtime, and I was glad I’d brought sandwiches with me because not only did there not really seem to be anywhere to buy food (short of a full sit-down meal in one of the hotel restaurants, which I wouldn’t have done on my own, or the McDonalds next door) but there wasn’t time or space to eat it; I ended up eating my first sandwich while standing in a corridor waiting to get in to the Women in Fanfiction panel and the second while sitting in the room for the Fantasy of White History waiting for it to start. It was also a lot less of a social experience than I’d expected it to be; I saw lots of people I knew, but mostly it ended up being hellos in passing while heading in opposite directions, or occasionally ten minutes’ chat while waiting for a panel. I can see that staying in the conference hotel (or one of the other hotels nearby) would have helped a lot with the length-of-day and no-quiet-space problems, although being there for longer would have made bringing food more problematic and I can’t see that it would have helped with the lack of time to socialise. And, of course, it would also have been a lot more expensive.
Still, exhaustion and introvert ambivalence aside, I really enjoyed the day. It was nice to see various people, albeit briefly, and to meet one long-standing internet friend in person for the first time. I loved seeing the various cosplays people had come up with (in the absence of getting to see Liwella‘s Missy costume in person, my favourite was the woman who had knitted her own Wonder Woman outfit, closely followed by the bowl of petunias), and the panels were interesting and seem to have reawoken a critical part of my brain which had been dormant for far too long. With the result that I’m having all kinds of random thoughts, which you lucky people get to hear! (Or not; if you’re only here for the chat about what I’m making you may want to click away now, assuming you didn’t already do that several paragraphs away.)
One thing that impressed me was the democratic nature of fandom. Of course, there were some people on panels and some people listening to panels, but the membrane between “people on panels” and “people listening to panels” was clearly permeable, and in most cases about 40% of time in any session was devoted to audience questions/contributions to the discussion (the exception was the Fantasy of White History panel, where the panel ended up having a fascinating, incredibly enthusiastic discssion among themselves for the whole session; given the topic, and the overpowering whiteness of the audience, this didn’t seem like a bad thing at all). I was particularly struck by some of the comments from the panellists in the Women and Fanfiction panel about how, for them, writing fic was about creating a community of people who loved the same fandoms and characters as they did, and not about “practicing” so they could become professional writers. Somehow, this reminded me of the negative feelings I’ve been experiencing about the knitting world recently (see my post from a few months ago lamenting the decline in amateur blogging and podcasting, if you want the details) and it struck me that maybe the problem is that (even though yesterday was my first con) I’ve been on the outskirts of fandom for longer than I’ve been knitting and I’ve absolutely internalised the idea that activities which are ancillary to the production of the thing the fandom is about (blogging, fic, podcasting, running meetups) should be about creating community and sharing the love, whether that love is for a book, a TV series or a craft, and that I see people who decide to monetise those activities as betraying the community. But then, this morning, I followed a link to this terrific post by Kari Sperring, and I was particularly struck by this:
We are, as I said, an institutionally sexist culture. Women are embedded in this, too. I have had to have brisk conversations with myself more than once as to *why* I find self-promotional posts by women more worrying that those by men, for instance.
It made me ask myself whether, by resenting the monetisation of activities ancillary to my favourite hobby, I’m really being complicit in a culture which systematically devalues women’s inputs to the status of “hobby” rather than accepting them as “businesses” and valuing them accordingly. And then I read this by Maureen Kincaid Speller, which suggests that “ancillary activity as a method of building community” is maybe not as unproblematic in the world of SFF fandom as yesterday’s panellists may have made it appear, and that there are plenty of people there who are blogging as a step to professional reviewing gigs. So maybe the lovely utopian community-creating ideal is one that belongs to the past, or maybe it was always something that happened mostly in female spaces, because culture tells women that (unpaid) community-building is more important/valuable than using our talents to earn a living. (The giant Metafilter thread on emotional labour probably refers here, though I’m afraid I haven’t yet managed to find the time to read all of it.)
So, I’m conflicted. On the one hand, women using their skills and talents to find ways to support themselves financially which work for them and their families? Ways which take crafts which were traditionally seen as female and systematically undervalued because of it and actually make money out of them? Well, that’s great. I ought to be happy about it. But on the other hand, I don’t feel as though the knitting community is a community any more. Obviously, there have always been designers/dyers and then the rest of us, who are “just” knitters, just as in fandom there are authors and fans, but the membrane was permeable: desigers and dyers are also knitters, just as many authors are also fans of other things, and we were united by our common passion. Now, it feels as though a new divide has emerged, and on one side are the people who see knitting and knitting-related activities as their business, who have carefully curated online identities and use their blogs and podcasts and social media to promote each other’s businesses, and on the other are those of us for whom knitting is still just a hobby. I don’t want to make my hobby my business; I happen to be very happy in my job, and I don’t want the thing I do for fun to be tainted by the frustrations attendant on any money-making activity. But the trade-off for that seems to be that I’m no longer a member of a community; over the last six months or so, it’s become increasingly clear that all I am is a consumer, and that’s been making me very sad (and has also been tainting my enjoyment in knitting as a hobby, because that was so bound up with loving being part of the community).
TL;DR: capitalism ruins everything. Bah.