Friday, December 03, 2010

Why Do You Do That?

Does anyone else have a set of stock answers to the perennial questions asked of a knitter and spinner working in public? I was sitting in a waiting room yesterday for several hours while my husband was having some minor surgery. As usual, I passed the hours working on a couple of projects, trading out as the whim struck or as my hands began to ache a bit.

I was working on the second foot of a pair of socks made according to Cat Bordhi’s Footprints method, and spinning on a silk cap I had dyed a few weeks back. It never fails (at least in East Tennessee) that doing needlework in this situation leads to conversations with complete strangers, and I tend to enjoy those spontaneous opportunities for proselytizing to the non-fiber folk around me.

However, I discovered yesterday that I was giving rote answers to a never-changing slate of questions. While knitting, the first question was invariably, “Are you knitting?” There’s not much scope for even a smart-alec like me in that one, so I answered, “Yes, sir” (or ma’am, as the case might be). But the next question, every single time, was “But that looks like a sock? You’re not knitting a sock, are you?” This was always in a rather hesitant tone of voice, as if leery of giving offense by not recognizing that I was actually knitting, say, a flipper cover for a seal or something equally unusual. My response, again, was almost word for word, “Yes, it’s a sock – I like knitting socks that fit me exactly and keep my feet nice and warm all fall and winter long.”

Now came the usual bit (this response is so frequent as to be annoying, actually), “But you can buy socks at Walmart for just a dollar or so a pair; why make your own? Isn’t wool yarn expensive?”

Now, let’s face it – people either get socks or they don’t. If they don’t, all you can do is feel sorry for them and hope they don’t sit there too long and give you whatever strange virus they’re carrying. If they do, you pull your foot out of your shoe or boot and let them “ooooh” and “ahhhh” over the pair you’re wearing right now. You next offer the address and phone number of your LYS, where they can learn to make their own lovely custom footwear. But I was polite, even to the ones who seemed to be carriers of that strange anti-sock virus, merely saying “I enjoy knitting things that fit me exactly and wear for years. And I don’t think $20 for a pair of wool socks that I can wear for four or five winters is all that bad a price.”

No fooling, I repeated these sentences, with no significant variation, often enough over a six-hour period that the receptionist was saying them with me!

The spinning conversation was equally repetitious. “What are you doing, making string?”

“Yes, I’m making silk string that I’ll knit with later.”

“Doesn’t that take an awfully long time?”

“It’s actually surprisingly fast. I make between five and ten yards of yarn a minute.”

“Oh. You do know that you can buy yarn already made, right?” Again in a hesitant tone of voice, as in ‘don’t upset the crazy hippie lady.’

“Yes, I do – but I enjoy doing it myself. That way I can control all the variables.”

“But isn’t it just yarn?” This time in a bewildered tone.

Again, a conversational stopper – how do you answer this? By this time, either the questioner has gotten the idea that what I’m making is quite special (hand dyed, hand spun silk caps spun to a specific grist of singles), or again they’re carrying some odd anti-fiber disease I don’t want to risk catching. So I turn the conversation to their hobbies, and try not to ask quite such asinine questions about them. And excuse myself as quickly as possible – they may be contagious!

The aforementioned receptionist was quite lovely, by the way. Not a knitter or crocheter, but her sister is a member of the club, and she herself is a grateful recipient of her sister’s handwork. Finally it was late in the afternoon, and it was just the two of us in the waiting area. Her comments were a bit more intelligent than had been the norm throughout the afternoon…and at last somewhat made up for the rote conversations in which I had participated to that point! She was the one who started me thinking, truthfully. I hadn’t realized that my KIPing and SIPing conversations were so repetitive until she mentioned it.

So now I’ll ask you folks: do the paragraphs above comprise most of your own knitting/spinning in public conversations? Or do folks in different parts of the country or world feel differently about what you do? I’m genuinely curious, by the way – surely the Southeastern US isn’t the norm?