I find it endlessly fascinating how the ubiquity of knitting causes it to show up in the oddest places.
In books, movies, TV shows, poetry, painting, photography, and journalism, knitting is a convenient and potent reference that can succinctly get across a complex idea or image in a single phase. Sometimes knitting references in popular culture represent the new and dynamic, sometimes the old and archaic, and often, the familiar and comfortable. I actually love those possibilities, and always note when knitting appears in the arts and entertainment of which I regularly partake. When something can be so widely and usefully evocative for a message-maker, and the message can be either negative or positive, one can be assured that it has a real and permanent place in culture.
The Knitting of Harry Potter
As an example of knitting references in popular culture, if one looks only at the mentions of knitting in the Harry Potter series of books (of which Gwen and I are both very fond), one finds the following, among others:
- In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is told of his magical lineage and introduced into the wizarding world by a kindly half-giant named Hagrid. Hagrid is huge and imposing, and can use his strength to be fiercely protective, but is, at his heart, gentle and brotherly. As the author helps the reader to understand Hagrid, she notes that he knits on the subway, something canary-yellow and the size of a circus tent. This knitting is never explained, but serves to allow the reader to draw conclusions about Hagrid. A magical giant man knitting on the train in London? What does that mean? The beauty is that it can mean different things to different people. For me, of course, it paints Hagrid as a friend, a fellow knitter, someone I understand immediately. He’s creative, generous and practical. For others, it might serve to show Hagrid as merely odd, or unexpected.
- Each Christmas, the Weasley children receive a knitted sweater from their mother. They are usually described as somewhat grudgingly received, being homemade and representing the fact that the Weasleys don’t have much money. However, they have the deeper meaning of powerfully connecting the children with home, and become a symbol of Harry’s place in the Weasley family, a powerful and touching thing, as Harry is an orphan.
- Later in the books, Hermione Granger embarks on a project of great social significance, and knitting becomes an act of quiet revolution as she makes hats for house-elves to find and wear, so that they might become free from servitude. Hermione is the brilliant, bookish, problem-solving member of the core threesome of main characters, but as she turns to an ancient craft as a means to give simple clothing to the disadvantaged in her world she goes a bit out of her depth. She learns as she goes, and comes to feel proud of her work, even though it is not as perfect or easy for her as her academic endeavors. Both Hermione and Mrs. Weasley hand-knit their creations with the help of magic, but the magic reflects their skill and understanding, acting only as an extension of the hands and mind. I find this a fascinating clue to how magic works in the world JK Rowling created. It is not an absolute power; it comes from the individual and must be practiced and controlled.
- In perhaps my favorite and most subtle knitting moment in the series, Dumbledore, the brilliant headmaster of Hogwarts School and arguably the greatest wizard of the time, casually remarks, after a trip to the bathroom, how he loves Muggle (non-magical folk) knitting patterns. It’s a typically inscrutable and eccentric remark from Dumbledore, and, for me, a knitter and huge admirer of Dumbledore, there is the confirmation that knitting patterns really are the (sometimes overlooked) domain of the brilliant and creative mind. One might wonder what hidden treasures would an intellectual and magical giant like Dumbledore be seeing in a knitting pattern?
Knitting is Everywhere, Really
I hope you get the same secret, in-the-club thrill that I do when you see knitting references in popular culture. What are some of your favorite knitting moments? Least favorite? Do so-called knitting stereotypes offend you (the grandma characterizations, for example), or do you feel that there is no such thing as bad publicity?