The Presentation of Self in Everyday Knitting

This started off as a comment on Karie Bookish’s blog post, Knitting as Lifestyle Brand? But it got so long I had to put it here! I wanted to touch on two points in her post: Why I knit, and also the “staged sweetness” idea. We’re not just performing ourselves online, we perform ourselves all the time. In the spirit of debate, I thought I’d post my thoughts. (I should say if she felt like this is career limiting to talk about this, then that sucks.)

Why I knit (and spin)

I don’t knit and spin because it’s a way to protest cheap labour, or even to customize garments for my bat wings. For me, nustling down into the warm, lanolin-soaked fleece of the fibre world has given me some context to learn about farming, food security, history, economics, mechanics, manufacturing and traditions. I love so much about it. And I’ve met some really amazing people and enjoyed some fantastic events.

But the truth is I’m not a product knitter or spinner. It’s all process. If I get a finished item, then that is a bonus.

When I don’t knit, I knee bounce wildly, I fidget, I peel labels off bottles, I pick my scabs, I literally pull my hair out, I worry napkins into twisted little sculptures, I distractedly get a low hum of anxiety goading me: you should be DOING something Heather instead of just sitting here. 

When I knit, I not only assuage that worker bee in me, but I also do something productive with my hands which isn’t anti-social, like reading on my phone. I try not to use my phone when I am with people. There is some urge in me to fidget and multitask. Sitting still is hard. Though I’m not someone who gets bored, I’ve never been bored, but I always make sure I have something to do.

When I was in school (about 9 yrs old) I doodled so much I was punished for it. While doodling and notetaking actually help me digest and comprehend what is going on, my down turned head was off putting for my teacher. She made me bring ALL my sketchbooks into the principle’s office where they were locked up until the end of the school year. It turned me into a REBEL. NO one was going to stop me doodling. HA! I could draw on ANYTHING, I didn’t need sketch books and fancy pens. I hated that cruel teacher and that school and counted each day until I defiantly reclaimed my sketchbooks at the end of the year.

I have a theory why knitting works better: When I wasn’t knitting in the years prior, I kept doodle notebooks to sketch and collage in. I noticed that people found that if you were read/writing/drawing, it’s a little off-putting or anti-social, I think because it looks like communication, and people may feel, ‘why aren’t you paying attention to me?’ in communication settings. Whereas knitting is not competing for “communication-attention.” It’s handwork and some puzzle-solving.

I mainly take photos to record what I’m doing and share insights as I go. It’s easier on Instagram, but I do try and take some time to journal on my blog. If I am sharing it is because I’m trying to connect to others, and also get inspired, get advice or sometimes, just as a retreat from the day-to-day.

Staged sweetness? But it’s all a stage!

Since I think Karie was keen to start a debate, I’m going to stick my neck out right here and boldly say I’m kind of annoyed about this idea that I’m not ‘being true to myself’ or ‘not being authentic’ because I don’t write about the horrible illness, failures, fears and sadness in my life on my blog. Hmm… if I “had to be myself” as Karie suggests, I don’t think I would participate online.

We facet ourselves in all situations, it’s a normal human thing. (Example: My family know I swear like a sailor, but I’m not going to swear in a client call or when I’m sitting with a friend I know who’d be offended.) In fact, when people don’t properly facet themselves online, we see it as really strange. Ever see someone post on someone’s Facebook wall something that should be in a direct message? Some people have no online social filters, or don’t know the mores or online etiquette.

Please read the awesome book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” by E. Goffman. Karie’s suggestion that this is “staged sweetness” fits within his notion of a Dramaturgical Framework. We have a Front stage, Back stage and Off stage of our self presentation, and we behave according to social scripts, stages and performances. This doesn’t make any one performance more or less authentic, because these are all facets of yourself.

Conflating an individual’s staged sweetness with the targeted marketing efforts of product companies is a little unhelpful and not useful. How can we compare someone’s knitting blog or Instagram feed to Goop? If someone is selling sweatshop products and trying to pass them off as hand-made it certainly should be called out. Though I also feel that if someone is promoting sweatshop craft supplies to help westerners to sate their need for self-expression, well that sucks too. I digress… Knit British writes about this better than I can.

At any rate, I think even the most active lifestyle blogs are presented by people with plenty of personal challenges. There is a person behind that presentation, we just don’t know them. Listen to Meighan’s  “What’s your Story” podcast interview with a Doyenne of Staged Sweetness SF Girl by Bay, where they discuss depression and the “candy-coated, curated world of social media.”

My old blog is gone, but I had posted something similar in “Craft Blog as Domestic Fantasy” (june 2006) because of discussion on some blogs saying pretty much what Karie is saying in her post. As I said in my response: “If anyone has read my blog and thought I was projecting some kind of domestic fantasy, I promise I didn’t mean to.” There were over 40 responses, because on top of all the challenges of life and the little spare time you spend to share, post and connect: you get told you’re doing it wrong? Life is hard enough.

Who’s watching?

I actually wonder if Social Media hasn’t made it actually harder to facet ourselves, and control which aspect of ourselves and identity which wish to share in an appropriate situation. Sharing on a blog is a big unknown. Is a future employer reading? Is my current employer reading? Is an ex-boyfriend reading? Is a stalker reading? (If you haven’t been stalked or censured yet, maybe you haven’t been online long enough.)

In other ways I also think: Who cares? The people who are close to me know about it and that is where I talk about it.

On my instagram feed I literally wrote in my profile: “wooly fluffy, knitting and good things.” I wrote that around the time I decided not to continue my #photo365 for the time being. Not because I wasn’t taking pictures, I was. But it wasn’t something I felt right sharing then. I was in the hospice with my dad, taking pictures of him, for him, with him and my family. And it was too painful to even look at, let alone share. So I stopped posting photos for that time and I didn’t pick it up again. I’d love to write about how technology helped us through this experience, but just not right now.

On a quick review, I see my instagram feed is mainly travel, wool and cats, it’s focused on things I’ve learned and a lot of screw ups and mistakes I’ve made in knitting for example. Even my blog is like that: A learning log. I’m not trying to stage any sweetness, but if you want to know about death, death, death, death and death, you can talk to me in person about it. I’m very open 1:1, not so much in a group, and not so much online, unless we’re friends on Facebook.

I’m not “hiding” my sadness or suffering, but I don’t want to put it in my learning notebook. I keep a lot of note books and this one is for my fibre adventure. I try to make the pictures clear, but many are poorly lit (I knit at night) and yeah, I’m in my PJs probably. I’d love to learn some better product photography actually.

If someone peruses it and thinks that my life is all happy fluffy kitties and pretty things, you’re part-right. There’s that, but then there’s also fear, sadness, doubt; messy stuff, sad stuff and crappy stuff. I try to assume the same about everyone I see and meet. Getting closer to illness and death has actually made this easier to comprehend and keep close on my mind:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Ian Maclaren

A page from a doodle book of mine.

A page from a doodle book of mine.

11 thoughts on “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Knitting

  1. Really thought-provoking post. I have a friend who just quit social media because she felt overwhelmed by everyone’s “happy” self and she does too much comparing. I agree with what you’ve said here – we all have other stuff going on in our lives but it doesn’t necessarily need to be shared everywhere. I really loved your comment about knitting giving you something to do – I’m the same way!!

  2. Honestly I don’t think the problem is how anyone presents themselves in a personal craft blog. Of course no blog or social media profile can, or should, represent the “whole person”. But there is certainly something afoot on the crafty internet as a whole. There is a very specific representation of the “craft world”, and it’s very carefully curated. I’m deeply suspicious of how this image (very white, young, pretty and heavily STYLED) is being promoted by professional or semi-professional crafters (or even more, craft bloggers – the advertising/sponsorship-driven ones), but I don’t see those issues in personal blogs. Even personal blogs maintained by young, white, privileged crafters… Unless they happen to be writing about how “authentic” and “artisanal” it is to be knitting with pure cashmere handspun by local virgins, you know?

    I want to see blogs about your process, your passion, your enjoyment, your learning. (General “you” there!) And by all means illustrate that with beautiful photos if you like. And sure, tell me how awesome that cashmere is, I’d love to fondle some myself. But I’m very turned off by the Pinterest babes of craft. It is, admittedly, a hard thing to pin down; but my gut knows the difference.

    • OK maybe I’m missing something. Not just your comment but also in the twitter thread, I don’t think I know what you’re saying. Meaning what is “Pinterest babes of craft”? I use pinterest pretty frequently and mainly for crafts. Where are these babes? Hmm.

      I don’t think I detect what you do, or see it?

  3. This is my second attempt as the first one disappeared into cyberspace!
    Social media is a huge time suck in my opinion for very little substantial return and I don’t subscribe to any of it, except for Ravelry, where I can both learn from others and share what little I’ve gleaned from experience, which may or may not be helpful.
    I don’t blog as I don’t choose to take the time to create what I would hope to be interesting and valuable information, or have the time to sustain a blog. Nor do I wish to subject myself to those who judge, harass, or otherwise suck off my energy with their antagonism, stalking or scamming. I admire people who can deal with that, and how much or how little of their lives they reveal is their choice, not mine. I subscribe to the concept of choosing my battles and letting the rest go by and fall into the abyss. I’m fond of the Spanish expression : No es importante. And it’s my frequent guide: is it important? often the answer is no.

  4. Very interesting! I agree with a lot of this – we all definitely tailor our self-presentation to different contexts, and it is jarring when someone moves the Off Stage to the Front Stage and the like. And I don’t think it’s necessary to show all one’s warts, especially since one function of social media can (should be?) to make us happy, and sometimes it’s nice not to focus on the bad/tougher parts of life, but to create a nice, happy, positive space.

    I do think that crafting can get overly entwined with self-improvement-y kinds of things – not like what you talk about here, in the sense of helping you sit still and not fidget (I am a scab picker and label peeler, too) – but in the sense of endowing some kind of moral authority to the “right” kind of life, which can be a bit grating. But then, that’s the case with so many other things in life, not just crafting.

  5. Interesting post. I recently found your blog after your comment on a yarn in ravelry about your bra swatch itchiness test made me laugh (I’ve since followed your lead)!

    I agree that we don’t need to hang it all out there online. But I do also think there’s something a little odd about the effort people put into self-presenting online. I think it’s more preoccupying and time-intensive than the self-editing and presenting we do in person. On Instagram, I always notice when somebody’s seemingly casual picture of being “in the moment” is clearly posed and taken by another person and in reality comes a lot closer to a photo shoot than anything else.

    I do think that not talking about the hard things in life, or even just the mundane ones, can make people feel a little lonely. I know I, as someone with a sometimes limiting chronic illness, sometimes feel like I’m on the outside and it’s hard having to remind myself that everyone is presenting his or her best face. That said, I think there are great spaces online to be honest about the harder things in life, and they don’t necessarily have to be associated with our ravelry name or what not. The same way you talk about presenting different faces in person, we can do that in different spaces online too.

    As for knitting as a socially acceptable form of fidgeting, I am so very much with you on that one!

    • LOL “socially acceptable form of fidgeting”, I would love to hang out with you and fidget, while we wait and see if our chests are getting itchy from our swatches!

      I think I learned the under-the-bra test from Clara Parkes. Her books and online courses are loads of fun 🙂

      Thanks for sharing that about your chronic illness, I have friends and family who live with illness, and I do try to keep it in mind. But – yeah I can see what you mean…

      And yeah, I think even proper “brands” are recognising that you can’t use photos that are too staged or commercial in your IG feed. That too is a social more or online etiquette for that context, and that stage. In fact Instagram is really centred around making things look a bit faded, worn and imperfect. So clearly a studio shoot is just not appropriate. They just are trying to apply what they know in that context and failing.

      Someone is doing a PhD on this, I am SO sure.

  6. I think your post resonates with me a little bit more… I don’t see the “Pinterest babes” either, so maybe my visual filter is broken? (I spend a lot of my professional life thinking about ad images of women, bodies, gender, and beauty, though, so I don’t THINK so…) Anyway, I appreciate your post, and agree that seeing happy things on social media doesn’t make me think people’s lives are perfect. Actually I’ve found social media to be kind of amazing for venting and sharing the harder life things, too, and getting all kinds of excellent support when I’m down.

  7. I love your post; it really is about online etiquette and sharing what’s appropriate for each outlet. My blog is generally knitting, travel, food: sweetness and light. The world doesn’t need to know if I’m mad at someone, or anything gross or gruesome. I read blogs because they’re about making things, and they’re pretty and fun. It’s entertainment; I’m not looking for the rock bottom of someone’s real world.

Comments are closed.