For the uninitiated, KIPing stands for Knitting in Public. I've always engaged in it in a limited way. Whenever I knew I'd have to wait in doctors' offices or while the boys were doing something, I'd take along a portable project to fill my time. I never thought much about it. It was just something I did while waiting, until recently.
During the past month or so, I've had different opportunities to participate in KIPing with groups of women and it has me thinking about what this more deliberate, non-waiting public knitting is about for me.
First of all, it is fun to sit and talk with people that share a common interest and vocabulary. We can commiserate over having to "tink" something (unknit a mistake) or "frog" a failed project (unravel completely). There are discussions of patterns and yarns, along with the universal need to touch whatever other people are working on. There is also the ready help or advice when tackling a new technique. But these things aren't part of the public aspect of the knitting, although jokes are made about the subversiveness of knitting and how we are aiming for world domination by knitters.
The intriguing part of public knitting for me comes from the reaction of the non-knitters passing through the public space. These reactions seem to change depending on where one is knitting and whether or not you are alone or one of a large group.
Waiting room knitting is scarcely noticed. It is akin to reading old magazines to pass the time and gets only the quick question about what you are making from whatever doorkeeper may be present. Knitting at a yarn shop hardly qualifies as knitting in public at all. Everyone in the place knits and it is just a social gathering. Knitting at the mall is an entirely different experience. People scurrying between shops do not give much attention beyond watching while they approach, although they must be curious as to why nine women are knitting in the mall.
The most interesting experience I've had so far has been at a bakery. About ten women were gathered around several tables pushed together happily talking and knitting away. The staff were happy to see us. The twenty-somethings didn't know what to make of us. A couple of middle-age men struck up a cheerful conversation and jokingly solicited handmade sweaters for themselves. And an elderly gentleman walked in, couldn't take his eyes off of us and couldn't seem to stop smiling either. It made me wonder if he were remembering a dear one in his life who had been a knitter.
For me, these last examples of fleeting connection encourage me to continue to seek out other opportunities to be seen knitting. Perhaps it is the anachronistic quality of knitting or, maybe, it is the fact that several of us were doing it together, but something engaged, at least briefly, those who crossed our path. And human connection is always a good thing.
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