Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why Are We Afraid to Disturb the Universe?

So the Harlot has a debate going right now over the definition of lace. She is offering her readers four choices:

A) Elizabeth Zimmerman's definition, which is "a series of yarn-overs with accompanying decreases used to make holes" (or something like that).

B) Holes are holes, regardless of how they're made, so even if they aren't stable and are simply a result of knitting at a loose gauge, the result could be defined as lace.

C) As long as the holes are stable, intentional, and create some sort of design, the resulting fabric can be called lace.

D) Some other definition.

It's amusing to read through all the different comments -- to read about how "real lace" has to have patterning on both sides and how it must be accompanied by tears, angst, and language unbecoming a knitter, or how maybe we are really too rigid in a lot of our definitions.

The comment that really struck me though, was that a lot of people chose the first definition because, well, that's Elizabeth Zimmerman's definition, and who are we mere mortals to go against the great Knitting Goddess of Elizabeth Zimmerman?

Personally, I'd go with the third definition (because I don't think that yarn overs are the only way to make stable holes, or that knitting is the only way to create lace), but all those comments left me wondering...and marveling at the irony of it all (is it actually irony? I'm never certain). EZ was, truly, a knitting goddess. She made knitting cool before it was cool, and she authored many books throughout her lifetime that provide great, helpful information for many a knitter.

But most importantly (and here's where the irony(?) comes in), she disturbed the universe. And she dared other knitters to disturb the universe. Her definition of the perfect length of a border is "until the knitter is sick of knitting it." She constantly told knitters not to be afraid of doing something new or different (her motto was "knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises"). The first paragraph in one of her books talks about her "unventing something." She believed that there was no such thing as a mistake in knitting, only new things or deviations from a pattern, and that the correct way to create a long-tail cast-on was just to pull out a bunch of yarn until it looked long enough and go from there.

Now, I don't have any problem with any of those people who chose the first definition of lace if that's truly what they believed the definition to be. But to choose it just because it's Elizabeth Zimmerman's definition?

In the movie Mona Lisa Smile, Julia Roberts' character pulls out a Van Gogh paint-by-number and says to her students, "Ironic, isn't it? Look at what we have done to the man who refused to conform his ideals to popular taste. Who refused to compromise his integrity. We have put him in a tiny box and asked you to copy him."

I couldn't say it better.

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