Knitting in public: have I been dastardly rude this whole time?
February 28, 2014 4:38 AM   Subscribe

You and some friends (guys and gals) are hanging out chatting. It's all really casual and you guys are all good friends. One friend pulls out their knitting and starts working on it. (No charts, no pattern, just really simple stockinette stitch.) Do you feel slighted? Like she's checked out of the conversation? Like she's bored with you and the group? Do you wish she'd just put it away and pay attention?

(Can't ask my own circle of friends as they'd say, "no, no, it's fine" even if they were lying.)
posted by unlapsing to Human Relations (135 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps because I have a lot of knitters in my social circle, and I balance that with gifts for the non-knitters, but no. That is perfectly acceptable among my friends. If it's mindless knitting and I'm able to fully participate in conversations, more often than not my friends start poking & say "that's pretty yarn, is that a hat for me?"

However, your friends might be different. If you're getting an annoyed vibe from them, maybe keep your knitting for those of us who understand the mind numbing dullness of wide swaths of stockinette.
posted by librarianamy at 4:42 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't knit, but the knitters I know are multitaskers. It's like eating or having a drink while being sociable. I wouldn't be offended.
posted by BinaryApe at 4:44 AM on February 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

It is pretty normal for knitting to be brought out during my work meetings that require active participation/intense conversations so knitting is not looked as being any more indicative of in attention then, say, twirling a pen. Socially, I would never assume the knitter wasn't paying attention.
posted by saucysault at 4:49 AM on February 28, 2014

It depends on whether the friend has indeed checked out of the conversation (i.e. with large changes in verbal, body language, and eye contact).

To me, it's like using a smartphone during a conversation. There's no hard and fast rule in my brain, but whereas the phone is barely a blip on my radar if it's used within conversational flow (to fact-check, to look up a movie time, to quickly text a friend about your change in plans, etc), I do feel slighted if a friend's attention shifts entirely, mid-conversation, to the phone. It's not about the phone or the knitting; it's about the level of social engagement.

(Sometimes it's not bad, per se, if someone checks out; it can be a useful cue to the rest of the friend group that the topic is uncomfortable, for example. So "checking out" is not universally bad.)
posted by nicodine at 4:50 AM on February 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

Dear god no, this is totally normal. Women used to take their knitting to all kinds of things to work on it while listening/talking. My family does this constantly. I was just catching up on Veronica Mars and there's a thing where she has jury duty and one of the other jurors is working on a scarf while they're deliberating. I think the only two big exceptions I know of are work and church, and I've had jobs that were exceptions to the exception.

Which is not to say that you shouldn't stop if you get a real vibe that your particular friends mind, but it'd be quite unusual.

It might be a bigger deal if you're not particularly comfortable with the stitches and therefore aren't ever making eye contact with people.
posted by Sequence at 4:51 AM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Not offended at all as long as they are participating in the conversation, still interacting, still involved.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:54 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I hope not! I do this socially, but only around people I'm familiar with, and I make an extra effort to show that I'm interested and involved in the conversation. I don't do it around people I don't know as well, e.g. work friends. I never do it at work meetings or parties.

I think people's personal level of okayness depends on how many knitters they know. If you're the only knitter your friends know, they may be less comfortable with it. And if they're the kind of gossipy people who have regular conversations about "so-and-so is so weird, here's this weird thing he does, ugh," they are almost certainly saying the same thing about your knitting, but they'd find something else lame to complain about anyway.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:57 AM on February 28, 2014

Yes, I think it's annoying. It's very common, and knitters will tell you that they are fully engaged in the conversation--but that's not the point. You could be fully engaged in a conversation and turn your back to your partner, but it's still annoying to talk to someone's back.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:57 AM on February 28, 2014 [20 favorites]

I don't see it as any more rude than eating a sandwich.
posted by griphus at 4:58 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

To support Sequence's point, Anne Macdonald's "No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting" asserts that when Martha Washington invited friends to visit, they were required to bring along knitting gear so they could chat while making socks for soldiers. There's a long tradition here.

There's a difference between being physically present in a conversation and being emotionally present. As long as you're there in spirit, the knitting is not rude.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:58 AM on February 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

If you're watching TV or chatting about random stuff that people talk about when they're just hanging out, not rude at all.

But (IMO) if someone starts talking about a personal problem, or is looking for support or advice, or if everyone is debating a topic that requires consensus (making plans for an upcoming trip, for example), then I think knitting (like phones) should be put away. It's a matter of divided attention vs. full attention. Some topics and conversations deserve full attention, and the fact that most knitting is just busy handwork becomes irrelevant. If I was opening my heart and my friend couldn't be bothered to put her knitting down and talk to me eye to eye, it would offend me. (I am a crocheter, fwiw)
posted by Mchelly at 4:59 AM on February 28, 2014 [35 favorites]

I like seeing my knitting friends break out the sticks. It's a peaceful addition of color to the ambience between and around us. And it's such a pleasurable contrast to the ubiquitous phones that are usually on hand. Also, so much manufacturing is divorced from our everyday lives now, so it's lovely to see a person make stuff in the here and now. I value such friends.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 5:00 AM on February 28, 2014 [16 favorites]

I think if everybody in the group is a knitter, it's totally fine. If not, I do actually think it's kinda rude. I used to sit around and draw with my friends when I was in art school but I would definitely not just pull out a pad and paper with non-drawers and assume it's OK, even though I know I can totally still be engaged in the conversation.
posted by smirkyfodder at 5:24 AM on February 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

I always like to see knitting. I encourage.
posted by amodelcitizen at 5:24 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you feel slighted? Like she's checked out of the conversation? Like she's bored with you and the group? Do you wish she'd just put it away and pay attention?

Yes to all of these.
posted by grouse at 5:31 AM on February 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

Yeah, it just depends on the vibe in the group. Like Mchelly said, if you're having a deep conversation, I would put the knitting down. But just in a casual hangout? Knit away. I like seeing my friends happy and if you can derive enjoyment from knitting while we are hanging out I am all for it.

I think though that if you ask your friends and they say it's fine but secretly think it is rude? You're not a mind-reader and that is unfair of your friends. (I suspect that if you asked they would tell you it was a problem if it was, and that you're just worried that they're not telling you they don't like it, because that is something I would also do - worry about this kind of thing despite reassurance.)

Anyhow, I would actually just ask my friends, or I might say something like: "I'm going to knit if no one minds. If it gets annoying, let me know." Then I would assume that if they have a problem, they will tell me. If they don't, the discomfort or unhappiness is something they caused because they didnt communicate with me, not because I was knitting.
posted by k8lin at 5:31 AM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

No, I have friends who do this and I don't mind.
posted by Area Man at 5:32 AM on February 28, 2014

Bring it with you and see what happens.

I totally get the urge to sit and make stuff whilst in social situations - it keeps my hands occupied and helps me relax. Some people have found it weird but they get used to it when they see me chatting whilst knitting. It really helps if you are at that stage where you don't have to look at your needles, incidentally. People like eye contact.

Weirdly, smokers seem to totally accept knitting in public outright (possibly it's the "keeping hands busy + relaxing" bit they seem to get)
posted by kariebookish at 5:32 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is a perennial topic of debate on Ravelry. The overwhelming majority of people seem to think it's fine, but there's a vocal minority who think it's really rude. So I think the question comes down to whether you're ok doing something that wouldn't offend the average person but might offend some outliers.

Personally, I knit at work meetings. Nobody has ever said anything, partly because a beloved, since-died employee used to knit at staff meetings, so there's a precedent. I also have ADHD, and sitting through 2-hour staff meetings is a challenge even with my knitting. Without it, I'd probably be getting up and circumambulating the conference room, and I figure knitting is less rude than that!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:33 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Like kariebookish says, bring it with you next time and introduce it as something that you like to do while chatting/eating/whatever. I think if someone is upfront about it and then demonstrably proves that they can knit and hold a conversation, then everyone will be used to it.
posted by kuanes at 5:37 AM on February 28, 2014

A couple of my friends do this and I have never considered it rude. I actually like watching people create, so it doesn't bother me and occasionally I end up with knitted treats. I swear I took grad school seminar classes where I was the only one not knitting.

For comparison, I hate when people are face and eyes into their cell phones during conversation. I find that knitters are able to converse a lot more.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:37 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is a perennial topic of debate on Ravelry. The overwhelming majority of people seem to think it's fine, but there's a vocal minority who think it's really rude. So I think the question comes down to whether you're ok doing something that wouldn't offend the average person but might offend some outliers.

The average person in a knitting community.
posted by grouse at 5:39 AM on February 28, 2014 [24 favorites]

Depends on the setting and the friends. Among good friends who knit, I know it's not an insult, so if I feel any irritation (which is rare but sometimes happens), I mentally shrug and let it go. Among good friends who do not habitually craft, but who suddenly start knitting or otherwise crafting/arting while together, I am more bothered. Conversation about it may be helpful, at least in communicating your intent. In any case, if the conversation is serious, the knitting needs to go away... with the caveat that, sometimes, distractions can help during difficult conversations, or with other challenges (see ArbitraryAndCapricious above).
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:40 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

True, grouse! My sense is that the average person IRL doesn't think it's rude, either, but I could be wrong about that.

I do think that texting or fiddling with a smartphone is way ruder, but that's probably because I do both things and know that texting takes more of my concentration.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:42 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would think it was only sort of odd unless it was a serious conversation, and then I would think it was very rude.

I cannot imagine working somewhere people knit in work meetings, though. That seems inappropriate and disrespectful in the same way that doing it during a serious conversation is rude. But I guess that as with so many things depends entirely on work culture.
posted by winna at 5:42 AM on February 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

There is a difference between absent minded knitting done by an expert knitter, which occupies no more of their attention than would fiddling with a pen, and painstaking knitting done by a beginner. I'd be honest with yourself about what category you are in, how much of your attention is being taken by the knitting, and things like do you hold it up at eye level or down in your lap below the edge of the table?
posted by Dip Flash at 5:42 AM on February 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

Data point: I'm not a knitter, don't know any knitters, fine with it. I sometimes see groups of knitters in the wild (coffee shops). I admit I am curious about their ways and they look like the kind of people I'd get along with.

But if someone were to do what you said during a casual conversation of non-knitters and I'm one of them, it would not bother me.

People playing with their phones bothers me a lot.
posted by vincele at 5:44 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I agree that it depends on the amount of attention your knitting requires. I am a fairly experienced knitter, so if I'm working on, say, the foot of a sock, I can still pay good attention to what's going on around me, but I need to give all of my concentration to lace knitting.

People *do* get annoyed if you are knitting while playing Ticket to Ride and still manage to win, but I refuse to feel bad about that.
posted by chaiminda at 5:45 AM on February 28, 2014 [15 favorites]

I'd be like 'dude, are you listening?'. If they are then all is good. I can doodle and listen and speak.
posted by h00py at 5:49 AM on February 28, 2014

Is this at a bar or restaurant or something? Then yes, this is really irritating. For some reason, it would bother me less just hanging out at someone's home. To be honest, I think polling is not a good way to get an objective answer, in my experience knitters respond more than others to this sort of question.

(In work meetings, classes (I teach at a university), it is infuriating, and a terrible idea in terms of interpersonal politics also...knitters never want to hear that though...)
posted by advil at 5:50 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I don't know anyone who knits and I would think that the person has checked out of the conversation.
posted by tommccabe at 5:51 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is not to say that some people won't think you're rude if they feel you're not giving them your full attention. They will. I'm just saying I wouldn't think you were being rude if you happened to be multi-tasking. I am one of many. You'll never please everyone!
posted by h00py at 5:52 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't find it rude at all, but I expect you to give me a scarf at least once in awhile.
posted by xingcat at 5:55 AM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I know some knitters and it does, honestly, bother me a bit. Partly because it breaks up the body language part of the conversation - less eye contact, more of the body cues are the result of knitting than interaction.

I think if we were hanging out watching a movie, or it was my housemate and we were chatting at the end of the day while sitting around, it would be fine. But it bothers me a lot if we've actually made a time to hang out at a coffee shop and talk and catch up but the whole thing is modified by the need to check in on the scarf. Also, I don't think most people can knit and be fully immersed in the conversation, if it's a conversation of any complexity - I think it's one of those things where you think you're paying full attention but you're not. (Like texting while walking, for instance - everyone always thinks they're fully alert to their surroundings.) I used to draw a lot, and I know that when I was working on a comic, I was not fully engaged in conversation.
posted by Frowner at 5:56 AM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

If this is a survey, this non knitter who has no friends who are knitters, would rather you not.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:56 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know there are groups of friends for whom getting together and working on individual crafts is the way they spend time together. That's great. But for all other instances among friends in casual conversation, this annoys me if it it's frequent. In my head I'm thinking, "Ok, I get it, you're time is so valuable / I'm so boring that you must layer something else on top of our time together." Once or twice in anticipation of Christmas-time or someone's birthday, no big deal. But frequently? Totally annoying.

And work situations?! I can't believe there are people here saying, "It's ok! It's the lesser of two evils because otherwise I'd be too fidgety." EVERYBODY has something they'd rather be doing instead of sitting in a two-hour meeting. I'd rather read--that's less fidgety and quieter than knitting. What about origami? Calligraphy? Waxing my handlebar mustache? Drawing ideas for my craft beer bottle labels? Put. It. The. Fuck. Away.

Knitting at work distracts from the work at hand, demeans everyone else's efforts to focus, and your own image as competent and professional. My honest opinion having been both an employee and manager of office knitters.

(As reference, I'm a mid-40s female needlepointer who grew up among many fiber-arts relatives and friends, and who has worked in a range of professional settings from the arts and education to finance, non-profit to bottom-line's-the-king.)
posted by cocoagirl at 5:58 AM on February 28, 2014 [31 favorites]

Also, while it is a tradition to always take the knitting and always be productive, it is not the only tradition. Consider the little minatory rhyme quoted in Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye - "Walking, riding, standing, sitting - where she goes, there goes her knitting"....that's not positioned as a good thing.

I wouldn't say that it's rude precisely - rudeness seems to suggest some kind of selfish motivation or bad intent. It's just a way of being that I don't enjoy.
posted by Frowner at 5:59 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't knit and I don't have many friends who knit. In social situations knitting is 100% fine as long as the knitter is engaged in the conversation and not distracted. If the conversation is Very Serious, I think knitting might be in poor taste, but for your average chat among pals? No big deal.

I do think it's inappropriate in the classroom and the workplace, though. Even if the knitter is focused on the topic at hand, the clicking needles in an otherwise quiet room are very distracting for nearby students and colleagues.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:00 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think it's more dependent on who you're with and their preferences, as well as your own habits.

Do any of your friends do similar things (bringing any craft along, really)?

Are you a good enough knitter that you don't have to look more than once a row or thereabouts? (I don't think this is a lace versus stockinette thing -- I'm more than capable of knitting repetitious lace patterns I'm familiar with without looking at my hands, whereas my cousin needs to stare at her hands to knit stockinette.)

When you bring the knitting out, do you make it All About the Knitting and expect the knitting to be part of the conversation?

Do any of your friends have any issues (e.g. sensory processing challenges) that may make it harder than usual for them to tune out your hands moving? Do any of your friends seem to stare at, or repeatedly glance at, your moving hands?

I personally don't tend to do this unless I'm with people who have themselves brought handwork in the past. I also don't do this with anything that requires looking constantly or even regularly (so embroidery, anything with charts, quilting (for me at least), etc. etc. are all out.) And I would never, NEVER do any handwork at work or in a work situation -- for the same reason I no longer bring cookies to the office. I am a professional adult and being typecast as the Workplace Mom is not in my job goals. (This is partly b/c of my workplace, though -- male-majority, which makes a difference.)
posted by pie ninja at 6:02 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know the question asked specifically about a group of people, but I just wanted to say that while I think it would generally be fine in a group hang type situation, if I were with a friend one-on-one I would find it much ruder.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:04 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Hey, do you mind if I start knitting? I'm still listening, I just want to get some work in on this."
"Hey do you mind if I start washing dishes while we talk? I hate having them pile up."
"Hey do you mind if I nurse the baby while we talk?"

You can probably tell the temperaments of your friends better than others. If your friends are somehow hiding a grudge based on some idea of propriety and politeness, that phrase above should be your social grease to let them either hold that grudge secretly, or admit it.
posted by fontophilic at 6:10 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it heavily depends on the situation and who you're with. I'm a knitter, and I've definitely knit in social situations before, but it's the kind of thing I'm much more comfortable doing around other knitters than non-knitters, and I would never, ever, EVER in a million years bust out knitting at work, school, or any scenario where I was interacting with people I didn't already know well. Similarly, I don't bust out the needles at restaurants, parties, or anything where my attention is supposed to be engaged with the people around me, because even if I know I can knit and still be engaged, they probably don't.

I guess what I'm saying is that I feel like if you don't already know who is cool with it, you shouldn't be doing it in front of them.
posted by Diagonalize at 6:10 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a non-knitter, I would like to be okay with it, but I doubt I would be. I think I'd feel slighted. She might say she was still in the conversation, but it probably wouldn't feel like it. If we were all doing work/craftwork in a social situation, that's different. If I knitted and knew that it was possible to knit and chat at the same time, I also might feel different. But I don't, and I don't, so I don't.
posted by Magnakai at 6:12 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Knitter here. I knit when I'm having a conversation with non-knitters, but there's two types of knitting: with a pattern and without a pattern.

If it's something that I don't need to look at, I don't bring a pattern out because that definitely would mean I wasn't paying attention because I have to keep track of where I'm at in the pattern.

Generally I wouldn't do this kind of pattern that requires me looking at my iPad or booklet because I most certainly would not be active in conversation. Recently, I brought a baby blanket that I'm working on to work (an inservice - I am an elementary tech support technician) because it was garter stitch (knit every row) and did not require me to look at it or be engaged in a pattern. I could literally sit and look around at the teachers who would need help with something technological and I could literally stop and drop what I was doing and pick it back up whenever I wanted. I can't do this with a cardigan or a heavily cabled pattern. I wouldn't bring that type of project around to knit when I am around non-knitters though because that would be rude.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:14 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've only known one person who did this, and I didn't necessarily assume she wasn't paying attention, but as a non-knitter I did find it distracting to be trying to have a conversation in a group when this person would haul out her latest project. The yarn and the moving needles/hands, that niggling little question of "what're they making this time?" in the back of my mind (and also, since she especially liked doing it at the bar, that idle curiosity over how long it would be before she dragged her work through that puddle of beer off to the side), all served as a minor but annoyingly repetitive draw for my attention. This could have been compounded by the fact that this person also did it in a sort of performative, "look at me! I'm so crafty and unique!" way. While personally I'd probably just prefer the knitting stayed in the bag, I guess someone else who didn't seem to be silently pleading for us to comment on it might be a little less disruptive, at least in certain times and places - light and casual get-togethers over at someone's house rather than, say, a bar, a performance where you were visible to the folks on stage, or a business meeting.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:15 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Miss Manners say it's ok to knit.
posted by bq at 6:15 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

When someone is telling a story that is important to them, emotional, etc, I would set down the knitting for a minute, make eye contact, and do some reflective listening. Besides that, not rude.
posted by latkes at 6:20 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Depends on the topic of the conversation and the location. Also off your friends do crafts to our not, I creative types will be more understanding.
posted by wwax at 6:20 AM on February 28, 2014

If it were back in my twenties when my group of friends hung out two or three times a weekend, it would have been more acceptable than now, when we hang out like once or twice a month. If anyone has had to put forth some amount of extra effort to hang out (get a babysitter, drive/public transport for an hour to get to you), and you don't see them often, I would personally not be super pleased about it. If it's a very casual we're just drinking wine and watching tv on a couch situtation, it would be fine. To me, pulling out knitting implies that you're kinda checking out. I get a little internally eye-rolly about knitting in public when you're supposed to be engaged with a situation (so, not like riding the train or something like that) because it just seems so precious and special snowflakey, but I'd keep my eye roll to myself.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:25 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

This could have been compounded by the fact that this person also did it in a sort of performative, "look at me! I'm so crafty and unique!" way.

This is a good point. I would totally make this judgement on someone who randomly pulled out knitting in public, whether or not it's accurate or fair for all knitters.

I'm a non-knitter and know no knitters. Which sounds like it should be part of a tongue-twister.
posted by winna at 6:30 AM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am a non-knitter with a couple of friends who are knitters. It's never even crossed my mind that this is something I should be annoyed by.
posted by ook at 6:31 AM on February 28, 2014

I am a knitter. I have tried to knit in group hangs (mefi meetups, even!) and personally feel like it takes me out of the conversation too much. That said, in that kind of large group situation where there are constant side conversations or people stepping out to take a phone call or whatever, I have no problem with other folks knitting. I can see if it were a smaller group or more serious conversation that it could grate.
posted by misskaz at 6:33 AM on February 28, 2014

I think it's rude in the same way checking your email while you're with someone else is rude.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:37 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm a non-knitter (and an all around cranky person) who knows a lot of knitters, and I think it depends on context. There are a lot of times where I find it really rude--at a work meeting, in class, hanging out one on one, someone elbowing me on the train... Upon reflection, though, I've concluded that your situation actually wouldn't bother me (assuming you're at someone's house or maybe at a coffee shop, not at like a fancy restaurant or something).
posted by mlle valentine at 6:46 AM on February 28, 2014

Casual group gathering, among friends? I would not consider that rude at all. One-on-one would be different but when a bunch of people are hanging out I expect people are drifting in and out anyway.

People are checking texts, looking over the menu, playing with the cat, using the restroom, going out for a smoke, having side conversations. Breaking out knitting is no more rude than any of these things.
posted by mountmccabe at 6:48 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Like many others, assuming it's not one on one (unless it's "my mother's birthday is coming up and I need to finish this sweater" or another kind of rare thing), assuming it's not during a serious conversation, and assuming it isn't in something you've made efforts to show up at, it's probably okay. I also think it would be weird at a meal, but not if you're having coffee.

So in your situation, well. How many people are in the group? How often do you guys see each other? Are you talking about personal or important issues?
posted by jeather at 6:49 AM on February 28, 2014

I think it's very situational - depends on the people, the setting, and the knitting. I do knit while talking to friends (more often to crafty friends than to non-crafty friends), but only if it's something I can literally do with my eyes closed. And I make a special effort to make more eye contact than usual. And I try to keep the knitting very low, below the level of the table if there's a table. Basically l make it clear that it's the conversation that's the focus and the knitting is in the background, not the other way around.

And I would definitely stop if I got the impression someone was annoyed by it - I've definitely noticed people looking at the knitting in an annoyed way, and I stopped.
posted by mskyle at 6:52 AM on February 28, 2014

I'm a knitter and I don't generally do this, because I think it's somewhat rude (like constantly checking your phone during conversation is rude) and because I find it harder to concentrate on the conversation when I do, especially when I'm doing some complicated design or need to read a pattern.

I do knit socially when it's a knitting hangout (obviously) or when there are other friends knitting. For example, my roommate also likes to knit and sometimes she pulls her project out when we are hanging at home having drinks or something. I don't mind that and sometimes I join in. It's a small group and very casual, in general nobody really minds. Also, she (or I) always ask if the others mind her taking up her knitting project.

On the other hand, one of my fellow students likes to knit in class (also we're in a small program, there's less than 10 of us) and I find this incredibly rude and annoying.

Also in my experience, more crafty friends are more tolerant towards publicly knitting than non-crafty friends.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 7:00 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a knitter and I mostly take my cues from folks around me. If there's a movie on in the background, if some folks are snacking, someone's looking up the name of that song in their head, if folks are playing board games and it's not my turn, then I figure it's part of the texture of the group and go for it.

If there's some intensity to the conversation, if everyone is engaged but physically quiet, I usually don't because it would detract from whatever's happening. I also don't pick it up if I'm hosting. And I don't usually bring it out in the middle of a conversation, I feel like it has to come out when I sit down or else it does feel like "Okay, I get it, you went to Mexico. Time to get something productive out of this time."
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:01 AM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am a non-knitter and would not find it rude.

But, I am also the sort of person who often concentrates better on one thing when my hands are occupied with something else (I do a lot of cross-stitch while watching TV) and I know a few people who find that really, really puzzling and hard to imagine. So I would expect there to be some people at least in your wider social circle who might not find the knitting rude, exactly, but will definitely see it as you stepping back from the conversation somewhat because that's how it would work if they were the ones doing the knitting.
posted by Catseye at 7:13 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a knitter. To me it sends a "you're not enough to keep me fully occupied" vibe to the people I'm with. So I vote rude. Using people from hundreds of years ago as a justification isn't an apples to apples comparison - then that was the only way your family got socks. Today it's a hobby.
posted by cecic at 7:17 AM on February 28, 2014 [12 favorites]

I am an occasional knitter and often crafter, and outside of craft nights in someone's home I hate it with a white hot passion when someone yanks out their knitting in a group-engagement public event (ie, the lunch table at work or the coffee shop, not the train commute). I don't care if the knitter isn't distracted by their own knitting, I am. I have a hard enough time focusing, and the movement and noise drives me nuts (so when you drag out you're knitting to help you concentrate in a work meeting, you're ruining my ability to fully participate! Thanks!). And socially, it seems like it always becomes a huge conversational derail - time to interrupt the in-progress conversation and talk about Katie's knitting, even if that's not what Katie intended. Ugh. No. Put it away. Yes, I hate your phone too, and mine is in my bag.
posted by amelioration at 7:19 AM on February 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

Mod note: Comment removed, this needs to not turn into side-arguments between answerers so please try and keep the focus on the question rather than general conversation with each other.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:34 AM on February 28, 2014

I am a knitter (not an expert, but I can knit stockinette flat or a 2x2 rib without looking), and I believe fairly strongly that there are times when knitting amongst friends is rude.

I will knit amongst my non-knitter friends if:
  • We are watching a movie/tv -- I can't sit still in front of a screen without something to do with my hands.
  • We are in some situation that involves a lot of waiting - for a plane, for a bus, tickets, etc.
  • It's just after a social gathering that involves a large meal -- you know that time after Thanksgiving dinner when people are feeling kind of lazy/out of it.
In general, if the purpose of the gathering is socialization and it is not a knit night, I think it's rude to knit. I also am a little agog at the unprofessionalism of knitting in business meetings, but I don't know what everybody else's workplaces are like and that's a whole 'nother skein.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:50 AM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Depends on the context. Two ladies knitted throughout the childbirth class I was participating in last month. I gave that the side eye. At a bar or coffeeshop, not a big deal.
posted by medeine at 7:53 AM on February 28, 2014

I'm a non-knitter. From my perspective it looks like you are solving a rubics cube and you seem distracted, but from the above comments I can see how it is a rote memory task. Just be aware that many people will feel like you are clocked out.
posted by dgran at 7:53 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't knit nor do any of my family, so I never encountered a knitter in a social setting until I was an adult. The first couple of times I did feel slighted at the beginning, thinking that perhaps the other party was bored with our conversation, however as the conversation continued I found that the knitter was still engaged with me, and so I was able to relax about it.

Now I participate in various social groups (a book discussion group, a moms group, etc) and occaisionally someone will bring out their knitting - it no longer phases me. Just make sure you're remaining engaged and paying attention to the real live person in front of you, and all will be okay.
posted by vignettist at 7:55 AM on February 28, 2014

I'm a knitter and also an Aspie. I knit in all sorts of contexts (including staff meetings) as a form of stimming, and I'm a little taken aback at the number of people who think it's rude. For me it's a way of managing sensory input. Not only would I not mind if you took out your knitting in public in pretty much any context, I would probably be pathetically grateful to not be the only one.
posted by dorque at 7:57 AM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Rude? Probably not. Annoying? Oh hell yes.

click click click click click click click click click click click click click (pull pull pull) click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click (pull pull pull) click click click click click click click click click click click click click (pull pull pull) click click click click click click click click click click click click click (pull pull pull) click click click click click click click click click click click click click (pull pull pull)

I'd probably feel like the person had checked out unless they consistently demonstrated otherwise. Even so, I'd always feel like the knitter found the company inadequate. If it happened at every gathering I would likely fade them off my list of people to call for hanging out.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 7:59 AM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Totally depends on contexts. I think one thing to try to figure out is: do the people around whom you're doing it think you are bored or not engaged or have some other difficulty? In my family, most of the women do hand projects and it has been explicitly brought up that they/we are doing it as a way of distancing ourselves from the others in the room. To me, that vibe really is somewhat obvious when we are all thrown together for extended periods. It's like we are all thinking, oh crap I've got to be around these people all weekend, better make sure I have a lot of stuff to keep my hands busy so I won't strangle them. I don't think it's all bad but the idea that we require a coping mechanism when we are around each other is potentially sticky. So maybe see if any of that is going on with you or whether others perceive it that way.
posted by BibiRose at 8:01 AM on February 28, 2014

Adding onto my previous comment, that it depends on the topic of conversation as well. I'm a knitter. I sometimes knit in public, in social situations (but never at work!) When the conversation turns serious (e.g. talking about a death in the family, some crisis or other very important matter), the knitting stops. Now we're talking about fun weekend plans? Knitting resumes.
posted by medeine at 8:04 AM on February 28, 2014

I'm a knitter and I think it's rude. I mean, if you're just hanging out with friends at your place on a Sunday afternoon, watching TV or something, then I think it's fine. But if you're meeting for coffee or drinks and the interaction is very conversation-based, then yeah, rude. My (perhaps self-centered) feeling would be: is my company not enough stimulation for you? And I really value eye contact in conversation -- that's just not going to be the same if someone is knitting.

However, if someone told me there was some reason why knitting was really helpful to them in these situations (like dorque, above), I would totally understand and not feel like it was rude.
posted by imalaowai at 8:06 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

If this is a survey, I'm not a knitter and I'm fine with it. It seems clear from this thread that that's true of most people (unless the conversation is an intimate one), but some people very much object. So the solution would seem to be to just say when you sit down "I like to knit while I chat, but if anyone would prefer I didn't, say so and I won't!" Then if they don't speak up, it's their problem. You can't go through life trying to make sure not a single person ever objects to anything you do.
posted by languagehat at 8:08 AM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I should also add that if someone asked me if it was ok to knit in a situation where I felt that knitting was inappropriate I would tell them that it's fine, but inwardly be pretty annoyed with them.

It's one of those things where as rude as it may be to do something, it's even more rude to tell someone that they can't do it. And so those who advocate "just asking" are really advocating putting your friends on the spot. It's like asking to eat the breadstick of someone who has told you that they are full. Super presumptuous, but it would also be kind of insulting to decline.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:15 AM on February 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm totally astonished at the idea that anyone knits at work? Really? Are we poking at a straw man here or have you personally actually seen it happen?

Anyway, for social situations, yeah, it really depends on context. Old friends who get together frequently to watch TV? Fine. I rarely see you and have been looking forward to catching up and you need knitting to keep you distracted and by the way also focus the attention on you and your snowflakey project? No thanks.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:17 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I can't imagine a work meeting so casual that knitting would be remotely appropriate. It may exist somewhere, but even in the little retail boutique I used to work at in college where "meeting" meant "come in early on Saturday and have free bagels and oj while looking over the new summer product" I would have been a bit shocked at anyone who did this.

Hanging out in someone's living room with people you know well and in a casual context, I would have no problem whatsoever.
posted by celtalitha at 8:23 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm totally astonished at the idea that anyone knits at work? Really? Are we poking at a straw man here or have you personally actually seen it happen?

At least two people on this thread have stated that they do this. Others claim to have seen it happen, and I am inclined to believe them.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:24 AM on February 28, 2014

I can't imagine a work meeting so casual that knitting would be remotely appropriate

I've seen it a lot in meetings. When someone is good and is basically knitting by touch with the knitting in their lap below table level, it isn't any more distracting than someone twiddling their thumbs. It's obviously incompatible with needing to take notes or otherwise be physically engaged, but for people who can knit by pure muscle memory it doesn't appear to be distracting at all.

I've also seen people do it on long conference calls; I mostly doodle or stare out the window.

Maybe it's because I grew up with my mother, aunts, and grandmothers all knitting, but I don't find it bothersome or rude except when someone is obviously putting their attention into it instead of the conversation. But as with so many of these questions about social norms, the real answer is that if you are a person who has trouble reading the room based on tone and body language, you are better off taking the most neutral approach possible rather than pushing boundaries in any way. Just like with all the dating questions, there's one answer for someone with perfect social skills, and another answer for someone who is working to get things figured out.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:38 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I should also add that if someone asked me if it was ok to knit in a situation where I felt that knitting was inappropriate I would tell them that it's fine, but inwardly be pretty annoyed with them.

Maybe this is an Ask(ish) vs Guess(ish) thing, but I think the "No no, it's fine! [seethe]" is much less preferable to "I'd prefer if you didn't, thank you for asking! Can I get you a drink and some snacks?"

Re knitting at work: I've seen it happen at various jobs. No one seemed to do it at times when it would not be appropriate, culturally speaking, for that circumstance. People doodle in meetings all the time and no one looks askance at that.
posted by rtha at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't knit but I know a few experienced knitters; in the casual, social situations you describe, this would be like asking, "Is it ok if these people have fingers that move?" Knitting is so second nature to some people that I think it goes beyond multi-tasking. Since both my grandmother and mother are knitters I also find the clickity-clack sound very comforting.

I'm also 90% Ask, so if I was bothered I'd probably say something (nicely) and if I wanted to knit I'd probably ask if anyone minded.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:58 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've seen people knitting in my workplace, yes. And they can hold a conversation and do their work. It's not that hard, really. Like most forms of physical endeavour, if you do it so often that your muscle memory takes over it really can fall into the background.
posted by h00py at 9:00 AM on February 28, 2014

> I think the only two big exceptions I know of are work and church

I don't know about work, but back when I went to church it was largely so I'd have time to knit. That was a small, informal, UU church; YCMV.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:01 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my early memories is my mom, my aunt and their mother sitting around a table, knitting and having a conversation at the same time. All three of them were looking at each other and carrying the conversation. They all presumably knew their patterns (so many years of embarrassing sweaters...) and were all paying attention to one another.

I would be bothered by a knitter if they were ignoring me in favour of their knitting, but if they were able to interact with me, I wouldn't mind so much. To me, it's no different to someone driving a car or eating some food. They're doing something else, yes, but if they're capable of doing that thing and interacting with me, I wouldn't have a problem.
posted by Solomon at 9:05 AM on February 28, 2014

To my mind, it seems shockingly rude and yes, I would be offended by it. As offended as I would if someone started texting without first excusing themselves. Or playing patience. Or basically saying "Y'know, I know I'm socialising with you guys but there's this other thing I want to do too. Don't worry about me, I can multi-task".

As you can see, opinion is divided on this but I am of the belief that when you are hanging out with friends, you hang out with friends and give them your full attention and time. Doesn't matter if you can knit and converse at the same time. Doing something else at the same time says "You guys aren't enough for me. I want to do something else too." Just rude. Do it while you're watching TV at home.
posted by Decani at 9:05 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

A lot depends on the knitter's attitude. I have one friend who's an amazing knitter and I'm happy to see her work, because it's interesting and she's clearly enjoying it but also not distracted. I have another friend who's overscheduled and when she knits she gives off a vibe of "This is just one more thing I HAVE TO GET DONE and I'm so busy and stressed out all the time," which is unpleasant to be around.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:07 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Totally fine in my book.

I was going to say "unless they're not participating in conversation/group activities", but I think even then, it's only the same level of social faux pas as someone who's feeling shy or distracted for whatever reason. Which obviously isn't wrong.

At work it would only be appropriate if it was crystal clear that it's possible to do your job while knitting. For instance I've seen people knit on film sets between camera setups, where it's understood that there's often nothing to do until the camera and lighting is set. But my current job, at a desk from 9-6? Knitting would look like I wasn't getting anything done.
posted by Sara C. at 9:08 AM on February 28, 2014

My boss encourages me to knit at work if I have nothing else to do.

He says its a remarkable demonstration of multitasking abilities and he'd rather I be busy with something than bored. I work in a front desk capacity for my office.

His wife knits, too, so that may be coloring his decision.

But if I need to be paying close attention to someone, the knitting goes down. I do not actively knit at work, for example, when someone is talking to me. It rests on my lap or my desk.

In a social situation, if someone is fiddling with a phone, I take it as a cue that knitting is not a problem. I personally think fiddling on a phone takes up way more brain space and removes someone from the conversation far more than knitting does.

I also don't enter into conversations if I'm working on something that requires immense concentration --- I limit my knitting at work and in social situations to things that don't require my undue attention.

I've never been called on it being rude, but if someone asked me not to knit when hanging with them, then I'd respect that 'cause it doesn't have to be A Thing. But I'd also expect that then there won't be phone fiddling going on --- odds of no phone fiddling? Pretty slim in my experience.
posted by zizzle at 9:29 AM on February 28, 2014

Ugh, this drives me batshit. I used to work at a college where one of the secretaries would knit during all-staff meetings, and we had to sit in a classroom with tiered semi-circle seating, and the whole meeting I'd be distracted by staring at her knitting.
posted by jabes at 9:39 AM on February 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

Absoutely not. People who think it's distracting for the person doing the knitting don't have a good understanding of cognitive science. The hands can be doing something repetitive and virtually autonomic, and absorb physical energy that would otherwise go into fidgeting or searching the room for other visual distractions. The mind is free to listen, form mental images, and concentrate. People who knit as they listen are kinesthetic learners - the movement is actually helping them to concentrate and learn.

If you find that the knitting of others visually distracts you, you are probably also trying to suppress your excess physical energy and your body's desire to sensorily engage with your learning. You are probably a kinesthetic learner. If you can't knit, you might consider bringing a sketch pad or note pad to meetings, keeping a paper clip or eraser in your pocket to play with, etc.
posted by Miko at 9:46 AM on February 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'm not a knitter, but among my social circle (librarians, faculty, and suchlike) knitting during group conversations at bars, coffee shops, meetings, etc. is so common as to be completely unremarkable. I'd think it was odder if someone said it bothered them, personally.
posted by MsMolly at 9:57 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are lifeing correctly. Congratulations on being good at life. Casual occasions, good friends? Neither rude nor annoying.

I'm not a knitter, but I'm a fidgeter. If I don't have something in my hands to play with when we're chatting, chances are good I'm not listening to you, I'm scanning the room looking for something to fidget with and I'm anxious and distracted until I get a fidgety thing. I like to embroider during long chatty social occasions to keep myself from spacing out and not paying attention. (Obviously I pick big repetitive filling areas or whatever, not anything I have to count closely or do complicated stitches.)

Regarding knitting in less standard situations (like at work), when Mona Lisa Smile came out, there were a lot of Wellesley grads who reminisced about knitting in lecture halls, here is one example: "The most brazen thing we [Wellesley students of the 1950s] did was to knit in lecture halls. "It used to be the height of insolence in a lecture if a knitting needle dropped," said one member of our group, Sally Hawes Cassidy, who works for the Internal Revenue Service."

I have often commented to my chair-neighbor at our very, very long committee meetings that I would find it a lot easier to pay attention into hour four if I could bring some embroidery, but I content myself with doodling or coloring in all the letters O on the agenda since that's socially acceptable and embroidering is not.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:24 AM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't be offended or take it personally, but I would strongly prefer that you not knit while we are having a conversation. It's distracting to me. My eye is just naturally going to be drawn to the movement, and the sound of the needles clicking isn't one I find soothing.
posted by nacho fries at 10:38 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you find that the knitting of others visually distracts you, you are probably also trying to suppress your excess physical energy and your body's desire to sensorily engage with your learning.

And just to address this point: this theory of learning styles (kinesthetic, etc.) has fallen out of favor. The evidence-based research and science simply doesn't back it up.

So, no, I will not be doodling or fiddling during meetings or conversations just because someone else's knitting is distracting me. That's on them, not me.
posted by nacho fries at 10:47 AM on February 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

Yes, it's a bit rude.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 11:20 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Depending on the person, garment, and experience, knitting can take a lot of attention to perform, so if someone starts knitting, it takes a bit of time to learn that the knitter hasn't checked out of the conversation, there is a period of trust-building, as people come to learn that your engagement hasn't changed (much).
So if it's informal or with friends where you'll be doing this a lot, you'll be able to build that (and once it's built, it's built), but in other situations, the potential for an unintentional slight might not be worth it.

I like the phone comparisons above - it's much more mild than pulling out a smartphone, but it's on the same continuum. It depends on the group.
posted by anonymisc at 11:49 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's rude and I don't knit.

I probably feel that way because my older female relatives were constantly doing some sort of handwork nearly all the time and it was more accepted that you do that rather than sit around wasting your time in frivolous conversations. Or god forbid reading a book!

So in conclusion, it depends on the people you are with what they will think is rude.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:49 AM on February 28, 2014

As an avid knitter who often knits in social situations, I'd disagree that this activity is the same as texting while socializing. In texting you're trying to hold down a separate conversation simultaneous to the one you are having in person, and probably reacting to what the other texter is saying in a way that interrupts and distracts from the in-person conversation (even just smiling or frowning at their messages). To me, that is much more rude and distracting.

That said, knitting like any other activity should be deployed in socially acceptable scenarios. I don't knit at work as much as some coworkers because I feel that only a few kinds of meetings permit this without it seeming like I've tuned out. (Yes, I do look up often and make eye contact regardless of whether it's a work or social activity - that's just good communication.)

As with any social situation, you have to rely on your own judgment and cues from those around you to know whether knitting with that group of people, in that context, is ok. That said, if your friends are all "yeah, it's fine" I would take them at their word. If they aren't being truthful about their comfort level then there's nothing you need to adjust on your part.
posted by turtlegirl at 11:49 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't knit and I'm afraid I don't really know anyone who does. However, I don't think I'd find it off-putting or rude, but then I'm familiar with 'art jam' sessions where people are usually doodling or doing crafts while chatting. I would lump knitting in with one of those activities - still possible to do and remain engaged with the convo (ie: can be done mindlessly to some extent).

Phones or portable gaming systems (ie: Nintendo DS), however, are another story. I find it fairly rude when someone is glued to one of those in a social situation. You cannot mindlessly perform anything on your phone - IMs, games, ect. all require your direct attention. If your attention is on your phone, your attention isn't on socializing.
posted by stubbehtail at 11:51 AM on February 28, 2014

this theory of learning styles (kinesthetic, etc.) has fallen out of favor. The evidence-based research and science simply doesn't back it up.

Cites, please. I'm an educator; this theory is used in practice. It's a useful framework for instructional design, at the least.
posted by Miko at 11:58 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Motivation matters. And I think knitters and finger-fiddlers do have the burden of educating the people around us about our motivations. If my goal is not just to finish this scarf faster, but "I focus better when my hands are busy," then I have to be careful to state that. As you can see, that's just not acceptable to some people, but it is acceptable to a lot of people. To some extent, some people just will never believe you. I doodled constantly all through school and got excellent grades, but some teachers still thought I was "checked out." If you are in an environment where the language of accommodations will get you somewhere (and that's your motivation), you might try that tack.
posted by rikschell at 11:59 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't think it rude, but, I might get sort of curious about what they were making and distract the conversation into asking about their project... which then perhaps they would find rude...
posted by mdn at 12:12 PM on February 28, 2014

In a hanging out one-on-one situation, I could see knitting being a little awkward if the other person doesn't also have a project.

Someone knitting in a meeting or in a customer-facing job would bug me. (Meetings particularly, because I know for a fact that if I were knitting in a meeting I would zone right the hell out of there, at least until I realized someone had just asked me a question and I had to try and look like I was paying attention.) Someone with large chunks of downtime with little to no interaction and literally nothing else they could be doing, though? Knit away.

In a group of true good friends, though, what Greg Nog said. I don't understand what the problem is if everyone knows everyone else's moods and habits. Disclaimer: In larger social gatherings I usually feel like I'm listening at the edges of the conversation anyway, and I wouldn't begrudge a fellow quiet person something to do with their hands.

I have a suspicion that a person's feelings on someone else knitting in a social situation may tend to correspond directly to how introverted or extroverted they are.
posted by usonian at 12:31 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you feel slighted? Like she's checked out of the conversation? Like she's bored with you and the group? Do you wish she'd just put it away and pay attention?

Nope. If anything, what you're knitting and the subject in general would probably come up in conversation. I can't why anyone would be bothered by it, unless the knitter was being obnoxious about they were doing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:56 PM on February 28, 2014

To elaborate a bit - I'm not personally bothered by knitting, in any environment. In a perfect world it frankly wouldn't bug me to have people knitting at work. In a perfect world I'd also be able to come into work in the afternoon, leave at night, and wear jeans and sweatshirts at all times. We don't live in that world though.

SO, basically, knitting in a socially-inappropriate context would definitely give me a strong impression of you as someone who is socially tone-deaf and not very self-aware. It won't necessarily make me dislike you but it might make me question your good judgement and your consideration of others, which could be downplayed or emphasized by how you act in other contexts. Similar to someone who came into the office in PJS, or in an extremely short skirt or clubwear - I don't have a problem with clubwear, but wearing it at work says that you don't really understand some significant stuff about norms and standards and culture, so I'd be raising an eyebrow.

Basically I think this is about balancing your personal comfort with your image-awareness, knowing how much of a priority you place on each and in what contexts you are willing to sacrifice one for the other, since they will not always be universally compatible.
posted by celtalitha at 1:04 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

In a private social setting, I don't care, but at a public event, like a concert or play or film--the clicking and the visuals would drive me crazy. I'm very sensitive to this sort of motion, and if I was sitting next to a knitter at a concert, I'd want the person to put it away.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:06 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd find this rude. I'd assume I was boring my friend. If she asked me if I was bothered, I'd say no because I'd feel bad for boring her and wouldn't want her to resent me for making her put her more interesting distraction away. Then I wouldn't call her for plans again because she quite obviously did not enjoy her time with me.
posted by pineappleheart at 1:08 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's rude at all. Just like I don't take it personally if someone is a fidgeter. Some people need to move a bit to feel comfortable. You don't sound like the sort of insensitive lout who would bust out knitting at a funeral or during a an event where people around you are quietly paying attention to a speaker or musician. Among friends in a casual environment, I don't think it's a problem at all.

I certainly don't think it's akin to reading email, reading the internet on your phone, texting, or interacting with someone else while chatting.
posted by quince at 1:13 PM on February 28, 2014

When I was at university, a girl always sat in lectures and knitted. This may not be fair of me, but I always saw it as a bit of an affectation - "Look at me! I'm knitting in a lecture! How zany!"

In terms of distraction, I think knitters also need to consider that their knitting can be distracting not to them but to the person they're talking to.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 1:18 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

In basically any situation where you are meant to interact with someone else (including at work), I'd find it incredibly rude to pull out some knitting/crochet/whatever.
I can't even imagine someone thinking it was ok at a concert or other event, unless maybe, it's an outdoor, park style event.
At a party or other gathering, where social interaction is the goal, keep it put away.

But if you're hanging out at someone's house, where the only real expectation is that you're sharing the same room with the occasional banter or interaction? Knock yourself out with whatever you want to bring.
If you're at the playground, watching your kids, not really engaged with the other parents? of course.
On a long transit ride? No problem (as long as you aren't distractingly loud).

So, I guess for me, it's the expected level of interaction that is the determining factor. If you should be paying even half-attention, the knitting (or any other project) should be put away and stay away.
posted by madajb at 1:56 PM on February 28, 2014

What others have said about the expected level of interaction.

Look at it this way: if you were in a meeting at work, I bet you wouldn't pull out the knitting then. Of course, your social life isn't under the gun like your work life is, but my point is, rudeness is about context. (And of course, God forbid you knit at the theatre)

Anyway, in principle, knitting in company is not rude.

However, I suggest that whether or not it's technically legitimate, is a secondary consideration to the fact that people are expressing annoyance at it. If you're picking up vibes that you are annoying your friends, maybe knitting yourself a hill on which to die is not the best idea.
posted by tel3path at 3:55 PM on February 28, 2014

I don't think it's rude. I don't do needlecrafts (I sew on a machine), but my grandmother did and so perhaps I'm used to the idea that people can use their hands and pay attention to a conversation at the same time. Texting is different- that's interacting with someone else altogether.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:28 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find it rude but a lot of my friends do this and I either shrug it off or leave if it's bugging me too much.

If we're all watching TV or something it doesn't bother me at all.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:03 PM on February 28, 2014

It's different if you're so good at it that you never need to look at it. I have only met a couple of those folk, though. Even people who THINK they're that good usually aren't.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:04 PM on February 28, 2014

fingersandtoes, at two places I've worked (a very casual non-profit and a super conservative finance company) there were knitters. Where I currently work we've had so many knitters the term has actually become a shorthand for people who don't contribute meaningfully. When I've been involved in interviewing potential employees and solicited feedback from current staff, I've gotten comments such as, "I don't think she's a strong applicant. She's a knitter, if you know what I mean." So yeah, it's a thing.

To be fair to the OP, I'm clear s/he was asking about casual settings. The work context came up because other responders extended a knitted shroud of etiquette over more situations than the OP originally asked about.
posted by cocoagirl at 8:48 PM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't think it's rude, exactly, but this would bother me if we were having a conversation (even a casual one). If we were just sitting around and twiddling our thumbs or watching TV, I wouldn't care.
posted by tango! at 9:15 PM on February 28, 2014

Context is key. In the context you describe, where the activity is talking/hanging out (and the group hasn't happened upon the knitter already in progress) and the parties do not live together, then I'd find it both rude (not making eye contact, not focusing on the conversation 100%) and annoying (clickety, clickety is one step up from fingernails on the blackboard or jangling the loose change in one's pocket).

How would you feel if you were visiting with someone for coffee and chat and your pal pulled out a pile of scrapbooking? Calculus homework? Christmas card envelopes? To me, this is exactly like all those people who fiddle with their phones or tablets during conversations. Eating is acceptable (though I was taught to ask, "Do you mind if I eat?" if the other parties aren't doing so, too), but knitting is a hobby and unless your friends happen upon you while you are already hobbying, yup, rude and annoying (to me and my circle).
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:41 PM on February 28, 2014

I knit in friendgroups when it's either very casual or there's another primary focus (usually a movie).

I actually took my knitting to work today-- that's because I knew there wouldn't be many other people, and I was planning on reading papers most of the day. When I was talking to my colleagues, I put my knitting away, but when the conversation strayed toward the casual, I would occasionally pick up the knitting again. I'm also at the point in my current project where I have the pattern memorized, so I didn't need to look at my needles frequently. If I were knitting a new pattern, I would not have brought it to work at all, and would only pull out a project I needed to reference a pattern in front of knitter friends or if there were another larger engagement occurring.

I do find that I retain information better if I am creating something, so I doodle during meetings or knit during casual conversations, but worst case scenario I grip a stress ball and squeeze in an increasingly complex pattern.
posted by worstname at 9:53 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't really like it. I agree that it's like if someone I was talking to in a group starting texting or playing Bejeweled. If we were hanging out with the knowledge that we would be together a long time and had time to waste (car trip, something like that), then it would be fine and actually probably a great idea (for everyone to be doing something independent while also casually chatting). But if I didn't see you that much and was going out of my way to spend time with you, I would find it offputting.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:02 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

it's like if someone I was talking to in a group starting texting or playing Bejeweled

Both of those actually require far more conscious attention than knitting does. It is not possible to do either of those and also, at the same moment, be part of a group conversation. That's not true of knitting. The nature of the tasks, and therefore the degree and kind of the involvement required of the brain, are different.
posted by Miko at 8:05 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

i made a video of me knitting, just because I thought it might clear up a couple of things.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:12 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Miko, I am a knitter, so I know that. But that's how I feel about it when other people whip it out-- I just wouldn't.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:05 PM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am not a knitter, but have always been around them, and am just astounded that so many people perceive it as inattentive when they don't perceive other things with that low a conscious attention demand as inattentive, and yet don't always object to things with a much higher attention demand, like fiddling with a phone every 5 minutes, or glancing around the room people-watching.

It seems inconsistent, and given that the history of knitting is largely (though not exclusively) a female history, I think about the possible impact of misogyny on the social perceptions of knitting. Does knitting cross against the grain of general demand/expectation for overt displays of female interest and attention? Is it deemed "distracting" in ways that, say, doodling or leg-jogging or lighter-spinning weren't because it is not something men also engage in? Worth thinking about, I think.
posted by Miko at 6:36 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

People underestimate muscle memory all the time, particularly when they can't imagine themselves ever being able to do said activity without much conscious thought. Those people are going to be taken aback by your skills and maybe even disbelieving of them. Remain your cool self and talk whilst knitting. If you're fully engaged conversation-wise then what you're doing with your hands won't count. If someone is really pissed off by this you could possibly offer them a scarf made up of everything you've knitted whilst talking to them, if you've not been working on a project but instead knitting for knitting's sake.
posted by h00py at 6:54 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

The gender question is interesting -- I'm trying to think of an equivalent male-associated practice. Whittling might be about the closest, even though you almost never see it these days. Or the whole ritual around cleaning, tamping, and lighting a pipe, maybe?

For the women I grew up with, basic knitting or crocheting could be done on total autopilot, no more disrupting their thinking than would any of us eating a sandwich or a smoker lighting a cigarette. The comparisons to games and texting just aren't accurate, except for a beginner or for someone working on a very complex project that requires a lot of thinking.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:07 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I thought about this some more after my last comment. It is kind of hard to find modern male equivalents. It is even kind of hard to find historic male equivalents. Until the late 19th century, the expectation for women of lower than elite class was certainly that their hands nearly always be occupied with something useful to do: weaving early on, then sewing, quilting, mending, knitting, first because continuous production was vital to the household's sustainability, then eventually as mass manufacture pops up, more mainly decorative and sentimental projects. Sewing and mending required good light and so were usually done during the day, by a window; knitting, though, could happen in the evening. The exceptions to this, of course, included church, lectures, formal social occasions, and musical performances, where a woman's thoughts were supposed to be occupied with the compelling nature of that activity. I wonder if the prejudice does descend from that distinction - your mind must be wholly devoted to the social expectation of this scenario, and your body must reflect that absorbed interest.

Thinking about male-gendered handwork that took place over the same span, there are certain agrarian tasks like seed separating that might happen in a conversational setting, but most male tasks required tools/workbenches that you wouldn't have in a family room. Whittling, using only a penknife, might be an exception. I've also read of leather repair going on in evenings at home. But for the most part, where women had to keep working on stuff even in evening hours at home, for men, it was often resting, reading, pure conversation, or writing time. Where you really see behavior in men analogous to women's handwork is either in the military, or at sea. In these settings men were not with a family and so were responsible for their own upkeep, and they had a lot of downtime when not on task, so they did spend a lot of that downtime making and mending, and doing art forms like scrimshaw and whimsies and knotwork and canvaswork. It wouldn't be strange at all at sea for a man to take out his knitting while people were chatting in the evening. But once back in a family household, in city or country, that would be strange. Elite men labored with their minds, and didn't do much with their hands; laboring men labored with their whole bodies, and rested their whole bodies when not at work, as a general rule. The expectation of both men and woman in formal settings was to apply the mind and keep the body still - and we've held onto that expectation for "women's" work, even though we don't have as strict a gender association, and no longer necessarily believe that women should have a special burden to demonstrate their interested presence to others.

The smoking analogy is a good one, though. As I reflect on it, the default of physical self-mastery/stillness might be the gendered expectation for men. If you even just watch boardroom or office scenes in movies, especially from midcentury but still now, the business often involves splayed body positioning (the less engaged a man appears physically, the more powerful he must be), various smoking behaviors and gestures, pouring of water or whiskey, drinking, etc. These behaviors aren't presented as distracting, just normal. They aren't productive, they're consumptive. But other behaviors are defined out of that 'normal' zone for a formal conversational setting.
posted by Miko at 9:49 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am not a knitter, but have always been around them, and am just astounded that so many people perceive it as inattentive when they don't perceive other things with that low a conscious attention demand as inattentive, and yet don't always object to things with a much higher attention demand, like fiddling with a phone every 5 minutes, or glancing around the room people-watching.

The question was about knitting, not phone-fiddling or people-watching. So that's why commenters haven't expressed their opinion on phone-fiddling or people-watching.

For the record, I also wish people wouldn't do either of those things in the middle of a chat.
posted by grouse at 10:35 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

No, but people have compared it to playing a game on your phone, even while people who knit are saying that those things are not the same: one is a muscle-memory task that can be done while talking or listening, and the other is not. I understand why non-knitters perceive knitting to be a sign that the knitter is being inattentive, but it seems odd to pronounce - from a position of ignorance about the task - that it *is* inattentive to the conversation.

I was taking notes (for myself) during a meeting at work last week, and I noticed (again!) that I had missed some portion of what people were talking about because I had been taking notes. The same doesn't happen when I'm doodling - I can listen in real time while I doodle, but I am always a little "behind" what's being said if I'm taking notes.
posted by rtha at 10:43 AM on March 2, 2014

I agree that other things -- phone fiddling, for instance -- take more concentration than knitting does. But I'm a fiddler, too, and I know that if I get engrossed in the conversation the mindless fiddling will stop. (Just to be clear, I do not have Asperger's and am commenting more for neurotypicalish people.) Which is why, for important discussions, I would find it unbearably rude to knit (doodle, take notes, whittle, whatever). If this is a friend who has the kinds of needs mentioned by others, I assume we have discussed it and come to some kind of agreement. If it's a hobby, then even muscle memory can get taken over by something you are really paying close attention to, so it shows that there is some lack of engagement in the conversation. Which is why it matters what the context is.

(I think it would be weird at a meal because you need your hands to eat, and also food spills. I don't know that I think it would be rude, exactly, at a meal.)
posted by jeather at 12:32 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I worked with a woman who would knit while driving. Don't do that.
posted by interplanetjanet at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

So at least some of the problem comes from extrapolating something you know about yourself ("I have to concentrate while knitting, I stop fiddling when I'm interested in something") to others - and the way that experience is for you may not be at all the same as it is for others. People are cognitively and physically different in real ways - even if they are neurotypical and have no diagnosed disorders. For instance, I fiddle more when interested, to keep from jumping out of my chair with excitement. It's not accurate that you can extrapolate from your experience of attention or of doing a particular task to how attention works for others. It seems as though some of this idea of offense comes from recognizing that you wouldn't be able to both knit and attend, but that's not evidence that other people don't routinely knit and attend. Even behaviors typically understood as "attentive" - leaning forward, making eye contact - are not the behaviors of all people when engaged or learning. Some people actually prefer not to make eye contact when listening, because they find they're distracted by facial expressions or a feeling of intensity, for instance.
posted by Miko at 1:18 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

and am just astounded that so many people perceive it as inattentive when they don't perceive other things with that low a conscious attention demand as inattentive, and yet don't always object to things with a much higher attention demand, like fiddling with a phone every 5 minutes, or glancing around the room people-watching.

I definitely do think that fiddling with a phone every 10 seconds is super rude and inattentive, even moreso than knitting.

It's not about inattentiveness, it's about the fact that if you don't say "hey, let's hang out and work on projects," I will feel weird that you are deciding to do a project while I sit and diddle myself.

I don't think it has much to do with gender, I think it's just the fact that if we decide to spend time together, taking out knitting basically says something like... oh hey, I'm doing to multitask and get some of this knitting in, because just hanging out and talking to you isn't productive enough. Doodling and people-watching send different signals, imo. It's just like... do you need to be working on a personal improvement project while we brunch? Even if you are "attending," it's clearly being a little opportunistic to need to get that new shrug finished while we talk.

If I go to your house and your wedding is coming up and you're working on wedding favors, I will be like great, can I help? But if every time we hang you need to be knitting this or that for no real reason I know in your head you're saying, "I will be hanging out with stoneandstar, great, I'll get some of that blanket done." I don't doubt that you are "knitting and attending," but also, what, should I bring a craft project too? If we're going to knit/craft together that's a different story with different expectations. Likewise in the olden days when knitting was quite urgent all the time. But in modern society, if you are not so close with someone, and you don't say in advance "let's hang out and work on projects!," I'm going to think you kind of pulled a fast one and can't just carve out some time to exist with a friend.

In terms of male/female, I used to have friends who made things out of chain mail (which is literally basically knitting with metal), and it was similarly kind of weird if they didn't mention they were going to be doing it. Like, I guess I came over to your house to watch you "knit." Would have been nice to know! Guess I'll play cards with myself.

I sound way more bitter about this than I actually am, idk.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:01 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I assume the question is here because the asker is interested in not offending their conversational partners, so I'm not sure this needs to turn into a discussion about whether those people are sufficiently enlightened about your take on the nuances of cognitive science.

It's clear from the answers in this thread that there is no One True Consensus, and the OP will have to ask their friends, except the OP "Can't ask my own circle of friends as they'd say, "no, no, it's fine" even if they were lying"....which is not very helpful of those friends, but there you go.
posted by rtha at 2:04 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

No, but people have compared it to playing a game on your phone, even while people who knit are saying that those things are not the same

I am a knitter, I compared it to playing a game on a phone. I know they're not exactly the same but I experience them similarly in terms of rudeness.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:05 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Male equivalent practice is whittling, which you almost never see. Maybe net-mending, too.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:37 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure this needs to turn into a discussion about whether those people are sufficiently enlightened

To be fair, I am trying to point out that while people may find it offensive because it seems inattentive to them, there is no way to objectively prove this behavior is offensive because it is inattentive (partly because often it's not). In other words, there's no ultimate right answer for the OP - some people will find it inoffensive, some will not, and that determination has to do with a lot of perceptions people do and don't have, probably for various reasons more and less supportable, but in the end has little to do with the actual impact of knitting on the consciousness.
posted by Miko at 9:46 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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