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Published: Saturday, 1/20/2001

The changing image of the female knitter


Like the old song about the old gray mare, knitters today just “ain't what they used to be.”

Through the last century and before it, artists, from Philadelphia's Thomas Eakins in the 19th century, who painted a number of knitters, to Carole Hershey of Worthington, Ohio, who produced an etching of a knitter a decade or so ago, have shared a common view of knitters. They were, to be kind, staid.

These artists aren't unique. Through the 19th and 20th centuries knitters have been depicted as drones, not the artists they now show themselves to be.

Looking at the popular images of the last century or so, one sees myopic grannies, peasants, stolid home-makers, or wholesome, apple-cheeked Dutch women favored by the artists who created candy and hot chocolate boxes in the 1920s and 1930s.

Even when children were depicted knitting, there was no way one might think that they were invigorating a craft or making exquisite art.

Things have changed.

If you think “knitter' today, you'd better think Julia Roberts and a host of her starry colleagues.

Down down-home practitioners of the art, like Elizabeth Zimmerman, for whom knitting was a passion, are still beloved. But smart fashion belongs to the likes of Lily Chin, Nora Gaughan, and Nicky Epstein, among others.

And from Texas a couple of knitters, Denise Winter and Julie White, have assembled a series of images that better reflect who knitters are in the 21st century.

Their Women Who Knit 2001 calendar began as an idea to show Cheryl Oberle (a Colorado author of a new book of shawls she designed and models) how Texans wear theirs, say this duo, who assembled it.

They believe their photographs, including Ms. November - is she really in the altogether behind her Cheryl Oberle Wildflowers concoction? - tell the world that “Today's knitters rarely fit the grey-haired, porch-rockin', afghan-knitting granny stereotype.”

They may be doctors or insurance execs. They may wait tables or go to school. But they are with it, imaginative, creative, and if not young, then youthful people.

And they aren't to be pigeonholed, by artists or anyone else.

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