Needles are flying this weekend in the central hub of Jyväskylä, as the city celebrates Finland’s first-ever Summer Knit Festival. The programme includes international knitting celebrities, yarn retailers, courses, flea markets and a main event.
For decades, knitting was relegated to grannies, but today more and more young people are taking up the craft around the world. In the last decade, a practice called knitting graffiti, also called guerrilla knitting or yarn bombing, emerged. Here yarn aficionados use knitting or crochet to beautify their outdoor surroundings.
Much of the growing popularity of knitting is thanks to the Internet, as younger, web-savvy knitters can now go online and find free patterns, blogs, and chatrooms with advice and support.
Tiina Huhtaniemi, owner of the Titityy yarn store in Jyväskylä, is hosting the festival along with the Jyväskylä Summer Festival staff.
“Some people knit to meet a practical need; they are the hardcore knitters that make all kinds of difficult things. For others, it is all about the yarn, not the finished product. They want quality raw materials. People knit for a wide range of reasons, some are passionate about it, while others do it because they want to make things by hand,” she says.
Finns can really knit
Finnish residents have been knitting for centuries, and all children in Finland still learn to knit when they are in school. It is an increasingly rare skill in our modern world.
“The Finns don’t even realise it themselves, how talented they are at knitting. It's a steeped tradition that we learn along with our ABCs,” says Huhtaniemi.
Festival goers and home economics teachers Merja Savolainen and Raija Kivioja agree.
“I’ve visited schools in southern Europe and they don’t teach handicrafts,” says Savolainen.
She says people that have learned to knit generally fall into two categories: those whose skills fade eventually and those who learn to appreciate it and practice regularly.
“In Finland the pupils start by making a sock and then we move on to designing an easy piece of clothing like a scarf on their own. After that, the world of knitting is open to them,” says Kivioja.
The stereotype of a knitter is a person sitting alone, but today’s knitters know that the knitting community is in fact international and highly collaborative. The renaissance of knitting has not only spawned best-selling books and movies, but also a thriving social media presence that transcends borders.
“There is a global platform named Ravelry.com that is one of the largest online communities in the world,” says Huhtaniemi.
So what else about knitting makes it so attractive? A straw poll of the festival’s crowd says it’s the great colours, the soft skeins of yarn, the relaxing effect it has, the great knitting community and, of course, the finished product.