An Evolutionary Imperative
There is an older gentleman of my acquaintance that is thoroughly confused by my current profession. "Why do people knit?", he asks, quite genuinely. It simply makes no sense to him that given all there is to do in the world, someone would choose to spend time making something that they could quite easily buy, and more cheaply, too. The qualitative difference between a pair of hand-knit socks and a pair that comes 12 to a bag at some discount store doesn't really register for him, so arguments of an aesthetic nature don't really count in his mind.
To be fair, he comes from a time and circumstance where manual labor - and knitting does sometimes seem to equate itself for him with ditch digging - was in fact one of the few options open. Being of quick mind and good intelligence, he was able to escape into the world of academia and take himself and his family into a different sphere where making things was a choice, not a necessity.
So,why do people knit? Having been a knitter for more years than I care to think about, I had never really asked myself not so much why I'd started, but why I'd stuck with it. One obvious and oft used answer is that in an age where most of us sit at a desk and produce some stream of thoughts or numbers that end up in a stack of paper, or the electronic equivalent, we long for something tangible - something we can see and grasp and wad up in a bag and throw into the back corner of the closet when the sleeve has turned out way too small despite the fact that we did make a gauge swatch.
But, here's another idea. What if the seemingly ridiculous desire to spend hours in a chair with sticks and string is a part of an evolutionary necessity, as much so as the need to eat and procreate? In fact, the urge to create is a piece of what has continued to move us forward. It has produced the flying buttresses of Notre Dame de Paris, the personal computer, and the turned sock heel (an infinite improvement over the tube sock and a little miracle in itself).
We knit then, I think, because the act of creation is a fundamental part of our nature whether it results in a nice little cardigan, a wedding quilt, or the Mona Lisa. Making makes us human.