Open Source Knitting: Extending the Metaphor

I had so much fun last time talking--and thinking--about the connections between "open source," (software) and knitting, in terms of what happened in the knitting world a few months ago (actually, it's probably longer now), that I wanted to continue to think and write about these subjects. I've been listening to FLOSS Weekley and also thinking a lot about the way that creative types can afford to be creative, that I think this is a good little project for us to consider for a while. Also, I hope that it will provide a chance for a lot of the ideas that I've been playing with for a number of months to finally start to come together in our minds. I recognize that my selection of topics here is... eclectic at best: sometimes its a good thing to pull it all together.

Last time, I left with a number of points, that I thought needed further consideration, and I'm going to spend some time with the first (italicized) item today. Here they are for connivence sake:

  • Is there a layer of information that goes into knitting design and documentation that isn't typically exposed in "closed"/conventional publications? (that would be equivalent in role to source code)?
  • The role of editors and communities and the sometimes very "conventional" development models that "open" projects use.
  • The way GPL/GFDL knitting projects can be used commercially.
  • Technological methods of attending to such a project.

In software, open source is important because without source code, developers are stuck perpetually recreating the wheel (or paying through the nose to license code) if they want to replicate a feature or whatever it is that programers do. Once compiled, code is basically secure, and though you can read it, without the source code, you can't edit it, or continue to develop it in anyway.

In some ways, knitting is always already open source: knitting designers are often found selling patterns of their work, which is basically source code. Furthermore, a skilled knitter can look often at a "compiled" sweater (or sock or whatever) and be able to duplicate it with some degree of accuracy. And what's more, most of the time knitwear designers aren't designing stitch patterns, but rather combining or selecting patterns from libraries like the Barbara Walker treasuries, or the Sheila McGreggor Traditional Knitting collections. (For the programers out there, think "framework:" we had you beat on Rails 50 or more years ago.)

And I think this presents a problem for knitters wanting to "go open source," because the first assumption is that to open the knitting source you would have to give away polished patterns (source) so people could adjust the pattern (develop) and then knit their own sweater (compile). I'm not sure how other people design knitted things, but I write patterns based on notes reflection of my process (so, I basically design on the needles, shoot me now.) Why couldn't this be the source code? Then the OSKC [1] could develop the project (update and polish the pattern,) eventually compiling a finished pattern, and individual knitters could knit the pattern (that they could start knitting at any point in the development,) and create forks with any new developments that they create (their modifications might be submitted in the same "rough notes" format that the initial project can be submitted in.)

My larger goal here is to create a model where the "costs" of going open source for knitters very low. It's my sense that knitters the world over are doing a lot of designing but probably not publishing it because while it's easy to decide to knit a sweater in a truly novel way, it's much harder to write instructions in a clear and consistent manner, and then test it properly. This is where, perhaps the largest benefit for Open Source is (for both knitting and software:) in the fact that there is--or should be--a community that can distribute a lot of the work far more effectively than a small closed group of developers/knitters.

In my last post on this subject, I was speaking to the debate/tension between the creative commons projects and the idea of a GPL/GFDL approach. The truth is that this discussion is pretty agnostic on this question, which is really about project structure. You could do "OSK" in a CC type environment, that's for sure, but I think next time, I'll get onto the more into the merits of the GPL/GFDL, and business-y type stuff.

Until then, I remain, tycho

[1]Open Source Knitting Community
comments powered by Disqus