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Research knits together scholarship, personal interest

Arts Faculty Jan 13, 2020
A woman's hands hold a piece of knitting in progress
A woman’s hands hold a piece of knitting in progress

KOKOMO, Ind. – Research can be as interesting — and colorful — as a hand-dyed skein of yarn.

That’s what Erin Doss wants her students to learn from her example.

“Research doesn’t have to be stuffy,” said Doss, assistant professor of communication at Indiana University Kokomo. “They think you’re in the library, dusting off old texts. You can research on topics you are interested in and care about, and those can be scholarly and applicable to your field. It’s fun to figure out where to use things that interest you.”

Her passion for fiber arts is obvious, from the tape measure bracelet on one wrist, to the hand-knit sweaters, scarves, and shawls she’s known for wearing to class.

That interest is woven into her current research in persona theory among independent yarn dyers, and in commenting on hot-button social issues in fiber arts.

Persona theory examines how people present themselves, or their audience members, through word choice. Doss applied that to how independent yarn dyers present themselves visually on social media in order to build a market to sell their work.

“Yarn isn’t cheap,” she said. “These people are selling a skein of yarn for $25 to $35 and they have to have a way to make it worth that. How do they express through their Instagram photos why their yarn is worth what they are charging, and persuade people to buy it?”

She considered how the dyers used color and connected with their audience through pictures. Some included photos of the yarn with their hands in it, to remind viewers this was their work. Others showed pictures of themselves wearing their mask and dyeing gear, “showing that this yarn wasn’t made in a factory, this is my house, and my work.”

“It was interesting that they all showed yarn, but they all had their own take on it,” she said. “It shows their different personalities and places in life. They all had nice pictures of the yarn, for sure, because you have to sell it. You can tell that some of them spend hours creating their aesthetic, creating the image they want.” 

She noted that in the months she spent looking at yarn for her research, she only bought one skein, “and it was pretty, and it was on sale.”

That article was published in the Electronic Journal of Communication, in an issue focused on research related to Instagram.

Doss is currently working with Mallory Naselroad, a sophomore, on another fiber-related project, this time examining commenting persona, or how people address each other and the person who wrote an original post or blog on social media.

“In communication, we theorize about our audience, and what it thinks, and what it will say, but most of the time, we just have to imagine that,” she said. “With the internet, we can get reaction and analyze how people are responding, and how it influenced the originator of the thread.”

Funded by an IU Kokomo undergraduate summer research grant, they plan to submit their finished work to the National Communication Association conference, and also to a journal for publication.

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

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