They say that knitting is making a comeback. For some of us, it never went away – rather, it got stuffed into a bag and buried deep in the spare room closet, where it waited. Knitting knows that we will one day be re-snagged by the impulse to pull it out, by which time the project we were attempting might have gone out of style, or we’ve put on too much weight or…whatever. Knitting is patient. Whether we’ve succeeded in ever finishing something or failed miserably, it knows that our deepest desire is to try again.
In her wisdom, eager knitter and author Ann Hood (The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread, Comfort, The Obituary Writer) has collected stories describing how knitting helps us to heal and grow, how the challenge of learning something new forces us to stretch our brains and take charge of our hand/eye coordination, how love can be embedded in every stitch. Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting is an anthology of 27 accounts of what knitting means to each writer. Vivid memories of being taught to knit by a strict Irish aunt, or attempting to teach someone else and having to let go of the need for perfection, or poignant and painful associations made during a period of furious knitting: 27 voices proclaim their intimate details with knitting.
Hood came to knitting to undo grief at the death of her young child. Her “Ten Things I Learned from Knitting” covers that and a colorful array of simple life lessons that she discovered in the process.
In “Looped Yarn,” Martha Frankel bargains with Fate to save her friend – the woman who taught her to knit – who is careening headlong into a cult. In full magical-thinking mode, Frankel imagines that if she can finish five scarves in time, her friend will come to her senses. She learns that sometimes even completed projects won’t do the trick.
Joyce Maynard fondly reminisces how her mother produced a miniature sweater for a thumb-sized Teddy bear using toothpicks as needles. In her story “Straw into Gold,” Maynard recounts her mother’s abundant capabilities, set against the frustrations typical for women of her generation, and the way in which she “channeled all her big, wild talents and burning ambitions through something as rudimentary as a pair of knitting needles.”
In “The Supernatural Power of Knitting,” Alison Lurie reports tidbits of history wherein knitting was integral. She notes famous paintings such as Young Knitter Asleep, by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze, in which even young children can be seen busily knitting. Lurie talks about the moral distinctions between knitting and crocheting, indicating how in 19th-century literature, good women knit and bad women crochet. Virtuous women were always knitting socks for the war effort, while the frivolous ones made doilies.
Knitting Yarns is a veritable literary knitting circle. The list of contributors includes Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Andre Dubus III, Sue Grafton, Anita Shreve and many more. Also included are five original knitting patterns created by Helen Bingham.
Meet Ann Hood and Martha Frankel at the Golden Notebook on Tinker Street in Woodstock on Saturday, December 7 at 4 p.m. Bring your knitting.