Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitters ed. Ann Hood

This isn’t a book, it’s a piece of crochet, haphazardly put together from random squares of indifferent colour combinations.

We may take a moral from it: no number of highly qualified birds does a swallow make.

This book has prize-winning and NYT best selling authors coming out of its what’s it. But in the end it is that creature to be avoided at all costs, the one to which, ironically, knitting never descends: the crocheted blanket squares. The one everybody’s grandmother made and 99% of the time they are a hodgepodge of the consequences of ‘waste not, want not’ with no concern whatsoever for the general notion of aesthetics or any particular person’s sensibilities. Uggggh.

I cringed every time I read one of these writers talk about how amazingly impossible it is to knit and how they took twenty years, or isolation with their grandmother or some other extreme measure to learn – that’s those who succeeded. Quite a few of them took up astro physics or open heart surgery instead because you know. Knitting is SO HARD.

It’s not that I don’t want to sympathise. I can look back to my first knitting day, my complete frustration because I couldn’t figure out for myself how to do purl, this being just pre-internet – that is, there is no longer any excuse. But Simon showed me how and Simon hadn’t even knitted before, he’d simply watched women knit 50 years earlier when he was a young boy and remembered. With all due respect to Simon, this means knitting is NOT THAT HARD.

Like most things in life, becoming a wonderfully accomplished practitioner is hard, but becoming competent is SO NOT HARD.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sympathise with women talking about how it took them hours and hours and hours and years and generations to learn how to wind a bit of string over a stick. It’s a time for embarrassment, not sympathy.

I wanted to sympathise with the writer who ended up giving somebody something that was complete shit, suddenly in the zen of the notion that it’s THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS. But I can’t. If that’s the thought: I’ve given you something perfect and you give me in return something shit, I get the thought and it isn’t pretty. It’s insulting. My friends reading this please take note. I never want to get a lousy meal in return for a good one, a lousy scarf in return for a beautiful one, a crap book in return for a magnificent work of art. Please give me nothing. I will take the message that you care. Not as much as if you’d given me something lovely, but more than if you’d given me something crappy. IMPORTANT NOTE: anybody reading this who is under the age of six is excluded from the above principle.

I wanted to sympathise with the people talking about how knitting got them through things. How it marked moments. I have those too. I have a jumper I was knitting when a friend called to say his partner had died. I knitted a mistake into the jumper. That’s happened to me more than once. I couldn’t knit hats for a long time because the first hats I knitted were for my father who was having chemo. Even after he was dead, the association was there for years.

But sympathy rarely came. I felt throughout like I was reading bits and pieces provided out of obligation or a deadline. There are a few pieces in this book that are genuinely moving or interesting, but most of it isn’t any more than a blog entry put into a book. This is not to deprecate the notion of a blog entry, this, after all, being one. But a piece on a blog fits into it in some way, it is there on a day for a reason, it may provide light or shade or reflect in the very immediate present, like this moment here, some emotion of the moment. It may simply provide surprise. Whereas this collection is an odd combination of ill-fitting pieces that nonetheless have a same, same, same quality. Maybe that means it should be dipped into rather than read.

I gave this book to two knitters last year before reading it myself. Sorry about that.