Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting, edited by Ann Hood - book review: Emotional and beautifully crafted stories of stitching
Thursday 19 December 2013
When Ann Hood learnt to knit, she wasn't jumping on the cool "Stitch 'n Bitch" bandwagon – it was a desperate attempt to assuage her grief in the aftermath of the sudden and unexpected death of her five-year-old daughter. No longer able to read or write, she instead found solace in the act of knitting and the communities offered by knitting groups – an experience she then turned into her bestselling novel, The Knitting Circle (soon to be an HBO movie). Knitting Yarns – a collection of original essays (and one poem, Elinor Lipman's "I Bought This Pattern Book Last Spring") about what knitting has meant to the writers, whether they are able practitioners of the craft or not – is thus an apt editorial project for an author who found her way back to the written word through "the magical powers of yarn and needles".
Alison Lurie provides a history of knitting, Barbara Kingsolver describes shearing a sheep, Sue Grafton's piece is about teaching a child to knit – and also included are six knitting patterns designed by Helen Bingham (Hood's "knitting guru"). But this is less a practical guide than an anthology about the emotional terrain of these authors' wool-strewn lives. Most of the contributions are deeply personal: clearly, Hood's wounds weren't the only ones healed by the gentle click, click of needles. There are tales about a best friend lost to a cult, a failed marriage, and the loss of a nanny who was more like a mother to her than the author's own.
Three of the contributors are men. Andre Dubus III remembers his girlfriend teaching him to knit so that he could make his aunt a scarf for Christmas, something she, with her fast failing eyesight, could "touch". The vast majority, however, are women – knitting, after all, is "the women's legacy, passed down through the ladder of generations". Watching her daughters learn to knit, Hope Edelman sees a connection between them and the grandmother they never knew. Joyce Maynard tells the poignant story of how her high-achieving mother, trapped by the social conventions of the 1950s, channeled her "big, wild talents and burning ambitions" into beautiful knitting projects. Ann Patchett writes about the scarf that "holds together" the women she has loved and lost.
I am not a knitter, but that didn't make these stories any less moving or interesting. Indeed, as I read, all the cardigans, scarfs, hats and mittens my mother, a talented and generous knitter, has lovingly made for me over the years came flooding back into my mind's eye, and I knew exactly what these authors were writing about.
WW Norton & Company £14.99. Order for £13.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
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