Sunday, 12 July 2009

I have been reading a knitting history book

by Sharon Miller. She has written two. The first was called Heirloom Knitting. This one is "Shetland Hap Shawls, Then and Now". It was given to me by a friend who once edited a knitting magazine.
The topic itself is a fascinating one for anyone interested in knitting or social history. If you happen to be interested in both the topic is virtually irresistible. Had I been given the book to review however I would have said it needed a heavy editorial hand.
There is a wealth of information there along with a great many photographs. The problem is that it is presented in a haphazard fashion. The layout is all over the place. It makes the book difficult to read. There are no subtitles to some of the photographs. The sequence of information also lacks logic. It needs expansion in some places and a reduction in others.
The problem is that this is a potentially very valuable book. There is very little source material available for serious knitters, especially the sort of knitters who design their own rather than follow a commercial pattern. There is also an assumption that such books, if written, would not sell.
I suspect however that the Shetland Times has done rather well out of Miller's first book, Heirloom Knitting. That could also have done with a much heavier editorial hand. Knitters cannot necessarily write.
Failure to edit such books well just perpetuates the myth that knitting is not a sufficiently important topic to warrant proper attention. The knitters of Shetland shawls were often among the poorest of the poor. Although they were highly skilled craftspeople they were paid a pittance for their works of art. Their work sometimes meant the difference between a family eating and not eating. The information is there but it could have had a far greater impact.
This, surely, is where government needs to step in with some assistance. This sort of history is just as important as the history of a particular make of car, or a building, or a drainage system. It matters just as much as the history of a branch railway or the technical data on the engine which ran along the line.
Perhaps the problem is that it is ordinary, every day, domestic history. There is no single catastrophic event to capture attention. It does not suddenly change the course of history. Does that really make it any less extraordinary?

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