Tuesday, 6 September 2011

I buy the books for

the small library of our knitting guild. It is not an onerous task. I quite like keeping an eye on various sites to find out what is coming up and what knitters think of it. I like listening to the suggestions made by some members of the guild as to which books we should buy and why we should do it.
My love of knitting books dates back to my early teens. Quite by chance I found a book in our local library. It was called "Knitter's Almanac" and was written by a woman called "Elizabeth Zimmerman".
I did not know it then but the book was considered to be radical.
"Once upon a time there was an old woman who loved to knit. She lived with her Old Man in the middle of a woods in a curious one-room schoolhouse which was rather untidy, and full of wool." Thus starts January - in which instructions are given for an "Aran sweater".
The instructions are not of the "using smaller needles cast on x number of stitches" type. Rather, they are a guide to the construction of each item. As the author says, "Directions in knitting 'books' are fine , but their writers have little space to tell you of the small dodges that make all the difference."
I was fascinated. As a "don't tell me what to do" sort of teenager this was my sort of book. The book disappeared from view again. I did not forget it but there were times when I wondered whether it was a book from dreams rather than reality.
Eventually I found a small paperback version of the book on a remainder table in a bookshop that did not sell craft books. What it was doing there I will never know. The man who ran the shop was regarded as a "character" who had no time for such things. Much to my mother's displeasure I bought the book.
"You will never knit anything from that!" she told me. She was wrong. The basic instructions for something called a pi-shawl are in there and I have since knitted more than one of those. I can do it now without looking at the instructions but I needed them to begin with.
And that brings me to an issue with knitting books. I no longer follow instructions. I stopped following instructions after I read this book the first time. Oh, I consulted instructions but I changed things to suit myself. I experimented. It was not knitting confidence that did this - to the contrary. I had little confidence when I set out. More often than not I was hampered by a lack of the right sort of yarn - when I could get yarn at all. It was a matter of making do with what I had or could get.
Along the way I also managed to learn that there are some "rules" if you want to succeed but, within those rules, you can experiment and make something unique rather than a clone of the pattern in front of you.
It was frustrating, sometimes infuriating, at the time but it taught me a lot. For many members of our knitting guild however it is a different story. They know the book. There is a copy in the library. I saw to that. Some of them have read it, or parts of it. They do not knit that way. They see a pattern they think they like. They borrow it or buy it. They buy yarn. They buy needles if necessary. They knit the pattern exactly as it tells them to do it. "It's a pity they did a V neck. I would have preferred a round neck" and "I don't like those shoulders" are common sorts of complaint. Some knitters have problems adjusting the length, especially the sleeve length. Yes, you do have to understand your knitting to do these things sometimes. It is not always simple.
When these problems occur I think of one small book written in a distinctive style by an English woman who married a German and migrated to America. I suspect I would have liked her. She did not follow the rules. She experimented. She had imagination.
I am taking a day off my regular work to demonstrate knitting at our annual Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society show. It should be interesting.
I suspect what Elizabeth Zimmerman has to say about knitting also applies to a good deal of life.


Anonymous said...


Sounds like my sort of craft book! I should have spent more time watching and talking knitting wiith my Mum ... she would adapt patterns to suit herself. But then I probably learned to adapt any crafts from her examples of dressmaking and knitting, even though I don't do either.

Judy B

jeanfromcornwall said...

Ah, yes. I met her in a series of articles on knitting in the Sunday Times, many years ago, but didn't go any further at the time. Then Senior Daughter found that paperback, and loaned it to me. I had to find another copy - NO WAY was I giving it back! I still remember the glow of achievement when I made my first percentage sweater.
I find it very difficult to cope with traditionally written patterns now, and as for knitting lace witout a chart - impossible.

catdownunder said...

I imagine you have see her other books Jean - also good, although the Almanac is my favourite by far.
Judy you really must read it - it is fun, even for a non-knitter!