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November 21st, 2010

Sweater Quest

I knit, from time to time.  I've committed the odd (and I do mean odd) baby hat.  But I'm not a knitter.  I was taught to make mittens, but that was in another century and I've completely forgotten how.  I have a pattern for a tea cosy small enough to fit my favorite pot, and I've made a knitting date with my oldest friend, who is a knitter, to hold my hand (metaphorically speaking) through the parts of the pattern I can't read (like, all of it).  But I love reading about process, and I think Adrienne Martini is a bright cookie and a demon writer.  So I picked up Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously knowing I was in for a good time, but not really expecting anything more.

Boy, was I wrong.

I haven't finished it yet (I tend to slow down a lot when I'm really enjoying something.  I also hoard my chocolate-covered cherries.  It's a thing.), but I've read enough to know that this isn't just another "How I spent a year doing something really difficult and how it changed my life" book (think Julie and Julia).  This is a meditation on what it means to be a teacher and free-lance writer with a husband, two children, and a cat who attacks knitted things (aka a very busy working woman) spending time she doesn't really have knitting a fiendishly difficult Fair Isle sweater.  Also a meditation on feminism and why people knit and internet communities and obsession and, oh, yeah, the history of knitting.

Now, the cool thing about this is that a Fair Isle sweater is built out of lots of different colors repeated in small mathematical units to make a beautiful and harmonious pattern.  Which (unless I am much mistaken) is exactly how this book is structured.   All the paragraphs about Martini's daily life, about Alice Starmore (who designed the sweater), about Women's Work and first wave feminism, about the difference between Continental and English knitting, about the on-line community of knitters, build chapter by chapter into a beautifully argued whole.  I'm not entirely sure yet what the whole is, but I'm definitely seeing the pattern, and it's a beaut.

It's also really well-written and funny and charming and smart, smart, smart.  Plus, the book as sweater.  That's a metaphor that can really make me feel warm and cozy.

If you want to see a picture of the sweater at issue, "Mary Tudor sweater" is the second suggestion Google gives you on its pop-up menu.  And Sweater Quest is the second entry on the list.

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