by Andrea Berman Price
The Secret Language of Knitters
by Mary Beth Temple
Golfers have their bogeys, tennis players talk about love, and we knitters have our own rich language. It describes both what we do and how we live. Two pocket-sized books explore our knitting language—but from two very different angles.
The Way We Speak
The first angle is technical—the specific actions that we do. In Knitspeak, Andrea Berman Price explains all the most common terms, phrases, and abbreviations used in knitting patterns. These words have caused nearly every knitter to pause and scratch her head at some point—things like right sides and wrong sides, foundation rows, and binding off in pattern.
The content is arranged alphabetically like a dictionary, accompanied by abundant illustrations that explain stitches, techniques, tools, garment styles, and even yarn ball bands. Each entry is written with clarity and patience. You aren't just shown how to decrease and increase, for example, you're given charts that explain which kind of decrease or increase you should work, depending on what you're trying to accomplish.
Many techniques are known by different names and/or abbreviations, but Andrea does an excellent job of cross-referencing most of the possibilities, so that you really can find what you need.
The Way We Behave
Playing Felix to Berman Price's Oscar, Mary Beth Temple's book The Secret Language of Knitters translates the sometimes quirky culture of knitting through specific terms—from compulsive stashes to second-sock syndrome and furiously frogging what's on our needles. She takes us from "acrylic" to "yarn porn" in a chatty, personal tone in the manner of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.
The humor is in stark contrast to the straightforward clarity and economy of words in Knitspeak. For example, while Knitspeak gives you detailed information on what a buttonhole is and how to create a simple three-stitch buttonhole, Temple explains that buttonholes are, "What you call any random hole that shows up anywhere near the front of your sweater, even if you have made a pullover, because it couldn't possibly be a mistake."
She tells us how swatches ("a small sample no one wants to knit") are a waste of our prime knitting time, but then insists we knit them (in her definition of "gauge"). Garter stitch in plain vanilla yarn can, according to Temple, induce "comalike boredom." And she repeatedly refers to designers as the spawns of Satan (quietly also saving herself by referencing them under "genius" as well), admitting that sometimes it's actually the photographer whose neck she would gladly wring instead. (Though she does warm up when talking about the LYS and sheep and wool festivals.)
Just a few terms seem a little lost within this "alphabet from A to Z" concept. In her definition of the term "television," for example, she promptly gives a top-ten list of ways you can tell if a knitter has committed a crime.
In fact, a strongly opinionated and edgy tone characterizes much of the book—and not necessarily one I'd want to share with the new and impressionable members of our knitting fold. For them, I'd probably recommend a copy of Knitspeak paired with the warmer and more inclusive Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: the Yarn Harlot's Guide to Knitting. And for those of us who've been around the knitting block a few times and have formed our own opinions of things, Temple's book gives us another reason to celebrate our peculiar stereotypical foibles.