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Book Review

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Knitalong
by Larissa Brown and Martin John Brown

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The term "knitalong" entered our vocabularies a few years ago when knitters connected online and started working on projects together.

While the word and online phenomenon may be relatively new, the act of knitting together isn't.

Most knitters learn to knit in the company of another knitter. And it's within that broader realm of knitterly interconnectedness, and not just dot-com blogginess, that Larissa and husband Martin John Brown have written this book. "We define a knitalong," they note right up front, "as any organized event where people knit together for a common purpose or goal."

Taking on Togetherness
The book is structured in six sections containing a total of 15 essays on different facets of the collaborative knitting experience. You'll read about traditional online knitalongs and knitting blogs, knit-ins and meet-ups, knitting competitions and personal challenges, humanitarian and earth-friendly endeavors, and knitting for a greater collective good—to name a few.

A loving and inclusive tone pulls you through time, from the late 1700s cottage industries to the Red Cross wartime knitting projects to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Knitting Olympics. The well-researched narrative is peppered with quotes and stories from knitters past and present that feed the community spirit of the book. And the work is further enhanced with many new and archival photographs—beautiful shots that I wish had captions. Helpful resources and links round out each essay.

The Art of Doing
But that's just one part of the book. It also contains 20 knitalong-worthy patterns for things like gauntlets and mittens, a French press cozy, blankets, a shawl, and even a sweater that you can personalize with your own message. While not the core purpose of the book, the patterns are fitting companions for the editorial message. I also appreciate the little tips and ideas scattered throughout. They don't condescend to the point of telling you what music to play at your next knit-in, or what food to serve, but they do give suggestions for getting started if you're totally new to the knitalong concept.

Keeping it Personal
In addition to the cultural and historic components and the patterns, the book also has a discreet personal element: Larissa's Knitalong Diary essays, which are included in each section.

She brings the theoretical into her personal realm with stories of her first knitalong, of how she won prizes at the state fair and became determined to get other knitters to enter their own projects, of how her own experiments with recycled knits inadvertently sparked its own knitalong, and so on—each story always winding back to the notion of knitting together.

A Pleasant Surprise
In today's crowded knitting book market, this thoughtful book stands out. It explores a topic that some might see as esoteric but that's actually at the soul of what we do.

"We have the desire to pitch in," writes Larissa. "We want to do good work. These are desires most knitters have shared for all time, from ancient sailors to the mothers of soldiers to anyone making a scarf for a friend. It's an impulse that seems especially strong when people are knitting together, whether they're winding balls of yarn in a kitchen or trading tips across ten thousand miles, connected only by the glassy threads of the Internet."

Mind you, the current online knitalong phenomenon has its share of detractors who are put off by what they perceive as the knitalong's flockish tendency towards conformity. They prefer the self-guided solitude of knitting what they want, when they want, without any real or perceived influence from others.

This book walks the line deftly between both worlds, maintaining that with meaning and purpose, the individual and collective can coexist. Even the most adamant go-it-aloners may soften their stance by the last chapter.

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