Three Summer Reads
Summer is the perfect time to get lost in a great book. While the legendary Elizabeth Zimmermann was skilled at reading—aloud, no less—while knitting, most of us can only handle one task at a time. Either we stick to audiobooks, or we have to put down our knitting to enjoy a good book.
Unless that good book just happens to be about knitting, that is. In honor of the arrival of summer, let me tell you about three great summer reads: a thoughtful memoir, a juicy romance, and finally a meaty collection of nonfiction essays. And the best part? Knitting is their central theme.
The year was 2008. On a chilly November weekend, a group gathered at the Knitter's Review Retreat and everybody was introducing themselves. A newcomer with big eyes and curly hair stood up and held out an extraordinary piece of colorwork knitting. While we gasped in awe, she said, "My name is Adrienne, and I appear to have knitted a very complicated pillowcase."
Adrienne proceeded to explain that this stunning pillowcase-to-be was actually Alice Starmore's masterful design, Mary Tudor, and that she was writing a book about her experience of knitting that exact sweater.
Such a brief explanation barely scratches the surface of what her book really is about. The project gave structure to a yearlong journey across the country and into the kitchens, cafes, and—yes—retreats of other knitters in search of answers and inspiration.
She tells lots of stories, introduces you to people you know and others you may not—from Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner of Mason-Dixon Knitting, Knitty's Amy Singer, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee the Yarn Harlot extraordinnaire, to people like Susette Newberry, an outreach coordinator/reference librarian in Ithaca, New York, who created her own knitted abecedarium. She weaves their stories and anecdotes with her own, making for an engaging read.
As for her time during that cold November weekend, it was well spent. With the support of a friend, Adrienne later took scissors and (gasp!) cut right through her precious knitting. In three seconds, it was done. Nothing unraveled. She had cut her first steek and was one step closer to completing her quest.
A favorite genre of summer reading is the romance. Who doesn't love a good bodice-ripper now and then? For those of you who do, I have excellent news: Rachael Herron, the author and knitter behind the blog Yarnagogo, has published her first contemporary romance novel.
Dim the lights, cue the curtain:
Abigail is more than ready for a change when she inherits a cottage from her beloved mentor, knitting guru Eliza Carpenter. Leaving the oppressive city for the greener pastures of a small California beach town, she intends to turn her cozy little windfall into a knitting shop and spend her days spinning, designing, and purling. But she's not going to be welcomed with open arms by her new neighbor. Eliza's disgruntled nephew, the gorgeous Cade, now owns everything surrounding Abigail's ramshackle new home, and he views this sexy city girl as an unwanted interloper.
Can you guess what happens next? Of course. Anyone familiar with the romance genre will immediately recognize the essential elements for a fine plot. The fact that we can see them right from the beginning isn't even the point. This book's quality comes from the skill with which Herron spins the plot, the likeable characters she creates along the way, the comic and playful overtones she laces throughout, and, ultimately, the way in which she rewards us with a fully satisfying ending.
Herron is a skilled writer who also happens to be a passionate knitter, and she brings knitting into this story in a natural way without making it a story about knitting (although she does tuck a sweater pattern in the end). Her style is easygoing without artifice. Which means that anyone who loves a good romance, whether a knitter or not, will enjoy this one.
For those who prefer non-fiction to heaving bosoms, Ann Budd has created a fine summer read. Called Knitting Green, it's a collection of essays exploring the issues, nuances, and opportunities within the "green" knitting world.
In essays interspersed throughout the book, Pam Allen explores the meaning of "organic," while Kristin Nicholas gives us a beautiful ode to sheep—something about which she, as a shepherd, is quite passionate. Knitty founder Amy Singer shares helpful ideas about how to use or let go of excess yarn in our stashes, and yarn store owner Lisa Myers gives us a glimpse into the challenges of what she calls "green retailing."
I was also invited to write the opening chapter. Called "The Gray of Green," my essay seeks to explore core questions, conundrums, and contradictions in green or eco-friendly fibers, processing, yarns, and knitting.
Putting theory into action, Budd also assembled 20 designs on a "green" theme. Most but not all of the projects use yarns marketed as green or eco-friendly—organic cottons, jute, naturally dyed or minimally processed wools, and fibers from regenerated cellulose (Tencel, bamboo) and soy proteins. Varied in technique, difficulty, and type, the projects come to us from skilled designers including Nancy Bush, Pam Allen, Véronik Avery, Mags Kandis, Deborah Newton, and, of course, Budd herself. Knitting Green is a helpful and well-crafted effort to point us in a better direction.