Casting on; Finding the Pattern; Casting Off: A Review of the Kniterature

Kniterature

Mark comes in while I’m snugged up in the reading chair with Phyllis Rose’s The Shelf. I’m immersed in Chapter Five; Rose is discussing the difference between male and female authors, male and female readers. Women’s writing, she says, is often discounted because it deals with domestic issues.

And Mark asks, “Do we have any baby booties?” His colleague Jenna and her husband are soon to have a baby boy; the office will celebrate tomorrow.

Hmm. Here’s why he wants to know: I take three or four pilgrimages a year to a wonderful store called Saver’s, when I visit our friend Wendy, and stock up on bargain bags of multicolored yarn. I sort the yarn by weight and use the finest to knit up baby booties and hats, knitting while we watch TV, and sometimes while I read at the kitchen table.

I stockpile the results. Then, when friends or family members or colleagues are expecting, we have handmade gifts to share.

I put down Rose’s book and go upstairs to poke around in my ‘anything’ room. In my gift trove, I find baby bonnets knit in variegated shades of green. And here’s a Beatrix Potter picture book and the cover is the exact same base shade. Not, of course, that we select books by their covers…but, gee; they look nice together.

As I wrap up the gift, winding it ’round with a paper ribbon and adding a handmade bow in shades of green, I acknowledge that I need to knit more booties. I’m tempted to start right then, but I’m very much enjoying The Shelf, Rose’s reading romp through one shelf in the library.

The two pleasures collide in my fuddled brain; Rose’s discussion of domestic literature and the urge to knit remind me there’s a whole sub-genre of women’s writing devoted to knitting.

Knitting fiction.

Kniterature, I think, and preen myself on coming up with such a clever name.

Then I type it into a search engine, and see that the term gets almost 2,000 hits.

Well, I’m a little late to the party, but I do think there’s a growing, thriving kniterature out there.

I think of Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street books, a guilty pleasure, as nutritious and as challenging as white chocolate. Which I also love, and which, every once in a while, is a wonderful treat. Macomber creates wonderful characters, often lovably wrong-headed, who are ripe for satisfying redemptions. The Blossom Street series begins in Lydia’s knit shop, A Good Yarn, and it tells the story of the women in Lydia’s first knitting class. Each comes to the class with an urgent issue; by the time the class is done, the issues are resolved. Although the resolutions may not have been what the characters envisioned, they are happy at the end of the book.

In Macomber, knitting is a metaphor for healing. Lydia, who learned to knit while enduring chemo, is cancer free, and friend and romance-rich, at the story’s end.

We do talk about healing in needlework metaphors–we say, for instance, that our bones knit together.

In Knitting, by Ann Bartlett, a scrap of Australian kniterature, the knitting is a healing art, too. Sandra is recently widowed; her unexpected new friend, Martha, has delayed her own emotional healing as she nurtures friends and family with her amazing needlework. There’s a little mystical edge to the knitting in this book; the people are a little bit grittier and more realistically drawn. But the metaphors, and the ending, are equally satisfying.

In fact, now I think of it, the knit shop is a common mechanism in kniterature, a place where friendships grow and creation is fostered. It is there in Knit Two, Purl Two, by English author Gil MacNeil—one in a series of books. Jo, MacNeil’s spunky protagonist, is also widowed, but her faithless husband was leaving her and their two boys for another woman when he met with the accident that killed him. In the aftermath, Jo takes over a knit shop from her gran. She builds a new life in a small town, shaping it as deftly and cleverly as she crafts whimsical knit creatures for her shop’s window. Her shop draws in surprising friends.

Georgia, in The Friday Night Knitting Club, also finds this to be true. Her shop becomes the pivot for rich relationships, deep bonds that tie Georgia and her daughter to a group of powerful women friends.

And, in the Seaside Knitters mystery series, another fluffy but lovable series of books by Sallie Goldenbaum, Izzy and Nell are the hubs at the center of a devoted group of friends,–friends devoted to each other, to their craft, and to solving the alarming number of murders that take place in their cozy little New England town. Their deductions and adventures begin in Izzy’s shop, and they are fueled by the delicious meals Nell and her husband serve to the knitters and their companions every Friday night.

There are more, of course, many more books in which knitting plays a central role, and in which women,–and sometimes men,– knit together in groups. As they knit, wounds mend and relationships heal. Bonds are created, and nasty, unwise partnerships are–you’ll excuse the bad pun–cast off.

Is it great literature? Maybe not, but kniterature is as soothing to me, and as affirming, as a steaming cup of tea and a stack of cookies warm from the oven on a night when the wind howls and the cold air sighs in through the old house’s fine little cracks. Not every book, I think, has to leave me pondering the depths of the abyss.

So I dig out some fine turquoise yarn, find some frothy soft white yarn, and I settle in to knitting up a new batch of booties and coordinating bonnets. I’m savoring The Shelf still; it’s my end-of-the-day reward, but as I knit I open Kate Jacobs’ The Friday Night Knitting Club, and enjoy some bonding time with old friends.

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