1 July 2022 Susannah

The Power of Knitting

The Power of Knitting

Throughout my childhood and my teens, my mother read to me. As I listened to The Hobbit, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice and so many more fabulous books, she knitted. Sometimes I had to wait for the next part of the story while she counted stitches, or consulted a pattern. As a result, I associate knitting with books and enjoyment. Naturally, I was interested when a friend mentioned The Power of Knitting: Stitching Together Our Lives in a Fractured World by Loretta Napoleoni (thanks, John).

The book examines the history of knitting – when did ‘purl one, knit one’ become something many people did? It looks at the way knitting gradually became an activity for women rather than men, but is today being taken up by men in larger numbers. We all know of Madame Defarge in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – she sits and knits as heads fall at the guillotine. But do you know about the spinning and knitting bees of the American Revolution, and how knitting was used by spies in WWII? And what are guerrilla knitting and yarn bombing all about?

Recent tests in neuroscience have shown the therapeutic powers of knitting – it can be a healing activity for bodies and minds.

The author had suffered a divorce and huge financial loss and betrayal by her ex-husband – she uses knitting to calm her panic attacks and, slowly, she knits herself into a better place mentally and emotionally.

Loretta Napoleoni travels throughout the book, taking the reader to Mongolia to examine yarns and traditional knitting methods there, and discussing the textiles made by knitters in many different countries. The book even contains patterns, so this is where to go if you wish to knit for yourself a Phrygian cap (as used in the French Revolution) or create a tiny woollen outfit for a premmie baby. It’s not a long book, but it does make you think about an activity which we have all seen, engaged in, or made use of in our lives.

Have you read this book? Tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Knitting image by Bruno/Germany from Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/photos/knit-yarn-wool-handwork-knitwear-2469094/, and The Power of Knitting, https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/53215174
Body image credit- Loretta Napoleoni by Mediagold – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16493547

Comments (8)

  1. This was an interesting read! I am an Outreach librarian for ROAAr – the special collections units at the McGill Library. I recommended this book to attendees at one of our events last term – Knitting in Code. Historian Kristen Howard gave a great talk about many of the historical and literary moments you mentioned above – Madame Defarge among them, along with two of American Revolutionary knitting spies Molly “Mom” Rinker (see information on Mom Rinker’s Rock in Philadelphia), and WWII knitting spy, Phyllis “Pippa” Latour Doyle. Watching her talk might be a great way to follow up this read! You can watch it here. https://youtu.be/ubo-MnEH0LA

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Many thanks for the extra information and link.That sounds most interesting. If you subscribe to my monthklky newsletter which is free you might get lots of interesting book suggestions which you can use as a librarian.

  2. Graham

    One way to read Agatha Christie novels, is as treatises on knitting. In “N or M”, Tommy Beresford walks into the suspected nest of spies, past a Mrs Minton “knitting with khaki wool” (it’s a wartime novel) and then bang slap into his (disguised) wife Tuppence who herself is also “calmly knitting”. The novels “A Caribbean Mystery” and “Nemesis” are bound together by a unifying image of Miss Marple “spending her time mainly in knitting” and solving crimes “with urgency, in a cloud of pink wool”. And in “They Came to Baghdad”, as hinted at by recurrent references to Madame Defarge, one half of the secret code that completes the case is (spoiler alert) the pattern of the knitting in an unregarded red scarf.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That’s an interesting slant on Christie’s classic novels – I like the idea.

  3. Sallly

    The book sounds rather tempting although I’ve never been much good at knitting. If I wrote a knitting memoir, it would be called Dropped Stitches.

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