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.