Ann Hood’s “Knitting Yarns”

knitting yarns cover.jpg

Why do we create or turn to craft?  What does it provide? And what do our reasons reveal about… well, what it means to live – and thrive – in the unique way that humans do?

My love of knitting is paralleled by my love of thinking and reading about knitting (and crafting of all stripes, for that matter). It’s both exciting and valuable, to me, to be able to peer into others’ creative processes and motivations (thanks for continuing to share, bloggers!). I want to understand how different makers relate to their materials, and I’m intensely interested in the meaning we give to the things we choose to make. As a maker-in-training, I am trying to better understand my own motivations in order to live them out more deeply. Sometimes, a book (yay!) comes along that helps me to do this.

Ann Hood’s Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting (2014, W.W. Norton & Co.) is an edited volume that takes an honest look at knitting’s relationship to the stuff of life: love, loss, grief, solitude, work, gender/inequality, family, generational continuity, interdependence and the natural world… the list goes on). I really enjoyed this read – the personal accounts make for lots of food for knitting thought.

Ann Hood’s “Ten Things I learned from Knitting,” for example, links knitting techniques (“casting on,” “cable stitch,” “unknitting”) to lessons in living well. She explores the process of grieving through the stages of the craft, and finds in “casting off” an art of letting go – not only of those we love, but of letting go of love itself, of loving others more freely. Bernadette Murphy’s “Failing Better” explores something I have been thinking a lot about: our capacity to transcend perfectionism and ‘fail’ more productively, discovering resilience in the process (this is a tough one, for me). For Murphy, this skill relies on a radical acceptance of error. This view paves the way for her understanding that “all of life becomes a place to learn.” More important than perfection is “knowing that you can build a life that uniquely fits, that you can stumble, make uninformed choices, and still learn and grow.” Simple but powerful reminders that issue from her (unsuccessful) attempt to teach a group of women at a bachelorette party how to knit.

My favourite contribution to the volume is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Where to Begin,” a dream-scene, Whitman-like reflection on where (and why) knitting starts. Kingsolver describes the varied, and often vulnerable, “beginnings” of the craft. Knitting, for instance, starts with:

the passage of time (“whole wide days of watching winter drag her skirts across the mud-yard from east to west, going nowhere”); the desire to forget (“nothing can stop the words so well as the mute alphabet of knit and purl. The curl of your cupped hand scoops up long drinks of calm); the desire to remember (“a mitten lost in childhood, returned to you in a dream”); the desire to heal and to commune (“laughter makes dropped stitches”); and the simple love of a colour (“every eye has hungers all its own”) or a texture.

From these experiences (exigencies?), Kingsolver brings the reader back to still earlier beginnings – the barn on shearing day (fleece, “the universal currency of a planet where people grow cold”), the sheep, and the grass. From this beginning, she reveals knitting as an artful human expression of our unique place and position in the matrix of life. Knitting is our participation in, but also reliance on, larger continuities and cycles.

I’ll end with my favourite passage:

It starts where everything starts, with the weather. The muffleblind snows, the dingle springs, the singular pursuit of cud, the fibrous alchemy of the herd spinning grass into wool. This is all your business. Hands plunged into a froth of yarn are as helpless as hands thrust into a lover’s hair, for they are divining the grass-pelt life of everything: the world. The sunshine, heavenly photosynthetic host, sweet leaves of grass all singing the fingers electric that tingle to brace the coming winter, charged by the plied double helices of all creatures that have prepared and justly survived on the firmament of patience and swaddled children.

It’s all of a piece, knitting. All one thing.

I recommend this read but, you don’t have to take my word for it!

Happy knitting to you.


21 thoughts on “Ann Hood’s “Knitting Yarns”

  1. Take a look! It’s in a book … it’s a reading rainbooooowwwww! Iiiiiiiiii can do *any*thing ….. That’s going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the day. The book sounds lovely; I’ll have to check it out. I love hearing about other people’s inspiration and process!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, I saw this and picked it up at the library after spotting it unexpectedly on the shelf (the craft section gets repeat visits these days). Seeing it was a delightful surprise. Thanks for reading, Melissa. 🙂


  2. Oooh, I’ll have to have a look for this… Hopefully they published it on my side of the pond! Like you, I’m always interested in how other people approach their craft. Speaking of which, have you seen “Abstract : The Art of Design”? It’s on Netflix over here, and since it’s one of their in-house shows I reckon it should be available where you are too! Definitely worth checking out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Helen. I’m glad you mentioned that series (and are enjoying it, too!). I watched the first episode, about the Berlin-based illustrator, and really loved it. The art footage, the animations, his musings on design, work, life – so much to enjoy. I’ll take your suggestion and add the series to the queue. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I feel so fired-up and ready to launch myself at any project that comes to hand after I watch an episode! Even the ones that I didn’t think would interest me at all (hello, shoe design) really captured my imagination by the end. Enjoy the rest of the series!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for posting about this. I have the book, but it’s been sitting in the pile for months. I’m going to pull it out and dive in! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a happy coincidence that it’s been in your book pile! I like that the stories are very rich, but short. I found it a very forgiving take-along read while on vacation (when a full-on novel felt too long!). Happy knitting, and reading, Melinda. 🙂


  4. This is a gorgeous and very interesting post. So glad that I saw it. I too am highly interested in the creative process, especially as it connects with forgiveness, peace and other qualities and experiences of the heart. This last line “It’s all of a piece, knitting. All one thing.” made me think of “It’s all of a peace, knitting. All one thing.” Thank you. ❤ Blessings, Debbie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much, Debbie, for reading. 🙂 I love your revision of Kingsolver’s line – it is very much true. When I think of it, nothing helps me transform the difficulties and find peace more these days than casting on. You are absolutely right. Thank you for your beautiful insight into the “peace” of knitting! ❤


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