Sometimes, the best knitting book is a picture book.
If I enjoy knitting instruction books for the way they’re able to transmit the ‘how-to’ of the craft, I enjoy Barbara Levine’s People Knitting: A Century of Photographs (2016, Princeton Architectural Press) for how it manages to convey the everyday soul of knitting. This compact 144-page book is a 20th century photo compilation that captures some golden knitting moments. Levine reveals a varied cast of knitting characters: turn-of-the-century fisher girls and vaudeville performers, Hollywood starlets on break, nurses and youth group knitting bees, soldiers and wartime internees, and more.
There is no single or overarching story that Levine’s knitters tell; together, they reveal that knitting is as much a space for joy, joking around, community, and the rhythms of collective creating and everyday work as it is a place for convalescing, waiting, privacy, solitude and, in some cases, filling the time of internment (not to mention the photos of public ads which revealed the central role of knitting to various war efforts). Each image presents a unique knitting history, and Levine’s mostly text-less presentation of the images allowed me to appreciate the book as a collection of singularities that invite more exploration. The book’s preservation of historical, and human, singularities is what I enjoyed about it most.
Here are a few of my favourite snapshots.
Enjoy your Thursday!