FROM ANDRE DUBUS III TO SUE GRAFTON, WRITERS RUMINATE ON THE ART OF KNITTING.
Knitting and writing are two crafts that require similar skills: Patience, creativity, attention to detail, and the ability to understand when unraveling is required. Ann Hood, a writer and a knitter, has edited a seamless collection of essays that explores the agony and the ecstasy of “knitting yarns” on the needles as well as on the page.
The writers who contributed to “Knitting Yarns” are sure to raise an eyebrow or two with their knitting confessions. It’s difficult to imagine Andre Dubus III (author of “Townie” and “House of Sand and Fog”) playing with yarn, but in his essay “Blood, Root, Knit, Purl,” Dubus bridges the gap between his penniless family and his wealthy girlfriend, at least temporarily, as he learns how to knit a scarf for his beloved aunt.
Ann Patchett takes up knitting, more than once, in “How Knitting Saved My Life. Twice.” Sue Grafton, author of the P.I. Kinsey Millhone series, sings the praises of teaching children that, with both writing and knitting, “Beginnings are always easy and reaching the ending generates a satisfaction of its own.”
Many of the contributors agree that knitting is less about the finished sweater and more about what it takes to get there. In her essay “The Perfect Gift,” Lan Samantha Chang says it best when she writes that “all people who make things, if they are to keep on, must feel that it is the making itself that matters, more than the product or its reception.”
For all of the essays in this collection that talk about the benefits of knitting, there are ones that give permission to knit badly or give it up altogether. In “To Knit a Knot or Not: A Beginner’s Yarn,” John Dufresne finds that putting down the needles and knitting with your fingers is a more enjoyable feat, with the added bonus that “You can drink your martini while finger knitting.”In Elissa Schappell’s “High-Strung Knitter,” she takes up knitting in order to lower her blood pressure but found that “what had begun as a way to unwind now had me in knots.”
“Knitting Yarns” also includes patterns by Helen Bingham and contributor Taylor Polites, whose essay “The Clothes Make the Dog” ties in his boundless love for his 4-pound Chihuahua with the elaborate sweaters that bring little Clovis so much joy.
“Knitting Yarns” is a little community of its own where its writers speak the language of knitters, as in Ann Shayne’s essay, “What Are You Making,” in which she wouldn’t dream of not engaging the other knitter in the room to acknowledge that “we are both living life to the fullest.”
Meganne Fabrega is a slow knitter, freelance writer and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.