Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: Knitting the Threads of Time

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Knitting the Threads of Time: Casting Back to the Heart of Our Craft takes knitting seriously, as a historical practice, a significant economic force, a means of communication, a gathering place for women, and a path to self-awareness. No apologies, no distancing from "grandmas," no deprecation of knitting's pleasures -- indeed, Nora Murphy does the opposite: she actively seeks to locate hand-knitting within a larger history of fiber and fabric production, and she writes of both her own WIP and the craft in general (and the people who do it) with nothing but respect.

At one level, the book is the story of a sweater, from conception through finishing. The author decides to knit a sweater for her son, and the project takes her through four winter months in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Any of us who go through a similar "dark season" each year can certainly relate.) This WIP is a device that allows Murphy to weave a number of different ends into the story, so to speak: arriving at the point where her stitch count requires a switch from DPNs to something longer, for instance, she ruminates on the material origins of "knitting pins" (early North African knitters used brass wires, rural knitters in New Zealand used fencing wire, etc.). Such historical information is not limited to knitting but extends to weaving, First Nations beading and quillwork, and other crafts; Murphy also brings in ancient legends and historical events related to handicrafts, fabric, and clothing, showing that such "women's work" has in fact played a very important role in culture and history in many parts of the world.

I absolutely recommend this book. Because I'm bookish and nerdy, KTTOT had me at its index and bibliography (swoon!). It's a smart book about history, a compelling account of a craft, and even -- just a little -- a tale of suspense (Will she or won't she finish Evan's sweater by Christmas?). It has something for everybody without trying to please everybody, if that makes sense. I can imagine I may even pull it off the shelf and read it again when next year's dark season comes around.

p.s. to Nora Murphy: Have you considered making your other son a quilt? Because I'd read that book. I'm just saying...

15 comments:

Holli said...

Thanks for this review. I've just ordered a copy from amazon.com -- it sounds excellent!

Cassy said...

I just requested it on interlibrary loan. I can't wait to read it!

J. said...

I've been looking for a readable book about the history of knitting. Thanks for the review. I'm off to order a new book.

Knitting Linguist said...

Ooh! I've got a copy coming in the mail, and now I'm even more excited to read it. I love books like this, especially with good references :)

Kate said...

Ooh, awesome! This just showed up in the bookstore where I work, and I was wondering if it was a good read. I'll probably pick up a copy soon. Thanks for the excellent review.

Shaina said...

Hmm! Will have to check it out.

Susan said...

Wow, it sounds like this book might be right up my alley. I've been wishing for a really thorough, nerdy book about knitting for a long time. So glad you posted about it.

www.nora-murphy.com said...

Hello Brainy Lady!
Thanks for reviewing Knitting the Threads of Time. It's really satisfying to know that readers are enjoying the many threads of history woven into this story! I did manage to knit my other son Andrew a pair of fingerless mittens from Molly's wool. It's awesome to hold them knowing you've met the being from whom they were gifted! A quilt...that might be beyond my knitting skills--but a lovely idea. I'll ask my son when he gets home from school!
All best,
Nora (Murphy)

Carolyn said...

Dear Nora,
vote #2 for a quilting book. I would SO read that one. ;)
seriously,
Carolyn

bonny said...

Thanks so much for the excellent review & recommendation for KTTOT. I had to order it from Amazon this a.m. since I couldn't find it through interlibrary loan. I will run out to gleefully greet the UPS man tomorrow so I can tear it open & start reading this lovely book that sounds just perfect!

Dr. Steph said...

I have this book on my table--waiting to be read. Thanks for the review.

Laiane said...

I've added it to my amazon.com wish list. Alas, I give up buying yarn and books for Lent, so it will be an Easter present for myself. :) Thanks for the recommendation!

glenda said...

I'll be looking for this one to read!

Jo Anne W-M said...

I've been reading this book, just a little at a time to make it last. Its very enjoyable with the bits about the knitting, then the bits about the history. She describes Abby at Borealis Yarns spot on. (By the way, it is a very nice yarn shop.)

Angela said...

I had no idea this book was around. Thanks for the review!