Saturday, April 29, 2006

It has been a Good Week for my knitting psyche. Crappy for my budget, but good for the inner knitter.

Last week, I got to see the marvelous Ann and Kay, authors of the Mason-Dixon Knitting blog and the brand-new book, Mason-Dixon Knitting. Thursday, I got to see Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, The Yarn Harlot herself, out promoting her third book, Knitting Rules! I've been meaning to write about both these events here, but as I sat down to do it I found myself thinking. Thinking not so much about what they said and did, but how I could explain what I got out of it.

These days, there are a heck of a lot of knitting books out there. When I first started knitting in the mid-1980s, this was not so much the case. Other knitters than myself have observed the Great Knitting Drought of the 80s, when local yarn shops folded, Elizabeth Zimmerman and Barbara Walker went out of print, and pretty much the only yarn widely available was Red Heart. Now, there are new knitting books nearly every week, it seems, and where there were no yarn stores at all there are often two or three to choose from with more different kinds of fiber than any one person can use in a lifetime.

So what makes Ann, Kay, and Stephanie stand out from the newly-expanded crowd? Why would nearly 100 knitters come to see them? Why are their names nearly as quick on the lips of knitters as those of Elizabeth Zimmerman and Barbara Walker and the other Great Knitters? Me, I have a theory.

We've probably all heard the saying, "if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, give him a hook and teach him to fish and you feed him for life." Well, at the risk of abusing the analogy, the three ladies I heard over the last week are the type that give folks hooks instead of fish. Most knitting books are pattern books, and are geared to giving the buyer as many specific and detailed patterns as possible within their pages. Mason-Dixon Knitting has quite a few patterns, true, but they're tucked in between quite a lot of talk about other things, and none of Stephanie's three books have a single pattern. If you pick up either of them expecting to see diagrams of stitches and drawings of the difference between K2tog and SSK, you'll be disappointed (which, yeah, kind of breaks the "teach to fish" analogy, but never mind).

What they do give their readers are ideas. They tell their readers that They Aren't the Only Ones to drop stitches, screw up patterns, and hide their yarn in the piano. They say, "Don't be afraid of color/gauge/purling/double-pointed needles: We've screwed up with them, too." Some of the advice is practical, of course, tips about dyeing, felting, designing, what not to do when knitting at the movies and so on, but that's not the core of their books.

If I had to give it a word, I would call it inspiration. By the time you've finished Mason-Dixon Knitting, or At Knit's End or Knitting Rules!, you might not have in your hands a perfect stitch-by-stitch guide to a traditional Fair Isle sweater, but you're very, very likely to be thinking, "By golly, I can make one of those, and I'm not scared to try! And now I know that even if I have to rip it back to the hem five times, It's Okay."

So, here I am, enriched not so much with information as with inspiration. Ann, Kay, Stephanie...You Rock!


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