Friday, April 28, 2006

In Appreciation of Stitch and Bitch


It may seem strange, seeing as I have already set up a blog (something knitters are urged to do by Debbie Stoller in Stitch and Bitch), that I hadn't - until now - read this much lauded knitting manual. Now that I have read it, however, I understand why people rave about it so much and indeed why it is responsible, in part, for a league of new knitters (of which I am one) taking up their needles - and indeed taking over the net.

I was most impressed with how this book is written. I am largely a book/magazine taught knitter, but many of the knitting instructions I have relied upon have been written by experienced knitters who have forgotten what it is like to be a bit green. Stoller, on the other hand, has written her handbook as though her days of being daunted by the likes of DK and double-pointed needles are only too clear a memory. I found it so easy to understand the techniques she was describing because she pre-empted my very misunderstanding of them!

Although I can already knit(ish), this was the first book where I found clear explanations and also illustrations of (amongst other things): how to know if the loop is on the needle the right way; how to create neat, straight edges, and how to undo a load of rows without going too far or dropping a stitch. In addition to this, because the book is written in such a light, cheeky (almost frivolous) way, it helps you remember the instructions. For example, although I know how to tell the difference between a knit and a purl stitch, having them described in terms of wearing either 'nooses' or 'scarves' has lodged the difference even more firmly in my mind - and as I am currently grappling with moss/seed stitch (more on that later) it is really useful to understand my stitch 'anatomy' (as Stoller would put it) more fully.

As a historian, I constantly crave historic context in my understanding of knitting and really enjoyed both the personal - but also wider - historical context Stoller provided for the practice of knitting. I like to know how knitting has evolved and what are current trends rather than steadfast rules. For example, many of my books instructed me to hold my right-hand needle like a pencil i.e. with the needle poking out above my hand - this is how my mother holds her right-hand needle. I however hold it under my hand, in fact in pretty much the same way as I hold the left-hand needle. Until reading this book, I had assumed I was some sort of knitting deviant (I will describe some of my other strange knitting ways later) but Stoller explained that the 'pencil-holding' style is simply a more recent, more lady-like needle-holding fashion. So now I feel less like I'm doing it the wrong way and more like I'm doing 'a way' or 'my way'.

The only things that bothered me about the book were, firstly, Stoller's use of the word 'knit' for both past and present tense whilst happily referring to its opposite as both 'purled' and 'purl'. Is this an American thing? I feel sure I'm not the only person who says 'the jumper I knitted' rather than the 'the jumper I knit'. (This is a petty grievance I know!). And secondly, despite the fact the patters are wide-ranging and modern, and the snippets of information on their designers is extremely encouraging, I must admit I'm not really champing at the bit to knit any of them. The patterns find more exciting are in fact the ones she includes for making a knitting tote and needle case. I've looked all over the net for project bags and needle cases that I like and have drawn a blank, but being able to make my own matching set is extremely appealing. The only problem however (and this is of course not Stoller's fault), is that I can't sew!

But of course I can't rave on enough about the combinations of knitting and feminism!

Finally, the sections about blogging, online zines and setting up Stitch and Bitch groups were very inspiring. I have of course already taken the blog plunge, but I'd love to have a regular group of knitters to hang out with. There doesn't seem to be a Stitch and Bitch in my town (St Albans) and although there are some nearby (Lemsford, Borehamwood), they are far enough away to make them a bit of a chore to attend, so I may (and I mean may - as I don't know how I'd find the time right now) try and set one up.

So in conclusion, I would thoroughly recommend this book to new knitters like myself. In fact I'd go so far as to say that to start with, its the only book you'll need - until you want to start adding much trickier skills to your repertoire. And as its not that big, it will easily fit in your newly made 'knitters' tote', so that when you are on the move with your WIP and you'd like to KIP, you don't have to find an accomplished knitter (as Stoller did early on) to help you out (although you might like to do that anyway...).

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