I recently stumbled on a book, a perfect holiday gift for those of us who love reading as well as knitting. Alice Hoffman, author of so many notable novels (I especially loved The Dovekeepers), joined forces with her cousin Lisa Hoffman, a master knitter, to come up with a book that weaves together fairy-tale-like stories with knitted accessories (instructions included) at the heart of the stories. it’s an inspired idea, indeed. The stories have their charm and the knitting patterns their varying degrees of complexity.
Here’s what Alice Hoffman says in the introduction about the connection between writing and knitting:
“To be a writer or a knitter, one has to be willing to take things apart and put them back together again. It’s hard work to do so, and it takes courage. Patience is required, and the willingness to start over if need be, to rewrite or unravel.”
How could I help but revisit a post a wrote a few years back in which I shared my own thoughts about what writing and knitting have in common?
I write, therefore I knit
The day I released my dog from her suffering, I took up knitting again. My daughter had been wanting a scarf patterned with Griffyndor stripes since Harry Potter enchantment overtook her, and my decision to start knitting that day somehow felt life-affirming. I could not settle my thoughts enough to write about the grief, or even try to imagine the hold it would have on me. No point in that anyway. Grief demands that you be with it. The word itself carries a weight, made a little heavier by the weeks of ministration to an ailing creature. To try and push aside grief, ‘get on with one’s life,’ misses the point. I could easily co-opt and modify words from a familiar song, Gospel in origin – so high you can’t get over it / so wide you can’t get around it – to give voice to my feelings. The only way is through. Be with it.
Which brings me to knitting. I remember learning to knit as an adolescent, something to occupy me as I sat with my family at night, watching TV. Or was it a fascination of sorts, something about a single strand of wool being shaped into a sweater or a scarf? Even the simplest pattern, no fancy cables stitches, can yield something beautiful. Even the most straightforward garter or seed stitch requires an attention to detail. There is a rhythm to knitting and purling, not a far cry from a meditative settling of the breath or the quieting of the mind needed when I sit down to write.
Is it a stretch to suggest that a story exists in a hand-made sweater? Or that the very act of knitting, steadying as it is, is akin to that state of receptivity when I leave my laptop behind, take a walk or a drive, always surprised, and delighted, at the way le mot juste will make itself manifest? Putting aside the pleasure I get from knitting, or my own suspicion that it serves as some physical manifestation of the same creative impulse that drives me to write, I find myself thinking about metaphor: the Fates weave; Madame Defarge knits; I pull out some stitches, too loose to my liking, redo them. Getting it right means seeing how the parts become the whole. Finishing it off means understanding that a hand-made scarf or hat, like a story or novel, can be less than perfect and still exquisitely cohesive.
Addendum: So now the novel is out, published, and something of a triple crown finalist in three different contests. Since the catalyst for Just Like February was the AIDS crisis of the ’80s, from now until December 1st, which marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the ebook edition will be available for 99 cents via all online booksellers.