Duck Duck Book


37 – knitting for anarchists
10.1.2006, 2:10 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

Knitting for anarchists / Anna Zilboorg. 
Petaluma, CA : Unicorn Books, c2002.
[MCL call number: 746.432 Z69k 2002; three copies, one hold]

I have struggled now for years to keep the contents of this booklist both general enough to appeal to all my readers, and specific enough to keep those same very intelligent readers from getting bored.  I know that most of you are not knitters, and my observation is that people who do not knit, do not find knitting to be very fascinating.  Books about knitting are generally very practical, and though I have a lot to say about them (which books are useful for learners, which have interesting patterns or helpful advice, which include beautiful illustrations or explanations that facilitate understanding of the more complex features of the craft), I have self consciously left them out of this list until now, because my assumption was that only knitters would have any interest in books about knitting.

But Knitting for Anarchists may be the exception.  It is a book that would be useful to students of knitting and those with a purely technical interest in the craft, because Zilboorg explains the details of how stitches work, what your needles will and won’t do, how knitting terminology works, and what knitted fabric is and is not like. But it is also interesting to veteran knitters, because Zilboorg’s approach is so very unusual.  Other writers have given us similarly illuminating analysis knitting and knitted objects (Mary Thomas, Elizabeth Zimmermann, and Barbara Walker all spring to mind), but Zilboorg’s entire framework is different.  Her view is that while knitted fabric is ridiculously uncomplicated, knitting as a craft has been obfuscated beyond belief by almost everyone who writes about knitting and most people who teach it. 

Knitted fabric is made up of yarn in interlocking loops.  These loops act in just about the same set of very predictable ways no matter how complex the fabric is.  There are two ways to knit, more or less (the Continental or picking method, usually with the yarn in the left hand, and the English or throwing method with the yarn usually in the right hand).  Everyone acts like these two ways are very very different, and everyone acts like there is only one right way to knit in each of these two methods.  Zilboorg begs to differ with these basic assumptions.  In fact, she demands to differ.  The first several chapters of Knitting for Anarchists are made up of her careful, clear descriptions of and instructions about stitch movements and the various features of knitted fabrics.  She uses almost no jargon, and she dispels many myths about how knitting should be done.

The end of the book is made up of several basic designs for knitted work (mostly sweaters), which I find truly hideous, but which are technically very interesting.  My advice is this: if you are interested in the technical aspects of knitting, if you are learning to knit, or if you have always found writing about knitting to be confusing, read the first parts of Knitting for Anarchists.  If you are fascinated by unusual pattern construction, look at the end of the book too — just don’t expect the garments pictured there to look like anything but garish oversized sweaters Bill Cosby might have worn in the 1980s (no insult to Mr. Cosby intended!).

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