Literary Knitters

Knitting by Libby GormanI love to knit–I’m very slow at it, and not very advanced, but ever since my husband’s grandmother taught me almost ten years ago, I’ve enjoyed it. The cold temperatures this time of year (especially over the last week!) put me even more in a knitting mood, and the only problem then is deciding whether to spend free time reading or knitting. Audiobooks occasionally help with that dilemma, but so do books that feature knitters!

There seems to have been a resurgent interest in knitting over the past few years, but while there are a ton of great nonfiction knitting books out there, I wanted to stick with a list of fictional knitters. It was hard to find very many, so I’ve cheated a bit by branching beyond YA books. Hopefully, one of these knitters will strike your reading mood this winter:

  • tale_two_citiesMme Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. To start off with perhaps the most famous literary knitter, I may be veering away from YA lit, but not from a memorable story and character. A Tale of Two Cities presents Dickens’ take on the French Revolution and a British family that gets caught up in the chaos. It’s one of his shorter works and includes enough romance and heroics to make it easy to stay connected with the story–not always so with a Dickens work. Mme Defarge is something of a side character, but her knitting takes center stage when the reader learns that she uses it to keep her register…a register of those she, her husband, and their co-revolutionaries have marked for a date with Mme la Guillotine.
  • Galen Werner from Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George (2010 Best Books for Young Adults)princess_midnight_ball. Galen is interestingly the only male knitter I could find, and he knits because he had to if he wanted socks on his feet while fighting in the war. In this retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, Galen returns to Westfalin’s capital after the war is over and finds work in the royal garden. He meets and likes Princess Rose and her eleven sisters, and when the scandal of their secret nightly excursions threatens the entire kingdom, Galen must use all his wits, skills, and magical help to release the princesses from a terrible curse. Although Galen first knits because of habit, his knitting eventually plays a key role in solving the princesses’ mystery. Should knitters wish to use some of the items Galen knits in the story, there are two knitting patterns included in the afterword.
  • friday_night_knittingGeorgia and Dakota Walker and their friends from The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. A book about a knitting club is, of course, going to have some knitters in it. Although not technically a work of YA fiction, but I think it may appeal to some YA readers. The characters range in age from 12 to somewhere around 70, and although the narration mostly follows protagonist Georgia, the other characters’  stories come out as the book goes on. Georgia owns Walker and Daughter: Knitters, a yarn shop in New York City, and the story includes the formation of the eponymous club and what happens as the women (all women, I’m afraid) encounter life, love, tragedy, and friendship…and of course, knitting.
  • Hermione Granger and Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (2004 Teens’ Top Ten). Yes, Mrs. Weasley knits throughout the series–her amazing sweaters have inspired lots of fan-created patterns, and I’m just astounded that she finds time to knit not one, but at least eight sweaters (one for each of her children, plus one for Harry) every single year. However, I selected Order of the Phoenix to feature here, because this is the story in which Hermione also takes up knitting. Unusually for Hermione, she doesn’t seem to be very good at it (Harry and Ron have trouble recognizing her hats as such), but she takes it on with characteristic earnestness and good (if sometimes misguided) intentions, knitting hats to try to set house elves free.
  • witch_blackbird_pondJudith and Mercy Wood, and eventually Kit Tyler from The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. After the death of her grandfather, Kit (Katherine) Tyler moves from Barbados to live with her aunt and uncle in the Connecticut Colony. Everything about the Wood family’s lifestyle is a shock to Kit, from their plain clothes and lack of slaves to their all day Meeting attendance on Sundays. On her first night there, Kit nearly falls asleep while her Uncle Matthew drones on with Scripture reading, and her aunt and cousins knit. Kit eventually settles into her new life, including learning to knit to endure awkward courting calls from William Ashby on Saturday nights. It’s when her friendship with a lonely older Quaker woman becomes known that Kit finds herself in trouble once more… This historical romance is a favorite book of mine since childhood, and while it won the Newbery Medal in 1959, I think if it had been published today, it might have been classified as YA literature.
  • Maddie Brodatt and Julie Beaufort-Stuart’s nanny from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2013 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2013 Teens’ Top Ten, 2013 YALSA Readers’ Choice Booklist, 2013 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults)codenameverity-wein. Knitting is more in the background in Code Name Verity, but we learn early on that Julie’s knit pullover is very important to her, so its origin catches our notice later in the story. Maddie also mentions knitting only briefly–she obviously comes off as a reluctant knitter, who has knit a pair of mittens but would much rather spend time taking apart machines–but both of these mentions help illuminate the world of the story. Knitting during World War II was a common phenomenon, and likely didn’t raise eyebrows, because everyone was knitting, to keep either themselves or soldiers at the front in socks, mittens, and other warm clothes.
  • little_womenThe March sisters from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Another book in which we just have glimpses of knitting, such as when Jo “sets a heel” (while reading aloud, no less) during a sisterly outing or Beth makes mittens to drop from her window in the book’s saddest chapter. Unlike Code Name VerityLittle Women was not a work of historical fiction, but realistic fiction, set only a few years before it was written in the late 1860’s, so Alcott’s mentions of knitting are likely less purposeful than Wein’s. Still, they add details that help readers better picture the world that the March sisters–and Alcott–lived in.
  • Scottie, Amanda, Tay, and Bella from Chicks With Sticks (It’s a Purl Thing) by Elizabeth Lenhard (2007 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)chicks_sticks. And to round out the list, an actual YA book that features knitters. Trying to deal with the death of a favorite aunt, a former best friend who now seems foreign to her, and parents too caught up in their own lives to pay much attention to hers, protagonist Scottie is shocked to find out that knitting provides an outlet and a balm for her emotions. She’s even more surprised when knitting leads to a reconciliation with best friend Amanda and new friendships with two other (very different) girls from her Chicago prep school. The four girls’ friendship deepens as they face some ups and downs together, and knitterly readers will appreciate both the story and the patterns at the end.

I know I’ve missed some–any other literary knitters you can share? What are you knitting (or crocheting, cross-stitching, etc.) this winter?

-Libby Gorman, currently reading Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold, and currently knitting a baby hat


13 thoughts on “Literary Knitters”

  1. Love this! As my celebration of finishing the HUB Challenge last year, I knit a sweater I thought would honor my favorite book on the list, Code Name Verity. I ended up in a brief e-mail conversation with Elizabeth Wein, who also knit a verity sweater & blogged about t. Here are links to her post and one to mine about the same book, but with different sweaters.

  2. Last year my friend taught me to knit and I love how meditative it is! This year, I’m starting a giant Doctor Who scarf, and even if it takes me a decade, I’m going to finish it. It’s simply an enormous rectangle, right? ;-)

  3. There is an entire subgenre of quilting fiction/mysteries. (Authors: Jennifer Chiaverini, Marie Bostwick, Terri Thayer, Earlene Fowler among them.) Quiltmaker/reading specialist Susan Hill has an ongoing quilters’ book club on her blog:

    I am the convenor of the ALA Biblioquilters. We collaborate to make quilts that are sold at the ALA Annual Conference to benefit the Exhibits Round Table Hoy Scholarship Fund–we raised $3800 in 2013! Any quiltmaker who works in or with libraries is welcome to join us. ALA attendance/membership is NOT required. (We’re looking forward to fabric shopping in the Philly fabric district at Midwinter!)

    1. P.S. Email me if you’d like to be added to the ALABQ Yahoo group, where we discuss our projects. Photos of our conference quilts are on our FB page (ALA BiblioQuilters)

  4. Little House on the Prairie– lots of needlework but particularly remember that Laura knitted lace that she gave to edge Mary’s petticoat when she went away to college

  5. These are all great! I definitely need to check out the male knitting fairy, and I LOVE both the sweater (I have yet to knit anything as big as a sweater) and the Dr. Who scarf. I also thought of a famous literary knitter I forgot…Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.

  6. Of interest “Princess of the Silver Woods” is the 3rd and final novel by Jessica Day George on the 12 Princesses was released in paperback not long ago.

    1. I’m so excited to read the rest of this series–and I might not have discovered it if not for planning this post!

  7. I would like to suggest The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood. It is similar to the Friday Night Knitting Club in that a group of people meet regularly to knit and become involved in each other’s lives. The Knitting Club is semi-autobiographic. Ann Hood lost a daughter and so did the main character, Mary Baxter. The act of knitting saved Mary as did the relationships she formed with the women in her circle.

  8. I would include the “Seaside Knitters Mystery” series by Sally Goldenbaum in this. Also the “Cypress Hollow” series by Rachael Herron — fabulous!

    I am current knitting the Magpie Mystery Shawl and the Event Horizon Pi Shawl, both as Knit-a-Longs.

  9. Ooh, thanks for all the suggestions! I just haven’t read enough knitting lit yet, I guess!

  10. In the Harry Potter series there are a few knitters. Rubeus Hagrid knits, as does Mrs. Weasley, Dobby the house elf, and Hermione Granger. Albus Dumbledore likes to read knitting patterns, but we don’t know if he reads or not.

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