Over the weekend I read Donna Druchunas’ latest book on knitting. What a joy it is.
For anyone who ever yearned to learn to knit as well as for the experienced who might want to design their own creations, this book is a unique discovery. It is far from the ordinary knitting instruction book. The author leads both the novice and the experienced into a world of ethnic knitting. The term, the author explains, describes traditional knitting techniques used in different parts of the world to create sweaters and accessories that are unique to each country or region. In this case the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and the Andes. By pausing in each chapter to divulge a bit of history of the craft in each of these regions, she adds a bit of clever story-telling to the book.
It seems that though all these techniques differ in details, they share a few common traits. The one I found most interesting was that there are no line-by-line instructions or written patterns. This is the way I learned to knit. A dear friend who spoke French better than English endeavored to teach me. So I suppose I learned ethnic knitting and wasn’t aware of it, for I have yet to use a printed pattern. According to the author, it is common in many countries for accomplished knitters to create their own patterns and color designs.
Her assurances that the prospective knitter needs little knowledge of mathematics to design knitted sweaters and other accessories, will be a relief to many who might dread spending hours doing mathematical equations just to knit a hat or scarf.
The book is constructed by presenting each set of sweater patterns with three options that should suit any knitter. With illustrations plus visual plans, planning worksheets and step-by-step project sheets everyone can make their own choice as to how to plan their chosen sweater projects.
I was especially intrigued by little notes here and there that make this book more than a knitters guide. For instance, I learned that in Holland during the harsh winters when canals literally became roads, to get around people wore wooden ice skates with no shoes. Thick, wooly knitted socks, she writes, “kept frostbite at bay!” Such delightful asides kept me reading, not only for the many intricate designs and projects, but for these notes covering a bit of history in each of these countries. For instance, I was fascinated to learn that in the Andes of South America men do most of the knitting. And they use bicycle spokes or fine wire for knitting needles to make their own caps. Women prepare the yarn by spinning and dying it. Such tidbits add flavor to this book that is much more than an instruction manual, but also takes a look into the lives of these fascinating people.
For example, in the chapter on Denmark she writes: “Originally, men and women collected wool when the local sheep shed naturally in the spring, or they sometimes plucked the wool directly from the sheep’s back. They combed the wool so that all of the fibers were parallel, and then spun a very smooth fine yarn that enhanced the textured stitch patterns of their knitting.” She notes, however that this can only be done with primitive-style sheep.
Not only does each chapter contain such notable asides, each also eases the reader toward the more complicated patterns From reassuring the timid to instructing the more advanced, Donna has created a book every knitter needs in her collection. She promises a freedom from relying on patterns, and she delivers in a way everyone can appreciate. I look forward to more from this talented author.