To Knit or Not to Knit: Helpful and Humorous Hints for the Passionate Knitter by Elvira Woodruff

I like books about knitting.  I do not mean pattern books, which I do love, but aren’t what I am referring to here.  I mostly mean memoirs or essays.  I also read novels that involve knitting, but they aren’t my favorite.  Most of the novels I’ve come across are genre series, a category of books I do not often read, regardless of knitting references, as I tend to get bored with them after a couple books.  There’s not a lot of knitting memoir and essay books out there, so a couple months ago, I went poking around on Amazon to see if I could find any that I had not read.  I looked in the “Coming Soon” list and found To Knit or Not to Knit (Is that even a legitimate question?!  Of course there will be knitting!).  It sounded interesting, so I pre-ordered it and then forgot all about it until it arrived on my doorstep a week ago, a couple days before the official release date.  Since I was in the midst of dealing with Pepper’s health, I did not get to read it until last night.  I’m sorry that it took me so long to get to it, as I quite enjoyed the book!

To Knit or Not to Knit: Helpful and Humorous Hints for the Passionate Knitter

The book is structured as questions to and answers from a knitting advice columnist, Mrs. Wicks.  The questions cover topics that knitters often discuss, like how to disguise the extent of your stash or survive a trip to the yarn store without spending every penny you have, to questions about the best place for newbies to start to questions about specific knitting projects, like how to embellish a baby hat or navigate a first lace project.  Each answer incorporates a quote from a well-known person, often an author.  Many times, Mrs. Wicks provides the actual quote followed immediately by a paraphrased version that incorporates knitting and gets to the heart of her answer to the question posed.  For example, in answering a knitter who confesses that she’s been knitting for two years and has yet to learn the purl stitch, Mrs. Wicks includes the following advice:

“If you hear a voice within you say, “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot purl,’ then by all means purl, and that voice will be silenced.”  Mrs. Wicks

In addition to directly answering the questions posed, Mrs. Wicks takes the opportunity to expound on relevant (or tangentially related) knitting trivia, both historical and modern.  For example, after providing the advice above on learning to purl, she goes on to tell us that Van Gogh had a yarn stash that he used to explore color, even though he did not knit.  The book also includes two paintings by Van Gogh: a self-portrait and Young Sheveningen Woman Knitting.  Finally, she provides a pattern that does not require the use of the purl stitch.  It is a pair of garter stitch wrist warmers, knit flat and then seamed.

Every answer includes a quote and knitting trivia.  Only 10 or 12 include patterns, nearly all for smaller objects like the wrist warmers.  The largest projects are for thrummed mittens and a baby sweater with a little colorwork edging.  Some of the smaller objects include charted colorwork and embroidery, like a beautiful pair of baby mittens with a vase of flowers on the back of the hands.  The vase is worked in colorwork, but the flower stems and heads are embroidered after the knitting is finished.

Much of the advice dispensed throughout the book is relationship advice, like you might expect from any advice columnist.  Perhaps you should get rid of the boyfriend who is embarrassed by your knitting, take your mother-in-law up on her offer to teach you to knit, and not be afraid to knit with the materials and needles passed to you after the death of a loved one.  Each answer is accompanied by an anecdote from the life of dear Mrs. Wicks (and after reading the book, I realized this is how I think of her in my head.  She’s the kind of person, experienced in life and knitting, that you can imagine spending the afternoon with, laughing and drinking tea.  Later, when you tell your friends about your afternoon, you will say, “Oh, she’s such a dear!”).

The book is printed on the kind of heavy, glossy paper you expect in a pattern book.  I was surprised by the heft of it when I first picked it up and did not know about the paper.  It is a compact little book, not much bigger than a large paperback, and only 147 pages long.  The short length, many pictures, and the few pages of patterns means that you can, like I did, read the entire book in one sitting if you want.  It took me about 1.5 hours to read, but I’m a pretty speedy reader and was trying to get through it so I could get to bed at a decent hour.  The format of the book, with the questions and answers means that it is also the kind of book you can read in short segments of time.  Only have a couple minutes?  Read one question and answer; none is longer than 3 or 4 pages.  (I call this kind of book a ‘bathroom book,’ since it can be read in short sessions while performing your business).

I also think it is a book that can be enjoyed even if you don’t knit, but are knitting-adjacent.  Perhaps your sister or mother or friend or significant other doesn’t understand your knitting obsession?  Reading this book might help them understand why you can’t enter a yarn store without buying at least one skein or why you are knitting another baby blanket or 30 pairs of baby booties when you don’t know anyone who is having a baby.  The trivia and paintings are of general interest, though perhaps you might want to remove pages 57-58 (about Dutch designer Noortje de Keijzer’s life-size knitted boyfriend, including many pictures.  One pose includes her in bed next to him, covers pulled up to their chins, with both his and her arms stretched above their heads and his arm pit hair (presumably several French knots) visible) and 110 – 111 (a bride, sheep breeder Louise Fairburn, wearing a gown made from the fleece of one of her sheep.  The structured bodice is crocheted and embellished with beads and the skirt is long locks from the bride’s favorite sheep.  I think it is stunning, but not sure non-fiber people will get it!) from copies given to non-knitters.  The goal is to explain that we knitters aren’t crazy, not provide further fuel to arguments that we are!  If you think it a rather self-indulgent gift that is more about you than about the recipient, you can always leave your copy in your guest bathroom and make sure there’s no other reading material in there.

I whipped through the book quickly on my first read, but I expect it is the kind of book that I will dip into here and there, for a quick laugh or pick-me-up.  I do wish the book had some sort of guidance so I could find favorite questions & answers easily.  It does not include either a table of contents or an index, so flipping through is the only option for locating something specific.  The numerous pictures do help with that.  Overall, I found the book to be a charming addition to my knitting library, and recommend it with no hesitation.

Leave a Comment