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No Idle Hands: A Social History of Knitting

by Anne L. MacDonald

Rating:  5 sheep (excellent)

“No Idle Hands” is available in our Guild Library as well as the St. Louis County Library or Amazon.com. Please do not let the sub-title, "a Social History of Knitting" dissuade you from reading this delightful book. The author, Anne L. MacDonald, is an enthusiastic knitter as well as a highly educated historian. In her introduction, the author gives you a sample of the tenor of the book when in acknowledging her five children and six grandchildren, she says, “Grandmother will shortly return to her knitting”. This book was published in 1988 - well before the current knitting craze started.

 

A better subtitle for this book would be, "a Social History of American Knitting" because it begins with knitting in Colonial America. The title “No Idle Hands” derives from the Puritan ethic of that sentiment. Using such diverse sources as magazines, newspapers, brochures, letters and diaries from libraries as well as personal collections, the author traces knitting from the colonial period to the modern era . She discusses at some length knitting in ordinary homes and its effects on daily life. One quote has a Colonial child writing in her diary that she had to knit an inch at her stocking before going out to play.

 

Knitting for the troops is a concept that dates to the Revolutionary War. Did you know that Martha Washington and her cadre of officer wives' who joined their husbands at winter camp knit socks and underwear for the troops? Knitting through all the wars is related right up to Eleanor Roosevelt's “Knit for Defense” in World War II.

 

Knitting while traveling may have originated with our frontier sisters who wrote in letters and diaries about knitting while traveling (sometimes on foot) and trading yarn and patterns with others when in wagon train camps at night.

 

The male gender and knitting was not ignored in this book either. Several pages were devoted to what men have said about knitting through the years and goes on to illustrate the many times and examples in which gentlemen have knit. Ogden Nash added his opinion in saying “show me a man who talks to himself and I'll show you a man who's wife knits”.

 

Another chapter discusses the influences of the modern knitting gurus, Mary Walker Phillips, Elizabeth Zimmerman and Barbara Walker. Hollywood was not ignored either with tales of movie stars of the past who helped popularized knitting.

 

Lou Henry Herbert, wife of President Herbert Hoover, sums up all our feelings about knitting. When she noticed a friend ripping something out, she said, “Don't rip it out. You and I are too busy to rip. Make the same mistake in the next row and make a pattern of it”. I heartily recommend this entertaining and informative book.

Respectfully submitted,
Hareth McNally

Buy this book from Amazon.com

 

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