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What Would Madame Defarge Knit?

Knits Out of Literature

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What Would Madame Defarge Knit?

What Would Madame Defarge Knit?, edited by Heather Ordover

Cooperative Press.

There are many literary characters who are either depicted as knitting or doing some other kind of craft or who are described as wearing knits or other handmade items. Still other characters and books can inspire knitters and other crafters to create garments, toys and accessories related to their stories.

That's the idea behind Heather Ordover's CraftLit podcast, which pairs classic literature and crafty projects. A sort-of paper version of the podcast is found in What Would Madame Defarge Knit?: 21 Patterns and Essay Inspired by Classic Literature, which was edited by Ordover.

In it designers explore books and characters that intrigue them and offer knit (or crocheted or otherwise crafted) projects inspired by those characters.

About the Book

  • Pages: 204
  • Format: paperback, also available in PDF and ebook reader formats
  • Number of patterns: 21, including 16 knitting patterns, 4 crochet patterns and one project for shadow puppets
  • Skill level: a couple of patterns are unlabeled, but of those with skill ratings, 7 are rated "liberte" (for newer knitters ready to embark on a new adventure), 9 are "egalite" (for the brave beginner or intermediate knitter) and 2 are rated "fraternite" (experts and brave intermediates)
  • Sizes: there are just two garments with multiple sizes: one has 3, the other 4; the rest of the projects are one-size accessories and socks
  • Illustrations: black and white illustrations by Jen Minnis
  • Knitting lessons: a stitch glossary covers special skills; more information is available on the book's website

Not Your Typical Knitting Book

I should point out before we go any further that this is not like the knitting patterns books you've come to expect. First, there are no photographs. To see the finished projects or any details of what you might be wanting to knit or crochet, you have to go to the book's website, where you will find a collection of photos on the front page.

Click on a pattern and you can see more detailed pictures as well as get information about the yarn that was used and how much you'll need to complete the project.

You can click through each pattern like you were paging through a book, but it's so photo-intensive that it's a slow process. You'd be better off taking a look at all the patterns in their smaller images and only clicking on the ones you think you might be interested in. And have a cup of tea at the ready while waiting for the pages to load.

But back to the book. Because there are no images of the finished knit and crocheted items, only drawings that show you the basic shape of the project, this book is more of a collection of essays about what inspired the patterns than it is a knitting pattern book, or at least it feels that way to me.

When I read it I was mostly in bed, where I like to read, so I didn't have ready access to pictures to see if the patterns appealed to me. If you read the book on your computer this of course won't be a problem but you should know what you're getting into up front.

(Why would you publish a book without pictures? The rationale is that it emphasizes the beauty of the drawings and keeps production costs low so that the contributors can be paid more. And because so many of us check out patterns online before we decide to knit them, anyway, the idea is that it doesn't add that much work.)

The Patterns

These patterns are inspired by a wide range of literary characters and stories, from several related to the Wizard of Oz books and Jane Eyre to "The Call of Cthulhu" by H.P> Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

There's a chiton-like garment (that's a rectangular cloth worn as a shirt by the ancient Greeks, though this version has raglan sleeves) inspired by the Aristophanes play Lysistrata, a watch cap drawn from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and a crocheted shawl inspired by Flatland, a story inhabited by two-dimensional, colorless characters.

You can see pictures of the patterns for yourself at the publisher's website or on Ravelry. They're mostly relatively classic designs with a twist, like a cabled neckwarmer decorated with beaded As for Hestor Prynne or a mobius-style head scarf for Bertha Mason, the "madwoman in the attic" in Jane Eyre.

There's a hoodie for Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, and a "Frankenhood" complete with electronic light up neck bolts. And there's a red riding hood and crocheted flying monkeys. Of course.

Some of my favorites include the classic lace square that is Jane's Ubiquitous Shawl (that's Jane Eyre, and an appendix in the book shows just how ubiquitous it is in the book); the pretty diamond design of Isolde's socks; the wintry Van Tassel mittens, inspired by snowy scenes in the woods like you might find in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow";and the delicate, lacy Wilhelmina Shawlette, just the thing to wear to ward off vampires.

Bottom Line

What Would Madame Defarge Knit? is a fun concept for a book, and the designers clearly enjoyed coming up with these projects inspired by some of their favorite books and characters (or the ones that just creeped them out). Knitters with a literary bent are sure to enjoy knitting these projects, perhaps while reading the books or stories that inspired them.

(I hope somewhere in the world there's a book club of knitters that can read the books and knit the projects at the same time. Wouldn't that be cool?)

The format is different, and will be a turnoff to those who aren't technologically inclined, but for the rest of us heading to the web before we decide to knit a pattern is no great effort, and it's worth the time it will take to check these fun patterns out.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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