Rachael Herron's book A Life in Stitches: Knitting My Way Through Love, Loss, and Laughter makes me feel oddly nostalgic even though our life experiences are nothing at all alike.
Herron grew up in a rather vagabond family, obsessive about crafts -- and knitting in particular -- from the beginning. Having learned to knit at age 5, knitting has pretty much always been part of her life, even when the family lived in the Western Pacific (and she convinced her best friend's grandmother to give her yarn so she could knit gloves).
The garments she's made through the years connect her to moments -- and to people -- she shares with readers in these 20 essays.
Making Meaning Visible
Though you can't actually see the different events that were happening when different garments were knit by looking at them, Herron -- and many other knitters, too, I'm sure -- can still remember some of the circumstances surrounding them, as she writes in one essay.
"But if suddenly the lines of time were somehow visible on my sock-in-progress, I'd show you that here, at the toe, you'd see I was home on the couch, my border collie, Clara, at my side," she writes. Other parts of the sock were worked in line at the post office, at a funeral, and at her job as a 911 dispatcher, where many people knit to pass the time.
"When the phone rings, we all drop our work in our laps and race each other to help someone who's scared and in pain," she write. "I can't tell from looking at my knitting who called us when; I can't see the places where I was stressed out as opposed to whiling the hours away."
Still, all that emotion -- the love, the fear, everything she experiences in her day -- is somehow knit into the stitches she makes without thinking.
Knitting is Life
Herron -- the force behind the Yarnagogo blog and author of knitting fiction books How to Knit a Love Song and Wishes and Stitches -- writes about a range of knitting-related topics, including the curse of the relationship garment (in her case not a boyfriend sweater) and finally knitting for the love of her life, traveling for knitting experiences and yarn as a souvenir, learning to spin, recreating sweaters from her past, knitting serendipity, buying (and finding a knitting community) locally, and the simple love that can be expressed in a knit garment.
She shares her love of hot water bottles (even though she had to buy enema kits to get one) and a pattern for a hot-water-bottle cozy -- even though she's knit the pattern several times, she doesn't actually have one of the cozies and had to ask a fan to send one for a picture for the book.
It's not all about knitting, of course. There are stories about her cat, Digit (so named because he has an extra one), falling in love and getting married (and the folly of trying to knit a wedding dress), and lots of stories about her parents and two sisters. She grew up in a creative, dream-filled family that was and is clearly full of love. Her stories are poignant, heartwarming and inspiring, and readers will be forgiven for at least briefly wishing their own childhoods had looked a little more like Herron's as she describes it with such loving detail.
Through love, loss, work, travel and everything else there has always been knitting, and Herron shares her love of the craft in a way all knitters can relate to. Knitting is a record of our lives, a way to cover family and other important people with love and comfort, a hobby to build a community around (locally and around the world) and a great means to craft a life.
Herron's fiction writing sensibility comes into the way she writes nonfiction as well to make this collection a quick and engaging read.
When I was reading this book I really wanted to knit a sweater, and that can only be a testament to the power of this book's storytelling and the message that our stitches hold the memories that were happening to us as we were knitting.
Publication date: July 2011