"Sweater Quest" by Adrienne Martini


In her first book, “Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood”, Adrienne Martini told of her crisis bringing a baby into the world, the terror of post-partum depression and her striving to find mental balance amidst changing realities.  Ms. Martini could impart her painful experiences with an amazing degree of wry humor (“my righteous indignation was growing like kudzu in a southern summer”) and she was able to pull through.  Her readers would certainly be pulling for her. Things did settle down in her life, domesticity and parenting become a bit routine and on page 200 she mentions, “The rest of the time I filled with knitting hats, which I’d learned how to do after writing a story on local knitting groups” while working as a journalist in Knoxville, TN. Adrienne, her husband and daughter Maddy moved from Knoxville to Oneonta, NY, where she now teaches writing at SUNY Oneonta, is raising a second child and is still knitting.

Adrienne’s son joined the family without the stresses of her first pregnancy and her second book is entitled “Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously”.  She has woven together (sorry, it’s inevitable that you’ll be needled by knitting puns) chapters on wool from the Shetland Islands, English knitting techniques, British history and the physical/mental/emotional challenge of knitting a sweater in the complicated style called Mary Tudor.  She tells about how her new avocation attracted her to bigger challenges, more complex patterns and difficult materials, all the while keeping her life in focus.  She spins a good yarn (well, not literally yet).  But beyond explaining the intricacies of knit and purl and the various numbering schemes for needles on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Adrienne Martini shares experiences that contributed to newfound steadiness as a mother, a knitter and simply a human being.

“I’m gobsmacked at how quickly my hands picked up the skill.  It took me the better part of a semester to master a decent do-si-do when I took square dancing as a PE credit in college. Finding my groove on tiny little multicolored stitches only took a few weeks.  In fact, the work is growing tedious.  Apart from having to know which color I need to make each stitch, the knitting is just that, knitting.  No purls.  No cables.  No yarnovers. Just knitting.  Round and round and round again.  With very small needles and very thin yarn.”
— from “Sweater Quest”

In the course of learning and doing, Adrienne also discovers a supportive community of knitters, and this is the heart of the month-by-month progress of “Sweater Quest”.  We meet some of the superknitters and mentors whose skill and friendship contributed to Adrienne’s new-found strengths. There’s Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner, who wrote the country tune, “Pardon me (I Didn’t Knit that For You”),  Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the “yarn harlot” who created the Knitting Olympics and Dr. Susette Newberry, a historian, librarian and printer from Ithaca who is knitting an abecedarium.  They are a part of a far-flung creative subcuture brought together by the Internet, restoring a sense of connection that existed among knitters in past days.  “Sweater Quest” lists such websites as “the girl from auntie”, knitty and ravelry.  The Web also has instructional videos on how to knit and information on solving knitting problems.  There is even a website of The Poetry Society in the United Kingdom dedicated to knitting and poetry.

Knitting does take an ambitious spirit and a cool head, but Adrienne Martini points out that the repetitive movement is like a form of meditation, and the results of the effort can be seen in scarves, mittens and sweaters.  “Unlike, say, with balky children or crashing economies, we are the gods of our own knitting.”

Adrienne Martini joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to tell about overcoming depression, discovering knitting and its community.

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