I am a knitting addict. There is yarn in nearly every room in my apartment. My cats adore yarn (my lil one, Pyrite, has an unfortunate, exquisite taste in the yarn he wants to chew on). There are baskets with half finished projects sitting around my living room. And I have shelves of knitting books, magazines, and printed patterns. Among those are several issues of “Jane Austen Knits,” a special yearly publication of articles and patterns inspired by Jane Austen and the times she lived in.
Austen is one of my favorite authors — I adore Pride & Prejudice as well as Persuasion. I enjoy her clever prose and complex characters. I especially revel in the comedy and romance in her novels. When Interweave came out with “Jane Austen Knits” and “Piecework” (a magazine about historic needlework…I’m an incredible nerd) featured an issue on literary needlework I squee’d with delight. There are dozens of books dedicated to literary inspired knitting and crocheting patterns like Literary Knits or fiber arts depicting scenes from novels like this dramatic fire scene in Jane Eyre.
In the spirit of combining two loves, here are a few of my favorite characters and/or books with their knitting:
Persuasion is one of my favorite Austen novels because the main character, Anne, is so relatable. She’s smart, sweet and dignified with a free spirit despite her dysfunctional family and broken heart as she nears the label of “spinster” at the age of 27 (here’s the crafty origin of the word spinster). One of the aspects of Anne’s character that I admire is her dedication to her sick, financially unfortunate friend Mrs. Smith. She goes to visit Mrs. Smith while in Bath despite her father’s objections to visiting someone with no fortune or connections. Mrs. Smith values Anne’s friendship and shares that her landlady’s sister, a nurse, taught her to knit:
“As soon as I could use my hands, she taught me to knit, which has been a great amusement; and she put me in the way of making these little thread-cases, pincushions and card-racks, which you always find me so busy about, and which supply me with the means of doing a little good to one or two very poor families in this neighbourhood.”
Her charitable knitting is a stark contrast to Sir Elliot’s greedy ways and emphasizes Anne’s principles do not align with that of her family’s. And the tradition of knitting for charity is still strong today.
I’ve only read one or two Miss Marple novels by Agatha Christie, but I fell in love with this clever heroine who uses her knitting to help solve murders. What intrigues me about Miss Marple is that she passes as just a little old lady knitting and enjoying the scenery around her. But while she’s knitting, she’s also observing and analyzing the clues of her current mystery. Miss Marple always has her knitting with her and notes, in “The Blood Stained Pavement” that “Sitting here with one’s knitting, one just sees the facts.” I would have to agree with this sharp, crime-solving knitter.
Little Women is one of my favorite books and film adaptations. I always identified with Jo — the energetic tomboy who’s forced to act like a “lady.” When I was a kid I wore torn up jeans and t-shirts and my long hair consistently had leaves and twigs in it from playing outside. Jo’s opinion of knitting in the following quote seems an odd choice for this article, but I have a feeling she’d enjoy the transgressive needlework trend that’s going on today (Google feminist needlework if you’re curious. Caution: swear words are abundant).
“I hate to think I’ve got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as a China aster! It’s bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boys’ games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy; and it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with Papa, and I can only stay at home and knit, like a poky old woman!”
There are several more knitters (and spinners and weavers and embroiderers) in literature I’d love to go over, but there isn’t enough time. If you explore other instances of knitting in literature, you’ll often see it referred to as “respectable women’s work.” Some characters, like Jo in Little Women or Jane in Jane Eyre, utilize or reject their knitting to challenge traditional female roles. Today, more young people are turning to knitting for relaxation and expression (like the feminist needlework I mentioned above). What I find interesting about these references to knitting is that they’re largely feminist. Do you have a favorite book that includes your hobby? Or do you have an affinity for hobby themed novels like The Friday Night Knitting Club or Knitting Under the Influence? Leave your suggestions in the comments!