Knitting Hasn’t Always Been “Just a Hobby”

Knitting is just a hobby, right? A way to pass the time. Maybe a reason to get together with other crafty friends. Perhaps just a harmless and inexpensive thing you do while watching television. 

Knitting hasn’t always held such a frivolous place in human lives. At many points in human history, knitting was serious business. If you were poor and needed money to feed yourself, you knitted. And you knitted socks, lots of them. You might knit every night until you couldn’t see the wool in front of you. You might knit every spare moment you found in your difficult and dreary life. Because you had to. Knitting was how you got by.

This past month, I’ve done a deep dive into the history of knitting. In preparing to write a new novel in the Prayer Shawl Chronicles series, I’m looking at why people – mostly women – knitted over the last decades and centuries. What exactly did they knit? How did they learn to knit? What did they use for needles? How did they get access to patterns? And my big question has been, what place did knitting have in the average woman’s life?

Several of the answers surprised me. Knitting used to be all about socks. The oldest found knitted garment was an ancient Egyptian sock. Up until the 1920’s, knitting continued to be a way to provide high quality socks to the aristocracy and others who could afford them. In more recent years, soldiers fighting one war or another (with wet, dirty, sore, and blistered feet) went through socks like there was no tomorrow. They needed the womenfolk back home to keep them supplied. 

When you think of “handknitted garments,” the first items to come to the 21st century mind might be “scarves” or “sweaters.” Socks are difficult and advanced projects for most of us. We’re just knitting to pass the time, remember. Up until Coco Chanel introduced us all to “sportswear” in the early part of the 20th century, people generally did not wear sweaters – with the noted exceptions of British fishermen. Hard to imagine, right? 

Enjoy your knitting. You’re very blessed to live in a time when you probably don’t have to knit. You don’t have to crank out a zillion pairs of socks just to put food in your children’s tummy. You probably aren’t knitting essential items for the military. You can afford to just knit because you want to. Sure, you may knit to economize and make an all-wool sweater that would cost a lot at your local department store. But you have that option. (And I bet you thoroughly enjoy making that sweater, too.)

But give a thought to those women who don’t have the option of “free time.” Give a thought to women who are working very hard, doing something with their hands, for the same reasons our foremothers knitted long into the night by candlelight to keep the soup bowl filled. Because, but for the grace of God, we all could have lived in a place and time when we knitted not for fun, but for survival. 

Here’s my recommended books on the history of knitting in Britain and the United States. Both are beautifully researched and a pleasure to read. 

This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History by Esther Rutter (2021)

No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting by Anne L. Macdonald (1990)

Happy Knitting, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, interrelated stories about knitters and those for whom they knit and love. The sequel to this book, The Knitting Guild of All Saints, has just been released! Available in paperback and on Kindle, included in Kindle Unlimited. 

Legal Disclosures: I provide links to products (including books I have written), and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (which means I may get a very small fee if you click through the link and buy something).

RIP Knit Club Kits – But I’m Still Enjoying You Lots

Back in a different time and place  – 2018 – I discovered Knitting kits. These high quality knitting kits opened a whole new world of knitting for me. I started using real wool and other “luxury” all-natural fibers for the first time, and my knitting skill increased by leaps and bounds. 

My late husband gifted me my first kit for Christmas at the end of 2018 (after a helpful nudge from me, of course). I blogged about this kit in 2019, “Knitting Kits – Worth the Money?” I learned a new and previously-unknown-to-me technique, mosaic knitting, along with several other more advanced techniques.

Reader, I fell in love. I went on to purchase several more kits from Kitterly and learned to make Raglan sweaters, additional mosaic colorwork techniques, and even German short rows (gasp!). Having achieved at least an “advanced intermediate” level of knitting, I proceeded on, discovering kits and videos on Bluprint and monthly subscription kits with Knitcrate. Oh my, did my knitting skills level up! 

Then 2020 happened. The bottom fell out of all these lovely knitting kit companies. Kitterly quietly went out of business – or at least they quit sending out ads and emails. Bluprint’s more publicized demise suddenly put me in the position of “buy them now or not at all,” and I quickly purchased a number of high quality kits at pennies on the dollar. My stash went from one basket to three baskets to a situation of wondering where I would even store all these kits I knew I wouldn’t get to for a long time.

Knitcrate hung in until just last month. I think most of its customers saw the handwriting on the wall, with an astonishing 80% clearance sale in late 2022 signaling that the end was nigh. Like with Bluprint, I recognized this was crunch time. I could get terrific deals on gorgeous alpaca, wool, and even silk-blend yarns. Then, it would all be gone.

So here I am, in early 2023, finally getting to one of those Bluprint kits I bought for next-to-nothing over two years ago. I’m still learning lots and increasing my skills, making an oversized Raglan sweater with complicated cables and a shawl collar. It’s sad, seeing references to “online resources” through my former Bluprint account. Those online resources just aren’t there anymore. I’m really, really glad I bought so many kits when I did and even more glad I have the print copies of the patterns in my hands. 

Meanwhile, I’ve got an entire cabinet of yarns I’ve purchased through Knitcrate over the last couple of years. While those yarn purchases seemed extravagant at the time, I rationalized that I was getting high quality products at terrific deals. Yes, I was. That fact is truer now than when I made the purchases in the first place.

RIP Kitterly, Bluprint, and especially Knitcrate, with its monthly surprise packages and friendly online community of crafters. I’m still enjoying your kits. I’m still enjoying your yarns. And with a mammoth stash of clearance sale kits stocked up, I will continue to enjoy and learn from you for several years to come. 

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, interrelated stories about knitters and those for whom they knit and love. The sequel to this book, The Knitting Guild of All Saints, has just been released! Available in paperback and on Kindle, included in Kindle Unlimited. 

Are you using a kit subscription or other knitting kit you love? Feel free to give them a shout-out in the comments. I have no dog in the hunt, and I’m happy to help out knit companies who need the business! 

A Year in Knitting – Back to a New and Exciting “Normal”

Greetings, Knitters and Knit-Fiction Followers! Today, I’m taking a look back at my own year in knitting, and I imagine you might, too. Maybe you’re just starting out or even just thinking about taking up knitting, and this might be a year of new beginnings. Maybe you’ve knit for years and years, and knitting has been the constant that has kept you sane during these turbulent times.

For me, this has been year of “Getting Back to Something Called Normal.” As some of you may or may not know, 2020 and 2021 were years of immense change for me. My beloved husband, Tom, was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in May of 2020 and passed away in December of 2020. Throughout 2021, I sold my farm, moved and downscaled into a house in the suburbs, and bought a rental condo in Florida. My knitting (and writing) reflected all that change. I knitted just to have a few moments of Calm and get through the day. I scribbled a few lines in my journal and got back to packing, moving, and settling in.

This year, I’m fully settled into a new life. My new house is exactly the way I want it. My Florida Airbnb home is re-decorated and exactly how I want it, too. I’m writing again on a daily basis and recently published a new novel, “The Knitting Guild of All Saints.” I started a Prayer Shawl Ministry at my church and now share my love of knitting with all kinds of new people in my life. It’s a marvelous place to be – and a hard-won place to be as well. I’m glad to finally say, “this is my new normal.” 

Looking ahead to 2023, I’ve got big plans. My stash of lovely yarns is bigger than ever, in a not-so-great way. Before the pandemic, I ordered kits from Kitterly, Bluprint, and Knitcrate. I learned lots with every kit and truly advanced my knitting skills by leaps and bounds. As of this month, all of those companies are out of business. Through their clearance sales, and I bought huge amounts of high-quality yarns and even complete kits for pennies on the dollar. That makes me sad. But I treasure the skills I learned and the introduction to “luxury” yarns I’d never even know about otherwise. Now, it’s time to take another big leap and design new sweaters, prayer shawls, and who-knows-what other garments and projects all by myself. 

The new year looks a little scary, but exciting and full of possibilities. I’ve started a new novel in “The Prayer Shawl Chronicles,” and I hope to finish and publish it by this time next year. I’m also researching the history of knitting and trying my hand at designing knitwear for the first time. It will be exciting to see where my knitting journey takes me next, and I’m grateful for such a productive year in knitting and writing!

With hopes and dreams of wonderful knitting journeys for us all! Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, interrelated stories about knitters and those for whom they knit and love. The sequel to this book, The Knitting Guild of All Saints, has just been released! Available in paperback and on Kindle, included in Kindle Unlimited. 

Holiday Survival Plan: De-stress and Zone Out Through Knitting

Are you stressed? I am. It’s that time of the year!

Yesterday, I found myself so stressed that I was shaking. As I tried to do some tedious graphics work as a volunteer project for my church, a neighbor repeatedly blew up my phone complaining about the non-functioning car in my driveway. (Because, ya know, the sight of a car on jack stands in somebody else’s driveway on the other side of a neighborhood is soooo offensive and definitely a reason to spew out a string of complaints towards the nice, quiet writer who never bothers a soul, right????) Was this person stressed out himself and taking it out on me? Probably. I’d bet many of us are dealing with other people’s stress, along with our own, about right now.

What to do? Take a deep breath…and knit! Friends, we have an important tool in our box of tricks to deal with holiday stress, end-of-year deadlines, preparations to welcome incoming family, our own travel plans, and even unhinged people deflecting their own stress onto us. We have our knitting projects, and in moments, we can pick up those needles and take ourselves away from anything that bothers us.

That’s exactly what I did yesterday. Realizing that my stress level had climbed sky high, I plopped myself down in my favorite knitting chair, picked up a simple sock project, and simply knit a couple of rows. My heart rate immediately dropped. I convinced myself that no, the whole world wasn’t conspiring against me. It would be okay. 

So use those tools in your personal de-stressing kit, my fellow knitters. Sit down, pick up whatever project is on your needles, and knit one row. Maybe knit two rows. Knit for ten minutes, or two hours. Whatever you need.  You’ll feel better, I promise. 

We’ve all heard the reports of how knitting is good for you, how calming knitting can be. For knitters, the solution to dealing with any stressful situation is as close as our knitting baskets.

Prayers for a Peaceful Holiday Season, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, interrelated stories about knitters and those for whom they knit and love. The sequel to this book, The Knitting Guild of All Saints, has just been released! Available in paperback and on Kindle, included in Kindle Unlimited. 

Frantically Knitting for the Holidays? So am I. It’s a Good Thing.

Do you have unfinished knitting projects on your needles with holiday deadlines looming? Are you chewing up all your TV time in the evening, knocking out those scarves you need to stick a gift tag on by Christmas? Are you picking up the knitting needles during morning coffee breaks, during that ten minutes you’ve got before the next Zoom meeting, or making the most of the school pick-up line to get in a few rows of knitting? Yeah, me too.

My church plans to give twenty homeless teenagers handknit scarves for Christmas. We’ve got twelve scarves turned in and ready to go. But there’s another eight to go. And so I engage in near frantic knitting to help my fellow church knitters make up the difference. Having a homeless teenager show up to a Christmas party and NOT get a handknit scarf like everybody else is not an option. I’ve got two skeins of super bulky yarn headed for my mailbox, so I’m thinking size 13 or 15 needles and knock out a couple of scarves in 48 hours. Fingers crossed!

This hurried style of knitting is not my favorite thing to do. I’m more of a meditative knitter. But when the call goes out for a good cause, it’s what we do. Yes, we knit for ourselves. Most of us knit for the sense of peace and calm we get when we sit down to knit and unwind, away from the stresses of the world. We knit for a sense of accomplishment, for creative expression, or maybe just to have something constructive to do. 

But our best knitting is for others. We knit to welcome a new baby. We knit to comfort a ninety-year-old woman in a nursing home. We knit to show a husband or son or daughter our love for them with a sweater or pair of socks. We knit to show a homeless teenager that someone out there cares that they stay a little warmer this winter. 

So we knit, maybe frantically, maybe powering through our “not-most-enjoyable” knitting sessions. We knit to give. We knit to show our love. It’s a good thing. 

Holiday Blessings for Your Knitting Projects of Love, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, interrelated stories about knitters and those for whom they knit and love. The sequel to this book, The Knitting Guild of All Saints, has just been released! Available in paperback and on Kindle, included in Kindle Unlimited. 

Are Knitting Books Now Obsolete?

As a writer and lifelong bookworm, I love finding a new knitting book, newly published and on display in the bookstore. But lately, I’m finding myself less and less enthusiastic about newly published collections of knitting patterns, even if they are beautifully designed hardbacks with full color illustrations and photos. Nice to look at, but…?

As some of you know, I often have the special treat of reviewing brand new books digitally, well before they hit the market. In reviewing new knitting books, I’m seeing a trend that makes my eyes glaze over. Many – if not all – of these new knitting books assume I’ve never picked up a pair of knitting needles in my life. These books offer voluminous tips on how to get started, what tools I need, how to choose yarn, and even how to make the most basic of stitches. Lord knows I’ve covered that territory umpteen times before. 

So when I eagerly pick up a new knitting book, I inevitably skip large chunks of introductory material and skip straight to the new patterns. The patterns are usually fine; but do I want to buy an entire book just for a few patterns?

In the meantime, a plethora of interesting and innovative patterns are now available on multiple platforms for just a few bucks a piece. Why buy a book of info you don’t need, when you can buy only what you want for much less? 

And as for instructions on how to knit, it’s all about video these days. I rarely figure out a new stitch from two-dimensional illustrations on paper. But show me a quick video, and I’ve got it under my belt in no time.

I’m going to make a pronouncement (because it’s my blog and I can): Knitting instruction books are obsolete. If you want to learn how to knit, do a search and find a video. If you want a pattern, check out Ravelry, Etsy, or who knows what other platforms are out there in cyberspace. 

I love books, but time and innovation move forward. 

Happy Knitting! Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls. 

Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe

Legal Disclosures: I provide links to products (including books I have written), and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (which means I may get a very small fee if you click through the link and buy something).

Knitting in a Time of Mass Upheaval: Remembering Madame Defarge

One of my favorite books is A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. In this novel, set during the turmoil of the French Revolution, my favorite scenes are those of Madame Defarge, sitting and knitting while all hell breaks out around her. Yes, she’s one of the villains, and yes she’s knitting the names of those on the revolutionaries’ death list into her work. But the whole idea of sitting and knitting in the midst of chaos has always spoken to me.

Here we are again. For those of us of a certain age, we’ve seen this film. We know this plot: evil dictator reigns down terror on innocent population. This time, we see it in real time on TV. Things will change and change quickly in coming days. So it’s time for self care (again). It’s time to just sit still and knit.

Knitting allows you to put worry aside, focus simply on the movement of your hands, and truly live in the moment. All you need to think about, just for a few moments, is whether you need to be knitting or purling at this specific second of your life. You might get a sweater or scarf out of it, but what it really gets you is a state of peace and calm amongst the madness of a world in turmoil.

Maybe you, like Madame Defarge, are knitting while you watch major world events unfold around you. Maybe, like Madame Defarge, you’re keeping score and thinking where you’d like to put one of those knitting needles. Or maybe you’re just knitting for a few minutes to find a little bit of peace, trying to get through the day without freaking out.

In any case, do take up those knitting needles and take a few minutes to breathe. Take a few minutes to calm down.

With prayers for peace, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls. 

Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe

Legal Disclosures: I provide links to products (including books I have written), and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (which means I may get a very small fee if you click through the link and buy something).

Knitting and Praying for the Russian Soul

I’ve spent a lot of time knitting and fretting and praying over situations in Russia, and here we are again. 

For me, the act of knitting is oddly intertwined with Russian culture and its wildly volatile social fabric. My favorite story about knitting – and prayer – involves a Russian woman who went to her priest, feeling spiritually out of whack. The priest told her to sit in front of an icon for an hour a day and just silently knit. She did that, and soon enough, she was spiritually right as rain. I’ve followed that advice many times in the last twenty or so years, knitting and silently, wordlessly praying. 

For a time, I knitted and prayed for my soon-to-be-adopted son, a tiny, malnourished little boy abandoned by his birth parents and left in the custody of an orphanage on the Arctic Coast of Russia. While I waited for a date to leave on what would become the most momentous trip of my life, I knitted. I made hats and scarves for the children in this orphanage, one after the other, soaking up my stress and my hopes and my worries. Then, while I waited to leave on my second trip to bring my son home, I knitted again, this time making adult sized scarves for the orphanage staff, the kind souls caring for my son. I knitted and prayed that all would go well, that we would be able to bring home our little son without all the hassles and things-that-could-wrong. 

I had reason to knit and pray a lot during those trips. The government of Russia is not friendly to strangers. My husband and I were under constant surveillance while we were there. Moments after we checked into a hotel, the CNN broadcast froze on the TV screen (the better to hear you with, my dears). When we met our adoption facilitators, men suddenly appeared out of nowhere to intently listen in, finding out where we were going and where we were staying. The hotel in Moscow had a Red Army watching and listening post in the lobby. The hotel maid felt free to come in and check on us without knocking, without asking. 

On the way out to the airport to leave, we were stopped and asked for papers at 4:30 in the morning. After my husband and our new baby and I passed passport control at the airport, my ten-year-old children were held back as the officer took her sweet time checking data base after data base, making sure they weren’t Russian adoptees leaving illegally on American passports. Hundreds of people were held up behind us as we stood on the other side of the border, waiting and hoping our children would soon step over the border after us. I have never been so relieved as the moment the door to that big Lufthansa jet slammed shut and the plane pulled away from the gate, taking us to the safety of the West. 

But that wasn’t the end. When we visited a toy store in Times Square in New York, a man appeared out of the blue, snapped my son’s photo, then disappeared just as quickly. A friend and I were very obviously followed in the Washington, D.C. area. Several times in the last 17 years, I have felt under surveillance and followed here in Knoxville. 

But in juxtaposition to this harassment by the Russian government, I also have stories of pure Russian kindness and humanity. My adoption facilitators took wonderful care of us and gave my son gifts out of their own pockets. One of them asked me to explain the concept of Christian baptism as we stood on a street corner in St. Petersburg. She listened intently and earnestly. 

On the tarmac in Arkhangelsk, an Aeroflot flight attendant saw me holding a baby in the cold wind, at the back of the line, and whisked me up to the front and up the steps to the plane to keep him warm. As I stepped off the airport bus onto an icy tarmac in Moscow, a number of arms suddenly reached out to steady me, to make sure I didn’t slip and fall while holding my precious new baby against my chest. 

This is the Russian soul I now pray for as I sit and knit through the terror of the Ukrainian invasion. I pray for the Mother Russia who loves her babies and children and doesn’t want them to even get cold. I pray for the kind of Russian people who work in the orphanages at low pay and terrible hours and do the best they can with little resources. I pray for the boys aging out of the orphanages in Russia and sent straight into the Red Army, because that’s what happens to the little boys who don’t get adopted and are turned out with no job skills. 

I pray for the extraordinarily brave Russian people taking to the streets to protest their government’s completely unwarranted invasion of a neighboring country. Things do not go well for those who speak out against the Russian government. I pray for the Russia that could be, the Russia that just wants to live in peace and have enough money for food. 

As I sit and knit today, I pray that the evil yoke of oppression will soon be lifted, both from the shoulders of Russia and of Ukraine. I pray for the good that is in Russia to prevail. 

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls. 

Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe

Knitted Socks – The New Luxury Accessories?

I’m always amused by what the New York City media discovers as new, hip, and exciting – pleasures the rest of have experienced for years. I’ve rolled my eyes in the recent past as the New York media has discovered Krispy Kreme doughnuts, heirloom tomatoes, the joys of shopping at Target, and the saintliness and cultural significance of Dolly Parton. 

So I shouldn’t have been a bit surprised when I opened the weekend edition of a major New York publication this past Saturday to see that “fancy socks” are the new fashion hot ticket. The subtitle of the article of the publication’s fashion page speaks of “fashion hosiery” as the next best thing which will – gasp – even rival your fab “five-figure handbag.” (What universe does this writer live in?)

I sighed, gazing at the lovely ankle socks featured on the newsprint in front of me. Those bright green socks on the end, I thought, look like a pair I knitted just a couple of months ago. I had no idea I was so hip, so fashion forward. 

Despite my eye rolls, I have to agree with the assessment of socks as high luxury. I knitted my first socks about two years ago. Socks are not easy, they take a while to knit, and do a number on your eyesight. But I decided right then and there that handknitted, custom made socks were the most luxurious things I had ever put on my body. As I slipped on my first pair of all-wool, handknit socks, I audibly groaned in pleasure. And they fit perfectly…because they were made to measure for my very own feet. 

But we knitters knew this all along, didn’t we? Bold, bright colors – we’ve already got that yarn in our stashes. Sparkles and intricate patterns – heck, we use those design elements as a matter of course. 

We’re just glad the New York media is finally getting a clue.

*Update! I tried to publish this blog post twice, but I found it “trashed” and blocked on my social media platforms. Hmmm…some really large publisher doesn’t like anything even close to criticism???

Happy Sock Knitting, Cindy

P. S. There’s a new sock knitting book coming out soon, Knit 2 Socks in 1, by Safiyyah Talley. Publication date is March 1. 

This method of knitting socks is an interesting concept is you’re a fairly accomplished knitter and want to try something new and different. The concept is to knit one long tube with some safety lines, then put a toe, a cuff, and “afterthought” heels onto your set of socks later. Highly recommended for hand knitted sock aficionados who grow weary of “second sock syndrome.”

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls. 

Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe

Legal Disclosures: I provide links to products (including books I have written), and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (which means I may get a very small fee if you click through the link and buy something).

The Beautiful Simplicity of One Knitting Project At A Time

I’ve often had as many as four or five knitting projects going at a time. I’ve had my “main” knitting project (usually a sweater) and my “travel” knitting project (something simple and mindless – usually a dishcloth or place mat I can work on in the school pick-up line).  I might have another project or two that involve lots of counting or an intricate pattern that requires complete silence and absence of all distraction, something you can’t work on while maintaining any social skills at all. 

But lately, I’ve discovered the beautiful simplicity of only having one knitting project going at a time. Maybe it’s the revived pandemic scares. Maybe it’s the implosion of the schools (again). Maybe I’m just figuring out that focusing on one thing at a time is crucial to my emotional well-being during this stressful time.

Whatever the reason, I’ve quite enjoyed working on one knitting project, rather than have several knitting projects scattered all over the house and in my car. I seem to enjoy knitting more when I don’t feel like I’m struggling to get one project moving along, with six others in an unfinished state. And – duh! – I get projects finished much, much faster when I direct all my efforts towards one project. This gives me a sense of accomplishment, seeing a completed sweater, shawl, or cowl I can immediately wear and enjoy, and on a regular basis of every week or so.

We’ve all seen the memes online, ridiculing ourselves for having way too many knitting projects (or WIPs – works-in-progress). Maybe it’s time to listen to ourselves and realize that more is not always more. For every WIP that’s left languishing in a work basket, there are unfulfilled aspirations and a sense of giving up. You don’t need that, not when you have enough stress in other areas of your life.

Enjoy your knitting. Enjoy that one project you chose and for which you have high hopes. Feel good in a few short days or weeks about what a great job you did on that one sweater you worked on to the exclusion of all other crafting projects.

Appreciate the simplicity and quiet time of meditative crafting that knitting gives you.

Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles, a collection of interrelated short stories about knitters and those they meet through knitting and sharing prayer shawls. 

Copyright 2022 Cynthia Coe