No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting by Anne L. MacDonald I saw this book six years ago and just now got around to choosing it over knitting porn. But how delightful! The book is filled with pictures and anecdotes, talking about where, what and why people knit from colonial times through the late twentieth century. In colonial times, women knit to gain independence from British textile imports. Children of both sexes, notorious for wearing through their favorite red socks, were required to knit an inch a day before being allowed out to play. But looking at knitting, an archetypal feminine activity, involves looking at the overall roles of women in society. It was used both as a method for defining the appropriate sphere for women: girls’ schools advertised prominently that they taught girls to knit and wife wanted ads listed knitting along with preserving as an important skill for brides. Women, children and older men all joined in knitting – mostly socks – for every war from the Revolutionary through the Korean. On the other hand, women also expanded their roles through knitting, as early craft fairs successfully raised money for civic ventures where male efforts had failed. They found themselves more competent outside the home than they had ever before thought themselves and were reluctant to return to their confined spheres. Changing fashions also illuminate social change, as Victorian shawl patterns gave way to daring bicycle stocking and tennis costume patterns, the tiny-needle patterns of earlier centuries likewise making way for the broom-handle dress patterns of the seventies, so loosely knit that they required body stockings underneath. Published in 1988, it predates the current resurgence of knitting, so that the final chapter is filled with happily unjustified doubts about the future of knitting. This book is a bit denser than I normally read these days, and I was surprised at how quickly I got sucked into it and how fascinating I found it.
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