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Sweater Quest: My Year Of Knitting Dangerously Paperback – 23 Mar 2010
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"To answer the seemingly innocent question, 'What makes knitters knit?" Martini visits knitterly landmarks, chats with influential figures, and ponders our peculiar habits and traditions--all the while marking her journey's progress through an exquisite Alice Starmore Fair Isle sweater. All roads ultimately lead back to one simple universal truth: It's not about the wearing, it's about the making."
--Clara Parkes, publisher of Knitter's Review and author of The Knitter's Book of Wool
"I could NOT put Sweater Quest down! I felt as though I was knitting the sweater along with Adrienne, felt her pain and her joy. Once I even thought, as I was packing the car, 'Now WHERE is that Alice Starmore sweater I was working on?' The book became that insinuated into my psyche. I love this book."
--Annie Modesitt, author of Confessions of a Knitting Heretic
"Adrienne Martini combines her passion for knitting with her astonishing ambition, bringing to her lovely new memoir an enthusiasm which is infectious. Sweater Quest will have you reaching for your needles to knit your own dream sweater, and it belongs on every knitter's bookshelf."
--Rachael Herron, How to Knit a Love Song
About the Author
Adrienne Martini, a former editor for Knoxville, Tennessee's Metro Pulse, is an award-winning freelance writer and college teacher. Author of Hillbilly Gothic, she lives in Oneonta, New York, with her husband, Scott, and children, Maddy and Cory.
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This book isn't going to make it beyond the knitting readership, so some of the descriptions of stitches and techniques were far too basic, and in my opinion not always accurate. I found that tedious.
The multitude of interviews with well known knitters and authors didn't fit with what the book was promising at its beginning. In fact from about half way through the book I got the impression that the author was fed up with both the sweater and writing the book, and this was one way of meeting her page number quota.
There was so much that she could have written about the details of knitting Mary Tudor and it just wasn't there. That was a great disappointment to me. Then some of the choices she made, especially given her ready access to such experienced knitters, just seemed contrived and designed to try and create a funny story. She had available to her all the expertise to ensure she could knit her sweater and have it fit her. A chapter on that process alone would have been incredibly interesting and very helpful to knitters wanting to knit their own Starmore. The incident at the end with the cat and wooly board was very funny but was ruined by her avoiding the too obvious solution to put the wooly board in a room away from the cat and shut the door. She can write amusingly, but incidents like this left me forgetting the occasions when she hits the nail on the head.
She had obviously done some research into Alice Starmore, and had access to, and interviewed some amazing people. But the research seemed to have ignored Alice's own writings in her earlier books. Insight about, "what makes a sweater a Starmore", are touched upon by Alice herself in some of her earlier books. For example in The Fair Isle Knitting Handbook on page 45, when talking about designing Fair Isle, she writes, "I hope that they will inspire you to branch out in your own direction".
I feel that in this book the author, who obviously can write well and amusingly, missed exploring what appeared to be of great concern to her - what she perceives SHOULD be the personality and character of someone with the talent, some would say genius, of Alice Starmore. She wrote about some of what Starmore has written, and is reported to have done and said, in a way that left me feeling she was personally offended by Starmore's personality, and was aggrieved that someone like her should be blessed with so much talent and the desire to share it with others through her work. Perhaps an interview with Starmore herself, and more structured, focused interviews with the people in the book, would have helped the author understand her personal dichotomy and this would have been an interesting and informative read.
I was left frustrated at what this author could have achieved given her ability as a writer, her interest in Alice Starmore, and her access to a number of 'knitting goddesses'.
Finally, a warning to anyone who has been touched by serious post-partum depression/psychosis. Skip the first page - some people have managed to write about their personal experience in a way that is helpful, supportive, reduces stigma, and can even make you laugh while you cry - this author, while I am delighted she survived her personal ordeal, and went on to experience the joy of a second baby unblighted by this serious condition, didn't, I feel, manage to write about it helpfully.
What really bothers me about Sweater Quest is that it ends up not so much a book about the trials of knitting a difficult pattern - that ends up becoming pretty much a sub plot - but instead concentrates more on her travelling around Canada and North America to meet the great and good of the online knitting community. She attempts to tie this to the sweater by asking everyone the same question about whether they feel her sweater is "an actual Starmore", being as she isn't using AS's yarn. But more time is spent talking about the people she meets, finding out their "how I started knitting" stories and visiting yarn shops and detailing the different yarns she buys. Occasionally she mentions how far she has progressed, but it's mentioned as an aside, and only when she is cutting the sleeve steeks does the sweater get centre stage again.
I suspect what I expected/wanted was a book version of a knitting blog. There are times, when she talks about casting on 300+ stitches for example, that you know on a knit blog there would be a photo of the cast-on row. Or when she cuts the sleeve steeks, there would be a triumphant photo of her wielding the scissors with a hole in her knitting. But THERE ARE NO PHOTOS, save for one black-and-white author photo in the inside of the back cover which shows the sweater to bust-height. And this is a tragedy. I don't need to see her standing smiling with Amy from Knitty or Stephanie Pearl McPhee or any other knitblogger she has met (and to clarify, there are no photos of this either!). I DO need sweater pics. I need stripy steeks and neckbands and close-ups of the stitch pattern. She describes how the colours in her swatch blend together so apparently effortlessly apart from the one dud colour (which is replaced). Why can't I see this? :-(
It left me feeling it had been rushed in order to meet her publishing deadline and though it was an entertaining and quick read, I felt unsatisfied, as if something key was missing from the story. I can't help but think that the perfect ending would have been for Adrienne to put her question about whether the sweater was "an actual Starmore" to the woman herself.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The most interesting part, to me, was the telling of the Starmore drama. I had only heard whispers and hints, and Martini explains the story in pretty much detail.
What I concluded about knitting a Starmore pattern is that it really doesn't make sense. The reason Martini's sweater didn't fit in the end is that the pattern comes in only one size, and there is no practical way to change it. Most of Starmore's designs were created 20 or more years ago, when oversized, baggy knitwear was in style. The drop shoulders are almost essential, but they look bad on almost everyone except maybe an actual burly fisherman.
I did find the whole "is it really a Starmore, if I change one of the colors" tedious. Really, what these amazing Starmore designs should do is motivate contemporary designers to get busy creating something equally fabulous in today's styles with currently available yarns.
In the end, I have to say that Martini's quest seemed self-indulgent to me. Did she really have any good reason to spend almost $80 on a wooden blocking frame? Did she have to travel to Toronto to get her knitting mojo back? I think a quest should involve self-discovery, and if there was self-discovery here, I didn't see it.
But I enjoyed going along for the ride with her. And I loved the interview with the Yarn Harlot.
If you enjoy knitting, particularly if anyone has ever called you out on why you knit despite your local discount store carrying plenty of cheap, adequate knit-goods, you will likely enjoy this book.
1) A really good book about knitting will make you want to knit - I picked up a pair of needles for the first time in 25 years.
2) The knitting community has some dangerous characters.
Before writing my own review, I generally do look at the other reviews. Often it helps crystallize some vaguely formed opinion I already had, and sometimes it's just darned entertaining. Several reviewers were critical of Martini because she does not "know her audience." I'm not exactly sure what they were getting at. I am a member of Martini's audience, and I'm sure she doesn't know me. Furthermore, I don't hold that against her.
I found this book to be intoxicating. I am seriously knitting a scarf. And in my visit to the yarn store, I met a few characters. I doubt that I will ever attempt to integrate myself solidly into the knitting community but I do enjoy reading about it. And I enjoy shopping in their stores.
More about the book. I know the subject was knitting, but I did find myself wondering if her family wasn't suffering just a tad from neglect. Personally I would have appreciated reading more about the logistics that allowed her to traipse around the continent while simultaneously parenting a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. But that's just me. Alice Starmore seems to be a fascinating character, and the stuff about her intellectual property protection was riveting. Also, the strong message that knitting is good for the soul is what convinced me I absolutely need to be knitting right now. So I do understand the obsessiveness of it. I did not think this was in any way a Julie and Julia ripoff. To me, it was basically the story of a love affair between one woman and her knitting project. A bit kinky, perhaps. But I enjoyed it.