A life entwined in yarn might mystify those who don’t knit, but anyone versed in the language of skeins and cables will sigh with envy over Clara Parkes’ new memoir, Knitlandia.
Parkes, who fled a job in high tech just as the Internet’s rise dovetailed with a surge in knitting’s popularity, launched an alternative career with her own online magazine, Knitter’s Review. Long before social media cluttered every corner of our existence, Parkes’ conversational 411 about new yarns and interesting pattern designs forged connections among far-flung knitters, who discovered they were a global community rather than lone practitioners of a cozy hobby they’d learned from Mom. Parkes writes that she became “a yarn evangelist” who traveled in search of her congregation.
For 15 years, her travels have included stops at fiber mills, yarn-centric retreats and an ever-blossoming number of events that draw knitting enthusiasts, such as the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which invades the Howard County Fairgrounds every first weekend of May, and the Sock Summit in Portland, Oregon, which was held at the height of the sock-knitting craze. (Yes, knitters know you can buy socks at Target, but many enjoy making their own from colorful yarns as fine as dental floss.)
Parkes also recounts her international treks. During a visit to Iceland, she sees native sheep whose coats “grow two distinct kinds of fiber” called tog and thel. Accompanying her brother and nieces to Paris, she firmly declares she'll seek out no yarn stores, but a secret foray to a charming shop almost betrays her: “Yarn in my bag would have been lipstick on the collar to my family, proof that I’d broken my promise.”
With wry wit, Parkes introduces readers to star knitters such as quirky Scottish designer Ysolda Teague, who bicycles across Edinburgh to her studio, and Jessica and Casey Forbes, founders of Ravelry, the knitting version of Facebook. She acknowledges what most knitters instinctively know: “When more than one knitter gathers in a public place … we become incongruously conspicuous … a species that other people aren’t used to seeing in flocks, like a cluster of Corgis, a dozen Elvis impersonators waiting for the elevator.”
Non-knitters probably will skip Parkes’ slender volume, thus missing a fresh view of destinations both exotic and ordinary. But those who pick up a copy for a knitting friend should dip into a chapter or two. They'll soon wonder how quickly they can learn to wield needles and yarn, fashioning a shawlette or sweater that Clara Parkes would applaud.
Kathy Blumenstock reviewed this book for The Washington Post.