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‘Knitlandia’ by way of New York

Knitlandia 1

When I first saw the title of Clara Parkes’ new book, Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World, I knew I had to read it. After I read the fantastic Washington Post review (without a knitting cliche to be found!) I knew I was going to buy the actual book. While I generally prefer audio- or ebooks, this written documentary of our wonderful community was getting a coveted space on my desk.

As luck should have it, I learned that Clara, who founded online magazine Knitter’s Review more than a decade ago, was going to be doing a reading and signing at the Strand bookstore, a 20-minute walk from my apartment. So, last night, I found myself in the store’s third-floor rare book room, surrounded by musty first editions and, of course, by my people.

Clara started off her talk lamenting the way knitters are often presented in popular culture — she actually bet a friend 50 bucks that the Washington Post review would reference grandma. Fortunately/unfortunately, she lost. She mused on why there aren’t any knitting documentaries (I’ve said the same thing to my husband while bemoaning my lack of filmmaking skills) and explained that this was her written version.

“I wanted to present us to the world,” she said. “It’s my attempt to kind of capture as many butterflies as I can.”

Clara and her famous 'claramels,' which she gave out to lucky knitting trivia contestants.
Clara and her famous ‘claramels,’ which she gave out to lucky knitting trivia contestants.

Knitlandia takes the reader on a journey from Taos, New Mexico, where Clara met and befriended legendary natural dyer Luisa Gelenter (who purportedly left Julia Roberts starstruck when the actress spotted Luisa in a grocery store years ago) to the familiar turf of the Dutchess County Fairgrounds on the third weekend of October. In a chapter about the first Vogue Knitting Live in New York City in 2011, she makes the perfect observation about what happens when you bring knitters together:

A funny thing happens when more than one knitter gathers in a public place. A solo knitter, presuming she is a woman, quickly fades into the backdrop like a potted palm or a quietly nursing mother. We are a cultural metaphor for invisibility–something Agatha Christie knew quite well when she gave Miss Marple her needles and yarn. What better cloak of invisibility from which to observe the evil-doings of the world? A single knitter is shorthand for “nothing to see here, move on.

But when knitters gather, we become incongruously conspicuous. We are 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.

Of course, that’s how we’re seen to outsiders, but one of the things I love about this community is how comfortable it feels. When I walked into the massive third-floor room last night, waved over to the third row by my friend Regina, who was nice enough to save me a seat, I was greeted by a number of familiar faces: there was Susie of Chiagu, Gretchen from my Sunday knitting group, Yoko from my weekday knitting group, not to mention the knitterati, including dyer Jill Draper and fellow Manhattanite Kay Gardiner of Mason Dixon Knitting, who just wrote a blog post about the event, as well as a blurb on the back of the book (I have to admit to feeling a little Julia Roberts-like and am still kicking myself for not introducing myself to Kay afterwards).

Nearly everyone was decked out in beautiful handknits.
Nearly everyone was decked out in beautiful handknits.

But still, even surrounded by knitting celebrity, it all felt incredibly warm (and no, not just because of all the handknits). Before Clara signed my book, she asked if she could take a photo of me in my West End Girl, which I wore for the occasion. It’s nice to be a citizen of Knitlandia.


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