November 05, 2010

BOOKS: Sweater Quest, Adrienne Martini (2010)

The most interesting story in Adrienne Martini's Sweater Quest hovers in the background, and that's the story of Alice Starmore. Starmore is a sweater designer whose Mary Tudor pattern is the ostensible focus of Martini's entry in the "how I spent a year doing X" genre. Starmore's remarkable gift for color enabled her to combine colors that one would never have expected to work together and get gorgeous results. She was so dedicated to getting her colors just right that she developed her own line of yarns, and a lot of her colors are very difficult to duplicate with any other yarns.

But alas, she had a falling out with her distributor and manufacturer, and being the prickly and litigious woman that she is, Starmore simply withdrew all of her yarns from production, leaving knitters who want to make her designs at a loss.

(An illustrative example of Starmore's approach to her public: When one knitter writes to say, "I love your patterns, but I am allergic to wool. What would you suggest?," the response is "I would suggest that you not knit my sweaters.")

And so Martini is forced to improvise, substituting other yarns for Starmore's discontinued originals as she attempts to make her own Mary Tudor. (That's an obstacle in its own right, as Starmore has been known to sue anyone who attempts to make color-conversion charts available, claiming they violate her copyrights.) It's a particularly challenging design which even the most experienced knitters would not attempt lightly, and Martini's skills (and patience) are pushed to their limits.

That's just the backdrop, though, for Martini's real topic, which is the Internet-fueled revival of knitting and growth of an international community of knitters. Once upon a time, Martini tells us, there were a lot of knitters in every community; if you had questions about how to do this or whether to do that, you had someone local to call on for advice. But as the textile industry and economic advances made knitting a less crucial skill, that community shrank; the only ones still knitting were those who did it for love, and some who might have developed the skill had no local community to learn it from.

But then, along came the Internet, and suddenly there was a vast array of resources. Knitting bloggers and how-to YouTube videos and yarn stores led to the current knitting revival, and Martini visits many of the leaders of that online community. It's a friendly, amiable world, and that's about all I can really say for Sweater Quest, too; it's likable enough, but it doesn't dig very deep into anything. If anyone ever writes the Alice Starmore story, though, I'm there.

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