I greatly admire Esther Rutter’s knitting skills. I certainly couldn’t knit the cabled front of a cricket sweater while watching a cricket match or knit a complicated ‘gansey’ or Fair Isle pattern while travelling on a train, bus or ferry. She has also been extremely industrious in her research and untiring in her travels. From Fair Isle in the far north, west to Wales and down to Cornwall she journeys to visit the breeders of rare sheep, the spinners, dyers and preservers of old patterns. As she points out at the end of the book, there is a correlation between extreme climatic conditions and excellent knitwear. This is the story of a year of knitting, in which she planned to knit items with a long history of use, whether a gansey (worn by fishermen), a ‘Monmouth cap’ or a lacy ‘hap’ for a baby. It seems to have been a huge success, if a difficult task at times.
I can’t agree with all the reviewers saying the book is ‘beautifully written’; I frequently got bogged down and the book took longer to read than is usual with me. Nevertheless, it is full of interest. I liked the comparison of knitting with folksong: first an oral tradition, very localised, then becoming more widely known outside its native area and written down. Of course, this means changes, but everything changes and not necessarily for the worse. When I returned to my sock knitting (sadly, I can’t knit and read at the same time), I felt a connection with all those knitters, men and women, from centuries past. That’s the greatest tribute I can pay the book as it’s what it’s all about.
I read this thanks to NetGalley.
One of Esther Rutter’s pilgrimages was to the famous yarn manufacturers Jamieson and Smith and
I think I heard about Jamieson and Smith at the school gate, where opinion was that the yarns were good and the prices cheap. I wrote off to the company (no internet purchases in those days), received the shade chart and ordered yarn to make a waistcoat in a Fair Isle pattern. Inside this booklet is a receipt, old-fashioned looking even for 1983, which tells me that the yarn cost £5.92. I wore the waistcoat for years.