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Knitting + Reading = Heaven

Sep 19, 2011

Baby Booties knit in literary detective Miss Silver's style—a practical bootie that stays on. By Ileana Grams-Moog, from the Sept/Oct 2011 issue of PieceWork magazine
Reading is my first love, I think. My parents, brother, and sister are all voracious readers, and Mom and Dad set a good example for us kids—we all read every night before bed. (And sometimes during the day, too!)

In the last few years I've been listening to audio books while I knit. I absolutely love this combo. I was listening to a P.D. James mystery last night and detective Adam Dalgleish's aunt was knitting: "Her French grandmother had taught her to knit in the Continental style, so she held her needles in an odd way. Her movements were hypnotic." (I'm pretty sure that's the quote, if not, it's something very similar!)

This got me thinking about PieceWork editor Jeane Hutchins' article about needlework and literature, from the September/October 2011 issue:

A year ago, I introduced our special issue dedicated to needlework in literature
and asked you to let me know if you knew of additional books with substantive needlework references. You did and sent us hundreds of suggestions. Thank you!

Judging by your responses and your enthusiasm for that issue in general, we once again are exploring needlework in literature—a subject near and dear to my heart. So curl up in your favorite comfy space and get to know some more amazing literary characters, each of whom is a needleworker.

For example, from the prolific Patricia Wentworth, we have ace British detective Miss Silver, who "is aware that her knitting conveys an impression that helps her in her profession. She takes advantage of that, but her knitting is not a prop. She is a real knitter and takes her knitting wherever she goes." Then there's Eliza, Countess of Zeur, a double agent working as a spy for Louis XIV and William of Orange who features prominently in Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver: "Eliza has been observing troop movements and supplies of materiel, then translating them into binary code which she conceals in cross-stitches on her sampler." Sneaky!

And get your needles and hooks ready to dive into the eight projects—from cross-stitch and needle lace to knitting and filet crochet-inspired by the books mentioned above, along with George Eliot's Mill on the Floss, an original short story, a poem, a centuries-old legend, and more. Notwithstanding their literary roots, each project fits into today's lifestyle. Enjoy!

—Jeane Hutchins

My favorite article in this issue is by Ileana Grams-Moog, all about Miss Silver, a governess-turned-detective who is the brainchild of British author Patricia Wentworth. Here's an excerpt:

Miss Silver may be the most prolific and talented knitter in literature since the infamous Madame Defarge in Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. Her creator, Petricia Wentworth, who was born in India in 1878 to English parents, began her writing career early and continued until her death in 1961. Though she won a prize for her first novel, which is set during the French Revolution, and wrote a number of other novels, she is best known for her mystery series featuring Miss Silver, which begins with Grey Mask (1928) and ends with The Girl in the Cellar (1961).

Cover of The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth. This was the last Mill Silver book and was originally published in 1961. (Courtesy Ulverscrot Late Print Books)
I discovered Miss Silver in the 1980s when many of the Miss Silver novels were being reprinted in the United States. I liked them so much that I bought all thirty-two of them, some as lucky finds in secondhand bookshops. I have reread them many times. I enjoy them for many reasons, but a delightful bonus for me is that Miss Silver knits.

Knitting is not that common in literature, and it usually serves as a sort of stage prop, like a style of dress, to indicate something about the character of the knitter: that she is old-fashioned, or industrious, or a harmless old lady. While Miss Silver is both old-fashioned and industrious, she is not a harmless old lady. She is aware that her knitting conveys an impression that helps her in her profession. She takes advantage of that, but her knitting is not a prop. She is a real knitter and takes her knitting wherever she goes. In a given book, we may watch her cast on a garment, finish it, assemble and trim it, and immediately cast on for the next one.

—Ileana Grams-Moog

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get my hands on some Miss Silver books! And since I'm the sort that reads the first book in a series followed by all the rest, in the correct order, I have quite a treat in front of me. I wonder if Ms. Wentworth's books are available on audio . . .

Read the rest of this article, along with many other fascinating bits and bobs about needlework in literature, in the September/October 2011 issue of PieceWork, now available as part of our special magazine subscription bundle!


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HoneyR19491 wrote
on Sep 27, 2011 8:23 AM

I knit or crochet and listen to audio books all the time.  I carry my MP3 player with me and make lots of progress in my projects.  Nothing better, in my opinion, than my two favorite hobbies, reading and needlework.

RAGQuilts wrote
on Sep 27, 2011 7:29 AM

I've been "reading" via audiobooks and knitting for years.  My friends want to know when I am going find something to do with my feet!

on Sep 26, 2011 12:31 AM

i am on Maggie Sefton's 3rd of 7 series books.  The titles are a hoot!  The first one..'Knit One, Kill Two' and others like ''Needled to Death', The murder mysteries are not gory, and the characters are quirky and center around a real knitshop.  Many folks have come all the way to Fort Collins, Colorado to find the home of Lambspun.  I've enjoyed these books immensely.

AKorinke wrote
on Sep 24, 2011 9:01 PM

And what is your "device" called? Or what is its price? Anything additional you can share with us to help us find it?

EvaW@13 wrote
on Sep 24, 2011 4:52 PM

On mustn't forget an "new" author... Christie Ridgeway has the Malibu & Ewe trilogy: HOW TO KNIT A WILD BIKINI, UNRAVEL ME, DIRTY SEXY KNITTING.

Fun books to read!  

greylady3 wrote
on Sep 24, 2011 11:32 AM

Being a continental knitter, I have found I can indulge both my passions at the same time if I'm doing a straight knitting piece, with little or no pattern. I have a device, (Ebay, cheap) that holds my paperback open and keeps the pages in place, I knit and periodically put the knitting down to turn the page.

AKorinke wrote
on Sep 24, 2011 9:22 AM

How about a Knitting-in-Literature discussion of something other than murder mystery and detective stories. I see Debbie Macomber mentioned below, but there are so many more: Kate Jacobs, Gil McNeil, Rachel Herron, Beth Pattilo and of course, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. I'm always looking for more and would appreciate suggestions.

jwhite46 wrote
on Sep 24, 2011 7:00 AM

and let's not forget Debbie Macomber!

jwhite46 wrote
on Sep 24, 2011 6:57 AM

let's not forget the Debbie Macomber books!

JoAnneWM wrote
on Sep 21, 2011 9:58 AM

The subscription bundle isn't really saving me $54. if I have to take a magazine I don't want and won't use. I am not a crocheter. Why not have a "Pick 3 bundle"?

Susan@297 wrote
on Sep 20, 2011 10:36 AM

I love to listen to audio books and read books while knitting.

For books in print, it has to be a simple stitch such as garter or seed stitch and a simple pattern. I put my legs on a footrest, with a pillow on my knees. I then put my Book Magic Book Clip on the pages. It may be a little slower knitting as I stop to turn the pages, and slower reading, but it make monotonous stitches fun to do. I have made many raglan top down sweaters, afghans, bags, dishcloths etc.

I get more knitting done and learn more with audiobooks.  I have learned French and traveled the world , and been entertained with who-done-its as I listen to audio-books while knitting. For  me knitting and audio-books are the best inventions ever made.

I got the inexpensive plastic book clip from Goldenflyfisher on Amazon

Blthames wrote
on Sep 20, 2011 7:44 AM

Four of the Miss Silver books are available on audiobooks from

Barb T

taleskai wrote
on Sep 19, 2011 9:26 PM

If you like re-imagined fairy tales mixed with knitting, I recommend Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball and its sequel Princess of Glass.  They are retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses and Cinderella.  They are both delightful and feature knitting as important parts of the plots.  In the first one-the hero is soldier who knits.  :-)

taleskai wrote
on Sep 19, 2011 9:25 PM

If you like re-imagined fairy tales mixed with knitting, I recommend Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball and its sequel Princess of Glass.  They are retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses and Cinderella.  They are both delightful and feature knitting as important parts of the plots.  In the first one-the hero is soldier who knits.  :-)

ClaudiaC wrote
on Sep 19, 2011 3:45 PM

I love reading Miss Silver mysteries, and I've read them for almost twenty years. The books are getting harder to find though. I enjoy reading the knitting parts of the story. Miss Wentworth knew her knitting.

on Sep 19, 2011 2:21 PM

I had a full set of Patricia Wentworth's books until I made the serious mistake of loaning them to a friend who assured me she'd return them.  I put them all in one of my favorite bags & stapled a large note to the bag reminding her to return books & bag to me when done.  A month later, she mentioned she'd given them to someone else!  Now, I never loan anything unless it's okay if it's not returned.

HennieL wrote
on Sep 19, 2011 9:01 AM

Hello everyone!

I was reading my copy of PieceWork last night and the article about the women in Holland knitting all the time made me smile.

I was born in Holland and my Mom knit for us - she even knit us little wool bathing suits to wear to the beach. Now, I can understand the need for warmth on a Dutch beach, but unfortunately, the suits got a little saggy and when they got soggy.

They came to Canada with us and they got passed down to all us girls - even my youngest sister remembers wearing them.


Cambridge, ON

Maida wrote
on Sep 19, 2011 8:54 AM

Hey Kathleen,

I enjoy your column every day - thanks for the interesting American culture thrown in.  Being a knitter and devourer of mystery novels I appreciate your love of Miss Silver.  But - don't forget Miss Marple!  Agatha Christie was a knitter, too!  Smart woman!


Robyne@3 wrote
on Sep 19, 2011 8:50 AM

I have also discovered Patricia Wentworth and bought several books at  Another knitter characteristic:  all the ladies in my knitshop knitting group love PBS and we're all Masterpiece Mystery fans.

R. Barth, Maryland

SandiL wrote
on Sep 19, 2011 7:18 AM

And, let's not forget that recent knitter in Harry Potter--Hermione--that jump-started a whole new generation of knitters...not to mention getting kids to read again.

DSkiles wrote
on Sep 19, 2011 7:16 AM has 14 of Patricia Wentworth's books ... all unabridged.