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... it appears to be day three hundred and fifty-five. Whoa.

You would be amazed by how complicated a concept the thought of being done with this is. I mean, there are ways in which this project is the thing what has been keeping me sane, and there are ways in which it has eaten major chunks of my life at occasionally inopportune times (I get, like, three days every few months with my girlfriend, you know?), and ways in which I'm absolutely exhausted and ways in which I'm not and I mean what am I even going to do with myself?

Besides reread Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, which is NOT COMPATIBLE with a new book a day, believe me.

The answer to what I am going to do with myself, by the way, is: not this. As incredible an experience as this has been, it ain't sustainable. I am going to, firstly, take some time to relax; secondly, run some statistics, which should be interesting; thirdly, start arranging the reviews as a book and putting together the agent packet and all that jazz. And I assume I'll keep writing up really notable books, and I have some other ideas for Possibly Interesting Blogging Tricks, but no way are any of those starting until oh let us say November or so.

Now, your regularly scheduled review.

If you aren't a knitter, this isn't your book. There are knitting books I cheerfully recommend to non-knitters, mainly Elizabeth Zimmermann, who is an absolutely fantastic prose stylist and as much an autobiographer as a knitter, but this is not one of them.

On the other hand, if you are a knitter, even if you are a complete and total beginner, this really, really is your book meant for you and you should go look at it right now. Possibly even if you only want to learn to knit.

Alice Starmore is justifiably a legend in knitting circles. Her sense of color is amazing, she lives in the Outer Hebrides and draws on a substantial Scottish knitting tradition whose history she actively researches, and one of her sweaters is so famously complex and beautiful that Adrienne Martini wrote a very readable book about the process of knitting it. (Speaking of knitting books I recommend to non-knitters.)

This book is about Aran knitting, which most people know as 'those sweaters with all the cables from those islands off the coast of Ireland'. Starmore begins with a history of Aran knitting, in which she explains where the prevalent scholarly theories about its origin arose (commercial mystification) and proves, using historical records and careful stitch-by-stitch analysis of museum-held knitted garments, that Aran knitting arose as a tradition in the 1940s and was almost certainly based on the innovations of a single knitter working from the base of the Scottish fisherman's gansey. This section of the book is amazing. Very, very few people bother to do solid research into the history of knitting, and Starmore looks at it from cultural, economic, social, and gender-relations directions. I have read books by professional historians on many subjects that were both worse and less comprehensive than this single, gorgeously written chapter.

Then she starts explaining how to do it. All you need to know at the start of this book is how to cast on, make a knit stitch, make a purl stitch, and bind off. That is all. She takes you from there through simple cabling theory (not difficult; when I was learning to knit I taught myself to cable on a twist tie), using photos of real swatches, and then expands... and expands... and expands... She is always careful and logical, going one step at a time: what happens if I use three stitches here instead of four? it does this. If I put two cables right next to each other? it does that. And within a very few pages you're getting these gorgeous cascading complexities that look as though you'd have to be Escher to come up with them, except that they make perfect sense, because they are elaborated from things she explained from the ground up. And she does explain everything she does, from which yarns make the designs really pop to how to keep the border from looking crooked. This is a model for structure in a knitting book. I would cheerfully hand this to somebody who started knitting last week, and I bet they could do Aran from it.

Then there are the actual garment patterns. I am usually one of those fidgety picky people who is like 'I want to knit x pattern only in a different yarn and a different weight and I don't like that bit so I'll graft on the bit from the other thing oh god I'm not experienced enough to be doing all my own designing aagh'. In ninety percent of knitting books, there are two patterns I like enough to consider knitting, and I usually want them to be in a color other than, say, chartreuse. This is why I don't own any knitting books (Elizabeth Zimmermann, being all out of print, is a library thing).

I would knit every single thing from this book, in the yarn she says, in the color she says, knowing I would have to order the yarn from Britain. Okay. Maybe I wouldn't do the pink one in pink. But. I would even knit the hats. I don't wear hats! I don't think I know anyone who wears hats! (As opposed to hat, singular. I know a couple of people who have A Hat.) Most knitted hats look like confused beanbags! I would knit these hats anyway.

In addition to all of this, Starmore points out that Aran knitting sometimes looks a lot like traditional Irish knotwork, except that knotwork is based around the concept of the infinite line that goes around and around, and Aran cable lines begin at the bottom of the garment and end at the top. So she said to herself, I like knotwork, and invented a method of making cable stitches into an infinite line. Which means, if you want to knit motifs from the Book of Kells into a sweater? She did that pattern for you. It's ridiculously beautiful. And there is a section on how to design Aran and knotwork patterns for yourself; I was kind of overloaded by that point but it seems as methodically solid as the entire rest of the book.

Sometimes when people are legendary it is for very good reason.

I have to buy this and knit everything in it ever. I am not actually sure I have much of a choice in the matter. God, now I have to save up for yarn from Britain.


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