Minions (who do my bidding) and Followers (who do not)

About Me

My photo
Mama, wife, knitter, blogger, spinner, wannabe something or other. That's enough, right?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review #9: Knitting for Anarchists by Anna Zilboorg

Happy Monday! 

I'm running a bit late (according to my calendar), as usual, but I'm still within the month of September so I think I'm okay to say that this is my ninth book review without being officially "late"...because it's still September.

Anyway, on to the disclaimer:

The book(s) in question are books that I have purchased (or someone bought me for a Christmas and/or birthday present) for my own fibery library. I have been given no money or other non-monetary forms of payment for my book reviews. The reviews are based on my own experience(s) and opinion(s) and may not necessarily coincide with the thoughts and opinions of other fiber enthusiasts (though they certainly may). I may also throw in some other fun information, if I can find it or if I know of any. We'll see where we end up...

Today's book:

Photo from Amazon

The Basics:
Author: Anna Zilboorg
Publisher: Unicorn Books (for Craftsman Inc.), 2002
Hardcover: 149 pages
Language: English
Cover Price: Unknown; my copy was $22.95 but you can find it on Amazon for $27.16 (hardcover version)

I'll admit it: my knowledge of Anna Zilboorg is pretty nil. This is further compounded by the fact that she doesn't appear to have her own website, does not post on Ravelry (though she has an account - I'm not sure it's actually her account or an assistant or something), and remains pretty elusive and computer challenged. What I have found out about her comes from her bio on Craft Cruises

So, from there, I'll just give you the basics and if you want to read the whole shebang, you can (it's not long and the above link takes you right to it). She was born and raised in New York City and, apparently, didn't like the hustle and bustle of city life. She has since secluded herself out in the Blue Ridge Mountains area of Virginia. Prior to that, she got her degree from Harvard and taught at MIT. Needless to say, there's a reason she's called a genius. 

According to Ravelry, she has patterns in eleven books but she's not necessarily the sole author on all of them (some of them are collections, some are just one or two other authors, etc.). 

She regards the above book and the perfect buttonhole as her greatest accomplishments. The above book is also her most revered book.

It's difficult for me to review a book when there's so little information about the author available, as well. I don't know why I have that problem but I seem to have this need to connect an author to their work. I guess it helps me understand the book a bit better. What little I know about Anna Zilboorg seems to coincide well with this book...the woman really is a genius. I know we say that Elizabeth Zimmermann was a genius (and she was!). I think Anna Zilboorg is on par with EZ in the genius department. Hopefully, you'll see why in a moment...

So, you open up this book and it's divided out into chapters/sections, as most books are. The first chapter is absolutely brilliant because it goes into why knitters are the way they are, why there really is no "right" and "wrong" way to knit, and how knitters become knitters. 

Then we get into the things that no one every really talks about in knitting: they "whys" of how we do things. Why do we wrap our yarn around this way when we make a knit stitch, what happens if you wrap it around the opposite way, how our knitting looks when it's stacked on top of other stitches (garter stitch, stockinette stitch, ribbing, etc.), how our "legs" are situated on the needles and in our know, those things that we just kind of naturally do without really thinking about it. For me, this is very fascinating stuff. I've often wondered what would happen if I did ____ or ____. I'll let you in on a little secret: when you're knitting (or purling), it doesn't really matter which way you wrap the yarn around your needles so long as you're consistent. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to do it as long as you get the intended fabric in the end. 

Chapter three contains a lovely quote regarding gauge: "I, personally, will not be bothered with such fussing to try to match someone else's gauge. (Anarchists are notoriously impatient with others' behaviours being turned into requirements.) I decide which size needle to use by what feels best in my hands and looks and feels best when worked up." Gauge has always been something that drives me crazy because, no matter how hard I try, I cannot ever seem to get gauge called for in patterns and, thus, have to make it up as I go along. Matching gauge with yarn seems to be no problem, however. I'm weird. There are plenty of other aspects to chapter three but they all have to do with the tools you need in order to knit (yarn, needles, gauge, directions/patterns, casting on, binding/casting off, shaping, etc. 

Chapter four is rather interesting. It discusses, as she calls it, our need to "regain our illiteracy." No, she doesn't want us to suddenly stop reading everything and become a bunch of brain-dead zombies. What she's getting at is that knitting used to be practiced by non-literate people. They learned by doing things and looking at examples. She says we've become far too dependent on the printed page (patterns, books, etc.). Kind of ironic, given that this is all in a book :) In short, this chapter is about learning to read our knitting and fixing mistakes along the way, how to anticipate what comes next (especially true in stranded or fair isle, cables, and lace). 

Chapter five is, of course, about finishing our work...and God forbid, she tells us that it is perfectly fine to tie off our yarn into a square knot, cut the end a half-inch, and call it good (dear Lord, I love this woman). Unfortunately, there are plenty of knitters that will adamantly disagree with this sentiment. I have no problem tying knots in my knitting as long as they're not noticeable...and then I'll weave in ends in a half-assed manner. I'm grand like that :) But, this chapter is about other finishing methods: steeking, mattress stitches, buttonholes, etc. 

Chapters six, seven, eight, and nine are about creating your own sweater (chapters eight and nine are pullovers and cardigans, respectively). 

The last chapter includes final thoughts about knitting, in general. 

Now, what do I think of this book? Interesting question. I purchased this book back in my earlier days of knitting. I bought it from Lakeside Fibers in Madison upon the recommendation of Ronda...and up until recently, I hadn't looked at it much. 

I honestly find this very analytical look at knitting to be fascinating. I'm weird like that, though. This book isn't for everyone, though the humor is quite refreshing. I really like this book and I'm kind of sad that it took me four years (at least) to read it. It's a good one :) 

I think anyone that wants a deeper understanding of their knitting should take a look at this book. I also think this book would be good for anyone that wants to knit but is scared of doing it "wrong." There is no wrong :)


  1. Sounds interesting and anything that makes my hatred of weaving in ends ok is fine by me!

  2. What an interesting perspective this woman has. I like how she's "quirky" and her own person.