My two great hobbies in life are knitting and reading (probably not in that order). When I heard that Nikol Lohr had written a book called “Literary Knits: 30 patterns inspired by favorite books”, I knew I would like it. Nikol is the designer of the Carnaby Skirt, which I blogged about here. Carnaby is an excellent pattern. I probably would have bought Nikol’s book even without it’s literary references. Then, I began to read some reviews and see some of the designs, and this went right to the top of my must-buy list.
If you follow these sorts of things, you can hardly not have noticed some of the most-talked about designs from the book. The Daisy Cloche, which Nikol wears on the cover, is one of them. Designed, of course, for Daisy from The Great Gatsby, it is not only fabulous but also completely Daisy, if you know what I mean. Other designs, which I’ve seen discussed all over Ravelry and the internet, include the Lyra Hood (from The Golden Compass), the Elizabeth Bennet Summer Blouse (Pride and Prejudice), the Gregor Sweater (The Metamorphosis), and the Edmund Crown (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe). These are all amazing, in particular Lyra’s Hood and Gregor’s sweater (the latter which can only be described as Kafka-esque). I don’t want to post photos of every pattern here. Please, go see them. (Here is a Ravelry link to the book, which includes photos of all the patterns; or run a search for the pattern on the internet.) Better yet, buy the book.
For this post, I wanted to focus on a few designs in the book that had a particular resonance for me, and which I hadn’t seen discussed as much in other forums. When I saw this photo, of the Meme Shawl, I promptly ordered the book:
I’m not even that much of a shawl person; but I love this shawl. Even more I love its inspiration. Nikol based this on a memory from One Hundred Years of Solitude. She writes “I very distinctly remembered Remedios the Beauty ascending through a hole in the bathroom roof after her bath, surrounded and carried off by a cloud of yellow butterflies.” She was then surprised, on re-reading the book, to realize that this memory is false: she had somehow combined a number of beautiful images from the book in her mind, and created this visual memory. Before I switched to linguistics, I was a Latin American Area Studies major at Barnard College, and I spent a few years awash in magical realism. Nikol writes: “I’ve unravelled my misrememberance to produce an airy butterfly eyelet shawl.” I think her description of how she unwittingly combined bits of the story and created a visual memory, and then used it to design this shawl, is a homage to the whole concept of magical realism. I love it. Not only that, but the shawl is lovely.
Another design which really struck my fancy is also a shawl, but is completely different in its style. This is the Jane Eyre Shawl:
I love this. And I love it in a totally different way from the Meme Shawl. This shawl is plain. It is plain in a way that is distinctly beautiful, just like Shaker furniture is beautiful. It has great shaping details around the shoulders, based on Faroese designs, and a pretty lace pattern, but the thing that makes it beautiful is its simplicity. This shawl is for lovers of wool; real wool, unadorned, undyed. It is practical, warm, strong, and has endurance. Where the Meme shawl is ethereal, the Jane Eyre shawl is earthy.
One of my absolute favorite characters in literature is Anne Shirley. I spent countless hours as a child curled up with Anne, and many years later, I spent countless hours curled up with Emma and Leah, reading her adventures out loud. When I told Leah that there was a design in this book based on the dress Matthew gave Anne, her first comment was “You mean the brown one with the puffed sleeves?” No lover of Anne could forget that dress. Nikol has made it into a top (which could easily be converted into a dress by most any knitter of adequate skill).
The men’s sweaters included in the volume are really interesting, and out of the ordinary. I especially like the sweater she designed for Ishmael. It is a fairly typical fisherman’s sweater, as befits the famous whaler, but it is knit in Malabrigos Rios, an astoundingly soft, fluffy, luxurious wool, in a brilliant colour:
I will end by showing the Sydney Carton Cowl from a Tale of Two Cities.
I will admit that, by simply looking at this photo, you might not think this cowl to be particularly fabulous. However, just like Madame Defarge’s knitting, this cowl is knitted with a secret code. Nikol has created a knitted version of Morse code, and then knitted a message into the cowl. She has included two versions – with evocative quotes for Madame Defarge and for Sydney Carton. The former says “Madame Defarge knitted with nimble fingers and steady eyebrows and saw nothing.” I am enough of a nerd to think this is completely awesome. I love this!
I have never met Nikol Lohr and am unlikely ever to do so. But this book makes me think I’d like her. If you are like me, and the first thing you want to do when entering someone’s house is to look at their bookshelves, you’d probably get a kick out of this book too.