Beyond Stitch and Bitch: Reflections on Knitting and Life by Afi-Odelia Scruggs was a wonderful surprise. This short book of essays is beautifully written. Although it is published by a press specializing in the kind of "inspirational" books that often leave me cold, this one left me wanting more. It is a combination of practical and insightful.
In one essay ("Yarn Shops I Have Known and Loved"), Scruggs looks at how knitting has allowed her and others to cross traditional boundaries of class and race. She argues that the act of knitting encourages stangers from seemingly different worlds to meet and the shared craft allows them to communicate desite different background.
In another essay, she provides a pattern inspired by Mali cloth dying patterns. Although Africa really has no knitting tradition, the author uses motifs and colors from the culture to inspire some fascinating knitting. (Although it contains a couple of patterns, this book is not a pattern book. A great new resource for more African-inspired patterns is Knitting Out of Africa: Inspired Sweater Designs.)
Although I am easily turned off by anything explicitly spiritual, this book treads on that ground yet draws me closer. One essay, "Sometimes Knitters Are So Lucky," ends with this imagining of God contemplating the wonders of creation just as knitters contemplate their finished works: "Did She pour so much of Herself into the work that the creation merged with Her before becoming complete and whole? What did She feel when She considered what She had done? I believe She stepped back, surprised by the beauty She had somehow forged. She picked it up and turned it backward and forward, looking for Her imprint. Satisfied that She’d done Her best, a calm pride settled in Her heart before She blessed all She had made and lay down to rest."
The last two essays are especially intriguing. The title essay discusses the revolutionary potential of knitting as an activist’s tool for everything from consciousness raising to peaceful protest. The final essay, "Redemption," examines the stitchery program at a corrections facility. Knitting for the inmates becomes a way to acknowledge the debt we all have to society and begin to repay it, "one stitch at a time," as they make everything from toys to afghans and donate them to local charities. Scruggs refers to the Victorian idea of needlework as a moral teacher and points out that this project both accepts the tenets of an earlier era and turns them on their head.
I highly recommend this book and look forward to future works from Scruggs.