“Knitting is like, a whole metaphor thing,” writes Stephanie Mannatt Danler, in an essay for “Knitting Pearls,” Ann Hood’s second collection on the subject. Knitting represents something more meaningful than a handmade object, and because of the whole metaphor thing, these essays from 27 writers are engaging.

Many of the writers Hood has assembled are not knitters, which keeps the collection feeling less like a love note to the craft and more a way to tell the tangled stories of family relationships, expectations and traditions. Hood has done an excellent job of aggregating these essays, ensuring the collection never lingers too long on one emotion or thought.

The collection hits its stride when diving into the complicated nature of hand knitting and gift giving. In Perri Klass’ “The Museum of the Lady with Only One Neck,” following her mother’s death, Klass packs every hand-knit item she made for her mother and catalogs the significance of each object. The knitted scarves, vests and sweaters allow Klass to reflect chronologically on the time spent with her mother, and to recognize the objects as representative of their back-and-forth relationship. Most handknit objects, regardless of their maker’s skill, require time spent. Some of the most amusing and heartbreaking hand-knit items in the bunch are a brontosaurus pullover knit for a spouse in a failing marriage, a too-small vest from an anxious grandmother, and a misspelled Christmas stocking for a Jewish-raised granddaughter. Gift giving is almost always a minefield, and coupled with the extra time required, these handmade objects have a way of drawing out the strongest aspects of a relationship.

Another compelling commonality in these essays is the matriarch. In “My Mother-in-law, Her Knitting, and Me,” Cathi Hanauer is soon to be married, and receives as a gift a wool sweater. This gift causes Hanauer to closely examine her own family’s background of “bookish, hyper, theater-going Jews from suburban New Jersey” melded with her future family of “down-home, hearty, Good Country Folk, leading a Heidi-esque lifestyle of mountains and woodstoves.” It’s hilarious, and provides a more complex depiction of an astute, knitterly older woman, most regularly troped as someone wiser and more industrious than young women today. None too surprising, mentions of a grandmother handing down the gift of knitting are here, but her inclusion in many of these essays serves as a reminder of the traditional age and gender lines of the craft.

Knitting is a thing of comfort, both in the feeling of making an object and in the way the act reminds us of another place or time. Maine writer Lily King highlights this in her essay “The Italian Hat,” which details her family’s transition to a new country. As King’s family moves to Italy, her two daughters must adjust to a new school. One daughter takes a little longer, and King discusses her favorite classes: English and handwork. English because this is where she can communicate best, and handwork because of her quick knitting. A knit object made in class becomes the familiar thing clung to during a time in which most things are new.

Five knitting patterns are dispersed among the essays. None includes photographs, though they’re easily searchable online. The patterns are mostly simple accessories or small items, and are quite accessible to a first-time knitter. Purl Soho’s cuffed hat is a particular favorite and a good quick project for a Christmas gift.

Clearly, “Knitting Pearls” is a book for knitters. But Hood’s skill in assembling these essays has made this collection compelling, regardless of the reader’s experience with the craft.

Staff photographer Whitney Hayward is an avid knitter and pattern designer who sells her handspun yarns at stonewool.bigcartel.com. She can be contacted at:

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