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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Famous Illustrators’ Depictions of Knitting Ranked in Order of Competency

Two years ago I wrote a piece called The Scourge of Upside Down Knitting in which I raged unto the heavens against picture books where the artists put little work into bothering to figure out if knitting needles should be held up or down.  Well, it’s time for me to apologize to those illustrators.  If depicting knitting needles with the ends to the sky is irresistible to you, you’re in good company.  Seems that every picture book illustrator of the past put you on the wrong path early.

Today, we rank the great illustrators history and see how precisely they’ve chosen to portray knitters.  As a refresher, here is how you hold knitting needles:

kidsknit-237x300

The method of holding them with the ends up is not unheard of, but it is rare. For example, I tried to find a Google Image of that particular style for the piece and failed utterly.

From Worst to Best: Knitting in Children’s Literature

Dr. Seuss

seussknit

To be fair, I know very little about the fibers of Truffula Trees.  It is possible that one has to . . . um . . .  Okay, I’m not entirely certain what the Onceler’s family is doing here.  They appear to be stabbing the fibers in a downward manner with their needles, miraculously producing thneeds.  This exact image isn’t exactly from the book (I think it’s wallpaper) but it’s an accurate depiction of what Seuss drew.  Whatever floats your boats, guys.  Just don’t call it knitting.

P.D. Eastman

eastmanknit

Et tu, Eastman?  I was merrily reading Robert the Rose Horse when I saw this image.  I may have to give Eastman points for the inherent humor of it, though.  Knitting without digits.  Think about it for a moment.

Garth Williams

garthwilliamsknit

I’m with you, kitten.  Shocked SHOCKED that the great Garth Williams failed to get this right.

Tove Jansson

jannsonknit

No word on whether or not Moominmamma . . . oh, wait.

jannsonknitDarn it.  No pun intended.

Edward Gorey

goreyknitWhile I originally thought this image to be from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, clever commenter Anna pointed out that it was instead from Dancing Cats and Neglected Murderesses. She says, “The caption for that image is ‘Cat who has forgotten how to cast off knitting a muffler’.”  Perhaps we can forgive the cat, then.  Part of it its forgetfulness must have included how to hold the needles.

Clement Hurd

hurdknit

I think we may have a winner.  Yes, it looks like it.  Granted, she’s put the knitting down on her lap to whisper “Hush” to the bunny in the bed, but I think it very likely that the needles were held correctly before then.  Shall we give it to him?

Okay.  Enough with the deceased.  Let’s see how some of our contemporary masters fare in this game.

Patricia Polacco

patriciapolaccoknit

Didn’t see that one coming.

Jerry Pinkney

pinkneyknit

YES!!  And Pinkney for the win!  The cat’s needles are down, I REPEAT!  The cat’s needles are down!

Paul O. Zelinsky

zelinskyknit

Considering how much work Paul put into getting the spinning wheel right in Rumpelstiltskin, it’s little wonder he’d get the knitting right in Swamp Angel.

Sophie Blackall

sophieblackallknit

Cheating a bit here.  This is from one of Sophie’s Missed Connections pieces and not from a children’s book, but it at least proves that if knitting ever does come up in one of her books, she’ll know what to do about it.

Jan Brett

brettknit

I suspect I would have had a small heart attack if it turned out that Ms. Brett didn’t know knitting.  She has, after all, portrayed some of the greatest illustrations of stitching ever seen in a picture book.

Notable missing illustrators aren’t listed here simply because I couldn’t figure out if they ever depicted knitting in their books.  Hence the lack of John Steptoe, Maurice Sendak, Trina Schart Hyman, Grace Lin, Tomie de Paola, Yuyi Morales, and others.  If you’ve inside knowledge on the matter, have at it.  Other contemporary illustrators like Lauren Castillo or Jon Klassen can be found on the previous piece about knitting books in 2014.

Have a favorite I didn’t include?  Let me know!

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Susan Ramsey says:

    Elizabeth Zimmerman would be so proud of you — I certainly am.

  2. Kristina McGowan says:

    Another example (and my favorite book from childhood) is Margaret Wise Brown’s Wait Till the Moon is Full. I wish there was a way for me to paste the image I’m thinking of to show you, but the needles are upside down as well.

  3. The Edward Gorey image is from a little book called Dancing Cats and Neglected Murderesses. The caption for that image is “Cat who has forgotten how to cast off knitting a muffler.”

  4. How about Vera Brosgol’s LEAVE ME ALONE? She gets it right!

  5. As an avid knitter and lover of kids books, LOVED this post!

  6. Ha! This is amazing. We recently started a little flickr album of books we read that have poor knitting needle positioning. https://www.flickr.com/photos/smellingoranges/sets/72157667808449190 My daughter got super interested in it when her dad started knitting for fun last year. Suddenly, she pointed it out to me in books, which had already been a pet-peeve of mine. I need to add some of these to our list too!

  7. FEEDING THE SHEEP illustrated by Andrea U’Ren

  8. Fantastic post! Hilarious.

  9. Hannah Barnaby says:

    KNITTING NELL by Julie Jersild Roth gets it right — on the cover, no less! I can’t find my copy of EXTRA YARN to check Jon Klassen’s accuracy…

  10. Loved this post as I am incorporating knitting into a personal illustration project! But oh my, as someone who is a knitter from Finnish stock, I was *shocked* that Tove Jansson’s needles are upside down! (Because didn’t everyone in her generation learn to knit in school?!)

  11. Jan Brett is a knitter. When I got to meet her at an event we discussed Alice Starmore sweaters. This was a super fun post. Thanks!

  12. On October 11th, Schwartz & Wade is publishing a charming picture book, A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, by Michelle Edwards, illustratrated by G. Brian Karas. The cover is delicious!

  13. Erin Murphy says:

    Knitter to knitter, thank you! Now if you’ll address how flutes are held, you’ll have my undying gratitude.

  14. Erin Murphy says:
  15. Sally and the Purple Socks, written and illustrated by Lisze Bechtold

  16. Nancy Axmacher says:

    I grew up thinking that my mom knit upside down!

  17. Laura Brooks says:

    My, then 8-year old, daughter pointed out Jon from Garfield. She had been delighted that he was a knitter, but later sneered at the obvious ignorance displayed in the animation of how he “knit”.

  18. Lisa Musgrave says:

    How about Shall I Knit You a Hat by Kate Klise? One of our favorites!

  19. Not an illustration, but an animation that you’ve got me wondering about… Gromit, of Wallace & Gromit fame. Must go check now!

  20. While Sophie Blackall depicted the actual act of knitting correctly, she did commit an error that has been made over the ages in countless tv shows and movies. Yes, knitters would employ idle hands to hold their skeins so they can be wound into a ball, but never to knit straight off the helper’s hands. The poor guy holding the unwound skein is going to be there for a while.

  21. Alison Lehner-Quam says:
  22. This is too funny, Betsy. Had me in (purl) stitches.

  23. This book led me astray as a child – what’s interesting though is Jack Kent gets it both wrong AND right in one book! Wrong: https://covers.openlibrary.org/w/id/7155520-L.jpg and Right: http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5098/5426359457_bc5aef9c9c.jpg

  24. Whoops – I just realized you’re only comparing famous illustrators…

  25. If my memory serves me right, the lady in SOCKS FOR SUPPER also knows how to knit. If not, she’d never get that much knitting accomplished! (Can’t find my copy at the moment. Author – JE Keats?)

  26. At the Chappaqua Book Festival yesterday, Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka was knitting a sock. Doing a splendid job!

    • Robin Smith says:

      I am wondering if Chris Raschka has any depictions in any of his illustrations. I have seen him knit in public, like any good Waldorf father would. I know he would get it right.

  27. Carol Melichar says:

    I think illustrators show the needles upside down in order to show the ends of the needles. Everyone recognizes that the objects are definitely knitting needles because of the knobby ends. The pictures that show the correct position of knitting are murkier. I think it’s hard to tell what exactly is happening.

  28. I’m a beginner knitter- also a children’s book author/illustrator and am embarrassed to say that in my book, Little Owl’s Orange Scarf, I also have mommy owl with upside down needles. I think that ( as mentioned in earlier post) the reason for the needles being incorrect is aesthetics- as an illustrator of books for young children the most important thing to get across is what activity is taking place- obviously there are kids who would identify knitting immediately- but for those who wouldnt, the upside down needles make it more obvious….But I apologise for not thinking more about the correct needle position. I have another book coming out next year which is knitting related- I will pay more attention to the needles!

  29. Christine Wilson says:

    Actually, I have a friend who was raised in Argentina, and she knits needles up. She calls it ‘European style’. However, most children growing up in the US would be hard-pressed to figure out what a needles up knitter was doing…

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      One commenter through Facebook said that in the 1920s/30s knitting with the needles up with the style and that these older illustrators might have seen their parents and grandmothers knitting that way. Many theories abound.

      • Yes, the Victorians are said to have been notorious for teaching knitting with the needles held as one does with a pencil. Apparently, it worked fine – though I doubt it was either ergonomic or helpful, and it probably resulted in many folks seeing knitting that looked like the needle ends were up in the air.

    • A very good friend on mine knits needles up because her very proper British grandmother freaked out if she held them any other way. This WWI Red Cross poster has a good picture of it: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/c5/2a/31/c52a318214daf6993a244f543d6fa086.jpg

  30. Lynn Bowness says:

    Great post! Thank you, Elizabeth Bird! I plan to take a copy to my LYS (local yarn shop) and share with all of our knitters. FYI – we do have a customer from Canada who knits with her needles up, and it is the strangest thing to watch, especially with long straight needles! Thanks for the knitting book fun!

  31. The problem is, in part, that illustrators are latching on to an outdated way of holding the needles because it is easier to illustrate. That method of holding the needles is exactly how Victorians started knitting in their “parlour” style.

    https://creatingruth.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/do-you-knit-like-miss-marple/

  32. YarningAboutYarn says:

    Don’t forget John Tenniel’s knitting sheep, aka the White Queen, in Through the Looking Glass!

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/John_Tenniel_Alice_and_the_Knitting_Sheep.jpeg

  33. Heather Culley says:

    I dunno, lots of photos of old time knitters show their needles above their hands, and Elizabeth Zimmerman’s early training in knitting was absolutely needles up. She only switched to needles down after learning from a continental nursemaid. It says so in her book Knitting Around. Women of high social status in England were not to make a great deal of product, they were to look graceful with handwork.

  34. There’s a wonderful young adult graphic novel series called Hereville by Barry Deutsch. The plot of the first one involves knitting and he gets it right.

  35. Maybe the Edward Gorey cat is actually *crocheting* — I see only one needle. 😉

  36. Susan Scott says:

    Wow, I’ve knit for over 50 years with my needles pointed up in the way that is being vilified here as “wrong” – but I’ve never thought of it as incorrect, nor has it affected all the countless sweaters, hats, shawls, and socks that I’ve made in that time. Knitting is a craft that has many traditions from many cultures. Shouldn’t it be more a matter of whatever works for you is correct, rather than judging which method is considered right or wrong?

    Love all the illustrations – a wonderful selection!

  37. That was such a fun article! Back in my hand quilting days, before knitting needles became my needles of choice, I was so irritated by the Quilted Northern commercials depicting a quilting bee using knitting needles. Looking back, I think they were holding them wrong as well! The ad people finally hooked them up with needle and thread in later commercials.

  38. Gregg casper says:

    Woolbur. The little sheep at the end is holding them to the side but I would assume he will be knitting correctly.

  39. Pic from the 40’s where the needles are held up:
    http://assets.atlasobscura.com/article_images/35039/image.jpg

  40. I’m pretty sure that in the first edition of June Hemmons Hyatt’s “The Principles of Knitting” she had a drawing of needles pointing up and called it a French method. However, I sold my first edition for a lot of money and now I only have a Kindle edition of the second edition. Her picture of what she called “pencil knitting” in the first edition shows the needles pointing down. So maybe later research cancelled out French pencil knitting.

Trackbacks

  1. […] First let me say, kudos to Vera Brosgol for getting the knitting right. Elizabeth Bird recently published an article about inaccurate depictions of knitting in children’s books. […]