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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

The Scourge of Skyward Knitting Needles: Pandemic Edition!

Yes! It’s every knitter’s favorite fact finding post, in which we closely examine the knitting needles in a whole host of different children’s books and determine which books get it right and which books get it wrong.

As a refresher, let us remind you that when it comes to knitting there is one particular way that is most common to hold one’s own needles, whether you’re knitting a fair isle sweater in Dublin or purling a scarf in New Zealand.

Here is what a pair of hands knitting look like:

Unconvinced? Here are some more!

Now I’ve tried to find some images where the ends of the knitting needles are standing straight up, not down like in these photos, and I came up with nothing. Bupkiss. Nevertheless, picture book illustrators are HUGE fans of depicting knitting in this fashion. Time after time they muck up this very easy rendering of hands knitting. Why? We do not know, though I suspect it’s because knitting needles sticking straight up seems more fun visually. But know this: I keep track every single year. And now is the time for a reckoning.

If you are an artist and you find yourself on this list, do not fret too much. Many great illustrators have made this mistake. P.D. Eastman. Dr. Seuss. Lots of people!

How did 2020 stack up in terms of stitches? To determine that, I’m going to separate the books featuring the renegades from their covers. If you get the knitting needles correctly positioned, you get your title mentioned. If you don’t, I leave you anonymous.

Onward!


The Malefactors

You’d Think a Sheep Would Know

To be honest, I’m just impressed that she’s able to knit with hooves. That cannot be easy. Perhaps that accounts for why she’s holding her knitting needles incorrectly. She seems to be enjoying herself, though. If you don’t tell her she’s doing it wrong, I won’t either.

And This Little Piggy Makes Me Cry Wee Wee Wee, All the Way Home

So sweet! How can you resist this piggy? Again, knitting with hooves. These barnyard beasts are certainly determined to create handmade knitwear. But why are the needles looking like the television antennae of old-timey TV sets? And how does that stray pom-pom fit into all of this?

Bunnies Have Their Own Style

Yeah, honestly they weren’t even trying at this point. The bunny appears to have a death grip on each one of the needles and is stabbing them relentlessly into the top of that sock. It’s a great big sock, I’m not going to deny that, but I think the bunny has faked the whole thing. It bought the sock, grabbed some needles and yarn, flung everything out the window, and is now pretending like mad to be the one responsible for its creation. You’re not fooling anyone, bunny!

And Speaking of Bunnies . . .

This one takes a bit of concentration. So . . . the bunny has purple yarn and yellow yarn. It’s knitting a pattern with both, but rather than have both yarns handily available, the yellow is sitting off to the side. I guess we can assume that the yellow has finished its job and now the rest of the scarf will be purple? It’s a puzzle.

Whew! Okay. Enough of that. Now let’s see the books of 2020 where the artists showed knitting in its proper state:


The Winners!

It was early in February when this book hit our nation’s shelves. COVID was on the horizon but hadn’t struck yet. Meanwhile I was at work going through my usual pile of picture books when I came across the image above. While it may be a little loosey goosey in what knitting actually resembles, there was no denying that the needles were facing the correct way. Woohoo! Full credit to you, Luciana Navarro Powell!

This book comes to us from Israel and if you haven’t seen it yet then I highly recommend you get your mitts on it. It’s a marvelous dive into wacky extremes, but before any of that happens you get this crowded beach. This woman with the knitting, so engrossed that she doesn’t notice the open flames to her right, is using her beach time as knitting time. I don’t know that she should be dipping the ends of that scarf in the sand, necessarily, but it’s nice to see someone actually enjoying the process of knitting for once.

And for our final breath of fresh air . . .

Please forgive the quality of the image. I had to work off of an ebook galley to capture this one.

Tad Hills may have to win the award for Best Knitting in a Picture Book: 2020. Not only is Mistletoe holding her knitting needles correctly, but if you look close you can see that she’s carefully looped some of the extra yarn around her index finger. That’s a pro move that I’ve seen actual knitters do, and it tells me that either someone in Tad’s household is a knitter, or he actually did a tiny bit of research and looked at knitters before he created this image. Whatever the case, thank you, Tad! Once again your fine attention to small details puts you over the top.

Here’s to more and better knitting in 2021!

You can find previous posts on this topic here and here and here.

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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. I think the incorrect needle placement comes from years of cartoons. I remember Wilma Flintstone holding them points down and repeating ‘knit one purl two’ so that I thought that must be how it was done, then I watched my mom knit correctly and assumed that because she was an immigrant she was doing it wrong.

  2. This commercial from the late 90s used to make me cringe on so many levels. It depicts toilet paper being hand quilted but the quilters are using knitting needles held the incorrect way. The mishandling of the incorrect tool is bad enough, I won’t even get into the meta implications of handwork being used to wipe one’s bum. https://youtu.be/IZ3xugOFoGk

  3. Nena Elliot says:

    Delightful! And we haven’t even started on the confusion between knitting and crochet, which was recently committed by Vogue, who really should know about textile construction.

  4. Anna Erickson says:

    While the knitting styles in the photos above are definitely the most common these days, there is another style sometimes referred to as “pencil knitting” or “parlor style” in which you hold the needles on top of your thumbs rather than underneath. The *malefactor* illustrations may be exaggerated, but they are accurate to this style, which is common to England, and seen in virtually every Miss Marple TV series ever filmed. As a recent convert, I can attest that it is both fast and efficient! 🙂

    • Ah, this is the comment I get sometimes but that does not often contain quite as much information. Thank you! Curious, I did a Google image search of the terms and found . . . Miss Marple. And pretty much only Miss Marple. This leads me to conclude that unless the picture book illustrators featured here today are big time Agatha Christie fans and have mentally set their books in the parts of England that would favor this style, they were perhaps more enamored of the sight of sticky up needles than the logistics of the thing. Of course, now I need to find a YouTube video of pencil/parlor style knitting. It sounds quite interesting!

  5. Sharon Verbeten says:

    I can always count on you, Betsy, to make my day! Laughing out loud…in the library!

  6. Sooo, I had to go look up Miss Marple style knitting after reading the comments and it looks from the photos like only one needle is held pointed skyward; the other needle is still pointed down. My go-to for British style knitting is actually Wallace and Gromit because there is nothing better than a dog that knits (unless it’s a chicken that knits…Chicken Run, also Nick Park’s creation). https://www.pinterest.com/pin/416020084313048635/

  7. Barb Johnson says:

    As a children’s librarian, I made a bibliography of books with knitting themes so I could have some fun with storytime. There were so few, but I loved Kiki’s Hats (found in a knit shop) and I would look for excuses to share it. Loved your blog today. I have wondered about this for some time. Thx.

    • I did this too! I would also have a sheep theme — mainly because I read the kindergarteners Sheep in a Shop once and they clearly didn’t get the punchline where the sheep traded their fleece for the stuff they bought. So we backtracked and did a whole series of sheep/shearing/spinning/weaving/knitting books.

  8. In the knitting illustrations for my unpublished (so far) picture book, I created actual knitting for reality.
    Check out a couple of my illustrations at http://www.kittymccarthy.com

  9. Any illustrations of magic loop or DPNs? I can’t imagine how they would look!

  10. I’m a throw knitter. My mother-in-law (British) knits pencil style – popular in the 40’s – even so, the needles are horizontal, the ends do not point up

  11. Carole Hicks says:

    I’m a quilter and amateur knitter. Re the toilet paper and, the company received so many emails from quiters their server shut down. Co. spokesman said he didn’t think anyone paid attention to their commercials. I did one time see the ad remade with needle and thread. Also, about 40 years ago I knew a lady from Belgium who held one needle under her armpit and only moved the other needle. I taught school for 43 years and always included needle crafts.

    • Lina Crowell says:

      Another quilter and knitter here. I also recall that commercial and remember that it was redone with the correct form of needlework shown due to the company having received so many complaints. I marked it down to ignorance on the part of the animator.

  12. Diana Richardson says:

    Oh such a delightful post for those of us who spent our childhood surrounded by the click-click of mom’s knitting.

  13. Karen Davis says:

    Add to your list of knitting “no-nothings”… The marvelous Geico commercial currently airing in the LA area that talks about “reverse garter stitch”, which is funny because plain old garter stitch is a reversible stitch…

    • I think there actually IS a reverse garter stitch which is purling every row. Might be used as part of a pattern where you need to start a garter stitch section on a purl row.

  14. Their connection to the knitting below doesn’t necessarily make sense, but Nana’s needles point the right direction in Last Stop on Market Street!

  15. I would like to call attention to the knitting in “Extraordinary Ordinary Ella” and point out that while the needles might be facing the right direction, the illustrator still botched it.

    Pay close attention to the two balls of yarn that are slightly different colors. One is purple and the other is blue. The purple is always on the left needle (viewers perspective) while the blue is always on the right. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the yarn on each needle is not connected to the yarn on the other needle. While this is not impossible to achieve, who in the world would actually knit like that?

    Thus, I conclude that this book actually belongs in the section of books where the illustrator messed up the depiction of knitting once again.

  16. Rosanne Derrett says:

    @Carole Hicks, your Belgian knitter was almost certainly a leftie, taught by a rightie. I’m a leftie and this is how I knit. Having had many discussions over the years, this is commonly seen in leftie knitters who knit right handed!

  17. Marla E. Shatkin says:

    OMG!! I LOVED your article and the subsequent comments! I am self defined as a ‘rabid knitter’: socks, hats, cowls, scarfs, sweaters, blankets, grandbaby anything. I’ve been knitting since I was 5 and will be 70 next month (yikes!). Thanks for a wonderful morning laugh—and I too am always in the look out for children’s books with knitters/knitting to send to my grandchildren. Especially now since I can’t be with them … most recent one was born just 3 weeks ago!! And to Carol Hicks—I too have witnessed this interesting form in knitting as a child: one needles under the arm (tucked into the arm out) and the other doing all the work!! Thanks to all! Stay safe and happy knitting 🧶

  18. Louise Needham says:

    My sister- in – law (ex) whose mum was German, taught her to knit going back and forth across the knitting and not turning it round after every row. Can anyone explain that to me please?

  19. Carol Good-Elliott says:

    A friend just shared this with me when she learned that I knit, so I haven’t seen any of your past reviews. Here is a book in my family library that has lovely illustrations including accurate knitting pictures: Phoebe’s Sweater by Joanna Johnson & illustrated by Eric Johnson (published by Slate Falls Press, Loveland, CO, 2010). It also has patterns for the knitted items included in the book! 🙂

  20. The Little Old Lady knitter in Millions of Cats gets it wrong: Wanda Gag illustrates her not only knitting with pointy-down needles, but knitting a sock toe-up which wasn’t a thing in the early-to-mid-20th century when the book came out. It staggers me that a woman growing up during that time would get knitting wrong. My theory about all these illustrators is that they have the knitters holding their creative tools the way an illustrator holds a pencil, because if you’re creating something there’s just one way to hold your tools, obviously.

    • Oh! What a smart theory! That had never quite occurred to me before, but when you say it, it makes perfect sense. That must be the connecting thread (so to speak).

      And I couldn’t agree more about Wanda. Most peculiar.

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