Knitlandia by Clara Parkes: A Review
Knitlandia by Clara Parkes is a charming book that should delight knitters and sufferers of wanderlust. It should also hit the mark with people who don’t fall into those categories but who enjoy evocative prose. Though Parkes’ travels are filtered through a love of wool and knitting, there’s plenty here for the non-knitter… in most chapters.
I savored the first few chapters, then gobbled the last 2/3 of the book in a fit of insomnia. Early chapters involving travel to places I’ve never been, like wool-soaked Iceland, left me yearning to book my own plane ticket. These mixed with pleasant shocks of the familiar, like the chapter describing the MD Sheep and Wool experience, a festival I’ve been to nine times.
However, it wasn’t *quite* my experience. Knitlandia is written from the point of view of a knitting industry insider, because, well, Parkes is. Descriptions of going through the festival and chasing the “it” yarn or fiber supplier didn’t really resonate with me, because in all my years at MD, I never did that. I blindly wandered through, picking up bits of this and that based on what struck my fancy at the time, not because I had any insider knowledge of fiber industry trends, but because I liked it. I have a feeling most of MD’s visitors had my mindset, not Parkes’.
I read the chapter on Rhinebeck with interest, since I’m going for the first time this year and feel like I need advance preparation for a festival that has taken on mythical status. I also enjoyed voyeuristic peeks into events I will never attend, like the defunct Sock Summit or the professionals-only TNNA trade show. But these chapters left me torn between being self-satisfied glee that I recognized and knew something about the people she names and a nagging feeling of name-dropping. Parkes is not name-dropping, of course; these knitting industry supernovas are genuinely her friends and colleagues, and Parkes has earned the right to recount her not insignificant accomplishments. But the names do pile up.
Toward the end of the book, when reading chapters about yarny events that took place more recently, I experienced additional jolts of recognition, but in a completely different and more disconcerting way than from the MD chapter. When Parkes described flying to Scotland for the nascent Edinburgh Yarn Festival and being greeted by Ysolda Teague on a bicycle, describing exactly what Ysolda was wearing, I had a bit of a shock. I knew exactly what that bike and that outfit looked like… because I had seen that moment captured and shared on Parkes’ beautiful and inspiring Instagram feed, when it occurred.
And there’s the rub. Anyone who knows anything about Ysolda Teague can’t think of her as Teague; she’s Ysolda. She just is. I’ve struggled to refer to Parkes and not Clara throughout this review, because although I know her through social media, she doesn’t know me. But I spent most of the books torn between an excitement that I was getting an insider’s view of knitting events and leaders and a melancholy longing that I wasn’t included and never will be. The Squam Lake chapter was particularly odd. I’ve been there, in a tent with my family, not for the workshops: outsider. But I watched the events of the weekend Parkes (Clara?) described live on Instagram: insider(ish). Was I almost there? Most definitely not.
Many of the feelings that Knitlandia generated in me are mine alone. I feel like a weird hybrid – someone between the woman who wandered blindly through Maryland Sheep and Wool a few years ago and the woman who personally interviewed Kate from A Playful Day last month, another name dropped in the book. But overall, I found the book a delightful stroll through the history and touchstones of a community I belong to by choice and rated it 5 stars on Goodreads.
*Disclosure statements: I purchased my version of Knitlandia from Amazon. The link featured in this review is an Amazon affiliate link.