Can You Read & Stitch Simultaneously?

24 Aug 2010

Two of my most favorite pastimes are reading and needlework. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to do them simultaneously! Happily, my two loves can still be enjoyed together by working on fiber art that has a literary theme or reading books where needlework is a prominent character.

PieceWork Editor-in-Chief Jeane Hutchins shares my passion for books and stitching, and I can't wait for you to learn how PieceWork’s new issue celebrates needlework in literature.

One of my fondest childhood memories is of the day my grandmother took me to the public library to get my very own library card. I've had a library card ever since.

I read voraciously, as often as I can find a spare moment. Reading is my stress reliever, my hobby, my joy. There's at least one book in every room in my house as well as others in the car and in my briefcase (I never know when I may be trapped somewhere). So I'm really pleased to give you this preview of our first issue of PieceWork dedicated to needlework in literature!

When we first talked about this as a theme, I began to compile a list of literary works containing needlework references. In addition to the ones we chose for this issue, here are some of my other favorites:

A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (especially lyrical are the passages about a silk rebozo), William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, The Shipping News by E.
Annie Proulx, and Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities.

Do you know of others? I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment at the end of this post.

Below are a few highlights from the September/October 2010 issue:

  • Agatha Christie's Miss Marple sat in a corner knitting so she could eavesdrop and no one would know. Miss Marple's spirit lives on in many of today's knitting mysteries.
  • If you know a child (from toddler to teen), check out Julia Baratta's "Needlework in Children's Literature" annotated list. Who would ever guess that the hero of Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball would be a knitter! The books span many time periods and cultures, and each is a delight.
  • Discover the unique technique of netting in an excerpt from Jennifer Forest's delightful book, Jane Austen's Sewing Box: Craft Projects & Stories from Jane Austen's Novels.
  • Knitting has a double meaning in the title of Elizabeth Cobbe's article, "Knitting Gloves in Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa," referring not only to the role that this activity plays in the lives of the characters in a play but also to the way in which it is accomplished, performance after performance, onstage.
  • Plus 10 literary-inspired projects to net, knit, crochet and stitch!  
           (Photos of art by Joe Coca)

Ahh, reading and needlework--I think it's the best combination. Get your free copy of this issue to see for yourself!

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on 24 Aug 2010 5:03 AM

I overcome the problem of sewing and reading by listening to talking books while I sew. It's lovely to sit hand quilting while someone famous with a lovely voice reads to you!

lornamarym wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 5:07 AM

Favourite reads with stitching related - Gail Tsukiyama (author) for Women of the Silk and The Language of Threads.  These two books should keep you in their grip from beginning to end.  Japanese  and Hong Kong Chinese related and fascinating.  I hope you enjoy them.  Lorna.

marilyn cann wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 5:53 AM

I enjoyed the refrences to nedlework in the daily schedule of  "The Ladies of Missalonghi", written by Colleen McCullough of "Thorn Birds" fame. The ladies had 2 - 4 p.m. set aside each day for needle work. I'd love to be able to do that!

Karoda wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 6:19 AM

One that was strangely intriguing, comical and sad, is Cion by Zakes Mda...he is a professor at Ohio University in Athens and is from South Africa.  You can read my review here:

fiberbead wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 6:21 AM

I DO want to add to the comment about talking books. I'm a librarian and a fiber artist. To everyone considering this article, your public library will have books on disc and downloadable books for you to check out with an active library card. Can't wait to read this article. Piecework is an amazing magazine.

Karoda wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 6:21 AM

and here is my final review of Cion,

Martist3 wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 6:28 AM

Here is a wonderful book for your list. The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry is a wonderful tale of a woman from a family of Salem women who can read the future in the patterns of lace.  This novel is great fun, combining mystery, murder and a truly wonderful love story.

nancybrannon wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 6:59 AM

Audio books!!!.  Being read to is wonderful.  Ask any child.  And artists tend to be children at heart.  One of the bonuses is the words are all pronounced correctly.  Another is that books I would normal pass by (I like escapism literature) are great when being read to me by accomplished readers.  This week I "read" Sea of Thunder and  David Copperfield.  --Nancy Brannon Yellow Dog Quilts

tstafford wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 7:34 AM

Alias Grace is a fantastic book by one of Canada's most notable authors, Margaret Atwood. It is based on a true story of a woman charged with murder in the mid 1800's at the age of 16.. Each section is named for a quilt block  from the time period and includes an illustration. As there are 15 sections a wonderful sampler could be made based on this book.

Another Canadian historical fiction for young adults ( and older) is Irish Chain by Barbara Haworth- Attard in which a quilt features prominently. At the end there are instructions for making a nine patch by hand.

BJB5 wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 8:00 AM

I'm almost finished reading "The Minister's Wooing" by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is a detailed account of life in a Rhode Island village in the late 1700's. You'll love the detailed description of the dressmaker...the most sought after woman in town. Great description of the making of the wedding quilt, the importance of spinning and weaving & Biblical quotes about embroidery.

on 24 Aug 2010 9:58 AM

I love to insert writings in my quilts. My latest quilt is my poet quilt

in which I embroidered 10 faces of poets and excerpts of their poetry.

It is fun to watch people read and learn about these poets.  

nanaanne2 wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 10:10 AM

The Movie with Olivia deHavilland comes to mind, from 1949, "The Heiress", set in New York City with Mongomery Clift.  The shy (Olivia), stitches her sampler throughout the movie...

on 24 Aug 2010 11:40 AM

I think the book I'm thinking of is called The Dive off Clausen's Pier.  It's a story about a woman whose boyfriend is seriously injured in a dive and what happens to her.  She's a sewer, and the book has quite a bit about her sewing.

on 24 Aug 2010 5:17 PM

I read an interesting book called "The Lady and the Unicorn" by Tracy Chevalier.

It is based on historical events, including a commission to design a series of large tapestries (in real life, the famous Lady and the Unicorn cycle, now in Paris's Musee National du Moyen-Age Thermes de Cluny).

Kristin Farwig

on 24 Aug 2010 5:19 PM

I love stitching and reading together.  I read all of Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries while quilting my Dear Jane quilt.  You have to have a good, wide sofa arm and a cooperative book spine.  Library books are perfect.  Lots of stitching in her books, too.

Nancy Sumner wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 6:41 PM

I just finished reading*  Sing Them Home, by Stephanie Kallos.   Three siblings from a smalltown in southeastern Nebraska cope with being adults -- very much likeAnne Tyler. There is one discription of a quilt in the book that sounds like the most beautiful quilt anyone had ever made.

I also enjoyed reading  Oh my stars, by Lorna Landvic, the heroine is a one handed sewer and maker of beautiful clothing.

sewhappy wrote
on 24 Aug 2010 7:59 PM

For many years now, I have listened to books on tape and CD's.  Much of the quilting process is repetitive and listening to a story works well.  True, the creative process requires more concentration but I still get a lot of story time in.  Being in my 70"s, I am a child of radio and just love being "read" to.  

I mainly enjoy mystery's and our library has a large selection to choose from.

Marian Shipley

Northport N Y (Long Island)

okieLinda wrote
on 25 Aug 2010 7:29 AM

I stitch and read and watch tv all together all the time,You read during commercials or when theres a lag and I talk too :) differant things take differant amount of attention at differant times so you just juggle it, Its the cats demanding to be petted that throws me off , but the kittys always win out in the end,

broncobetty wrote
on 25 Aug 2010 8:18 AM

Be sure to check out "The Friday Night Knitting Club" a first novel by Kate Jacobs.  A fun read!

lrond01 wrote
on 26 Aug 2010 9:35 PM

I take  my knitting to choir practice! I make sure I master the pattern so that I can read my music sheets, sing and knitt at the same time!

Carol Shield, a Canadian author, wrote An Unconventional Woman about a woman who goes to a quilt convention for the first time!

haertstitch wrote
on 28 Aug 2010 12:03 PM

Talking books are the best!

my books read them selves to me

as I stitch or draw or paint.

I love tales by Neil Gaiman whose discovered

he loves story telling

or the other stories that fill my mind

with rich imagery I transmute into images.

I can knit sox or crochet when my eyes are  tired

and listen to mysteries in the dark.

~heartstitch,  Faun Bonewits