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4.7 out of 5 stars
No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting
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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
Reading the reviews, I can understand why a non-knitter would not be charmed by this book. This book is by, for and about knitters. Whenever I'm bogged down with my knitting, I pick this book up again, seeking inspiration from 200 years of American knitters. The book is delightfully written, with lots of original source quotations, and allows us to peek into the day-to-day lives of colonial knitters, revolutionary war knitters, civil war knitters, depression era knitters, etc. It gives one a strong sense of women's role in American society at different times, reminds us (often amusingly) about fads and trends, and shows how wars shape lives beyond the battlefields. It's a wonderful book. My only regret is that it doesn't have more photographs of knitters and old knit garments.
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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
if you are a knitter. This book was a pleasure to read and really gave me a sense of being connected to generations and generations of women making warm things for the ones they loved. I was surprised to read about all the socks that were patriotically hand-knitted for soldiers during war years, right up through what we would consider to be more 'modern' times. Can you imagine the government asking women to knit socks for soldiers nowadays?! I now feel a compulsion to learn to knit socks - if the kids and old men could do it then, I can certainly learn to do it now!
If you are a fan of 'real life' history - not about politics and empires, but about individuals and how they lived their lives - you will enjoy this book. And you will enjoy it even more if you knit.
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book describes the types of things that women (and sometimes men and children) knitted, the situations in which they learned, and how knitting contributed to their pleasure, financial survival, or feeling of political or social significance from the colonial period through the late 1980's, thus spanning the American Revolution, early nationhood, the westward movement and women's broadening education, both sides of the Civil War, both World Wars, and more recent generations. Setting knitting in the context of surrounding history, including such elements as wars, education, fashions, sports trends, and politics, _No Idle Hands_ would be valueable both to the ordinary knitter wanting a better idea of the past of his or her hobby and to a student of women's history. Although it contains no full patterns, it does have many excerpts from books, magazines, plays, diaries, and other writings that discussed knitting, and it has a bibliographty and index that together can help one trace sources for some of the patterns for items mentioned in the book; although some of these sources are obviously in historical societies and other out-of-the-way places, others are published sources that today's reader/knitter can buy.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This is probably one of the very best books I've read on any kind of needlework history. It was factual, informative, and just the right amount of humor to make it enjoyable. Any knitter or any one interested in the history of needlearts would find this book to be one of the very best.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
A non-knitter, I find this book a continuous pleasure. Macdonald's humor and serious interest knit well together. She looks at different aspects of women's work during peace and war. Men and boys who knit are discussed too, but the emphasis is on women knitting.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book is a wonderful examination of the social history of knitting. Knitting for family has always been a requirement of any woman. But, this book revels how woman across America knitted items in support of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, WWI and WWI. In fact, there is currently a program to knit scarves in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Knitting for charity is also discussed. When our governments can not, or will not, provide for the needy; American's women have.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2008
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
I highly recommend this book on cd for any "knit-a-holic." What a great listen-to while you knit! The reader gives each voice a distinct inflection and is a joy to listen to. I read the book in the eighties and my only quibble with the cd version is that it is heavily edited. Even so, it is a great "read" and leaves me with a sense of being connected with a long line of knitting sisters.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2003
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I originally borrowed the above book from my knitting teacher and thought to myself I would love to have this in my collection of craft books etc.
That was about five years ago before I even dreamed about a pc computer no less used Amazon[.com] books. So I have been living my fantasy buying all my dream books.
About the book. Many references to people, places and things.
I was fascinated by a knitted baby blanked called a Remsen Quilt originated with the World Church Services. To make a long story short I tracked down the woman they wrote about in a nursing home in Conn. and she wrote me a lovely letter. She had no idea where the name came from but they knitted themselves into oblivion for charity.
So if after all that time I am still thinking about that book It must be a good one. Happy to say I ordered it used today.
Mary Young, New Hampshire
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
Gee, I loved this book. What I feared would be a dry-as-dust scholastic recitation of facts and history turned out to be just the opposite. Macdonald has combined fact, popular history, trivia, knitting and women's studies into one of the most interesting and entertaining history books I've ever read. Now in all fairness I'm a long time knitter, so while I find the pattern excerpts and yarn prices, etc, really entertaining, a non-knitter would probably not.

From the very first chapter, it is clear that Macdonald has conducted meticulous research on her topic. How else would we know that Benjamin Franklin gave his sister a spinning wheel for a wedding present? Or that 700 women mended 80,000 Army socks in one month during World War 1? Or that Martha Washington had her own "personal" knitter on her Dower roster? Such detail puts the history into real terms and makes it readily accessible to the reader.

The book is divided into 16 chapters, each one devoted to a decade or period starting with Colonial America and ending with the 80's. Almost every chapter contains pictures of women knitting, fashion photos and excerpts from publications and writings of the period. My favorite parts of the book were those places where she reprinted pattern instructions, which for many years contained no (or vague) gauge, yarn, or needle guidance. How awful! It's a wonder the Victorian ladies were ever able to knit anything even REMOTELY usable!

So if you're a knitter interested in learning more about the continuum of American knitting, I would highly recommend this book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
Who knew that there is a "law of knitting?" I was delighted to learn of New England ordinances requiring all those who were able to knit to do so. Indeed, it appears that knitting, and thus self-sufficiency, were instrumental in our gaining independence from England. More than that, knitting can both fulfill one's requirements to be a virtuous worker and get in a little relaxation at the same time. This book is full of interesting facts that surely never occurred to me before, including the relationship between knitting and sound economies. (However, that theory is open to testing, as knitting boomed during the latest economic boom and seems to have fizzled a bit in these lean times.) I would strongly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys getting a bird's eye view into ordinary life as it was lived over the past few centuries. Truly a delightful book to read, reflecting much research and chasing down of detail.
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