Knitting Yarns at Woodstock’s Golden Notebook by Ann Hutton for the Almanac Weekly

Knitting Yarns at Woodstock’s Golden Notebook by Ann Hutton for the Almanac Weekly
knitting nuns

They say that knitting is making a comeback. For some of us, it never went away – rather, it got stuffed into a bag and buried deep in the spare room closet, where it waited. Knitting knows that we will one day be re-snagged by the impulse to pull it out, by which time the project we were attempting might have gone out of style, or we’ve put on too much weight or…whatever. Knitting is patient. Whether we’ve succeeded in ever finishing something or failed miserably, it knows that our deepest desire is to try again.

ann hutton

Ann Hutton


In her wisdom, eager knitter and author Ann Hood (The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread, Comfort, The Obituary Writer) has collected stories describing how knitting helps us to heal and grow, how the challenge of learning something new forces us to stretch our brains and take charge of our hand/eye coordination, how love can be embedded in every stitch. Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting is an anthology of 27 accounts of what knitting means to each writer. Vivid memories of being taught to knit by a strict Irish aunt, or attempting to teach someone else and having to let go of the need for perfection, or poignant and painful associations made during a period of furious knitting: 27 voices proclaim their intimate details with knitting.

Hood came to knitting to undo grief at the death of her young child. Her “Ten Things I Learned from Knitting” covers that and a colorful array of simple life lessons that she discovered in the process.

In “Looped Yarn,” Martha Frankel bargains with Fate to save her friend – the woman who taught her to knit – who is careening headlong into a cult. In full magical-thinking mode, Frankel imagines that if she can finish five scarves in time, her friend will come to her senses. She learns that sometimes even completed projects won’t do the trick.

Joyce Maynard fondly reminisces how her mother produced a miniature sweater for a thumb-sized Teddy bear using toothpicks as needles. In her story “Straw into Gold,” Maynard recounts her mother’s abundant capabilities, set against the frustrations typical for women of her generation, and the way in which she “channeled all her big, wild talents and burning ambitions through something as rudimentary as a pair of knitting needles.”

In “The Supernatural Power of Knitting,” Alison Lurie reports tidbits of history wherein knitting was integral. She notes famous paintings such as Young Knitter Asleep, by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze, in which even young children can be seen busily knitting. Lurie talks about the moral distinctions between knitting and crocheting, indicating how in 19th-century literature, good women knit and bad women crochet. Virtuous women were always knitting socks for the war effort, while the frivolous ones made doilies.

Knitting Yarns is a veritable literary knitting circle. The list of contributors includes Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Andre Dubus III, Sue Grafton, Anita Shreve and many more. Also included are five original knitting patterns created by Helen Bingham.

Meet Ann Hood and Martha Frankel at the Golden Notebook on Tinker Street in Woodstock on Saturday, December 7 at 4 p.m. Bring your knitting.

Find out more about the indescribable Ann Hutton.

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Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting

Knitting Yarns copy

You never know, my mother was fond of telling me. You never know if that lie you told about Ira Silverman being your boyfriend might come back to haunt and embarrass you. You never know if Steven Scharf, who makes you squirm, what with his acne and his bad hair, might turn out to be the best kisser in all of JHS 135. You never know if that hobby of writing cool letters to your friends might turn out to be your avocation.

During Woodstock Writers Festival 2013, Ann Hood told me that she was editing an anthology about knitting. She had already gotten commitments for essays from Jane Smiley, Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Andre Dubus III, Joyce Maynard and others. I didn’t even think to tell her about the knitting story I was dying the write, the one about what happened when my best friend joined a cult, and the only thing that made me get out of bed in the morning and made even the tiniest bit of sense, was casting on and knitting and purling, making something out of nothing, holding on to the thing that friend had taught me.

About a week after the festival, I got one of those off-the-cuff emails from Ann Hood. “Hey,” it said, so nonchalantly, “someone dropped out of the knitting book. Have a story you might want to write?”

I wrote the story that night and sent it early the next morning, just in case reason prevailed and Hood realized I didn’t belong anywhere near that book. She wrote back almost immediately, saying she loved it and was sending a contract.

I was actually getting paid for the privilege of being in a book with my literary heroes? I hadn’t even imagined that. You never know.

When I saw the amazing cover of Knitting Yarns, I was beyond thrilled. It was lush without being cloying; it made you want to knit without making you feel inadequate.

The early reviews were an even bigger thrill— all were raves and a few mentioned my story in particular.

But then I started to worry: I hadn’t knit in over a decade! I had always been a pick-it-up, then put-it-down knitter. I never really got any better. Everything I made was flat– a scarf or a blanket. I didn’t ever think of making anything intricate or something that had shape. I was the remedial knitter.

When the book was a few weeks from pub date, I got involved in a knitting group. 4 or 5 of us meet for a few hours every week; we hired a teacher. She told us to bring all our old projects. That first week she went around the room, gently urging people to pick up the needles and finish what they had started. For every sad story she had a perfectly optimistic retort. Soon people were finishing scarves; figuring out the sleeves on sweaters they had forgotten about for years.

When she got to me, she frowned. Every piece I showed her— a half finished scarf that had a glaring mistake 2 inches from the bottom, a sad looking blanket with amorphous edges, a glove that had no mate or wool— she clicked her tongue. “Rip them out,” she finally said, not unkindly. I gasped. “No, I mean it,” she continued. “You hate every one of them. You don’t have to finish them. Rip. I’ll teach you to make a gorgeous pair of gloves.”

In the 6 months since then, two amazing things have happened. I have fallen in love with knitting again, and have finished some beautiful projects: gloves, hats, scarves and thick cowls. I am lovingly eyeing an A-Line cardigan and will begin knitting it as soon as I figure out what color it should be.

And Knitting Yarns is a big hit! You never know.

Watch me talking about Knitting Yarns with my pal Jimmy Buff on Kingston Now.

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Bingeing Bad

Martha Frankel & Ira Silverman

Illustration by Mike Karpf

For someone with an addictive personality like mine, watching weekly television is as much of a delight as my first mother-in-law’s dinner parties, where it was better to pretend to be one of the servants than one of the party guests, who had to endure her endless re-telling of not-funny-the-first-time stories, including the one where she shrieked at the children so relentlessly that they hid in their closet for 18 hours, less afraid of starving than of their witch of a mother.

Waiting an entire week to know just one teeny tiny piece of the puzzle? Infuriating. This has always been so. While my friends tuned in every Thursday night to find out what happened to Dr. Richard Kimble, who was wrongly accused of killing his wife on TV’s The Fugitive, I was busy writing Ira Silverman’s name over and over and over on my denim loose-leaf cover.

IS & MF. Martha and Ira. MF and IS. Ira and Martha. Should it be an ampersand? Ira & Martha. A plus sign? Martha + Ira. Cursive? Print? Hearts with arrows? Exclamation points galore!?

By the time they caught that one-armed man, I forgot why they wanted him.

Ira, it turned out, was not obsessing over me. The longest conversation we ever had was when he chased me down the middle school hallway, shouting, “Hey Frankel. Wait up!” Frankel. That could be the nickname I had been waiting for my whole life! Frankel. When we were married, people would ask why my husband called me by my maiden name, and he would say, “I was so in love with her in Junior High that I couldn’t make myself say her first name aloud, so scared was I of rejection!” My friends would laugh, and agree that Frankel suited my personality. Everyone would call me Frankel. And then there he was, a little breathless, his shirt buttons askew. “Where’s your friend Paula?” he asked. “Tell her I want to take her out.”

The Sopranos was the first series I watched weekly, but as much as I adored Tony and crew, it was close to impossible to commit to that hour on Sunday nights. Maybe I was having the Sunday night blues, maybe I wanted to watch 8 episodes on Friday instead.

So on-demand TV seemed like an inside joke. Five years of Breaking Bad on a snowy weekend? No prob. Orange is the New Black over and over? Check.

And then came the Kobo, the independent e-reader, where I could download Looking For Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines while still mid-The Fault In Our Stars.

So tonight, when the finale of a Breaking Bad conflicts with the season premiere of Homeland, I won’t have to choose.

Binge watching, binge reading… this world had finally caught up with me.

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Losing Barbie

This post was originally published on my previous blog on Nov. 13, 2010: blog


How different would this story be if I said “Barbie died.”? Or if I said “Barbie killed herself.”? Or if I said “Barbie shot herself in the head with what she used to call her ladies gun”?

In the end, Barbie would still be dead.

Barbie. Anyone who’s read my memoir, Hats & Eyeglasses, knows exactly who she was— Keith’s sassy wife. The poker dealer. The one who stood by her man through all kinds of crazy shit— and did it while wearing high heels so extreme that her calf muscles were forever flexed.

Barbie, who thought cigarettes, chocolate cake, and a Coke covered all the food groups.

Barbie, whose name was so fitting.

Barbie, who could out-drink even the biggest guys we knew, and still not have to go to sleep.

Barbie, who could stop you dead with one of her withering looks, and then call to say that she had her church group put your neighbor on their prayer list.

Barbie, who loved her man so much that when he dropped dead 2 years ago she began unraveling in earnest.

Barbie, who looked like a hooker but wore demure little aprons to prepare dinner.


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Wedding Of The Year

This post was originally published on my previous blog: blog


Guest Blogger Martha Frankel Reporting LIVE From The Wedding Of The Year!

August 1, 2010

by Deb Amlen

Chelsea Clinton Wedding

Some journalistic scoops are just too good to pass up. When a big story comes your way, the best thing to do is to grab your artfully hidden-from-the-Secret-Service Blackberry and tell it like it is. That’s what the fabulous Martha Frankel did, and we couldn’t be more grateful that she sent her observations straight to us here at CYGAWA without any thought to her personal safety and security or, for that matter, her reputation as a journalist. Thank you, Martha, for helping us stay current and for revealing things about OMG FRICKING CHELSEA AND MARC’S WEDDING that probably went uncovered by other, nameless sources who were left to weep outside the door. Pfft. And they call themselves journalists. Kudos also to ace reporters Kitty Sheehan and Mark Cuddy for getting Martha into the wedding of the year in the first place.

Martha Frankel, breaking the news as only she can.

Martha, of course, is the author of Hats and Eyeglasses (Tarcher/Penguin, 2009), an intriguing memoir about her childhood spent learning the game of poker from her father and her uncle, and more recently, Brazilian Sexy (Perigree/Penguin, 2010), co-written with one of the founders of the J Salon in NYC and which reveals the secrets to living a “gorgeous and confident life.” She’s wonderful, and I know you’ll love her and be just as grateful to her reporting skills as we are.

So here, without further ado, is a live report from the wedding of former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky:

Ssshhh. They’ll take my crackberry away if they know I have it. But Chelsea looks gorg. And it’s a very cool wedding.

They just threw out Ruth Bader Ginsburg for having a potty mouth! I’m hiding in the bushes so they don’t hear mine.

Omigod, Bill is fucking rocking out!

Better not be any crisis tomorrow — Hillary is druuunk!

Just danced with Henry Kissinger. Turns out he’s hawt…

Headed into an hour and a half of these fucking fireworks. Who knew even this could be boring? zzzzzzzzz…

A skunk just walked right through the crowd! Everyone went running.

Omigod, I think Chelsea’s hiding a baby bump behind that bouquet! Stay tuned.

What the fuck? At 11 it turned into a cash bar!!! I’m gonna have to ask Oprah to buy me a drink. No, no, Gayle will do it.

Hillary got locked in the Port-A-Potty, and Bill is doing the Hokey Pokey.

First puker spotted — turns out to be one of the Bush twins! Who invited them?

Barbra Streisand and Kid Rock doing duet of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore” w/Bill on sax! Who knew Hil is a flautist? Best. Wedding. Ever.

Right in the middle of “The Electric Slide” they flicked the lights on and off. Last call!

Blackhawks waiting to ferry guests back to Rhinebeck. Will wait to get on the one w/Tom Hanks. Private party after at the Beek.

Forgot to tell you about the food — Chelsea fooled everyone. It was a total Woodstock thing; Joshua’s did the appetizers (delish!) And Yum Yum Noodle Bar did the dinner.

And the cake, which was to die for, was from Jabelli’s bakery (at Lori’s Creative cafe). A pineapple and whipped cream thing. Wowza!

OK, off to the post-wedding, pre-brunch breakfast.

This is a room full of the most hung-over people I ever been with. Since yesterday. Thank god for mimosas.

OK, finally going to the brunch. Am so over this Chelsea-Marc thing. Just wanna go home to sleep it off.

Well, Chelsea and Marc LOVED my wedding gift (a cherry picture frame with the date and 2 birds carved in from Fabulous Furniture). Going home to sleep it off. Sorry, that should be file my report.

Might have to skip Weight Watchers this week because the wedding was a 2-day pig fest. Bill told me he’s already gained back 8 pounds.

Thanks again, Martha. This one will win us that Pulitzer for sure. Everyone else, head on over to The Golden Notebook and pick up Martha’s books. You will really love them.

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