Barbara Levine’s “People Knitting”

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Sometimes, the best knitting book is a picture book.

If I enjoy knitting instruction books for the way they’re able to transmit the ‘how-to’ of the craft, I enjoy Barbara Levine’s People Knitting: A Century of Photographs (2016, Princeton Architectural Press) for how it manages to convey the everyday soul of knitting. This compact 144-page book is a 20th century photo compilation that captures some golden knitting moments. Levine reveals a varied cast of knitting characters: turn-of-the-century fisher girls and vaudeville performers, Hollywood starlets on break, nurses and youth group knitting bees, soldiers and wartime internees, and more.

There is no single or overarching story that Levine’s knitters tell; together, they reveal that knitting is as much a space for joy, joking around, community, and the rhythms of collective creating and everyday work as it is a place for convalescing, waiting, privacy, solitude and, in some cases, filling the time of internment (not to mention the photos of public ads which revealed the central role of knitting to various war efforts). Each image presents a unique knitting history, and Levine’s mostly text-less presentation of the images allowed me to appreciate the book as a collection of singularities that invite more exploration. This sense of historical, and human, singularities preserved is what I enjoyed most about this book.

Here are a few of my favourite snapshots.

Enjoy your Thursday!

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1943. Japanese women at the Heart Mountain internment camp, Wyoming.
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1941. Making toy animals at the St. Simon’s Youth Center, PA.
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1940. London cab-driver.

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1940. English women knitting for the soldiers. This beauty parlor gave each customer a piece of knitting to work on while having her hair done. She was to pick up where the last customer left off.
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1925: Mary Pickford.
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23 thoughts on “Barbara Levine’s “People Knitting”

  1. I read a review of this book a while back and was intrigued, so glad to see it pop up again. Love the cab driver (who says knitting isn’t maculine?) and this little card: be sure and bring your knitting. How lovely !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, that cabbie is a very good one, and there are quite a few other interesting snapshots of knitting men in the book. 🙂 It’s a delightful read if ever you’d like a new addition to the knitting library. Thanks for reading, Agnes! ❤

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  3. What a great book! I love the idea of the “pass it on” knitting projects in the hairdresser’s during wartime… It sure beats flipping through magazines! Your local library must have the best selection of knitting books on the planet, thanks for sharing them with us 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that one’s an interesting knitting moment. 🙂 The sign in the back reads “If you feel inclined, please help us with our knitting for the forces.” The books are mostly requests and holds – I try to keep a lookout for titles that look interesting, then call ’em in. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly – the photographs are themselves quite beautiful, and the author includes a little section on the different kinds of photographic prints, so yes, there’s lots to enjoy from a photo-history standpoint, too!

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