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The Compulsive Reader: As Agatha Swanburne Once Said...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

As Agatha Swanburne Once Said...

Today I have a guest blog from Maryrose Wood, and she'll be imparting some wisdom from the highly esteemed Agatha Swanburne!

“Busy hands and idle minds have knitted many a sweater; busy minds and idle hands have knitted many a brow.” — The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 3: The Unseen Guest.

My darling Italian grandmother Rosa was an excellent seamstress who helped support her family by doing fine embroidery work and making ladies’ hats in the garment factories of lower Manhattan. As a kid, I remember her cutting dress patterns out of newspaper on her kitchen table. When I showed an interest, she’d patiently teach me how to do a French knot, or how to crochet an afghan square. She was the one who taught me basic knitting. I don’t recall ever making anything to brag about, but I learned how to cast on and knit and purl.

Eventually I moved on to other creative pursuits (in my case, this involved memorizing the lyrics to Sondheim musicals—but I digress). I didn’t return to knitting until I had kids of my own, when I happened to fall in with a few other young moms who were practiced knitters. I finished a few little sweaters and stuffed toys, but my more ambitious projects always took me so long to execute that the baby had inevitably outgrown the clothes by the time I finished making them. To this day I have a plastic bin in the closet that contains a two-thirds completed swing coat in a gorgeous blue yarn, sized for a three year old. (The three year old for whom it was intended recently turned seventeen, just to put this in perspective.)

Knitting requires some presence of mind, but not a huge amount, unless you’re negotiating a particularly complicated bit of a pattern. Unfortunately, it requires the use of both hands, which means one cannot write novels at a computer keyboard and knit at the same time. This is my excuse for letting my knitting skills go dormant once more. Someday I hope to get back to it. When I do, I resolve to make items only for people who are not changing sizes faster than I can keep up.

As for the Swanburnism above: yes, an idle mind can knit a sweater, but idle hands don’t knit anything, no matter how much mental energy you expend. I think that’s the point of the saying: there’s no use in applying vast amounts of concentration, planning or worry to a task unless one is also willing to pick up the needles, so to speak, and get to work. Or, to put it a different way, in a fight between thinking and doing, doing wins every time.

It reminds me a bit of the aspiring writers I occasionally meet who worry feverishly about how to get published, and should they get an MFA or is it a waste of money, and what’s the best way to find an agent, and is YA still “hot” or is everyone writing middle grade now?—but they don’t roll up their sleeves to figure out how to write a shapely sentence, or construct a plot, or bother to read excellent fiction on a regular (dare I suggest, daily?) basis. Agatha Swanburne would no doubt say: Enough! Take out your needles and yarn and get to work. One stitch at a time is all it takes. If the knitter takes care of the rows, the sweater will take care of itself.

So which one are you? A brow-knitter, or a sweater-knitter?

(The Incorrigible blog tour continues on April 4th at www.thebookmonsters.com.)

Maryrose Wood is the author of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series for middle-grade readers. You can find her online at www.maryrosewood.com, and on Twitter at @Maryrose_Wood.

About The Unseen Guest:

"Of especially naughty children it is sometimes said, "They must have been raised by wolves." 
The Incorrigible children actually were. 
Since returning from London, the three Incorrigible children and their plucky governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, have been exceedingly busy. When Lord Fredrick's long-absent mother arrives with the noted explorer Admiral Faucet, gruesome secrets tumble out of the Ashton family tree. And when the admiral's prized racing ostrich gets loose in the forest, it will take all the Incorrigibles' skills to find her. But once back in the wild, will the children forget about books and poetry and go back to their howling, wolfish ways?"

1 comment:

marybelle said...

I'm a brow-knitter & a sweater-knitter - it's a curse.

I must read this book. This is the first I have heard of it.