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No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting
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No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  594 ratings  ·  85 reviews
"Fascinating . . . What is remarkable about this book is that a history of knitting can function so well as a survey of the changes in women's roles over time."--The New York Times Book Review

An historian and lifelong knitter, Anne Macdonald expertly guides readers on a revealing tour of the history of knitting in America. In No Idle Hands, Macdonald considers how the nece
Paperback, 512 pages
Published April 7th 1990 by Ballantine (first published 1988)
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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  594 ratings  ·  85 reviews

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Apr 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: knitters and women's history buffs
This book was chock full o' interesting subject matter, but was written just like every one of my undergrad and graduate papers:

Statement. 12 quotes you've dug up in support of said statement. Closing sentence for paragraph (in rather formal language) that tries to be witty but doesn't usually succeed, such as, "Surely they had had enough!"

Repeat 129830198490814 times. There was much discussion of wartime knitting, something near and dear to my heart. We're not knitting for the guys who are in t
Apr 02, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: knitters, history buffs
The insights into the motivations of US knitters through time were enough to keep me reading this book. Anne Macdonald tackles a difficult topic in a way that is both academic and engaging. For myself, a steady though not productive knitter, it sparked many reflections on the task of knitting, its trendiness, and its stigma.

This book caused me to reflect on how absolutely anonymous knitted works are. A well-knit item could have been knit by any experienced knitter. There is no way for an individ
Jul 07, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is a fairly interesting look at the social history of hand-knitting in America, if a bit simplistic (although this is an abridged version so it is unclear if that is a problem with the original). For instance, one thing I noticed in this book is that every few decades (or even every decade in the early 20th century) it seemed like there was this major declaration by the fashion powers that be that knitting was popular again, that suddenly there was a rush of knitting. It struck me as cu ...more
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed every minute of this carefully researched compendium of American Knitting. I had not realized that knitting socks has been a rallying cry for American Women since the Revolution. I'd only been aware of the issue in WWII.

This was the perfect first summer read: a scholarly tome, written by a HS English teacher, who acknowledges the HS librarians. Written in the '80s, it is a bit dated, but I loved every minute of this book. Not for the faint of heart! Print
Mar 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As a knitter and feminist, this book was a fascinating history of Women in America as viewed through the lens of Knitting. I was constantly telling other people about what I had found reading this book.

It looses steam a bit somewhat towards the end, but a wonderful if dense read!
Theresa Bearegard
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be very interesting and enlightening. History and knitting interwoven. I had not been aware that at various times in history knitting was a necessity---even a life saver. This book was given to me by a wonderful grandson and I am deeply grateful that he got it for me.
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, knitting, 2020
I was really fascinated by this book! It was written in the 1980s so not exactly current, but the colonial to WWII stuff is great.
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
I know this book would bore most people, but I took my time and really enjoyed it. It was fascinating to see the social history of knitting and to understand how we came to be where we are today. I love to knit and have knitted from the 1960s as a small child, again in my college years in the late 1970s, some of my career years in the 1980s, and now to my more leisurely middle age years in the 2000s...just as she states - every generation produces another crop of knitters with their own reasons ...more
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
Understand that I'm not far enough into reading on this subject to speak to the quality of Macdonald's research, but she certainly makes a lot of compelling arguments and writes an excellent narrative about the shape of knitting in American history. The section about the Great Depression is particularly interesting. It's a good read for historians and knitters alike.

(At the end): I really loved this book--wish it had been published more recently, or updated to include the way that knitting has j
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I love this kind of social history, and this did not disappoint. It's gotten me seeing knitting everywhere (even in the historical drama we were watching last night!), and thinking about knitting a bunch. I like the anecdotal nature, and seeing the way that knitting fits into historical events. Unfortunately, this was written 25 years ago, before the current resurgence in popularity, so it ends on a bit of a down note (she seems to be pleading, "But it will get popular again!" and it has. It wou ...more
Jun 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible, feminism
Super interesting book. I listened to it the abridged version which was a bit of a bummer. Apparently other editions include pictures of women knitting and excerpts from magazines and newspapers with pattern information (although no full patterns).

Based on journal entries and other historical documents, this is the story of knitting in America from the colonial period up to the 1980s. It really grounds the act of knitting in the history of the time, including the politics, fashion trends, wars,
Dec 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Think of this book in three parts. The first third is the social history of knitting. Very interesting particularly if you are a knitter. (Not sure why a non-knitter would even pick up this book.). The second third is filled with anecdotes from knitters across the nation, about their personal experiences with knitting. Somewhat interesting, but not riveting. The last third is notes and references for the preceding chapters. Not interesting.
Mary Heather
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I love nonfiction history - particularly women's history - and this is a dense, fascinating read if you are interested in the social aspects of knitting in America. It actually made me proud to be a knitter and a textile crafter - in a world that no longer "needs" handmade fibers, but once very much did, it was eye-opening to read about how knitting has been a truly revolutionary act. ...more
Feb 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was a little disappointed that the book only goes up to the 1980s. I would love to read an updated version that includes the most recent revival of knitting among hip 20 somethings.
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fun to read because I love to knit, and the social history is fascinating.
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: womens-history
This book was fascinating. Reading it was much like knitting (or, like reading the 21st century iteration of this book: knitting blogger “The Knitting Harlot’s” work.) Soothing, satisfying, a touchstone to other times in history... and also, because it is a scholarly work of history, a terrific study of women’s roles throughout American history.

Rather like when I knit, I read it in bursts of zeal and then put it down for long stretches, for about the same reasons (presence of small child toddli
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a knitter, this book was really interesting! I enjoyed learning the history,although there were times I felt that I was reading a history textbook! It took a long time to read because there was so much information to digest.

I've now added more patterns and stitches to my knitting style and have educated others around me about my hobby whether they want to hear it or not!! God bless my long-suffering husband! 😊
Norma J. Engelberg
A compact history of knitting in America

MacDonald traces knitting through U.S. History generation by generation and through war and peace. It's interesting and gratifying for those of us who knit to see how much knitting has influenced history. This writing ends in the early 1990s and I wish MacDonald would give us an update.
Jul 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theorie
A great book in dire need of an update. The final chapter talks of the promise modern technology such as video cassettes hold for knitting - what would the author make of the Internet and Ravelry? Did later wars also inspire knitting? (see the small knitting craze after Australia's forest fires) I'd also love a book like this about my own region. ...more
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed to find this book pretty boring. I made it about three chapters in, and it was all basically "women knit a lot: here are some primary sources saying they knit a lot." I guess I was expecting more commentary or analysis, but it just wasn't there. ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reads like a textbook - but much more interesting than anything I've had to read for school!
Lots of wonderful insight to this beloved craft. Great photos!
Sheryl Small
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent history of Knitting in America. This is a book I love to read and read again.
Sayraphim Lothian
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading about the history of knitting in America, especially the social aspect of it, from simple knitting circles to the war effort.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting information, but I was kind of hoping for a better spun yarn.
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very detailed and enjoyable volume on the history of knitting in the US. I learned so much and found the use of knitting as a lens through which to view US history was fascinating. So many stories to tell by way of the material artifacts (knit wear and patterns) and discourse (other written materials) across the eras.
Feb 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
History and Knitting Meet

An in depth and very well researched history on American knitting. As an avid knitter and part-time historian, this was a fun, interesting book. Don't skip the chapter notes, as there are many more sources listed there!
May 21, 2013 rated it liked it
"No Idle Hands" is not a book for the casual reader. This is a serious, scholarly work on a rather narrow topic - the social history of knitting in America. If you are interested in knitting and its place in the cultural development of the U.S., or if you want to understand American society through the lens of this particular craft, then this is the book for you.

Anne Macdonald's book is densely packed with minutiae that you will find nowhere else. She has scoured the written historical record an
Nov 27, 2012 marked it as to-read
I like to vary my reading with so random topics as well as not so random.
I love knitting, it is a my go to relaxation and concentration exercise when the world starts to get me down.
Everyone should try it because it is useful too, I mean everyone needs socks, hats and sweaters (well, maybe not the sweaters in the humid tropics). So when this book popped up in my recommended reading, I decided to give it a try and it is a bit dry yet still satisfying with its glimpses of other women finding nirv
Feb 04, 2008 rated it liked it
This was pretty good, and while academic, an easy, quick read (that is, when I read it--I couldn't read more than a chapter or so at a time, before I got tired of reading the word "knitting"). The chapters about the Civil War and WWI are particularly good. But after 1960, it gets pretty dull and unfocused; I wonder if the author lost steam or interest?

I would have liked to see more examination of why knitting went in and out of fashion, rather than just noting that it did; more conclusions drawn
Jan 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Knitters, Historians
Shelves: art-craft
First, I both ordered and borrowed this audio from my local library. I thought it would be a great idea to knit, and listen to the history of knitting, and indeed it was a good idea. The library got it in Playaway, which is a dedicated mp3 player. Unfortunately, it is buggy, and I had many problems keeping it playing and getting back to the point that I stopped listening. This kind of put a kink in the enjoyment.

This is a historical book, and while the author makes every effort to make it inter
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