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What Else Would Madame Defarge Knit? - book review

Updated on April 19, 2013
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What Else Would Madame Defarge Knit?, edited by Heather Ordover and published by Cooperative Press, is the second of a unique series of knitting pattern books. All the pattern designers are fans of some work of classic literature. Here they have the opportunity to present patterns for clothing that might be worn by a favorite character, or some other item that relates to a favorite story.

What other knitting pattern book has its purchasers Tweeting that they started READING it right away? That's what makes this book unparalleled in the world of knitting. I sat down and read the essays cover to cover while letting my subconscious mull over which patterns I might want to knit. And you don't have to want to knit a particular pattern in order to enjoy the essay that goes with it.

Here's an example of the illustrations in this book. First, a drawing of the pattern introduces the essay. The artist, Shannon Sneedse, imagines the item in the context of the story—in this case, worn by Ahab in Moby Dick. Then, with the pattern, you can see a photograph of the finished item.

Inspiration to sweater: Moby Dick

Ahab hunts the white whale in his Aran Gansey.
Ahab hunts the white whale in his Aran Gansey. | Source
Waves and anchor cables reflect the whaling life.
Waves and anchor cables reflect the whaling life. | Source

Classic lit with the latest tech

What Else Would Madame Defarge Knit? [link to the Ravelry page] is available in both print and electronic formats (like all books from Cooperative Press). If you purchase it in print, you can get the PDF as well—but if you want to save some money, you can get the PDF only and put it on your Kindle, Nook, or smartphone, to keep it handy for knitting.

The PDF includes fully interactive navigation, including a Table of Contents with live links, a Pattern Index with live links, and a button on every page that returns you to the Table of Contents. Plus links to web pages for the recommended yarns, the Ravelry page for each pattern, YouTube videos for unusual techniques, and more.

The book is organized into three sections, with an introduction by Ordover for each.

  1. "Children Will Listen" contains patterns based on children's classics.
  2. "Ladies Glow" patterns are all inspired by strong heroines like Anne of Green Gables, Penelope of the Odyssey, and Jane Bennet.
  3. "Slip into the Dark Side" brings in the tragic, the evil, and the banned.

Each designer wrote their own essay to explain the inspiration for their pattern. That leads to quite a variation in length, and somewhat in quality. But if you were worried that these might be scholarly, dry dissertations, fear not! The essays are generally about why the designers found the works they chose interesting enough to base patterns on them. They're personal, and personable. Designer/essayists include Laura Ricketts, AnneLena Mattison, Meg Warren, Kate Atherley, Sheila January, Hunter Hammersen, Wendy McDonnell, and more.

The book contains 27 knitting patterns and one weaving pattern. The first book included some crochet, and future volumes may as well.

Another interesting tidbit about this series is that the designers are all being paid in royalties on the sale of the books—a real innovation in the knitting world, where designers have tended to be underpaid for their work. Other publishers are starting to follow Ordover's lead in this.


Types of patterns

Some types of projects you can knit from this book:

  • Sweaters
  • Shawls
  • Socks
  • Baby gifts
  • Hats
  • A cowl
  • Mittens
  • Bags
  • A WOVEN pillow cover
  • And even a lace hankie.

Books represented

Some of the classic works represented in this collection are:

  • Little Women
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • The Secret Garden
  • Ivanhoe
  • War and Peace
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • Agatha Christie's Miss Marple mysteries
  • Rosemary's Baby

"The Land of Counterpane" Blanket

designed by Erica Hernandez; drawing by Shannon Sneedse
designed by Erica Hernandez; drawing by Shannon Sneedse | Source

Madame Defarge and the series she inspired

Who is Madame Defarge? She's the infamous antagonist from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. She was always knitting... and it turned out she was coding names of enemies of the French Revolution into her knitting, so she could denounce them later.

Dickens didn't supply any details about what Defarge was knitting or exactly HOW she coded in those names. Heather Ordover wondered about this while she covered A Tale of Two Cities in her podcast, CraftLit... which led to the idea for the first book. Ordover designed Madame Defarge's Stole for that book and recruited 20 other designs, including the popular Jane's Ubiquitous Shawl (because Jane Eyre ALWAYS had her shawl).

In case you are wondering, this second book has no projects relating to A Tale of Two Cities... it's just that the Madame seems to be quite well-read.

Future volumes of this series, still in the works, include Defarge 3, Defarge Does Chaucer, a Sherlock Holmes volume, and Defarge Does Shakespeare. There were promotional goodies like extra patterns for those who pre-ordered book 2, and rumor has it the same kind of fun will ensue for future volumes, so it would be a good idea to join the mailing list to be notified of availability.

Volume 1 is also available:

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    • faythef profile image

      Faythe F. 4 years ago from USA

      It sounds like an interesting book and I do love to knit..voting up

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