Creating colossal challenges for oneself appears to be a firmly ingrained part of the human psyche, whether it’s Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reaching the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953 or Julie Powell cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking in 2002. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that writer Adrienne Martini decided to knit an impossibly complicated sweater as a way of taking charge of her life.
As a wife and working mother of two, Martini often felt as if she were being pulled in a hundred different directions and seldom of her own choosing. Knitting, which she took up seriously after the birth of her first baby in 2002, grounded her. As she writes in her new memoir, Sweater Quest, “Making stuff with my very own hands has enriched my life in innumerable ways. Both kids and craft have taught me how to deal with frustration so acute that I’d want to bite the head off a kitten. Both are great courses in expectation management. Both have given more than they’ve taken—and introduced me to a community that I otherwise never would have known.”
But with a closet full of the hats, scarves and gloves she had knitted since the birth of her first baby, Martini wanted a challenge that would truly push her to her limits. She found it in the Fair Isle sweater pattern “Mary Tudor,” designed by Alice Starmore. Undaunted by the fact that the pattern was in an out-of-print book in a discontinued yarn, she embarked upon her “sweater quest” two years ago. Her adventure brought her into contact with knitters from all over the world (knitters are an interesting breed of folk) and, of course, helped her discover a few things about herself in the process.
Which is why Sweater Quest is not just a book about knitting, although readers certainly learn a great deal of the history of the craft in its pages. It’s a reminder that the human race loves a challenge—indeed, thrives on the quest—to be able to say with pride, “I did this.”