A Conversation with Adrienne Martini, Author of Sweater Quest
Where did the idea for Sweater Quest come from?
Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia was the seed that Sweater Quest grew from. I knew I wanted to write about knitting and how the craft can change your life but didn’t have a hook for the idea until I read Powell’s book. One morning in the shower, I had a revelation: Alice Starmore is one of the Julia Childs of the fiber universe. And like Powell, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet the icon of my affection at the end of the book. The circumstances were different, however.
Who is Alice Starmore?
Starmore is a Scottish knitwear designer who is known in knitting circles for her cabled and Fair Isle designs. She’s also known for being touchy about how her designs are used, which I talk about in Sweater Quest. Starmore has developed a less-than-shiny reputation in the same knitting circles that laud her designs.
For Sweater Quest, I chose to tackle Mary Tudor, which is a Fair Isle (or colorwork) design that used repeated motifs of crowns, fleur de lis, and Tudor roses. The yarn for these sweaters is very thin; the needles are very small. Some knitters can take years to complete one of Starmore’s designs. Others churn them out monthly. I gave myself a year, because that seems to be how long all of the cool writers were giving themselves to complete their quests.
Are there patterns in Sweater Quest?
Sweater Quest isn’t a how-to book but a why-to book. There are no patterns and no instructions. What is in Sweater Quest is the story of one woman’s journey into black-market books, intercontinental trade, and endless work in order to make a sweater. Along the way, this knitter looks for help from some of the loudest voices in the field like Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (the Yarn Harlot), Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner (Mason-Dixon Knitting), and Cyndi Lee (Om Yoga.)
Do you have to be a knitter to enjoy reading Sweater Quest?
While the quest is full of yarn and needles, the book is also about human obsessions and the value of handcrafts. It is a story about people who happen to knit, rather than about knitters.
Did you ever finish the hat your daughter asked for?
I did shortly before the winter of 2009. Despite knitting it from a pattern she picked out and in a yarn she loved, my daughter wore the hat once then refused to ever wear it again. From now on, she gets store-bought hats.
Where is your Mary Tudor now?
For about a year, my Mary Tudor lived on a shelf in the top of my closet tucked inside a bag from the liquor store. I do bring her to book-related events so that readers can try her on. Right now, I’m pondering three options for what to do with a sweater that doesn’t fit:
1) frame it and hang it on a wall
2) auction it off for Knitters Without Borders
3) put it in the attic for my daughter to wear when she is older
Note that none of my plans involve reknitting it so that it does fit. Down that path lies madness.