Famous Illustrators’ Depictions of Knitting Ranked in Order of Competency
Two years ago I wrote a piece called The Scourge of Upside Down Knitting in which I raged unto the heavens against picture books where the artists put little work into bothering to figure out if knitting needles should be held up or down. Well, it’s time for me to apologize to those illustrators. If depicting knitting needles with the ends to the sky is irresistible to you, you’re in good company. Seems that every picture book illustrator of the past put you on the wrong path early.
Today, we rank the great illustrators history and see how precisely they’ve chosen to portray knitters. As a refresher, here is how you hold knitting needles:
The method of holding them with the ends up is not unheard of, but it is rare. For example, I tried to find a Google Image of that particular style for the piece and failed utterly.
From Worst to Best: Knitting in Children’s Literature
To be fair, I know very little about the fibers of Truffula Trees. It is possible that one has to . . . um . . . Okay, I’m not entirely certain what the Onceler’s family is doing here. They appear to be stabbing the fibers in a downward manner with their needles, miraculously producing thneeds. This exact image isn’t exactly from the book (I think it’s wallpaper) but it’s an accurate depiction of what Seuss drew. Whatever floats your boats, guys. Just don’t call it knitting.
Et tu, Eastman? I was merrily reading Robert the Rose Horse when I saw this image. I may have to give Eastman points for the inherent humor of it, though. Knitting without digits. Think about it for a moment.
I’m with you, kitten. Shocked SHOCKED that the great Garth Williams failed to get this right.
No word on whether or not Moominmamma . . . oh, wait.
While I originally thought this image to be from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, clever commenter Anna pointed out that it was instead from Dancing Cats and Neglected Murderesses. She says, “The caption for that image is ‘Cat who has forgotten how to cast off knitting a muffler’.” Perhaps we can forgive the cat, then. Part of it its forgetfulness must have included how to hold the needles.
I think we may have a winner. Yes, it looks like it. Granted, she’s put the knitting down on her lap to whisper “Hush” to the bunny in the bed, but I think it very likely that the needles were held correctly before then. Shall we give it to him?
Okay. Enough with the deceased. Let’s see how some of our contemporary masters fare in this game.
Didn’t see that one coming.
YES!! And Pinkney for the win! The cat’s needles are down, I REPEAT! The cat’s needles are down!
Paul O. Zelinsky
Considering how much work Paul put into getting the spinning wheel right in Rumpelstiltskin, it’s little wonder he’d get the knitting right in Swamp Angel.
Cheating a bit here. This is from one of Sophie’s Missed Connections pieces and not from a children’s book, but it at least proves that if knitting ever does come up in one of her books, she’ll know what to do about it.
I suspect I would have had a small heart attack if it turned out that Ms. Brett didn’t know knitting. She has, after all, portrayed some of the greatest illustrations of stitching ever seen in a picture book.
Notable missing illustrators aren’t listed here simply because I couldn’t figure out if they ever depicted knitting in their books. Hence the lack of John Steptoe, Maurice Sendak, Trina Schart Hyman, Grace Lin, Tomie de Paola, Yuyi Morales, and others. If you’ve inside knowledge on the matter, have at it. Other contemporary illustrators like Lauren Castillo or Jon Klassen can be found on the previous piece about knitting books in 2014.
Have a favorite I didn’t include? Let me know!
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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