Monday, January 6, 2020

This Golden Fleece - Esther Rutter

I spent a long time reading this book, my copy is now in a state that reflects that, and this write up feels long overdue. There was no particular reason it took so long to read - I just kept letting myself be distracted by fiction, but it’s a good book to read at a contemplative pace, a chapter at a time between other projects and around my own knitting.

‘This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History’ is a timely book. Knitting and spinning isn’t an exclusively female occupation, but it is predominantly a female one and as such it sometimes feels that it’s cultural importance is dismissed. This book is one of a slowly growing library that’s changing that.

Rutter is an engaging guide with a deep enthusiasm for her subject and a willingness to try all sorts of  fibre based projects. Her history of knitting in Britain is interspersed with her own experiments in knitting and explorations of the wider culture around how garments were worn or used.

If the book has a weakness it’s that each chapter easily deserves a book of its own so the history can sometimes feel rushed and superficial. I found this particularly in the chapter on Shetland because it’s a history I’m reasonably familiar with and the gaps were more obvious to me. I really hope that Rutter carries on writing about textiles and expands on some of the material she has here, there’s still a lot of work to do. But meanwhile this is a sound overview/introduction to the countries most significant knitting traditions.

In many ways the strongest chapter is on the political nature of creating. Knitting communities like Ravelry seem to be becoming increasingly politicised, and this time last year a row about racism in knitting was blowing up (it’s still blowing, and I think will continue to do so for sometime yet. There’s a lot of things that need to be challenged and addressed). There are issues about what design and creativity, especially women’s creativity, is worth. For those of us who think about it there are decisions about who or where we buy our yarn from, and why.

Rutter’s making clearly does have a political edge to it (I’m wary of the idea that all making is in some way a political act as I have sometimes seen claimed) and she’s really compelling on the topic. Her final chapter on knitting for gifts is another one where she really comes into her own on the meaning of the things we make for ourselves and others.

Over all a really good book with a lot to recommend it. Knitters will definitely find it interesting, but there’s so much here that it should offer something to anyone interested in British history, culture, and craft.


  1. Yours is the first decidedly positive response to the book. A friend, who is a maker of all things with yarn and has been for more than 60 years, described it as 'someone who has discovered the delights of making but has not yet concentrated on one aspect of it'. I will re-consider reading it later this year, perhaps.

    I was disappointed with two books on needlework/fabrics last year and am reluctant to spend money on more ill-advised writing.

  2. Your friends comment is fair, a note experienced maker may not be particularly interested in the authors own adventures in craft and there’s is a lot of Rutter in the book. It’s probably also a question of expectation as well, if you come at it expecting history and her personal thoughts on what she’s doing that’s exactly what you get, I’d have liked a little bit more depth in places, and hope that she continues to write about making. I didn’t always agree with the position she took on certain issues, but it did make me think about them, and I like that. Maybe one to get from the library?