Literary Knitters

Since I started this blog, way back in 2010, I've been collecting and posting monthly(ish) quotes from works of fiction, and non-fiction, containing knitters, sewers and other crafters. Most of them I've come across in my own reading, or theatre visits, but some have been sent to me by readers (thanks). Here they all are together.


Sarah sewed by the window. Elizabeth and Jane talked low, their heads close together by the fire; they were sewing too, wrapped in their dressing gowns and shawls, the firelight glowing through their hanging curls. 
It was Monday, the day before the ball. Sarah had a blister on the soft flesh between her index finger and her thumb, where the flat-irons had worn the skin away. whenever she closed her eyes, she saw minnow-dart of her needle through muslin, the drag of thread through the open weave.
Wickham, she heard, and Wickham and Wickham and Wickham. It sounded liked the clack of knitting needles.

Sarah in Longbourn by Jo Barker


They have a big gilded star at the Austin Friars, which they hang in their great hall on New Year's Eve. For a week it shines out, to welcome their guests at Epiphany. From Summer onwards, he [Thomas Cromwell] and Liz would be thinking of costumes for the Three Kings, coveting and hoarding scraps of any strange cloth they saw, any new trimmings; then from October, Liz would be sewing in secrecy, improving on last year's robes by patching them over with new shining panels, quilting a shoulder and weighting a hem, and building each year some fantastical new crowns.

Liz Cromwell in Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel


Many people believed that Lydgate's coming to the town at all was really due to Bulstrode; and Mrs. Taft, who was always counting stitches and gathered her information in misleading fragments caught between the rows of her knitting, had got it into her head that Mr. Lydgate was a natural son of Bulstrode's, a fact which seemed to justify her suspicions of evangelical laymen.

She one day communicated this piece of knowledge to Mrs. Farebrother, who did not fail to tell her son of it, observing—
"I should not be surprised at anything in Bulstrode, but I should be sorry to think it of Mr. Lydgate."
"Why, mother," said Mr. Farebrother, after an explosive laugh, "you know very well that Lydgate is of a good family in the North. He never heard of Bulstrode before he came here."
"That is satisfactory so far as Mr. Lydgate is concerned, Camden," said the old lady, with an air of precision.—"But as to Bulstrode—the report may be true of some other son."

Mrs Taff in Middlemarch by George Elliot


The sun went down in an ochreous mist; but they sat, and talked on, and grew as merry as the gods in Homer's heaven. Bathsheba still remained enthroned inside the window, and occupied herself in knitting, from which she sometimes looked up to view the fading scene outside. The slow twilight expanded and enveloped them completely before the signs of moving were shown.

Later in the book

"Liddy," she said, with a lighter heart, for youth and hope had begun to reassert themselves; … What shall I do to pass the heavy time away?"
"Hemming handkerchiefs is a very good thing," said Liddy.
"Oh no, no! I hate needlework—I always did."
"And that, too."
"You might finish your sampler. Only the carnations and peacocks want filling in; and then it could be framed and glazed, and hung beside your aunt's ma'am."
"Samplers are out of date—horribly countrified. No Liddy, I'll read. Bring up some books—not new ones. I haven't heart to read anything new."

Bathsheba Everdene in Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

MAY 2015

In a letter to her "young friend" John Eames about his proposed visit, Lady Julia De Guest writes;

'Go to Blackie's in Regent Street, and bring me down all the colours in wool that I ordered. I said you would call. And tell them at Dolland's the last spectacles don't suit at all, and I won't keep them ... So let me know when you're coming, and pray don't forget to call at Blackie's.'

Later in the book when John is down at his mother's home in the country, prior to visiting Lady Julia at the cottage, he thinks;

'It was at any rate incumbent upon him to call upon Lady Julia the next morning, because of his commission. The Berlin wool might remain in his portmanteau till his portmanteau should go with him to the cottage; but he would take the spectacles at once.'

Lady Julia De Guest in The last chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

APRIL 2015

'On this sixteenth day of May 1942, Mme Hermelin was wearing a new dress. It was made from an offcut of mattress ticking, long considered unsuitable for any other purpose, following the last renewal of her bedding. But after three years of war, in a moment of creative inspiration, it struck her that the blue and grey striped cotton was actually quite attractive, and with typical decisiveness she immediately had a dress made. The result was indeed strikingly novel, while suitably understated,  as became a lady of her standing.'

Mme Hermelin in Welcome to the Free Zone by Nathalie & Ladislas Gara, translated by Bill Reed


Bibot [one of the Captains guarding the gates out of Paris], during the day, had been on duty on the Place. He recognised most of the old hags, 'tricoteuses', as they were called, who sat there and knitted whilst head after head fell beneath the knife, and they themselves got quite bespattered with the blood of those cursed aristos. 
'Hè, le mére!' said Bibot to one of these horrible hags, 'what have you got there?'
He had seen her earlier in the day, with her knitting and the whip of her cart closed beside her. Now she had fastened a row of curly locks to the whip handle, all colours, from gold to silver, fair to dark, and she stroked them with her, huge bony fingers as she laughed at Bibot.
'I made friends with Madam Guillotine's lover', she said with a course laugh, 'he cut these off for me from the heads as they rolled down'.
Bibot lets her through the gates out of Paris when she tells him that her grandson is in her cart with suspected smallpox. Shortly afterwards a captain of the guard appeared suddenly.
'A cart ...' he shouted, breathlessly, even before he had reached the gates.
'What cart?' asked Bibot, roughly.'
Driven by an old hag ... A cart ... A covered cart ...'
'There were a dozen ...''
An old hag who said her son had the plague?'
'You have not let them go?'
'Morbleu!' said Bibot, whose purple cheeks had suddenly become white with fear.
'The cart contained the ci-devant Comtess de Tournay and her two children, all of them traitors and condemned to death.'
'And their driver?' muttered Bibot, as a superstitious shudder ran down his spine.
'Sacré tonnerre', said the captain, 'but it is feared that it was the accursed Englishman himself - the Scarlet Pimpernel.'

The Scarlet Pimpernel from Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel


"Jacques," returned Defarge, drawing himself up, "if madame my wife undertook to keep the register in her memory alone, she would not lose a word of it—not a syllable of it. Knitted, in her own stitches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as the sun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge."

Madam Defarge from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities

JULY 2014

'When I came down from the attic yesterday, I found that Rose and Topaz had dyed everything they could lay hands on, including the dishcloth and the roller towel. Once I had dipped my handkerchief into the big tin bath of green dye, I got fascinated too - it really makes one feel rather godlike to turn things a different colour. I did both my nightgowns and then we all did Topaz's sheets, which was such an undertaking that it exhausted our lust.'

Rose, Topaz and Cassandra in I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

JUNE 2014

'As a rule neither of us spoke a word. I took to knitting in desperation. The Butler - equally bored - used to sit outside the door reading detective novels'.

Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough

MAY 2014

During her convalescence (Jeannie's toe had recently been amputated) she knitted a scarf for Hugh Warrender, a young admirer who had once hoped to marry her and was now in the trenches. The scarf was so huge that he used it as a blanket. But this was mere kindness by Jeannie, for though she was fond of Warrender there was a new man on the horizon. As usual, he was much younger than her.

Lady Randolph Churchill

APRIL 2014

From where you are you can hear in the Cockle Row in the spring,
moonless night, Miss Price, dressmaker and sweetshop-keeper,
dream of

her lover, tall as the town clock tower, Samsonsyrup-gold-maned,
whacking thighed and piping hot, thunderbolt-bass'd and
barnacle-breasted, flailing up the cockles with his eyes
like blowlamps and scooping low over her lonely loving
hotwaterbottled body.

Myfanwy Price!

Mr Mog Edwards!

I am a draper made with love. I love you more than all the
flannelettet and calico, candlewick, dimity, crash and merino,
tussore, cretonne, crepon, muslin, poplin, ticking and twill
in the whole Cloth Hall of the world. I have come to take
you away to my Emporium on the hill, where the change hums
on wires. Throw away your little bedsocks and your Welsh
wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric
toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast.

I will knit you a wallet of forget-me-not blue, for the
money, to be comfy. I will warm your heart by the fire so
that you can slip it in under your vest when the shop is

Miss Myfanwy Price in Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas

MARCH 2014

And high above, in Salt Lake Farm, Mr Utah Watkins counts, 
all night, the wife-faced sheep as they leap the fences on
the hill, smiling and knitting and bleating just like Mrs Utah Watkins.

UTAH WATKINS (yawning)
Thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six, forty-eight, eighty-nine ...

Knit one slip one
Knit two together
Pass the slip stitch over.

Mrs Utah Watkins in Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas


As soon as Mrs. Roby had gathered up her knitting, and declared, as she always did on such occasions, that she could go round the corner without having any one to look after her

Mrs Roby in The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope


Said the Owl, "Too-whoo!" and with pussy he flew,
To visit the Calico Doves,
Who flapped in the air, while they knitted a pair
Of impeccable gossamer gloves,

Two gloves, two gloves,
Two impeccable gossamer gloves.
The Owl and the Pussy-cat showed the gloves
To the Pobble who had no toes,

And both of them fitted, so well were they knitted,
In stripes of magenta and rose.

The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat by Julia Donaldson


O, fellow, come, the song we had last night -
Mark it, Cersario, it is old and plain;
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun
And the free maids that weave their thread with bones
Do use it chant it, it is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love.
Like the old age.

Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night by William Shakespear 

MAY 2013

Kynaston's secretary, a plump, middle-aged woman, cheerfully efficient as a President of the Women's Institute, sat in her twin-set and tweeds, squashed in the corner with a bulging bag at her feet. Dalgiesh always expected her to take out her knitting.

Kynaston's secretary in A Taste for Death by P D James

MARCH 2013

It was no good worrying; he would go and make it up presently. She would be sitting out there in the dark, under the Japanese sunshade, knitting. A beautiful, warm night ....

Soames and Irene Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga: A Man of Property by John Galsworthy


"Do you hunt?"
"Do you shoot?"
"Shoot! What; with a gun?"
"Yes. I was staying in a house last week with a lady who shot a good deal."
"No; I don't shoot."
"Do you ride?"
"No; I wish I did. I have never ridden because I've no one to ride with me."
"Do you drive?"
"No; I don't drive either."
"Then what do you do?"
"I sit at home, and ..."
"Mend your stockings?"
"No; I don't do that, because it's disagreeable"

Mr Geoffrey Palliser and Miss Alice Vavasor in Can you forgive her? by Anthony Trollope

JANUARY 2013  

Marjorie Collier [played by the actress Tilly] was knitting now, waiting for Vince to phone her. The camera kept well away from the actual knitting. Tilly had no idea how to knit, so she did a lot of sighing and resting of the needles on her lap. She was pleased with how convincing it looked.

Majorie Collier in Started early, took my dog by Kate Atkinson


At the side of the table nearest to the window, with a little knitting-basket on her lab, and a weezing, blear-eyed old spaniel crouched at her feet, there sat an elderly women, wearing a black net cap and a black silk gown, and having slate-coloured mittens on her hands ... this was Mrs. Catherick.

Mrs. Catherick in The Women in White by Wilkie Collin


Kind Mrs. Vesey, whom we have all too much overlooked and forgotten of late, innocently caused us a sad morning to begin with. She has been, for months past, secretly making a warm Shetland shawl for her dear pupil - a most beautiful and surprising piece of work to be done by a women at her age and with her habits.

Mrs Vesey in The Women in White Wilkie Collin


LADY CAROLINE. I believe this is the first English country house you have stayed at, Miss Worsley?
HESTER. Yes, Lady Caroline.
LADY CAROLINE. You have no country houses, I am told, in America?
HESTER. We have not many.
LADY CAROLINE. Have you any country? What we should call country?
HESTER. [Smiling.] We have the largest country in the world, Lady Caroline. They used to tell us at school that some of our states are as big as France and England put together.
LADY CAROLINE. Ah! you must find it very draughty, I should fancy. [To SIR JOHN.] John, you should have your muffler. What is the use of my always knitting mufflers for you if you won't wear them?
SIR JOHN. I am quite warm, Caroline, I assure you. 

Lady Caroline in A Women of No Importance by Oscar Wilde

JULY 2012

'And she,' sais Mrs Smith, 'besides nursing me most admirably, has really proved an invaluable acquaintance. As soon as I could use my hands she taught me to knit, which has been a great amusement; and she put me in the way of making these little tread-cases, pincushions and card-racks, which you always find me so busy about ... She has a large acquaintance, of course professionally, among those who can afford to buy, and she disposes of my merchandise.'

Mrs Smith on Nurse Rooke in Persuasion by Jane Austen

JUNE 2012

Or knitting scarves, for the Angles at the front line. I can hardly believe the Angles have a need for such scarves; anyway, the ones made by the Commander's Wife are too elaborate. She doesn't bother with the cross-and-star pattern used by many of the other Wives, it's not a challenge. Fir trees march along the ends of her scarves, or eagles, or stiff humanoid figures, boy and girl, boy and girl. They aren't scarves for grown men but for children.
Sometimes I think these scarves aren't sent to the Angles at all, but unravelled and turned back into balls of yarn, to be knitted again in their turn. Maybe it's just something to keep the Wives busy, to give them a sense of purpose. But I envy the Commander's Wife her knitting. It's good to have small goals that can be easily attained.

Serena Joy in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

MAY 2012 

He was wearing his yellow jumper she had knitted him, 3 ply, took ages, especially as it must be knitted in secret for him.

Pauline Pike in Amenable Women by Mavis Cheek

APRIL 2012

The Pirate Captain in The Pirates! In an adventure with scientists - because he briefly gives up piracy to make baby clothes!

MARCH 2012

Two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on straw-bottomed chairs, knitting black wool. The slim one got up and walked straight at me -- still knitting with downcast eyes -- and only just as I began to think of getting out of her way, as you would for a somnambulist, stood still, and looked up.

Two women in The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad


Like a knitter drowsed,
whose fingers play in skilled unmindfulness
The Will has woven with an absent heed
Since life first was; and ever so will weave. 

Spirit of the Years by Thomas Hardy


'Me thought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more!
Macbeth doth Murder sleep" - the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care'

Macbeth in Macbeth by William Shakespeare


'My mother is very well, and finds great amusement in glove-knitting, and at present wants no other work' 

Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, February 1813


'I am to be converted to the joys of knitting,' said Mrs. Ali, smiling at the Major.
'My condolences,' he said.

Mrs Ali and Major Pettigrew in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson


'Au Revoir Alan, I shall look in, in a day or two and start you on a sock. There is nothing so soothing I understand as knitting. Isn't that so nurse?'
'Oh yes, yes indeed. A lot of my gentleman patients take to knitting, they find it whiles away the time very nicely.'

Marta Hallard in The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey


Joseph Sedley sat tete-a-tete with Rebecca, at the drawing-room table, where the latter was occupied in knitting a green silk purse … as he talked on, he grew bold, and actually had the audacity to ask Miss Rebecca for whom she was knitting the green silk purse? … “For any one who wants a purse,” replied Miss Rebecca, looking at him in the most gentle winning way.

Rebecca Sharp in Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray 


" 'Why do you have a cigarette lighter in your glove compartment?' her husband, Jack asked her. 'I'm bored with knitting. I've taken up arson,' Edie had replied. He'd let it drop."

Edwina Noblin Poole in Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

JULY 2011

"It was absurd, Chen thought, that politics could have so shaped a life. If she had married Lai, Guan would not have been so successful in her political life. She would not have been a national model worker, but an ordinary wife – knitting a sweater for her husband "

Guan Hongying in Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong 

JUNE 2011

"The girl seemed to like them both equally. They never saw her except in each other's company. And it was not until one day that Grace Forrester was knitting a sweater that there seemed to be a chance of getting a clue to her hidden feelings."

Grace Forrester in A Women is only a Women by P G Wodehouse

MAY 2011

At a rented house in Kaiserwald, a village just outside Riga, Evgenia spent much of the winter knitting sweaters, alone with her cat Tom.

Evgenia Shelepina in The Last Englishman. The Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers 

APRIL 2011

'No, I've merely been reading the muggle magazines, said Dumbledore, I do love knitting patterns'

Professor Dumbledoe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J K Rowling

MARCH 2011

Nanny sat on a camp stool with her crochet.

Nanny in A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh


The next morning I met Lady Glenmire and Miss Pole setting out on a long walk to find some old woman who was famous in the neighbourhood for her skill in knitting woollen stockings. 

An old woman in Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell 


There was Miss Pole, who had become as much absorbed in crochet as she had been once in knitting: and the burden of whose letter was something like, 'But don't you forget the white worsted at Flint's,' of the old song: for, at the end of every sentance of news, came a fresh direction as to some crochet commission which I was to execute for her.

Miss Pole in Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell


Therefore, when Sunday came, the mender of roads was not enchanted (though he said he was) to find that madame was to accompany monsieur and himself to Versailles. It was additionally disconcerting to have madame knitting all the way there, in a public conveyance; it was additionally disconcerting yet, to have madame in the crowd in the afternoon, still with her knitting in her hands as the crowd waited to see the carriage of the King and Queen.
'You work hard, madame,' said a man near her.
'Yes,' answered Madame Defarge; 'I have a good deal to do.'
'What do you make, madame?'
'Many things.'
'For instance-?'
'For instance,' returned Madame Defarge, composedly, 'shrouds.'

Madame Therese Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

JUNE 2010

"No peace for the wicked," said Mrs. Sen, knitting needles going for she was making a sweater for the prime minister out of sympathy for his troubles. Even in Delhi it gets cold ... especially in those drafty bungalows in which they house top government officials. But she was not an accomplished knitter. Very slow. Unlike her mother, who, in the course of watching a movie, could knit a whole baby blanket.

Mrs. Sen in The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

MAY 2010

Gloria regretted she wasn't a knitter, she could be producing handy garments while waiting for Graham to die. The tricoteuse of the ICU. Beryl, Graham's mother, had been a knitter, producing endless matinee sets when Emily and Ewan were babies - hats, jackets, mittens, bootees, leggings - threaded with fiddly ribbons and full of holes for tiny fingers to get caught in."

Gloria in One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

APRIL 2010

"She smiled as she put the letter back into its envelope. The wool for Derek's stockings was already wound, and half an inch of ribbing on the needles ... Miss Siver's needles clicked. Derek's socks revolved. She held her hands low, knitting with great rapidity in the continental manner.' 

Miss Silver in Latter End by Patricia Wentworth

MARCH 2010

"Oh, she liked the kind of things old ladies like; knitting, reading Sunday papers"

Mrs McGinty in Mrs McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie

(this quote comes from the ITV dramatisation and I can't find my copy to see if it is in the book too)