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I must have had sixty people tell me I’d better get a copy of Faerie Knitting: 14 Tales of Love and Magic, the new collaboration between cousins Alice Hoffman (the writer) and Lisa Hoffman (the designer).

Knitting, they said. Fairy stories, they said. It’s perfect for you, they said.

This is a fair assumption, given that I am an elf-sized person whose publicly aired passions include sewing for my sisterhood of antique dolls, and acting as majordomo to a dollhouse inhabited by an Edwardian fox and hound.

From the outside I look whimsical as all hell.

The truth is, I have a lower tolerance for twinkly woodland fantasy than you might expect. Much of what is churned out in this vein is at best, twee; and at worst, dreck.

Frankly, and I speak as a writer who has tried and failed, writing successful fairy tales in the Brothers Grimm mode is tough. They need to be spare, but rich. Complex, but concise. Particular, yet universal.

And even a decent storyteller usually stumbles over the tone. There is a tendency to pile on cheap filigree and tonnes of ye phonye olde tyme dyalogue. By the fourth “prithee” or “alack” or “gallant sir” or “through this forest have I wandered many a day” I will have stopped reading and dialed up an episode of Bob’s Burgers.

Faerie Knitting is a beautiful book, lavish. Simon & Schuster have gone all out. There’s gilt on the cover, and full-color interior with decorative borders and photographs retouched just enough to make them recall the works of great fairy tale illustrators like Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham.

Is it any good, though?

Yarns Full of Yarns

It really is.

Alice Hoffman, the author of Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic, knows her way around spells and enchantments. But those were modern novels. Their tone, though romantic, is contemporary.

Faerie Knitting inhabits the timeless, nameless country we expect from traditional tales, and with the expected furniture (lakes, forests, villages, cottages, chatty animals). But there are no retellings—all the stories are new.

The language nods to good English translations of Grimm and Perrault. From “Seventh Sister”:

She might have frozen that first night, and perhaps her sisters wished she had, but the white moths that lived in the woods covered her and kept her warm. For all those enchanted years that she slept, the moths whispered to her in her dreams. Remember who you are, the Seventh Sister, the one who is loved best of all.

Hoffman doesn’t overdo it, though, with the deliberate archaism. Her heroines (the protagonists of Faerie Knitting are all women and girls) solve problems, fight enemies, and find love without resorting to even one hey nonny nonny.

Beyond that, and better still, the stories tap into perennial fears and hopes that also feel extremely timely. Sibling rivalry, mixed parentage, bereavement, xenophobia, sisterhood, infidelity, self-determination, abandonment—these women are concerned with far more than the arrival of a prince. In fact, pleasantly, no prince is ever asked for, and none ever arrives.

Three Wishes Mittens.

As in the best old tales, the deeper themes dwell just below the surface. If you look for them, you’ll find them. If you need them, they’ll touch you. If not, they’re just well-spun yarns to be enjoyed in the telling. So yes, you can read them to a child—they’re short enough not to try a juvenile attention span.

This is a book for knitters, so every story does include needles, wool, knitting, spinning, and so forth. All are woven in (you should pardon the expression) so prettily that they never disturb the narrative. The textile arts, in Hoffman’s world, are natural and necessary aspects of magical tales. They haven’t been shoved in afterwards to pander to the reader.

Into the Hoods

Now, the patterns.

Alice Hoffman’s fourteen stories are paired one for one with Lisa Hoffman’s fourteen designs—mostly for accessories, but including one pullover vest (Brokenhearted) and one baby blanket (Thorn).

Like the stories, the patterns are a balancing act. How do you evoke a fairy tale in cables or lace without creating a piece of work that’s fine for an enchanted glade but way too much for the grocery store?

Hoffman’s strategy is, in part, to go rustic. Almost all the stories are set in, or include, the natural landscape. The colors and yarns she selects evoke wood and garden—mostly muted, but not drab.

Some projects, like the Three Wishes Mittens, are near-literal recreations of an element of the story; though the crystals of the story are wisely replaced with iridescent buttons.

Three Wishes Mittens.

Nothing derails a piece of design quite like too much fidelity to source material, and the designs in Faerie Knitting never make that mistake.

Love Never Ending Cowl.

Instead, structures or motifs cleverly echo the storytelling. In Love Never Ending, a woman is advised by a wise witch that in order to break a spell, she must begin to knit an infinite circle. Hoffman interprets this circle as a cowl (not an unexpected choice) and throws its central lace motif off kilter by working it on the bias.

The effect is beautifully disorienting enough to make what could been pedestrian quite dramatic.

It’s a fine book, Faerie Knitting. This is one that will sit near my knitting and reading chair for quite some time. Yea, verily.

Featured image: the Thorn Blanket.

About The Author

Franklin Habit has been sharing his brainy and hilarious writing and illustrations with the knitting world since 2005.


  • Hmmmm…sounds like I’m going shopping today. Love good book reviews, and this sounds great!

  • There was a great Audible deal on this book and I bought it. It came with the patterns, which are lovely! I haven’t started listening yet, but from your description, I may have to put the hard copy on my Christmas list!

  • I preordered this, which I never ever do, because I love Alice’s contemporary novels. I am very picky about contemporary fiction and tend to avoid the genre as I get older because I am so often disappointed but Alice’s work captivates me. Your review almost perfectly echoed my thoughts on this book. I tend to be a heavy library user, even for knitting books and pretty much always for novels, and am honestly glad I bought this one. This book reminds me in some ways of Tudor Roses – it is an immersive experience as much as a knitting book and one that can be revisited over and over.

  • I got this book as a gift and am really pleased. I tested the first story on my grandchildren and they loved it and are now in need of amulets. The stories remind me more of the tone of Hans Christian Andersen, rather than Grimm’s or perhaps a blending of the two.

  • Don’t consider myself a whimsical type of person/knitter, but as usual, Franklin has piqued my interest!

  • A birthday present from my darling daughter ❤️

  • Really enjoyed reading your review. So well written. I look forward to them. The Faerie Knitting book is beautiful and I love the stories, plus the patterns are ones that are achievable.

  • I always enjoy your reviews…they cover all the bases. And you’ve never steered me wrong.

  • This is a marvelous review – thank you, Franklin!

  • thank you for the book review—entertaining and informative. went right to library and got the book.

  • Magickal timing, this! A neighbor gifted me an autographed copy and matching stitch markers last night. I look forward to having time to do more than leaf through this beautifully-produced addition to my knitting library.

  • Oh, Franklin, how I love your sardonic, and apt, wit. You articulate exactly what lurks in my head. Thank you. And (sigh) because of you, I guess I will have to buy this book.

  • Mr. Habit, your reviews always leave a smile on my face. Well done Sir.

  • Walking through the book store when this book called my name! Bought it, immediately started mittens. Then went to hear them speak. They brought all the examples that were knit and photographed for the book! I got to actually feel and hold them. So amazing.

  • Franklin, You’re brilliant, as usual.
    If this book as entertaining as your writing, it may be a winner.

  • Thanks for reviewing this beautiful book. I immediately sent for the hard copy and it is as lovely as you say. Perfect blend of stories and pattern ideas. I was brought to tears by several of the tales. I could imagine reading these to children, too. Very inspirational. Love it!

  • Can i buy a copy through MDK?

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