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Copy of 'Handywoman' by Kate Davies on a red table

Book Review – Handywoman by Kate Davies

Kate Davies is one of my favourite designers. To be fair, I haven’t knitted all that many sweaters, but Kate’s always fit really well and they’re so well designed.  I’ve got Miss Rachel’s Yoke on my to-do list, and I can’t wait – I’ll be doing that in handspun, so it’ll be quite a fun project.

I was hoping to get Handywoman for Christmas, but I realised, too late, that I hadn’t actually told anyone. So, after Christmas, I hopped on to the internet and went to Ysolda to buy it. Ysolda is also one of my favourite designers. The ‘books and magazines’ section of her shop makes my heart sing. (You can buy it direct from Kate, but I wanted a Clara Parks book too.)

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started Kate’s book, but one of the things that struck me immediately was her voice. She writes with such steadiness and thoughtfulness, no word wasted, and yet her writing is full of emotion. It takes real skill to write like this, when the rhythm of the words lends the act of reading as much joy as the subject matter.  Reading it felt like a satisfying conversation with a good friend.

As the cover points out, this is not a book about Kate’s triumph over adversity. Each chapter talks about her stroke and subsequent and ongoing recovery from a different perspective, rather than chronologically. You can read it from start to finish or dip in and out, reading the chapters according to what interests you. She talks mainly about how differently things appear to her post-stroke, from the way that people react to her as a disabled person to her wonder and appreciation of how complex and wonderful are our brains and bodies.

She conveys this wonder and appreciation to the reader so brilliantly; when she talked about the complexity of actions such as picking up a mug or brushing one’s hair, I found myself suddenly studying the myriad tiny operations that go into these actions and feeling delight and amazement at my own extraordinary abilities. When she talks about interdependence, she reveals our intertwining relationships with the people and objects around us as a wonderful resource of support, solace and human connection. Each chapter is a gem, but there are two in particular that I loved.

Da Allover

The first, Da Allover, is about Kate’s relationship with Shetland. She talks about the landscape, the history and heritage, the skill and passion of the people she met with such emotion that it made me cry. I immediately began planning my first trip to Shetland AND an allover Fairisle sweater AND a new range of fibres using Shetland wool, which I already love and use a lot.  If this chapter does not give the reader an appreciation for the cultural and social importance of wool and wool craft, I don’t know what will.

Design for All

The second chapter that really grabbed my heart was Design for All.  I’ve often looked at the world around me and wondered why it is largely designed without thought for people with different physical abilities.  In this chapter, she talks about the history of Swedish inclusive design and lays out the case for it with such clarity that I suddenly found myself freshly shocked and amazed at how and why people are excluded from society, and in so many ways that I hadn’t even considered.  Again, she inspired me to start thinking more about the things I can do to be more inclusive and thoughtful in the way that I work and live.

I could wax lyrical about this book for hours, but as far as a review goes, I think this is one of the most enjoyable, thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long, long time.  I know I’m going to dip back in and out of it regularly, to reread the passages that gave me insights, inspired me to do or be more, or made me feel deep joy in humanity and creation.  It’s a tour de force. Thank you, Kate.

 

 

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