02/07/2007

A Stitch in Time (by Elsie Newman)

This book is a biographical account of a British woman called Christine. Her story starts in the late 1980s when she wants to help people in Romania, after seeing an Anneka Rice programme about their plight. However she is convinced she has no skills or abilities that would be of any use.

To her surprise, she discovers that her unusual hobby of machine knitting is a skill that's much needed in Eastern Europe. So - after research, and appeals, and discussion - she boards a plane to find out what she can do in practical terms, and to get to know some of the local people.

This is the start of a ministry that lasts over ten years, as more and more people want to learn to use knitting machines, to support their families, or to barter. Since machine knitting is done sitting down, it can be done by people with some handicaps so is an ideal trade for many who would otherwise starve in some Eastern European countries.

'A Stitch in Time' is an interesting and unusual story, written 'as told' to Elsie Newman, so it's a mixture of anecdotes, facts and opinions. This sometimes makes for a rather stilted story, with a large number of people involved in many countries; Christine obviously remembers them all with fondness, but in a short book it can be confusing, and I sometimes found myself losing track of who she was dealing with.

The stories have similarities, too: Christine hears of a need, raises money, sends machines and yarn to the relevant place, meets some locals - often through a translator - and teaches them the basics of machine knitting. There are setbacks in some places, difficulties to surmount, dangers to work through... but it was hard to feel more than a passing interest since the chapters are short, and most of the characters not really very well developed.

It's written from a Christian perspective but without any 'preaching', and only the occasional mention of a church or of people praying for Christine and her work. Recommended for anyone interested in machine knitting, or in seeing how an unusual skill can be used well to teach and encourage people who are struggling in many ways.

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