Monthly Archives: June 2008

Book Review: More Big Girl Knits

Here we are folks, my third of four spring spring/summer knitting book reviews. I have been meaning to complete this mostly-done review for quite some time, and time got away from me. May got sucked up with defense prep/recovery, then I’ve spent June avoiding things requiring Thinking Thoughts, and there you have it. But I’m finding myself ready to re-join the world of people who Think Thoughts, and that means the book reviews can return.

This one’s been out since the beginning of April, and I know many of you out there are already loving it to pieces, and you should keep on loving it to pieces if that’s the case for you. But I’ll be honest with you – I’m having trouble falling deeply in love with More Big Girl Knits. After looking at it for a few weeks and showing it to a few knitting friends, I did a lot of hemming and hawing over what to write in this review. There are some things that I do quite like, but overall this book leaves me wanting more. So, I enlisted a co-reviewer this time.

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For this review I recruited the help of my knitting friend Steph, who is of the ‘big girl’ demographic (well, she said I could refer to her as “resident fat girl knitter”, but I went in a different direction there). Because as much as I feel confident reviewing books, I know that I’m not in the XL and up category, so it felt good to have some support on this one. (As per usual, my photographs here are lo-tech photographs from the book itself, so I apologize for any mediocre quality.)

If you’re familiar with Big Girl Knits, there will be a lot of familiar things for you in More Big Girl Knits – more of the same “boob, butt, and belly” discussion, more patterns, more of the same kind of discussion about knitting to fit and flatter. The book is divided into an opening couple of chapters on this kind of chatter, a chapter for making your own “sweater worksheet”, and then the patterns themselves.

When Steph and I each looked at this we found our opinions overlapped quite a bit. I’ll start with the things we liked. The strengths of this book are in the patterns which create drape, attractive shaping, and classic style. Many of these are also patterns which I’ve seen popping up in my Ravelry friends queues for the last little while, so clearly many of you are in agreement as well. This Susie hoodie? Gorgeous.

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This is a versatile hoodie jacket (which we are both considering making – yes, sometimes even non-big girls do math too) with beautiful cable accent. The cables along the edges work well decoratively and also won’t scare off anyone who’s new to cables, and the worsted/aran weight gauge will also lend you a bit more speed than DK or sport weight would. It also comes with a great deal of shaping, over the hips to a defined waistline. Proportion that out with the hood on top and we’re good to go.

The Susie hoodie is right next to the ‘Bountiful Bohus’ cardigan which is just darned beautiful in Cascade 200 heathers:

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I’d knit that any day of the week, and so would many of my knitting friends. Comfortable, nice bit of flattering colour-work, and upping the challenge with a bit of knitting skills. The ‘No Gap Wrap’ (below) is also a winner. The v-neck is a flattering style and the faux-wrap line creates some shape and styling without too much difficulty. This would be a good pattern for knitters of any skill level.

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Steph registered her confusion over the emphasis on sock patterns in the later part of the book, since she finds that sock patterns are the ones that still fit her regardless of size. (Also, we are confused at the application of the “boob, belly, and butt” labels to the sock patterns…any socks that enhance those parts of your body must be hard working socks indeed…) Still, some are quite nice, including these trellis diamond ones which both Steph and I would knit:

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They’re attractive and a little stretchy because of the lace, and also come in two separate sizes. I like the bright colour, shown here with Lorna’s Laces which is one of my favourite sock yarns. On the other hand, there is another pair of socks in here that Steph and I were not so charitable with. We don’t understand these:

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The sock part itself is lovely, is sized 3 ways and uses cushy soft Fleece Artist merino. But we’re baffled by the small bandana-like tag on top. In such a contrasting colour it seems like something that could cut your leg at a bad angle, depending on the shape of your calf, and we don’t understand how this is a flattering look for any ‘girl’, big or no.

To get right down to it, the selection of patterns is versatile and set at a variety of skill levels, and should please most readers. We’d be surprised if there was nothing in this book that you wanted to knit. There are a lot of good tips in the opening chapters, and we think any knitter can benefit from reminders about ease, proper measurement, and flattering fit. Chapter 4 has a worksheet to construct a ‘plain vanilla’ sweater pattern in aran-weight yarn to help you customize one that fights right for you, and that would be a solid piece of knitting for any wardrobe (although we wonder why it only uses 4 sizes instead of the 5-6 sizes many of the patterns in the book use).

However, it’s these opening pages that caused both me and Steph some ambivalence. They present so many different ‘rules’ for plus size knitting that it made us uncertain which to hold on to first. And, more significantly, the challenge with a book that paints so many broad-stroke themes for ‘big girls’ is that there will always be exceptions to the rules. One such rule is to create vertical lines, never horizontal. Some of the patterns in the book accomplish this well, but other times we were confused, such as with this cardigan:

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We can understand the attempt at creating vertical lines, but the self-striping effect of the Noro Silk Garden seems to cancel that out with many more horizontals in many different colours. Perhaps fit is a problem with the size of this sample here, since the shoulders seem to be falling off of the model. I was very surprised to look more closely at the schematic and discover that this sweater does include waist shaping, because the photographs here don’t reveal this shapeliness at all. This model is beautiful and looks fantastic in so many of the other pieces, but here the shape of her body is hidden by a mishmash of brightly coloured lines running in different directions.

Another truism that the opening chapters rely on is that colour should be used carefully, to contrast and to showcase parts of your body that you want noticed. Cables and texture are treated similarly, with warnings over not to create volume and bulk, but to visually lighten and create lines. As a result, we’re not entirely sure what to do with this pattern:

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On the one hand, I sort of like the open neckline and the friendly tone of the bright green. But it’s a lot of bright green, on a jacket with no defined shape. Then Steph saw all the bobbles and her mind was made up. Then we checked the yardage – even in the smallest size this piece is going to knit up with a minimum of 3,000 yards of wool (almost 50% more than the figure flattering Susie hoodie, for example – or the ‘Hot Cocoa’ jacket, pictured below, which is a beautifully textured piece that is intended to flatter the same kind of body as this Peapod Aran). We believe that the Peapod Aran would be a comfortable piece, but find it hard to believe the wearer will feel flattered or visually lightened while carrying around that over 3 kilometres of wool.

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Our ambivalence with this book comes largely from these opening chapters and their somewhat scattered feel. There are a lot of valid tips in here and they have clearly been assembled with the best of intentions. However, looking back at this book, there is a lack of unifying theme or organization overall, other than ‘more for big girls’. There are so many lists, and so many subsections of tips and tricks, and so many provisos about choosing what works for you if the rules don’t work, that it’s hard to know what to grasp onto first. Do plus size knitters need more knitting patterns? Absolutely. But there are some missed opportunities here.

What about showing us the same piece on several different women, who are differently proportioned? Show us a woman with small hips, big bust, and round shoulders, and support her with some sample worksheet measurements and patterns. How about a woman with tiny shoulders, large bust, and an undefined waist? Will all the ‘boob’ patterns fit the same on her? Steph closed the book and said “I want to see someone who’s a circle”, and that made me stop and think, too.

At the end of the day, we want a knitting vision that promises something more for big girls than overly-fun notes about ‘woo woo’ shawls and ‘motif mania’ and ‘combo platters’, and conflicting messages about loving your body but hiding the parts you don’t love. Rather than a sidebar on how to work with a ‘combo platter’ of more than one ‘B’ (boob, butt, belly) that stands out (and also, how is it helping anyone to compare women’s bodies to food?), what about devoting some attention to real shapes which quite literally embody the issues that ‘big girl’ knitters are working with? There is a chance here to get into real details about body types and body shapes, over and above single-body-part generalizations. Talk to us about whole bodies and not just the ‘Bs’, about why the same rectangular sweater hem can look horrible on one ‘big girl’ and incredible on the ‘big girl’ next to her.

There are many beautiful patterns in this book and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the FOs pop up out there on Ravelry, the blogosphere, and in person. I’ve seen some Susie hoodies out walking around in Toronto, and they are stunning. As a thank you for helping me look at this book, I’m passing on my copy of More Big Girl Knits to Steph, who I know has her eye on a few of the patterns already and has probably been waiting for me to finish typing up the review already. Thank you, Steph!

The fourth and final book I have for review is Tweed, which I’ll aim to look at some time before the end of time. Until then, I have plenty of summer knitting to keep me busy. Hopefully I’ll get enough done to report on that in my next posts.

Happy knitting!

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Keeping it Simple

Back when I was Miss Beatrice‘s roomie for several months, I did a bit of kitty knitting. After a bit of practice I discovered that any bit of snugly knit stockinette wool, folded over and stuffed with yarn scraps and catnip, pretty much did the trick. And then there is also that Log Cabin Blanket that took much of my knitting sanity, which is still over in Beez’s house since Someone likes to nap on it and I’m not yet desperate to have it back.

But Miss B also had a long bit of rope that she liked to chase after, which she promptly made disappear some time after I arrived, so I fixed that by braiding together some long lengths of yarn, the same chunky wool that I did the Moderne Log Cabin with. It did the trick but (this, the thing with no knitting in it whatsoever) has apparently become a much coveted toy ever since the new recruits arrived.

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(Ramona apologizes for being a little blurry). So, naturally I got out some doubled lengths of yon Patons Classic Merino and commissioned Long String Toy: The Sequel.

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This afternoon I went over for a hello and the feline residents were in a nappish sort of state. Beatrice greeted me and said “well yes but what do I get for being BOTH a gorgeous kitty AND not having tried to kill the new young twerps in at least a week?”

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“Hmm…” [bite] “This is satisfactory.”

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And then we had a play.

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And lo, it was good.

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Just in case you were wondering

To: Several of The Students Whose Essays I Am Currently Grading
CC: Anyone Who Might Ever Have Plans To Turn In an Essay to a University Campus Sometime Soon

I know that you’re a special unique snowflake and you probably tried so very hard on this essay, and that this is a summer course anyway and this assignment probably interrupted your patio time in the sun for at least a few hours the day before it was due.

However, since grading your assignment is taking time that I could be using to knit more cables or screw up some sock pattern, allow me to clarify one or two things.

1. When you adjust the margins from a standard 1-1.5 inches to 2.5 inches to boost your page count, I can tell. This will not make me think more charitably about the quality of your work.

2. When you list 10 sources in your bibliography and only refer to 5 of them in your essay, I can tell that, too. This makes me think even less charitably about your work than I did back in #1.

3. Proofreading. It’s not just for glamorous editorial assistants anymore. Just sayin’ you might want to try it once or twice.

4. If the assignment guidelines tell you about how you should not rely on internet websites, this is not, actually, an invitation for you to turn in a paper which uses ONLY internet sources and relies only on Wikipedia citations for two pages worth of text. O HAI, last-minute research.

5. Paragraph breaks. I hear a lot of people are using them these days. It’s not that I don’t find your 3-page run-on paragraph really impressive and entertaining, it’s just that sometimes I like to be able to follow some sort of, oh, organized train of thought when I’m handing out grades. I’m just putting that out there.

Thanks ever so much,
Me.

P.S. To the students who have so far violated none of these rules, please accept my undying affection and the hand-knitted sock of your choice. (You can have the 2nd sock if you repeat this virtue on the next assignment).

P.P.S. Double hand-knitted socks to the students who actually breathed air inside the library. I love you.

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Meanwhile

I’m starting to come down with a serious case of start-itis or creative vertigo or stash lust or whatever you want to call it, the drive to knit things, all kinds of things, new things now, now, right now. I’m sure this is partly due to me settling into a vacation vibe, but also thanks to the stack of essays I have to grade, since nothing sparks the knitting drive like the desire to procrastinate.

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Still, I’ve been holding off (so far) because there are things already underway that need some attention, in particular poor lovely Halcyon which I started back in April. Even after my fix-it ordeal, I ended up ripping out the entire back section 2/3 of the way through when my fretting over whether I’d allowed enough hip ease got the better of me. I went back, started over with the sleeves, and then last week arrived back at the back piece which I cast on in the next larger size up, only to decrease back to the smaller size at the waist which will hopefully negotiate just the right amount of fit. Fingers crossed, because I am loving this knit once again and the thought that it might betray me is too much to bear.

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I love these cables. By all rational explanations, I shouldn’t be loving wooly cables in June, but this week the weather seems to have reverted back to April, with daily rainshowers and daytime highs below 20 C, so I’ll take the cables while I can.

Last week when the knitting ennui was looming, I dug into some forgotten purchases from last fall and came out with the 2 skeins of Colinette Jitterbug that have been patiently waiting, and decided they would not, after all, become knee socks, but a nice light Clapotis:

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Halfway through and so far, so good. I’m knitting this lighter on 3.5mm needles, and may end up doing just a smidge of blocking when it’s done, to give it a bit of help in the draping department. When this is done, a shawl will take its place – perhaps Swallowtail? Flower Basket? Something else entirely perhaps? And maybe also some startitis satisfaction.

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Filed under accessories, cables, sweaters

Reporting from KIP

Knit-in-Public Day dawned with lingering clouds and rain, but as the day grew so did the sunshine and the size of the knitting crowds. I hopped a bus (with knitting and trusty cupcake carrier in tow) to Toronto and arrived at Lettuce Knit a little after 10 when the activities were just getting going.

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Franklin was there for the ‘1000 Knitters’ photoshoot, and I had a place in the morning shift. (There on the right looking like a regular everyday knitter is Debbie New.) The esteemed Rachel H was doing a great job directing traffic and would pull a few people at a time to go wait for their turn in the photography session, and in the mean time everyone just sat and knitted, chatted, shopped a little, and generally enjoyed the lovely day. For my photo I brought Venezia with me since it’s the piece of knitwear I’m most proud of at the moment. I’m glad I did.

I was a bit nervous when it was my turn but I sat and knitted a couple rows on the scarf, tried to remember to actually look at the camera and not just the knitting, and hoped generally not to come off like a dork. I mentioned my knitterly twin sister who couldn’t come (she had a good excuse though, what with prepping her post-convocation party), and he agreed twin participants would have been darned cool.

I never did double-check to make sure Franklin got a cupcake, though. They went pretty fast.

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There was more intrigue when friends of Stephanie‘s brought her a veritable cooler full of dry ice. (well possibly not the whole cooler, but a large quantity all the same). It provided delight and fascination to adults and children alike.

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I met a few new friends and chatted with ‘old’ ones, swapped yarn colour decision-making suggestions with Kim and Emily, got career encouragment from Dr. Steph, talked steeks and showed off Venezia’s insides, scored some free Soak samples (though sadly no actual door prizes for me), and had a pretty good time overall.

After lunchtime became too great to ignore, and my return to Hamilton called to me, I went for a quick burrito with Em, and then carried on walking back to Union Station. It was a great day. I can still feel the sun I got on my cheeks. And then I got to come home and party with Martha and friends (note to self: attend more parties featuring sangria) and then fall nicely exhausted into bed.

I think I’ll do it all again next year.

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I take it all back

Privately I was very, very skeptical about the Noro Kureyon Sock. I’d heard about the complaints (primarily: “It’s too scratchy. There’s too much flotsam to pick out. It’s too thin.”) and just written it off as something I’d pass on in favour of waiting for the Noro Silk Garden Sock (Silk Garden is easily in my top 10 yarns ever). And then a few weeks ago at the Purple Purl Rochelle gifted me with a gift certificate, and I started staring at the pretty Noro colours, and before I knew it I’d put that gift certificate towards some Kureyon Sock.

And let me tell you, the colours, they WIN. Hands down. I take back all the trepidation I had. It’s just like knitting with very thin sheepswool – a little bit sticky, and softer the more you handle it and handwash it – and I didn’t notice enough veggie matter in my 2 skeins to write home about. Also, when you stripe 2 colourways together, you can do things like this:

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I love them. They fit like a dream. I knitted virtually nothing else but these while I was knitting them, and had them finished in just under 2 weeks. I had thought it would become tedious to keep switching colourways every 5 rows, but the effect was just the opposite. I loved seeing what shade would come up next and how the stripes would work out.

Project specs: Noro Knee-Highs
Yarn: Noro Kureyon Sock, #40 and #188
Needles: 2.25mm DPNs
Notes: I followed the same general approach that I documented here, and this time I made extra care to make them a little longer than I thought was long enough. I learned from my last pair of knee-socks that it is always better to err on the side of too long than too short, in both the leg and the foot. If the foot is too short, it will pull at the leg and the leg will become shorter, too. It also needs to be a little snug to stay up (at least 1.5 inches negative ease at the calf), and I knitted elastic thread into the cuff as is my preference.

With the Noro, I had about 20 grams of each skein left, and that was after I had yanked out several yards of each skein (in the #40, the olive green goes on for a WHILE, and it was starting to make the other colourway too obvious; In the #188, there is a part with yellow-flecked green that was making the combined colourways distractingly full-spectrum, so I yanked that out, too.) I used 1 colourway for the knee cuff/heel/toe, and the 2nd one for the cuff/heel/toe on the 2nd sock, to even the yarn quantities. In general, I think the 2 colourways one picks for a project like this have to be chosen carefully. They have to contrast enough to be obviously different, and yet if they are too different it will be distracting and disconcerting.

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At first I was very, very unsure about these. Depending what time you would have asked me, I would have said these were confusing/ugly/sexy/surprising/beautiful/the best thing ever knitted/the worst thing ever knitted. Now? I love them. I love them enough that I want to do another pair, it is just a matter of whether I will wait for the Silk Garden Sock or whether I’ll try another with the Kureyon Sock.

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Now my biggest problem is waiting out the summer until I can wear them for real. If only yarn lust were more seasonal.

Happy knitting, today and for the coming weekend!

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Time for some thrilling heroics

Just because it’s Tuesday.

And particularly for those who are fans of
a) 80s music
b) Firefly/Serenity
c) both

And oh, what the heck.
Have some Pride and Prejudice/Nickelback.

Now you know what I really do online when I’m not reading knitting blogs.
YouTube is an evil time-sucking mistress.

Noro socks soon. I gotta wrangle a photographer. Nothing like finishing knee socks when it’s hotter than the fires of Mordor, right? Right.

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