Book Review: Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines

I’ll admit it, during the first moments when I started to catch wind of the new Mason-Dixon Knitting book, I became a little skeptical. I heard it contained patterns for things like knitted liners for rubber gloves and re-usable knitted Swiffer covers. I started to wonder if the awesome Kay Gardiner & Ann Shayne had suddenly veered off into full-on Holly Housewife territory, forsaking the knitted garment altogether and ditching the beautiful use of colour and whimsy I had grown to love from their first book.

And, well, as you might have guessed, I was wrong to despair. As soon as I started looking through a copy of it in my own hands, my whole opinion changed. This, my friends, is a sequel that does its precursor justice.

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The first hint I had that Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines might, in fact, be a pretty kick-ass book, was when my friend Liz messaged me out of the blue on Ravelry, pointing at the Liberty throw (below), and blubbering something incoherent about the sudden need to knit this throw and oh wow it involves STEEKS and that’s a bit scary but she really NEEDED to make the blanket and could I please talk her down from whatever Crazy Ledge she was on.

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Well, of course I didn’t talk her down. Have you seen this blanket? I think I might need one. You might need one too, and there will be no talk of how scary it is to do steeks or stranded colour-work or fair isle either, because Ann and Kay devote pretty much an entire section of the book to talking everyone down from whatever collective ledge they may have gotten onto about those sorts of things. This is something my sister responded to pretty instantaneously, as the colour-work blankets were what made her stop and fondle the book lovingly. “They tell you how to do steeks! They show you with technical pictures and everything!” she said.

I looked at her sort of dumbfounded and said, “But but but Martha I could show you how to do that! I’ve done steeks, I could totally explain it all to you!” And she continued to clutch the book a little bit sheepishly but devotedly and said “well yes, I know. But sometimes you need a book to explain it all to you.”

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And I think this, in essence, is what this book is about. Because it’s not just about the technique – there are plenty of other publications in existence which will explain things to you like steeks or colour-work or sweater sizing or top-down construction or knitting for the household or knitting for children or knitting for comfort and style. What Ann and Kay manage to do is absorb all of this information and turn it back out again in a way that is comforting and funny and says, “we see what you’re saying with this fair isle thing. But we’re going to take it over here for a sec and see what happens. Please come along, it will be more fun that way.”

The ‘Dotty’ blanket above is another example from their colour-work chapter, a Kaffe-Fassett-esque foray into stranded knitting that is easily adaptable for a range of yarns (though I admit I like the Silk Garden sample they have there, and would require very little convincing to drop the cash required to purchase materials for same). I am quite sure that Martha is also entertaining visions of knitting a queen-size version of this, despite the fact that she is (possibly as I type this) currently casting off a 6-foot circular blanket and needs no reminders about the mental commitment required for blanket knitting.

But the new MDK book is not just about knitting blankets, or colour-work. It is divided into five sections: Decorating Yourself (women’s scarves, socks, jackets, and sweaters), The Fairest Isle of All, Covering the Small Human (children’s knits), Occasional Knitting (home knits), and The Sophisticated Kitchen (new things to do with dishcloth cotton). I am if nothing else, a sweater knitter, and make a pretty direct beeline to the sweater patterns in any new knitting book I encounter.

This brings me to this:

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This is the “Margaret” sweater, by Mary Neal Meador. It made me genuinely stop and boggle a little bit. This is a fairly simple skirted sweater that requires a base-line skill level that is no more complicated than the average sweater (in other words, all of you sitting there could make this). What makes this art is the chain-stitch words added onto the bodice, both front and back. It’s so beautiful and yet so simple, and open to infinite variety. You could choose whatever words you want, poetry or political statements or your favourite film quotation, or just ABCs if that’s what you feel like. I think it is only a matter of time before I knit this.

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Another great piece in this collection is the ‘Daily Sweater’ (above), which is a top-down raglan sweater inspired by the comfort and versatility of sweatshirts, and comes in 7 sizes from 38 inches to 58 inches. Seriously, beat that.

The children’s knits are fantastic, too. There’s also a Sk8R sweater for young boys which is pretty darned cool, and an ‘Emma Peel’ dress for girls which is also just about as cool as you might think it is. In general the ‘Covering the Small Human’ section sort of makes me want to weep a little bit, because the sweaters here are all so great but they are all sized for children which means they don’t come in my size. (Well OK, yes, I could do the thinking and the math to make them adult-sized…but you understand). I mean, look at how adorable this Fern cardigan is:

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And just in case you haven’t put enough gift knitting on your list, there are these felted Christmas trees, suitable for standing in groups of 3-4, or as a full set of Advent Calendar pieces to cover-up gifts or written words:

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So yes, all in all I call this book a winner. The written text is a good read all on its own, as you might expect from the humour of the first Mason-Dixon book. I think it’s safe to say that the average reader won’t like every pattern equally, but that you’ll find something in here that you’ll want to knit just the same. The versatility of this book is pretty impressive all around. (Oh yeah – and the rubber glove liners and the re-usable knitted Swiffer covers…well, those are actually pretty whimsical and okay, too).

Coming up for knitting book reviews, Shear Spirit, and Continuous Cables.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Book Review: Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines

  1. Thanks! I’m going to go look for it this week. I’ve recently fallen in love with fair isle so this sounds like the book for me.

  2. Thanks for the review – I’m glad to read your thoughts. I was actually quite disappointed in the first book (I know I’m probably the only knitter in North America to feel this way) but now having read your post I’ll look for it and check it out.

  3. I had my mom buy me this book b/c she met Ann and Kay at a booksigning in Kentucky, so mine’s even personalized! I want to make just about everything in the kids’ section and I lurrrve those blankets!

  4. This is a great review – thanks so much! I’m off to order the book now!

  5. I just read about those ladies earlier today in December’s Knit ‘N Style! I don’t actually own a copy of the first book (and if you saw my collection this would indeed shock you!!). Something about the title and the cover just didn’t call to me.
    Having read the article this morning, however, and NOW your review…well, I’m re-thinking the whole Mason-Dixon thing!
    I casually went looking this afternoon (even before reading your post!) for the books; wasn’t able to find them, but DID NOT come home emptied handed…
    “Free Range Knitter”, mean anything to you?
    hehe
    Seriously, thanks for the review and the pictures—THAT BLANKET TRULY IS BEAUTIFUL!!!

  6. I still haven’t gotten the FIRST Mason-Dixon book, though I keep meaning to. I was trying really hard not to care at all about this one. Thanks for ruining that for me. :P

  7. I keep saying my knitting library (going on thirty books now) is full and I am on a Book Diet, and then you review another book.

    Please stop.

    I am out of shelf space.

  8. Thanks for the great review. It really makes me want this book!!! The blanket is gorgeous, and I remember seeing that Fern cardigan being entered in a show a while back on their blog – or one like it!!

  9. i didn’t love the first one, so i wasn’t set on owning the follow up. but when i saw the cardigan on the first page or two, i was hooked.

  10. Thanks! It looks like a great book.
    I love the sweaters!

  11. Ann

    Thanks for the book review ! I love the Daily Sweater.

  12. maurimoii

    My copy of this is, unfortunately, waiting for me in the US, but I know that I’m making the Margaret sweater. I even have my quote picked out and I’m trying to figure out (from 6000 miles away) how much chain stitch I’m going to need. That sweater will be mine!

  13. ladyoctavia

    :) That fern cardigan… should definately come in grown-up size!!!

  14. Oh that fern cardi is very cute.
    I like those christmas trees too – I want one for this year.

  15. jayaycee

    I love their first book — reading it feels like sitting down to chat with old friends. I have been trying to cut back on my knitting book buying but I think this one is going to break my resolve.

    The Daily Sweater actually made me drool!

    Thanks a lot for the lovely review — now I’m going to have to go get it!!!

  16. Masoneria Ingroapa Romania In Fundul Iadului! Vino sa descoperi adevarul despre realitatea politica si sociala. Ce nu ai sa vezi niciodata la televizor, ce incearca toti sa iti ascunda. Descopera de ce lucrurile merg prost nu doar in Romania cat si in intraga lume.