Daily Archives: June 16, 2009

Book Review: Socks from the Toe Up

I have a review for you this week, dear blog readers, this time for the recently released book Socks from the Toe Up, by Wendy D. Johnson.

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This book has been in wide release for a month and a half or so, so some of you may already have had a glimpse of it. Some of you may also be familiar with Wendy’s blog, and although I am not a regular reader of her blog I know enough about her knitting style to know that it makes sense that she would pen a book dedicated to toe-up sock knitting, since it is her method of choice for sock knitting. Let’s have a brief look inside the book.

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One high point of Socks from the Toe Up that bears mentioning is that it is technically strong. There are several pages devoted to techniques like toes, heels, and bind-offs which are useful for toe-up knitting. If you’ve dallied with toe-up sock knitting before, many of these techniques will already be familiar to you. If not, they are presented here with helpful images to make the process as painless as possible.There are instructions here for 3 different kinds of toe-up toes, heels (including the ubiquitously cuff-down slip stitch heel), and bind-offs.

Another strength of this book, possibly the strongest feature in fact, is its production. The images are colourful, plentiful, well edited, and generally quite attractive. Also, the format is quite user-friendly: the written instructions for each pattern are contained over the same fold, so there is minimal flipping back and forth required, and the size of the book itself is small enough to be portable – I can envision knitters slipping this into their handbag to set over their lap while in transit. (This is actually a quality I wish more knitting publishers would keep in mind – knitting books need not be coffee table books.)

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The technical ‘part a’ of the book is followed by the sock patterns ‘part b’, which in turn is subdivided into ‘Basic’, ‘Lace’, ‘Textured Gansey’, ‘Cabled’, and ‘Sportweight’ Socks, although these last three sections contain only 2-3 patterns each. Not counting the basic socks (which would be an excellent starting place for those new to toe-up), there are 20 patterns in this collection.

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The patterns are knit in a variety of trendy and colourful yarns, and are certainly meant to be eye-catching. Lots of bright colours and strong photography here. I like the look of the Lace and Cable Socks (above), which could be versatile for a number of sock yarns. I was also intrigued by the Vandyke Socks (below), which are knit in a single skein of Dream in Color Classy, and therefore likely to be a speedy knit.

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Socks from the Toe Up is in general a nice addition to a sock knitter’s library. In the end, my only concern with it is that I am still left wondering why the book does not do more to convince readers why we should be knitting socks from the toe up in the first place. Other than a brief note early on about the convenience of being able to use up all the yarn in the skein without worrying about running out, there is very little attention paid to answering this question. For example, from a toe-up sock book, it is surprising to me that other than the lacy patterns, many of these socks could be virtually identically reproduced working from the cuff down.

Perhaps I am under-selling the usefulness of yarn economy (which make no mistake is quite useful), but I think there was a big missed opportunity here. There are lot (a LOT) of sock books out on the market these days, and any new offering needs to distinguish itself from the others in some way. Either the ‘why toe-up’ question was not considered necessary enough to devote time to it, or the publishers are assuming that anyone who buys the book already wants to knit from the toe-up and does not need convincing. There are certainly valuable traits to toe-up sock knitting that have nothing to do with efficient use of yarn – what about customizing fit? or the difference of working certain patterns in one direction versus another? I wish Johnson would have done more to emphasize such benefits or differences involved working from the toe-up.

Overall this is a nice collection of patterns, and for knitters looking for a new set of sock patterns to work their way through, this will be a good book to add to the collection. If you are looking for a handy set of instructions about how to work socks from the toe-up, then this will also be a very useful book. If you’ve had a chance to look at this book yourself I’d be curious to know what you think, or if you have a favourite pattern from it.

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