Category Archives: book review

Book Review and Giveaway: Cast On Bind Off

Just last week I was waxing on about the benefits of a well-stocked knitting library, including fabulous reference books, and lo and behold earlier this week a few new things arrived in my book review mailbox. I’m trying very hard not to just hang onto every single book I receive – which can be a challenge, let me tell you, because a lot of them are really awesome – but this one, this one is too great not to give away. I had a lot of fun looking through this little gem, Cast On, Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor.

For a little spiral-bound book, this crams in quite a lot of useful information, and in an extremely clear visual style. Yes indeed, this is an entire book devoted to cast-ons and bind-offs (54, to be exact). In case you’re wondering why a person would need this many options, the book tells you exactly that. Each method is presented visually: in swatch form, so you can see what it looks like; and in step-by-step tutorial form, so you can see how to execute it. And each one is presented with a neat description of the edge characteristics and the situation it is useful for. (Example: Cable Cast on provides a firm edge, useful for buttonholes or casting on extra stitches at the end of a row.)

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This is a neat little book and I’d be happy to pass it on to one of you dear readers. If you’d like to be entered to win this book, leave a comment here some time before Monday morning telling me what your current favourite cast-on or bind-off method is, and why! Whether it’s one you just learned or one you’ve been using for years. I’ll post the winner Monday afternoon.

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In the mean time, I’m happy to have some new projects to work away on this weekend, including the striped Turtlepurl socks I started a couple of days ago. I think I’ve just about gotten to the end of an entire striping sequence and can tell now what the colour progression will be. They’ll be fun socks to wear so I’m going to do my best not to let them sit idle for too long, lest they go unknitted and sit in my blind spot in favour of newer things. Fall is coming, after all, and a gal can always use more socks.

Happy weekend, knitting friends!

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Book Review and Giveaway

Don’t get too lost in your weekend just yet, knitting friends, for I have one more book review and giveaway for you today! (Never fear, though, I do promise a return to regular knitting project chatter ;) ) Today I round out my set of spring book reviews with California Revival Knits, by Stephannie Tallent.

I have gotten to know Steph a little bit over the last several months as a tech editor, and she is just as fastidious and capable as a designer. I knew she’d put together a book of interesting and diverse patterns, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it was all about in terms of ‘California Revival.’ And then I opened up the book and saw the pictures of the architectural and stylistic inspiration for the patterns and thought, “Oh! It’s like Hearst Castle!” Which is to say, I visited Hearst Castle two summers ago when I was in California, and I realize now it is one of the clearest approximations of the California Revival style that I’ve seen with my own two eyes – in other words, it is a blend of revivalist European styles (Mediterranean, Spanish) and arts-and-crafts construction. There are lots of mosaics, tile work, organic lines, wrought iron, and so on.

The cowl on the cover (and a similar pair of fingerless mitts) are great examples of this in colour-work form, but there are a variety of techniques on showcase here, along with some instructional support on how to execute them. The beaded ‘Tiles Sweater’ below is one of my favourites, which I would enjoy knitting and wearing for myself (it’s done in fingering weight, which would make it practical for a wider variety of temperatures than a heavier sweater would).

I also quite like the inclusion of twisted stitches (go figure!) in a couple of patterns, such as the Wrought Mitts, below. There is overall a variety of garments as well as a variety of techniques to try out. If you are a knitter who has mastered the basics and are looking for some elegant challenges, there are 14 patterns to choose from that will each offer you something different. The photographs (all by Kathy Cadigan) are all very clear, as is Steph’s description of her creative process.

As with all publications from Co-operative Press, this is available in both electronic and hard copy format. If you’d like to win a PDF copy of this book, leave a comment here telling me, if you only had the choice of one knitting technique for the next week, would you choose cables, colour-work, or knitting with beads?
I’ll draw a winner from among the comments sometime after noon on Monday (EST).

Until then, it promises to be a warm weekend here, so I expect my knitting shall be in the shade with a refreshing (possibly adult) beverage. I hope that yours will be too. Happy knitting this weekend!

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Book Review: Circular Knitting Workshop

One admitted perk of blogging is that occasionally new books cross my desk to have a look at for review – and believe me, I see all kinds. There are pattern collection books, extreme niche knitting books, and also the reference manuals – all of which have their place on a knitter’s library shelf. Today I have a book review for you in the latter category, the recently published Circular Knitting Workshop by Margaret Radcliffe.

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I’m one of those knitters who, while I am happy to try new techniques – yea verily, I will sometimes reach for the most crazy ambitious patterns just so I know I’m guaranteed not to get bored with my knitting (the horror!) – I am also just as likely to fall victim to the knitter’s comfort zone, where I keep going with particular methods and techniques just the same way I learned them because that’s exactly where I like it and changing it up might be different and irksome. (I have a related story here where I thought I was going to be a double-pointed-needle/DPN knitter for the rest of my life and didn’t need Magic Loop in my life thank you very much, then tried Magic Loop knitting and now write all my sock patterns for both DPNs and Magic Loop because I love them both.)

This is all a way of saying I thought I had circular knitting down and really didn’t understand what else there was to say about it once you knew how to do it, but sure I’ll take a look at this Circular Knitting Workshop anyway because you just never know. I mean, once you know how to “join to work in the round, being careful not to twist,” you’ve got it licked, surely…but maybe on the off chance that there’s something else to it, I’ll give this a read.

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Let me cut to the chase and summarize: this book is awesome. There are several instructional sections supported by full-colour photographs of techniques like cast-on and bind-off, and problem-solving for things like what to do if you have, in fact, not been “careful not to twist” at the join and you have a twisted mobius-like piece of knitting instead of the tube you wanted. (Hint: catching this sooner makes it more likely that you’ll be able to fix it, but Margaret Radcliffe has your solution.)

Then there are a whole pack of guidelines for things that knitters tend to learn as they go, handily assembled in one easy reference – things like how to convert stitch patterns or whole garments from flat to in the round, working from charts, and a nice series on various ways to finish things like hems, toes, etc. There is a brilliant alternative to kitchener stitch in here, credited to Lucy Neatby, that allows you to finish a sock toe without doing regular kitchener stitch, that I might be a little bit in love with. (I have another related story here about how I still avoid kitchener stitch if I can help it. Actually…that’s pretty much the whole story, right there.) Finally, there are several patterns included here for practice and inspiration, including hats, socks, and sweaters.

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I also appreciate that Margaret stops to point out things like this list of 5 Reasons to Knit Flat, and 5 Reasons to Knit Circular. Because while being able to work in the round is fantastic and has wonderful applications, I agree that it’s not the best approach 100% of the time. Flat and circular knitting are both worth being comfortable with, and worth getting better at.

In short, this is such a lovely reference book that I’m afraid I can’t bear to part with my copy of it for a giveaway – I’m going to make it a nice home in my knitting library and will enjoy having it as a reference.

However, I do still have a giveaway for you today, of one of these fun little sewn notions kits from Pog Totes. Mary who runs Pog Totes sent me one and they were so adorable I asked if I could do a blog giveaway for a reader, and she kindly offered!

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To win one of these little handsewn, lined, zipped, brightly coloured darlings, leave a comment on this blog post between now and noon on Thursday (Toronto time), telling me your favourite thing about knitting in the round, and I’ll do a giveaway in a post Thursday afternoon.

Happy knitting this afternoon, and stay cool!
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Book review/interview: Beyond Knit and Purl

Knitting friends, I’ve got a few book reviews coming up for you in the next month or so around these parts, so what better time than the 1st of the month to get them kicked off? (Side note: How in the heck is it May already? Time passes awfully quickly when you’re knitting a lot of things.)

My friend Kate recently published her first book, Beyond Knit and Purl, and it is a very friendly volume of tips, tricks, and patterns for knitters in that amorphous stage of advancing from ‘basic’ things towards…well, less basic things, moving into that ever-broadening category of intermediate knitting. You will find a collection of technical explanations of stitches like increases and decreases, cables, lace, and more, all with full-colour photographs to bridge the written instructions. If you are in that stage of wanting to learn more than the basics but don’t necessarily know what you don’t know, this would be a good volume for you. There are a variety of patterns for socks, accessories, even sweaters, that would be at home in many a knitter’s library. Kate teaches in the Toronto area and uses many of these pieces of advice in her classes as well.

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Since there have already been a few stops on Kate’s ‘blog tour’ for this book, I decided to change it up a bit for my stop and ask Kate a few interview questions, both about the book and herself as a knitter! Read on for more, below. Additionally, Co-operative Press has also generously offered to do a book giveaway as part of my stop on her book’s blog tour. If you’d like to be entered to win a copy of the book (because hey, free book!) just leave a comment on this post before noon on Thursday (Toronto time) with what your favourite knitting tip is that you’ve learned (either recently, or ever), and I’ll name the winner this coming Thursday afternoon.

Kate, what are your favourite kinds of things to knit?
My comfort knitting is socks – plain old stocking stitch socks in a beautiful or fun yarn. I don’t have to look, and they are a small project I can tuck into the corner of my purse, so I’m never without something to do. I got most of the leg of a sock finished in a movie theatre last week. And when I’m in a line up at the bank, it helps pass the time! Then when I’m at home, or a long streetcar or plane ride, I love really challenging lace. I get a huge thrill from experimenting with stitch patterns, and I relish the mathematical challenge of working out how to fit them together in a shawl pattern.

If you had to pick a favourite set of tips from the book…
It was really important to me to teach proper finishing techniques – it’s too often given short shrift in the literature, and many a knitting project has been abandoned due to lack of confidence or knowledge about finishing. And no matter how well it’s knitted, poor finishing leaves you with an unattractive end result.

What’s something you learned during the process of making the book?
I asked knitters – professional and casual knitters, experienced and newbies, students and colleagues – for hints and tips to add to my book. I learned an amazing number of clever tricks! One of my favourites: when counting stitches on a straight needle, hold the pointy end and start counting there, towards the stopper end – it’s too easy to knock stitches off the end if you go the other way!

What’s your current favourite knitting “viewing”?
I love a procedural mystery. My husband likes to say that if someone dies before the opening credits, I’ll watch it. The Law & Order family – Law & Order UK is fab! — the CSI family, Castle, The Mentalist, those types of shows. They are very formulaic, but that works brilliantly for knitting. If I miss a few minutes because I’m counting stitches or reading the pattern or making notes, I won’t be lost. And if the crime scene is particularly gory, I can look at my knitting instead of the screen. It doesn’t have to be a murder, but most crime shows seem to focus on that. I’m also a fan of Fairly Legal, which tells the stories of a mediator working for a law firm, and the crimes there are often much more prosaic – business negotiations, house sales, that sort of thing. It’s surprisingly compelling – but still easy to watch with only half your attention.

How strong do you take your coffee again?
Brutally, fiercely, teethcurlingly strong. At The Purple Purl, they make a special Americano for me, since no-one else takes it the way I do.

Thanks for the interview, Kate! And happy knitting, to all.

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Book Review: Vampire Knits

So, I’m finally done my grading and am now moving onto frenetic packing, tidying, and collecting up ALL the knitting to take with me (I can finish 5 projects before 2011, right?), before leaving on a bus tomorrow for a series of 2-or-3-days-at-a-time-in-one-place also known as the Christmas holidays. Which is going to be great, but then, there is the packing. (Also, I’d like to say thanks to reader Becky who thought that when I said I was ‘grading’ I meant grading knitting designs for sizes in a written pattern, as opposed to exams and essays which is what I was actually doing. Admittedly, I’d probably have preferred the patterns I think.)

Naturally, I thought this was a good time to finish up the last of my 2010 book reviews. Because when else would one sit down and clear a few careful thoughts for blog readers curious about knitting books? Well, during insane gift-shopping season, of course! (Unless of course, you already did all your gift shopping. In which case, I have some errands for you to run if you’re not doing anything.)

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Vampire Knits presented me with a bit of a challenge. On the one hand, I love vampire stories. Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Absolutely. Dracula? Yeah, bring on the gothic. True Blood? well, the books sure made for decent commuter reading, I’ll say that much. And I am big-time in support of fannish knitting. Heck, a large portion of my recent design repertoire came from fannish inspiration. Viper Pilots socks, anyone? For goodness sakes, I’m working on a Buffy-inspired collection of mittens and gloves. I’ve knitted my own Ravenclaw scarf and love the fact that there are thousands of knitters who have found their entry into the world of knitting by making their own Harry Potter house scarf. Bring on the fannish knitting, I am all over that.

On the other hand, the author of this particular pattern collection makes no bones about being directly inspired not so much by vampire texts in general, but by the Twilight series of novels and films, specifically (there are patterns with intarsia-letter motifs for pillows spelling out “team Jacob” or “team Edward.”). I absolutely loathe the Twilight series. Come on folks, as if it’s not bad enough that there are flocks of young people steamrolling past actual literature to get to Stephanie Meyer’s books to the tune of millions and billions of dollars, it makes me weep to think that there are enough people now who are holding up Twilight as the best vampire stories EVAR OMG and haven’t even given BtVS a fair shake because, okay fine, the makeup and production values in Season 1 were pretty crappy. I mean, they should at least be going off to read Dracula first, but since they’re probably not doing that, the very least they could do is watch the entirety of Season 2. And 3. And 5. And the last 2 discs of Season 7. And the musical episode. And the silent episode. And, you know, the WHOLE SERIES.

::cough:: But I digress.

All in all, I have to say, this is a decent set of patterns. The cover sweater, the ‘Lore’ hooded cardigan by Cirilia Rose, has been getting a lot of attention for good reason – it’s an effective but not overly intimidating sweater knit in bulky wool (Peruvia Quick) that also looks pretty comfortable. And really, most of the patterns are like that. If you’re looking for a set of advanced beginner patterns for someone who might not otherwise be inspired to take up knitting but likes vampire things, or someone who likes vampire things but might not have bought this book, it’s worthwhile.

I quite like this “Under the Cover of Midnight” cowl/hood (below), a chunky cabled knit which looks extremely cozy as well as stylish. And tempting given the current chill in the air.

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The ‘Bloody Socks’, above, are also pretty approachable for someone new to sock knitting, essentially a cuff-down heel-flap sock with a simple motif down the front. (Though I scratch my head at making them ankle socks, especially when the chosen yarn comes in 420-yds skeins. Does removing most of the leg make them easier? I don’t know.)

All in all, it’s a collection mostly meant for women, with a few patterns for men including a sweater and a couple of scarves. There are sweaters, shrugs, cowls, gloves, socks, and home accessories – even a corset. The yarns used in the samples are mostly recognizeable labels, from Knit Picks or Bernat to Louet and Berroco. And where it is warranted, there is a range of sizes. The cover sweater, for example, goes up to 48″ in bust circumference.

So, if you’re looking for something fun for a vampire-fan who would or could sink her teeth into knitting, this offering would be just fine. And at the end of the day, anything that helps more people appreciate knitting is just fine with me.

Stay tuned, when I’ll offer this book and one more from my previous reviews as a blog giveaway for the new year! And, as usual, keep the knitting close by!

 

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Speaking of Elizabeth Zimmerman (Book Review)

I’ve been doing a bit of Elizabeth Zimmerman knitting lately, so I was extra supportive of having a look at an EZ commemorative edition for a book review. The folks at Dover sent me over a review copy of the Knitter’s Almanac, revived in full-colour hard back form for a fall 2010 release, on the occasion of her 100th birthday (or would have been 100th, were she alive today). It’s a lovely edition, and worth considering, I would say, particularly in the gift-giving season that quickly approaches.

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The patterns in here are identical to those found in the original edition of the Knitter’s Almanac (published 1974), and include a few favourites like the Pi Shawl (that I’m currently working on and starting to see the end of), mitred mittens, and even a pattern for knitted leggings (or, “nether garment”) which in some moments I consider casting on for because seriously, hand-knitting leggings. Totally what winter ordered up. (Possibly also: extreme motivation to never gain weight and maintain current size forever and ever.)

There are a few new things in this edition, most notably the inclusion of colour photographs (many new altogether) of finished items, which is a remarkable change from the black & white photos and might well help many knitters view these patterns in modern context. Another is the re-printing of the adapted free online pattern for the “February Lady Sweater,” which you might find helpful in print form just in case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t encountered one of the thousands of online knitters who have already knitted one of these.

I came only recently to the discovery of who Elizabeth Zimmerman was and what her contributions to the knitting world were like. My own knitting life has happened in a world which did not include her living presence. And so what I like the most about this revised edition, is the inclusion of a written preface by Meg Swansen (Elizabeth Zimmerman’s daughter), an Introduction by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (The Yarn Harlot), and a letter to Elizabeth Zimmerman by Barbara Walker, both in praise of Elizabeth and her writing. Because of course, she wasn’t just writing patterns, she was writing to knitters about bringing confidence and self-assertion to their knitting lives.

So while the book itself has been glitzed up a bit in this commemorative edition, in a snazzier and sturdier hard-back edition, the purpose is entirely the same as it always has been. I rather like how Stephanie describes it in her introduction: “My own love of knitting and my belief that it was clever and worthy was reflected in those pages. I believed then, and I believe now that knitting is so much more than it appears, so much more than the sum of its parts.”

Thanks, Elizabeth! And happy 100th birthday.

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Book Review: Aran Knitting

I’ve got to keep up a better pace than this, folks. I’ve got 3 more books on the shelf for reviews and at the rate I’m going you’ll be hearing about the last of them right as the new batch of spring publications are released. (Note to self: stop letting paying work get in the way of your knitting time. Where are your priorities?)

I was debating which one to talk about next, and reached for my copy of the new and expanded edition of Aran Knitting, sent to me by the fine folks at Dover Publishing. It’s a beautiful book, make no mistake.

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This book is two things: A collection of Aran-style knitting patterns, and a history/explanation of the origins of Aran knitting. It’s also been flying off the shelves, as from what I hear, my fave Toronto shop The Purple Purl is already on their second ordering. There are good reasons why this is the case. The patterns are stunning. Originally released in 1997 and then allowed to go out of print, this is one of Alice Starmore’s pattern collections that is highly coveted. I myself am thrilled at the prospects of being able to make my own St. Brigid (Ravelry link), for example, along with a few of the others. There is a new one called Eala Bhan which is done in fingering weight and looks beautiful as well as stylish, and – unlike the other sweaters – uses the cables to include shaping and flare at the waist. In general, all patterns follow the Aran style of symmetrically placed panels of cables, knitted flat.

It’s the sort of collection that will be very much at home in a knitter’s library, regardless of whether or not you plan to cast on for any of the projects right now. The time will come (at least, it often does for me, and I hope I’m not alone) when you’ll need a selection of adventurous cabled knits to choose from, patterns that you can really sink into with skill and tradition. The collection in Aran Knitting includes mostly sweaters, but also a few rectangular shawls and hats. A few of the sweaters are styled to be unisex pieces, which adds some versatility.

Starmore also devotes a few dozen pages in the first chapters of the book to a history of Aran knitting, which I suspect is her true concern with this publication and re-publication. It’s a presentation of very detailed research in which she explains how Aran knitting tradition is rooted in 20th Century processes of production in the Scottish isles, and is emphatically not the same as ‘celtic’ knitting (which, incidentally, she wants you to know is something she herself established through another of her publications). There’s more to it than that, of course, and it’s worth consideration. She very much wants to set the record straight on the origins of Aran sweater knitting, so much so that I am not sure whether she is more concerned with people having this knowledge, so much as she wants to be the one to explain it to you.

I feel some sympathy for her at this point, because although she is breathlessly trying to convince her readers that Aran knitting and Celtic knitting are emphatically NOT the same thing, I can predict pretty quickly that this misconception is still going to persist. Partly because, quite simply, many people will read the book primarily for the patterns alone, and only skim the surface of the historical writing; The patterns are beautiful and are worth the price of the book in and of themselves. Also, in the end I am not sure she is helped by the format of this book – the patterns and historical discussion are two almost entirely separate pieces, and the knitter who doesn’t read the first half will eventually get to the section of the patterns titled “Celtic Designs,” and conclude that if a book called “Aran Knitting” includes a section called “Celtic Designs”, then surely Celtic knitting and Aran knitting are directly related.

(Also, I’m a geographer and not once in this book does there ever appear a map pointing out where any of this history happens. Respect the power of maps, yo, they help.)

A few technical notes on the patterns – I fully believe that they are well edited, as Alice Starmore’s reputation for precision and detail well precedes her, and the charts are excellent. Sizing is definitely skewed towards slimmer bodies wearing these sweaters with several inches of ease, so women with bust sizes above about 42″ or so will need to look into modification in order to complete them. And finally, all the patterns are written using Alice Starmore’s specific yarns, and clear specs on the yarn (i.e. yardage per weight) are not included in the book, so if you want to substitute yarns for the project, account for that few minutes of thought process to match up your yarns to intended gauge and so forth.

I hope that Starmore’s books remain in publication. As collections of patterns they are worth keeping active in knitters’ imaginations, and as sources of knowledge they will do very little good sitting gathering dust in scarce few libraries and archives. Knowledge needs to circulate, otherwise it will be lost.

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