Category Archives: book review

Book Review: Continuous Cables

My first book review of 2009 is a selection which has been waiting for me ever so patiently for the last few months of 2008. This is Melissa Leapman’s follow-up to Cables Untangled, Continuous Cables.

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Having read both Continuous Cables and the earlier Cables Untangled, I must admit I have higher praise for this latest effort. While CC had a strong stitch dictionary and no lack of ambition, stylistically I didn’t quite go for the all-over cable pattern effects that the first book tended to emphasize – but then again, you might love it. In this newer volume, Leapman uses cables with more diversity, placing them alone in single panels, in combination with other patterns similar to the aran sweater style, as well as a few all-over patterns thrown in for good measure.

Some good examples of the placed single motif are in the children’s pieces, of which there are many. This may well be a selling point for some knitters – often knitting books concentrate solely on adult garments and toss in one or two children’s pieces as an afterthought, but here there is a fairly equal division between knitting for adults, children, and for the home.

First off, how about some baby blocks? I think these are brilliant. Useful, suitable for an infinite variation of colours, and a nice small canvas to practice single cable patterns as well as toy-making. How often can you say that about a project?

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The children’s sweaters offer similar appeal, using different combinations of cables on a relatively smaller canvas than would be required for an adult piece. This wee baby sweater does have a pretty gnarly cable on the front, but just think…Once you’re done the front, it’s stockinette and straight on until morning. The pink girls’ sweater below is one that caught my eye. I might even be inclined to up-size it…why must the adorable come only in child size?

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I did mention there are some style selections that may or may not agree with you, depending on your preference. For example, this Swirl Pullover almost hits the mark for me but not quite. I love the texture at the sides, but the extra-large centre cable isn’t for me.

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On the other hand, I quite like this tank top sweater, made with the improbable yarn selection of ‘Cornucopia’, a 100% corn yarn. Who says cables need to be wool-only?

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The women’s sweaters fit a bust size of about 34 ins on up to 48 ins or so, depending on the desired amount of negative ease. There are quite a few blankets and throws, as well as two ‘beginner’ cable pieces at the beginning of the book – a hat and a throw pillow. The opening pages devote a lot of attention towards technique and explaining to you Why Cables Are Easier Than They Look. I’m a big fan of that. And the stitch dictionary at the end? Well. You’ll have to read that for yourself, it’s enough to make you drool over all the twists and turns. And I can’t stop thinking about the hooded cardigan sweater on the cover.

All in all I think the stitch dictionary combined with a good diversity of patterns makes this a fun selection to have in a knitting library. Having said that, I’d recommend having a flip through the book in person before making your decision. I think any book which relies on a single stitch technique is going to depend on some stylistic preferences, which may not match your own. And if you want to come over and tell me what colour I should knit the cover hoodie in, please do. I’ll have tea waiting.

Happy cabling! More reviews to come in 2009.

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Book Review: Knitting for Good

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a short while, you know that I tend to consider my knitting a relatively selfish pursuit. By ‘selfish’ I mean that I mostly (though not exclusively – my sock-knitting list and current Christmas knitting are testaments to that) tend to knit things for myself, and I orient myself towards knitting based on what I want to make and what I will get out of it. I am generally pretty comfortable with this. Here is why.

I came to knitting at the beginning of the 5-year journey that was the completion of my PhD, and it made a lot of sense to me because unlike the long, often isolating and distressing, and very nebulous experience of finishing a degree, knitting was extremely gratifying because it gave me a sense of accomplishment (I could quite literally see my progress, then wear or use the results almost instantly), and small boosts of confidence (there was once a time when I was alternately afraid of cables, socks, fair isle, and big enormous commitment-heavy blankets. Now my knitting eats fair isle for breakfast. HAH).

I also came to knitting at a time when I was coming to the end of a long series of commitments within my membership of an organization highly dedicated to volunteer work. I did this work for so many years because I believed it was good work (and I still do), but I came to the point of needing to step away. It had become something that exhausted me and for which I could no longer explain my motivation. I was spending huge amounts of my own time, energy, and sense of self doing something that I wasn’t fully committed to, and I needed a time-out. Knitting filled that void. With knitting I could be as self-directed as I wished, set my own challenges, and even connect to other human beings outside of my own living room, whether in person or online. Knitting has connected me to a great many of the friends I have now. It has also meant that I can wear handmade socks and sweaters every single day of the fall and winter. I can’t remember the last time I purchased a commercial pair of wool socks.

I buy a lot of yarn. By ‘a lot’, I mean that, while I don’t buy it every week, yarn is the consumer product that I purchase more often than anything else (even clothing), I have more yarn than one knitter reasonably needs, my sock yarn basket overfloweth, and if I didn’t see the inside of a yarn shop for the next few years I would probably manage just fine. Although I occasionally still shop from discount retailers (have I told you about my arsenal of Knit Picks Palette stash that will quite possibly never get smaller?), more and more often I purchase from smaller local yarn shops in Toronto or on my travels. This is a balance that works for me, personally.

So, why am I telling you all of this in a post that is labelled as a book review? It is because the book in question is a book that will start you thinking about what your personal knitting story is, and whether or not you would like to change it. This book is Knitting for Good!, by Betsy Greer.

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This book is written in three sections: Knitting for Yourself, Knitting for Your Community, and Knitting for the World. Greer writes very much from the perspective of her own trajectory of knitting, and each section is filtered through her own stories as well as those of other knitters she has consulted in the process of writing the book. These other stories are, I would argue, some of the high points of the book. There is one story, for example, of a woman who started a project to knit cozies for walking canes, because when she covered her own walking cane with knitting it immediately changed the way people perceived her disability. Another is from a woman who lived for a year on the barter system and learned a lot about contemporary cultures of consumption as a result.

Many of us in the knitting blogosphere are already familiar with much of what Greer writes in the first and second sections of this book. We know that knitting can be a gateway to self-confidence and meditative action. We know that the DIY experience is about more than the sum of its parts, and that creating handmade items can stand in direct contrast to the consumer culture we live in. We know that knitting is about more than individual human beings working in isolation. We know that knitting is often representative of contemporary feminist identity, as an affirmation of the significance of traditionally domestic activity and the power of collective action. We know that knitters can be extremely generous people. We know that knitters are capable of effecting great change at multiple scales.

As a result, I found myself reading the first several chapters and thinking, “I know this. Tell me something I don’t know.” By the time I reached the end of the book, however, I came to the conclusion that even if much of this is repetitive, it is still worth repeating. The ultimate statement behind this book is to consider how the ‘personal is political’ is relevant to the world of knitting, and if I’m being honest with myself I know that just because I agree that this statement is true, it doesn’t mean that I actually think about it all the time when I’m knitting.

This is a short and reflective read, and I think it would be an interesting gift for knitters who are perhaps less “connected” than others, and who are open to thinking about knitting beyond the skills they are learning. It might also be an effective “recruitment tool” into knitting for people who are interested in the world of craft and community, but who haven’t yet been introduced to knitting. There are even a few simple patterns scattered throughout the book, for things like blankets, hats, and socks.

Greer asks her readers – in the third section especially – to consider how knitting fits into the contemporary consumer world, and how the potentially isolating act of knitting individually can be transformed into local and global activism. It is very hard to be presented with questions about these sorts of things and not start to answer them for yourself as you read. And, just because the questions are familiar doesn’t mean that I’ve come up with an answer yet for myself. I’m going to work on that.

Still to come in book reviews: ‘Continuous Cables’, and ‘Shear Spirit’.

May your knitting be close by!

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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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Other things to make with your hands

If I wasn’t knitting, I would probably be cooking or baking. I sometimes watch the Food Network (Hi Alton! Call me!), and often spend a chunk of time on the weekend in the kitchen the same way I would put in a weekend warrior attempt at finishing a piece of knitting. I am generally a big fan of making stuff, and the triumph of getting to actually wear, use, or eat the things I make is sort of the side bonus. The downside to cooking or baking is that it’s really hard to do that while you’re sitting on a subway or at a streetcorner cafe. But there are few knitting projects that result in chocolate cakes or loaves of bread, so I think the benefits are probably on par for each.

So, a month ago when there was a lull in the knitting books that were coming through the publishing world, I asked to look at a couple of cookbooks instead, and Random House happily obliged me. This one is from popular television chef Giada DiLaurentis, appropriately named Giada’s Kitchen.

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Now, all skepticism aside about how Giada actually manages to eat all the food she makes and still remain the cute pocket-sized television personality that she is, I have to give this book major props. I’m the sort of person who has flirted with taking Italian cooking seriously enough to have actually made my own pasta (and without a pasta maker, too…and you thought knitting was rough on the hands, HAH), attempted those almond-egg-white cakes that never seem to rise properly, and generally started to wonder what the big deal was about pasta because it is everywhere and seems kind of boring when you make it yourself.

Last night I tried two recipes from this collection; the White Bean and Garlic soup and Linguine with Green Beans and Ricotta, with some garlicy Calabrese bread on the side. It took less than an hour to get both dishes on the table from start to finish, and it is a crying shame only two of us were eating them because it was so good. I was left with a pleasant combination of flavours in my mouth afterwards, not to mention a nice fridge full of leftovers to get me through a few lunches this week.

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Giada’s recipes are, I have to say, an excellent set of everyday recipes. Most of the ingredients she uses are familar and will not have you scouring specialty markets (Naked Chef, I’m looking at you), and they are simple enough not to take up more than a page each of the book (Martha Stewart, I’m looking at YOU). There is also enough variety in here to take you through an entire multi-course meal if you want, right from cocktails to dessert, and also uses a lot of vegetarian recipes as well as meat courses. I’m flirting with the Appetizer Red Pepper Cheesecake and the Lamb Ragu for next attempts, I think.

Thankfully a lot of her recipes are available on the Food Network website (as the recipe I link to above), so you can try some before committing to the whole book. For me though, I don’t think this book is going to gather a whole lot of dust any time soon.

Next up in reviewing over the next couple of months: The Canadian Living Baking Book, Shear Spirit, and Mason-Dixon: Knitting Outside the Lines. Can’t wait!

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Book Review: Tweed

There are times when I get books for review and can’t wait to tell you about them. A Fine Fleece and The Knitter’s Book of Yarn are a couple of recent examples of this. Not only did I drool over them as I flipped through the pages but they are two books that still take up occasional residence on my nightstand for project planning and stash shopping.

And then there are other times when I get a book and am so mystified as to what to write about it, that it just sits there on my desk for months as I endlessly say “I’ll get to that review next week.” Tweed is one of these books. I’ll admit that this isn’t my favourite knitting book I’ve received, but the thing is it does have a few strong points, and it deserves to be written about just like any other book that comes across my desk.

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I’m going to start out with what I think are this book’s flaws, because I think they are fairly significant and hard to ignore. The first is that the patterns are, essentially, a big enormous advertisement for Takhi/Stacy Charles Yarns. All of the projects use yarns by this company, most predominantly Takhi Donegal Tweed and Takhi Soho Tweed. Now, these are lovely yarns to be sure, and I know it’s not uncommon for books to favour certain yarn purveyors in a single collection. But in this case the book promises its scope to be about tweed yarns, which don’t belong to one single company. It’s true that Donegal tweed carries much of the historical legacy of tweed, but many yarns now achieve or imitate the tweed effect, and it would be refreshing to be able to compare the different looks of different yarn companies’ versions of tweed. Heck, when even priced-to-own labels like Patons, Elann, and Knit Picks now all offer tweed versions of their popular yarns, it’s safe to say that tweed is no longer the domain of one company. There’s a big missed opportunity here to compare and contrast.

My second gripe with this book is the way it uses tweed yarns in combination with each other, specifically the way the patterns combine different colours. Maybe I’m missing something, and if these are patterns y’all would make happily then please correct me if I’m wrong – but something’s not working for me in a few of these samples:

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Folks, I just don’t know about these. With this many colours used in combination in a single piece, how is it possible to still celebrate the tweedy qualities of any single one? It seems to me that in a piece like the Hebrides Sampler Throw (middle), a more muted colour range would do more to show off an individual yarn’s texture and stitch quality.

But the thing is, I just can’t deep-six this book altogether, in fact I think I’ll be passing it on to a friend of mine who is a relatively new knitter, and there are two big high points that explain why. The first is that the opening chapters really do provide a concise and interesting history of what ‘tweed’ really is – in both fabric and yarns. Did you know, for example, that the little colourful flecks are also called “nepps” or “burrs”? and that they were originally inspired by the bright colours found in the natural landscape, to provide contrast to the naturally gray, brown and off-white shades of the sheepswool? Call me a knitting geek, but that kind of information is sort of cool.

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Aside from a bit of knitting history, the book approaches knitting and working with yarn in general from a perspective that would be very useful for a new knitter. There are explanations of how to care for woolen yarns, how to felt, and how to substitute yarns. All of the projects make use of yarns which are worsted, aran, or bulky weight, which makes it pretty darned easy to find substitute yarns for the projects involved, in case your pocketbook or local selection can’t supply the prescribed Takhi collection.

My favourite knitting medium is sweaters, and there are few in here that I love. They are simple but interesting, modern enough to fit into your current wardrobe, and not too intimidating for someone new to cables. The Moss Cabled Cardigan and Scottish Isles Pullover are two examples:

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I also rather like the ‘Kilt Bag’ knitting bag pattern (above), which would be pretty useful as a project for small quantities of similarly weighted yarns.

So all in all I think this book comes down to personal preference – whether or not you like the patterns, and whether your tweed love is enough to make the history pieces worthwhile. For me, some of the patterns do have merit and practicality, and tend to include a wide range from 36-50″ bust size of the finished garments, which is a non-negligible plus. But I was disappointed not to see more variety of yarns in the samples, and for a book which promises to hold “contemporary designs to knit”, I’d like to call for a review of some of the more questionable ones, above. Contemporary does not automatically mean ‘colourful’.

This book has been on the market for a few months, so I’d be curious to hear from anyone else who has used it or read it.

What knitting books are on your bedside table right now?

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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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Book Review: A Fine Fleece

I’ve had this book in my possession for a few weeks now and I have not been able to stop looking at it. I’ve showed it around to my local knitting friends here in Hamilton, and took it with me to New York as well at the beginning of the month. Everyone I know who has seen this book has found something to ogle and look at lingeringly…and I know you will too. This, my friends, is the fine knitter’s (and spinner’s) companion, A Fine Fleece.

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This is not the book that I expected to see when I heard it was a book for handspun yarns. How many more wristwarmer and hat patterns do we need? (I thought). Oh, no no no no no. That is not what this book does. This book takes handspun yarns to a whole new level, so much so that I am mentally stepping-up the spinning wheel savings plan just so I can follow my rich fantasy life wherein I handspin enough yarn to make a sweater from this book.

It’s clear that Lisa Lloyd has put a great deal of herself into this book – each design has been carefully planned and executed, and the handspun yarns were likewise specifically chosen for fibre content and behaviour. But here’s the bonus – every project has been knitted (and displayed) in more than one yarn: both handspun and commercial yarns are represented here. So even if you’re not a spinner, you’ll still find this a rich collection of patterns.

In my last post I blogged about my start of the ‘Halcyon’ sweater, which is the first design from this collection to steal my heart:

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While there is no shaping (contrary to the illusion of the picture above), the sweater still drew me in for the pleasing cable combination and the standout centre panel. It’s a comfortable aran with a bit of grace and style. (Both the man and the woman in this picture are wearing the same pattern.) Many of the other sweaters in this book are like that – it strikes me as a sort of ‘Starmore in the City’ sort of collection. Lots of arans and lots of texture (so don’t be scared away if you’re not a big fan of cables – nearly half of the designs don’t use any) abound, and also a variety of colour.

One of the non-cabled pattern sets that I’m loving is the Narraganset Bay, seen here in socks, but also included as a hat and scarf variation:

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Lots of gorgeous texture there, on a small sock-sized canvas. There are several hats and scarves, in fact, all highly covetable. This open, lacy Twilight scarf caught many readers’ eyes, and would be fantastic for a small amount of handspun:

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And this Tilly scarf is also a winner in my eyes. I think it would be perfect for anyone who wants to try the texture of cables but not with an entire sweater’s worth of wool:

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Lest you think all the sweaters in this book are weighty cables and arans, well, think again. Just get a hold of this Ravensong pattern, a light and airy mix of tiny cables and lace columns, with waist shaping to boot:

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In short, there’s a lot to love about this book, and that very much includes the sizing. The finished measurements of most garments includes up to 50″ bust, which goes several inches beyond many books in print right now. Also, Lloyd includes tips on how to adjust the patterns for ‘unisex’ sizing, since many of the arans would be appropriate for either a man or a woman.

If you’re looking for more technical detail on handspinning, you’ll need to consult an additional manual for that sort of information, but there is still a wealth of knowledge in the opening pages about different fibres for spinning. (All yarns in this book are animal fibres, however, so I think that probably puts vegan knitters in just about the only group of knitters who won’t adore this book right off the bat). It’s a decent read, and told me a few things I didn’t already know about the different kinds of sheepswool.

I can’t wait to see all the projects that emerge from these patterns. If I had no other patterns to knit with for a year except for this book, I think I’d be just fine. And how many books can you really say that about? Nicely done, Lisa Lloyd, nicely done.

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