Category Archives: book review

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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Book Review: The Knitter’s Book of Yarn

It’s going to be a bit of a book review season around here for the next month, as I work through the 4 copies that I’ve currently got my hands on for blog reviews. The one I’m going to look at this week has indeed been out for publication for more than 5 months already – but there are so few knitting books that I come across and truly adore without reservation, and this is one of them. Seriously, you need this book. Beg, borrow, steal, put it on your birthday wish list, whatever you have to do…then hug it a little bit.

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The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes accomplishes 2 things: First, it gives you a crash course in yarn education over two chapters of discussion of fibre types and yarn construction. It’s like they extracted the yarn chapter from Vogue Knitting, 1986, updated it, made it more readable, and included photo support from all the yarns we know and love today. There’s nothing here for a knitter looking for technical instructions, so beginner knitters should still look elsewhere for those things. What this book does is explain how and why different yarns behave in different ways, and it does that well.

After reading these first two chapters, you might feel a little bit like you’ve been given a new interpretive guide to yarn shops. You can impress your friends with comments like, “oh, well that yarn is hand-painted. What you’re actually looking for is something hand-dyed,” or, “you know 25% is a very reasonable amount of angora in that merino blend, you should totally buy that if it’s on sale,” or “tsk, those cables really need a 3-ply or at the very least a 2-ply if you can find one, use the single-ply Noro on this stockinette project instead…”

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As if these first two chapters weren’t enough, the second thing this book does is provide you with 40 patterns (when was the last time you picked up a knitting book with 40 whole patterns?), of all kinds. There are scarves, mitts, sweaters, shawls, hats, you name it. They are organized according to the yarn construction – single-ply, 2-ply, 3-ply, and 4-ply and more. Each of the 4 sections explains how these kinds of yarns may be used to full advantage.

The first one out of the gate are the Maine Morning Mitts (click the link for a free download of the pattern), which use a single skein of ‘single-ply’ (not really plied, of course, but you catch the drift) yarn, such as Noro. I’ve never been much of a fingerless-mitt person, but when I saw some single skeins of Noro Silk Garden on sale at a local shop I decided to try these, and they do not disappoint.

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These are done in a 2×1 rib and use just a hint of shaping around the thumb, which distinguishes them from many other fingerless mitt patterns and provides some extra comfort. They are an easy weekend project and highly, highly giftable.

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Another single-ply project that stole my heart right away was this Cabled Tea Cozy by Jennifer Hagan, which uses kettle-dyed Malabrigio (above), and is waiting to jump into my current projects once I’ve gotten another sweater off the needles. I’ve never been much of an Inanimate Object Knitter, but this pattern has me convinced – and what a great way to use some bright shades and dress up a teapot (which quite frankly gets a lot of use around my house).

At heart I am a Sweater Knitter, and this Cabled Swing Cardi by Norah Gaughn (one of the 3-ply projects) is going to have me searching for Berrocco Ultra Alpaca at a time of year when we in Canada should by rights be casting off the sweaters and embracing the spring temperatures. I love it. The wrap construction, the cabled centre panel, and the lovely drapey yarn – it’s a winning combination.

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The only drawback to this book (I suppose there had to be one) as a selection of patterns is that there are no projects for men. All the sweaters and accessories are meant to be worn by women, with the exception of some intended for children.

Still, there are many, many patterns here to choose from, and these three are just the tip of the iceberg. Since we’re living in a Ravelry world now, I decided to investigate how many projects from this book have already been ‘Ravelled’. Patterns in books don’t tend to disperse quite as fast as projects in magazines or online publications, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was making my notes a couple of weeks ago to find that 75% of the Knitter’s Book of Yarn patterns have been knitted and completed. Many by the dozen. There are books that have been out on the shelf for twice as long that don’t have those numbers.

The Double-Thick Mittens and Norwegian Snail Mittens by Adrian Bizila are two big winners, as are the Maine Morning Mitts which have already been knitted by the hundreds, at least. The Princess Mitts by Jennifer Hagan (cabled fingerless mitts) are also popular, as is the felted Calla Lily Bag by Cat Bordhi. I would be surprised if you didn’t find anything in this book to fall in love with.

Next up in reviews: More Big Girl Knits, A Fine Fleece, and Tweed.

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Book Review: Twelve Months of Knitting

It’s been too long since I had a book review!

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Twelve Months of Knitting by Joanne Yordanou is intended – as is clear from the title – as a collection of knitting projects suitable for all four seasons. It’s an ambitious claim, and one that other collections have tried before now. But more importantly, I really feel this book should be considered not so much as an all-seasons book, but as a book for the advanced-beginner knitter who has learned a few skills and is ready to move on to larger projects.

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Although the majority of patterns are designed for women, there are a couple of men’s sweaters as well as a few versatile accessories and a couple of (admittedly adorable and fairly easy looking) children’s sweaters). In sharp contrast to the new books I’ve reviewed in the last few months, this book is a fairly conservative selection – shaping is minimal-to-none, sweaters tend to favour drop-shoulders rather than set-in sleeves or raglan, most pieces use DK-weight and heavier – but this in itself may make it an appealing book to some knitters.

There are a few projects which I feel are downright ill-advised, particularly the two – not one, but two – knitted bikinis. (One bandeau, one string). And the beach cover-up top and the cropped sweater with diamond cut-outs might seem like wise all-season knitting, but I can’t think of anyone I know who would want to either make or wear them. Really, the high points of this book are exactly where they should be – with the fall and winter knits.

The two sweaters above are good examples of this. Both are fairly simple shapes but are comfortable pieces. Although the cables might look slightly intimidating, the pattern repeats several times and would be a satisfying knit in Briggs & Little wool as the pattern suggests.

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At first glance I will admit that I didn’t find much of interest in this collection, but upon further inspection a few pieces stand out for me, including the two above. The ‘Ski Lodge Scoop’ is an attractive ribbed vest that uses 4 skeins of Manos Del Uruguay, and there is an accompanying pattern for a drawstring bag. The cabled belted cardigan above right would also be a pretty classic wardrobe addition, especially in the Mission Falls 1824 Wool as the pattern uses here. I’d totally make that.

There is a heavy lacy shawl in Classic Elite Cashmere – which would move briskly on 5mm needles – a felted bag, and a few hats and scarves for easy accessorizing. The girls’ cardigan below becomes cuter and cuter the more I look at it, and as a wrap sweater fan I have to give it up for the cotton sleeveless summer wrap, below right.

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Sizing-wise, most of the patterns will fit a bust size up to 44″ or so, which isn’t the highest range but still fares higher than many other books. This is a collection of patterns, not a technique manual, so you will find very little “how-to” discussion. Knitters should be prepared to seek that sort of advice on their own. Also, there are no charts for cable and lace patterns – those of charted mind will have to reverse-engineer that. But if you’re looking for a basic collection of patterns, this book will do just fine. Although I wouldn’t rank it on my top shelf, I’m keeping it on tap for the Ski Lodge Scoop and the Mission Falls cardi.

Have a great weekend!

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Book Review: Pretty Knits

My blog fodder is stretched pretty thin this week. I have things I keep thinking I’d have posted about now but they’re not done yet. I am plotting a 3rd Venezia swatch, as for example (just to make sure I give the blue/green palette a fair shake), and then I have a couple of wee small projects on the go but they’re not ready yet. (Stupid finishing). I have 1 ball of SWS waiting to be a matching hat for my Clapotis but, oops, haven’t gotten to it yet either. Thank goodness for book reviews!

This review selection is Pretty Knits by Susan Cropper, of London’s yarn store Loop.

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I’ve had this book for about a month, and I keep looking at it, and pondering, and looking at it some more, and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it. Are the designs pretty? Yes. The book lives up to its title. Is it an accessible selection of patterns? Yes. There is a variety of skill level required and there are a few pages at the back with discussion of technique and photos for support. Is there a range of yarns used? Yes. Everything from wool to bamboo and back again, sport-weight on up to bulky.

One thing that I can’t reconcile, though, is the sizing. No matter how many pattern collections have come before this one that only fit up to bust size 38″, a book published in the year 2007 should freaking well include pattern sizing for more than 3 sizes per garment, and should go beyond bust size 38/40. What, only skinny people get to be pretty? BAH.

Perhaps my reluctance also has to do with the concept – we’ve had no shortage of pattern books in the last couple of years which profess to be glamorous or sensual or pretty or romantic or [insert feminine adjective here]. So in that respect, each new book of that genre has a reputation to live up to. Overlooking this skepticism and the ‘detail’ of the sizing, I will say that there are some very nicely designed patterns here. Unlike some other possible glam patterns, these ones don’t just limit the “pretty” to appliques and extra finishing with buttons and sequins, but use the yarns in creative ways that achieve the intended look. The wrap on the cover, for example, combines three different yarns in a panelled effect with an attractive drape. (It also uses ribbon yarn in an attractive way – I am always intrigued when people figure out how to do that).

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There are 30 patterns to choose from, about evenly split between home items and garments. Although there are some patterns I don’t want to give a 2nd glance to (the knitted bows necklace is one), some are quite lovely (pics of my choices below). There’s a cabled water bottle cozy that you could probably make in an afternoon, on up to a bedspread with rose appliques that is more ambitious. I call the pattern selection a win, generally speaking. These are divided into four categories – fashionista, accessoires, fripperies, and the boudoir. There are blankets and cozies and pillows, but I’ll focus on the garments because those are generally what I look for.

The beaded camisole top by Leslie Scanlon and the empire waist top by Debbie Bliss, above, are two of my favourites. They look comfortable and classic, and could be mixed with a variety of skirts or slacks or capris, depending on the season or occasion.

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This chevron top by Louisa Harding was a pleasant surprise. The colour selection and off-shoulder styling really appeals to me, and once again it looks like an eminently comfortable and wearable knit. The Anisette wrap by Kristeen Griffin-Grimes is one that didn’t grab me at first but it did grab my sister, who despite some skepticism over the ‘only 2 balls of Kidsilk Haze’ requirement, has been happily working away at it for the last few weeks. It also comes in a scarf version, which I think is a fantastic idea.

I reported above that I’m still not sure where to land with this book. The patterns are attractive, but there is one thing still holding me back, and while I don’t know who to fault for it – the editor? the publisher? the tech copy writer? – it’s still bothering me several weeks later. While the patterns tell you which yarn to use, and how many skeins you’ll need, there is absolutely no detail provided on yardage, weight, or fibre composition. They tell you about gauge, yes, but that magical list of yarns and their details is nowhere to be found. So if you want to know if Yarn Z is a wool or a wool-blend, a sport-weight or fingering, then you’ll have to look elsewhere. In a knitting age when yarn substitution is queen and fibre content can make all the difference for many knitters, this is a disappointment. I am left to conclude that either this is a significant and unintended error of omission (I hope that this is the case), or that the editor really wants you to use only the yarns they’re telling you to use.

So, thumbs up for the pretty, thumbs down on the sizing and lack of yarn specs. I think it’s worth a look, but savvy knitters will arm themselves with a bit of yarny research or pattern modification to help them make the most of this book.

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Book Review: Inspired Fair Isle Knits

Since Fridays always seem to be a little bit humdrum, and since I do enjoy opportunities to remind myself that writing is not always agonizing, I thought I’d get to another book review today.

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Inspired Fair Isle Knits by Fiona Ellis uses traditional fair isle techniques in non-traditional ways. This is a collection of 20 patterns of all sorts, each of which uses stranded colourwork. You won’t find all-over pattern fine gauge vests or steeked cardigans on every page – although I would totally buy that book, too. These fair isle patterns use color work largely as accent or in smaller portions such as sleeves or hems, even buttonbands. Most of the projects use wool or similar fibres, but several do use cotton, and the yarns range from sport weight to worsted.

I have the feeling that for most of us, ‘fair isle’ conjures up images of norwegian ski sweaters or projects with umpteen different colours of fingering-weight yarn, and snowflake motifs that go on for days. You won’t find any of these things in this book. Fiona Ellis makes it clear that her inspiration came from all over the world, using the four elements as guideposts. As a result, the colour combinations are bright and rich, and the placement of colourwork is varied.

As far as the patterns themselves, I think whether or not these are patterns that are knittable for you will be a matter of taste. For myself, there are some things in here that I don’t even want to give a second glance to, and there are others that I would knit right now today if I had the right yarn and didn’t already have soul-eating WIPs on the go. (Oh garter stitch blanket, some day soon I will finish you). It’s these last patterns that I like that I would like to mention in this review.

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But first, a word on organization. Whoever organized this book, I think I might want to make out with them a little bit. And I don’t just mean the theme – which is based on the 4 elements of air, water, earth, and fire, and is absolutely lovely – I mean the small details that make this a knitting book and not just a collection of patterns.

Some books just tell you what yarn to use and leave it at that. This book does not do that. There is a 2-page key at the back which gives you all the pattern yarn requirements at a glance (see picture above), along with a little thumbnail picture to remind you what the pattern is. This is a small thing, but imagine how much easier your life would be if you had a 2-page over-the-fold chart like this in every book. Substitutions would be a breeze, you could stand with those 2 pages as you rifle through your stash (and I guarantee you that some of these yarns are in your stash right now this very moment) and figure out what you need, with a nice cute reminder of the intended colour scheme.

The first few pages are devoted to technique, and this includes a brief pictorial explanation of how stranded colourwork is done. There are also explanations for buttonbands, weaving in ends, cables, and crochet. A glossary is used similarly, and each pattern makes note of which of these individual techniques you will need to use. Just one more reason why I love the way this book is organized.

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This pattern here called ‘drifting’ is a child’s sweater that is quite possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen, and there is yarn in my stash and yours right this very moment that you could make it with. The fair isle component is comprised of exactly 15 rows of stranded colourwork – this is not fair isle that you need to be intimidated by. This is fair isle that cosies up to you and bats its eyelashes until you wonder why you haven’t cast on for this sweater yet. If my mother is reading this, I guarantee you she is right now mentally cataloguing what wee children she knows to give this to, what yarn she’s going to make it with, and when she can borrow this book from me.

There are other equally bright children’s patterns in here – a zippered hoodie cardigan, for example, but let’s have a look at what’s here for the grownups. I find that the more I look through this, the more two patterns catch my eye, both quite different:

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On the left is ‘crystal’, an alpaca turtleneck which uses a snowflake pattern throughout the body. There is something sporty about this that I really like, and the idea of cozying up in a turtleneck like this in the winter makes me wish it was already January. On the right is ‘glowing’, a women’s hooded raglan sweater. This uses 6 colours of Mission Falls 1824, and keeps most of the colourwork to the body with a few inches of accent at the cuffs. I’d really like to try this one.

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Above left is the men’s sweater ‘hearth’, which I quite like, and on the right is the women’s ‘sway’ jacket. This jacket does use fair isle on the collar and front bands, of all places, but also uses pleating to achieve a flirty look at the cuffs. I like this one for the way the fair isle accents sort of sneak in almost unnoticed.

The cover pattern (above) is possibly my favourite and the one that I want to cast on for right now. It is possibly the only pattern which is 100% fair isle – no stockinette sections for pause – and changes the look of the traditional fair isle bands by setting them all on the diagonal. It uses 3 colours of sport-weight and is accented with i-cord fringe. I think what I like about this is that even if your gauge is off and it turns out an inch too wide or too small – which would be a problem if you were making an all-over-fair-isle sweater – it’ll still fit! It’s a scarf! And a darned gorgeous one at that.

I look forward to seeing the projects that result from this book, and look forward to casting on for some myself. Hopefully it won’t be before too long, since winter is just around the corner.

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Book Review: Romantic Knits

[Edited to add]: Find corrections for this book and other Annie Modesitt patterns here

In the midst of all Thesis and General Life Turmoil, I thought I’d remind myself that reading and writing aren’t always painful, by sitting down with a knitting book review. Annie Modesitt’s Romantic Hand Knits is a treat.

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It seems as though there has been no shortage of new knitting books in the last year or two which showcase sensual designs that are meant to fit and flatter women’s figures. While I haven’t had a look at all of them, I can say pretty surely that there is something in Romantic Hand Knits for everyone – I’d be surprised if you picked up this book and didn’t find anything that appealed to you.

The book is divided into pieces ‘Above The Waist’ and ‘Below The Waist’, and then a few accessories. All of the pieces are named after film titles, emphasizing the ‘romantic’ nature of these designs as part of the stuff movie dreams and glamour-filled lives are made of. These are challenging patterns – only a handful are labelled as ‘beginner’ or ‘easy’ – which depend on a great deal of shaping, cabling, and lace work. Unlike other books which provide you with lots of attractive patterns and assume you know how to do the finishing, this book also takes you aside with a few instructional pages. Basic embroidery skills and crochet are two examples of these. The yarns used are varied, showcasing not just wool or cotton but fibers like silk, corn (the skirt on the cover – ooh la la!), and bamboo. But beware, several of these are in the pricey range – I suspect substitution will be high for many knitters with romantic tastes but tight budgets.

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The ‘Bishop’s Wife’ dress above is one of several dresses and skirts in the book. Now, I’m not saying I’m going to run out for an armload of wool/linen blend to knit this up just yet. But just the fact that I could work up a knitted dress like this using this pattern is pretty awesome. On the other end of the practicality and time commitment range, there are projects like this ‘Dark Victory’ yoked sweater pattern. I think that would be a comfortable day-to-night knit, and you could customize the colour combination to suit your own wardrobe.

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In the accessories category there is a full range of knitted items – full length gloves, cashmere fingerless mitts, and yes indeed, a knitted hat. I have to say, I could really go for this ‘Gone with the Wind’ hat, pictured above. I might choose different colours, and I’d have to do some searching around to find millinery wire, but that would be a darned fun project. The ‘All About Eve’ skirt – though challenging my price point with the use of 100% silk ribbon – is gorgeous and versatile, and I love the bright pink paired with the black sashes.

Overall, these patterns are sized for almost everyone. Most of the patterns fit bust sizes up to 48/50″, including all of the dresses. However, there are two exceptions to this that make me want to bleat pitiably, because they are two of my favourite patterns in the book – and they only come in 3 sizes, with 10-12″ difference between them. The ‘Charade’ wrap sweater, and the ‘Casablanca’ off-shoulder top are elegant and look like they’d be very comfortable. But let’s say you’re a 36″-bust gal and want to go for that Casablanca top: You’re going to have to choose from a 40″ bust or a 28″ bust, and no other sizing options in between. I’d suspect that with these two patterns knitters are going to have to make some decisions about altering gauge and/or yarn to help the garments fit them as needed.

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I’m looking forward to seeing the Finished Objects that will spring up from knitters working with this book. There are lots of possibilities and I think this is an ambitious book that will challenge and excite. Sometime in the dark of winter I might just come back with an armload of wool and knit myself up a floor-length skirt, you just never know.

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Book Review: Knits Three Ways

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Yesterday a new book arrived in my mailbox for review from Random House, and with a start I realized I had never actually posted a review for another book that I’ve had for a couple of months! I meant to review Knits Three Ways in June…and then so much of my time in June got eaten up by my fretting over my sick laptop, so I suppose a few things in my brain got shelved and put aside ;) Now, though, I am very happy to write up this review because I think I actually like it better on second glance than I did the first time I looked at it.

Knits Three Ways by Melissa Mathay strikes me as a book that does a good job at combining two seemingly contradictory knitting styles: the organic knitter who wants to create and knit as she pleases with whatever yarn she pleases, and the knitter who needs a pattern to cling to for guidance and structure in her work. You know how a lot of knitting books (particularly beginner books) will tell you how patterns can be adapted and modified and yarns can be substituted and you can create your own look? Well, this book doesn’t just tell you that, it shows you. The book is premised on the idea that a single pattern structure or stitch can be adapted in several different ways for different effects each time. Accordingly, each of the 12 sections presents 3 takes on a single idea. The cover picture provides a good example of this, presenting the same chevron-shaping pattern in a bright, almost ‘Madonna’-esque halter, a muted single-tone tank top, and a bright but slouchy cardigan.

I’ve taken a few shots with my digital camera to illustrate a few more concepts from the book – please do pardon the lo-tech representations! The ‘Leah’ tank/vest on the left and the ‘Celia’ pullover on the right, below, are two sister patterns taken from the ‘Cables Galore’ section. One is a bright, versatile vest with more sharply ‘cut out’ armholes, the other is a casual pullover that can be thrown over a t-shirt or worn on its own. The cabled accents are similar in both cases, but used in different amounts.

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Another sample I quite liked was the take on the v-neck cardigan – this book takes a “classic look” that usually appears in modest, unaccented patterns, and opens it up to some customization. In the ‘Tracy’ sample this is done by using Prism Arts Wild Stuff which creates a fuzzy, variegated, almost ‘kitchen sink’ look. In the ‘Katherine’ example, below, the look changes again by knitting a plain version in Rowan Kidsilk Haze and the optional accent of a ruffled scarf. I have to say, I kind of love this ‘Katherine’ sweater:

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Two other sweaters I was taken with are the ‘Jacki’ off-shoulder raglan, and the ‘Suki’ kimono, below. ‘Jacki’ is one of 3 ‘Sweatshirt to Soiree’ sweaters all produced at a gauge of 8 sts/4 ins, and her 2 sisters are a cowl-necked pullover and a hooded front-pocket sweater. They are all meant to be comfortable, quick, gratifying knits. ‘Suki’ is one of 3 kimonos knit side-to-side, from one arm to the other, and ‘Suki’ also comes with instructions for a matching belt. Yes, I would knit this in about two seconds. I wouldn’t knit it in the yarn shown in the sample, but I would knit it nonetheless.

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There are a variety of yarns used in this book, and I suspect that most of them are readily available in yarn shops across the United States. I can’t say that I’ve gone looking for all of them over the course of my shopping in Canada, but I think this is a book that lends itself very well to yarn substitution, and the sample yarns cut across brands – there’s everything from Lion Brand to Rowan in here. Also, and I never thought I’d say this, but this book is seriously making me re-think eyelash yarns. That kimono above is not my personal colour palette, but you know? That hint of fuzzy eyelash kind of works. I bet it makes the finished garment feel a little bit luxurious, and more than a little unique. I am reminding myself that not all eyelash yarns are created equal, and that there is life beyond Bernat Boa.

Another thing that I like about this book is that, in many cases, the sweaters are modelled on more than one person, so it gives you a slight idea of what the sweaters would look like on different body types. I do say ‘slight’, though, since these women shown do tend towards the thin end of the spectrum. But it is an accommodating book – all of the patterns go up to a finished size of 44/45 ins across the bust, and several of them go higher than that. (Runway Knits, this is not!)

The book also starts out with a section on how to design a garment to fit your own body, and this section in combination with a wide variety of patterns makes this an ideal book for a beginner knitter who wants to get creative and work a little bit outside of the box. Knits Three Ways presents patterns as starting points, not fixed guidelines, and that’s almost reason enough for me to call this a win.

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Book Review: Runway Knits

Runway

Runway Knits by Berta Karapetyan is a gorgeous book with gorgeous patterns in it. However, there are two important things a knitter should know before reading it:

1. None of the patterns are sized above a 42″ bust, and in many cases stop at a 40″ bust (for the finished garment, not for the body wearing it).

2. All of the patterns call for Karabella yarns.

All right, so the second thing isn’t quite so bad, particularly since I think most knitters are used to making substitutions anyhow when they choose yarn for a project, but the first thing is non-negligible. For goodness sakes, if a pattern book is only going to write up to 42″, then I would at least hope they would do that consistently. Many of these patterns stop sooner than that, putting me (a dress-size 10 with broad shoulders) in the largest size category in several cases. That just ain’t right, y’all, not when industry standard publications like Interweave Knits accommodate up to 50″ busts on a regular basis. So, I suppose this book is “runway” ready in more ways than one.

And really, this is absolutely a crying shame, because this book contains 30 beautiful patterns. There are very few things in here that I would not knit – even the knitted dresses – and they rely for the most part on sport-weight, DK-weight, and worsted-weight yarns that are used to their advantage in fitted, modern designs. I’ll include some pictures here from my own camera – please excuse this low-tech process ;)

SeashellShrug VintageShawl

The majority of pieces in this collection are sweaters – of 30 patterns, I believe there are 2 dresses, 2 scarves and hats, and 2 shawls, so that makes it about 2/3 sweaters, and I’ll admit this is just fine with me since I love sweaters and they are my default project. But these are not basic crewnecks or floppy cardigans. One of my first thoughts as I flipped through the book the first time was, “Clearly I have NOT been knitting enough shrugs. Get me yarn and needles, stat! I must knit these!” There are at least four “shrugs” in this collection, and we’re not talking about just basic shoulder-covers, either. The Seashell Shrug above left is one example, and there’s another called Springtime in Paris which fully covers the arms, shoulders, and back, and folds over in front in a lovely lapel collar. These are stylish sweaters that are made for comfort as well, without the fuss of buttonbands or zippers. In fact, most of the patterns are free of buttons or zippers, so most of the finishing work here involves seaming and blocking and that’s it.

The shawl, above right, is one of the few bulky-weight patterns in the book and I have to say that the more I look at it the more I love it. I did not think bulky-weight yarn could do that, crossing that unlikely divide between a shawl you throw over the edge of the couch and the quick cover-up you bring along to go out for dinner. I’m imagining it in a deep cranberry red or pale grey and thinking glamorous thoughts.

RomanCandle UltravioletVneck

Something else that I appreciate a great deal in these designs is the way they use all-over stitch patterns, including cables and different textures. One of the hesitations I have with the patterns in Cables Untangled is that in many of the designs in that book, the all-over cable patterns are so arresting that they overwhelm the garments themselves. Here, though, the patterns are more muted and work with the shape and style of the garments. I think the Roman Candle turtleneck and Ultraviolet V-neck, above, are two good examples of this. The Roman Candle is another pattern that I keep looking back at and wondering if I could make with some of the yarn in my stash. And the miniature cables in the V-Neck would be challenging without adding significant bulk to the finished sweater.

I did mention that there are knitted dresses in this book – indeed, more than one – and the design on the cover is one of them. This “Little Black Dress”, dare I say it, is something I would be willing to make. It includes dart shaping in the front and back to shape the waist, and uses lace on the sleeves and hem which increase the challenge while still allowing you to retreat to the safety of stockinette in the body. (Am I the only one who finds stockinette reassuring and relaxing? Bueller?) This is a much nicer knitted dress than, say, the pilly red acrylic mini-dress I saw someone walking down the street in a few weeks ago. (Yep. And it had pink strawberries knitted into an applique.)

MarbledTop This turtleneck is the last one I wanted to mention. It’s one of the obvious “beginner” type of projects contained in the book. This Marbled Top uses aran-weight yarn and would be appropriate for substituting either solid or variegated yarn, and uses picot edging to accent the sleeves and body. What a great way to learn picot edging and add flair to what would otherwise be a pretty simple sweater.

On a technical note, all of the patterns are worked flat on two needles and then seamed later. This is also a book that will depend on careful swatching. Also, a few patterns rely on colours that are too bright for my taste. Overall, I congratulate the designer on the beautiful patterns – but please, more sizes next time?

Next week I will have a look at a very different book – Knits Three Ways by Melissa Matthay. And Clarabelle has asked me 5 questions which, by the laws of the blogosphere and memes, I must answer. I’ll try to get on that for the next post!

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Knitting on the brain

Thank you so much for all the lovely comments on my finished EBTKS! It’s such a fun sweater. Everyone could make them. A couple of you were well-meaning enough to comment on how nice it must be to use up all my leftovers! Well, yes and no. I did use a lot of yarn in the sweater, but I still have this left behind:

(Hello, we’re your stash of oddball leftovers that hasn’t quite gone away.)

But now that the the EBTKS has made me aware of this presence, well, it might just be wrist-warmers and knitted change purses ahoy. Gotta be somethin’ to do with all of this, and all in good time.

In other news, my sister recently posted about her tales From The Land of Unfinished, so if you should happen to have knitterly sympathy and are interested in someone new for your Bloglines, do go over and say howdy ;) She also tells of her book purchases – I also added 2 books to the library last week. One was the book Folk Socks, by Nancy Bush. It is, of course, a fabulous collection of sock and knee-high stocking patterns, inspired by many different European textile traditions. Like Lolly, I am indeed smitten with the Norwegian stocking pattern:

(Norwegian stockings, from Folk Socks, by Nancy Bush)

I have no idea where I’d wear ‘em (although they’d darn sure keep my legs warm under my jeans in the cold snaps like we had this past February – oie…), but I want them. There is also a pattern for knee-high kilt hose, which quite frankly I would have merely flipped past in the book had I not already seen these pictures of a finished pair being worn. I think I might have gasped as I followed Lolly’s link to those socks of Terri’s. They are gorgeous, covetable, and 100% the reason why I purchased the book.

The book has other benefits, not the least of which is that it devotes several pages to a written history of sock and stocking knitting, and then several more pages on technique. She shows how to knit a basic sock and then shows you the difference between a few kinds of toes and heels. There is a great deal of knowledge contained in such a small volume.

My only significant complaint about this book is that it contains a dire lack of measurements – the patterns are only given general statements like, “sized for a man,” or “sized for a woman.” Well, but how many inches in leg circumference are you assuming a man or a woman has? It makes it very difficult to know how to substitute yarn or change gauge or add stitches as necessary, without knowing what the frame of reference is.

The other book I ordered was Viking Patterns for Knitting by Elsebeth Lavold. I borrowed my friend K’s copy last August, and even though I know I won’t get to knitting anything from this book any time in the very near future, I had to have my own copy to lick ogle and pore over on my own. I am completely taken with the ‘Ragna’ sweater pattern, and the cover pattern ‘Hervor’ is also beautiful. One of these days I may completely snap, buy an armload of Canadian wool (preferably something purple and heathery), and cast on for one of these. Well, or at least I could, once I get one small mishap cleared up:



Now, I know we knitters love to multi-task, but I don’t think we’ve reached the point where we are capable of actually knitting 2 patterns simultaneously. No, you’re not seeing things in these pics – the copy I received contains a horrific misprint, where about a dozen pages are printed like this with text and image from 2 pages contained in one. Several of the patterns are unscathed (including my precious Ragna), but still – this won’t do. I’ve contacted the book people and requested a replacement copy.

And finally, Happy Birthday wishes to Kelly, who also deserves congrats on the fabulous cabled sweater she just finished for her husband. He looks happy to be wearing it (as he rightly should, of course), and it is a lovely piece. Happy Tuesday to all…

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Book Review: Glamour Knits, by Erika Knight


Glamour Knits arrived on the shelves in January at the same time as Erika Knight’s other book Classic Knits, which contains several versatile and practical pieces. Glamour Knits is an entirely different kind of book, although its format and written style is nearly identical to its companion. Many of the yarns are similar, and both books’ patterns rely only on straight needles. While there are a few patterns in Glamour Knits that I could easily envision knitting for myself, overall I found myself somewhat disappointed the more I looked through the pages. (Can’t tell what’s “knitted” in that cover art photo? Neither can I.)

A more apt title for this book would be, ‘Knitting with Glamorous Finishing’ – the glam elements in many of these patterns come from the application of ribbons or sequins, or the combination of knitting with fabric. For example, the off-shoulder Cable Sweater would be the sibling of the Classic Knits Bardot Sweater, but for the addition of sequins intertwined along with the cables (a dubious choice, in my opinion). The Jacquard Scarf is a simple bulky-weight scarf which combines several different yarns – and this would be already be attractive and comfortable – but is made ‘glamorous’ by the addition of beads and applique sequins (which for some reason are listed as ‘optional’ by the pattern requirements). The final example of this is the Chinoiserie Cardigan. It is without a doubt an attractive sweater, but once again the most glamorous element comes from the Chinese-style printed satin lining. Dissapointingly, the pattern instructions not only list this lining as ‘optional’, but also omit any instructions on how to construct the lining itself.

These additional sewn elements certainly provide an element of glamour to the knitted pieces in this book. Most of these pieces are garments that I would wear myself. However, to critique this book as a knitting manual is difficult – if we remove the extra sequins and ribbons and beads, in most cases this leaves behind simple knitted pieces that rely on stockinette, ribbing, and some chunky cabling, just like the pieces in Classic Knits. This is not a manual for knitters to learn new techniques. Rather, this book expects knitters to know their way around a needle and thread and a notions store to glam-up their garments.

While I am largely critical of this book, there are a few exceptions which I think are genuinely attractive and make creative use of knitting techniques to produce wearable garments. One is the Lace Shrug, which uses fine gauge yarn to create a lacy rectangle, and then closes the ends into ‘armholes’ using satin ribbon – it looks attractive, comfortable, could be adjusted for women of any size, and shows off the skill of the knitter with a foray into lace. (However, lace knitters who prefer to rely on charts and symbols will be disappointed – all instructions are written in text only.) A second pattern I quite like is the Long Gloves, reminiscent of fancy opera gloves. They use two balls of Rowan Kidsilk Haze – which by itself is a positive attribute, since it gives knitters the chance to try out a small amount of a luxurious yarn – and would be an attractive complement to an evening wardrobe.

The Jacquard Scarf I mentioned above would also be a versatile piece, with or without the sequins, as well as a nice knitted gift. There is a long-sleeved Ribbed Shrug pattern which would be a relatively quick knit on 7mm needles (and requires no application of anything sparkly), and the Beaded Cuffs and Choker would be a fun way to raid the button drawer or pieces of old costume jewelry, in applying these to a knitted cuff and necklace set. And, there is a lace top in Rowan Kidsilk Haze which would be attractive with or without the ribbon ruffled faux-buttonband sewn at the throat.

So, while I would not say that there is anything truly glamorous about the actual knitting in this book, if you’re comfortable adding needle and thread to your knitting and would like to try out some slightly more luxurious yarns, then this book could be for you. For myself, I prefer the simplicity and versatility of Knight’s Classic Knits.

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