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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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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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