Daily Archives: June 26, 2008

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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