Category Archives: Book review

Book review: Yarnitecture

YarnitectureI’m often sent books to review, and I find myself thinking ‘nooooo’. Many don’t make it onto Woolwinding; they are either inappropriate or just uninspiring, or maybe they are reinventing a wheel which doesn’t need redevelopment – or maybe they are just dire. But sometimes I open a parcel and find myself doing a little dance round the room. This is one of the latter occasions.

Excuse me. Ahem.

What can I say about this gem by Jillian Moreno? it is a spinning book written, hooray, from a knitter’s perspective. It focuses on spinning ‘a yarn that fulfils a purpose’: one that works its best for whatever knitted project you have in mind.

Once upon a recent time, handspinning was almost an end in itself, and it still can be, of course. Once upon a recent time, it was assumed in books about spinning that the spinners were inevitably dealing exclusively with fleece. Raw fleece. Fleece possibly from their own sheep. And, also of course, some people do work exclusively with fleece (I love it myself, except on days like today when the wind suddenly gets up and blows most of my freshly washed Cheviot x BFL fleece away, possibly taking it as far as England). But many of us are not purists: we buy prepared fibre, maybe hand-dyed, delicious fibre; maybe undyed but fully processed and still delicious fibre. And some people – I know several – actively dislike working with anything else. Very many of us spin fibre in order to knit with it, to produce something unique, something we control from (almost) start to finish. This is our book.

It starts with a basic vision; goes through fibre breeds and the impact choice there can have; explores prep, drafting, plying, working with colour, finishing… and, ta dah, knitting with handspun. It’s beautifully illustrated. And it even has some patterns.

Ok, let’s have a look inside. Take this page: it illustrates the different effects you can get by blending colours at plying or blending those colours before spinning:

colour spinning

It is often good to do things intentionally, instead of accidentally. Intentional, and you can get the same effect again, should you want to do so. Accidental? You might be lucky…

Or take finishing a spun yarn. I almost always whack my finished yarn to set the twist (I find it helpful; I can imagine I am whacking the person at the Fibre Fair who said ‘I could do that, but I wouldn’t want to, it’s so boring’). But what about the alternatives? There’s snapping, swirling it around like a cowboy with a lasso, even fulling it. What difference would a different process make, and what impact would it have on a particular yarn?

finishing

Here four different yarns are compared – merino, corriedale, BFL and silk – after having undergone eight different approaches (menaced, incidentally, doesn’t mean you sitting in front of the yarn like Michael Corleone confronting the men who tried to kill his father; it means felting it deliberately).

And how about ply affecting what you want to knit?

plying

That’s covered at length; above focuses on singles, but there are equally detailed examinations of two- and three-ply yarns. It’s excellent, and the ‘knitting with your handspun’ section is invaluable, covering things like ensuring you will have enough yarn (been there), and simply planning a project from a pattern which specifies a commercial yarn.

Finally, there are twelve patterns. There are two cardigans, a moebius cowl / shawl, four more varied but normally constructed shawls (of which this, by Romi, is one),

pattern

socks, two sweaters, a necklace and a pair of mitts.

I have been waiting for a book like this – thank you, Jill Moreno!

 

Three for the bookshelf?

Right, that’s it. No more long projects until at least September. I know I suffer from Freelance Disorder – a tendency to accept any job you are offered, on the grounds that it might be the last job you are offered – but I’ve got a summer full of craft pop-ups and fairs and I do not want to be nailed down in front of the laptop. And while I’ve been bogged down in editing books, I’ve also been sent some to review. But these are on woolly matters.

Cable bookThe first, Cable Left, Cable Right by Judith Durant, is a real winner. As it happened, it landed on my doorstep as I was doing some cabling (fingerless mitts, for sale), so the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate.

I do have stitch pattern books which include cables along with other things, generally. But I don’t have anything which purely concentrates on cables apart from one book which also has patterns for garments. In that book the cable patterns are often very elaborate and on a large scale; here there are everything from the simplest rope cables to elaborate banded cables in two colours. Like the other books in this series (which I also rate), this does not include any patterns for finished things – and that, to my mind, is an asset. First, I often don’t like the patterns for the garments / cushions / strange unidentifiable things which come with the selection of stitch patterns; second, just concentrating on the the stitch patterns gives much more depth.

It allows you to look at the basics clearly and in more detail,

pages 1

and to then understand things properly when you get to more complicated issues:

pages 2

And that highlights another point. This book uses charts, not written instructions. Writing these instructions out would have taken pages; the chart is clear and quick. And in case anyone isn’t used to charts for cables (I am one who generally prefers written instructions), there are full and clear directions, and plenty of help. I think I’m converted.

(Someone said to me that she had problems working out which row she was on with charts. I looked at her pattern – written out, complex cables – and she was using a clip-on ruler thingy as a marker. I use something like that for lace charts, which I’m perfectly comfortable with, so why not these? I am a convert.) Yup. A definite recommendation, as is the next one.

IMG_5184Just a quickie; a little book on spinning, How to Spin, by Beth Smith.

It’s basic, it’s clear, it’s not photographic but there are line drawings to clarify things from basic drafting and attaching fibre to the leader to other issues like making a woollen-style join. Beth Smith is the author of The Spinners’ Book of Fleece, and both knows her stuff and has the ability to explain what she’s talking about. I recently sold a wheel to someone who was completely new to spinning, and I wish I’d had a copy of this at the time (it’s OK, she’s near a mutual friend who’s a very good spinner, so she’ll get help there). But this would be very useful for anyone in that position – and I’ve found it useful myself!

page 3Ah yes, the third book. I nearly didn’t review this, but patterns are a matter of personal taste. Also, I do not crochet. But had I ever felt like crocheting – and I might, given that there are some amazing crochet patterns and projects out there to inspire me – then the Crochet One-Skein Wonders for Babies book would put me right off. Incidentally, it had the same effect on some of the expert crocheters who saw it, too.

This elephant is cute, I’ll give it that. And there are a couple of hats and some bootees that I like. And, of course it comes down to the question I raised right at the start, of personal taste in patterns. But a diaper cover with a flower decoration on the bum? A vest which is quite rightly described as ‘unforgettable’? The Zucchini sleep sack and cap? Yup, it’s a bag shaped like a courgette in which you stick your baby.

Ok, there are some nice blankets; if you’re into crochet baby blankets, then it might be worth having a serious look at this. But the majority of the patterns look so old-fashioned beside some of the things people are crocheting now, and many of them are deeply impractical (and frightening, in the case of the more surreal toys). This book tries hard to be cute (‘little bottoms’), but maybe it just isn’t one for the somewhat cynical British market. Or the somewhat cynical me.

A new addiction?

Weaving coverGiven the nature of my last two posts, in which I was blown away by the National Wool Museum, perhaps it’s fortuitous that I was sent a great book to review: Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom, by Syne Mitchell.

It looked interesting to me, with a great mixture of basic advice and more adventurous techniques, but I’m not a weaver.

OK, I was sent it a bit ago, but I knew we had a weaving day coming up at the Llyn Guild, so I wanted to run it past some of our experts – because, as I say, I’m not a weaver.

Yet.

As soon as I produced it, several people pounced. One, a great weaver, already had it and pronounced it ‘excellent and inspirational’. The others went through it, checking various techniques, and then agreed. Then they asked that I could kindly donate my copy to the Guild library because, as they pointed out, I’m not a weaver.

We’ll see about that, because somehow it fell open at this:

fate?

It could be fate.

My first experience of weaving was at school, where our incredibly hearty RE teacher also taught weaving. (I’ve been trying to remember if she also wore sandals and socks and tie-dyed clothing, but I’m not sure about all of that. Sandals, yes, certainly – because I remember that she had very hairy toes and that I vaguely supposed she might be a hobbit. She also boomed like an ent.) I escaped the RE – my militantly ‘laïque’ father was quite willing to write me any kind of ‘daughter can’t possibly do that, we’e atheists / Jewish / pagans / blue with green spots’ letter that I requested – but was very keen on the weaving. Unfortunately it stopped too soon, almost as soon as the headmistress noticed, in the interests of more academic pursuits.

We did produce scarves, though not any as lovely as these:

and reading this book has made me remember how much I enjoyed the classes, tutorial booming and hairy feet aside. We were disciplined, though, made to weave organised checks or stripes, and improvisation was not allowed. But then, we were learning, so I suppose that’s fair enough. Now, of course, I wouldn’t have to be bound by such constraints. And neither is this book:

wild weaving

I’m open to its influence at the moment, because some of my friends are into Saori weaving and I just love the textures and colours and forms that they achieve. At last year’s Fibre and Fabric Fair in Harlech I was next to Rosie Green of Saorimor in Bangor, and was able to have a go (maybe I’ll be next to her at this year’s Fair too, but I might just give in before the end of July anyway). But something tells me that if I do succumb, I’ll need the pages in this devoted to troubleshooting:

book 3

so it probably won’t end up in the Guild library. But if it doesn’t, they are going to have to get one, because this is good. Very good.

Book reviews: three to think about

I’ve been so busy that a small pile-ette of books to review has built up. Oh, OK, there are three. And I have to say that they are all quite distinct. One is wonderful, one is inspiring, and one is – well, for me, a bit meh. So let’s start with the first one…

IMG_3726The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques, by Margaret Radcliffe.

I love Margaret Radcliffe’s books on technique, and have reviewed several of them. When I heard this one was on the cards, I was actually quite excited (I know, times have changed, once it was men, now it’s books about stranded knitting, but I know which has the more lasting impact). And it does not disappoint.

There’s all sorts of general information about colour – differentiating tone and hue, for instance, balancing – or not – colours, and about colour selection.

DPS colour

I find this very useful indeed – as I’ve been messing about with colour selection for a Fair Isle knit this winter, I’ve been debating many of the issues here (with myself, admittedly). It’s good to find them in one place instead of in a variety of sources, and to find them well illustrated.

There’s the usual mix of specific advice and step-by-step help; the very practical section at the back is clear, and there is a wealth of stitch patterns included, thematically arranged (I’m already finding the ‘stripes’ section useful in my preparations for next season’s craft fairs). But for me the stand-out section discusses something I’d not seen covered in such depth before: working with variegated yarns. Fascinating. And there are many colour techniques described too, from the familiar – stranded knitting and intarsia, for example – to the less well known, such as twining and helix knitting. And how about using maths and colour – knitting a fibonacci sequence, for example, or knitting in a colour code…?

IMG_3730

Fortunately Color Knitting Techniques is very well bound. It’s going to need to be.

The inspirational book – not that the Radcliffe isn’t; I just suspect that this next one will be looked at more than actually used – is Knitting Fabric Rugs by Karen Tiede.

fabric rugsThese are not, in the classic sense, rag rugs. They are made from strips of fabric (and there are some very clever ways of cutting this to get the maximum lengths, clearly described), and are knitted in garter stitch, not prodded through a backing cloth.

Why garter stitch? Well, the strips are difficult to purl on the large needles (I can vouch for that – tried it, though I’ve to gone so far as to knit more than a couple of rows and cannot vouch for the patterns working or the hands holding out*), but garter stitch also gives a flat fabric. It also, apparently, makes for ‘springier’ rugs – ones that are much more comfortable to walk on.

Again, there’s an emphasis on colour, and on collecting colour (I went to a rag rug workshop where the tutor described herself as ‘being on a mission to save colours’, and I get the impression that this is very much the same). There’s also a strong ethical dimension, which I really like – it’s classic recycling, making do and mending. This makes it sound like a rather brown and gritty, knit your own yoghurt, child of the seventies thing. It’s not.

It’s stylish.

fabric rugs

I’ve already found myself thinking about making one of these for the bathroom – smart stripes of peacock and jade, with perhaps some darker colours to… wonder what else is in my rag bag…

(*Incidentally, Karen Tiede does put an emphasis on comfort – and physical safety – while assembling the materials and knitting these rugs. Among other things, she states that if your hands are beginning to hurt, it’s an indication that the needle size is wrong. And you knit strips and piece them together; you don’t have half a ton of fabric on the needles. Almost, but not quite.)

‘Stylish’ can be said about some of the patterns in the third book. Some.

babyNo, I’m being unfair – we all have different taste, and there’s something in One-Skein Wonders for Babies (edited, as usual in the One Skein series, by Judith Durant) for everybody.

Some of the patterns are highly traditional (I have photographs of myself as a baby wearing things which are more modern), and some are – er, idiosyncratic. Knitted bibs? Masticated rusk and garter stitch?

However, there are also some which are really rather funky, and I have fallen completely in love with a hat (the hat section is good):

hat I want

It’s ‘yarn dependent’ – but I love it. I want it. If that baby had a bigger head, and happened to be in Snowdonia, I’d have that hat off its curly little head.

(I must mention here that whatever I may think of some of the patterns, the photography is excellent.) IMG_3722I also rather liked these ‘sleeveless baby vests’ – the vests are sleeveless, mind, not the babies – though I would never have been able to pull one over the head of most babies I’ve known.

Even more impractical – IMO – is the ruffled ‘bumper’, over-nappy knickers, basically. One of those sudden upwards-and-downwards exploding nappies and this would be dust. Or something. And on another, anyone who knits in Noro for a baby has probably won the lottery, because there’s no way Noro’s going anywhere near a washing machine. Mashed banana a) gets everywhere, even before it’s been through the baby, and b) sticks worse than Agent Orange, and a gentle soak in Euclan will not do the business. I know this. But out of 101 patterns there are bound to be some you don’t like and some you do.

Time to up-size that hat. Now that would work in Noro.
For me.

 

Book reviews: an assortment of goodies

I’m a terrible collector of books. Mind you, I’ve spent most of my life around books and words and print, so that’s not surprising, and sometimes I’m asked to review books on here. Generally, I say no because I don’t like the books – dissing things is easy, and I’m not into that… though if something is truly bad, then it can be quite entertaining. But for something to stay in my library it has to be worth it.

Increase DecreaseA while ago I reviewed Cast On Bind Off, which I found fantastically useful (in fact, I just had to go searching for it, and found it under a pile of knitting on the dining table – I know, I know). Now we have Increase Decrease in the same format, this time by Judith Durant. As you can probably tell from the photo – I could not persuade it to lie flat and be photographed nicely – I’ve already had a good go at this one. Fascinating.

Like its companion, it’s an American book and at first I thought there was a giant elephant missing from the room – the S1, K1, psso decrease so common in UK knitting patterns. But it is there, just abbreviated differently: SKP (slip, knit, pass, I suppose). But I’d never really thought about it, never really given much attention to left- and right-leaning decreases – just, by and large, done what the pattern said. Except when the pattern said something which just didn’t look right – and then I had to improvise.

Did you realise, for instance, that the reason S1, K1, psso was normally matched with K2tog in a UK pattern was that one leaned left and the other leaned right? Oh, all right, you most likely did. But did you think about it? Many of us have now encountered the common US decrease, SSK, which is often paired with K2tog as a left-leaning alternative to it:

ssk

but did you realise that there was an alternative to the K2tog which made a better match? I must have come across it, but I can’t really remember, and this book makes it clear. It pairs SSK and K2tog, and SKP (S1, K1, psso) with KSP, or K1, S1, psso. They go together better. They really do – I’ve tried it.

One of the most significant parts of this book comes when it looks at increases and decreases in lace knitting. Increases and decreases are essentially how lace is created, and it is so vital to keep tabs on what you’re doing. I’ve knitted a lot of lace, plus I’m knit-picking (see what I did there?) and, as my father said once, a ‘natural mathematician even though you made a complete mess of your exams’, and it doesn’t faze me any more, but I know from helping people on Ravelry forums that it can sometimes cause confusion and strangely shaped garments.

Often UK patterns say something like ‘continue, taking increased stitches into pattern’, and they do this even if the lace pattern is charted. This little book helps, with some clear examples at the back

lace increases etc illustrating how to make sure this happens properly.

So, basically, yes, this is definitely staying in the library – oh, and it’s helpfully colour-coded, with the increases on a pale cream background, the decreases on blue, and the ‘combinations and special circumstances’ section (lace, in effect) on grey – useful.

Knit and crochetI was also sent two other books, one on crochet (which I don’t), and one on knitting – The Crochet Answer Book and The Knitting Answer Book. The latter is by Margaret Radcliffe, and I am a huge fan of her instructional books – indeed, I’ve reviewed her Circular Knitting Workshop and The Knowledgeable Knitter here in the past. At first I thought ‘oh, this is going to be really basic, this is for people who are new to knitting’, but I’m wrong.

There are questions and answers on things like fitting, for example – amending the fit of garments after you’ve sewn them together (cough, cough). And I never thought much about things like needle tips, for example: I knew what I liked, but I didn’t really know why I liked it, and why I sometimes ended up in severe pain and plasters.

needle tips

Knitting with inappropriate tips for the job in hand, that’s why. And I’ve some beloved wooden needles that have got a bit rough; I didn’t want to take sandpaper to them, and now I’ve found a solution. An emery board. Thanks, Margaret Radcliffe!

(And I’m assured that the crochet book is equally useful. But I’m still not a convert.)

Incidentally, the reason why so many knitting books emanate from the States is quite simple: the sheer size of the market makes them economic to produce. Just thought I’d add that after several people said to me ‘why do so many of these books have to be American?’. Economics and the book trade. Agh, I’m having a flashback!

Cool, man (look what I found!)

When I go shopping, I like to splash out. I like to spend, flash the cash, put my hand in my wallet,  undo the purse strings, give my last penny, spend money like water, blow everything, waste my inheritance – and anything else that Roget’s Thesaurus can come up with.

In this case, I splashed out all of 50p.

wooo!

Well, it had been marked down from £1 – how could I walk away?

This book is a gem. I wasn’t knitting when it was published, so somehow it passed me by, but I do remember Jackie magazine – not that my mother would let me have Jackie, oh dear no, far too silly, I had to borrow it from school friends on the quiet – and I think they used the same illustrator:

old knitting book

It’s the incidental details that get me – love the chairs – and what the heck is that black-clad old lady doing? The 1976 equivalent of Shreddies’ offensive knitting nanas?  Mind you, the way she’s drawn, she could be some refugee from a hippy commune.

I like ‘visiting the woolshop’ (and as an editor, I’m intrigued by the early running together of ‘wool’ and ‘shop’ – oh, it’s Patons, by the way; I think they must have had something to do with this publication), and the trip on the tube to get there:

old knitting book madness

Note the concession to multiculturalism, though I bet it wasn’t called that then, just eight years after Enoch Powell’s notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech (don’t just get distracted by the bobble cap). Oh, maybe the Sun sponsored this book in conjunction with Patons?

But it is very easy to be distracted by details, like phones and decor:

old knitting book 2

Don’t do it, Maggie! Have you never heard the saying about not knitting anything for a man until you’ve got his ring on your finger (highly apt for the time, I think)? And you don’t want that; in a later frame he’s puffing away on – a pipe. Plus, what about the magic word, you sexist git? Yes, you can make one for him, Maggie, but will you? Haven’t you heard of feminism? Don’t just say ‘certainly’!

And what about that decor? Some unsettling motifs keep cropping up throughout the book. I must draw your attention to the strange doll-type harlequin-clown thing hanging from the shelves here. Hanging…?

old knitting book

It appears in several frames, sometimes without any apparent support. Or context. Also, who’s ‘Buck’? Is this all in code? Perhaps this book isn’t really about knitting, perhaps it’s actually about some weird sinister-doll-worsphipping cult. (The teddy is migratory too, but doesn’t have the doll’s force of personality.)

There are sections, named to tempt you in: Woolly Waistcoats, anyone? Jaunty Jackets? Tank Tops? (The sub evidently couldn’t think of an alliterative terms to go with tank tops, having sensibly rejected ‘terrible’.) No actual patterns, mind, just named sections.

They knit on the beach:

old knitting bookwhich personally I’d have thought a little sandy (this is a beach, honest, it’s clearer in other frames), and take bags of knitting on picnics. Oh come on, we’ve all been there. Admittedly probably not in a maxi-skirt and strange shapeless waistcoat, but hey. (And if she hadn’t stitched the shoulders together, wasn’t it a bit risky holding up as though she had, over a beach full of sand?)

It’s easy to sneer, and I know I’ve indulged myself a bit. But hidden inside here are some pretty clear technical instructions, like these for splicing wool,

splicing

and mattress stitch:

mattress stitch

and I’ve just found some buttonhole instructions which remind me of the very neat way my mother taught me, and which I have managed to forget in the (good heavens, that long?) fifteen years since she died.

Where are my needles? Not to mention my stripy kaftan and devil doll…

 

Book Review – The Knowledgeable Knitter

jacketA little while ago I was sent a great book to review on circular knitting by Margaret Radcliffe, which I really enjoyed and have found useful. I’ve now been asked to look at another book by her, The Knowledgeable Knitter.

I’ve got several basic instructional books, from a battered copy of Mary Thomas which belonged to my mother and possibly to her mother, to June Hemmons Hiatt’s massive and exhaustive Principles of Knitting. What, I wondered, might this new book have to offer that was different? Then I thought again – perhaps, with my somewhat mangled collection, I’m not actually the target audience. Maybe this is designed for relatively new knitters.

And then I opened it and began to work my way through it, and my assumptions were wrong. It will be brilliant for those people who have recently picked up the sticks and string, but it’s got something in there for every knitter. I’m convinced of it, in fact.

But don’t just believe me… time for a look inside.

page1

The comparisons of various approaches to particular situations, as here (looking at corded edges on the left and decreases at the very edge on the right), are particularly useful. It’s not often you get to see options spread out in this way. Come to think of it, short of knitting a shedload of samples, I don’t think I’ve seen it done so well before.

I’m currently working up a pattern for a big cowl knitted in two skeins of Colinette Prism, for instance, and I need a neat edge. I normally always use the very old method on everything – a garter-stitch edge (knitting the first and last stitches of every row). However, I wasn’t sure I wanted the nobbly edge which that produces, so I tried several of the options here. OK, I couldn’t find what I needed when I looked up ‘selvedge’, but I just looked up ‘edges’ instead. Then I went to my other books – and this is by far the clearest.

Let’s try another double page spread, this time part of the section on cast offs (aka bind offs, of course – this is an American book).

page 3

On the left are some suggestions for stretchy cast-offs, including my favourite, the yarn-over cast off (the detailed drawings are at the back of the book, in the appendix, and are very clear). On the right are some embellishments and a look at applied edgings. I have yet to come across an apparently ‘basic’ book that covers this. Hang on, I’m just checking… yup. There’s a bit in Montse Stanley’s brilliant Handknitter’s Handbook from 1986, but I have to say that those are very 70s – tassels, bobbles… The examples here are rather more relevant. And photographic.

Basic? Nah (there’s a section – a good section – on steeking, for instance, and plenty of info on design and adapting patterns).

Some of the best parts for me are those on design and adapting. Here’s a page on circular shaping in pattern stitches, in the section on shaping and fitting.

yokes

I know from my own experience that this often confuses even experienced knitters (well, it certainly confuses me sometimes). And the illustrations are wonderful – really clear. The photographs inspire you, and it is so good to see what an end result actually looks like when you are contemplating the technique illustrations at the back. Basic? No, I really don’t think so.

And what about some practical advice on amendments? How about ‘reshaping armholes’? Adjusting sleeve caps? Both recently relevant. And I was very pleased to see a small part on weaving in colours along seams, long a bugbear of mine. Margaret Radcliffe is very methodical, exactly as I was taught to be with Fair Isle – great (I was taught in threes: one along, one across one way, one across the other way; she goes every other stitch, one up and one down, repeated on both sides of the seam for four ends, or for French braiding).

OK, I’m not going to refer to the part about understanding knitting patterns very often – though, having said that, it might help me get over my blind spot about charted cable patterns – but there is a ton of stuff in here for me, and for most of us.