Tales from the Woolly Side

The assorted ramblings of an obsessive knitter, fumbling mother, and overworked astronomer.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Book Reviews

It's been a banner couple weeks for new knitting books. I don't get them all, but I do get a *lot* of them. Here are the new ones I've looked through so far...

Mason Dixon Knitting
(Kay Gardiner, Ann Meador Shayne)
This one *far* exceeded my expectations. I've been a fan of their blog - although it's not in my top tier. But the book!!! I now get the point of the knitted washcloth and a knitted "quilt". Before this book, these were both mysteries to me. And now I want a knitted linen nightie. That may not sound like a big deal until I tell you that I don't wear nighties! (I'm pajama devotee.) Magic, I tell you, this book has magic. They hit a really difficult sweet spot of just enough patterns, unpatterns, and prose!
Recommendation: An inspiring addition to any knitter's library!

Big Girl Knits
(Jillian Moreno, Amy R Singer)
A mixed bag. After getting an advance copy at TNNA I was really excited about this book. But you've got to realize that the advance copy was basically a bad photocopy with a full color cover. The text I was excited about is still there -- and I still believe that the front sections on fit, measureing, altering, and flattering styles is worth the price of the book. I'm even hoping that their Boob/Belly/Butt classifications become standard! I also give the publisher (and authors) a big thumbs up for using big girl models. My disappointment is that some of the sweaters fit poorly (helloooo did the photo-stylist understand what the first section of the book was about?). Sleeves that are too long just make the whole sweater look sloppy. And as the authors point out, sweaters that are too big make the wearer look bigger! Some of the sweaters are poorly made - remember most knitters aspire to handmade, not homemade! Some garments just aren't flattering -- uh, bunched up linen, when does bunched up go with big and beautiful! And to top it off, some are difficult to really see in the photos. There are several sweaters that I still don't think I understand all their design features, because they just aren't *shown*. (I expect this from Vogue, but not from a book with an emphasis on flattering fit.) So in conclusion -- I think the text in the beginning is fabulous -- something *all* sizes of women, not just the big, can learn from. I just wish that the patterns, modeling, and garments followed through on the same standards.
Recommendation: Get it to learn about measuring your body, altering patterns and modern advice on flattering styles.

Knitting Nature
(Norah Gaughan)
A dark horse -- but a real winner! I wasn't expecting much from this one either. But I was blown away. Like last year's Loop-d-loop (Teva Durham), this book has wearable (and knittable) designs which open your eyes to new possibilities and new patterns. The similarity probably isn't coincidental since both books share a publisher. Also like Loop-d-loop, each chapter has a bunch of designs based on a visual theme. I now realize that what my knitting has been missing -- hexagons!
Recommendation: Buy Loop-d-loop first, but then when you want more inspiration, get this gorgeous one too!

Nicky Epstein's Knitted Flowers
(Nicky Epstein)
My least favorite Nicky Epstein book. I adore, adore, adore Knitting on the Edge. Knitting over the Edge felt like a bit of a rehash, but there was enough new in there, that I'm glad I have it. But Knitted Flowers is a pretty thin rehash of already published stuff. Save yourself some $$ and skip this one.
Recomendation: Skip it. If you want a reference with Nicky Epstein flowers in it, buy her older book "Nicky Epstein's Knitted Embellishments: 350 Appliques, Borders, Cords and More!" It's 7 years old, and not as beautifully photographed, but it has a *lot* more in it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Finally!!! A start on my sockapaloooza socks...

So, it's taken me long enough to get started -- but finally, last night I did! The start of knitting something for someone else based just on measurements is so much more a leap of faith than starting a project for yourself or someone you know! This is my second sock exchange and both times I've been assigned sock pals whose feet are much larger than mine. This always throws me for a loop... None of my favorite patterns will work without major mods. I do the math and start on the sock and it just looks too big... That little voice in my head keeps saying "that doesn't look like a sock! that looks like a too-small sleeve!" So I measure the proto-sock again and again! I've learned to trust the little voice in my head, so it's real hard to block it out.

I really struggled with the yarn choice and the pattern choice. I am totally in love with Socks that Rock right now -- but all the colorways I have are soooo varietaged, they would totally overwhelm any stitch pattern. Now I love plain old stockinette socks - and always have a plain sock in progress in my purse - but for a sock exchange, it seems like you need to step it up a notch. So after much purusing of my now sizeable sock yarn stash, I decided on Claudia Hand Painted sock yarn in plumlicious. I'm knitting it up in a eyelet-cable rib. I'm basically using the same stitch pattern used in Antoinette's Collar (from new Rowan mag) and staggering adjacent cables so not all the cables cross on the same row. I *think* the stitch pattern doesn't fight too much with the yarns' variegation -- but time will tell. I'm hoping the ribbiness will help with the socks fit and that using the eyelet cable will make it seem unique. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Report from Stitches West

So, I did make it to stitches west, although only to two of the three classes I'd signed up for...

First about the classes. I think teaching knitting (especially at stitches) is really tough. There are a wide range of abilities/backgrounds in every class. And on top of that, there are always people who don't believe they've done it correctly until the teacher comes and holds their hand. And, at least in my experience, the classes are really too full for that. But despite mixed experiences, I keep on taking classes. While I'm often annoyed in class, I have always learned at least something new and interesting. Despite all this, I think Margaret Fischer is an *excellent* teacher. I took superb seaming from her and although I knew the basics, I learned quite a bit. On top of that, I spent very little time annoyed because she *controlled* that classroom. Kudos to her!

In the marketplace, I concentrated on the small, independent yarn vendors. I basically skipped over all of the booths by LYS's. I mean, I can go to a ton of lovely LYS's any old time. So my highlights were:
  • Blue Moon Fiber Arts. The makers of socks that rock. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. They have really great fibers and they stand out among hand dyers in that their dark colors are rich, not murky. I didn't realize they have more (much more) than their sock yarn.
  • Brooks Farm. How in the world do they get mohair like that? No one else has mohair like that... How do they do it? I want to buy it all... But like last year, I managed to limit myself to two skeins. Last year's skeins are still sitting in my stash. Nothing has been worthy of that yarn! Hopefully I'll figure out what to do with this years haul... (They're two coordinating colorways, so that leaves more options open...)
  • Shawl pins by Romi. I'd bought from her online before, but meeting her in person was great. I also picked up another pin for a wrap cardigan I have on the needles. I think a pin will be a less fussy way to close the sweater than the long ties the pattern calls for.
  • Blackwater Abbey. Love love love the complexity and depth of their colors. I'm guessing that they dye the fiber, mix different colors together, and then spin it. Fabulous fabulous fabulous. I bought enough of their rust to make the Kate Gilbert cardiagan from spring 06 interweave knits. Too bad I have to finish my olympic knitting before I can start...
  • Ellen's 1/2 pint farm. I was pretty burned out by the time I got here. Didn't stop me from buying some wool/silk in a fabulous silver to white colorway. I am such a sucker for wool/silk. I blame my weakness on Lorna's Laces Lion and Lamb. I had so much fun knitting my clapotis with that yarn...
  • Moving Mud. Marvelous marvelous glass. I didn't buy though. I wish I had access to those buttons during that crucial button picking out part of the project. I just find it impossible to pick out buttons if I don't have the project in hand (and at least partially done).
I think those are the highlights. Sorry about no links. I'm feeling lazy. But hey - at least I wrote something!

Monday, February 20, 2006

So, It's Official...

So it's official -- I suck at blogging. Days go by and I just don't get around to posting... I don't think I'll kill the blog -- but I think I'll readjust my expectations. I would, at least, like to journal my finished objects.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Rowan Review

The store just got the new Rowan Mag in! (yeah!) No matter how many small yarn companies I am now in love with, I think I'll always pray at the altar that is Rowan. There's really no one like them.

That said, here's my unvarnished take on their latest mag... It looks to me like they've finally recovered from losing Kim Hargreaves. After she left, there were several mags with just a few good garments in them. This one, however, is stuffed with good garments -- but, unfortunately, absolutely appalling styling. I mean look at this sweater... Really, it's classic Rowan - classic styling, sophisticated color work -- but what is up with the styling? I mean what does that sweater have to do with anything else she's wearing. And that hat/headdress? It looks like it's hiding an antenna so her people can contact her! This sweater really should be photographed at one of those all-too-perfect outdoor cafes. The model should be wearing a little tank underneath and a pair of smart slacks or maybe even a nice full spring skirt. Heck, if you want to funk it up a little, put the model in skinny leg jeans at a microbrewery. Even the "stories" with less unfortunate styling have a few headscratchers... I can't find a copy on line, but what about the photograph of the kid silk haze sweater/wrap from the beach story which is out of focus? I mean really folks -- out of focus? I think the last time anyone should consider a totally out of focus shot was artistic is junior high.

My advice to Rowan -- get rid of whoever is pushing the high-concept styling. Go back to waifs wandering the moors...
My advice to knitters -- try, try, try to look past the styling. Look at the lines and the schematics. Don't get bamboozled by bad art direction, Rowan still has some of the most classic patterns and fabulous yarns around.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tales from TNNA

I had the privilege of tagging along to TNNA last weekend in my unpaid role of LYS consultant. Highlights for me were:
  • Lorna's Laces new yarn Swirl DK and Swirl chunky. (These aren't on the web anywhere yet!) It's a lovely wool, silk plied blend. The different materials take the dyes on differently, and since the different fibers are in different plies, the color swirls...
  • Cherry Tree Hill's merino lace-weight buttons of yarn. Cute, cute, cute. I just kept petting them...
  • Alchemy, Alchemy, Alchemy. Let me count the ways I adore Alchemy... The fibers, the colors, the patterns... My only problem with alchemy is that their yarns are so fabulous, I just stash them -- no project seems worthy! Their new Haiku and Monarch were to die for!
  • The upcoming book Big Girl Knits. There are a ton of new books out and more coming. All have something new to contribute -- but this one is a doozy! A must have for all the big girls out there! I chuckled all the way through the introductory chapters. (Their 3B system for identifying flattering patterns is a keeper!) Even if you aren't a big girl, the sections on measuring, fit, short rows, and diatribe on the necessity of a good bra are useful for all girls!
  • Tilli Tomas' pre-beaded yarns. Really, I'm not a bling kind of a girl. And using standard beading techniques doesn't sound too bad. I'm not a novelty yarn type either -- but these are the kind of novelty yarns I could go for... Yum!
  • The bags! While I'm not a novelty yarn type of girl, I am a bag type of girl. Much to my sweetie's confusion, I don't think you can have too many knitting bags. Offhand Designs has some scruptuous new fabrics and a great new bag (eve) coming. It was the first time I'd seen Lexie Barnes bags in person. While not as scruptuous as Offhand Designs, her bags are playful, practical, and the weather friendly fabric makes them an attractive choice for winter. And the last bags to die for came from Della Q. Her bags aren't as roomy as as Offhand designs and Lexie Barnes -- but cute, cute, cute and a good price! I think I may need bags from all three makers!
  • Curious Creek wasn't at the show, but I went to an open house at their house/studio. Luscious fibers, and great colorways. I often see ways to tweak variegated colorways -- but not with these. They were spot on.
As you can tell, on this post, I learned how to add links to my rambling. Next post -- I'm going to learn how to put pictures in!

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Beginning of an Era

So - I've started it! I read blogs obsessively, but now I'm going to dip my toes into the fray. Previously I always figured that I'd rather knit than write, but the Lure of being a part of it rather than an observer is too strong. Also I've got plans to enter the knitting olympics and I'd like to have somewhere to post those cool buttons Jenla has made. (Of course, I have to figure out how to do that...)