Monday, March 12, 2007

Book Reviews, Part One

These past weeks I've been reading about knitting, reading while knitting, knitting while reading, and haunting the stacks of my local library searching for knitting books that don't include sweater patterns that have a) dolman sleeves or b) look like a cat just threw up on the wearer (yes, I mean you, Mr. Fassett).

I checked out this batch last week and have spent many happy hours immersed in them. Here's whether, in my opinion, they're worth the price of admission:

The Best of Lopi, edited by Susan Mills and Nora Gaughan (different cover shown on Amazon, but seems to be the same book based on the reviewers' text). I love sweater books with a bit of history to them. I knew about Lopi already, of course, from reading Elizabeth Zimmermann, but I loved learning a bit more about Iceland, its wool, and its population of tall, thin models encased in colorwork. Although I still question whether the men in my own personal life would enjoy wearing a yoked sweater, there are a couple of other "recipes" in here that could be adapted.

Pros: Lovely patterns, multiple colorways shown for most, some non-traditional patterns (aran-style, raglan cardi).
Cons: Most of the cardis shown are knitted back and forth, which seems counter-intuitive and was probably adapted for the steek-fearing. Not that I've steeked as yet, but I don't fear the steek. But it's easy enough to adapt the patterns.
Verdict: Would buy.

Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti. I equate Righetti with Zimmermann in my knitting goddess pantheon. Though this book is 20+ years old (the Amazon listing seems to just have a new cover slapped on the old edition) it was helpful, clear, and I already used it to help me figure out short rows.
And Kay and Ann are right: just the chapter title "Buttonholes are Bastards" is worth the price of the book!

Pros: Plain English, as advertised--plain, readable, helpful English. Variety of chapters--how to pick patterns, basic skills, advanced skills, stitch patterns to know.
Cons: Not diagram-heavy (but certainly helpful), somewhat outdated in terms of supplies & yarn recommendations.
Verdict: Would buy.

Knitting Ganseys by Beth Brown-Reinsel. Another gem from the '80's/early '90's. I got interested in ganseys after reading an article in the winter Interweave Knits, and this book is very clear about their construction as well as the history and necessity behind the style. I love books that don't just present pattern after pattern, but unlock the core theory behind the patterns, and Brown-Reinsel has a master teacher's ability to help the knitter envision and choose the sweater she wants to create.

Each chapter goes over a different choice-point or step in the gansey's construction, and shows examples of different variations, and then the final chapters tie it all together by teaching you how to write your own gansey pattern. If you don't want to do that yourself, though, there are several patterns in the back; I'd personally only make the kid ones, though, because the adult sweaters have a very 80's flair--certainly not the close-cropped traditional gansey construction. I'm considering using this book to design a sweater for M.

Pros: Extremely complete and readable; nice balance between theory, example, and practice.
Cons: Ugly adult designs.
Verdict: Will check out again; a possible purchase.

Children's Sweaters and Hats: Knitting Seamless Raglan Top Down and
Adult Sweaters: Knitting Seamless Raglan Top Down

by Mary Rich Goodwin
I'm torn when writing about these two. After reading Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top, I wanted to see some top-down designs in action. I found Rich's books tucked away on the knitting shelf.

The sweaters, especially the children's ones, are adequately designed and seem like they'd be fast, intuitive knits. What bugs me about these books is the writing, and bad writing is a "Do not pass Go, do not collect $200" for me. Both books, which are, incidentally, the same "skeleton"--instructions, introduction, etc--with different patterns in the middle, are filled with grammatical errors that make my English teachery eyes bleed.

Here's a verbatim quote from the introduction: "[Making top down seamless raglan sweaters] is like magic cast on so many, work the neck ribbing, divide for sleeves, front and back, and viola, a sweater. The pattern seemed to work for any size sweater knit the yoke longer and the sweater is larger." AAAAAAAH! This woman never met a sentence she couldn't mangle. And, worst of all, she's a teacher. I have very little space in my life for people in my profession who write like idiots.

Pros: Simple, practical--if very basic with little-to-no-shaping--sweater patterns for kids & adults. I'm going to use up some acrylic gifted to me on a simple sweater for baby E using one of her kiddie patterns.
Cons: Ridiculously poor writing/editing. None of the patterns seem like anything one couldn't design using the *free* pattern found here. Also, for some reason, she prefers the "raglanless" raglan, where one spaces out the raglan increases rather than lining them up. This gives a sameness and a rounded shape that looks more homemade than handmade.
Verdict: Would not buy. (Especially because I checked Amazon and used copies were going for $60. Whaaa?)

I have a few more books to write about, including an orgy of Alice Starmore--stay tuned--

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