Friday, December 30, 2011

Knitting Book Review: Brave New Knits

Knitting Book Review: Brave New Knits: 26 Projects and Personalities from the Knitting Blogosphere (2010, Rodale Press, 242 pages, 26 projects. Source: personal purchase.)

By: Julie Turjoman. (Turjoman provides the editorial content; 26 contributors provide the knitting projects; Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed does the photos.)

Nutshell: 25% blogs/designers most knitters already know about unless they’ve been living under a rock, 25% oh THAT’S who that is, 50% projects you may or may not want to knit.

Background: I didn’t come early to the knitting revolution. I know there are some online communities dedicated to knitting that have been around for nigh on decades (the Knit List listserv springs to mind) but I personally didn’t discover the crazy, teeming world of knitting-related blogs and websites until I impulse-bought Mason-Dixon Knitting back in 2006 and got the needly bug. (I wish I had earlier; might have avoided the gauge issues that torpedoed my early attempts at knitting in the late ‘90s!)

I found Kay and Ann’s blog through their book, read all of the back entries, and visited every blog on their sidebar blogroll. I also lurked heavily on the Mason-Dixon Knitting Knit-along blog (which now seems to be, sadly, defunct) and from there realized that there were a lot of people JUST LIKE ME who liked to knit and wrote interesting and helpful and sometimes hilarious things about it...and I had a newborn baby and a newborn obsession (an actual baby, and knitting, respectively) so I spent A LOT of time holding a nursing infant with one arm and clicking on links with the other to see if people had written anything new that day. (This was before I discovered Google Reader. I like to think that the link-clicking built character.)

Nearly six years later, I still have a healthy roll of blogs, not all completely devoted to knitting, that I keep up on. I’m also a Ravelry member, occasional blogger, and voracious knitting book reader.

I was interested to read Turjoman’s book because the concept seemed clear: how has the internet, specifically the market shift represented by blogs and Ravelry, changed the world of knitting? I could not have been more her target audience if I’d auditioned.

Synopsis: Turjoman’s book features 26 bloggers-slash-designers-slash-knitting celebrities whose work has gained notoriety and prominence in large part due to their online presence. These folks range from the incredibly prolific and famous-for-knitters, such as Clara Parkes, Norah Gaughan, and Jared Flood--to the relatively unknown, such as Sean Riley, Hillary Smith Callis, and Jennifer Hagan. The book is divided into two sections: Garments and Accessories, which include a variety of sweaters, jackets, hats, socks, mitts, and scarves/shawlettes, all beautifuly photographed by Flood. Turjoman introduces each design with a two-to-three page article on its designer, focusing on his or her body of work, style, and connection to/thoughts about the online knitting community.

Sample: Soon after starting her blog, Kirsten [Kapur] was approached by Amy Singer, editor of, about contributing a pattern to the online magazine. “That’s the wonderful thing about the whole explosion of the online knitting world: we get to find out about the new, up-and-coming designers, and they get a venue to work in.” The publicity from her appearance in Knitty gave a huge boost to her profile and her blog traffic. (176)

Woot: I’m impressed with the variety of designers featured. Some are the predictable online rockstars; others were new to me, and each feature article competently showed the designer’s journey and how the internet helped them on their way. The designs are, for the most part, fresh and interesting, and each is a clear reflection of its designer’s style. I added a few projects to my ravelry queue and a few blogs to my Google Reader after finishing this book.

My particular favorite designs: Jennifer Hagan’s Global Cable Coat, Wooly Wormhead’s Lenina Cap (and not just because it’s named after a character from Brave New World), and Ysolda Teague’s The Orchid Thief Shawlette. (I have a skein of Dream in Color Starry just waiting to be made into that last one.)

Meh: The subtitle says “Personalities,” but I beg to differ. Because Turjoman chose to write each profile in the third person, incorporating quotes from each designer, the profiles have a sameness that, when read cover to cover (‘cause that’s how I roll with the knitting books), gets a little tiresome. I also found her transitions awkward and, occasionally, as in the sample above, I had a hard time following how the quotes fit with the editorial commentary. If I were her editor, I would have tightened up each profile--two pages, tops--and focused more on revealing the designer’s voice through her or his words, not through the writer’s editorializing. Have Sean Riley TELL the reader in his own words that he was sad he had to close his yarn shop, don’t write awkwardly maudlin sentences like, “Despite heroic efforts, the economic downturn of 2009 forced him, with great sadness, to close the shop. In his sadness, he thought he’d take a break from knitting altogether” (206). Using “sadness” two sentences in a row like that is bush league writing.

Another meh: weird little sidebars (Knitters’ Guide to Essential Blogging Terminology) that define supposedly-blogging-related terms like Etsy, meme, ISO, and frog. Yes, I suppose it’s possible that folks new to the online knitting community might not know them, but they seemed like space-filler to me. I would have rather have read sidebars that showcased the designers’ writing (they are all supposedly bloggers, no?), favorite blogs, or best/most popular designs instead of tired, google-able terms that most computer-savvy knitters already know.

Boo: No real boos, here. A reasonably solid book, competently written, clearly well-researched, nice variety of patterns and projects. If anything, it needs to follow through on the promise of its premise; let the personalities of the knit-o-sphere shine on the pages, through their stories and their designs. Most knitters will find the profiles of interest, and I’d guess there are at least a few patterns of interest as well, although there is a noticeable lack of patterns for men. Also, a quick search for errata reveals errors in 10 (!) of the 26 patterns. What was that I was saying about an editor?

Audience? Female knitters with a computer who may or may not read blogs; knitters who are interested in expanding their knowledge about how the online community has affected and is affecting knitting.

Sequel-worthy? There is certainly no lack of designers who are using blogs, Ravelry, and other online media to create careers. The combo of personality profiles and patterns has great potential (for alliteration, apparently.) The question is whether the book publishing cycle is nimble enough to keep up with the online world.

I hope this review is helpful! I plan to continue to go through my shelves and highlight books--some new, some not--of interest to other knitters. Let me know in comments if there are any unanswered questions, or features you’d like me to consider adding, As with any review, my comments are intended to educate, illuminate, and entertain; your mileage may vary.