Saturday, February 11, 2012

Knitting Book Review: Textured Stitches

Knitting Book Review: Textured Stitches: Knitted sweaters & accessories with smart details
(2011, Interweave Press, 144 pages, 19 projects. Source: personal purchase.)
By: Connie Chang Chinchio
Nutshell: 75% classic, 25% detail-work in a well-worth-purchasing collection of women’s garments.

Background: Connie Chang Chinchio is a name you likely recognize, either from her blog or from the numerous patterns she’s recently published in venues like Interweave Knits, Knitscene, and Twist Collective. I have always been drawn to her patterns, which combine classic lines with intriguing details.

I rediscovered some of her previous patterns as I browsed Ravelry doing research for this review, and remembered how much I love the Henley Perfected and Far Afield Vest. (And, of course, I wrote recently about my plans for a Geodesic Cardigan, assuming I can get up da noive to knit a me-sized sweater in lace-weight yarn.)

Synopsis: A collection of ten sweaters and nine accessories (ten, if you count the hat and mittens set as two patterns), Chang Chinchio integrates her love of stitch patterns and motifs with (mostly) fine-gauge yarns and classic, feminine silhouettes.

Each pattern contains an unexpected element or delightful surprise; lace, cables, smocking, and twisted stitches all make an appearance. All patterns are within the reach of an intermediate knitter, or even a determined beginner. Colorwork is nowhere to be found, not even stripes; like the title says, it’s all about texture.

Additionally, Chang Chinchio provides four sidebars with detail-filled explanations of a variety of techniques she loves and uses: tubular cast-on & sewn bindoff, glove-knitting, reading charts, and working sleeves from the top down using short rows. The book also includes several pages of Interweave’s always-quality knitting instructions and diagrams at the end.

Writing Sample: Charts are a convenient way to communicate complex stitch patterns accurately and succinctly. Whereas it’s easy to make a typo or skip a stitch when writing out stitch patterns row by row, missing or erroneous stitches tend to be obvious when plotted on a chart. (from “Reading a Chart,” the sidebar on page 103.)

Woot: My favorite aspect of Textured Stitches was the way it looked and felt like a unified collection. From repeated design elements like short-row shaping on collars to its meticulous instructions and level of detail (the Gems Hoodie gets 12 pages of instructions and detailed photos and charts) the book is accessible, careful, and beautiful. Not one time did I think, as I sometimes do, “This is the pattern that got slapped together at the last minute.” The texture is often botanical or geometrically inspired, and she never repeated a motif.

Next: nobody designs a sport- or DK-weight sweater like Ms. Chang Chinchio. I have to admit to being a worsted fan, myself, but seeing the lovely sweaters in this book makes me want to break out the size 5s and settle in for a while. That said, there are three patterns written for worsted-weight (a scarf, a pullover, and a jacket) and each uses the heavier gauge to its best advantage.

I also appreciated the variety of yarns used. Everything from affordable Cascade Heritage to spendy Road to China Light shows up.

Meh: Beware, endowed women, of the sweater patterns. Those of us with a bit of junk in the trunk or "huge tracts of land" in the front: we may be disappointed by these patterns’s fit, which tends toward the subtly-shaped-but-not-shapely. I’m a C cup (funny how the internet encourages such odd revelations) and I would definitely need to add bust darts to nearly every sweater to keep their body-skimming silhouettes from becoming too va-va-voom.

(Bust dart side note: the hands-down best tutorial I’ve seen on this topic is in Ysolda Teague’s Little Red in the City. Run, don’t walk, to get a copy of this book.)

I also must say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the accessories patterns.
Both hats were kind of odd looking, and – I know I should never say never – I don’t see myself EVER knitting gloves, especially in fingering weight. However, the ten sweaters were worth the price of admission. My favorites: the relaxed and fun Gems Hoodie, the sophisticated Honeycomb Tunic, and the delicate Tulip Henley.

Boo: patterns for men. I’d love to see what Chang Chinchio would do with fine-gauge yarn and a man’s sweater. Men like texture, too!

Also: the tutorials are text-heavy and could have benefited from diagrams. The description of magic loop was particularly mind-boggling, and I already know how to do it.

Audience? Knitters who love classic lines and finer gauges, plus patterns with surprising detail and texture that elevate the garment to an heirloom, or at least a favorite.

Sequel-worthy? Certainly. I’d love to see more vests, men’s and/or children’s patterns, and some attention to adapting patterns for different body shapes.

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.
Have you read this book? What did you think?

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