November 12, 2007

Book Review: The Knitter's Book of Yarn

I'll be upfront here. I am not a buyer of knitting books. Generally, I troll the internet for knitting pattern ideas if that is my aim, or resort to my collection of knitting magazines. Or I consult my small, but select knitting library* for technical know-how or stitch patterns. New, glossy books move me to whip out my wallet not at all. Although I did of course shell out for Simply Shetland 4 to knit Autumn Rose, which by the way is at the steek for the neckline...yeah!.

Anyway, where was I.....oh. Knitting books.

You, however, are not me which will inure to someone's benefit at the end of this post.

Despite this personal quirk, I'm putting forth the proposition that the subject of today's post -- "The Knitter's Book of Yarn" by Clara Parkes -- of which I was sent a review copy -- really needs to be in the knitting library of lots and lots of knitters.

Why do I say this?

The subject of this book is yarn. Luscious, delightful, frustrating, expensive, frustrating. Did I mention frustrating? yarn.

This book talks about how wool, cotton, linen, hemp, angora, mohair, etc., etc. behave in yarn and as knitted garments. Clara covers in detail, but in an accessible and conversational way, WHY a knitter would choose a particular fiber for a particular purpose, and what potential pitfalls lie in the unwary knitter's path when using certain yarns for certain projects.

How might you tell if the yarn you covet will be an Olympic champion pill-er? Clara tells you.

Why might you want a single ply yarn over a two ply or ten-ply yarn or cabled yarn for that sweater or sock project? The knowledge to make an informed choice is in here.

What is the difference between Merino, Cormo and Icelandic wool and why should you care? Read on, baby.

New things that I learned from the book were the definition of "cellulosic fibers" (soy, bamboo, corn, rayon and other such-like fibers which are manufactured from natural plant materials), how such fibers are made and what the pros and cons are of using some of these fibers that I haven't worked with yet.

So, who needs this book? Frankly, everybody who loves to knit with yarn, or buy yarn since that seems to be a separate sport for some of you, who doesn't feel that they know enough about the yarn that they are buying. Have you bought a bunch of expensive yarn for a coveted project only to find that the pattern and yarn looked like total ass together? Can you tell if that "bargain price" yarn is of high or low quality? Do you go into a yarn shop and feel overwhelmed by all the choices?

If that is you, buy the book. If you haven't been knitting for very long buy the book. If yarn has recently made you cry, buy the book.

And read the first 65 pages with careful attention. When you are done, I'm betting that you will feel much more confident on your next foray into the yarn-buying jungle.

If you have spent a long while as a knitter and spinner, and have learned the lessons of this book already through much trial and much error, then perhaps you might pass on it. Or better yet, pass on a copy of this book to a friend coming up the learning curve to keep them from the Goodwill-trashbag-fuls of failed projects that got you the hard-won knowledge that you have today.

So, although this is a very nicely done book and I'd happily keep it, it is my civic duty to give this away to a knitter who needs it much more than I do.

If you would like me to mail you my copy of "The Knitter's Book of Yarn", please send an email to (making the obvious change) with the subject line "Book". I'm happy to send this anywhere in the world, so non-US knitters don't be shy. Although you don't need to tell me why you'd like the book, I'd love to read about it as a pleasant distraction from the work I must do today. I'll use my handy-dandy random number generator to pick the winner on Friday, November 16th at 9:00 AM Eastern Standard Time, so get your email in before then.

*Everything that Elizabeth Zimmerman ever wrote, the first three Barbara Walkers, the sometimes annoying but indispensable Montse Stanley, and assorted speciality books.

August 15, 2007

Book Review - Romantic Hand Knits

Before I left on vacation, I received a review copy of the new book by Annie Modesitt, Romantic Hand Knits.


All I had time for then was to page through it and get a generally favorable impression. Now that I've had a chance to spend more time with the book, I thought I'd share my observations on it.

First of all, I have knitted and enjoyed Annie's patterns in the past. Remember the Silk Corset! I like her originality of thought. She solves knitting problems in new ways and really pushes the boundaries of what is possible using two sticks and some string.

When browsing a knitting book and deciding whether or not to buy it, there are two main ways of making that decision. One can buy the book if there are patterns in it the knitter wants to make. That's pretty obvious, I guess. But its probably not how I would make my purchasing decision. The other reason to buy a knitting book is if it contained really cool IDEAS that a creative knitter could put to use in their own designs or in modifying the designs of others. Because its rare for me to make a garment without messing with it, I fall into the latter category.

There is probably only one pattern in this book that I'm likely to make.


This design is called "Charade" and the reason I like it is its innovative use of ribbon yarn. Ribbon yarn is a hard, hard medium with which to work. I've only ever used it in stockinette tank-top type of garments and haven't been well-pleased with the results. I really like Annie's idea of using the great drape of ribbon yarn in an all-over lattice lace pattern and a surplice wrap shaping. Great idea. Wish I'd thought of it, but I have no illusions about being a designer.

Despite the fact that I'm unlikely to make the remainder of the patterns in this book for myself, there are a multitude of other great design ideas in here.


This design is called Ninotchka and I think it would look fabulous on my lovely sister. Besides being a cute top, the great design idea is a knitted in shelf-bra. Nice! This gets at one of my issues with tank tops....proper boobal coverage without having to wear a strapless bra underneath. Were I living in a climate where a knitted tank top was wearable (I don't) I would make this for myself.

What I like about "Notorious" is the really interesting bust/neckline shaping with an innovative use of I-cord to shape everything. This top would look really good on someone as H.O.T. as, for example, Vibegrrl. This pattern is available for free here if you'd like to test out Annie's pattern-writing style before laying out the dinero for the whole book.


If you are looking for the definitive knitted halter top pattern, I think "Jezebel" is it. Check out the meticulous shaping Annie has crafted to house the girls. The pattern is shown in a B cup, but there are additional shaping instructions for up to a D cup. Although knitted dresses aren't something I'd make for myself, I'd be tempted to make this as a halter top by stopping knitting after the ribbing -- entirely possible as the waist area and cups are knitted first.

This pullover, called "Dark Victory" is knit in next-to-the-skin-soft Malabrigo in an all-over slip stitch pattern, with contrasting slip-stitch bands at the hemline and neckline. I really like the idea of using a slip-stitch pattern with variegated yarns to break up the pooling that is inevitable with this type of yarn. Honestly, I've shyed away from variegated yarns for sweaters for many years because I'm just not down with the random, garish splotches of color. But this design has gotten me interested in giving a slip-stitch pattern a try.

The final design I'd like to talk about is this skirt:


Now, those that know me know that I don't wear skirts, knitted or otherwise. My work clothes consist entirely of pant suits, and I rarely go to fancy events that can't be taken care of with a pair of expensive jeans or nice pants. I honestly can. not. remember. when was the last time I wore a skirt. Probably a dress at someone's wedding years ago, but a dress isn't a skirt really, now is it? Maybe it will just take the right cute skirt to make me change my pants-loving ways, but as of now I don't usually give skirts much attention.

That said, I really like "An Affair to Remember". Scroll back up to the cover picture and note how good the model's ass looks in the shaping which is DESIGNED to highlight curves. I'm also really drawn to the flirty lace godet inserts. Very cute. If you like and wear knitted skirts, I'd recommend this one.

I think this book is targeted to the adventurous knitter, no matter what skill level. Annie's directions are clear and she is constantly encouraging new knitters to give these patterns a try, going step by step so that its not overwhelming. There are lots of really great design ideas in here, and the book was well worth the time I spent with it.

I'd be interested to know what you think. Let me know!

September 01, 2006

Friday is for Swatching

Its not the knitting of the swatch that I hate. Take size 10 needles, cast on 20 stitches and knit, knit, knit.

Nope. The first time putting needles to new yarn is one of the high points of knitting excitement. Its the afterwards that I despise.

The measuring, and the re-measuring. And, well, the swearing. Here is an edited transcript:

Me: "Let's see....four inches on the measuring tape. One, two, three...."
Me: "Wait, why I am only getting 10 stitches to 4 inches? The ball band says 14?"
Me: "Duh. How about counting to 4 actual inches instead of stopping at 3. Dude. Have more tea. Don't do this sh*t in the mornings. You suck in the mornings."
***Drinks more tea.***
Me: "OK, let's try this again. One, two, three....."
Me: "Well, 13.5 stitches some places, and 13 stitches other places. I'll call that 13.5."
Me: "Now for row gauge. I can hear the scary music cueing up. Or maybe, the Jaws shark music..."
Me: "JEEZ! 22 rows to 4 inches, and the ball band says 17 rows. What a freak of knitting nature you are."

And so on.

My expectations for swatch success are always low. Swatches lie, despite a knitter's most careful efforts. I did wash this swatch, and I plan to hang it for a day or two to see if it stretches out. But I know, no matter what, that the gauge in my sweater will be different.

Let the knitting adventure begin.

March 12, 2006

Everything I Know About Putting In a Zipper

Because someone asked, I'll take Mariah's zipper and make it a case study on the way I put in a zipper in a handknit cardigan. Now, there are lots of ways to accomplish this. For an excellent zipper tutorial, go see Bonne Marie. But for those interested, here is what I do.

1. First, lay out the finished and blocked cardi on the floor -- I prefer a carpeted floor for this since the sweater won't slide around. Arrange the sweater so that the neckline edges and bottom edges match up, and any ribbing, pockets or other details in the sweater are lined up as near as you can do it. MAKE SURE THAT THE FRONT EDGES AREN'T STRETCHED OUT! I cannot overstate the importance of this. Inserting a too-long zipper will result in puckering and there will be swearing and general unhappiness.

2. Now, take the zipper and unzip and zip it a couple of times. Tell me how sad you would be spending all this time and effort only to find after the zipper is perfectly in that it is defective? Right, then. Also, make sure that the zipper is the right kind. It has got to be a separating zipper -- the pieces of the zipper must separate at the bottom as opposed to a dress or pants zipper that stays together at the bottom even when unzipped. After I am 100% sure the zipper is the right length, and it functions and is the right kind and color of zipper, I will slip the zipper underneath the edges of the front opening and position it about where I want it.

3. Then, with the zipper closed, I pin each side of the zipper to its corresponding edge like this. Some folks like to baste the cardi front edges together before this step. I don't because I like to check the placement of the zipper from the front. Pin only the front piece to the zipper -- it is way easy to pin the front and back together with the zipper and that is not helpful. The goal here is to cover the zipper with the cardi edges so that the opening falls as close to the middle of the zipper teeth as possible.

4. Next, I carefully open the zipper and using a needle and contrasting thread, I baste the zipper in, one side at a time like this. I check carefully the entrance and exit point of every stitch, making sure that I'm stitching as straight a line as possible on the front and back sides. Don't baste the zipper tape too close to the zipper teeth -- then you won't have enough room to slide the zipper pull past. Also don't baste the zipper at the very edge of the tape -- this will cause the zipper to gap open and show more of the zipper tape to the world than you really want. Try for in the middle of the zipper tape, roughly like this. Note that my stitching isn't nearly perfect. As long as its not too wonky, all will be well. I promise.

5. Now, here is the important part. Take out the pins and zip up the zipper. Look at it carefully and with a cynical and critical eye. Do the tops and bottoms of the cardi edges line up? Do the edges of the ribbing or pockets or yoke detailing line up? Now, try it on. Does the zipper look right? Is it puckering? Are the edges of the cardi fronts covering the zipper enough? Too much? Here is your best chance to correct mistakes. It is way easier to rip out a row of basting stitches and try again, as opposed to taking a seam ripper to a machine sewn seam. Ask me how I know this.

6. Take special care with how you pin and baste and sew in the zipper tops. In any cardi, the zipper tops will be visible when you are wearing the garment open or not zipped up all the way, so make it neat. Fold over the extra zipper tape and tuck it in between the back of the zipper and the knit fabric like this. You have to angle the zipper tape out a little to avoid it getting caught in the zipper pull. Don't worry, we will clean this up in the hand-finishing.

7. Only after I am satisfied with the look of the basted-in zipper, do I take out the sewing machine. Now, if you don't have a sewing machine it is perfectly possible to hand-sew the zipper in at this point. Do it with smallish, neat stitches right over the basting line. If you are using a sewing machine, get out your zipper foot and put it on the machine. Set the stitch length to a bit longer than you might use for fabric, but not so long that you can easily snag a stitch with your fingernail or a pin.

Those of you who are sew-queens know that the way a sewing machine moves the fabric along is by "feed dogs". The feed dogs grab the fabric from underneath and pull it along. Since I sew zippers in with the zipper on the bottom, this means that the feed dog will be pulling on the zipper but not on the knit fabric. This pulling will result in a bit of distortion in the final product. So, if you sew one side of the zipper from the bottom up, and the other side from the top down, even though you pinned and basted correctly the final product might be off by a fraction. This pisses me off. Therefore, I sew both sides of the zipper from the top down, so any distortion will show up at the very bottom of the sweater (if at all) rather than at the top where everyone can really see it. The pain in the ass part of this is that when sewing the righthand-side cardi zipper you will have to manuever the entire sweater through the small opening of the sewing machine. But there ain't no wussies out there -- just do it.

8. Now, working slowly and carefully from the right side, sew in the zipper right over the basting line. I stop every few inches to check my work on the back side to make sure I'm not sewing too close to the teeth or too far to the edge. And on the front side to be sure I'm still in the "ditch" of the stitch line that I've picked to sew on. Backtack at the top and bottom. Repeat on the other side. Observe good sewing practice and don't let the sweater hang over the edge of the table onto your lap. This is a sure recipe for stretching out the seam that you are sewing. As much as possible, keep the to-be-sewn part of the sweater on your sewing table tucked out of the way. Move your sewing machine back from the edge of your sewing table to give you room for this.

9. Before taking out the basting line and trimming the threads close, TRY IT ON. Does the zipper pull work smoothly? Do the tops and bottoms and details line up? Does it look right in the mirror? Now, I've never sewn a perfectly straight seam in my entire life. (Note that there is no picture of my sewn seam.) Yet, my zippers still look OK. So don't pull out a seam if the back side looks like ass. Only pull it out if it looks wonky in the wearing.

10. When you are satisfied with the sewn-in zipper, carefully pull out the basting line with a seam ripper. DON'T ACCIDENTALLY CUT THROUGH THE SEWN SEAM! Again, ask me how I know this. Trim the threads at the tops and the bottoms.

11. The last step is hand-finishing the top of the zipper. Tuck the angled portion of the zipper tape underneath the rest of the zipper tape, put one pin in to hold it and using a needle and thread sew it into place. A finished zipper top looks like this.

OK, that is everything I know about putting zippers into handknits. For those of you who have never tried this, don't be intimidated by all these "steps". This isn't brain surgery. No-one will die or go to jail if screw up your zipper, so be bold! All mistakes can be taken out and re-done. Work carefully, step-by-step and chances are very good that it will work out fine even your very first time.