24 June 2007

Book Reviews

Between the Amazon sale and my CC gift certificates (yay, airplane tickets!), I've gotten some new knitting books lately. So I thought it'd be fun to tell you about them here. It's not really fair to call them 'reviews' as I don't plan to be all that terribly professional about it, and because I wouldn't have said anything at all about them if I didn't like them. Also noted: I got Victorian Lace Today not that long ago, too, but haven't said anything much because my feelings precisely coincide with grumperina's: awesome book, see her reasons why (plus, of course, the awesome historical content). I'm also going to save talking about Galina Khmeleva's Gossamer Webs for another post, as I love it so very much and have so much to say about it that it deserves a post of its own. So that leaves: Knit2Together, Charmed Knits, and No Sheep for You.

Knit2Together: Since I got this on Amazon for $5, there's pretty much no way on earth it wouldn't be worth it, unless it turned out to not be about knitting or something. But I think I would have been pretty happy with it even if I'd bought it at full price, although with the caveat that I'm getting pickier about my knitting books (as my shelves groan with the books already collected), and this one has enough in common with other books I already own to make it inessential. What makes it inessential to me? (1) the technical information and hints are all things I've already gotten from other sources (although they're presented really nicely and would be great for any knitter who hasn't already scoured practically everything out there), (2) the fun chatty stuff also feels familiar, like I've read it several times before in other forms, but for all that it's still cozy and nice - it's not a bad thing, it's just not something I would buy the book for, having already bought a lot of other books with a similar vibe, and (3) only one of the patterns is already itching to jump off the page and onto my needles (that would be the felted house slippers, 'cause I can always use another pattern for those, can't make it up myself as I have proven by trial and major error [cf: Frankenstein slippers, scroll down], and these ones are among the cutest out there). That said, I still love the book and am glad I bought it. While I'm enumerating, here are the reasons I love it:

1. Tracey Ullman. How can you not love Tracey Ullman? I feel like I grew up loving Tracey Ullman, my love has never wavered, and now I find out she loves knitting the same way I love knitting. What's not to love? (PS: Favorite Tracey Ullman movie? I Love You to Death)
2. Until I read this book, it never entered my head that "ullman" means "wool man" in Norwegian even though, it's true, my Norwegian is not SO rusty that I forgot either of those words.
3. The patterns are designed by Mel Clark, whose aesthetic I mostly really like, even though just at this moment I'm not sure what besides the house slippers would be practical for me to make and wear right now. I absolutely adore the Ponsonby Suit, and can probably see myself knitting it eventually, though right now my patience and time are not at that level. The Tropical Garden Vest is seriously cute, though I'm not sure what the effect of it would be on my decidedly curvier shape. Would be awesome to knit for a girl of about 13 or 14, but right now I don't know any such. I simply worship the Pimlico Shrug and, oh lordy lordy, the Lacy Hug-Me-Tight, and I might at least knit the latter no matter what, but I can't honestly see myself wearing either except at home for dress-up. I can see other people wearing them and looking fab - just not me. I don't have the je ne sais quoi (sp??) to pull it off. The ginormous Doctor's Bag is gorgeous and would be lovely to own, but if the boring knitting didn't kill me, the finishing definitely would. The Witches Britches are adorable and would be an easy, relatively quick knit, but again, I really wouldn't wear them outside the house, and I already own lots of comfy house-pants that didn't require weeks of my time to make. I also love the Gym Slip Dress, but also think it would require some fairly major mods to work on me, and at the moment the inspiration isn't there for that (though it may come). Finally, the Rowena Cardigan is lovely - and it's just a plain, simple cardigan with one brilliant twist, which I could pretty easily reproduce at some point, though probably not right away.
4. Along with the gorgeous-but-not-immediately-practical(-for-me), there are also a few quickies in here that, while less exciting, are more likely to actually get made. A lacy, ruffly tea cozy, picture frames (which, yes, I might have thought of myself, but not gotten around to thinking through), the super-cute mouse family with clothes, Daphne's Baby Cape (a very EZ-type affair), a pretty table skirt for which I need only a table, and - folks! - a floppy "Lady Detective Hat" which will definitely get made! The Novella Socks and Pea Pod Cardigan are also both cute, and fall into the category of things that I'd love to have, but probably won't get around to knitting because other projects will continually get in the way.

All around, that's a good amount of knitting inspiration for one book, and I'm satisfied.

Charmed Knits: As this is a book of Harry-Potter-related knitting patterns, obviously you have to be a Harry Potter fan to get into it. Since I'm a very rabid HP fan currently in the throes of waiting for the last book to come out (26 days!), and determined to keep any future children I may someday have clothed in exactly the type of adorable, classic, Brit-knit style sweaters that fill the movies and the books, this book was of course a must for me. Though I'm still dying for a pattern for the sweater Ginny wore at the Quidditch World Cup in the movie, all the other essential HP patterns are in here, plus a few extra things I hadn't seen or thought of: an "invisibility shawl" and a blanket based on the idea of Mrs. Weasley's clock. The wand cozies, I must say, cracked me up in kind of the wrong way, but whatever. I also think the wizard robes and hats are kind of pushing it - these are definitely things that should be sewn, not knit, but it doesn't matter because the sweaters, hats, scarves and mittens are perfect and that's the key thing. While I think I could have unvented the accessories myself, the book is really helpful in providing affordable yarn choices in all the right colors. On the one brief occasion when I flirted with the idea of making a Gryffindor scarf (before remembering how much I hate making long, repetitive scarves), I couldn't find the right color combination, and started to lose my ability to remember what the true movie colors look like in the face of all the not-quite-right colors in the LYS. This books gives you a solid handful of alternatives, and that's really nice. And I'm totally making an invisibility shawl! (Since my favorite thing to be at parties is invisible, this should be perfect!)

No Sheep for You: So, remember how I said just a little bit above that I'm getting pickier about my knitting books? This book, along with Amy's Big Girl Knits (which is next on my list to get) are exactly what I want in knitting books now. What I love, love, love about both of them is that they are packed with hard-core, well-researched, well-presented technical information that is not available in this form elsewhere. I'm neither allergic to animal fibers (thank god!) nor (quite) beyond the usual size-range of standard knitting patterns, but I think these two books are the two most useful knitting books for me in a long time. I've been reading the major magazines, almost all the mainstream current books and a few oldies, and been fairly well entrenched in the online knitting world for several years now, and the information Amy gives in No Sheep for You on non-animal fibers is a revelation to me. I've seen profiles of some of the new yarns and fibers elsewhere, and I've read many a general survey of all the various fibers, but nothing has come close to this much information, all of it immediately applicable to my knitting. To be honest I've avoided using any of these materials, except for cotton and that only for dishcloths and bathmats, because the few items I've tried in the past have not worked out so well. Now I know that that's because I had no clue what I was doing - it was not the poor fibers' fault (well, there was some guilty acrylic...), but user error. Most wools are pretty easy to just pick up and knit and end up in a garment that will be usable, but the fact is that you can't throw hemp or silk into a pattern intended for wool and expect everything to work out. I had probably gotten as far as this realization in previous experiments, and concluded that I just didn't know what to do with those fibers, and maybe that I couldn't do much with them beyond put them into scarves. Amy's book takes the next step and shows how truly dazzling all these kinds of yarns can be in just about any type of FO if you do it right, and then shows you how to do it right.

The patterns are lovely. I want to make Tomato, and Hubbster has already registered his desire for the hemp "Manly Maze" sweater (actually, he'd been asking for a hemp sweater for ages, but I hadn't known what to do about it...) The intensely cabled and delicate Morrigan makes me go all wobbly. The Tuscany shawl is a must, and I'm going to dedicate to it the first skein of sea silk I can get my grubby little paws on. In fact, every single pattern in here is very desirable to me, though the others I haven't mentioned yet may be too ambitious, too expensive, or too fussy for me at the moment (which is not to say I won't get there eventually...). And they're all very timeless, more so than most books I can think of, which suggests that even if it takes me 10 years to be ready and able to make Morrigan or Sweet Indulgence, it'll look just as good then as it would now.

There you have it, folks. Next time: a long disquisition on the wondrousness of Galina Khmeleva (who I'm going to MEET in August!!! while also having a slumber party at Beth's!!! And seeing her spinning store!!! Aiiieeeee......)

Also of note: There's an event in NYC on Monday that I'm dropping everything to get to: 19th Century Knitting and Needlework in the park!!! I don't know any more than what's on that link, but my friend Aline and I are going, I'm bringing the set of US 000 DPNs I'm afraid of and some laceweight to see if I can experiment with what stocking knitting felt like 150 years ago. If you're in NYC and can go, drop me a line so we can find each other there!


Jen W said...

Oh, darn. I can't excape work at that hour (I wish it were starting at 12:30--that I could do!). Sounds like fun though. Enjoy!

Penny said...

waah!! teach me to not be up on my blogreading!! How was it?

robin said...

Coming out of lurk-dom to say "Great book reviews!"

I don't have any of those except No Sheep for You, and I totally agree on that.

I am! said...

Thanks for the great reviews, I've been pondering picking up No Sheep for You, and was wondering about Charmed Knits - I think they're both going on my birthday book list now!

Lauren said...

Where are you??? I miss you and your intelligent, insightful posts. Come back soon!