Book Review: Cast On, Bind Off (54 Step-by-Step Methods), by Leslie Ann Bestor

My in-laws sent me books for my birthday too! Yay!  This one is especially awesome:

Cast On, Bind Off is small but packed with immediately-useful information.  In fact, it contains all the information I was hoping for when I first paged through The Principles of Knitting.  It contains an exhaustive yet succinct list of 33 cast-ons and 21 bind-offs.  Each method is clearly described in words and pictures. The spiral binding allows the book to lie flat while you copy the excellent photographs.  Best of all, the methods are grouped by purpose: cast-ons are basic, stretchy, decorative, circular, double-sided, multicolor, provisional, tubular, and mobius, while bind-offs are basic, stretchy, decorative, and sewn.  Each individual method has close-up photos of what the results look like, along with bulleted characteristics and “good for” tips.  Some of the trickier methods also have a highlighted “getting it right” section to help knitters avoid the most common mistakes.

The thing that makes this book better than Principles is the awareness of different names for the same method.  While Principles is frighteningly complete, one thing that bothered me was the re-naming of several techniques.  Now, I understand that the re-naming served to distinguish and clarify etc., but if you look for a “long tail cast on” that that book, you won’t find it by that name.  On the flip side, Cast On lists a variety of alternate names for each method, which will help readers find the cast on they’re looking for even if they don’t know it by the most common (or “best”) name.

One thing Cast On does assume is that the knitter works right-handed, and with Western stitch mount (leading leg in front of needle).  Lefties may be best served by viewing the pictures in a mirror, and I’m not sure what to do for the leading-leg-in-back folks.  (Though, they all seem exquisitely aware of stitch mount, and can likely compensate on their own.)

A few things I learned just browsing through the book:

  • the way you hold your left hand during long-tail cast on can be described as “slingshot” and everyone will hold their hand correctly, yay!
  • “my” way of doing the knitted cast-on is a common variation, with exactly the purpose I imagined
  • I don’t actually do Emily Ocker’s cast on for circular items … somewhere along the way, I changed to the “invisible” circular cast on
  • there are all sorts of cool two-color cast-on’s that I’ve never heard of before (I like tri-color braided cast-on best!)

Book Review: The Crafter’s Guide to Taking Great Photos

My mom was kind enough to give me several great books for my birthday.  I’ll be reviewing them here over the next few weeks.

First up: the crafter’s guide to taking great photos: the best techniques for showcasing your handmade creations by Heidi Adnum

The only thing cumbersome about this book is the extra-long title.  Once inside, this slim volume packs tons of useful information and tips into short, readable chapters. I felt confidant skipping the bits I was familiar with already, because each section is clearly labelled.  Throughout the book, I found the photos beautiful and inspiring.  In addition general tips on photographing handmade work, the author devoted nine chapters to specific categories of the handmade, including pottery, jewelry, and (hooray!) knitting and needlecraft.

Each topical chapter gives specific tips for camera settings and tools, solutions to typical challenges in that category, and (my favorite) interviews a crafter from that category. I learned a lot from these “practitioner spotlights,” even those for crafts I’m not currently pursuing.

For me, the biggest gift from this book is the detailed instructions for DIY lightboxes and diffusers.  I’m pretty happy with my camera right now (a Canon Powershot A710, a few years old at least), but every once in a while I wish I didn’t have to wait for good weather to take my knitwear photos.  I’ve also struggled a bit when photographing smaller knit items. The lightbox and diffuser solve both these problems — can’t wait to try them out.

E-book Review: the Sock Report

Thanks to a recommendation from a fellow knitter on Ravelry, I found my way to the inaugural issue of the Sock Report. Go ahead, go take a look …. I’ll still be here when you get done drooling.

Pretty fantastic, no?  I broke down about halfway through and bought the e-book. At $16 for 16 exceptional patterns, it was a deal too good to refuse.  It’s rare for a book to have so many patterns I just HAVE to make, and I definitely want to reward Janel Laidman and company for putting together such a great collection.  Ten of the sixteen patterns are in my queue — including three actual sock patterns.

But, to me, the glory of the Sock Report is the use of sock yarn in not-sock items.  I have already order Stroll Tonal in the new Pacific colorway to make a stormy-sea version of SusannaIC‘s Marigold. I’ll buy beads after I have the yarn in hand…

I also have a mad plan to make a pair of little wedding-themed beavers for my friends Chris & Dana, who are getting married this weekend. See how charming the beaver is? It’s second from the right of the Pocket Pals (by Chris deLongpre). Don’t know that I’ll get them done before the actual wedding though …

Review: What Would Madame DeFarge Knit? edited by Heather Ordover

Let me begin by admitting that I am a long-time fan of Craftlit, a fantastic podcast that combines the joys of craft (knitting and more) with the wonders of classic literature.  The host, Heather Ordover, “is an award-winning high school and university teacher who also happens to enjoy knitting. The podcast starts with a little crafty talk, then moves into explanatory notes on the chapters covered in that episode.”  That last bit has been crucial for me — Heather has single-handedly rescued classics from my mental dust-bin.  Remember that dense tome you skimmed through in high school, reading just enough to get by and write some semblance of a final essay? Heather’s enthusiastic and down-to-earth introductions to each episode breath life into these dusty stories by putting them in context and making them exciting again.  I personally gained a whole new appreciation for “The Scarlet Letter.”  I have loved “Pride & Prejudice” for some time now, but listening chapter-by-chapter with Heather was so much fun!  Right now we are finishing up with “The Woman in White,” a novel that I have never heard of before, but I am now entranced by.  It’s a real nail-biter — full of mystery, suspense, and twists that M. Night Shyamalan would pay for.

I suppose it is a bit ironic that one of the few books I wasn’t able to get into is the inspiration for a wonderful new book of knitting patterns and more.  Craftlit brought us “A Tale of Two Cities”  in 2007, and although I really, truly, deeply desired to be as excited about it as Heather and (seemingly) every other listener, I just couldn’t do it.  I’m ashamed to admit that by the halfway point, I’d stopped trying.  I still listened to the crafty portion of the podcast, but as soon as the conversation moved on to Dickens, I pressed “next” on my iPod. That said, from what I gather, Madame DeFarge is a quite a character.  According to the foreword, she “was keeping a record of the names of the doomed” hidden in code in her knitting.  How cool is that?

What Would Madame DeFarge Knit?” is no ordinary knitting pattern book.  For one thing, instead of lavish (read: expensive) color photos, the book features clever black-and-white “woodcut” illustrations by Jen Minnis. Color photographs and much, much, much more are available online, through the main WWMDfK? site and (of course!) Ravelry’s source page for WWMDfK?. At first I was disappointed with the lack of clear photos of the patterns.  I’ve been accustomed to my knitting pattern books doubling as coffee-table books, full of glamour shots of the finished objects.  The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that I never go by just the book photos anyhow–I always check Ravelry to see what others have done with a pattern.  The illustrations have a charm all their own, and lend an old-fashioned air to whole enterprise that suits a book of patterns that are inspired by classic literature.

Another draw to this particular book is that it is one of the first books published by Shannon Okey‘s Cooperative Press. This indy publisher uses a different model for compensating designers: instead of buying patterns outright, they provide something like royalties.  I don’t know the details of the WWMDfK? deal, but I’d be willing to bet the designers are getting more than they would through any other publisher.  Frankly, there’s a good chance this book wouldn’t even be released through a regular publisher, which would be a crying shame.

Each of the 21 patterns is accompanied by a short essay by the designer. One of my favorites is the first in the book: the pattern for Jane’s Ubiquitous Shawl (by Erica Hernandez)  is sprinkled with quotes from Jane Eyre. I imagine knitting this pattern and reading along, with a virtual Jane sitting nearby and chatting.

The patterns aren’t just for knitters: Dawn Ellerd‘s Not-So-Ruby Slippers (a nod to the sparkly red shoes from the Oz movies that never appear in the books) are crocheted in 11 quick rounds from superwash worsted-weight yarn. I’m not usually a “crochet” person — I have, in fact, been heard to say something like, “I can crochet, I just choose not to.”  However, I might just make an exception for these quick and pretty slip-ons.

Another fascinating non-knitting pattern is “The Mermaid’s Lagoon” by the aforementioned Jen Minnis. The book includes paper patterns for a whole cast of shadow-puppets based on J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.” The evocative silhouettes are beautiful and just beg for story-telling.

Back to knitting!  Two patterns that are definitely in my Fantasy Queue are “Bertha’s Mad, Mysterious Cowl” (also by Erica Hernandez) and “Hyde’s Hooded Sweater” (by Gretchen Funk). I imagine making the cowl out of some luscious tonal colorway … in fact, I had set aside a skein of Stroll Tonal in “Gypsy” for this project, but it was diverted into a lace knit-a-long (check out my “Red Seas” shawl!). I love the Hyde hoodie, especially the button-up hood that doubles as a dramatic collar. If I had the funds, I would buy some Stroll WotA in “Deep Waters” — on sale at 25% off as I write. Sigh, alas!

I may never actually make my own Frankenhood (by Syne Mitchell), but I truly appreciate the detailed tutorial on making the light-up LED neck bolts. I haven’t made many amigurumi lately, but I’m thinking that making a Deep Sea Anglerfish with an actual light-up lure would be exceptionally cool.

Two more patterns for my Fantasy Queue: Wilhemina’s Shawlette (by Chrissy Gardiner) and Cthulhu Waits (by Hunter Hammersen).  The latter appeals both for the literary inspiration (I am a fan of all things Cthulhu) and for the asymmetrical wandering tentacles.  My only concern is that I frogged a sock project yesterday, because diagonal lines like this pulled uncomfortably when I tried on the sock. The shawlette is probably going to be part of a Craftlit knit-a-long this fall, to accompany the reading of “Dracula.” I shall be disciplined and wait until then!

I love the pattern for Madame Defarge’s Stole (by editor Heather Ordover): the lace bits are lovely, but the best and most interesting part is the seamless, graft-less construction. The unique (or at least new-to-me) method alone makes me want to make this lacy stole.

So — there you have it.  A great book chock-a-block full of interesting patterns and essays for the literary-minded crafter. Support indy publisher and indy crafters alike, and buy yourself a copy of this book.  You won’t regret the purchase.



Book Review: Knit Your Own Dog by Sally Muir & Joanna Osborne

This book caught my eye a few weeks ago, when patterns and projects from the UK edition started popping up on Ravelry. A quick perusal revealed that there was in fact a Border Collie pattern included in the book, and it was charming! I pre-ordered the US edition on Amazon and was delighted when it arrived this week.

Of course, I immediately cast on for my very own Border Collie, using left-over Palette (a heathered dark brown, and cream) and Size 1 Addi Turbos.  In one evening, I was able to finish all four legs, both halves of the body, and begin on the neck and head.  As you can surmise from this list of parts, the Border Collie (and is worked in a series of bitty parts, worked flat. Some intarsia work creates the classic Border Collie markings — as with all amigurumi knitting, it is vital to knit tightly to ensure the finished toy keeps it shape and does not reveal too much of the stuffing.

The listing for this book on Ravelry is incomplete.  For this reason, I’ll provide a comprehensive list of the breed patterns here.

Hounds: Afghan Hound, Whippet, Dachshund, Basset Hound

Terriers: Wire-haired Fox Terrier, Jack Russell, Scottish Terrier, West Highland Terrier, English Bull Terrier

Sporting: Cocker Spaniel, Red Setter, Labrador, Portuguese Water Dog

Non-sporting: Dalmatian, Poodle, Miniature Schnauzer, French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Pug

Working: Rough Collie, Border Collie, German Shepherd, Old English Sheepdog, Corgi, Siberian Husky

I’m especially impressed with the clever shaping at the beginning of each leg to create a proper foot.  I’ve only just begun the head, and already I can tell some thoughtful shaping will make a very pretty head there as well. The selection of breeds is fantastic — a smattering from across the spectrum, including many of my personal favorites. The details that make each breed unique are fantastic: the Afghan’s flowing coat, the Basset’s floppy garter-stitch ears and jowls, the Scotty’s fringe and beard, the upright stance of the Poodle, the smooshed face of the Bulldog, the Collie’s exuberant mane … all will ring true to lovers of each breed. The authors provide helpful tips in selecting yarns that will best create the coat of each breed (boucle for the Porty! genious!), in addition to all the detailed shaping and design.

I do have a few minor quibbles.  Because the directions are written line-by-line, the knitter must follow along and trust that the color changes and shaping will lead them to the finished product.  It reminds me a bit of the first time I made a Baby Surprise Jacket — take a deep breath, dive in, be precise in following directions, and it will all turn out all right in the end.  That said, I find myself wanting to make charts, especially with the color changes, so I can more easily adapt the pattern to match my own dog. It would have been lovely to have a bit more explanation about the purpose of each shaping section, and charts to make customization easier.

1151 Gromit CL3After I make a toy Gromit, I’ll probably make toy versions of some of my agility-friends’ dogs.  I’m thinking a Scottie or two would be well-received, and I think I could adapt the Dalmatian pattern to make a big brown-spotted Pointer mix. After that … we shall see.

Book Review: The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design by Shannon Okey

I suppose it’s only right that the first book I  review be the book that inspired me to start a blog.  I’ve had Shannon Okey‘s slim, conversational, and extremely helpful book on my wishlist for quite a while.  As I hoped, I received a copy for Christmas and immediately devoured it.  I won’t claim to have read every word (because, well, I haven’t), but I have learned a lot of useful things.

One inescapable conclusion was that if I wanted to take this new knitting design thing that I’m doing seriously, I had to embrace social media.  Over and over again, Shannon and the designers that she interviewed emphasized how critical it is for a designer to have a web presence. There’s just no getting around it.  Certainly I expect to be able to find out about a pattern and it’s designer online, and I’m frustrated when I can’t.

In short, consider this new blog, as well as a new Remily Knits FaceBook page, proof positive of “message received.” (I’ve been on Ravelry for a while now.)

Aside from being strong-armed into joining the 2000’s (yes, I realize I’m a decade late to the wonderful world of blogs et al.), I was also glad to learn that a lot of my instincts so far had been right on.  Part of being a professional is, well, acting like a professional.  This means formatting emails and spelling words correctly, it means communicating clearly and in a timely fashions, and it means being polite at all times.  It means reading proposal and pattern guidelines closely, and checking twice to make sure I’ve followed them. Being professional means being careful about committing to deadlines, doing my level best to complete what I’ve promised, on time, and if I know I can’t or even think I might not be able to meet a deadline, I must tell the people waiting on me as soon as possible.

The book also provides a good outline of the design process: from “idea in my head” to published pattern can be a long road. I have (mostly) figured out the process on my own over the last year — designing, swatching, sample knitting, test knitting, tech editing, and more — but it is good to read that what I think is true mostly is.   The book includes great lists of online resources and software useful to the knitwear designer.  The most important new thing I learned was that I should be reading contracts much more carefully, and that it’s ok to ask for changes.  (It simply hadn’t occurred to me that this was even possible.  Next time a contract says that I will bear the full responsibility if the sample knit is lost in the mail, I may ask the company to alter that part!)

I know I’ll come back and re-read the interviews at least a couple times — there will be more to glean, as I get more involved in designing.  There are several topics that don’t apply to me just yet, but maybe someday they will (a book? really? a girl can dream!).

Rating: 5 of 5 DPNs