Monday, April 02, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Punk Knits by Share Ross

Last fall, when I saw that not one, but two major publishers were putting out books devoted to punk-themed knitting, I was bemused. Are punk knitters a demographic that is terribly underserved by the knitting pattern industry? I wondered. Or is this merely a coy marketing ploy aimed at a harder-edged crowd, those who aren’t keen on the post-feminist-but-I-like-Hello-Kitty offerings we’ve seen in the past few years from "hip" or "edgy" designers.

But these thoughts quickly gave way to the major conundrum that a punk knitting pattern book presents: If the punk movement was all about iconoclasm, individuality, thumbing one’s nose at the mainstream, rage against the corporate machine, then exactly how can you reconcile a mainstream book put out by a large multimillion-dollar publishing entity containing cookie-cutter patterns for thousands of knitters to copy?
I still haven’t figured out the answer to that one, but I’m sure my esteemed readers – some of whom, unlike goody-two-shoes me, were actually part of the punk movement – will have some ideas.
In the meantime, I now turn to Punk Knits: 26 Hot New Designs for Anarchistic Souls and Independent Spirits by Share Ross, the first of the two punk knitting books to be released. The book is published by Stewart Tabori & Chang, and contains 26 patterns for the nascent (or do I mean nostalgic?) knitter of punk accoutrements. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say “knitter of faux-punk accoutrements,” for in all honesty I can’t believe anyone who is steeped in the philosophy or lifestyle of true punkitude is going to read this book, let alone make anything from it.
It pains me to say that, because we all know about my publishing crush on Melanie Falick. Yes, former editor of IK, editor of ST & C’s craft line, who brought us such lovelies as Handknit Holidays and Weekend Knitting. But after reading Punk Knits I must wonder whether Ms. Falick received a damaging cosh on the head while body-surfing through a mosh pit. In other words, what on earth were you thinking, Melanie?

I know, I know, you’ve heard me gush over the last couple books I reviewed, and you know I’ve never met a Melanie Falick book I didn’t like. So now you’re probably wondering what could possibly have sent me over the edge when it comes to this little volume. Paperback, spiralbound (I love the spiral binding!), 26 designs, color photos, MSRP of $19.95, sounds okay so far.
Well, let’s start with the hokey music-themed puns sprinkled throughout the book. No boring old middle-America “Introduction” here; nope, we have “The Rehearsal.” Instead of a section with the oh-so-conventional title of “Patterns,” we have “The Gig.” And the last section, containing useful information, credits and such is “Back-Up.” It's all so contrived -- the opposite of the spontaneous, live in the moment gestalt of punk.

Likewise, a simple beginner/intermediate/advanced difficulty rating is eschewed in favor of a more complicated 5-tier system: Garage, Coffeehouse, Nightclub, Theater and Arena (going from easiest to hardest skill level). Apart from the fact that this confused me (I could never remember whether Coffeehouse was the next to easiest or next to hardest), there is something inherently anti-punk, at least in spirit, to classifying patterns as easy or hard and then expecting the bad-ass, break-the-rules punk knitter to fall in line with those classifications.
We’ve got little text boxes sprinkled throughout reminding us of important factoids, like that Keith Moon of The Who (can there be a bigger sell-out, multimedia corporation in the music biz than the frickin’ Who?) wore fingerless gloves in Tommy, or homages to various inspirational punk rockers like Marilyn Manson, or Woodstock, or John Lennon, or Lenny Kravitz.... huh?
We've got dopey models, milling about like extras from the club scenes of "My So-Called Life," or aging hipsters dressed for a VH1 "I Love the 80s" taping.

But putting all the superficialities aside, the worst part about this book is that the patterns are boring.
Here are the patterns that you’ll find in this book: 3 sweaters, all of them pretty much the same except one is striped, one has holes in it and one doesn’t have holes in it; 2 mini skirts, pretty much the same except one is knit in mohair and one in something lumpy; fun fur scarves (you know, cast on 12 stitches, knit until you almost run out of yarn, cast off); a man’s necktie; 3 or 4 fingerless glove patterns (remember, that dead guy from The Who wore them); a pillow; 2 hats; a choker ; a short furry vest; a long furry vest; a halter kind of top “sewed” together with safety pins (actually piercing your flesh with them is so 1982);

a guitar strap; sleeves knitted into a jean jacket; mesh-y leggings; a kilt with a skull on it; and some kind of furry Doc Marten spats. Maybe I’m forgetting something but you get the idea. Oh yeah, fake pigtails made from $44 worth of Colinette Point 5 (a criminal use of expensive hand-dyed yarn, IMHO, but I guess a mohawk presented too much of a design challenge).

Nothing in the book is particular new or interesting; in fact, vigorous Googling will net you free copies of pretty much everything in there, and when you take Knitty and MagKnits and the bounty of bloggers into account, you can generally find more interesting versions. Even the supposedly transgressive stuff has been done before: guitar strap? Knitty did it in 2003. Knitting sleeves onto a jean jacket? Lion Brand did it. Knitted men’s tie? Grace Ennis did kick-ass argyle ones in the 1940s. Find them on Ebay and then decide if you want to knit the one in the book. Huggy Bear giant hat?

The BBC's Dipsy, 1998.
Maybe trying to translate a movement like punk into knitting is doomed from the start. The internet allows the truly cutting-edge to keep up with fashion trends nearly instantaneously, while the publishing process takes a year or more to go from concept to finished book. Any subversive subculture can find fellow members anonymously on-line without resort to books. And maybe there’s just no getting around the inherent contradiction in providing slickly-packaged instructions for the masses, based on counterculture trends.
I’m a complete whore for knitting books. My knitting library would probably fill you with shock and awe. (Ask my husband.) It’s not very often that I buy a knitting book and don’t keep it. But this one is going back tomorrow.
In the meantime, I wanna be sedated.


Anonymous said...

Thank you! Yesterday, when ordering MORE SENSATIONAL KNITTED SOCKS from Amazon, I considered this book. Now I don't even have to look at it in a bookstore.

mindy said...

Huh. My, my, my. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??? Thanks for the review (and the chuckles it gave me).

Cheesehead With Sticks said...

Thanks a lot for the review. I was wondering about it. Judging from what I see here, they wouldn't quite know punk if it was stuck to their Doc Martins.

Stephanie said...

The only thing I can say about that book is "eeeeewwwww".

Plus "real" punk would have probably kicked the crap out of anyone dressed in any of those outifts.

Anonymous said...

Far as I remember, the only knitwear acceptable to punks was a baggy acrylic sweater so encrusted with grime and assorted body fluids that it would not only stand up by itself but also follow you home if it got left somewhere.

Hand-knits? Natural fibres? spending money?

Not a chance!

Karen said...

Hee hee.

Unknown said...

Nice Ramones reference. Heh. That used to be my ringtone. Yeah, me, the ageing punk rocker. Not.

I'd like to see how the Punk Princess would react to this book. When she gets home from school, I'll have her read your entry and look at the pictures. I won't put words in her mouth, but "Ewwwwwwww" comes to mind.

Carol said...

Yes, definitely get the Liz-ster to check it out. I assure you, if this aging stay-at-home mom has no time for it, a true rock diva like Liz will puke.

Bridget said...

I'll admit I wouldn't have been likely to purchase this in the first place, but now I'm sure I'm not even interested in looking at it!

Maybe it's for punk-wannabes - you know, those who think it's cool to dress that way, but without the true punk connotations ...

Sherry W said...

I suppose I can represent. I'll never say I was punk (labels, labels) one, because I think I'm a little too young. Being a Punk in the true sense was a movement. As much as a time-constrained thing as being a true Hippie.

This book is for wannabe kids. Kids who have parents that have enough money to give them to purchase Point Five. Dreads, fur and legwarmers are modern raver/club wear, not punk! Make This Exact Stuff And You'll Be Kool. Impress Your Friends When You Go To Hot Topic. The *WHO???*

If you want to make a punk book like this, make it retro. Make a pattern based from an actual guitar strap used in a Ramones CBGB's show. Or a sweater Blondie wore.

The idea of handcrafts and punk/indie work well together. They don't want to look like everyone else and don't want to support a mainsteam fashion industry. Have you ever seen Make magazine? Or even a few of the new sewing books that show you 100 ways to refab old tee shirts? That seems more "Punk" to me. "We have an idea. This is how I did it. Now go make it your own."

katrog said...

Thank you for your reviews, they are articulate and thoughtful. This one saved me the time of leafing through it in a bookstore. I think any knitting punk worth his or her spit, would just pick up the needles and go to it--or deconstruct something already knit. So, who was this book aimed at--the unwary who want to knit something "hip" for their grandkids? Yikes!


Anonymous said...

If you're serious about the "retro" (feh. ptooey. terrible word) punk idea, you'll know that the BAND is Blondie.
The female singer is and always was Debbie Harry.
Even in the disgusting CBGB's toilets.

Sherry W said...

Kathy, watching "VH1 Behind the Music" again?

Stein could have worn a sweater, or any of the other 'Blondies'. You only assume I was talking about Harry. You do know she wasn't the only one in the band, right?

Obviously I was not being specific. Otherwise I would have said 'Dee Dee's guitar strap' and not "Ramones".

Anonymous said...

Sherry. You didn't say a guitar strap Ramone wore. You DID say "a sweater Blondie wore". Can all four members (including Chris Stein) have worn the same sweater at once?
I'm thinking you know there's a difference.

And I've seen Blondie at CBGB's.
And the Ramones.
And Talking Heads.
And been in the disgusting toilets.
Have you?

Sherry W said...

I find the "I'm more punk then you" tiresome and childish. I refused to play that game a long time ago. I think you've had your troll/snark of the day.

Regardless I *am* jealous you got to see so many great shows. I did see the Ramones in the 90's but in Philly. I seen some good shows at CBGBs (like Rancid, Sonic Youth) but I'm sure Ramones was a once in a lifetime thing. Sadly, we'll never see those encrusted johns ever again.

Anonymous said...

It has nothing to do with I'm more punk than you, Sherry.
I wasn't bragging.
I was responding to your "troll snark" about my "watching Vh-1 again".
Why are you being an asshole?
You mis-spoke and I called you on it.

Chantelle said...

lol @ the punk rock pissing contest in the comments.

*gasp* @ the pigtails. Jesus Christ!

Bravo on the review :)

Unknown said...

The Punk Princess's comment? "Yuh." Totally noncommittal and unimpressed. However, Liz is definitely a punk wannabe, not the real thing. But then, she's only 14. Although we did make a pilgrimage to CBGB's last year before it went belly-up. It was still a hole.

I listened to a lot of punk music, including the Ramones, who will always be my favorite. Debbie Harry was great but you can't beat "Ballroom Blitz." However, punk I never was. Hippie, yes.

Marg B said...

All I can think of is how much fun 'You Knit What???' would have had with the book. That vest alone was priceless.

Courtney Kelley said...

Ah, Carol. You have brightened my day with hilarity (is that a word?). That is the biggest bunch of dorkwad-dom I have ever seen. I did a little research on the author, whose myspace page lists Neil Young as their musical fave, along with the Foo Fighters. Both fine in their own right if you like that kind of thing but not punk. Definitely not. And her band is called Bubbles. Not punk. Ass Bubbles of Destruction maybe. I think the real problem here is not with the author though, it's with semantics. I wish that people wouldn't use the word punk to describe things that aren't. But I guess it's all up to the individual. I have a lot of punk friends who knit and one of them is knitting Elizabeth Zimmerman's long john pattern from knitters almanac out of Bemidji while hopping freight trains to the west coast. Now that, to me, is punk. (And she has facial tattoos. also punk rock as f*ck, in my book. Point 5 pigtails? not punk rock.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Caro, hen, for getting pissy on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Fun fact - Share Ross used to be the bassist in the late 80's all girl group Vixen. For those who don't know, Vixen was basically Poison with tits. Most of Vixen's songs were written by maudlin singer, Richard Marx.

Because you know, Richard Marx = punk rock. I could have told you this book sucks - she is buddies with Vickie "Fun Fur is HIP and FUNKY!" Howell and is on Knitty Gritty frequently.

Anonymous said...

So many points to try and convey in retort to this....

#1. Punk is an aesthetic not a ruled definition that states one has to sport a mohawk or a safety pin thru your nose to receive the label. The fact that as one person commented that Neil Young isn't very punk. I hate to break it to you but many of the so-labelled major punk influences be it the Sex Pistols, Ramones, NY Dolls, etc.... were influenced by blues artists and classics such as the Stones, the Who and heaven forbid Neil Young. So under that logic, I guess that they weren't really punk because their history and likes weren't from one musical subculture. And if we really wanted to speculate about what punk is then the Sex Pistols were really just a boyband started by the marketing genius that is Malcolm McClaren who enjoyed chart success due to their scandals and not music.

#2. Punk is about DIY. It doesn't have to be outlandish or reconstructed. It's about SELF EXPRESSION AND INDIVIDUALITY. Ask 10 "punks" what they consider punk and more than likely you will get 10 different answers.

#3. Yes it does appear that the marketing of this book is towards the "Hot Topic" generation. Is that such a bad thing. Last time I looked Hot Topic was a multi million dollar corporation who must be doing something right in their marketing to the new generation. If you had read the book you would see that Share was looking for an edgier fun knitting book and found that there was a void in the market. Perhaps it's jealousy on some people's part because they didn't get on it first.

#4. As to Share's musical accomplishments. Gee one song was written by Richard Marx and if you were aware of how the music industry works you would know that the higher ups who produce and manage bands dictate what they will sing and who will write it. Also I guess you would also consider her a sell out for the fact that she has played to arenas around the world opening up for the likes of Alice Cooper (who per your line of thinking isn't punk but was a major influence to the likes of modern day "punk" bands such as Marilyn Manson.

#5 if you were familiar with dreadlocks and their popularity especially in the UK, you can easily find on Ebay or other sites that Colinette falls (which these are) sell for $50-$100 online and are very common especially among the cyber goth community. Now under your thinking, are they punk or not.... There are so many sub-genres of punk that you include them all....

#6. As to some of the patterns being like others, well that is commonplace in the knitting world. As one blogger has said on her site, you are not really a designer of knitwear but a reinventer of patterns. Knitting books take a long time from inception to published and out on the street, so if a designer has a great novel idea by the time the book comes out it's already been on the streets for months. Perhaps publishers should get moving sooner than waiting around to get the book to the public.

#7. as to the Who comment that they are sell outs and a corporation at this point. I would have to disagree with that ideology. It's a sad fact that whenever a band becomes huge they are instantly labelled sell out because their supposed core fanbase has exploded. Where would music history be if all of those great bands hadn't played huge arenas and broken through to so many audiences... It would be a very silent world if we had to keep everything underground. Sure the ticket prices that they charge is insane and out of control but don't put all the onus on the band, blame the record industry who has taken away the true genius of music to line their pockets with gold. Case in point, Sanjaya on American Idol - has no talent yet while be financially set for life due to them making him a supposed "entertainer."

#8. As to your comments about how the difficulty levels were described in the book - gee sorry for the bit of fun the author seems to have had with it.

As you did say in your post: "Maybe trying to translate a movement like punk into knitting is doomed from the start." Well regardless if it's doomed at least Share made a whole hearted attempt to bring some fun, music and inspiration to the knitting world and for that I at least salute her. Maybe the rest of you should try to be so bold as to go out and bust your butt to get a book deal with a new concept!

Carol said...

Oh, Julia D, are you a friend of the author or something? Dumpling, if you were a regular reader, you would know that I DO have a book deal with a new concept. Do you?

Anonymous said...

No I am not a friend of the author and no I didn't know you had a book deal (but I do wish you all the luck with it) I just happened to find your site in a google search for punk knits, which oddly enough also showed a positive review of the book from Knitty and one from the Sydney Morning Herald. I was sad to see that the same mean-spiritedness existed here that used to prevail at that horrible YNW site that I was so happy to see come to an end.

Once again I have been saddened to see that knitters are not a very friendly or positive group and who are not very open to anyone who strays from public opinion (this is not the first time I have commented on a blog and been slightly flamed for making remarks that went against the majority - so much for freedom of speech and thought) also I have often also been met with very snotty and judgemental people at many LYS due to the way I look (I guess a little color in your hair, piercings and tatts are still stereotyped in this country)It does make me very sad that knitters as a whole are very cliquey when it comes to what and who they like. This world has enough hate in it already. I wonder if all our grandmothers had to deal with this too

Anonymous said...

LOL just because the book has a new concept doesn't mean it doesn't suck and besides, the PUNK RAWK knitting shit isn't exactly cutting edge since there have been about a million other KNITGRRL books out before it.

Carol said...

Julia, you have never been to my blog before. How dare you pass judgment on me or my readers?

I review books regularly here. I am scrupulously fair. If you had taken the time to read past reviews I've written, you might see that I try to mention good points and bad points about books whenever I can, that I often kvell about loving books, but above all I am honest. A reviewer who says nothing but sunshiney things about every book is as worthless as a reviewer who says all negative things about every book. I try to give my readers both pros and cons. That's why I call them "No Bull" book reviews. Every once in a while I dislike a book. This was one of them.

If you want to be part of the free exchange of ideas on the internet, you're going to have to give people whose opinions differ from yours the respect that you seem to demand for your opinion. Expressing yourself without personal attacks when you disagree with a review is a good place to start. If you had tried explaining why you like the book without throwing flames, you likely wouldn't have gotten flamed in return. And make no mistake about it: telling people they don't get it, or "you're just jealous" and so on is indeed starting the flame wars.

I stand by my criticisms of the book. The patterns are derivative and unoriginal. The aesthetic isn't pleasing to me. There are inherent inconsistencies in the very concept of the book that make it unworkable from the get-go. It feels hokey and contrived, which contradicts the very spirit of true punk. I don't care if Share Ross is the daughter of the Almighty, I didn't like the book and I told my readers what I thought of it. People with limited budgets to spend on books appreciate unvarnished, honest opinions.

Knitterary said...

This might just be the best ever comment string for a book review of a knitting book. Fiesty buncha knitters. I stumbled on your blog by accident, but you can bet I'll be back.

Anonymous said...

Julia, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from disagreement.