Friday, June 22, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Wrapped in Comfort: Knitted Lace Shawls, by Alison Jeppson Hyde

I hadn't heard that another lace shawls book was coming out until I saw a preview for Wrapped in Comfort: Knitted Lace Shawls, by Alison Jeppson Hyde, while surfing the internet.

I will confess that I am not familiar with Hyde's work. Her blog is here but despite some Googling, I haven't found any specific information about her prior designs. (There are some free patterns on Hyde's blog/website, if you are interested.) Wrapped in Comfort is hot off the presses; it is a paperback, MSRP $24.95 (available at the time of this writing between $18 and $19 via the link), color, and approximately 80 pages. The book is published by Martingale Press.

I'll get straight to the point: this book contains 12 patterns for circular lace shawls and 4 patterns for rectangular lacy scarves.

All of the shawls are shaped as nearly full circles, with an opening for the head and a slit down the front for wrapping, like so:

(as opposed to the kind that are a true circle and draped or folded when worn). So if you don't care to knit circular lace shawls, be aware that's all you're going to find (with the exception of the four scarves) in this book.*

If you love circular shawls, then you'll definitely want to take a look. The shawls are done in yarns that range from sportweight to laceweight. Several of the patterns are done in an alpaca from a small northwestern alpaca farm and were dyed or overdyed by Hyde. If you like to use exactly the same kind and color of yarn as the sample, this will present a bit of a problem for you. Me, I think it is extremely easy to substitute yarns, particularly for a shawl where gauge and exact fit is less of a concern. There are many, many yarns from sport- to laceweight out there that are more easily obtainable and would be perfect for these patterns, but I mention this in case it's a nonstarter for some.

I will be honest and say that it's very difficult for me to make more specific comments about the designs; yes, there is a repetitiveness to the fact that they are all shaped exactly the same way, but on the other hand, it's the nature of a very specific type of garment. I don't feel like I have the extensive laceknitting experience needed to accurately comment about, for example, whether an average knitter will find these challenging or easy, or whether a die-hard laceknitter will find these original or not. I recognized one variant of Feather and Fan, and some other stitch patterns from Barbara Walker's treasuries (and don't worry, intellectual property-heads; they were attributed in the book). Maybe some of my esteemed readers can help me out if they become familiar with the specific patterns.

One of the other significant things about this book is its very anecdotal nature -- folksy, one might say. The book begins with a page titled "My Story," containing autobiographical information in a chatty, personal style. Each pattern is preceded by a full-page explanation of how the item was inspired, for whom it was knit, and why. So here's your second caveat: if you like folksy, conversational books with lots of personal anecdotes about the designer's inspiration and loved ones, you'll find a lot to enjoy. If you don't, it's easy enough to skip those pages, focusing on the patterns.

Finally, it's also worth mentioning that the book features a brief tips section for laceknitting, discussing blocking, shape, diagramming yarnovers and decreases, and a paragraph or two on designing one's own circular shawls.

Wrapped in Comfort
is typical of Martingale books: full color, paperback binding, lots of charts, clear printing, styling and models that seem more girl-next-door than fashion model. The sensibility isn't as contemporary or urban as, say, Teva Durham's recent book. There are lots of color photos, including an overview of each shawl, blocked and spread out so you can see the overall effect of the lace; there are also inset photos that show close-ups of the pattern stitches. Kudos for both of those thoughtful touches. Each design is given in both chart and written-out form, also a thoughtful touch so that no matter which you prefer, conversion is unnecessary. The patterns are also graded by skill level to help the knitter choose and joy of joys! because they are shawls, sizing is not necessary (although Hyde does suggest that a shawl's size can be increased by using thicker yarn).

You might complain that a MSRP of twenty-five bucks is a bit steep for only 16 designs and eighty pages, but considering the amount of work involved in the design and knitting process, I think that would be ungracious. These are time-intensive to design, knit and proofread, and so I don't think the price is at all unreasonable.

All in all, a tentative thumbs-up for Wrapped in Comfort: A thumbs-up because these are technically challenging or interesting patterns; they were labor-intensive to design and knit; and the author has created lovely lacy works, eschewing the fast and easy; tentative only because the appeal of the book largely depends on how you feel about circular lace shawls, and whether you'll like these particular ones.

*Given the small number of scarves, and their relative lack of complexity, I wouldn't suggest buying the book for the scarves alone.


Patience said...

Thanks very much for the review. I tend to avoid circular and square shawls, just because I don't like the double layer of fabric when you have to fold it back at the neck. This looks like a nifty adaptation to try.

Birdwell said...

Alison has to be one of the nicest designers/bloggers out there. I wanted to buy her book before, but you've just cemented the NEED to get this book ASAP.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the very nice review! May I add one thought? I give the stitch count of the stitch patterns, so that if someone wants to adapt it to a rectangle instead, that's real easy to do.

One of the most fun parts of writing the book? Getting to talk to Barbara Walker on the phone about it. She was wonderful.

Lauren said...

Thanks for this review. I believe she's coming to my LYS soon and it's good to know something about her before I go.

Anonymous said...

I adore shawls that sit on my shoulders without the need for pins and without undoing themselves and hanging awkwardly. The shape of Alison's shawls is very similar to a shape I've used (someone else's pattern) for many shawls. They're wonderful. I wore one of my shawls through a whole day at Stitches Midwest last year--even ate lunch wearing it--and never had a problem. I am definitely looking forward to beginning one of Alison's shawls as soon as I pick out a yarn from my stash!

Bridget said...

Nice review. Someday, when I actually finish one shawl I have been knitting for a hundred years, I will decide if I should venture into things that are more complicated. The photos do make the shawls look like they are really pretty!

Sherry W said...

I can see one of these circular shaped shawls in my future!
I've made Geyl it is a 'square with a slit' and must fit in a similar way. It is a very wearable shawl.

KathyR said...

Great review, Carol, thank you! I believe this book will now go on my "must have" list! I like the look of this style of shawl. It may be a more acceptable style for me than the usual triangular style - which tends to look rather "folksy"! Easier to wear, too.

Anonymous said...

I had not heard about this book until I found your review. Thank you for telling us of its existence and your analysis. I think I would like this book. I have seen many circular shawls but skipped them because I dislike the loss of the lace when it is folded. This is a nice adaptation and a neat alternative to Faeroese shawls (which I also love) for the shaping that keeps the shawl on the shoulders. It sounds like this book has many features that could make it stand out from others. The inclusion of stitch counts is great for many customizations. I have some shawl requests, so I may purchase this book sooner rather than later.

Unknown said...

Good review. Just based on what I can see in the pictures, these are nice enough patterns, good intermediate projects. I will take a look at it if I can find it in Borders.

For an experienced knitter of lace, these are all very familiar patterns. That said, it's good to introduce newcomers to BW's patterns.

I would absolutely agree that the price tag is warranted. There's a hell of a lot of work that goes into lace design, far more than any other knitting, in my opinion. So yeah, I'd pay $25 for it. If it piques my interest.