Monday, August 06, 2007

No-Bull Book Review Twofer: Easy Baby Knits & Easy Knits for Little Kids

Okay, I apologize for my brief panic attack the other day. I've blocked sweaters in the round before -- but never for a Book. And I truly appreciate all the excellent suggestions, both in the comments and in private emails. I'm concerned that a wooly board (sp?) won't be as helpful for sweaters that are knit, say, yoke style or with raglan seams, and also that it'll be harder to take into account waist shaping, as much as I love the idea of a beautiful wooden object that has a long history in the Shetland Isles. But enough about me.

Before I do today's review, be sure to check out the kewl article about my favorite cro-shay maven, the silver-tongued Kathy Merrick.

Now on to the main event.

So many books to review! Not nearly enough time! Today I present a No-Bull Book Review Twofer, featuring two books with children's knitting patterns. These two books seemed to naturally go together: they are written by British knitwear designers, they are focused on young children's garments, and they feature the word "Easy" in the title. A match made in heaven.

I should warn you that when it comes to books devoted to knitting for kids, I have a slightly different set of standards. Kids grow fast and unlike an adult sweater, which can be worn indefinitely (barring, say, moths, or a dramatic change in your physique, as the newly-buff Coco Schiaparelli von Furstenburg can attest to), kids' garments tend to last only one, maybe two, seasons. So quick-knitting and easy patterns make sense for kids in ways that don't necessarily apply to adults.

Keeping this in mind, today we take a look at Easy Baby Knits, by Claire Montgomerie (Ryland Peters & Small 2007), and Easy Knits for Little Kids: 20 Great Hand-Knit Designs for Children Aged 3-6, by Catherine Tough (C&T Publishing 2007).

As you might expect, the former contains patterns in sizes for babies from newborn to about 2-3 years, while the latter contains patterns for preschool-aged children.

Easy Baby Knits is written by Claire Montgomerie, a textile designer and teacher in Britain. Montgomerie began knitting and crocheting in earnest at age 18, although she'd learned as a child; she is a weaver as well as a designer for knitwear companies. She has her own line of kids' accessories and toys called "Monty," sold in Great Britain. You may recognize Catherine Tough's name if you are a Rowan fan: she has designed for them in recent years. She is a graduate of the Royal College of Art, has written one previous book and has her own knitwear design company.

The books have a similar feel: they are paperback, about 128 pages, with lots of pictures of fresh-faced tots. Both books feature good photography, including multiple shots of garments, some close-up and some full frontal (if you'll pardon the expression), with backgrounds that aren't busy or distracting. And both are full of simple designs that rely on the use of color changes, a few basic stitch patterns (mainly garter stitch and stockinette, with some moss stitch and a few others), contrasting trim, and uncomplicated lines.

Easy Baby Knits contains patterns for newborns through about two to three years, with finished sweater sizes ranging from 17.5 inches to 28.5 inches, depending on the pattern. (Some are written with younger babies in mind, while others size up all the way to 24 months). A number of the accessories and non-clothing items are written for one size, like the booties. The designs have gauges that range from 5 to 7 stitches per inch, and the items are shown knitted in lovely yarns, Debbie Bliss and Rowan/RYC, mostly.

The book is divided into three sections; first comes a sizeable how-to-knit refresher course, with lots of technical photos. I'm not usually a fan of how-to-knit sections in pattern books, thinking that a newbie is better off buying a more comprehensive reference and instead, letting pattern books contain as many garment designs as possible. Still, this book is definitely made for the beginner knitter (I suppose some folks take up knitting when someone in the family is expecting a baby) or for the person who used to knit a long time ago but is rusty (read: Grandparents). In either case, how-to-knit instructions make more sense.

The book's orientation toward inexperienced knitters is reflected in the patterns as well. There are two pattern sections, one devoted to clothing; the other to toys and accessories. You'll find about eighteen or so designs:
  • a baby scarf (aren't they a strangulation hazard?)
  • a "papoose"
  • 5 sweaters and/or jackets
  • a dress
  • 2 hats
  • 1 set of overalls (very similar to the dress)
  • 2 bootie patterns (one with thumbless "scratch" mittens)
  • 2 blankets
  • soft building blocks
  • a bib and
  • a stuffed rabbit.

Have I mentioned that the patterns are very easy and very simple? For example, the scarf is simply a garter-stitch rectangle done in stripes of two colors. The "papoose" (I'll leave a discussion of the political correctness of the name to the Native American Anti-Defamation League) is a garter-stitch rectangle with the corner sewn down to form a sort of hood. The first sweater in the book consists of two T-shaped pieces knit in -- you guessed it -- garter stitch, while one hat pattern is a simple circular stockinette-stitch cap with alternating colored stripes, knit flat and seamed up the back. Get the idea?

The patterns I liked the most were these Mary Jane-styled booties

and this double-breasted knit coat/sweater.

Perfectly nice and attractive garments, suitable for new or rusty knitters, though nothing particularly creative or eye-catching. An advanced knitter, particularly one who can easily design his/her own patterns, is unlikely to need or want patterns as basic as most of these, so let the buyer beware.

Easy Knits for Little Kids is directed at a slightly older population of kids, those from around three to six years of age. The sweaters, along with a dress and skirt, basically come in small, medium and large sizes, which correspond to ages 3-4 yrs, 4-5 yrs and 5-6 yrs respectively. The actual finished chest measurement of the garments varies from 23.5 inches to a whopping 32 inches in the case of one sweater. Even taking into account extra ease for a comfortable kid fit, the sizing is pretty generous.

There are just over twenty patterns in the book, many of which are single-size items like hats or pillows. Here's the breakdown:
  • 3 sweaters
  • 1 dress
  • 1 skirt
  • 2 hats
  • 1 pr of socks (in his and hers variants)
  • 3 scarves
  • 1 wristwarmers and 1 mittens
  • 2 pillows
  • 1 robe
  • 1 each of miscellaneous non-clothing items, including a large doll (named Fred), a roll-up mat, animal slippers, a patchwork throw, pen and toy holders, a chair pad and bag (in his and hers variants).
Gauges tend to be DK weight and thicker, and all the patterns are shown in lovely Rowan and Jaeger (sniffle) yarns. They would be easy to substitute, however.

The book features color everywhere -- lots of color photos, color on the pages -- giving it a fun and whimsical look. (In contrast, Easy Baby Knits takes a more muted pastel approach.) Sadly, there are no schematics (although I suppose since these are relatively basic patterns, that's less unfortunate than it would otherwise be).

Overall, I found the patterns to be colorful, charming, and cute but not excessively cutesy-poo. I'd love to make the Swing Jacket, the jumper and the skirt for G., for starters, and the His/Hers Frog/Bunny sweaters are cute, too, although my twins may be getting a teeny bit old for the animal motifs. (We'll have to see how jaded they get in kindergarten this fall.) The patterns do look to be basic and fairly quick-knitting. There's nothing exceptionally fancy about the styling -- no fair isle or intricate cabling, although one sweater features big cables -- and so these would be well within the province of a less experienced knitter.

In light of the discussion earlier in the week about the bona fides of knitting-book authors, I feel constrained to point out that the author of Easy Knits for Little Kids identifies herself in the introduction as not being terribly skilled at handknitting. No need for us to rehash that discussion here; you can decide whether that matters to you, and only time -- and the experience of knitters -- will tell us how accurate and user-friendly these patterns are.

To sum up, these are two books with simple, easy items designed for children. They each have a certain charm, the Catherine Tough book appealing more to me than the Claire Montgomerie book, and the patterns are lovingly photographed in high-quality yarns. If you've got a book of kid's knitting patterns by Debbie Bliss or RYC or Louisa Harding, you'll want to think twice about purchasing either book sight unseen. The patterns are cute and sweet -- and did I mention they were easy and simple? -- but you may not find too much that is drastically different from other kid's knitting patterns. On the other hand, if you're looking for fairly mindless patterns that'll knit up quick for a young child you love, or you're an inexperienced knitter without an extensive pattern library, then take a look.


Franklin said...

Well, as you know, knitting for kids (okay, one kid) is very much at the top of my mind, so I appreciate these reviews even more than usual. The tendency to want to snap up anything with "baby" or "kid" in the title has caught me by surprise, and you just saved me some money. (Although the Tough book will bear in-person investigation.)

Franklin said...

PS I love it that somebody named "Tough" wrote a book with "easy" in the title. I wonder if they at any point considered calling it "Tough Knitting for Little Kids."

She could do a whole series.

Tough Sweaters for Rugged Men.
Tough Shawls for Bitchy Mothers-in-Law.
Tough Shrugs for Problem Areas.
The Tough Love Book of Romantic Knits.

I'm so funny. I should get my own blog.

Carol said...

You should have your own TV show.

Anonymous said...

The first thing I thought of when I saw that bunny sweater?

"That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!"
"You manky Scots git...What's he do? Nibble your bum?

I needs me a Monty Python rabbit sweater

Carol said...

Simply put, Thank you :)

Lorraine said...

I know we don't want to re-hash the discussion, but what would you say if you brought your car in to a mechanic and they confessed their lack of skills? Makes you think.
I see very little that's new out there in terms of patterns. I just read a knit/lit book- and it seems her favorite word is "boner"?

And I agree- Franklin should have his own TV show- he'd be great!

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