Thursday, October 18, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Kristin Knits, by Kristin Nicholas

It’s a real pleasure to see a new book from Kristin Nicholas. In case you've never heard of her (bwah, ha, ha), Kristin is a knitting designer and artist who lives in the hills of western Massachusetts. She has had numerous designs in all the major knitting magazines; has worked with yarn companies like Classic Elite and Nashua Handknits; has written several knitting books, including Knitting the New Classics: 60 Exquisite Sweaters from Classic Elite Yarns; and designed those colorful mugs with knitting-themed motifs that you may have seen. (They sold in a heartbeat when they were in stock at Rosie’s.) Kristin is one of those people who seems to be talented at everything she turns her hand to; she’s done wonderful work in embroidery (check out Colorful Stitchery: 65 Hot Embroidery Projects to Personalize Your Home, for example), painting, sewing and ceramics as well as knitting. When someone with her distinctive eye for color puts out a knitting book, it’s a happy day for us knit-heads.

Kristin Knits is hot off the press from Storey Publishing. It’s a lovely book, hardcover, about 208 pages, and just bursting with color. The dust jacket features a montage of close-ups from the various designs; the cover of the book itself is a motif from one of the projects; and nearly every page has some photograph or motif or even a heading that incorporates color. The pages are sturdy and the book is laid out nicely, with clear type and enough white space on the page to balance all the color. MSRP is $24.95; it hasn’t been officially released on the on-line outlets yet, although you can pre-order it for $ 16.47 by following the link above. The book was at Stitches East last weekend, and Kristen was doing some book-signing there. (She’s as charming in real life as you might imagine from her work.)

The focus of the book, as you may have already surmised, is color. In the preface, Kristen notes: “What I hope to help you learn on the pages of this book is how to combine colors in a creative way to make a piece of knitwear that is more a piece of color art than anything else.” To that end, she begins with a few pages discussing color as it relates to knitting, including some ideas for stimulating one’s own color sense. I actually wish she had written a bit more about the subject (wouldn't you love to Vulcan-mind-meld her? I would.) but it’s a good introduction and motivator to get you playing around with color and observing different uses of color in daily life.

On to the patterns. There are five pattern sections, organized by type of garment: first scarves and an afghan; then hats; then socks; next, gloves and mittens; and finally, sweaters. The pattern section is followed by about fifteen pages of how-to information aimed at helping with the particular skills required for working with color in knitting: fair isle, embellishment (including duplicate stitch, embroidery and pompoms), mitered corners, and so on. Some helpful technical information that the experienced knitter won’t need but the newer knitter might is also included in this section, such as how to sew in a zipper, how to graft, turning a sock heel and a few more. This section seems to me to strike a good compromise between avoiding thirty pages of how-to-knit instruction, while including some specific techniques that are incorporated in the book’s patterns.

The first chapter is called “Sensational Scarves and One Afghan.” Although the first four scarves are pretty basic from a structure standpoint (garter stitch knit vertically), what makes them interesting is the way Nicholas uses them as a jumping-off point for exploring color. The first pattern gives the knitter three different options for adding polka dots to the solid-colored scarf: pompoms, bobbles and embroidered dots. The second and third scarves use stripes, embroidery, stranded knitting and other embellishments to add color and the fourth has a mitered edging all the way around in contrasting colors, along with tassels and an embroidered motif. The last scarf has a colorwork motif running vertically through the center, with stripes and tassels. These scarves are definitely meant to inspire the knitter to play with color, rather than to make a cookie-cutter copy of them, and they are simple enough so that even a knitter who isn’t entirely confident selecting color can play around with comfort. (Knit the lengthways scarf in a solid color and then you can easily lay strands of contrast-color yarn across it to see what colors work for you.) The last pattern is a striking afghan in six colors, with a Navajo-inspired motif, bold stripes and a fringed edge. Interestingly, the afghan is worked in the round and cut open, with stitches raveled to create the fringe.

The second chapter is hats. Again, the structure of the hats is secondary to the colors. You’ll find stripes, contrast edging, tassels and pompoms, embroidery and stripes, lots of options to give you plenty of practice in using and enjoying color. The most challenging pattern is the Kaleidoscope cap, which includes bobble edging, a multicolored garter-stitch brim and a charted diamond motif on the crown.

It occurs to me while looking at these hats, which would be perfect for using odds and ends of leftover yarn (eating up the stash while playing with color: that’s my kind of multitasking) that they would be wonderful choices if you enjoy contributing knitted hats to any of the charity knitting projects that look for colorful headgear (Afghans for Afghans, Warm Up America, Dulaan Project, the Ship’s Project, and so on). You’d have so much fun making them, you’d whip a bunch out without even knowing it.

The remaining chapters are laid out on similar lines. The sock chapter contains “boot toppers” (tubes that are worn at the top edge of boots to add color and keep the legs warm, as well as socks (all knitted from the top-down on double-points, in a worsted-weight yarn) – all of which continue the emphasis on playing with color rather than exploring, say, texture or structure.

Likewise, the handgear in the fourth chapter (fingerless gloves, mittens and gloves) are very similar in construction and feel, differing primarily in the ways in which the color is used.

I like these Nordic-inspired mittens.

The sweater chapter contains 3 pullovers, each knit in pieces and seamed, drop shoulders, with turtlenecks, but which use various motifs and embellishment (one of which is shown near the top of the review). There’s also a yoked turtleneck knit in the round from the neck down, and last, a wild cardigan with tons of colorwork and patterning.

To sum up, we’ve got 27 patterns, mostly for women (although some would work as unisex patterns with other color choices and/or embellishment) and a few child’s patterns, broken down as follows:
  • 5 scarves

  • 1 afghan

  • 5 hats

  • 1 pair of "boot toppers"

  • 5 pair of socks

  • 3 pair of mittens

  • 1 pair of fingerless gloves

  • 1 pair of gloves

  • 4 pullovers and

  • 1 cardigan
Color charts are included for the patterning where appropriate, and there are some schematics, although schematics are not included for every project. (I suspect this is because some of the projects are very similar to each other in structure, making them seem duplicative.) Sizing is one-size-fits-all for the scarves, boot toppers and afghan; small/medium/large for the hats and socks; what is essentially XS/S/M/L for the hats (small would fit a child, while the large would fit an average man’s head). The sweaters generally come in four sizes, with the smallest ranging from around 34 to 38 inches finished chest and the largest ranging from 49 to 54 inches finished chest. The child’s sweater runs S/M/L/XL, with finished chest sizes of 26.5/28.5/30/32 inches. The patterns are written in a sort of chart style, rather than laid out all in text, which should be make them easier for newbies to follow, although they aren’t terribly complex.

As someone who is spending an increasing amount of time working with color, I really enjoyed this book. It is beautifully presented and full of bright colors, interesting embellishment and great ideas for playing with design elements. It’s not so much a book for those interested in garment construction or technique but rather a wonderful tool for developing one’s own sense of color and for overcoming any reluctance a knitter may have about her ability to work with vivid color. You could sit down with this book and some yarns from your stash pile, and end up producing half a dozen lovely, fun holiday gifts while gaining confidence and experience with colorwork. For that reason alone, it’s well worth the price.


Adrienne said...

WOW! Thanks for a great review!!

mindy said...

I'm gonna be looking at this one! Thanks for the well thought out (as always) review.

bellamoden said...

Dude, that book looks way more interesting than I expected! Thanks for your honest review.

Joe said...

I'm amazed at her colorways...extraordinary...even for Kristin.

I was glad you had a link to the book itself so I could see the cover. This is a must-have...thanks.

Lisa said...

Thanks for the review! I was on the fence about this book and you've sold me on it.

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to Vulcan mind-meld her for twenty years!! Ack!!

Good to see you at Stitches.

Jeri said...

Luv your no-bull book reviews.