Monday, November 22, 2010

No-Bull Book Review: Warm Knits, Cool Gifts by Sally Melville & Caddie Melville Ledbetter

Some of you may know Sally Melville from her best-selling series of books that came out several years ago, a how-to-knit series in three volumes. The first focused only on the knit stitch (and included the pattern for the Einstein Coat, a supremely popular but easy-to-knit garter stitch jacket), the second added the purl stitch, and the third delved into color. This series of books was very popular and gave a lot of knitters terrific technical background, along with accessible but attractive projects to make.

If you're looking for a very technical-oriented book this time around, best to adjust your expectations. Melville's new book, Warm Knits, Cool Gifts: Celebrate the Love of Knitting and Family with more than 35 Charming Designs (PotterCraft 2010), written with her daughter Caddie Ledbetter, is a charming book but it's definitely a project-oriented book rather than a technical guide. That's just an observation, not a value judgment. But it never hurts to be clear about the nature and purpose of a book, just in case you hear "Sally Melville" and assume this book must be a continuation of her earlier series (which it is not).

That's not to say that Warm Knits, Cool Gifts isn't a nifty book -- it is. WKCG contains approximately 36 projects designed with gift-giving in mind; the projects are divided roughly between small projects, many of them holiday-oriented, and large projects, like adult sweaters. Melville very charmingly describes how her idea for the book was born:
I was walking through a farm in winter -- watching families pick out their Christmas trees, take sleigh rides through the woods, wrap their hands around cups of hot chocolate, and throw snow at each other -- when I realized that winter is my favorite season! I love the snow; I love the cold; I love the holidays.

And I love the knitting we do for this time of year: shawls to wrap up in, hats to pull over our ears, heirloom pieces for the holidays, ornaments for the tree, and knitted gifts for those we love. So it didn't seem a far stretch to plan a book around these possibilities.
Thus winter, and more particularly, the notion of creating warm and festive things for winter, is the theme that underlies the varied projects in this book. Let's take a closer look.

The project portion of the book is divided into four sections based on the purpose or recipient of the item. First up is "For the Wee Ones," projects for babies and children. The first project is quite lovely: a baby blanket knit modularly using doubled laceweight yarn.

Blended Baby Blanket (SM)

What I like about this project is the way it's not terribly difficult to knit, but the color choices, the blending of the yarns and the modular construction combine to make it striking. Other projects in this section include a baby cap, a bunting, baby overalls, a stuffed doll, and two sweaters that (for a welcome change) are shown on boys rather than girls:

Vested Hoodie (SM)

As a mom of two boys, kudos to Melville for creating some non-fussy sweaters for young boys -- no trucks or doggies, but clean lines and classic shapes that you might, if you're very lucky, get a boy over the age of three into.

The next section is "For Family and Friends," and contains an unusual assortment of gift items, ranging from the small -- a watchband, book markers, a glasses case -- to an assortment of adult sweaters. There's a very sharp polo-style sweater for men

Andy's Polo (CML)

a simple but stylish cardigan for women (I would have to make this longer so my muffin top doesn't show...),

The Cardigan Caddy Really Wanted (CML)

a women's cabled cardigan, a short dress with petticoat,

Baby Doll Dress (SM)

and another interesting sweater for men, as well as a lace scarf that has a relatively simple-to-learn repeat.

"Keeping Warm" features many of the things you'd expect -- hats, scarves, fingerless gloves for him and her-- but also some sweaters and other layering pieces. The Architectural Shawl has an interesting geometric design, and is knit in a worsted/dk weight yarn.

Architectural Shawl (SM)

I was intrigued by the a-line sweater with the vertical panel

Center-Paneled Sweater (SM)

another simple yet striking sweater with a cowl neck,

Christmas Morning Sweater (CML)

and a long coat with a swirly bottom reminscent of vintage skating coats.

Last section is "Feeling Festive," with some ornaments, a leftover sock yarn stocking (P.S. to Sally Melville: I remember Sally Melville Styles, a woefully underappreciated book, and I've always thought its approach to mixing yarns was brilliant; this stocking reminds me of the way leftover yarns are combined there), teeny stockings and Christmas trees, some gorgeous tour-de-force nordic style stockings, a delightful Log Cabin treeskirt, and to finish it with a bang, the Einstein coat returns: in mini-form, as an ornament.

Log Cabin Christmas Tree Skirt (SM)

For those of you keeping track, we've got:
  • 2 men's sweaters
  • 5 baby items (blanket, bunting, hat, overalls, doll)
  • 8 accessories (watchband, glasses case, 2 fingerless gloves, one hat, three scarves)
  • 2 kid's sweaters
  • 5 women's sweaters, plus the long sweater-dress
  • 2 women's wraps (shawl & bolero-style short vesty-jackety-thing)
  • 2 home dec items (afghan, bookmarks)
  • 10 Christmas-themed items (7 ornaments, 2 stocking patterns, and tree skirt).

Nordic Stocking (SM)

For those of you wondering about the yarns used, you'll find a wide variety. One project uses yarn finer than laceweight (the bookmark); 2 use laceweight (one pattern, the baby blanket, knits with it doubled); 4 use fingering weight yarn (but one is designed for leftover sock yarn, and the ornament takes a very small quantity of fingering wt. yarn); 4 use sportweight; 2 use DK; about 9 or so use worsted weight yarn; about 5 use heavy worsted/aran; about 7 use chunky or bulky yarn. Size ranges are generous: the child's sweaters run from 2/4 to 10/12; women's sweaters range from smallest sizes around 31 to 35 inches finished bust to 49 or larger (up to 53-inch, in one case) inches finished bust; men's sweaters run from around 38 inches to 50-some inches finished chest.

Technical specs: the book is paperback, roughly 8.5 by 11 inches, full color, lots of nice photos, charts where necessary, and schematics. I like the way that tips are presented within each pattern in little boxes -- helpful info like discussion of ease for a particular sweater, or notes on pattern design (one tip discusses why the sweater uses shallower armscyes). The Appendix to the book contains an extensive glossary of terms; a list of the yarns used, described and arranged by weight; sizing charts; and general notes on fit.

Although the book is marketed as a resource for knitters wishing to create gifts, I suspect that you may end up finding plenty of choices that you'd like to make for yourself. I was taken with several of the women's sweaters, and the tree skirt and other holiday items are very tempting, too....

The Sweater Sally Made Instead (SM)

So two thumbs up for Warm Knits, Cool Gifts, an early holiday gift to knitters that will keep your needles clacking all winter through..


Sarah said...

I was curious about this book - thanks for reviewing it!

Quilting Mama said...

Thanks for reviewing - this looks like a great source.

Ali P said...

I accidentally bought this little lovely a couple of weeks ago on impulse. I was in a bookstore for another knitting book but was instantly smitten with this one.LOVE IT! I have a project picked out for myself...LOL