Friday, January 07, 2011

No-bull Book Review: Stitch N Bitch Superstar Knitting, by Debbie Stoller

My pile of new books is growing, so let's get the New Year started with a No-Bull Book Review.

I can only assume that the pesky litigation between that NYC fabric store and Debbie Stoller has been resolved favorably, because fresh off the presses, with the phrase "Stitch N Bitch" in the title, is Stitch 'n Bitch Superstar Knitting: Go Beyond the Basics (Workman 2011; MSRP $17.95, available for $10.33 via the link as of the time of this post). It's been a little while since the last SnB book, and Stoller-ites have been eagerly awaiting this installment of the very popular series.

Recognizing that her audience has undoubtedly progressed in skill since her first book -- which was definitely intended for readers who had never knit before -- Superstar Knitting is aimed at introducing advanced techniques: lace, cables, short-rows, double-knitting, adding beads, embroidery, and instruction in skills like increases, decreases and various bind-offs and cast-ons. All of these technical skills are supplemented by over 40 patterns, in Stoller's trademark funky style. Let's take a closer look.

Superstar Knitting is the same format as the other SnB books: paperback, a hefty 356 pages long, although unlike the earliest book, this one's got color throughout. The first half of the book -- approximately 164 pages -- is dedicated to technical instruction; the remainder is devoted to 41 patterns for women & kids.

Sheepy Time by Laurie Undis

Superstar Knitting starts with knitting in color: Chapter 1 covers knitting with one color at a time (stripes and colorblock), and thoughtfully includes instruction on finer points (like the Fibonacci sequence and how to change colors in ribbing) as well as slip stitches and double knitting. Chapter 2 addresses intarsia, again covering a lot of ground: selecting a good yarn for intarsia, using bobbins, making color changes neat, even how to fudge knitting intarsia motifs in the round. Chapter 3 is devoted to stranded knitting, including steeking, floats, and various ways to hold the two yarns in use. Lots of good technical stuff, there.

Chapter 4 turns to cabling and twisted stitches. Stoller covers cabling with and without a needle; traveling stitches; crosses and twists; Bavarian twisted stitches; mock cables; how to fix mistakes in your cables; bobbles; briefly touches on cabling in color; and addresses the issue of fabric distortion caused by cabling.

Gretel Tam by Ysolda Teague

Next up is lace: chapter 5 covers selecting needles and yarn, then goes over the stitches most commonly used in lace knitting (yarn over, single decreases, double decreases, purl decreases), how to read lace charts, a brief explanation (using photographs of swatches and accompanying charts) how yarnovers and other stitches create lace patterns; how to prevent mistakes or fix them; shaping in lace knitting; cast-ons and bind-offs; Estonian nupps; and blocking.

The last two chapters deal with odds and ends that are helpful to know once you've moved past beginning knitting skills: knitting with beads, duplicate stitch, embellishing knitted fabric with embroidery, a selection of cast-ons (including provisional and tubular, as well as more traditional methods), a selection of bind-offs (including how to do a picot-edge bind-off), a summary of increases and decreases (including whether they are left- or right-leaning), kitchener stitch, buttonholes, types of cord (e.g. I-cord), and short rows.

As you can tell, Stoller covers a hell of a lot of ground in those 115 pages. There are lots of diagrams and some photos to help it all make sense, and if it seems like a lot of material to cover, well, this book is designed to help intermediate knitters learn a host of new skills; of necessity, it can't cover every single topic and subtopic in great detail. Readers who become infatuated with one technique or another will undoubtedly want to delve deeper into these topics (and with topics like lace, you can delve awfully deep; ask Joe the Niebling-obsessed if you don't believe me), but this provides a good overview of the essentials in a readable, clear way.

Baby Corn, by Jane Pihota

The next 40 pages or so address designing your own sweater. Again, Stoller covers a lot of ground in those 4o-or-so pages: Chapter 8 urges the knitter to plan out the project, including swatching, measuring, sketching and calculating gauge; Chapter 9 walks the reader through drafting a drop-sleeve pullover (including a discussion of ease); Chapter 10 walks the reader through raglan and circular yoke sweaters; Chapter 11 does the same for set-in sleeves; and Chapter 12 covers necklines, special issues for cardigans, button and neckbands, picking up stitches and calculating yarn quantities. Entire books have been dedicated to knitwear design, and certainly it's not possible to do in forty pages what, say, Shirley Paden did in her recent knitwear design book, but that's really not a fair way to look at what Superstar Knitting is intended to do. What Stoller does well is cover the basics (adding some very helpful tips that experienced knitters swear by) in a clear and simplified way. A knitter who may occasionally want to design her own sweater will likely find all she needs in Stoller's book, and if the designing bug bites, she can immerse herself deeper in the topic later.

The Life Aquatic by Serena Murphy

The final section of the book is the pattern section. The book contains a whopping 41 patterns, mainly women's and babies/kids items. If you are a fairly experienced knitter and are considering buying the book for the patterns, you'll want to know what you're getting, so let's take a closer look.

The patterns are divided into five sections, organized to correspond to the techniques introduced in the first half of the book. The first section is devoted to "Color Basics and Stitch Witchery," and includes six patterns: a baby dress, a sideways-knit skirt, a short adult dress, the awesome Tulip Top

Tulip Top by Laura Grutzeck

from Philadelphia's own Laura Grutzeck (yay, Laura!), the Rococo Shawl and a pair of striped toe socks.

The second section features stranded and intarsia knitting. From the mittens with a squirrel motif at the cuff,

Squirrelly Mittens by Elli Stubentauch

to the steeked kids' skull sweater

Steeks & Stones by Mandy Powers

to the fish-yoked sweater (shown earlier in the review), stranded motifs are prominent.

Hip-Hop Blanket, by Jennifer Lippman-Bruno

You'll also find Charcoal's favorite, an intarsia bunny blanket (let me clarify: it is a blanket with bunnies on it, not a blanket for a bunny to lay upon chew), skull-themed socks, two bags, a little kid's sweater with a button-on panel, a sheep-themed kid's sweater and an argyle women's cardigan.

Bookish, by Emily Sessions

The third section is devoted to cables, twisted stitches and bobbles, and includes a textured short-sleeve sweater, a cap with colored cables, Ysolda Teague's Gretel tam (interestingly, this appears to be available simultaneously on Ravelry as an individual PDF from Ysolda's shop), a doggie coat, a bag with a textured leaf motif, a cabled hoodie, a short-sleeved lattice sweater, the "Fertility" blanket (an afghan/throw), thigh-high cabled stockings, and a pair of socks with twisted stitches and a lacy motif.

Little Red Riding Hoodie by Kate Chiocchio

The lace section features an airy mohair scarf, a market bag, a shrug, a short dress with a vertical cable motif, a cap-sleeve top, a mesh-stitch skirt, a cardigan with leafy lace motif, a boat-neck sweater,

Sweetheart Sweater by Karissa Watts

a cropped sweater and a pair of knee-highs.

English Mesh Lace Skirt by Suzi Anvin

The last section is devoted to patterns using beads and embroidery: a long pair of beaded gloves, a cardigan with beaded edging, a sweater with beads at yoke, cuffs and hem, beaded wristwarmers, and an adorable stuffed tiger.

Tiger Lily by Barbara Prime

For my statisticians, that's a total of 28 patterns for adult women; 5 for babies and young children; 1 for older kids; 1 home dec item (the afghan); 4 bags; and 1 stuffed tiger. Of the women's pattern,s you'll find this breakdown:
  • 2 skirts
  • 2 short dresses
  • 4 short-sleeved pullovers
  • 4 cardigans
  • 4 pullovers (one is very cropped)
  • 1 shrug
  • 1 shawl
  • 1 scarf
  • 3 pairs mittens/gloves.
Sizing tends to run S/M/L/XL, with the Small approximately 30- to 32-inches finished bust circumferences, and the X-Large ranging from about 43 to 46 inches finished bust (in one case, the argyle cardigan, the XL goes up to 53 inches finished bust), which means the plus-size knitter will have to check the sizing for the specific garments she's interested in or else be prepared to alter. Yarn weights are all over the place, from laceweight (for the floaty scarf) through heavy worsted/chunky, with a lot of worsted and DK-weights used. You'll find schematics where appropriate; charts, including color ones for the color patterns; clear photos of all the patterns (taken by Gabrielle Revere), with close-up shots of most stitch patterns and other details; and mini-bios of the individual designers included with each pattern.

Summing it up, Debbie Stoller has selected a good-looking group of patterns, with a lot of new and lesser-known designers included along with more established names. I personally liked this batch of patterns the best of all her books, although of course it doesn't matter what I think -- it's what the reader likes that's the determining factor in purchasing a book. I will point out that while conventional wisdom suggests that buying individual patterns is cheaper than buying books, that's not always the case. At the current price, with 41 patterns included, Superstar Knitting works out to be around a quarter a pattern -- an exceptional bargain. (Even if you assume that you won't make all the patterns in the book, if you made, say 20 of them, you'd still be paying only fifty cents or so per pattern -- a fraction of the cost of buying 20 or even 10 patterns individually.)

So check out Superstar Knitting. You'll find a wealth of technical information and tips, as well as a large selection of patterns. Deb Stoller has brought a whole generation of young knitters over to the dark side, and I like knowing that her army of knitters is eager and ready to take their knitting to the next level.


rebecca wilova said...

Gretel has been available for years... that's interesting that it's in the book. Hmm!

Jersey Shore Deb said...

Great, thorough review--you've convinced me! I am doing my first intarsia project now and I feel like I'm exactly at the point where this book will be relevant for me. Thanks, Carol!

Bonnie said...

I enjoyed the first SnB book and have a copy of this one as well. I like her writing style, and I'm really glad she's tackled some more intermediate/advanced knitting topics. I think the book is a winner for the technical info. alone. The patterns are a great bonus!

Mel said...

I know she did the one men's pattern book, but you'd think she could throw in at least one token men's pattern in this one. *sigh*

anne marie in philly said...

just got this book for giftmas, but I have not had the time to tackle it yet.

I too wondered about the lawsuit...

thanks, dear!