Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No-Bull Book Review & Giveaway: Stashbuster Knits, by Melissa Leapman

Melissa Leapman is one of the veterans of the knitting industry: she seems to work tirelessly, teaching, writing books and publishing patterns.  Having met her in person, I can also tell you that she is funny and down-to-earth and fun. I was delighted to receive a review copy of her latest book, Stashbuster Knits: Tips, Tricks, and 21 Beautiful Projects for Using Your Favorite Leftover Yarn. Let's subject it to the No-Bull Book Review treatment.

Stashbuster Knits (Potter Craft) is a paperback book, 144 pages, approximately 9 x 9 inches. MSRP is $19.99; available for $13.59 as of the time of this writing through the link above.  In the introduction, Leapman good-naturedly (and accurately) describes the typical knitter's stash:
Some of this treasured collection consists of one or two extra balls of yarn purchased "just in case." Much of it is just partial balls--precious bits and pieces left over from completed projects. Then there are those times a single ball of this or that lands in the stash because it's something you are curious to try out, or perhps it was an irresistible bargain, happily discovered in a hidden sale bin.  And who can resist picking up yarn as a souvenir from vacations and business trips?
Leapman cannily notes that although we love our stash, we also find it guilt-provoking because we know "there's just so much potential in there, if only we could figure out what to do with it."  But first, she cautions, we need to know what in our stash, and be able to retrieve it.  Accordingly, part 1 of the book is devoted to stash organization.

Puzzle Play

Leapman begins by suggesting that the knitter aggregate her entire stash, then sort it. She uses a four-category system:  super fine/fine yarns (lace through sport weight); lightweight (DK); medium (worsted and aran weight); and bulky/super bulky (heaveir than aran weight). She helpfully includes the wraps per inch calculation, for balls of yarn that have lost their wrapper, and then includes a chart which gives rough yarn equivalents (e.g. 2 strands of super fine yarn equal 1 strand of light yarn). She gives tips for how to inventory stash and how to store it (with anti-moth tips). After some tips for what to do if you have too much stash, she covers some basic color theory, giving advice on how to combine colors, how to create a "magic ball" and other methods for randomly (or not so randomly) combining colors. Last topic covered is matching project to yarn, considering amount, laundering care and yarn weight/gauge.

Cables and Colors

Part Two is the project section, organized by yarn weight.  The first section, devoted to lace-, fingering/sock and sportweight yarns, contains 5 projects, the Boho Bangles (best for using up small quantities of leftover yarn), a striped market bag, a cowl,

Fire and Ice Cozy Cowl

a bias striped scarf and a baby kimono with zigzag stripes on the body and a geometric stripe on the sleeves.

The section on lightweight yarns (dk weight) includes the Harlequin bag,


striped mittens, a kid's rollneck sweater done in stripes, a ripple stitch shawl, and an intarsia sweater for men.

Sea of Blue

Worsted weight projects consist of an afghan done in multiple colors shaped like jigsaw puzzle pieces,
a tote bag, a cabled yoke sweater, a circular-shaped medallion jacket


a multicolored linen stitch wrap, and a fair isle-style men's vest.


Bulky and superbulky projects include a slouchy beret,

Urban Knitster Slouch Hat

a textured cap, a cropped cardigan, a zipped and hooded vest, and a throw.

Bravissimo Throw

Following the patterns is a brief refresher course on topics like how to join a new ball of yarn, how to make bobbles, intarsia, provisional cast-ons, methods of increasing and decreasing stitches, and finishing techniques.  A helpful section also gives the basics of reading charts.

One thing that is especially helpful, and appears throughout the pattern section, are little boxes with tips and suggestions for customizing the patterns.  For example, the sample garment for the men's sweater is done in a blue colorway, but photos are given of two alternate colorways, one in browns, another in neutrals.

For knitters who are nervous about selecting colors, or who aren't good at imagining different color combinations together, this is a great help.  Other boxes include tips on yardage (noting, for example, that colors used for one part of a sweater will require more yardage than colors used later in the pattern), ideas for tweaking size or style, and suggestions for how to best use scrap yarn in that design.

As one might expect, you'll find all the amenities that Potter Craft books are known for:  color charts, schematics, clear photographs, close-ups of design details. and an easy-to-read layout.  We've already covered the weight of the yarns used (everything under the sun).  Sizing is generous; men's sweaters run from around a 43-inch finished chest to 61 to 64-inch finished chest, andwomen's sweaters go from around 34 to 35-inch finished bust through 3X, around 48 to 55-inch finished bust.  The baby kimono is sized for 6/12/18/24 months, mittens are adult women's/men's; the child's sweater runs 2/4/6/8/10, and the rest of the items are primarily one size items (e.g. bags, throw, scarf).

Project count goes like this:

  • 2 throws/blankets
  • 3 women's sweaters
  • 2 men's sweaters
  • 2 hats
  • 1 pair of mittens
  • 3 bags
  • 1 cowl & 1 scarf
  • 1 bangle cover
  • 2 shawls/stoles
  • 1 baby's sweater
  • 1 kid's sweater

Summing up, Melissa Leapman presents a versatile collection of good-looking patterns designed to use small amounts of yarn and other leftovers from the knitter's stash. There's a little bit of something for everyone in this book, and the technical information on organizing stash and combining colors will be helpful for knitters who feel overwhelmed by their odds and ends. And thanks to the generosity of Potter Craft, I've got a copy of Stashbuster Knits to give away.  Leave a comment (one per person, please) no later than midnight, Thursday, December 1st and I'll draw a random winner the next morning.  Make sure you include an email address or some other way I can get in touch with you or I'll pick another name.  (I moderate comments, so if your comment doesn't show up instantly, please be patient!)

Monday, November 28, 2011

And the winner is....

Evelyn, who said:

Thanks for this giveaway! I always have a nice healthy stash of Malabrigo in my collection so this pattern book would come in handy dandy!
Evelyn, look for an email from me so we can arrange for you to get your free e-book.  Thanks for reading!  And thanks to Nichole Reese for offering a free Ebook version of her lovely collection, "Harvest."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pattern Booklet Preview & Giveaway: Harvest by Nichole Reese

While at Vogue Knitting Live:  Los Angeles, I had a chance to meet the very fun and funny Nichole Reese.  She kindly sent me a PDF copy of her new pattern booklet so I could show it to all of you. The booklet features designs knit in Malabrigo yarns, and is part of Malabrigo's Freelance Pattern Designer Project.  Malabrigo provides yarn support and promotional assistance, while the designer retains copyright of her designs.

Reese chose the theme "Harvest" for her collection of patterns.  She explains:

Harvest is a remarkable time here in the Columbia River Basin and inspiration abounds everywhere you look. ... I pushed myself to create designs that were unique, fun to knit and fun to wear.

Harvest contains 5 patterns, including the Pumpkin Patch legwarmers (knit in Malabrigo sock yarn, doubled);

a charming beaded and lace capelet,

these clever mitts, which feature an inner layer that felts, with an outer layer knit in superwash yarn:

a long vest, knit in chunky textured yarn:

and the Foliage hat, with cable and colorwork.

Sizing varies:  the legwarmers come in one size, the mitts, hat and capelet in two sizes; the vest is sized XS through XL (finished chest sizes of 34.5 to 51 inches).  Yarns range from laceweight (used doubled for the hat) through the bulky yarn used for the vest.  Charts and schematics are provided, as well as lots of color photos.  You can purchase the booklet in PDF form via Ravelry or Nichole's website for $18.

It's fun to see yarn companies reaching out to indie designers and helping to support their work.  And thanks to Nichole's generosity, I am pleased to announce that one lucky reader will win a free copy of the PDF version of Harvest.  Leave a comment to this post (one comment per person; I do moderate comments to avoid spam, so if your comment doesn't appear immediately, be patient!) no later than noon on Monday, November 28th. I'll use the random number generator to pick a winner later that evening and announce it on Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Now where was I? End of the summer Book Report

It's been a good long while since I told you what I was reading, so I guess it's time to play catch-up. Here is what I read at the end of the summer, for July, August and September:

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn, was another entry in the lightweight Lady Julia Grey series. In this installment, Lady Julia is a newlywed, and she and her new husband Brisbane have just returned to London. Lady Julia's brother seeks out Brisbane's help but swears him to secrecy about the nature of his problem, which only serves to whet Lady Julia's curiosity. She ends up following Brisbane to a gentlemen's club -- not the kind featuring pole dancers, but the kind where seances are held. Good escapist fun set in Victorian England.

I next went on a veritable binge of Inspector Montalbano mysteries, beginning with Voice of the Violin and continuing through the series to August Heat.  (Remember, this is over three months, including two beach vacations!)  I really enjoyed this series, featuring a world-weary Sicilian police inspector who has to figure out tricky ways to work within the corrupt and complex Italian justice system. If you like mysteries, I'd highly recommend these -- they are suspenseful and well-written, and Camilleri does a wonderful job evoking the atmosphere of the imaginary village he has created. I was lucky my local library had so many of the books in this series, as I plowed through a bunch of them while on vacation.

I moved back to the cold, forbidding world of Scandinavian crime with Karin Fossum's Bad Intentions.  The book begins with the death of a troubled teen named Jon Moreno.  He jumps into a lake while on a weekend trip and drowns, before his two friends have time to save him.  Over the course of the book, we learn a lot more about all three young men, in more of a psychological study than a police procedural. Creepy and heavy on the psychological tension.

Then it was back to WWI-era England with A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd.  I am a fan of Todd's Ian Rutledge series; this is a second, more recent mystery series set in the same WWI-era time period, but featuring an army nurse named Bess Crawford. This is the third book in the series and I think the series is getting better each time out.  While on leave from duty, Bess returns to her London flat, only to find a woman huddled in the doorway. She invites her in and gets sucked into the woman's life. The woman claims she was beaten by her husband, but wants to returm home -- if Bess will go with her. Once you get past the unlikeliness of a WWI nurse giving up precious leave to accompany a virtual stranger to her country home, the mystery gets interesting.

GKIYH fan Mary Kay has been recommending the Armand Gamache series of mysteries, set in Quebec, and I am glad I took her up on the recommendation.  This summer I read two Gamache mysteries, first Bury Your Dead, in which Gamache spends some time in Montreal recovering from the violent gunfight that ended a recent investigation. This book was really moving in the way it travels back and forth from the past to the present, slowly revealing the events that changed Gamache's life.  The most recent book in the series, A Trick of the Light, didn't affect me as deeply, but was still very good, centering around the death of a thoroughly unpleasant art critic in the garden of a rural village.

I did take some time out from the mysteries to read a few good non-fiction books.  I really enjoyed In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson. Larson seeks to answer the very compelling question of why the U.S. and other countries either didn't realize what Hitler's intentions were earlier in time.  Thus Larson's book begins in 1933, when William Dodd, a Chicago professor, is named ambassador to Berlin.  Dodd moved his family to Berlin (even shipping his car overseas so he wouldn't have to buy a new one while there) and we see how reports of German atrocities and aggression are tempered by the German government's assurances that Hitler means no harm.  Especially striking is the way in which Dodd, an outsider to the diplomatic corps, has misgivings that keep getting bigger even as folks back in the US don't seem to be paying much attention to what he has to say.

I also read an interesting biography of Mary Boleyn, the infamous Queen Anne Boleyn's sister, called (of course) Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by noted historian Alison Weir.  Mary Boleyn was the subject in recent years of a lot of historical fiction, and Weir takes a no-nonsense look at what is known about Boleyn (not much) and what has been invented about her (most of what people think they know about her). It's a good book, although the big problem is that when you're writing about a woman who lived so long ago and didn't leave much of a written record about herself, there's only so much to say. Weir ends up with more to say about what Mary Boleyn was not, than what she was, which makes the topic a bit unsatisfying (but is not the fault of the author).

Last non-fiction offering was grim but fascinating.  A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres is a history of the Jonestown massacre.  Scheeres herself was raised by a fundamentalist Christian family and as a teen, she and her brother were sent to a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic.  Her perspective gives her, I think, a special empathy for the victims of Jim Jones, and inspired some of the survivors to speak to her for the first time on the record.  She pored over thousands of pages of newly-released government documents, too, for a thorough look at what happened and why.

I continued to read some good young adult books.  In July, I read Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly. I'd read good reviews of this book and I thought I'd give it a try, perhaps then recommending it to my 13 yr old. I really liked the book, which is set both in the present time and during the French Revolution.   I have since learned that the author is a fellow graduate of the University of Rochester (we probably overlapped by 2 years) which made me like her even more.  When I had the chance to  scored a free copy of a book called The Wild Rose by the same author, I jumped.  While I enjoyed The Wild Rose, it was more of a sprawling family saga (intended for adults) and was the third in a series (I hadn't read any of the earlier ones).  It took place in the years around World War I, and the story stretched from the mountains of Asia and Africa to London to Turkey.

Little Miss spent much of the summer rereading the Harry Potter series, and so in solidarity with her, I reread the first 2 books of the Harry Potter series.  I'd read them when they first came out, but it was great fun to enjoy them again, especially given my daughter's enthusiasm for them.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up a copy of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, for some absolutely ridiculous price like three bucks on a remainder table.  I enjoyed the book, which tells the story of a grad student cleaning out her grandmother's house, only to find there is a family connection to one of the witches involved in the Salem witch trials.  I felt like I'd read something similar to this before, but it was a good beach book and went fast.

Phew, I read a lot this summer, didn't I?  I found The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino at the library, and I'd read some good reviews of it. (It won the Japanese equivalent of the Booker Prize.)  This was one of those books that grabbed me right from the beginning, and I read it in a really short period of time because it was so suspenseful.  The book is about a Japanese woman who accidentally kills her nasty ex-husband, then disposes of the body with the help of her next-door neighbor (who she doesn't really know very well until this point).  The plot is twisting and intricate and I guess you'd describe it as a psychological thriller as much as a police procedural.

The Sixth Lamentation by William Brodrick, is a thriller that begins when an old man asks a monk what to do when the world turns against you. The monk tells him to seek sanctuary. The old man turns out to be a Nazi war criminal and he does seek sanctuary (in the historic sense of the word) in the monk's priory. The monk -- who is a former barrister -- is ordered by his chapter to investigate the old man's case. This was a good thriller which flips back and forth between WWII and the present day.  A quick, suspenseful read.

Last on my list was a book nominated for the Gold Dagger Award (given to the best mystery novel by a crime writers' association),  The Cypress House by Michael Koryta. This novel deserves the word "gripping":  as it begins, we see a Depression-era drifter is on a train to find work at a Civilian Conservation Corps site in Florida.  The drifter, named Arlen Wagner, has a strange gift -- he can see in advance when someone is going to die. (When someone is not long for this world and Wagner looks at him, he sees smoke in their eyes and a skeleton instead of a body.) Wagner looks around the train he's on and sees smoke in the eyes of everyone around him, which can only mean that something horrific is going to happen to the train. He gets off at the next station, taking his young friend with him. They end up at Cypress House, a kind of deserted inn on the Gulf Coast. Wagner and his friend get sucked into the world of Cypress House's owner, the lonely Rebecca Cady and have to face the fury of a Gulf Coast tropical storm along with the twisted and corrupt small town sheriff and his cronies. A really good read (I can just imagine the movie).

So that's what I read this summer. I'll catch up with my fall reading list and give you book reports for October and November next week.

In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating it. I am grateful for so many things in my life: health, family, dear friends, knitting, bunnies, and of course books.  Thanks for being a part of it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lucky winner!

Congratulations to Collegeknitting, a.k.a. Michelle, who posted:

I only use the figure-8 cast-on, and she's right- it does make a pretty big gap. I'd love the chance to win this book and really learn how to do the Magic Cast-On! Thanks for the offer!

Please shoot me an email at carolATblackbunnyfibersDOTCaHm along with your shipping address. I will give your information to Judy Becker and she will sign and send your book!

Thanks to everyone who commented. I have a whole backlog of books to review so look for more book reviews and giveaways in the coming weeks.

And for those of you egging me on with my Sullivan sweater, I've got the 3rd nupp row done.  Today I am going to finish the 4th and do the row where I turn up the hem and join it....then things will go faster with nupps only at the beginning and end of the rows.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No-Bull Book Review & Giveaway: Beyond Toes: Knitting Adventures with Judy's Magic Cast-on, by Judy Becker

Judy Becker developed her "Magic Cast-on" several years ago, a method of casting stitches onto two circular needles (originally motivated by the desire to knit toe-up socks). Becker describes her magic cast-on this way:
There are various ways to start a toe-up sock: Figure-8 cast-on, provisional cast-on, long-tail cast-on combined with grafting, etc. I used to use the figure-8 cast-on, but it leaves loose stitches that have to be tightened back in after a few rounds. Even with lots of practice, I usually had to make two or three tries at it. Although invisible from the outside of the toe, on the inside the figure-8 cast-on leaves a blank space between the purl bumps of the first round.
I thought that the world needed a better way, a more humane way to start toe-up socks, so I developed Judy's Magic Cast-On. It's an easy to learn, fast method that starts at the very end of the toe and works the first time, every time. It's completely invisible from both sides, and it can be used with almost any toe-up sock pattern.
This ingenuity, trying to figure out an effective and attactive way to solve a practical problem, is one of the things that fascinates me about knitting. And like so many ingenious solutions, the Magic Cast-on has become very popular -- not just for toes-up socks, but for any place a knitter needs to use an invisible cast-on.

November Street (Duffy Stephens)

One of the fascinating aspects of the rise in self-publishing has been seeing books devoted to topics which pique the knitter's curiosity but might not seem "marketable" to a traditional publisher. Judy Becker's novel and extremely handy form of casting on stitches has excited knitters all over the place, but a traditional publisher might not want to base an entire book upon it, not really understanding why it's such a big deal to knitters. 

Becker bypassed the traditional publishing world, publishing Beyond Toes: Knitting Adventures With Judy's Magic Cast-On (Indigo Frog Press 2011) herself.  Let's take a No-Bull look.

Eye of the Needle (Stephen Houghton)

"Beyond Toes" (Indigo Frog Press 2011) is a sturdy paperback book, about 11.5 by 8 inches, with glossy color pages. MSRP is $28.95 (available through the link above).  The book begins with an Introduction, in which Judy describes her background, how she came up with the Magic Cast-on and includes several great vintage photographs from her family history. After the introduction, she moves right into techniques, giving a page of handy tips before demonstrating the Judy's Magic Cast-on technique.  Next up are explanations of the following techniques which riff on Judy's Magic Cast-on:
  • using the Magic Cast-on as a provisional cast-on so that one can knit in two directions from the same starting place
  • a tubular version, giving a stretchier edge for ribbing
  • a method of casting on a twisted I-cord
  • how to add stitches using the Magic Cast-on
  • and double-knitting using the Magic Cast-on (if done with two colors, you get an invisible start)
Handy illustrations help walk the knitter through each technique.

Patterns are next, and they are divided into seven chapters organized by the type of garment. First up are hats, including the stylish brimmed cap

Laurel Jane's Cap (Deb Barnhill)

a caddy's hat and the funky "Headbumps," with short rows used to create three-dimensional shapes.

Headbumps (Gayle Roehm)

The "Neckwear" chapter features a double-layered cowl and matching wristlets

Magic Cowl (Sivia Harding)

and a lovely seamen's style scarf suitable for men and women.

Monica's Seamen's Scarf (Myrna A.I. Stahman)

"Mittens" features an adorable bobsled-inspired pair and a second pair with cable details. "Socks" contains two pair, including these lovely ones by Janel Laidman.

Spring Fever Socks (Janel Laidman)

"Garments and Wraps" takes the technique to a grander scale, including a colorwork vest

Djinn (Samantha Roshak)

shawls/wraps, and a poncho.  "Bags and Cozies" features a felted bag, a cabled notebook cover and a backpack-style bag.  Last chapter is "Comfy Things," a pillow cover with variations and Pippa the pig.

Pippa (Deb Barnhill)

For my statisticians, you'll find the following patterns:
  • 5 hats
  • 4 scarves/cowls (including wristlets for one pattern)
  • 2 pairs of mittens
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • a colorwork vest
  • a shrug
  • 2 shawls
  • a poncho
  • 3 bags (one is a laptop cover)
  • 1 pillow cover pattern; and
  • 1 stuffed toy pattern.

Mokosh (Cindy Abernethy)

Yarn weights are varied, from fingering weight to bulky. Sizing varies depending on the pattern. Hats, for example come in one to three sizes.  Scarves, bags and shawls are mostly one size, mittens come in 4 to 5 sizes (child through adult male), socks in one to three sizes (think women's sizes, rather than kids' or men's), and the vest comes in five sizes (finished chest circumference  29 through 46.5 inches).  Charts are used in most of the more complex stitch patterns, and you'll find schematics for the vest and shrug, as well as diagrams for the items with more unusual construction. Plenty of clear photographs (by Vivian Aubrey) taken against stunning natural backdrops add to the charm.

Bobsled Mittens (Lorilee Beltman)

"Beyond Socks" is a terrific example of what smaller independent publishing can offer us knitters:  a book with a very specific technical focus, informed by its author's own vision of how valuable the technique is and how it can readily be used in different knitting applications. With its attractive selection of patterns from respected designers such as Cat Bhordi, Myrna Stahman and Sivia Harding, it will be a welcome addition to your bookshelf.

And thanks to the generosity of author Judy Becker, I've got a copy of "Beyond Toes" to give away to a lucky reader.  Just leave a comment telling us whether you already use the Magic Cast-on or whether you'd like to learn it, and I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner.  Judy will even sign the book for you.  Leave your comment to this post (one per reader, please) by Saturday, November 19th at noon EST and I'll pick a winner later that day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sullivan Sweater: Starting point

Here is a photo of where I am as of last night. The sweater is knit in one piece, from the bottom up, and it has a foldover hem. I have passed the turning ridge and am in the middle of the first row of nupps.

I will endeavor to finish the nupps rows so that I can move into mostly-stockinette stitch -- that will go faster, right?

Shall we add a thermometer to measure my progress?

A generous estimate puts me at 2%.  I love being nudged along by you -- it's definitely very inspiring!