Sunday, August 27, 2006

No-Bull Book Review: The Yarn Girls' Guide to Knits for Older Kids

I have long felt that there was a gap in knitting patterns for older kids. After my vigorous and unsuccessful attempts to get a publisher to believe me and accept a book proposal from me, I have felt like the lone voice, crying out in the wilderness for patterns for bigger-sized kids -- patterns that do not feature sickly-sweet intarsia motifs or time-consuming fair isle or all-over cabling or which require hundreds of dollars' worth of expensive, nonsuperwash yarn.

Relief, of sorts, has come with The Yarn Girls' Guide to Knits for Older Kids, by Julie Carles & Jordana Jacobs. (Please keep in mind the "of sorts.")

The subtitle of the book is "quick-to-knit patterns for four- to ten-year-olds," and that is exactly what the book provides. Nothing terribly fancy or challenging -- but rather quick-knitting patterns in larger sizes with fairly straightforward styling.

Contentwise, the first 40 pages or so are devoted to the ubiquitous "how to knit" stuff. This seems to me to be a waste of valuable book space: the same authors having already published a beginner's guide and a follow-up to the beginner's guide, do we really need another rehash of how to cast on? Timid book editors constantly assume that someone who's never picked up the needles before is going to start with this book. They are wrong. Better to omit the elementary stuff and add more patterns, or chop a few bucks off the price.

The patterns are organized in small sections; most have three patterns in each section, for a total of about 30 designs. Sections include Basic Pullovers, Beyond Basic Pullovers, Basic Cardigans, Beyond Basic Cardigans, V-Necks, Hats, Scarves, Just for the Girls, and Blankets & Pillows. As with prior books, each pattern is prefaced by a perky vignette describing a well-heeled Manhattan customer of the authors' knitting shop and how the pattern was designed to meet his/her needs. You may find them charming or you may occasionally retch.

The patterns themselves are quite basic. We're talking drop shoulders, simple necklines, no shaping -- which doesn't matter nearly as much for kids as it does for adults, and certainly will make the knitting go faster. There is a slight feeling of saminess to some of the patterns;

for example, in the Basic Cardigans section, two of the three patterns are very similar -- plain stockinette cardigans with contrasting buttonbands, collar and cuff -- except written for slightly different gauges. Likewise, all three hats in the hat section are all very simple round hats; the scarves are so simple that more advanced knitters will surely find patterns for them unnecessary. Basic may be just fine for you: sometimes it's nice to follow a pattern and not have to think about it. However, if you are handy at designing your own items, particularly if you have sweater designing software, you'll want to look carefully at the book to see if it's worth spending your money on.

Gauges for the patterns tend to be on the chunky side: 2 to 3 stitches an inch for a lot of the designs. Decide whether your kids like thick, chunky sweaters (if you live in a warm climate, think long and hard) before picking the book up or you'll be sorry. Style is, again, basic: lots of colorblocks and stripes, minimal cabling and intarsia. These designs probably won't look dated for a while and they are certainly un-dorky enough for most kids to wear without fear of mockery by their peers.

As with any chunkier yarn, if you use the recommended yarns, you'll pay dearly for the speed with which the designs knit up: for example, the Camping Out sweater, a basic design, requires 3 balls of Classic Elite Tigress for the larger sizes, at $34 a pop, with a total yarn cost of $102; the Waste Not, Want Not requires 15 balls of Bliss Cashmerino Aran for a total of about $135;

and the Supersize Me sweater, above, knit in doubled Koigu (which isn't chunky and so won't go as fast as a 2 to the inch yarn), will run you $144 for the 10-year-old's size. If this fits into your budget, swell. If not, you better be comfortable with yarn substitution. (I'm thinking a lot of these designs are going to end up being knitted in Encore and the like.) It also bears pointing out that many of the yarns used are NOT machine washable, which may be a deal-breaker for some people.

The production values of the book are high, as is usual with PotterCraft. I like the bright photos that show the garments clearly; each design (except the chapter for girls) is shown on both a girl and a boy, in different colors; schematics with measurements are given. I haven't yet made anything from the book, so I can't speak to the accuracy or clarity of the pattern-writing.


Anonymous said...

Malutka, I do understand your perspective--you have kids who are out of the toddler stage and not into adult sizes yet.
I well remember those years.
There is indeed a gap in designs for the age group targeted here.

Want to know a really good reason why?
Kids of this age groups do NOT want to wear hand knits.
They want to wear big box clothing like their mates.

I can't tell you the numbers of times I've had so well-intentioned parents and grandparents sighing with disappointment after they knitted garments for their kids, only to see them either rejected out of hand or relegated to the dump in the closet.

Unless you have an arty individualist, don't bother.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the review. I think I would retch reading about the sweater needs of the upper class elementary school set.

A lot of kids this age just run hot. My 11 yr old son does wear a sweater I made for him from Encore, but only on the coldest days in January, like when windchills are at 25 below. The rest of the year, he only wears a t-shirt on his top half, other than when winter coats are absolutely required.

Which means, if I can generalize, that so many bulky patterns are going to be useless for all but the most far north knitters. Like the Arctic Circle.

Carol said...

Well, it does depend on the kid, no doubt about it. But even a sweater for holidays and photo day is nice, you know?

Anonymous said...

Re: expensive chunky yarn. Two strands of worsted weight yarn (any worsted weight, from Red Heart crapylic to Louet Topaz merino) held together will give 2.5 - 3 st/inch, although the knitter may have to tweak the needle size to get the exact gauge s/he requires. I don't call myself The Queen of Two Strands Held Together for nothin', ya know.

MsAmpuTeeHee said...

I am the mom of a 9-year old boy who has been asking for a handknit sweater (whether he would wear it or not would depend on many factors I am sure...just like any other garment).

And you are correct...there are hardly any patterns available for this age range. Especially for boys. I got excited when I saw the title of the book, but as I read your review...I dunno. It doesn't sound like it's the right book for us. I'm sure I'll still take a look (what else is new), but more than likely his first sweater from me will be an Elizabeth Zimmerman raglan or something basic.

So. Who can we write (on your behalf) to get this book idea of yours published?? :-)

Unknown said...

One of my favorites sources for tweener sized knits is Rowan #16 (it's got a picture of a gorgeous young man with a young boy in a tweed cap on the cover). Simple, classic designs that have lots of sizing and can be easily modified to suit various tastes.

Yarn substitution is also very easy for all of the pattern designs.

Charity said...

Thanks so much for this book review! I have a need for patterns in these sizes, and am not yet comfortable "winging it". I've been planning on picking this up. However, I don't have a great love for the chunky yarns - will have to give this book further thought. :0)

Franklin said...

The cost of the yarn is what floors me.

Do folks in general have more money these days? My mother sewed a lot of our clothes when I was kid, but it was to *save* money. The most expensive things we owned were church shoes - and even allowing for inflation since the 70s/80s, those didn't cost half of a $102 sweater.

I've known society wives with kids in this age range, and the only way their little dollings are going to wind up with handknit sweaters is if the nanny makes them.

Anonymous said...

If you already own the Yarn Girl's first book, all of these patterns are the same (or nearly the same). It won't work for the smallest of the target size range, but using the small sizes of the adult sweaters will probably work for the largest of the kids.

As you note here, I should have looked and thought long and hard before buying the first book--chunky knits really doesn't suit my needs. I was, as many new knitters are, blinded by the production values. I learned my lesson and now read patterns (not look at pictures) before I buy books. Thanks for saving others from the same fate....

Anonymous said...

Carol, thanks for another great book review. I admire how you review these books objectively and point out the pros and cons of each book. It makes it easier for us to make a better buying decision.

Carol said...

Oh Franklin, dear, just use Red Heart. Five sweaters for $20 and they'll rot in a landfill for generations to come.

Anonymous said...

Wonder what archeologists thousands of years from now would make of that?
Thanks for the honest review. My 8 year old will wear hand knits, but she shucks them the second she gets in the over-heated school (they sent her home in a borrowed t-shirt one day, so from now on she wears something UNDER her sweaters). She also likes her clothes bright and somewhat...imaginative- if she can "help" pick the colors and yarns then it stands a chance of being worn.

Mel said...

David brought back their "Beyond the Basics" book from TNNA in San Diego, and I noticed that same tendency towards really chunky projects with really pricey yarns. With 3 nieces and 3 nephews, I'd go broke in short order (though I might be able to finish the projects by Christmas!).

With a niece and nephew currently living with their mom in Phoenix and two nieces living in North Carolina, though, the chunky part is just right out, particularly since they'd outgrow them before they ever got a real chance to wear them. If I do get crazy enough to try to make everyone a sweater, I think it'll be a basic raglan done in Lamb's Pride superwash from Webs - $50-60 per sweater over the course of a year of knitting is much more reasonable.