Friday, September 29, 2006

Various and sundry

The winner is:

Miranda H., who bought a skein of Berripalooza sock yarn. She will receive an official Black Bunny tote bag. (The drawing was done by able assistant, J., who didn't peek one bit. I added the names of people who'd asked for special orders that I haven't finished yet, just to be fair.)

Thanks to everyone who participated in the drawing! We'll do another one before the holidays.


Doing a blog is fascinating for a lot of reasons. One of them is the little snapshot of human nature you get from reader feedback. I am regularly gratified and surprised at the intelligent and downright nice commenters I have. I learn stuff, I see things in a different way, I chuckle at your anecdotes, I appreciate your encouragement and support.

Of course, there is a flip side to this. One of the quirks that you are quickly introduced to is the willingness of readers to take offense. My previous post apparently offended one such anonymous commenter, who found my description of Martingale models as "midwestern" to be, well, offensive. I've noticed this before, here and elsewhere, that no matter what one writes, eventually someone is going to find something to seize upon and be offended at. And my knee jerk response is to roll my eyes and think "Just read what I actually said! You're projecting!"

Wouldn't it be a more productive dialogue if the commenter had said simply "What do you mean when you describe the models as 'midwestern'?" Instead of heaving an annoyed sigh, my response would have been "Well, some of it is tangible, like the fact that they are predominantly white women of Western European or Scandinavian descent, shown in decidedly non-urban settings. Some of it is intangible, like the studiously classic styling a la Talbots." I might have even gone on to wonder whether describing Vogue as "very Manhattan" would offend New Yorkers, or saying that Rowan's models are "English country waifs" would offend slight Englishwomen who live in the country. Maybe I would have wondered whether I do, in fact, have some stereotypical notions of what midwestern women look like.

But she didn't. So I didn't.

On Book Reviews

This takes me to book reviews. I enjoy writing them, and as I've said before, I like to think I'm helping people get a better feel for whether a book is right for them before investing in it. FYI, here are some of the things I think about in reviewing a knitting book (in no particular order):

  • Production quality: is it nice paper? interesting or well-done photography? all black and white or color photos (the latter show garment details more clearly)? drawings and explanatory material?
  • Is it predominantly a pattern book, or an instructional book, or a mix, or essays?
  • Style: floaty, or classic, ethnic inspired, folk, formal or casual, etc.
  • Patterns: if I've made any of them, were they well-written? are schematics included? good photographs that show you what the finished garment looks like and any special features?
  • Number of patterns included and for what kinds of garments, and for whom
  • Easy, medium, hard patterns, or a mix? special techniques used, like colorwork or lace? are they fitted or flowy? boxy or shaped? Are they practical? Are they expensive to make using the specified yarn, or any suitable yarn?
  • Does the book contain basic how-to-knit instructions? or does it assume the reader knows the basics? does it elaborate on any special techniques?
  • Are they new patterns? or is it possible you already have some or all of them in your knitting library?
  • What is the size ranges for the patterns provided?

If there are other things you would be interested in me adding to book reviews, drop me a comment.

On sizes and hostility

One of things I often comment upon about a book is the size range of the patterns that it contains. I think that knowing whether the patterns are likely to fit you can be an important thing for many potential purchasers to consider. If you've got a limited budget for knitting books, and you like to follow patterns instead of designing your own, why buy a book filled with patterns that won't fit you?

When I mention limited size ranges, I invariably get two types of comments or emails. One is "why should a publisher have to provide sizes for everyone in the world?" I don't think every book needs to have patterns that fit every person on this planet: that would be impossible, and expensive. But I do think it's odd when a book has an extremely limited size range. It seems to me that if you are publishing a book, you'd want to attract as many purchasers as possible. Excluding a significant proportion of sizes makes it less likely that you'll attract people who fall outside your size range, and therefore constricts the pool of potential purchasers. (Maybe your book is such wonderful eye candy it won't matter, or contains instructional techniques that go beyond the patterns. Maybe not.) And if a particular size is, statistically, the most common one among American women*, then it strikes me as odd that a book would stop short of this size.

The second type of remark was typifed by the commenter (Anonymous, of course. I'm really getting to hate that bitch Anonymous. She's always stirring up trouble.) who basically said that Americans are fat and eat too much, so tough crap if they can't fit into patterns. First of all, this assumes too much. Not all women who wear above a size 10 are overweight. They may be tall, or have a larger-than-average frame (what my mother calls "big-boned"), or they may have very muscular or broad shoulders, or God (or the local plastic surgeon) may have bestowed them with big tits.

But what is even more fascinating about this kind of comment is the hostility that underlies it. There seems to be an almost vindictive attitude: if you're fat, you have no business knitting these patterns. If you're overweight, you should be at the gym or puking in the toilet instead of sitting on your fat ass knitting. Plump people don't deserve to wear floaty romantic Rowan patterns: let them wear boxy sacks instead. Whassup widdat?

Feel free to discuss. And make sure you tell me if I've offended you.

*And, Brits, too. My Google search uncovered an extensive survey of UK women showing that their average bust size is 38.5 inches, with 40.5 inch hips.


Melissa said...


I will be the first to say thank you for posting size info in your reviews. It absolutely needs to be there, especially for those who don't live near a good bookstore and don't get to page through the book in question.

I will go out on a limb here and try to take Anonymous' position for discussion's sake (though I agree with you that taking offense rather than asking provocative questions is rude). I think the position she is coming from is one of constantly being scorned for being the "model size" and her reaction was one of knee-jerk defensiveness. As a size 8, I have often found myself the receipient of remarks like, "Oh you are so thin-I hate you." Or what about books titles like "Classic Knits for Real Women." Being less than a size 16 doesn't make me a real woman? What's up with that? Anyhow, while I don't agree with Anon's stupid comment, I do see what is behind it (I think).

It sucks that our society makes something as silly as size and weight such a sensitive issue. Why can't we just accept that we are the size we are and there are plusses and minusses to that. Larger or curvaceous women aren't going to look good in boxy garments with no shaping, just as skinny women with small tits aren't going to look good in wrap sweaters or shirts with darts. It's just the way it is.

Anonymous said...

It took you hours to write that review; how long would it have taken if you censored yourself at every turn in fear of offending someone on some level? wtfwjd? Probably throw the old "live and let live" phrase around a lot and move on. Thanks! Moving on.

Anonymous said...

See, now, I told Anonymous that Brits weren't all Twiggy, and your Googling proves it.

Must be the pub on every corner with the chips and peas, right? ;-) (ducks and runs...)

I don't understand why people who are not curvy have to pull out the fast-food big guns when curvy, tall, or big-boned people ask for larger sizes or a larger range of sizes. Frankly, that's one of the biggest draws of knitting for me, is to be able to create something that will fit me, rather than be limited to what's on the rack. And I'm not a tall woman (understatement of the century--I'm nearly a midget). I've had to deal with not being in the average range my whole life. But for a pattern book to stop short of the size that most women in its market take, well...that's just weird. I'm glad you take on the sizing issue as part of your reviews, Carol, because it's extremely important to know before you buy a book, whether you be little, big, or in between.

MsAmpuTeeHee said...

Dude, whassup wit YOU??!! Didn't you KNOW that by having a blog you automatically become a forum for this type of treatment? ROTFLMAO.
Aye aye aye.
Carol: Thank you for your book reviews. I love them. The information and perspective is far more useful to me (and entertaining!) than the type of "let's not piss anyone off" kind of patsy review I'm going to find in most knitting magazines. Whether I agree with you or not (and I've never tallied) I am thankful for your sharing of thought.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE your reviews because they are honest. You don't have anything to gain, unlike the publishers and other "reviewers". I have a friend who wrote a book. It was garbage, and I said so. He self-published and had a bunch of his other friends write rave reviews on Amazon about it. But, as I've gotten to know you, I can COUNT on your honesty.
And I really got a kick out of "midwestern". I'll leave it at that.

Amy said...

What I noted is that you called the models "Midwestern" but then a few sentences later called them "Miss-America-ish." So someone who thought the term "Midwestern" was pejorative obviously is bringing a whole bunch of personal baggage to the party.

Anonymous said...

I'm another who appreciates the honesty of your reviews. One thing about honesty, though; it can be always be counted on to offend somebody somewhere. Kudos to you for not letting it stop you. If there were more people ready to tell it like it is, say, in the White House, we might not be in such a sh!thole in the world.

Oops, how did I get from knitting books reviews to trashing GWB? Easily... ;-)

Carol said...

Kmkat, these days I find it easy to get from ANYWHERE to trashing the Shrub. Much appreciated.

Janice in GA said...

Most book reviews in magazines these days are really just press releases for The Next New Book -- boring and uninformative. Yours are neither. Keep it up!

And I'm sure I'm not the only one who figured that the person who wondered why about sizes was a skinny woman.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I had an entire defense of Carol entry to add to the list--then I saw the line "...trashing the Shrub". I love you (although, I would prefer to see it shrub, I don't think he is a proper noun (or human)......

Haaaaaa. what a great way to start the weekend. I will spend it with my evil MIL (who loves him) so I will indeed be using it (and will give you credit) haaaaaaaa

Anonymous said...

I knew exactly what you meant by Midwestern -- it's a very evocative way of describing a certain style.

Bridget said...

Your reviews are excellent. As far as your adjectives (i.e. Midwestern, Miss America-ish), I know what you mean, and admit to sometimes using such terminology myself (hard to believe, but true).

Re: Large vs. small women. I used to be at the larger end of the scale. It was difficult to find clothes that I liked, and that fit well. A couple of years ago, I had a series of nine different surgeries (two of them very major) in an 18-month period, and due to that and intensive physical therapy, I am now at the smaller end of the scale. *I* feel like the same person - it's other people (yes, I'm sorry, but they are mostly women) who make snarky comments ... and it's still hard to find clothes.

Size is important in clothing. But being one size or body type doesn't automatically make you a better person!

Elizabeth said...

As someone who was born in the midwest and currently lives in the midwest, I'd be thrilled if I thought for one second that I was an example the style to which you referred.

Instead of your example, though, of saying Vogue has a Manhattan style, what if you said Queens? Maybe some of the New Yorkers would speak up? Maybe not.

Re: size. I think it is an absolutely unbiased and important point of disclosure about the book. Anyone who wants to make a finished size larger than 38 inches, needs to know that these patterns are not written that large. Period. This isn't the same as writing essays on what you consider to be the proper range of sizes. It's just pointing out what the book offers. Hard to be offended by that.

What I appreciate most about your reviews is how objective they are. That's so much more helpful than reading ten versions of "I love it!" or "It sucks!"

Anonymous said...

I like your reviews as they are. The only other thing I want to know is the price, and I can find that with google.
On sizing...what about people who knit for others? Maybe you wear a size 42, and your daughter wears size 32, and you'd like to use the book more than once?
Before I got hit with the middle age spread I am now battling, I would be told by the docs that I was the right weight to be healthy. In other words, not fat, not thin. I had a 39" bust, which grew to 41" after the kids. That's how I learned to fix patterns. I am sure not going to plunk down $30 for a book I can't use. That's no insult to me, or to the people those sweaters fit. It's a fact. Keep on with "the facts, ma'am, nuthin' but the facts"
Barb B.

mindy said...

What they said! (sheesh, I'm such a follower. Sorry I can't think of anything clever to add- you guys said it all!)

Anonymous said...

I also appreciate your reviews just as they are. Do you have any plans to review Louisa Harding's "Modern Classics"? It is in the latest Knitpicks e-mail and looks promising. Thanks

Carol said...

Oh please let's not let them bring political correctness to the blogging community. Just like a TV or Radio, one can click the mouse & go elsewhere. If I were offended by something you said, & I felt the need to purposely insult you for it, then who really has a problem requiring nice talky doctors & meds? Anonymously yours, Carol in FL

Sherry W said...

So, was it a carrot cake? :)

Anonymous said...

In our OVERLY politically correct society, you cannot refer to anyone with out offending somone. See there, I just offended the politically correct.

Thanks for the wonderful book review and keep up the good work.

jillian said...

You have never offended me, and I don't think I'm sensitive enough that you ever would. I like frank discussions!

Unfortunately, the world is filled with small-minded people with lots of personal baggage and negative assumptions about others that they will gladly, and anonymously, comment on.

Don't let it stop you!

Carol said...

Why, Deanna, that one is probably next on my list!

Sherry, it was actually chocolate. My kids would never eat carrot cake, and since Charcoal can't have any.... but he got lots of Cheerios that night.

Steph said...

I like your reviews -- they contain useful objective information (like sizes!) as well as your subjective take on the book. In short, a REVIEW, unlike most of the rewritten dustjacket blurbs you see in the magazines (including the online mags).

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your reviews which I think are truely helpful. Size
matters! If a knitter does not feel confident in his or her ability to make the necessary alterations, or perhaps envision how well the finished garment would look or feel on the wearer, it is helpful to know up front that the book they may contemplate buying (mail order or making a special trip to the bookstore or LYS) is not for them.

One of my knitting students was a former pro football player with a well developed sense of style. He couldn't find sweaters he liked which fit so he decided to learn to knit and knit well enough to alter patterns or design his own. I think he was a midwesterner--heh, heh, heh.

Keep it up! I hardly ever use a pattern but I occasionally by books which provide an indepth study of a technique or just great inspiration.

Jude--who can't seem to make Blogger let her register so must be "anonymous" and signs using her blog handle, obscureknitty, 'cause she hates writing anonymous comments, blah, blah, blah

Anonymous said...

As a woman of size, I'm used to being left out of the majority of knitting patterns. However when I began looking at patterns, like Rowan and others, for my 13 year old daughter who is a jr size 3 or 5 depending on the mfg, and saw that her modest bust and hips often puts her in the size LARGE category - I nearly died of laughter.

I mean no offense to small sized women who can wear these patterns. I happen to believe there is room enough in the world for all of us. However I find it difficult to consider the sizing "normal" when my tiny teenager comes in at the top end of their size scale.

blissfulknitter at gmail dot com

Kelly said...

Fat, skinny, or in between, I think people need to get over themselves and their insecurities. This is your blog, a place that you choose to say whatever the hell you want to say without being put on trial for every little thing you say. If people don't like what you have to say, then "Anonymous" should just stop reading your blog.

As for sizing, if most knitters had the time, skill and patience to totally rework a pattern they really loved, they would. I have a 36 bust but when I see a pattern that stops at 34 inches and then jumps to 40 inches and doesn't have a 36 inch option, I pull out my calculator and start reworking the pattern. It is my opinion that most knitters are lazy when it comes to math and like the convenience of following a pattern that does the work for them.

Big Alice said...

I like your reviews, please keep 'em going.

Anonymous said...

I'm joining the herd to say that I really like your reviews. They give important information for me. Now that I know about the sizing issues in the Romantic Style book, I might leaf through it but I probably won't buy it because I'm a 44 bust, and none of the sweaters will fit. Perhaps the designers only go up to a certain bust size because they feel that a larger size won't look good in the design or won't fit their vision? Everyone's a different size people, get over it.

Jen said...

Anonymous clearly has issues. But hey, if it makes her feel better to call anyone with an over-38-inch bust fat, then fire away. Because we are all sharp enough to recognize crazy when we see it.

I believe in letting people make fools of themselves. Give 'em enough rope, yeah? Did I offend anyone by calling her crazy? (Hope I didn't offend anyone but Anonymous Herself.)

Carol, you can offend me any day of the week. Your yarn is beautiful, your reviews are spot on and thoughtful, and though we don't always agree about everything, I respect and appreciate your opinions, WHICH IS WHY I AM A READER.

Rock on, sister.