Monday, January 15, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Wedding Knits, by Suss Cousins

I was a bit skeptical when I first saw that an entire book had been devoted to knitting projects for one's wedding. Especially upon reading some of the breathless text: "timeless designs for an unforgettable day," "I got to recreate a fantasy wedding in my mind and then in my studio," "famed knitwear designer Suss Cousins makes brides' dreams come true," and so forth.

Then I thought about all the weddings I'd been to in my life. (There was a year in the 90s when Tom and I attended some ungodly number of weddings -- 25 maybe? -- in a twelve-month stretch. One day I'll do a blog post on the truly bizarre and unintentionally hilarious weddings we've been to, like the one where the best man told the groom during the toast to get tested for AIDS because his sister had a pet monkey that she was preternaturally fond of ... but I digress.) If you are a rabid knitter, and you have lots of family and friends getting married, maybe a book of wedding-themed patterns isn't so crazy. I often hear knitters talking about knitting special items for their weddings or the weddings of someone dear to them. In fact, I've even done it myself, knitting a beaded bag for a good friend who got married a few years ago.

So I approached Wedding Knits: Handmade Gifts for Every Member of the Wedding Party by Suss Cousins (PotterCraft 2007), with an open mind.

Quickie background on the author: Suss Cousins is a Swedish-born designer who moved to New York in the 1980s. She first became popular for her handknit sweaters, knitting them for celebrities and for use in movies and TV shows. Cousins has written several knitting books and has a popular knitting shop in Los Angeles (and maybe one in New York?). She also has her own line of yarns, which are used exclusively in the book.

When I picked upWedding Knits, the first thing I noticed is how handsome a book it is. It is big (about 160 pages), hardcover, has glossy sturdy pages, and is full of color. The photography, by Suzuki K, is very well-done and most of the designs are shown both in stylistic close-up and full frontal (if you'll pardon the phrase), so you get a better sense of what you're knitting. Put out by PotterCraft, it's another sign that under Rosy Ngo's editorial direction, PotterCraft is becoming a knitting publisher to reckon with. The MSRP is steep; $32.95 is a lot for a knitting book, especially one with less than thirty designs, but given the high production values (including my favorite: fancy endpapers inside the covers) and the amount of photography and color inside, I guess the price tag isn't too surprising. Plus, the internet being what it is, you can find it discounted at various on-line retailers. [At the time I wrote this, Amazon was selling the book for $21.45.]

The book is divided into three sections: "For the Bridal Party," "For the Bride," and "For the Wedding Night and Honeymoon."

The first section, "For the Bridal Party," is by far the most successful part of the book. It includes patterns for a clutch bridesmaid purse; a knitted headband with beads; a rosebud hair clip; a cotton tunic/wrap dress; a tote bag; a wedding album cover; a "bracelet" that is essentially a knitted cuff with ribbon lacing; a shrug; a bridesmaid wrap; a ring bearer's cushion;

and a handkerchief with lace edging. Many of these -- tunic dress knit in slubby cotton aside -- would make lovely gifts for a loved one's wedding, so that even if you are already married, or have other things to do in the months before your wedding than knit your bridesmaids matching tote bags, these patterns could be useful. For example, the clutch purse and the shrug could be used for any formal occasion, not just a wedding.

The book gets progressively sillier with the "For the Bride" section. To answer the question that I know you are dying to ask: Yes, there is a knitted wedding dress.

It's a form-fitting gown with V-neck and lots of ruffles, knitted in various viscose blends. However, if your bust measurement exceeds 35 inches, you're pretty much out of luck, for the dress comes only in measurements of 31, 33 and 35 inches. (This strikes me as particularly odd for a California-based designer: isn't L.A. the land of breast implants? And if you're gonna shell out a couple of thousand for some extra perk in your tits, shouldn't you end up with a bigger rack than 33 or 35 inches?) I don't think the dress is unattractive, mind you, but not every woman is going to fit into it and not every woman is going to like it. And I think you'd be hard-pressed to find many women who are willing to forgo the bridal-gown-shopping/princess fantasy that the patriarchy inculcates into women from the time they are young.

Even siller are the veils. The long one

is reminiscent of Guinevere, and the short one looks oddly nun-like.

Personally, I think if you are going to knit a bridal veil, you'd be well-advised to use a cobweb-weight yarn and maybe some delicate lace patterning or edging. (The short veil uses a simple eyelet pattern.) Next up are three wraps: one is a feather-and-fan stole, one is a bolero with lace trim (cute but the trim is sewn-on, not knitted),

and the third is a shawl made with eyelash yarn. A garter (which would perhaps be a good gift for a friend's wedding), some small bags, a pair of long fingerless gloves and a "jewel keeper" round out the chapter.

The last chapter, "For the Wedding Night and Honeymoon," is a mixed bag. Of course, there's more breathless prose ("For your wedding night, you want to wear something that makes you feel like a princess") and of course, lingerie, consisting of a simple robe with embellished trim; a "sexy nightie" with butterfly appliques (now me, I think butterfly embellishment is more kindergarten than boudoir, but what do I know?), and an angora camisole and shorts set (if it's hot enough for shorts, won't angora be too hot? if it's cold enough for angora, won't tap pants be too cold?). Methinks Suss was having trouble filling out this chapter, for it ends with a monogrammed throw, a striped bikini, a "his and hers vacation scarf" set (I wasn't aware one needed matching scarves to go on vacation), a simple cotton sweater, and a wraparound skirt.

Overall, the patterns are on the basic side, definitely items that a newer knitter could make without too much trouble. Lots of stockinette stitch, nothing really complicated in the way of construction, and even the embellishment on some items is fairly simple. Personally, I didn't see much that was particularly original or groundbreaking; you can find a gazillion shrug patterns, for example, and simple purses, whether clutch or drawstring, are also easy to find, even with a simple Google search. If you're up for knitting lingerie, I'd recommend White Lies Designs (which also come in a much wider range of sizes) for some truly gorgeous and innovative designs. But like all matters of style, it comes down to your personal taste.

I found particularly interesting that the patterns themselves were written virtually without the standard abbreviations. Instead of "CO x sts," you'll read "Cast on X stitches." People who find knitting directions cryptic should like this style of pattern-writing. All of the patterns feature schematics, too (although the white printing on light-colored pages makes the diagrams harder to read).

When it comes to sizing, as I mentioned above, the options are pretty limited. The wedding dress is sized for 31/33/35 inch chests, for example, and several of the patterns come in one size only (e.g. the Maid of Honor shrug is designed for "up to chest 38"); the so-called "Sexy Nightie" has a finished measurement of 30/32/34/36 inches; and so on. Granted, many of these items don't require sizing; handkerchiefs and handbags and throws are truly one-size-fits-all, but if you are looking to make some of the garments, you'll have to scrutinize the sizing to make sure you'll fit in them.

Wedding Knits is not a book that I personally will find terribly useful. There are a few things I might make, sometime, for someone, like maybe a handkerchief or garter for a shower gift, but nothing that screams out at me "Knit me now!" I found the styles a bit basic for my taste, and primarily items (like this simple bag) that I could find elsewhere in my (admittedly extensive) knitting library.

If you're a newly engaged knitter, though, or are in that phase of life where you are constantly being invited to the weddings of people you care about and want some pretty easy but thoughtful gifts to make for them, then you may want to take a look at Wedding Knits.

I only hope that during my next shift at Rosie's, I will not encounter Bridezilla, stomping into her LYS with swatches of seafoam green taffeta, insisting that she's going to knit fifty table runners that exactly matched her "colors", dammit, then bursting into tears that "the biggest day of my life will be ruined" if I cannot find her a suitable shade of seafoam green yarn.


Gail said...

Back when I was supposed to be getting married, I was knitting myself a veil. I was using cobweb weight shetland and Sharon Miller's Unst Bridal Shawl pattern. (It was going to be a long veil, but my dress had a chapel train as well.) It was really turning out well. I would say that both those veil pictures weren't what I had in mind at all.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this in the bookstore yesterday, picked it up, and almost immediately put it back when I saw the dress. It is beautifully produced, but I thought the whole idea of a "knitted" wedding was silly when most girls have their fantasy wedding planned for years. Don't we all give into that dream at least once? If you have to buy it, get it on sale!

mindy said...

When I started reading this I was hoping it would also be full of lace shawls & such. Ah well. File this in the "flip through at the yarn store, then put it back and buy more sock yarn" drawer.
I did actually knit lace shawls for my sis' wedding- had the yarn for the bridesmaids' & flower girl's dresses dyed to match, etc. Then the day was so stinking hot the shawls never came out of their bag. Feh.
Anyway, if you ever do encouter Bridezilla at the shop, it would make a wonderful post...

Anonymous said...

Women want to feel like princesses on their wedding night? What a load of horseshit!

'Cause dude, I was the Queen. No two ways about it.

Anonymous said...

Oh spare us, please, from those sad dopey "happiest day of my life" girls.
Wedding days are good for guests and caterers.

Everybody knows the happiest days of your life are those spent at Happy Koiguland.

Anonymous said...

Me, I'd prefer Empress of the Universe. I just looked at this book today and I think you are being generous. The knitted garter belt is a thin knit piece with purchased lace sewn to it. I couldn't think of any underwear that the bride could possibly wear under the wedding dress, and damn that stuff clings to her ass tighter than a neoprene wetsuit with none of the support. I do have to admit that Suss's breathless LA hyperventilating irritates me.
I thought the happiest days of your life were spent underwater, then knitting in a hammock as ths sun sets on the ocean.

Carol said...

Hmm, I thought the happiest day of your life was the day your kids were born. You know, that day (or night) when you spent hours pushing a baby's head the size of a watermelon out an opening the size of a garden hose, while being videotaped by your "birthing coach," only to have your spawn gum your nipples for hours while they sew up your episiotomy. Yep, them sure were some good times.

Carol said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
somebunnysloveDOTcom said...

For me, until the woman attending my husband and I said that I did not have to go to the reception right away after finishing the photos (and to eat all I could), my Mother made sure I knew that it was HER day and not mine.

Anonymous said...

You might enjoy the article called "Devoted Japanese knitter's new craze" (right hand side, under the heading "Knitting Closeup") on

Anonymous said...

Once again, you totally do it for me with a No Bull review! I love it. Thanks so much for the honest look at this book. I can't get to (english) bookstores these days to check things out myself, and so it's terribly helpful to have someone like you reviewing the new titles for me. Thanks!

Emily said...

If you love beautiful endpapers (trust me to latch on to a minor detail in a post...) - have you seen Persephone books? ( have truly beautiful ones.

Thanks for the no-bull, not that this book would have tempted me, but entertaining!

brewerburns said...

Thank you for the insightful and interesting review. I really like to see how other bloggers feel about new knitting books when they come out, since I have a limited budget for these things.

Carol said...

I am so glad I'm past the wedding stage. After sewing my gown, the thought of knitting one would clinch a private room at the local nut hatch.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem with the sizing of the wedding dress is that the sample was knit on a machine, not by hand. This limits the achievable width.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the picture of the wedding dress!! I am an avid knitter planning to be married in an informal outdoor ceremony and I want to make my own dress. (There are those of us who KNOW we aren't princesses). I have settled on a simple lace tunic over a silk slip dress (being middle aged and all). I was excedingly curious about the wedding dress in this book, and have been unable to locate the book locally. Now I know why! I will do better designing my own dress.

Julia said...

That was hilarious.