Thursday, April 26, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Runway Knits, by Berta Karapetyan

Because I love Allison so much, today's book review is Runway Knits: 30 Fashion-Forward Designs by Berta Karapetyan.

Karapetyan founded The Karabella Company in 1993, and developed knit collections for clients including Donna Karan, Banana Republic and Ralph Lauren. She later established her own wholesale yarn line, Karabella Yarns, and is the owner of School Products, a knitting shop in Manhattan.

Runway Knits is a good-sized hardback, 176 pages, with a MSRP of $32.50 (get it for $21.45 as of today's date by clicking on the above link). It contains thirty patterns and lots of glossy photographs. The book is published by PotterCraft, and shows the usual PotterCraft production values: lots of color photos, interesting layout, sturdy glossy pages. My forty-two-year-old eyes found some of the type on the small side but I'm all for cramming as much into a book as one reasonably can, so I was perfectly happy to put on my Peepers.

The book begins with a brief, personal introduction, describing Karapetyan's life -- she emigrated to the US from Russia in the late 1980s -- and touching on her design philosophy. In particular, she states that her designs ought not "overwhelm your body; the garment should flatter you"; and she strives to embody a sense of adventure, interesting details and elegance in her garments. Because Karapetyan believes that what one wears reflects one's personality or mood, she divides the patterns into four sections based on the mood they reflect: Spirited, Playful, Demure and Driven (or Determined; it's called on thing in the intro and table of contents, and another on the chapter heading).

Chapter 1 contains six designs, all intended to personify "spiritedness." The Flamingo "capelet" looks like a shrug to me, or a cropped cardigan, with a tie front:

It features good schematics and an interesting stitch pattern, and is styled more like a sweater rather than usual shrug (i.e. a rectangle with the ends sewn together for sleeves). Two of the designs in this section feature ruffles: a black cardigan with a mohair ruffle, and a sleeveless top with a prominent ruffle around a scoop neck (not my favorite design in the book). The mesh shawl

is pretty, but don't look for lace -- or laceweight yarn; it's knit in Karabella Aurora Bulky with a gauge of 2.5 sts per inch in a dropped-stitch pattern. The dress in this chapter is sleeveless, done in cotton in a Barbara Walker stitch pattern. The last pattern in this section is also called a shrug (maybe because shrugs were all the rage when this book was in production?) but could easily be called a "cardigan" as well; it features one-piece construction with clever shaping and a wide collar.

Here's a shot of the back to give you another sense of the shaping and construction.

Chapter 2 is "Playful," and features a cable-knit hat and scarf set; another shrug or cropped cardigan with wide lapels; a hot little black dress with lace trim;

a cap-sleeve turtleneck with a moss diamond stitch pattern; and a sleeveless cotton sweater with lacy leaves going up the front and sides, to form a turtleneck. Again, clever construction and interesting use of stitch patterns (if personally unwearable for me).

Last in this section is a long-sleeved top with what Karapetyan calls "pleats" but which look like rows of picot edging to me.

The third section is "Demure," and includes a cable-stitch sweater with v-neck, a cabled cardigan knit with curved shaping to form the front; a simple pleated skirt (very schoolgirl uniform-ish); a seed-stitch cropped cardigan; a sweater with built-in neck tie; a turtleneck knit in a wavy ribbon-type stitch; a mohair scarf with huge ruffles at the bottom; a silk sleeveless turtleneck knit in a lace pattern; and another bulky cropped cardigan/shrug knit in one piece.

Last is "Determined," a.k.a. "Driven," with a Russian-style faux fur hat and scarf; a simple turtleneck with corded detailing; a red basketweave sweater, also a turtleneck;

a "trellis shawl" knit in simple mesh stitch with two yarns held together; an a-line jacket with huge (I mean HUGE) buttons;

a button-front sweater with a deep v-neck and cropped front; and a chartreuse sweater, using a wavy pattern stitch, with a leaf-shaped motif hitting at the bottom front (like an arrow pointing to your hoo-ha).

For those of you who weren't keeping track, that's approximately 4 cropped cardigans/shrugs; 4 cardigans; 5 sleeveless sweaters; 2 shawls; 1 cap-sleeve sweater; 7 long-sleeved sweaters; 2 dresses; 1 skirt; 2 hat/scarf sets; and 1 additional scarf.

I give high marks for the interesting shaping used in many of these designs; the extensive use of stitch patterns, including cables, lacy patterns and other textured stitches; a mix of fitted and slightly boxy designs; a variety of yarn gauges; and an overall sense of stylishness. Karapetyan obviously is intrigued by circular shaping in jackets; wide collars and lapels; turtlenecks; and ruffles, and there was a slight repetitiveness to some of these elements, particularly in the cropped cardi/shrug category. The book includes good schematics (necessary for many of the patterns featuring untraditional construction) and charts. My brief skim of the instructions suggested that they were well-written, but not having made any of the garments, I suppose time (and my readers) will tell. The patterns (excluding one-size-fits-most designs, like shawls) tend to be written for four sizes, either XS/S/M/L or S/M/L/XL, with finished size ranges generally written for 32, 35, 38, 41 inches. (Curiously, a garment with a 32-inch finished bust is called "XS" in one pattern and "S" in another.) Gauges are all over the map, and all the yarns shown are, of course, Karabella (although it wouldn't be difficult to substitute for many of them). Garment styles seem to run the gamut, including some set-in sleeves, some raglans, and so on, with an emphasis on turtlenecks.

Most of these would be challenging knits for rank beginners, although I personally feel that anyone can knit anything if they really want to. As with all pattern books, you'll have to decide if you like the designs enough to want to purchase the book and if you think they will flatter your body type and/or work with your wardrobe. But in a publishing world filled with the fast, the easy, the do-it-in-a-weekend, I say good for PotterCraft and Karapetyan for creating a book with interesting, complex designs that show a decided sense of style.

In honor of the late Boris Yeltsin, I say



Anonymous said...

Spasiba, Carol!
Having made a Karabella sweater w/o schematics, I am mighty glad to know that they're included here. I did enjoy the shaping and stitch variations of that sweater, so I'll probably get this book.
Allison K

Anonymous said...

I dislike her very much. At Stitches, she scolded me for touching the yarn saying "once you touch one, you know what they all feel like....touching the yarn weakens the fibers". While all of that may be true, I touch every damn ball before I buy it--and I was going to buy, but did not after that (I am not five, had clean hands, and did not even lift up the yarns and leave them disorganized). Because of this, I can not buy the book--too bad, some of the designs seem lovely. However, I made a resolution on New Year's 2005/2006--no more buying from places with mean employees or bad service.

Carol said...

Oooh, good dish, Cynthia. I applaud your principled-ness.

Anonymous said...

Allison here again -- when I met her at a Stitches (clearly a different year or day or un/caffeinated!) I found her to be a little brusque (not atypical for Russian businesswomen, in my experience), but she definitely let me touch the yarns and gave me a deal on some yak when I pointed out some discrepancy in the yardage/price or something like that. I got some very nice worsted cashemere, too. So I guess it goes to show that we all have good days and bad days....

Unknown said...

She is quite brusque. Back when I worked on 5th and 23rd, School Products was a lunchtime hangout. Very honestly, she's not a nice person, if you're looking for warm and fuzzy. And as far as touching or not touching, I put my hands on anything I wanted to at SP and didn't hear a word. Not that I cared. I'm touchin'.

However, the book at least shows a lot more design capability than half of the knitting books out there. I wouldn't wear or make most of them, but as pointed out, at least there's shaping, detailing, and other things that raise the designs up a notch from the usual. Thanks once again, C, for an excellent review!

Faith said...

As always, thank you, thank you for your stellar review. I always look forward to these.

Beth said...

Great review. I love these because sometimes you just can't look at a book before buying it - especially for my shop - but your reviews are very helpful.

Nikki said...

Oooh, thanks for the review. I'm definitely more interested in this book now. Loving that ribbed blue thingamajig and the bulky lace stole. A wrap-up designed to actually keep you warm! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Your review, as usual, really hits the mark. I ordered the book, after seeing it at Barnes & Noble, because of the interesting and sophisticated shaping techniques. (I was quite disappointed with FITTED KNITS, which does the fitting mostly with ribbing.)

Anonymous said...

An excellent review as always, and thank you! I like the photos you showed but since you said that the sizes generally go only up to 41" and I am 44" -sigh- I don't think I'll buy, just look. I am glad to see more interesting design and construction details; I know I'm not the only person who is tired of the "make it in 3 hours out of chunky yarn with size 19 needles!" knitting books that are flooding the market.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your review, as always. Loving the category things at the end of each entry on your blog, by the way. It was your review of Alter Knits that caused me to look again and buy the book and I do like it now. Took a second look at Handknit Holidays as well, after re-reading your review of it. I now have eleven-gajillion knitting books plus 2 thanks to you. Enabler.