Wednesday, May 09, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Family Knits, by Debbie Bliss

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Debbie Bliss. The first pattern book I bought after I returned to knitting was one of her baby books. I remember being charmed by the patterns: simple, elegant designs for children that weren't excessively gee-gawed, that used lovely elements from adult designing (fair isle panels and cables) and top-quality yarns, and didn't rob a child of her dignity (as contrasted with, say, that climbing vine onesie abomination in the last Vogue Knitting). I still like Debbie Bliss' design sensibility quite a bit, and notwithstanding last year's brouhaha about alleged fiber content, I also have, by and large, been very pleased with her yarns. Especially her palette: her robin's egg blue is one of my all-time faves.

Bliss is prolific, turning out at least one or two books a year, as well as several smaller booklets that go with her yarns. Her latest offering is Family Knits: 25 Handknits for All Seasons (St. Martin's Press), MSRP $29.95.

Family Knits is a hardcover book featuring really gorgeous photographs. It's got wider pages and more photos than most knitting books; sometimes it seems as though every page has a photo on it. The photography (by Tim Young) is a combination of the artsy -- close-ups of flowers and scenery -- and the practical -- multiple shots of each garment. In that respect, I think Bliss has improved upon prior books, which often showed dramatic shots of part of a garment that didn't give the knitter a good sense of certain of the design elements or overall structure. But in this book, we even see side-by-side shots of some garment, like this lovely cabled jacket:

At times, there are so many photographs, and so many that don't have anything to do with the knitting projects (full-page photographs with no knitting in them?), that it almost seems like too much. But given how lovely the book, and its photography is, that may be a very nit-picky quibble. Schematics are included for each garment, too, also an improvement upon some prior books which did not include schematics.

The patterns are organized into three chapters: Beach, Picnic and Country. These categories seem more editorial, a way to organize, rather than especially stylistic. The Beach section features a child's sweater with a textured sailboat motif; a child's hooded guernsey; this baby jacket with a front zipper:

a men's guernsey (although if you didn't mind the boxiness, it could very well be worn by a woman); a child's striped cardigan with contrasting button bands; a women's zipped jacket with a patterned yoke; a simple striped rollbrim baby cap; and a pretty "patchwork" aran jacket.

Picnic features a baby's ballerina-style wrap top; a child's long jacket; a toddler sun hat with lace brim; a women's rib and cable cardigan; a men's (unisex?) cricket sweater, or what Americans might think of as a tennis sweater; a young child's fair isle cardigan (so fresh and pretty);

a women's wide-necked, buttoned, ribbed cardigan; and an A-line jacket.

The last section, Country, includes an interesting cable and rib sweater (I like the patterning of the ribs and cables in the front);

a cabled/bobble scarf; a child's seed-stitch beret; a men's (unisex?) zipped jacket; an adult fair-isle beanie; a child's seed-stitch jacket with zip and mittens; a lovely long cabled coat;

an aran bag; and a cute pair of lacy socks.

If you like Debbie Bliss's style, you are likely to want to make these patterns. The cabled garments in particular are quite lovely, the pink fair isle jacket is adorable, and the adult garments are a mix of some classic and some more contemporary styles. It's hard for me to be objective about them, since I've always loved Bliss' design sensibility. If I had one major criticism, it's that there is a certain same-i-ness about some of the designs compared with her previous books. Take a look at these two brown seed/moss-stitch sweaters (oh, the poor test knitters! I feel for you, ladies):

(the top one is from a prior book)

The cricket sweater on the bottom is from a previous book.

This may well be a function of owning pretty much every book Debbie Bliss has ever published, or how prolific she is, but I do sometimes feel like I've seen some of these designs or design elements before.

To sum up, the breakdown of patterns is as follows:

  • 6 kid's sweaters
  • 2 baby sweaters
  • 3 men's/unisex sweaters
  • 2 child's hats
  • 8 women's sweaters
  • 1 baby hat
  • 4 adult accessories (bag, hat, scarf and socks)
  • and a child's mitten pattern.
Or to put it even more generally, eight kid's patterns, three baby patterns, 10 adult sweater patterns and four adult accessories (more or less).

Sizing is all over the map. A few of the accessories come in one-size-fits-most. The baby sizing is generous, and runs from 3-6 months through 12-18 or 18-24 months. The kids' patterns seem to be divided into preschool patterns (say, 2/4/6 yrs) and a few for elementary-age kids (say, 3-4/5-6/7-8/9-10 yrs). Some of the more complex patterns, like the long cabled jacket, are shown in two size ranges, 32 to 38/40 to46, which will lead to imprecise fit for some people. Others are written in a more traditional range, like 36-38/38-40/40-42/44-46. In the past, some of the Bliss books only went up to around 40 inches, so it's nice to see some more sizes added to make the patterns available to more knitters.

All of the designs are shown in Debbie Bliss yarns, but could easily be substituted.

All in all, I'd say this is a good, solid collection of wearable patterns from a very talented designer. If you -- like me -- are a Bliss fan, you'll want to pick this one up. I've already got my eye on one of the jackets for me...


jillian said...

Very timely, and, as always, a great review! I spied this as an "upcoming release" somewhere and liked many of the patterns, but I didn't know it was out! I am a fan of DB's style and yarn palette as well, although I can admit to not having made many of her designs I have in my "queue". I am glad to hear there are schematics, I had heard somewhere that she started doing this recently in response to feedback.

Jodi said...

Thank you so much for posting such a thoughtful and honest review! I just went ahead and ordered the book. I have knit only from her baby books before due to the limited size range in her women's patterns. I am so delighted to see that she's including larger sizes. I love the orange cable and rib sweater.

Bliss does tend to produce similar designs, but I try just to chalk it up to her signature style.

mindy said...

Oh, I've got tons of her books, and will probably add this to the list.

Thanks for the reviews- sometimes I am so out of the loop I don't know about any of these books until I see your reviews. So, you offer a great public service!

Anonymous said...

This was a great review, thank you. I am a Bliss fan, I like her design aesthetic; but I too have noticed that there is a bit of repetition in some of her designs every now and again. I will probably get the book some time.

Carol said...

Debbie Bliss is one of the nicest people but, yes, her patterns are extremely repetitive. Won't keep me from getting this one too! Thanks for the review.

Dallas Schulze said...

Thanks for the book review. I wasn't sure if I wanted to order it but it looks like there are enough designs that appeal for it to be worthwhile.

Isn't that tennis sweater a lot like one she did for Vogue Knitting a couple of years ago? It was a woman's sweater but it looks pretty much the same. Her designs do tend to be a bit repetitive but I think of it as 'variations on a theme'. A bit of repetition is a small price to pay for classic but not boring styles.

Unknown said...

Nice stuff but I'm not a rabid Bliss fan. I have also noticed the sameness of her designs. I do like her Baby Cash, though. Nice colors. But for baby garments, I'll go for the Dale books, any day.

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh when I read, "that climbing vine onesie abomination in the last Vogue Knitting". The funny thing is that on the page before there was a lovely, simple sweater, then you turn the page and WOW! The contrast was too funny.


Carol said...

you know, susan, i think one of those simple dignified sweaters was by debbie bliss, no?

Bridget said...

Another Debbie Bliss fan here. I think I'll take a closer look at this one, thanks for the review.

(Hmm. I wonder how Debbie Bliss feels about me???)

Anonymous said...

Many thanks once again for an informative review. Debbie Bliss does strike me as a good designer but they're never quite right for me. I've always been a sucker for guys in cricket gear, though. Your approach to reviewing is really helpful, so I'm glad you're willing to do this and save the rest of us some time.

trixie said...

I'm actually glad to see some discussion of that vine covered monstrosity for babies. I saw it in the bookstore, went home, and promptly convinced myself that I must have hallucinated it.

While I'm sorry to know that it's real and that an actual child has been scarred for life by having to wear it, I'm glad to know that I'm not nuts.

Carrie said...

Great review, thanks!

Mary said...

Great review and I love Debbie Bliss too...especially her kids stuff but that light blue sweater near the top is just gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Do you know when this book will be available, here in the states? I've been waiting on this one for a long time. Thanks!

Beth said...

Hi, what a terrific review! I have been eyeing this book but it's a bit pricey for me, considering I have so many patterns books and leaflets in the "to-do" stack already! But I do love the sunhat on pages 15-16. I would love to make it for my niece's daughter back home in Michigan. But I hesitate to make them anything without having them see it first. I made a little capelet for her when she was pregnant, as I thought I would be nice and loose and maternity-like. But she just said, "well no one around here wears capes or ponchos." I laugh! Michigan is just in the midwest, not on another planet! All my cousins' kids are begging me to send them a poncho knitted in some cool novelty yarn! I wish I had a photo of that little green hat - I would email it to her before I bought the book!

Well, anyway, thanks for the review. I will keep your page bookmarked. If I can justify the purchase by at least one other project I might spring for it!

Beth (In California, but missing Michigan!)