Friday, November 30, 2007

Welcome to Purlin' Acres

In about thirty years or so, I am going to buy a sprawling house with a wrap-around porch, with at least twenty acres attached. I shall name it "Purlin' Acres." It will become an knitting old folks home.

Purlin' Acres will feature all the latest care for older Americans. There will be a medical team on site, with friendly doctors who really listen to you and don't patronize you or tell you it's all in your head. There will be a staff of lovely and friendly individuals who will cheerfully take care of all of the annoying tasks of day-to-day living: laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping. Each resident will have an airy suite of rooms with plenty of natural light, including a living room with lots of built-in shelving perfect for storing skeins of yarn (cedar with herbal moth-repellant sachets), and comfy chairs that allow you to knit in ergonometric comfort while watching digital cable, listening to music, or enjoying silence. Each suite will have a bedroom and small kitchen, and of course a bathroom with a big tub and plenty of handrails, since we will be getting less steady on our feet by then.

Purlin' Acres will feature expansive common areas designed with the comfort of knitters in mind. More comfy furniture, magnifier lenses on stands, plenty of Ott-lites, baskets on or under every table chock full of extra Susan Bates Knit-Cheks, ring markers, fancy little scissors shaped like storks, and such like, defibrillator stations, Depends dispensers. There will be wireless internet access, natch (or whatever form of speedy access to whatever version of the web exists by then) and computer terminals everywhere, all loaded with knitting-related software. Each resident will be given a Ravelry account upon admission (if s/he doesn't already have one), alhtough one hopes the waiting list will be significantly shorter by then. Residents will be responsible for providing their own stash, however; otherwise, Purlin' Acres is sure to go bankrupt. There will be a Purlin' Acres Company Store in one of the outbuildings, with constant service via golf cart, so that knitters can shop to their heart's content -- or until their pension check runs out. (A generous senior citizen discount will apply.) If your pension isn't going as far as it used to, you can take advantage of the Purlin' Acres Test Knitters program, in which you help designers perfect their new patterns in exchange for money and/or yarn.

Workshops will be held in a separate outbuilding, and Purlin' Acres will attract some of the best-loved teachers in the knitting world. Guest speakers will give talks on knitting and other crafts that may be of interest to residents. A special dyeing room will allow residents to play with color and fiber. Indie artists will make occasional visits to bring their rovings and yarns and buttons and other items for purchase. Every major yarn company, publishing house and magazine will send trunk shows each season, displaying the newest developments in yarn and knitting technology. And of course, there will be an entire outbuilding devoted to spinning: wheels of every shape, size and maker, for residents to play with, plenty of drop spindles and niddy noddies, swifts and ballwinders, too. Field trips to fiber festivals, Stitches, Soar, yarn crawls and other events will be taken via plush motorcoach.

Don't forget to check out the library should you visit. In both computer and book form, it will contain an unparalleled collection of books on knitting, crochet, fashion, design, as well as fiction and nonfiction. The entire collection of Alice *more fair isles will be one especially popular feature. Each resident will get a special reader which displays the pages of their desired reading material on a screen -- type size and color is adjustable to take into account any vision issues the resident may have -- with a foot pedal that advances to the next page. Read and knit simultaneously, with no fear of losing your place or missing a stitch.

In the adjoining fields, fiber animals of every ilk can be found: sheep, llamas, alpaca, goats, musk oxen, to name a few. A special "Bunny House" will provide chew-safe, burrow-filled, predator-free environments for the rabbits. Sheep-herding dogs will live in the outbuildings and are available for residents to take for a walk or play fetch with. The roster of cats -- Maine Coon, Ragdoll, Kitlers -- will of course have the run of the residents' building. A weekly LOL-CAT captioning contest is sure to be a popular diversion.

There will be a special area for knitters who have lost, or are losing, their buttons (not the kind you sew on garments). These knitters can sit and knit endless rows of garter stitch should they so choose, or receive infinitely-patient instruction on how to bind off stitches for the forty-seventh time. The truly ga-ga will find pleasure in operating the crank on the ballwinders, helping care for the sheep, and other wholesome pursuits. Should your arthritis or other orthopedic diseases make you unable to knit, fear not. You may simply hold your gnarled fingers and arms up and serve as a human niddy-noddy. (At least you'll get to touch the fiber that way.) And you can be sure that there will be a friendly knitter in the main building who is happy to knit you a colostomy bag cozie out of a high quality, machine-washable, natural fiber yarn.

Enrollment for Purlin' Acres will fill up fast. I imagine I'll have to adopt a stringent application process, but I will conduct all personal interviews myself. KnitDweebs will be rigorously screened out.* Preferential admissions will be given to people who read this blog and Black Bunny customers.

Doesn't it sound wonderful? It's almost enough to make me want to grow old.

*Trick questions will be employed to this end. For example, if I ask you "Is it okay to bring needles on an airplane?" the only acceptable responses are "Google it, you asshole"; "Who gives a shit"; and "I'm outta here."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Pretty Knits, by Susan Cropper

Susan Cropper had a vision: she wanted to create a warm, inviting knitting shop in London that stocked a wide selection of yarns, provided instruction for more advanced knitters, and sold finished knitted-related objects -- housewares, accessories, clothes -- created by designers. Cropper opened "Loop" in 2005, and met with great success. Pretty Knits: 30 Designs from Loop in London (PotterCraft 2007) is her collection of patterns for knitted items created by designers with some sort of connection to London Loop: they teach workshops, or sell their finished items there, or their yarns and patterns are stocked there.

Pretty Knits is a large book, hardcover, full of sumptuous color photography, approximately 144 pages long. It includes thirty projects by designers you've heard of -- Debbie Bliss, Louisa Harding, Leigh Radford; designers you may have heard of -- Catherine Tough, Claire Montgomerie; and designers who may be new to you -- Nicki Trench, Juju Vail, Donna Wilson. Personally, I enjoy books that cherry-pick from a host of talented designers. You get variety and instead of one person having to produce many designs in a relatively short time, each designer must only produce one or two in the same period of time, easing the pressure. Pretty Things has a MSRP of $30.00(CAN $38.00) but can be had at the time of this writing for just under twenty dollars by clicking on the link above.

The book begins with a short introduction, in which Cropper tells a little about her shop and what motivated her to create this collection of patterns. The introduction is followed by a brief section discussing the joys of yarn (not much substantive content there), then four pattern sections: Flirty Fashionista (garments for women); Divine Accessories (accessories for women); Beautiful Boudoirs (home dec items for bedrooms); and Feminine Fripperies (home dec items for the rest of the house). The pattern sections are followed by a ten-plus page Techniques section, which avoids the "how to knit" instruction, instead including specific directions for relevant skills that newbie knitters might want help with, such as reading charts, alternative methods of casting on, knitting with beads, various buttonhole techniques, methods of embellishment, and finishing tips. Brief biographies of the contributing designers are included, too, along with links to their websites. (I found this helpful for learning more about some of the lesser-known-to-me designers featured in the book.)

The first pattern section, Flirty Fashionista, contains sweaters for women. The chapter title, if a bit much, doesn't lie: these are garments which have trend-conscious styling, rather than classic or traditional styling. You'll find a beaded camisole (very pretty);

an empire-waist top by Debbie Bliss; a swing cardigan (not real keen on how this one looks; the bulky yarn -- Rowan Big Wool -- and the loose silhouette end up looking baggy rather than funky; photo below); a sweater that is called a "shrug" but looks more like a cap-sleeve cropped cardigan (to the extent that the two are different....; see photo of the blue sweater above); a "gilet," which is essentially a short-sleeved v-neck cardigan, tunic length, with a tie front; two dresses, one with ruffles and the other with a chevron pattern; a simple pullover with looped fringe; and another chevron-stitch top with 3/4 length sleeves. Interestingly, none of the garments have long sleeves, whereas if you'll notice, most pattern books feature the opposite (plenty of long-sleeve but little in the way of short-sleeve).

Chapter 2 (Divine Accessories -- although, sadly, the late great Divine was for obvious reasons unable to model any of them) is devoted to women's accessories: a very pretty lace stole or wrap (I'm going to queue that one; I'm envisioning it in Black Bunny, although it is shown in gorgeous Kid Silk Haze);

two bags, one a smaller square version, the other a larger rectangle; a shawl made of nubby mohair (looks a bit small for the intended purpose); the cover pattern, a sort of capelet by Louisa Harding in several of her yarns; a neck warmer (i.e. a short scarf that is tied in the front instead of wrapped); a "brooch"; flower pins; and a "necklace" featuring knitted bows.

Chapter 3 contains items for your Beautiful Boudoir (or for the rest of us who don't have a boudoir, the bedroom): two pillow covers (one rectangular, one for a tube-shaped bolster); a hot water bottle cover; a cabled wrap (another nice one by Debbie Bliss); a pair of cashmere bed socks with a ruffle at the ankle; I suspect the ruffle would irk the sh*t out of me were I to wear them, but it's still a pretty pattern);

and a simple throw embellished with flowers.

The last chapter ("Feminine Fripperies" -- ugh) contains more home dec items: a scalloped-edge wrap (another one going into the queue); another pillow cover; a very large circular floor pillow; a table runner with embellishment; a heart-shaped sachet/pillow; and a tea cozy shaped like (I'm sorry, Kathy, I fear this will trigger your twee sensor) a cupcake.*

For the statisticians amongst you, the tally is:
  • 4 shawls and wraps (including the capelet)
  • 3 pullovers
  • 3 cardigan-style sweaters
  • 5 pillows (including the sachet)
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 camisole
  • 1 afghan
  • 2 bags
  • 3 pieces of knitted jewelry
  • 1 pair of bed socks
  • 1 neck warmer; and
  • 1 hot water bottle cover.

Note that everything in the book is aimed at women; even the home items are likely to be too frilly for most men, and that there isn't a single scarf in the book (not complaining; just observing). Personally, I would have liked more garment patterns, since I am sure I have more pillow cover patterns than I will ever knit in this lifetime, but it's a pretty varied mix overall. The items range from small, quick-knitting pieces to larger, more time-intensive ones, and are aimed at different skill levels. The yarns are all higher-end choices (not that this is a bad thing, mind you), ranging from selections from bigger companies like Rowan and Debbie Bliss, to some smaller, but still-widely-available yarn companies like Blue Sky Alpacas, Frog Tree and Be Sweet. Gauges range from about 3 or 3.5 sts per inch (a couple of patterns in Rowan Big Wool) to 7.75 sts per inch (for the camisole).

One interesting aspect is that several of the patterns mix various types of yarn (different fibers, different weights, and so on) together in single garments, like the cover capelet, and the dress with the ruffles on the front (photo in the next paragraph). You can get some very interesting effects doing this, and when I met Louisa Harding in 2005, she talked about trying to create in her yarn collection yarns that were conducive to being mixed and matched. You'll see several patterns in this collection that take advantage of this compatibility.

Cost for some of the projects will be steep if you choose to use the exact yarns that the designers used. For example, one item requires ten to twelve skeins of Alchemy Synchronicity; at $24.50 per skein, that's going to cost you. (Not to mention the contrasting yarn that the pattern requires, a Habu tape that costs $19 for a mere 18 yards. Better eat macaroni for the next couple of months to save up for that baby.) Overall, most of the yarns will be pretty easy to substitute for should you so choose; but the handful of patterns that use yarns with distinctive characteristics (for example, the aforementioned tape ribbon from Habu)

may be tougher when it comes to substitutions. The designs which mix different types of yarns also may challenge you when it comes to substitution, requiring trial and error to find colors and textures that work. On the other hand, many of the smaller patterns would be perfect for using up leftover single skeins and remnants from your stash, since they require relatively few yards.

Sizing is on the limited side. Most of the garments come in three, sometimes four sizes, which range from around 32 to around 38 or 40 inches bust size. I didn't see any smaller than 32 inches bust size, and the largest patterns are to fit bust size 42-44 (with about two or three inches of ease). (Full-figured gals should note that not all the patterns go up to the 42-44 size either; some stop at 38.) Many of the items do not require precise fit, however, like the accessories and home dec items.

The color photography is lovely, romantic and sumptuous, definitely reflecting the target audience of women who enjoy feminine garments (if feminine means ruffled, embellished, pastel). There are close-ups of many of the stitch patterns and design details. I would have liked some better full-length overviews of all the items, rather than close-ups only for some of the patterns. I would also have liked schematics of the garments. It also bears considering that some of the garments are shown on seated models only, including both of the dresses; take that into account when considering what these garments might look like when the wearer is actually standing up. See what I mean?

There's also a photograph of a bag that is somewhat similar to the cover of Louisa Harding's new book:

I am in no way suggesting this is anything more than coincidence; I just found it an interesting visual parallel and a striking shot in both contexts.

Overall, Pretty Knits is a good but maybe not great book. There are some interesting sweaters in it, using stitch patterns and creative embellishment, and featuring some silhouettes and other design features that aren't the same old same old. I also gravitated toward several of the shawl and wrap patterns. However, I couldn't help but wonder at some of the design choices (e.g., ought one to make a knitted dress out of pure silk, known for its stre-e-e-e-etch and sagging and lack of durability? I think not). In addition, some of smaller projects (like the pillows) didn't strike me as being particularly unusual or different from some of the other designs out there. Indeed, a few, like the bow necklace, seemed rather silly.

There's no doubt about the fact that Pretty Knits is a, well, pretty book, full of pretty items. With some hits and some misses, you'll have to decide for yourself if you think it's pretty enough to invest twenty or thirty bucks in.

*A cupcake question: why is there a horizontal line going across the center of the cupcake? Is it meant to signify icing between layers? For I, no stranger to cupcakes, have never seen a two-layer cupcake residing in a pleated cupcake paper. Have you?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back to our routine

We survived the lo-o-o-ng week off from school with a minimum lots of bickering. We had a very nice Thanksgiving dinner, with only a minor cooking crisis (which really wasn't a crisis at all): the aluminum pan that the turkey sat in sprang a leak which went unnoticed until it was put in the oven. Immediately, broth went all over the bottom of the oven and started to smoke. So we took it out, turned off the oven, and after securing a new pan and wiping out the oven, started again. The turkey was fine, if done a little later than we expected, and we enjoyed our dinner.

Friday dawned bright and early with the promise of Pink Paint-a-palooza. Tom's dad is a painting contractor and Tom worked for him during his school holidays, so Tom knows a fair bit about painting. He was meticulous, patching, priming and double-coating everything. One nice thing about all this yarn-dyeing is that it's made me much more confident about picking color and trusting my instincts about what looks right and what doesn't. The original color we picked (in consultation with Little Miss, of course), was called Easter Pink and had a lavender-ish cast to it. However, when we saw a sample of it on the wall, and saw what the furniture looked like against it, we realized it was not right. The furniture has a finish called "Vanilla" and is creamy. We needed a pink that was warmer. Several small samples later, we settled on Ribbon Pink.

Knitting was slow this weekend. I worked on some swatches, and made a little progress on a baby sweater I'm knitting (don't have much time 'til the baby arrives), and played around with piecing a baby blanket for the next Afghans for Afghans deadline.

Now it's back to our routine. I am definitely one of those people who needs structure in order to function optimally. I find lack of routine to be disconcerting, and I've even noticed that when I go away on vacation, I tend to create a mini-routine wherever I'm staying. At the shore, for example, I would get up, go out to pick up a coffee and the paper, and come back and read it, every day buying the coffee and paper at the same place. I could go all psychological on you, and talk about how I grew up in a house where my father's drinking made it impossible to rely on stability in our day-to-day life, blah, blah, but at this point, I yam what I yam. I was starting to feel discombobulated after a week with no school for the kids so I'm happy to settle back into our pleasant daily routine.

Which mean I've already fired up the dyepots for an update on Monday, December 3 (that's a week from today). I'm playing with some worsted and DK-weights so you'll have to let me know which ones you like. If I can, I'll do some more sock yarns and some roving, too.

Next post: another No-Bull book review...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving (if applicable)

From our (messy) house to yours:

I count all of you most of you among my many reasons for which to give thanks.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Belated Blogiversary

Can you believe I forgot my own Blogiversary? November 6th was the second anniversary of Go Knit In Your Hat. Once again, thanks to all my loyal readers. You mean more to me than you realize. (insert fahrklemt noises)

Home Despot
We are making the transition to Big Kid Beds and Big Kid Rooms. You see, the twins had to leave their cribs a few years ago due to a certain Little Miss climbing out and hanging precipitously on the rails. We tried low "toddler beds," which were a great transition, but the twins are growing so much that they no longer are comfortable. Thus we needed to get them real Big Kid beds.

On Saturday, furniture for the Big Kid Rooms was deposited in our house. This means that Tom and I had to clear a path for the actual moving of the furniture (way more difficult than it sounds in our house). With the Germ-a-pa-looza we've been having (did I mention that Elvis' strep CAME BACK?!), of course the rooms themselves are a mess and not painted.

This weekend, I continued the wallpaper stripping in N's room (didn't I blog about starting that like, five months ago?! so sad I'm still doing it) and Tom did patching and sanding in G's room. I was told by my husband that I could not help paint because I am "not careful enough." I will let you be the judge; here are two unretouched photographs of the wallpaper stripping. Guess which part of the wall I worked on, and which one Tom worked on (hint: mine is the one with the paint swatches on it; his is the one with the huge gouges out of the drywall):

Not careful indeed.

Handspun Alert

If you happen to be looking for some lovely roving to spin, you will find some at Mindy's Etsy site. She very kindly gave me some to play with when I saw her at Stitches. It's the border leiciester/mohair blend that I sometimes dye except Mindy does completely different fabulous things with it and blends it together in these hazy soft colors that are lovely. Here is what I am spinning:

It's called Genevieve's Mountain Haze, and it's got pretty pale purple running through it. The coolest part is that Mindy takes amazing care of her goats, and the "Genevieve" is the name of her goat that the fiber came from....

She also gave me some of her handspun yarn to play with and I am trying to get her to list more on Etsy because it's so lovely:

If she knows what's good for her, she'll list some on her Etsy site soon....

BBF Club Update

Thanks for your emails about the BBF Sock and Fiber Clubs! I had an excellent response for my trial run. I was able to accommodate everyone who wanted to be in the Fiber Club and had to draw names for the Sock Club. (I let G. draw the names; she felt quite honored.) As soon as I'm done posting this, I'm going to email everyone who submitted their name to tell them if their names were drawn or not.

Next Black Bunny Update

Look for an update Wednesday morning, mostly laceweights with a few odds and ends, and hopefully some roving.

Blogiversary Present

Showing up on!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Update: The Bunny has spoken

After reading all of your comments and emails (they were very helpful and insightful -- thank you!), and after intensive consultation with Charcoal, I've made up my mind. I am going to do a trial run of a BBF Sock Yarn Club and a BBF Fiber Club. Here's how they'll work:

I will limit it to ten members in each club for now, for a period of four consecutive months, beginning with January 2008. I don't want to overcommit myself and this should leave me with enough wiggle room to keep up with the Etsy shop and other things.

For the sock club, it will be yarn only (there will probably be extras of some sort, but I won't promise "swag"), enough in each skein to make a pair of socks. I'll vary fibers, and gauges will go from 6 to 8 sts per inch, depending on the yarn. For the fiber club, members will receive 8 ounces of fiber each month, same deal with the extras. At least one of those months, each club will get a new yarn or fiber that hasn't been up on the Etsy site yet or that I can only get in limited amounts.

I will have each member pay me a down payment of $50 to join. Essentially, that will be the first and last month's payment. For the second and third months, I'll send a Paypal invoice when the batch is ready, and as soon as I receive payment, will ship. That way I can tweak the payments to make sure that each one reflects the different cost of the yarn or fiber (which can vary depending on what it is), although nothing will be more than a few dollars more or less expensive than the others. I will charge the same prices I charge on Etsy (or would charge, if it's a limited edition yarn; in other words, no mark-up).

At the halfway point, and again, a few weeks after the last shipment, I will ask the members to send in JPEGs of their projects with the club yarn or fiber. I'll post a batch of finalists on my blog and let the readers vote for Best Selection of Pattern for the Yarn or Most Outstanding Spinning or something like that. Winners will receive a prize of some sort.

Members can specify some favorite colors which I will try to use, and one hated color which I will not use (or at least, won't use much). Otherwise, dyeing is within my discretion. I will try to mix up styles, maybe one month a yarn that is a wild multi, another month a nearly-solid, and so on.

If you're interested, and agree to these guidelines, then send an email to blackbunnyfibers*at*att*dot*net (remove the asterisks when you type that in; I get enough spam from my esteemed friends in Nigeria) AND make sure you put in the Re: line EITHER "Sock Yarn Club" or "Fiber Club." For now, since membership is limited, you have to pick one or other. If I get more interested people than there are openings, I'll randomly pick ten for each. Send your email by Monday, November 19th at 10 a.m.

P.S. If Rabbitch copies me, I'll kick her Canadian arse.

Other BBF News

My pal Joey started a Ravelry group for Black Bunny Fibers lovers, called Amish Machine Knitters With A Sex Addiction Black Bunny Fiber Lovers, which you can find here. Thanks, Joe!

I'm going to be making a concerted effort to try to keep the Etsy shop better stocked. I know it's frustrating when you want to try out a yarn, but can't seem to find it in stock. For me, keeping this a one-woman operation allows me to retain what I hope makes my yarns special, doing each skein or small batch individually by hand, and not doing cookie-cutter colorways. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes things sell out quickly simply because they take a bit more time to create. But I'm working on it...

If you are frustrated because you can't seem to get to the updates, you might want to join my Yahoo group. I send out an email 24 hours before an update, and another one as soon as I'm done updating the Etsy shop. If you switch your settings for this group to individual emails, rather than digest, you'll get them fairly quick, and I rarely send out emails other than the ones telling of updates, so you won't be inundated with yak.

I'm working on a website, too, and hope to have it up and running (at least in some form) by the end of the year. (Stop snickering, Liz and Mindy.)

Take a look

I had the pleasure of meeting fellow dyestress Mama E at Stitches East. She's started an on-line site called Mobtown Review, devoted to handpainted yarns and fibers. Each Wednesday, she'll feature handdyed artists and their wares (along with specials for the readers of the Mobtown Review) and if you leave a comment, you'll be entered into a drawing for prizes by the featured artists. might want to mosey over there and take a look. Maybe the Black Bunny will make an appearance one of these days....

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Son of Stitch-N-Bitch, by Debbie Stoller

Update: Thanks for all of your comments and emails about sock and other fiber clubs. I'm mulling over what you've all said and will let you know what I decide to do later this week. Now, on to today's book review:

You’d be hard-pressed to find a knitter today who hasn’t heard of Debbie Stoller. Editor of Bust Magazine, Stoller achieved major success with her 2003 release, Stitch 'N Bitch. According to Wikipedia, SnB sold over 200,000 copies in its first six months; the book has already spawned two sequels (Stitch 'n Bitch Nation and The Happy Hooker) and more are in the works. The book also gave rise to trademark litigation over who, if anyone, owns the trademark rights to the phrase "Stitch N Bitch." (The litigation -- which Jenna admirably keeps us informed about -- remains unresolved.) Love Stoller or not – and there are plenty on both sides – you have to give her credit for writing a book that struck a chord with so many knitters out there. Stoller got a lot of people excited about knitting (for some, excited about knitting again), and also reminded a lot of knitters why the crafty klatsch has been an important part of women’s lives for generations -- regardless what you call it, and whether the name is trademarked or not.

Stoller’s new book is called Son of Stitch 'n Bitch: 45 Projects to Knit and Crochet for Men (Workman Publishing 2007). As the name suggests, it is not only another sequel to SnB but it is a sequel that focuses on garments to be worn by men.SOSnB looks much like its predecessors: paperback, about 8 inches square, same color scheme and typefaces, same almost-self-consciously-droll tone (e.g., a section on measurements and fit is called "Size Matters"). One improvement over the first SnB: you’ll find more color -- photographs, color drawings and color charts -- and no doubt Stoller’s track record for selling books is partly the reason. SOSnB is approximately 216 pages long, and retails for $15.95 US/19.95 CAN but by clicking on the link above, you’ll find it for just under eleven bucks. That's quite reasonable for a book containing over 40 patterns.

Part I of SOSnB is coyly titled “I Know What Boys Like” and begins with a thoughtful discussion of why knitting for men can go so wrong. Stoller cautions the well-intentioned knitter to figure out what the recipient wants to wear instead of making what the knitter wants to knit, and discusses how the two are not always the same:

[Of] the patterns [for men] that are available, many are overwrought with bobbles and cables or too many color panels or are just plain wrong in some way. That’s often because these projects have been designed from the perspective of the knitter or crocheter rather than that of the wearer: They may be satisfying and fun to make because of their intricate cabling or challenging color work, but unfortunately, they are not necessarily what most men are willing to wear.

Stoller gives good, if seemingly obvious advice to this dilemma (look at what he likes to wear, make sure you knit the right size). She gives helpful advice on sweater measurements and what they mean, and discusses how to select colors and fibers. She includes a text box (directed at the wearers of the garments) on how to wash hand-knit items. One of my favorite parts was a four-page inset containing a brief history of men and knitting, including some interesting historical photos. (I will let the knitting historians pass on the historical accuracy of the summary: I had thought that the notion that fisherman's motifs were intended to help identify drowned sailors had been debunked as myth, but I'm sure my erudite readers will be able to chime in on that.) Sprinkled throughout this section are anecdotes from real knitters, telling success and failure stories about knitting for the men in their lives. So far, so good.

This is primarily a pattern book, however. And that means it’s the pattern section that will make or break this book for most knitters. So let's look closely at each of the three pattern chapters:

1. Scarves/Hats/Mittens

This section contains twelve patterns, broken down as follows:
  • one hat and mittens set;
  • four hats;
  • six scarves; and
  • 1 pair fingerless gloves.
The patterns in this section range from the simple, like a lo-o-o-ong double-crocheted striped scarf, to the highly patterned, like the Uncle Argyle Scarf;

from the hipster, like this crocheted newsboy's cap,

to the eclectic, like the Brooklyn Bridge scarf.

2. Sweaters

The second section is devoted mainly to pullovers (I counted 12), along with three vests and four cardigans. Again, the patterns range from the basic, like this smoking jacket (knit in Rowan Scottish Tweed Chunky, mmmm):

to the more intricately patterned, like this sailboat vest;

to the eclectic, the "Ernie" sweater.*

3. Socks and Accessories

The Socks and Accessories section contains four sock patterns, again ranging from the simple, like the 70s-style "tube" sock (they are not knitted as plain tubes, however, but have a turned heel and shaped toe)

to the more elegant and patterned, like these cable mid-calf socks,

to the, um, eclectic:

Even my verbose self cannot find a catchall term to describe the wide range of items that round out this section, so I'll just recite them: pillows shaped like bottles of booze; a messenger bag with a cassette tape motif; a steering wheel cover; ties with intarsia motifs (a robot and a skull); a Nacho Libre-like balaclava; and the ultimate bizzarity, a dead teddy bear with a bee in a pool of blood on its stomach.

(Don't you hate when your teddy bear goes to the park without his Epi-pen?)

You can probably now see why I am ambivalent about this book. While Stoller says all the right things in the beginning, the patterns make clear that she -- a forty-something urban hipster magazine editor in New York City-- and I -- a forty-something suburban soccer mom living outside of Philadelphia -- have completely different kinds of men in their lives. The men in my life would find the majority of patterns in this book to be at best, not their taste, and at worst, hideous and unwearable. But maybe my circle of friends and family are simply a minority. Maybe there are lots of knitters out there whose male intimates consist solely of frat boys who'd like nothing better than a handknit throw pillow in the shape of a beer bottle.

If I'm starting to slip over into the snide, it's because I can't help but feel frustrated that the view of men in SOSnB is so narrow. Either a man is a slave to technology (steering wheel cover anyone?) and bordering on the geeky, or he is full of stereotypically-macho male-vice, like gambling or likker or wrestling

or nekkid girlz.

Yes, that is a shadow-knitting scarf of a naked women dancing around a pole.** (Or as my husband said after flipping through this section, "What? No bong cozy?") The guys I know simply aren't so one-dimensional or stereotypic.

Looking at the other criteria that I usually consider in my book reviews, you'll find a generous 45 patterns in the book. The breakdown of knit to crochet patterns falls heavily on the side of knitting: all but four of the projects are knit (a hat, a scarf, a vest and a sweater are crocheted). Sizing is generous but limited to adult sizes (an older kid or teen who wears a small adult size could wear some, but not all of the garments; younger boys are out of luck). Accessories are one-size-fits-most, and look pretty typical in size (e.g., head circumference of 20-22 inches finished size for a hat, sock circumference of 8 to 9 inches). For sweaters, there doesn't seem to be a consistent size range, as each pattern starts and ends at a different measurement, but the range is impressive. Most have four or five sizes, with the finished chest size starting anywhere from 38 to 44 inches (one starts at 35 inches), and the largest falling anywhere from 50 to 58 inches (the largest size I saw was a 61-inch finished chest). Gauges seem to hover in the chunky to DK-weight range, and the yarns include luxurious (Alchemy Synchronicity, for one of the scarves) to the more economical (like KnitPicks).

As I mentioned before, production values are similar to those in the earlier SnB books, with the addition of much more color throughout (the first SnB had a color insert in the center and the remainder was black and white) and slightly more glossy and substantial paper for the pages. Each garment is shown several times, from different views and angles, and the photography is clear and no-nonsense (if not terribly well lit). You can tell that effort was made to include close-ups of some of the colorwork motifs and/or stitch patterns, too, which is always helpful. You'll find color charts and schematics for the patterns that require them -- including a six-page whopper of a chart for that lervely pole dancer.

Whenever a book as popular as Stitch N Bitch is published, the author immediately becomes the center of a lot of debate. You’ll find many knitters who adore Stoller and her urban-funkster sensibility; and that means you’ll also find knitters who actively dislike them, too. Me, I fall into a third category. Neither devotee nor hater, I sometimes find a pattern in a SnB book that I like, but most of the time I’m not tempted. No big deal: it’s a big knitting world and there’s plenty of room for me to admire someone’s accomplishments even if I rarely make one of her patterns.

That about sums up my reaction to SoSnB. Stoller correctly perceives that there aren’t enough good patterns for men out there, and has some insightful ideas about why knitting for men can be so fraught with disappointment. However, I have serious doubts that I will make more than one or two patterns from Son of SnB, if that. They just aren’t to my taste or the taste of the men I know. I’m okay with that: tastes differ and everybody doesn’t have to like everything. For purposes of the knitter considering whether to buy this book, though, I’d say this is especially a case where you’ll want to flip through the book rather than ordering sight unseen unless you are such a devoted fan of Stoller that you just don’t care what the patterns inside look like.

*Rumor has it that Ernie is seeking legal representation to investigate the possibility of a lawsuit for trademark infringement of his sweater.

**And reflect: isn't there something bizarre about knitting a scarf for someone that includes a prominent motif that encapsulates the oppression of the knitter by the wearer? Is there a significant difference between a woman knitting a man a scarf with a naked pole dancer on it and an African-American knitting a scarf with a confederate flag on it for a white friend, or a Jew knitting a hat with a swastika on it for an Aryan friend? Just sayin', dudes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The lure of the sock club?

A couple of people have suggested to me that I start a Black Bunny Fibers Sock Club. I have seen sock clubs all over the place, more of them lately than in the past. When I first started knitting socks, there were fewer choices for sock clubs and they mostly featured commercially-dyed yarns rather than hand-dyes. I belonged to one for a while, but I pretty soon figured out that it wasn't a good fit for me. Every month I was sent a skein of yarn and a pattern. Sometimes I really liked the yarn or the pattern, but rarely did I really like both and some months I knew I'd never make anything with either. I figured I'd be better off just picking out the yarn and patterns myself.

Now I see that sock clubs by hand-dyers are hot. There are different variations on it, but most seem to be a set number of kits, say, every other month, that include a skein of sock yarn, a pattern, and "swag." Many of these clubs seem kind of expensive to me: for example, one costs $222 for six kits, which is $37 (!) for each pair of socks. Apparently you get "exclusive" colorways and patterns that aren't being sold to non-club members for a year, and some "swag," but wow, that's a lot of cash.

But after a very sweet email from a good customer urging me to start a sock club, I figured I'd get reader input on this. What is the lure of a sock club? And do you really think they are worth it? Would you be interested in signing up for one? Would anyone be interested in a scaled-down version: say, you get the yarn automatically sent to you but no pattern or other crap swag, and the price is not significantly more what you'd pay on my Etsy site? or is the pattern an integral part of the experience for you?

Thanks in advance for your input. Feel free to shoot me a private email through the sidebar link if you are shy about speaking in public.

Friday, November 09, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Knitting Little Luxuries, by Louisa Harding

In keeping with my unabashed adoration of British knitting designers, let us now turn to Louisa Harding. Recently, our cheery UPS man delivered a copy of Harding's new book, Knitting Little Luxuries: Beautiful Accessories to Knit (Interweave Press* 2007), to my great delight.

This pretty paperback runs about 129 pages, in color, and contains 21 patterns for hats, mittens, scarves, purses, a cardigan and even a wrap or two. I probably have mentioned before that I met Louisa Harding once and she was extremely warm and friendly. She was enthusiastic about her own yarn lines and looking forward to having the chance to design with them. Looks like she got her wish, as all the projects in the book are made with Louisa Harding yarns (distributed by KFI).

Let’s start with the concrete: as I previously mentioned, Knitting Little Luxuries is a paperback, everything in color, approximately 21 patterns (some with alternate versions, like the mittens below), MSRP $21.95 (available through the link for about fifteen bucks as of this writing). The book is very elegant, with a dreamy feel carried through in the muted yarn shades; typefaces reminiscent of vintage engraving; and soulful models that have some of the wistfulness of the Anthropologie catalog (my husband calls them The Lonely Girls, staring off into space dreamily while wearing vintage-styled clothing in their empty-except-for-a-china-teacup $5000-a-month loft apartments. But I digress.).

The book begins with a lovely and thoughtful introduction, in which Harding discusses the kinship that knitters share with each other and the particular bond we feel to the knitters who came before us. Harding tells of her grandmother in particular, who inspired with her inventiveness and creativity. Harding’s mission in writing the book was, then:
to design pieces that were very easy and simple to knit, which could be made
unique by the addition of found objects, buttons, flowers, ribbons, and
embellishments with embroidery, making every piece as individual as the women
knitting them.
Keep this in mind as you look at the photographs I've shown here. The buttons and other trims came from Harding’s grandmother’s button box, so you won’t be able to drive over to the Hobby Lobby and buy an exact duplicate – nor was this the designer’s goal. Instead, Harding’s intent was to provide the patterns as starting points for you to play with. Just sayin’.

The book is divided into four chapters: Eclectic and Quirky; Textured and Modern; Pretty and Feminine; and Traditional and Folk. Each chapter also begins with a handful of words on the divider page, creating a mini-“mood board” for that chapter, and giving the reader a little insight into what Harding was aiming for. Again, I think Harding explains it best:

I wanted the chapters in this book to reflect the different sides of women. There are many variations within female taste – we may not all like girly pink, but we can appreciate that a friend or relative may love it. With this in mind, the chapters and projects in this book have been designed to appeal to our different personalities.
So if the patterns, taken collectively, seem a little disjointed, again this was the designer’s intent. And if you, like me, are a woman of many moods, you may find projects to add to your queue in all of the chapters.

Chapter 1 is called “Eclectic and Quirky,” and the chapter is further defined by the words: details, vintage buttons, silk embroidery, ribbon and flowers. Harding describes the section as focusing on a mixture of yarns, styles and embellishments, again highlighting the knitter’s ability to personalize and individuate each pattern. Included are a basic beanie-style hat; the cover clutch; a cute pair of mittens; a striped beret; a capelet

and a wrap. The patterns sound simple, and indeed they are, but what makes them so charming is seeing the way the embellishments transform them. So we see two different versions of the beanie, one with mother of pearl buttons and fabric flowers; the other with pom-poms, each achieving a different look and feel. Likewise, the mittens look dreamy and sweet in a pale mohair with embroidered flowers,

but take on a folk feel when done in a striped/stranded pattern and with the addition of some neutral grays and browns.

The second chapter – Textured & Modern – uses the words organic, urban, sassy, twist and metal to set the mood. The patterns in this section are meant to illustrate the designer’s desire to turn the conventional into something unconventional. Patterns include a cabled bag with wooden handles – with the cables going side-to-side instead of up-and-down; a button-closure pillow cover; a “tabard” (a sort of tunic-meets-vest, it was featured in the Winter Interweave Knits); a pixie hat with tassel (very cute); and a scarf/wrap pattern, shown as both a thin scarf in a metallic ribbon yarn

and as a button-front wrap knit in a fuzzier yarn.

Next is Pretty & Feminine, with the tags luxury, soft, intricate, delicate, and graceful. Obviously this section caters to the “girly”, glamorous side. I think I lost my girly glamorous side in a tragic hunting accident when I was younger but if you still have yours, you’ll find a drawstring lace purse;

fingerless mittens with a lace edging; a lace scarf in an angora blend; another small clutch bag; and a cropped cardigan with a convex (or is it concave?) front edging.

Last is Traditional & Folk, inspired by the tags warmth, comfort, tradition, bright and color, with particular emphasis on fair isle or stranded patterning. This chapter contains a scarf knitted with fair isle bands, stripes and a diamond pattern; a fair isle beanie; a very cute tasseled hat, with jester-inspired flair and a fair isle band across the bottom;

and a fair isle bag with wooden handles. These were among my favorites in the book, and would make great gifts.

There is a short section showing particular techniques after the pattern section, but this is only a few pages long and devoted to specific skills used in some of the patterns, such as embroidery techniques, three-needle bind-off and chart-reading.

Sizing is much less of an issue with accessories, and so we cut Louisa a lot of slack for the fact that most of these patterns come in only one size -- with purses and scarves, it just doesn't matter. The tabard is written for four sizes, from a finished bust measurement of 33.5 through 47 inches, and the cardigan (which is designed to have minimal ease with the fronts not actually closing across the widest part of the bust) in six finished bust sizes from 34 to 45 inches. The only other projects for which size may be an issue are the hats, handgear and capes/wraps. The fingerless gloves are written for a 6.25 inch circumference which sounds small to me, even taking stretch into account, but the hats have a finished circumference of 20 to 22 inches which will probably fit most heads, and so most knitters should be okay with most of the items.

The photography is very nice: clear, well-lit, not distracting, with shots of the overall item and some close-ups of particular design details. And thankfully, they didn't forget the obligatory photograph of the model pretending to knit one of the projects from the book:

The layout and graphics are also pleasant and help contribute to the overall mood of the book but there's enough white space despite the small type to keep things easy on the eyes. Color charts are given, always a plus, and there are schematics for the handful of patterns that need them. As noted above, all the yarns used are Louisa Harding yarns, which are pretty readily available at local yarn stores and on-line. Substituting for some of these yarns will be easy; for example, Harding's Grace DK-weight yarn is 50% merino/50% silk and any one of a dozen or so DK-weights with good stitch definition would do the job. Substituting yarns used in other projects may require a bit more experimentation; one drawstring purse, for example uses a metallic yarn along with an aran merino, and you might have to play with some different choices to find the right weight and combination if you choose not to use Harding's yarns. (My limited experience with Harding's yarns is that they are quite nice and often innovative mixes of fibers, with good colors.)

Overall, then, I'd say Knitting Little Luxuries is worth a look. Lovely patterns, high production values, good ideas for holiday gifts, and at less than a buck apiece per pattern (do the math, peeps: you get 21 patterns for less than a dollar apiece if you pay less than $21), a good return on your investment. Keep up the good work, Louisa!

*In the interests of journalistic integrity, I will remind you that our upcoming book is being published by Interweave Press, but I checked the inside front cover, and it doesn't look like any of the people who worked on Louisa's book overlap with the people we're working with.