Friday, March 26, 2010

No-Bull Book Review: Toe-Up Socks for Everybody

If you liked Wendy Johnson's first book of toe-up sock patterns, you're going to love her second book, Toe-Up Socks for Every Body: Adventurous Lace, Cables, and Colorwork from Wendy Knits (PotterCraft; MSRP $22.99) which officially went on sale this week. Wendy was kind enough to send me a copy in advance of her visit to Loop in Philadelphia this weekend, so let's give it the No-Bull Book Review treatment.

Toe-Up Socks is a paperback, about 144 pages, full-color (I probably don't have to say that anymore; gone are the days when pattern books were not printed in color), with sturdy fold-in covers. I counted 21 separate patterns in the table of contents, although a few of the patterns have variations that will expand their usefulness (for example, the Wrought Iron Socks come in both knee-high and regular sock form).

The book begins with a one-page introduction, in which Wendy explains how her previous book provided all the basics for beginning toe-up sock knitting, whereas this book is designed, as Wendy puts it, to challenge the knitter to step outside her comfort zone and play with more adventurous techniques. Accordingly, you won't find extensive how-to-knit-socks directions or even plain-vanilla sock patterns; the book assumes you know how to knit a basic toe-up sock and builds from there. There is, however, a section addressing some general toe-up sock information, briefly discussing yarn choice, types of needles, how to read charts, and some tips on how to design your own socks. (There's also an appendix with additional technical info, which I discuss later.)

Rosebud Socks

The patterns are divided into three sections, based on the type of technique explored: lace, cables and colorwork. Each section begins with an introduction to the technique, a handy list of patterns along with their difficulty level (instead of just rating them easy/medium/hard, the ratings also include the specific techniques used in the sock to better help you judge the difficulty), some illustrations of some of the relevant stitches or techniques, and a brief discussion of what types of yarn work best. Very helpful, all of it.

Tiptoe Through the Tulips Socks

Now let's get to the good stuff: the sock patterns.

The first section, Lace Socks, contains seven patterns, including the Rosebud Socks (I believe these are shown on the front cover on the left), the Laurel Socks, the Bouquet Socks, the Crocus Socks, and the Victory Socks.

Victory Socks

All of these are mid-calf socks (the traditional length). The Belle Epoque Socks come in a thigh-high version as well as a kneesock version, and the Dainty Anklets feature a sweet turn-down cuff.

The next section is devoted to cables and twisted stitches; you'll find seven patterns in this section, too. The Heart-to-Heart Socks, Tiptoe Through the Tulips Socks, Manly Aran socks, Diamonds and Cables Socks,

Diamonds & Cables Socks

Bob and Weave Socks, and Basket Case Socks are all mid-calf, and the Wrought Iron Socks come in mid-calf and knee length.

Wrought-Iron Socks

The Colorwork sectioncontains the last seven patterns: Sneaky Argyle Socks, Stjarnblommesocker,


Critter Socks, Sanquhar Socks, Norwegian Rose Socks,

Norwegian Rose Socks

Fair Isle Socks and the Hot Stuff! Socks, which, interestingly enough, were inspired by a similar motif as the Flamethrower Socks from Knitting Socks in Handpainted Yarns. (Simmer down, though, Wendy's socks were knit before KSIHY was released, without her ever having seen it, so this constitutes one of those "great minds think alike" moments.)

Hot Stuff! Socks

As with its predecessor, this book is beautifully made. The photography, by Alexandra Grablewski, is gorgeous, letting the socks take center stage and showing off the details of their stitch patterns. Each sock is shown from multiple angles, with well-lit close-ups to enable the knitter to get a very clear sense of the design details and the way the sock looks overall -- a very important and sometimes overlooked aspect of knitting books. Charts accompany the patterns, in color where necessary.

Dainty Anklets

About the socks themselves: well, obviously, they are all written from the toe-up, for two circular needles. They are all written for fingering weight yarn, shown in solid or nearly-solid yarns, with gauge usually at 8 sts per inch (a few are slightly tighter, at 8.25 or 8.5 sts per inch). Sizing is variable, which makes sense based on the intricate patterning of the socks; often the type of stitch pattern or its repeat will dictate how feasible it is to do multiple sizes and where exactly they fall measurement-wise. (One of the advantages about knitting socks is that they have a bit more flexibility in fit than, say, a sweater.) Two of the socks come in one size (around 8 inches or so circumference); two socks come in a circumference of 5/6/7 inches; one pair comes in a larger 9/10 inch circumference (the Manly Aran Socks); and the rest have two to four sizes given, raning from 6 to 8 or 9 inches circumference.

Last, the book contains an appendix with some additional technical information: an overview of different needle techniques (two circ vs. one long circ vs. dpn); how to do cast-ons (especially important since these will create the toes of the socks); some heel techniques; and bind-offs.

Fair Isle Socks

It doesn't surprise me at all that I give Toe-Up Socks for Every Body two sock-loving thumbs up. It's a lovely book full of gorgeous sock patterns that take advantage of more adventurous techniques, like lace, cable and twisted stitches, and colorwork. It's beautifully photographed and produced. And it's written by an experienced teacher and designer who will be appearing in Philadelphia this very weekend. Yes, you can pick up a copy and get it signed by Wendy Johnson this weekend at Loop! Go here for details.


Anonymous said...

Of course I have to read your review after reading your Rav comment - you've done a fantastic review and insight into the book. Those Potter books are wonderful - this is the book I will have to do some learning for! Thanks for review! knittinnow

3goodrats said...

Those socks are gorgeous. I really dislike knitting toe-up, but I may need to rethink that and give it another try!

Yarndancer said...

I really love the designs in this book. I normally knit socks cuff-down, but for these designs, I'd be willing to change that :)