Tuesday, April 13, 2010

No-Bull Book Review: Comfort Knitting & Crochet: Afghans

That Norah Gaughan is such a little minx! She's been creating fabulous, distinctive knitting designs (Knitting Nature is a wonderful book); she has revitalized the venerable Berroco yarn company by creating fabulous new yarns and a fresh sensibility; and as if that weren't enough, she's taken the "ack" out of acrylic by creating a yarn line, Comfort, that contains entirely man-made fibers --and has a lovely hand, good colors and terrific pattern support. [Please note that I will delete with great relish any comments that use the phrase "yarn snob." Go start a Ravelry thread if you want to debate yarn snobbery.] You wouldn't think that Norah'd have time to write a new book, but apparently she is one of those people who only needs two hours of sleep per day, for I was delighted to receive a review copy of Comfort Knitting and Crochet: Afghans (Stewart Tabori & Chang 2010), by Norah Gaughan, Margery Winter and the Berroco Design Team.

I have been watching this growing trend of books devoted to a single yarn produced by a regular publishing company (as opposed to being published by the company that makes the yarn). Within the last few years, we've seen books dedicated to the gorgeous Koigu, a book with projects knit entirely in Cascade 220, a book devoted to the joys of Rowan's Kid Silk Haze, and now we've got a book of afghans knit entirely in Berroco's Comfort yarns. I am indeed curious to see whether this trend will continue (and if it does, what yarns will be featured)... but I digress. Let's give Comfort Afghans the No-Bull Book Review treatment.

Ethel (C)

The book is paperback, with fold-in covers, about 160 pages long, and MSRP is $19.95 (you can score it for $13.57 via the above link at the time of this writing). The book contains, as you surely figured out by now, all afghans: I counted 51 of them, 27 of which are knit and 24 of which are crocheted. Why so many afghans? Well, the introduction explains:
an afghan is the epitome of comfort. It is a staple of the home, the finishing touch that pulls together a living room or bedroom and makes it feel complete. But the usefulness of an afghan extends far beyond sofas and beds. An afghan easily transforms into a picnic blanket for a day at the beach; a wrap at dusk when the temperature drops; even a child's playtime tent.

The process of making an afghan is often as rewarding as the finished product, since there are so many opportunities to customize it to your personal taste and needs.
And if that weren't enough to convince you, remember that afghans don't suffer from sizing problems, even if you gain or lose weight; they tend not to go out of style as quickly as a garment may; and gauge often becomes less important since the afghan just needs to cover a lap or a baby or a sofa, without precisely calibrated measurements.

In terms of style, you'll find just about every kind of afghan and technique imaginable. As per usual with Norah Gaughan, you'll also find some extremely novel and creative patterns, too.

Like cables?

Textured Knots (K)

Fond of ethnic-inspired colorwork or redwork quilts?

Ukrainian Tiles (K)

Prefer your throws to be understated?

Ribbon (C)

You can also find modular knitting

Bright Star (K)

representational still life

Still Life (K)

embroidery and Tunisian crochet

Marrakesh (C)


Weave (K)

a holiday-themed afghan

Mistletoe (C)

lacy stitch patterns

Lucy (C)

afghans suitable for babies

Little Waves (C)

partchwork-style squares

Gypsy Patchwork (K)

and of course the intriguing geometric motifs that Norah Gaughan is known for:

Swirl (K)

There are even afghans suitable for using up your odds and ends of yarn if you choose not to reproduce the lovely colorway that the sample is worked in:

Autumn Haze (K)

(this photo has "Free" written in the corner to remind you that if you go to the Berroco website, you can download a copy of this pattern for free, and in no way indicates a certain laziness on the part of the reviewer in neither rescanning the photo nor cropping out said "Free" notation.)

Before finishing up a discussion of the various designs, it's worth noting that although I've mentioned Norah Gaughan a lot, since she's the creative director of Berroco, other folks from Berroco worked together on the book and designed some of the afghans themselves. So here's a big shout-out to Margery Winter, co-author of the book and a former creative director of Berroco who is a very talented and experienced designer (she designed the lovely Ukrainian Tiles and Gypsy Patchwork afghans shown above, among others), and to the other members of the Berroco Design Team: Amanda Keep, Cirilia Rose, Donna Yacino and Brenda York.

Note that although the Table of Contents separates out the afghans according to which craft (the left-hand page lists all the knit ones, and the right-hand page lists all the crocheted ones) the afghans are not divided that way in the book; knit and crochet are intermingled throughout. I don't think this is a big deal, but if you are flipping through the book and looking for just knit or just crocheted afghans, you won't find them in separate sections of the book.

If you've used Comfort before, you're probably aware that it comes in multiple weights, from chunky through fingering. So I tallied up the patterns based on the weight of the Comfort yarn it uses. There are around 6 afghans worked in Comfort Chunky; about 5 worked in Comfort DK; and the remaining 40 or so are worked in regular Comfort, which is a worsted to heavy worsted (knitting at around 4 to 5 sts per inch depending on the stitch and needle size). Given the versatility of gauge, it would be fairly simple to substitute other yarns at these gauges, particularly since afghans give you some play in size.

In addition, I have only the usual flattering things to say about books that come from Stewart Tabori & Chang: beautiful photographs by Thayer Allison Gowdy, lovely styling, nice quality paper, diagrams and charts (including some in color) where appropriate, a few pages listing special techniques and abbreviations in the end. From my eyeballing the book, it looks like skill level will vary from afghan to afghan, given the range of techniques involved. Just as there's something for everyone in terms of taste, there's something for just about every skill level.

Comfort Afghans is, then, a beautifully presented book with an extremely generous selection of patterns for afghans and throws in just about every style imaginable, varying in skill level and with an interesting assortment of techniques. Whether you're an afghan aficionado or a fan of Norah Gaughan and Berroco, you can't go wrong with this book.

All photos c. 2010 by Thayer Allison Gowdy.

Update: Visit the Comfort Afghans blog tour here and get links to all the stops!


Jodi said...

It sounds (and looks) just great! I always appreciate your no-bull book reviews.

Anonymous said...

Wow- I'd love to get a closer look at that one.

(hmm, I think perhaps there should be a book showcasing BBF yarns??)

Village Books said...

Sounds & looks fabulous!

Knitting Out Loud said...

The patterns look wonderful!

Park Bench Knitter said...

I love your blog, and I love this book, but I don't think acrylic yarn should ever be touted as good for a baby blanket. Given that their PJs must be flame retardant, it doesn't seem right to wrap them in something so flammable. This isn't a yarn snob thing just a safety thing. And the reason I'm writing this covered in an acrylic afghan that was begun as a baby's blanket. But that changed as soon as I did a burn test on wool vs. acrylic.

MsAmpuTeeHee said...

I'm so glad you reviewed this book. I might not have picked it up to flip through it (I'm not in any dire need for afghan knitting right now). These designs are just lovely.