Wednesday, October 06, 2010

No-Bull Book Review: Entree to Entrelac, by Gwen Bortner

I will begin this book review with a disclaimer: I am not an expert in entrelac, nor do I play one on teevee. That means that I'm approaching this book review at a slight disadvantage, since today's book review focuses on a book devoted to entrelac. However, I'll do my best to give you an overview of Entree to Entrelac: The Definitive Guide from a Biased Knitter by Gwen Bortner (XRX Inc. 2010), one of two new books devoted to the topic (Rosemary Drysdale's Entrelac: The Essential Guide to Interlace Knitting, is scheduled for an early November release). XRX was kind enough to supply me with a review copy of this book, which is hot off the presses, and has a MSRP of $19.99 (available for $13.57 as of this writing through the link above).

Author Gwen Bortner describes herself as someone initially hired by her LYS to help customers with math-related knitting questions -- until she became fascinated by the entrelac technique and immersed herself into learning everything she could about it. "Entrelac," as Bortner explains, is a French word meaning "interlaced," and is used to describe a knitting technique in which a piece is worked "in small sections that are joined as they are worked." Entrelac knitting has a distinctive appearance resembling basketweaving with blocks or diamonds that run in diagonal lines.

Cables & Lace Throw

Bortner has set out to help the complete novice learn the skills needed to create entrelac. The book -- a paperback, about 160 pages--begins with introductory material intended to help with the conceptual background needed before tackling this new method of knitting. One of the skills that Bortner explains is knitting backward: working a row as usual, from right to left, but then instead of turning the work and purling (or knitting) back with the wrong-side facing, knitting the row backward by moving stitches from the left-hand needle to the right. Since entrelac involves a lot of knitting in small sections, knitting backward rather than turning the work make the process, according to Bortner, more efficient.

Argyle Bolero

The remainder of the book builds from there, using a kind of workshop approach. Each chapter starts by explaining certain technical skills, then gives the knitter patterns that use and build on these skills. The idea is that even if you've never done entrelac before, you can study the material at the beginning of the chapter, then use the projects to practice and master the skills. I will tell you straight out that I have not had time to sit down with the book and try out any of the instructions or patterns; if you're really interested in delving into entrelac, it makes sense to take a look at the book yourself to see if the book is a good fit with your own individual learning style.

Joined Points Hat

What specific topics are covered in the book? Well, the first chapter gives entrelac basics, including basic shapes -- entrelac uses rectangles and triangles knit in different directions as building blocks. Several stitch patterns are also introduced, with diagrams and photos to help you parse out the technique. (Note that the diagrams explaining how to create the stitch patterns go from the bottom to the top, rather than top to bottom, tracking the direction of the knitting.) Scarves and other small items are given for the first projects, then difficulty and size increases a bit with some sweater patterns.

The second chapter is devoted to "Simple Shapes and Zigzag Seams," in which Bortner explores the design possibilities presented by the natural zigzagging lines of entrelac. She explores how changing the size of the units or stitches in each tier or row of shapes can create shaping while preserving the inherent basketweave lines of the entrelac, and pairs entrelac patterns with other stitches (like ripple stitches).

The third chapter looks at "Intriguing Construction" -- using provisional cast-ons, how to join multiple layers of fabric, using the structure of the entrelac to create gussets and other shapes. "Color, Texture and Other Creative Units" are the topic of the fourth chapter. Bortner explores ways to add color (self-striping yarns, adding stripes with a contrast color to entrelac units, switching colors from unit to unit); uses mosaic and other stitch patterns to add texture (and in some places, texture and color); and incorporates lace stitches and cables for a slightly different look. Finally, Bortner addresses design issues relating to entrelac in the last chapter.

If you're keeping track, you'll find a total of approximately 35 projects in the book, roughly broken down into 12-13 women's items, 1 men's sweater, 1 unisex vest, 4 children's items, 6-7 items sized for the whole family, and 12-13 small accessory or home items. (Since several of the patterns have variations, coming up with an exact count is tough.) Sizing runs the gamut from adult women's size small (approximately 32-inch finished chest) through 2x and sometimes 3x, with chest circumferences in the 52-56-inch range. The items sized for the whole family would fit an average elementary-age child through a men's size/women's 2X or 3X size. Given the way entrelac works, sometimes sizing is done by changing the needle size and/or the thickness of the yarn. I liked that the sweater patterns contained a description of how they were intended to fit: standard fit, close-fitting or loose-fitting, which is helpful when deciding what size to make.

Market Scarf

As for the individual items, I counted the following:
  • two scarves (one contains a stockinette stitch and a garter stitch variation; one is also shown in a large throw version);
  • one unisex vest sized for the family;
  • one unisex yoke sweater sized for the family;
  • one sweater for men shown in button-front long-sleeve cardigan and v-neck vest form;
  • two hats (both sized for the whole family);
  • one pair of slippers and one pair of mittens (both sized for the whole family);
  • six bags of various shapes and sizes -- a messenger bag, drawstring, a felted purse, a clutch, a small bag with attached wooden handle, and a small backpack;
  • approximately ten or so women's sweaters (short-sleeved cropped bolero; two sleeveless tops; one long-sleeved trapeze shaped jacket; one short-sleeve tunic; one long-sleeved jacket; one crew-neck shown in short-, 3/4-length and long-sleeve versions; one short-sleeve sweater with matching skirt; one long-sleeved cardigan);
  • one child's hooded sweater,
  • one baby bunting, one baby blanket (with matching stuffed block) and one baby sweater;
  • and a mishmash of small projects -- business card case, cell phone case, eyeglasses case, felted "cups," coffee-cup sleeve -- that allow the knitter to try a new technique without a big investment of time or yarn.

Envelope Clutch

As I often say, you'll have to take a look at the patterns yourself to decide if you like them enough to want to make them, although this book is certainly intended to be as much an entrelac resource as it is simply a selection of patterns. Patterns come with schematics and most have multiple drawings and diagrams to assist with construction; there are also columns containing the individual units or "modules" that the pattern uses.

Arlis' Sweater

If you're looking at the patterns without having done entrelac, keep in mind the many challenges that entrelac presents the designer with. The fabric has a tendency to bias; it tends to be stretchier than regular knitted fabric; it features a very distinctive textured look; the surface of the fabric isn't completely flat and won't drape the same way other knitted fabric can, given its structure; and it can be harder to accurately measure gauge. Bortner does address many of these issues throughout the book, particularly in the last section which focuses on design. But the challenges presented by the technique, and the way entrelac fabric behaves, may affect your opinion somewhat of the finished designs. (For example, if you don't like basketweave-style patterning or checkerboard motifs, you may not be that enthused about a book full of basketweave-y patterns.)

In sum, then, you'll find comprehensive technical background and a generous selection of projects intended to help the new entrelac-er to master the intricacies of this unique style of knitting. Bortner's love of entrelac shines through on every page, and her enthusiasm is bound to entice many more knitters into giving entrelac a try.

All photos copyright 2010 by XRX, Inc. & taken by Alexis Xenakis

1 comment:

Joyce said...

Thanks for the detailed review. This technique is definitely one I want to try, I'm hoping to get a good look at both of these two new books and pick one that will help me gain enough confidence to try because I love the results, especially with long varigated yarns (i.e. Lady Eleanor Wrap)