Saturday, February 19, 2011

No-Bull Book Review: Knitting Knee-Highs by Barb Brown

I feel about Barb Brown's new book the way I feel about the child of a dear friend: having known about the joyous event from the beginning, and having watched my friend give so much of herself during the process, I feel all sorts of excited and proud and happy to see the full-grown fruits of her labor. You see, Barb and I talked a lot about the publishing world, writing proposals, how to try to sell them and so on. She'd told me about her concept for a book and I thought it was great. I watched with a lot of excitement as a publisher offered her a contract, and I was thrilled to supply some Black Bunny Fibers yarn for use in two of the sample patterns. So accept the above as full disclosure. I mean, how cool is it that I am mentioned in the dedication of the book?!?

Friendship aside, though, it's a great pleasure to review Knitting Knee-Highs: Sock Styles from Classic to Contemporary (Krause 2011; MSRP $22.99; available via the link for $12.54 as of the time of this writing; Kindle version available here for $9.99) because it's a damn good book. Let's take a closer look.

Birdwalk socks (knit in BBF!)

One of the first questions some may have when browsing through the book is "why knee-highs?" Brown addresses this question in the Introduction to the book:

Many people look at a pair of hand-knit knee-highs and, while they love the look of them and would dearly like to own a pair, are frightened off by the amount of knitting that seems to be required. However, there really isn't a lot more knitting involved in a pair of knee-highs than there is in a pair of socks. The leg on a pair of knee-highs is only around thirteen inches. That is a difference of just four to six inches. If you were knitting the sleeve of a sweater, you'd barely be started! For a little bit of extra knitting you get an awful lot of satisfaction.

Brown then goes on to address the fit issue (by providing a formula and tips for custom fitting, Brown takes a lot of the angst out of fit) and the wear issue (she explains how to reknit the foot of the sock should holes develop). She then points out how the longer length of knee-highs provides a larger canvas for beautiful, show-stopping stitchwork.

Celeigh's socks

The next section is devoted to some technical information that will greatly aid the knitter of knee-highs, especially the first-time knitter of knee-highs. Brown recommends starting with a plain pair of striped knee-highs, using the formula she provides; at the end of the pair, the knitter not only has a nice pair of knee-highs, but also has a custom pattern that she can track via the stripes. Next up is Brown's Knee-High Formula, where she shows how to take a few measurements and calculate the number of stitches and where to make increases and decreases. She follows this with a page of tips and tricks for custom fitting, then discusses how to convert knee-high patterns to other sock styles (including an inset box on the importance of swatching).

Next up are the patterns -- twenty patterns featuring a variety of techniques including stranded colorwork

Both Sides Now socks


Maid Marion socks

and textured stitchwork.

Counterpane socks

Brown took her inspiration from all sorts of ethnic and folk knitting traditions, as well as her life-long experience as a knitter (I especially love how Brown pays homage to the various knitters who taught her over the years). If you're looking for a breakdown, you'll find eleven patterns that use stranded colorwork (and the beauty and intricacy of these patterns just knocks me out!); about four that use eyelets or lace stitch patterns; four which I've classified as textural stitch patterns; and one which is a mix of techniques. Socks are sized small-to-medium; large; and extra-large, with finished foot circumference in the range of 8 or so inches through 9 to 10 inches. The book is paperback, with approximately 128 pages, full-color.

Bonnie Bird socks (knit in BBF!)

My favorites? Hard to pick a few, although the Bonnie Birds and Birdwalk socks have a special place in my heart because they are the ones knit in BBF yarn. I also love the chocolate and aqua Eric's Path socks

Eric's Path socks

the intricate Mary Wilson's Gift socks;

Mary Wilson's Gift socks

and the Dance Little Jeans, which combine colorwork and texture to great effect.

Dance Little Jean socks

Knitting Knee-Highs has all the amenities you'd expect, including charts (some color, some b&w depending on the sock), lots of clear photos, beautifully taken by Ric Deliantoni, both close-up and giving the full view; and what I think is outstanding (and a helluva lot of work), each sock is shown in more than one variation. You get a knee-high pattern for each, but also a variation on the pattern (a mid-calf sock or a legwarmer or anklets done in the same basic stitch pattern). Not only do you get to see the sock in different heights, you also get to see it knit in different colorways and yarns -- very helpful if you're envisioning using a different set of colors or just to inspire you in your own color choice. Remember the Maid Marion socks, shown above in the off-white, knee-high version? Here are the crew sock version:

and a cuffed anklet version. Pretty awesome, no?

Summing up, then, you will get a great deal of knitting pleasure from investing in Barb Brown's Knitting Knee-Highs. You get 20 gorgeous patterns for knee-highs, plus 20+ variations adapting those patterns to different sock styles. Best of all, each pattern is a masterpiece of construction and design, using beautiful stranded stitchwork, texture and lace. It's exciting to see a book that was clearly written by someone with a knitter's soul, and which isn't dumbed-down for fear of scaring away purchasers. And that the author is my friend is just icing on the cake.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the very comprehesive review. The book and the patterns are beautiful.

Bridget said...

I think I may be demanding that my husband make this one of my birthday gifts.

Barb said...

What Carol doesn't mention is that, quite frankly, the book never have been born without her help and encouragement. Carol Rocks! (and so does BBF yarn)

Mel said...

Just got the Kindle version. Love, love, love these patterns!

pattyannelea said...

I just got my copy. Great I want one of each... well maybe 2

Rachelle said...

I bought this book sight unseen on pre-order. Definitely worth it and I will be knitting knee high socks from it very soon.

AudKnits said...

What beautiful designs! Thanks for writing about the book - I'm putting it on my wish list immediately!