Thursday, May 19, 2011

No-Bull Book Review: Knits that Fit, by the PotterCraft

At the top of my review pile is Knits that Fit: Instructions, Patterns, and Tips for Getting the Right Fit (PotterCraft 2010; MSRP $22.99, available as of the time of this writing for $15.63), from our friends at PotterCraft.

The premise of the book is terrific; as the preface states:
A handknit sweater shouldn't fit like something that came from a department store. When you lovingly labor over a garment stitch-by-stitch, you want it to fit to your actual measurements, not just a general size. This volume offers you the chance to break free from following a pattern word-for-word and learn how to tailor your knitwear perfectly.
The book immediately jumps into a 17-page discussion of fit, beginning with the premise that a knitter should never follow a pattern blindly, but should examine it closely and figure out what modifications are necessary to make the pattern fit the exact shape and size of the knitter. Excellent advice. The book goes on to present lots of good basic information for the knitter unsure about fit.

Sally Melville's Sophisticated Hoodie

First up is the importance of figuring out your body size right now (not as it used to be, or as you wish it to be) and taking measurements. The book walks through sweater length (short, mid-length and long); back waist length for sweaters with waist shaping; sleeve length & cuff width; and bust, waist, hip & shoulder widths. The book then discusses body shaping, showing the difference by using drawings between an unshaped sweater and one with waist shaping. The discussion addresses short, mid-length and long sweater shaping, finishing up with a discussion of layering; and two other silhouettes (slim rectangle and A-line).*

Classic Shirt (S. Melville)

The next topic covered is yarn: the thickness of yarn (the book suggests fine yarns for a more flattering (read slimmer) fit); color, with a very brief discussion of some general color principles; transitions between colors; texture; ribbing; cables; and lace. The last four pages give tips and tricks for plus-size knitters, in a section that is reprinted from the Jillian Moreno/Amy Singer Big Girl Knits series.

The rest of the book is devoted to patterns -- all women's patterns, divided into three sections.

The "Pullovers" section contains eight sweaters of various styles, from Berta Karapteyan's Marbled Top, with horizontal pleats and a turtleneck wih picot edging,

Marbled Top (Berta Karapetyan)

to a basket-weave turtleneck; a yoke sweater;

Dark Victory Sweater (A. Modesitt)

a boat-neck with vertical cable detailing; a faux button-front tunic with collar by Lily Chin; Sally Melville's flirty top with ruffled sleeves and bottom; another turtleneck with corded detailing; and a simple cropped v-neck mohair sweater.

"Cardigans and Cover-Ups" contains eight more patterns: the striking Seashell Cardi (shown further below); the attractive Mrs. Darcy Cardigan by Mary Weaver (is that being modeled by Stitchy McYarnpants?);

Mrs. Darcy's Cardigan (M. Weaver)

a shrug knit in bulky textured yarn; a second shrug knit in smooth, lighter-weight yarn; Sally Melville's Classic Shirt, a knit version of the classic buttondown shirt (I like the way that one version is knit loosely in a mohair blend while the other is knit in a linen blend); another shrug in chunky yarn (which leads me to wonder why so many shrugs, garments with little front or back, some of which don't even have sleeves, in a book devoted to fit?) ; a hooded cardigan; and a ruffled cardigan.

Cozy Moss Shrug (B. Karapetyan)

The last section is "Sleeveless and Short-Sleeved Tops," with seven selections from the ruffled-necked Sea Foam top, a spaghetti-strap tank, a bustier-style tank; a cap-sleeve top with daring neckline; Melissa Mathay's charming Rebecca's Top, a cotton tank with empire waist and lace bottom; a mini dress on the cover (would also be cute worn over leggings); and a simple yoke-shaped stockinette top.

Vintage Sweater Girl Cropped Sweater (L. Chin)

All of the usual accoutrements that one finds in a PotterCraft book are there: color photos that are well-lit; multiple photos of the same garment, including close-ups of details; nice quality pages; clear type; schematics. Sizing generally runs S/M/L/XL, with some patterns going into 1X and 2X, and size ranges going from around 34 inches for small, through around 42-44 inches finished bust for large, and the plus sizes going as high as the 47- to 52-inch range (one choice even goes to 57 inches). Not all the patterns are sized for plus-size, however, and some of the pieces, like the shrugs, are written in fewer sizes given their cropped nature. Yarn gauges are all over the map, from chunky to fine.

Two-way Shrug (Caddie Melville Ledbetter)

The last things you should know before buying the book is that all or nearly all of the material in the book has been reprinted. In particular, the sweater patterns have appeared in various PotterCraft books (e.g., Berta Karaptyan's designs are all from 2007's Runway Knits; Melissa Mathay's are from Knits Three Ways), even the two Mary Weaver designs were originally published on her blog). I think this is an important thing to know so that you can check to see if you already have the patterns (or the ones you especially like) before investing in the book.

The only quibble I have is that I'm not exactly sure whether this particular mix of patterns suits someone seeking to create individualized fit. Some of the patterns, like the gorgeous Seashell Cardi,

Seashell Cardi (B. Karapetyan)

feature unique shaping and construction methods that would make significant alterations difficult. Other garments that are more traditionally constructed, like the empire tank, use complex stitch patterns in the body -- not the most conducive to waist shaping without messing up the pattern and a possible stumbling block for an inexperienced knitter. Even the gorgeous cover pattern, with its vertical colorblock stripes, would look very different depending on where stitches might be increased or decreased to individualize the waist shaping. I fear that the attempt to alter these patterns to fit could lead unsuspecting novices into disaster, especially given the lack of text boxes or other notes to assist in tailoring specific garments.

Roman Candle Pullover (B. Karapetyan)

However, I don't want to suggest that this is a bad book. The technical section on fit covers and lot of good material, and if you are a knitter who doesn't know a lot of about fit or sweater shaping, the book is a good introduction to some of these principles. And there are a number of really great-looking women's sweaters contained in the book. If you are looking for a lovely selection of women's sweater patterns and don't already have the original books, this is also a nice addition to your collection, a kind of "best of the best" from PotterCraft's archives.

*One omission is any in-depth discussion of sleeve styles, which can have a profound affect on the fit of a sweater; another is a detailed discussion of bust fit and shaping, which again can dramatically alter a sweater's fit for women with substantially less or more in the bewb department.


International Knitter of Mystery said...

This may be the most honest book review I've ever seen. Usually the magazine book reviews are nothing but praise. Thanks for such a straight appraisal!

SM said...

Very helpful review! V.disappointed to hear that they don't have tips for altering the featured patterns - this seemed like a logical inclusion to me!

Kathleen Dames said...

Thanks for such an insightful review, Carol. The Mrs. Darcy cardigan has been in my queue forever, so I may have to check this one out. But I'm really surprised that there is nothing about bust shaping in a book like this.

ginny said...

Wow, what gorgeous sweater patterns!

Lynda in Oregon said...

"The last things you should know before buying the book is that all or nearly all of the material in the book has been reprinted."

Thank you for an informative and honest review. "No-bull" indeed! (Except that the reprint line probably should have been "The first thing you should know..."