Friday, June 29, 2012

No-Bull Book Review: Knit Red by Laura Zander

I am working on a post giving you my recap of TNNA, the yarn and needlepoint industry's trade show, but in the meantime, let's take a look at a lovely book that was featured at the show. Knit Red: Stitching for Women's Heart Health (Sixth and Spring 2012; hardcover; 130 pages; MSRP $19.95 but available for $12.49 through the link) is a great knitting book for a great cause.

 Last year, I was wandering around the TNNA show floor when I ran into Laura Zander, proprietress of the amazing Jimmy Bean's Wool. Laura was talking about writing a book that would help raise money and awareness of women's heart health. I thought it was a fantastic idea then and now, just a year later, with the gorgeous book in my hands, I still think it's a fantastic idea. The statistics on women's heart health are astonishing: for example, more women have fatal heart attacks than men. One in four women who die in the U.S. each year die due to heart disease. Yet so many of us envision heart disease as something men are more likely to have.

Knit Red aims to combat those statistics, enticing us with lovely knitting patterns, but also informing us about the dangers of heart disease and suggesting simple, do-able changes we can make to lower our risk. Let's start with the fun stuff, first, and take a look at some of the patterns.

There are so many gorgeous projects in this book, and among my favorites are Iris Schreier's capelet, above. I also am grooving on this delicate lace stole by Kieran Foley, below:

 I love the flirty eyelet socks by MMO:

 Norah Gaughan's cabled cardigan:

 and Deborah Newton's beautifully-designed tunic.

Many other of my favorite designers are featured here, such as my BFF Martin Storey, who designed a great cardigan with seed stitch panels and heart motifs, with a cute cropped fit:

my love Sarah Hatton, who contributed an easy-to-knit twist-front top reminiscent of a ballet wrap:

Maie Landra contributed this amazing modular dress (this is really an exquisite piece of knitwear, with modern lines but a vintage feel -- and I'm not just saying that because I heart Koigu so much):

Another nice thing about the book is that it includes both easier and more advanced designs. Cecily Glowik MacDonald's cardigan is stylish but uses only stockinette and garter stitches, and is knit in one piece to minimize finishing:

and Diane Soucy's hooded cardigan has simple elegance (knit in Universal's Cashmere Fleur de Lys)

 while Andrea Jurgrau's lace shawl is a bit more challenging, with its fantastic beaded edging,

but no matter what you're looking for, there are options.  Like cables? Try Brooklyn Tweed's lovely mittens:

In the mood to use some luxurious yarns? Check out Daniela Johannsenova's Mondrian-like tunic, using several different yarns and multiple shades of red (and purple!).

Want to let some skin peek through? Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton allows you to channel your inner minx with her off-the-shoulder mesh top:

If you want to embellish, look no further than Nicky Epstein's chenille shrug, with roses around the collar:

Feel like a home dec item?  Michelle Rose Orne has designed a lovely linen-stitch blanket:

For my statisticians, the books contains 31 patterns, in the following categories:
  • 5 pullover sweaters; 4 cardigans; and 1 button-front vest, all for women
  • 1 dress
  • 2 cowls
  • 1 tote
  • 2 hats (one beret, one earflap style)
  • 1 shrug
  • 4 stoles/shawls
  • 1 blanket
  • 3 sets of handgear (1 mitten, 2 fingerless gloves)
  • a spa set (washcloth and suchlike)
  • 2 pair of socks
  • 1 cape.
All the items are shown in red yarn, but the manufacturers and gauges vary from laceweight to chunky, from luxury yarns like ArtYarns and Koigu to more affordable choices like Deborah Norville's Soft Worsted and Deb Stoller's Stitch Nation yarns. Sizes are a bit more limited than usual; a few of the sweaters go up to 48 to 53-inch finished circumference but most have their largest size in the 40s and one or two have more limited ranges than that, so check sizing if you have your eye on a particular sweater.  Of course many of the projects, like the lovely stoles and shawls, are one size fits all. You'll find schematics and chart as usual with a Vogue publication. All the patterns are for women with one or two home items -- nothing for men or kids here, since the focus is on women's heart health.

One aspect of the book that I find charming are mini-profiles of the individual designers, in which they tell how heart disease has affected them and their families, and include tips for improving heart health. The pattern section is followed by facts about how common heart issues are (for example, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States); what the symptoms of a heart attack are; exercise and cooking tips; even heart-healthy recipes. There's also a section of knitting tips and techniques used in the patterns.

My family has been decimated by heart-related disease:  my father had pentuple by-pass surgery, my grandfather died of complications from a heart attack, and as amateur genealogist, I've been amazed at the number of relatives who have cardiac issues of some kind listed on their death certificates.  The women in my family have suffered, too: My grandmother had heart problems

My grandmother

and my dear cousin Francie died at a shockingly young age from heart disease, to name just a few. So I am proud to heartily (pun intended) recommend this book, a great selection of stylish patterns along with timely reminders about taking care of our hearts.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On my way....

It's that time of year again: time for TNNA, the trade show for the knitting and needlepoint industry--or as my kids call it, "the yarn convention." I love being able to have so many of my favorite fiber people collected together in one place, and I love seeing all the amazing new yarns and patterns coming out this fall. I'll take copious notes and give you a full report when I get back.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

They say that time is a great healer, and like many cliches, it's a cliche because it's so often true. It's been about 2 1/2 years since my father died, and it's become easier and easier to focus on the good memories of him. The other day, my oldest kid was playing the piano and my heart stopped for a second: it was Chopin's Raindrop Prelude, which was my father's favorite piece by his favorite composer. He used to say that because the prelude was inspired by the notion of raindrops falling on a dead person, he wanted the song played at his funeral. (He was Little Miss Sunshine, sometimes, eh?)

In honor of Father's Day, here are some more of the good memories that I have of my dad--random things, in no particular order and with no intended symbolism.  Just things that have popped into my head lately:
  • My dad knew an amazing amount about World War II. He was born in 1934, so he had vivid childhood memories of significant events in the war. He had several uncles who served in the war, which probably also helped pique his interest in the war. He very clearly remembered Pearl Harbor, and listening to FDR announce the attack on the radio. He even used to do a horrible imitation of FDR:  "Last night, the Japanese attached Pearl Harbor." (He refused to ever buy a Japanese car because of Pearl Harbor. (!) )He had a special fascination with the technology of WW2 and knew a great deal about the tanks and weapons used. 
  • He loved to read. (Obviously this is where I inherited it from.) And every once in a while, he'd slip me five or ten bucks and tell my mother to take me to the mall so I could go to the Walden's bookstore and buy books.
  • He used to say the word "cubbyhole" like this:  COO-bee-hole. I told my kids this recently and they found it hilarious. Now it's a running joke in our family.
  • He was born on July 1 and really was a summer kind of guy. He loved to swim and he loved baseball. The Mets were his team. He loved watermelon; fresh summer tomatoes (a tomato-and-cheese sandwich was his favorite); and could eat a bowl of cherries in a minute.
  • He passed the entrance test to be a contestant on Jeopardy. This won't surprise anyone who knew him, as he always had an encyclopedic knowledge of random topics and trivia. He wasn't able to be on the show, though, because the network insisted that contestants spend a certain minimum amount of time in New York until the show was ready for them, and he couldn't do that.
  • Whenever we went out to a fancy dinner and ordered wine, he insisted on putting the entire contents of the salt shaker into the ice bucket because he said it made the bottle get colder faster.
  • He loved Star Trek, the original one with William Shatner. He never really got fascinated with any other science fiction the way he loved Star Trek, though. Some of his favorite episodes were the one with Nomad; "The Gamesters of Triskelion" and the one where Mr. Spock fights Kirk to marry the Vulcan lady. He was never a big fan of the Tribbles one, though.
Happy Father's Day. I hope you have nothing but good memories of your dad, and if he's still around, and lives close by, go and make some more good memories of him. Some day you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

First look: Noro Magazine

I'm a big fan of Noro yarns. Yes, I know that they are softly spun, sometimes have knots, the colors don't always flow perfectly and if you yank too hard, they might break.  So what. I adore the colors, the natural fibers, the way that the colors sometimes ply a little bit around each other when they change from one segment to another, and I enjoy the rustic feel of the yarn.  So I was very excited to see that our friends at Vogue Knitting were producing a magazine devoted to Noro patterns. Noro Knitting Magazine arrived in stores and LYSs recently, so let's take a first look.

The magazine begins with a wonderful article by Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton, who has been a Noro fan for many years and who has written several books featuring Noro yarns.  Hamilton gives some fascinating background about the founder of Noro yarns, Eisaku Noro; how the company was founded; and how the yarn is made. One-page features highlight 2012 Noro yarns; books devoted to Noro design; and resources for Noro on the web. There's a special feature on the Lizard Ridge afghan and tea cozy designer Loani Prior's creations.

Next are the patterns, 35 fabulous, colorful patterns.  In the story "Konnichi Wa," you'll find smaller pieces, such as the cover design, a textured hat by Holli Yoeh:

Katharine Hunt's mobius

my checkerboard hat (!)

and elegant socks by Christina Behnke.

The second story is texture, including Therese Chynoweth's lovely lace cardigan;

Cheryl Murray's subtle yoked pullover

and Daniela Ni's tunic with textured edging.

Vintage Modern is the title of the next story, with an absolutely stunning red dress by Carolyn Noyes knit in one shade of Kureyon with a solid color Debbie Bliss yarn.


Two skirts in more muted colorways are lovely, like this one byYoko Hatta:

and there is a long cardigan that showcases the repeating colors of Noro by Mari Tobita.

There are several shorter stories, too, including a men's story (I like this sweater by Kenny Chun)

a feature devoted to Noro Karuta, a new yarn with more monochrome-ish colorways (which, coincidentally, is on sale for a limited time only at Loop -- go here):

Wilma Peers design

two striking pieces making use of stripes;

Irina Poludnenko design

Galina Carroll design

home designs, like this throw

Erica Schlueter design

felted bowls

and a tote (both by Jacquiline van Dillen).

A variety of yarn weights are used, from yarn categories 1 (fingering) to 5 (chunky); sizing is generous, with most patterns going into the high 40s or low 50s-inch finished circumferences; and there are color photos, charts and schematics to make your knitting easier.

I do love Noro so for me, picking up a copy of this magazine was a no-brainer. (I even found it at Wegman's!). Lots of luscious patterns and inspiration, at the bargain price of $7.99.

Photos by Paul Amato for

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas....

Don't have any knitting that I can show you right now, so how about another quilt?

A couple of months ago, I bought some fat quarters at Spool. The fabric was designed by Denyse Schmidt, and is a re-issue of a line called Flea Market Fancy. One thing that is fascinating to me, as a knitter looking at the world of quilting, is the different ways that these crafters approach their raw materials. Many knitters seem to get very bent out of shape when a yarn or color of yarn is discontinued. Publishers and yarn companies get all sorts of grumpy letters asking why a particular yarn is discontinued, or complaining that the yarn used in a book or pattern isn't available in every knitting shop in the world. Yarn lines are designed to last for at least a few seasons, if not longer, and lots of attention is paid to creating patterns designed especially for use with a specific yarn. On the other hand, quilting fabric collections (other than solids) are understood to be available only for a limited time. (I think, and I'm sure that my readers in the know will correct me if I am wrong, that most fabric collections have one or two production runs, and then that's it.  They are retired.) If the pattern you're using is more than a few months old, chances are you couldn't find the fabric you're looking for even if you wanted to. Quilters seem much more blase about the fact that they may have to pick out a different collection or set of fabrics, or dip into their stash and leftover bits, when beginning a new project.

I do understand that there are more variables with knitting. For example, there are at least seven different weights or categories of yarn, each of which handles differently and knits to a different size, whereas most quilting shops carry all their collections in a single weight of fabric, quilting cotton (with maybe one or two other weights, like home dec fabric and the vinyl stuff for raincoats).  The fact that knitting takes a lot longer means there's more at stake if you mess up the size of the knitted fabric you're making, and so on.

However, it does seem to me that there is a different mentality between the two crafts, a difference I find fascinating.  The point of this digression (to the extent there is one!) is that the fabric I bought for this quilt happens to be a somewhat unusual thing in the quilting world, a line of fabric that sold out, but was so popular that it was brought back for another run a while after it first appeared.

I found that intriguing, so I decided to buy some of it and play with it, to see what all the fuss was about.

The predominant colors that I chose were a coral-red, gray, a soft aqua blue and brown. I have to say that the colors did work beautifully together, and the fabrics looked good whether they were small prints, nearly solids or big prints.

I was inspired to try Film in the Fridge's tutorial on making scrappy triangles. I'd never done triangles like that before, and I wanted to see what it was like.  I wanted to feature the fabric I'd bought rather than use of lots of scraps, so most of the triangles are made out of a single print; just for fun, I did a handful "scrappy"-style, with multiple prints. I used two shades of white/off-white to set off the triangles, and then I used the leftover browns for binding.

I even went a little nutty and did a set of mini-triangles to put on the back.

I had a lot of fun making this one, and I learned a lot from it too.  Thank you, once again, to my helpful quilt holder, a.k.a. Boy Twin.....

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Preview: Vogue Crochet

For the last several years, I've been wishing I were a better crocheter. I can do the basic stitches, and if I take my time, I can do something small, like a flower for embellishment (thanks, Sally!) but I haven't gotten consistent enough to tackle a full-size sweater or other garment.

Which is a real shame, because in the last couple of years, there have been all sorts of wonderful crochet designs being released. Now the people behind Vogue Knitting have released a special collector's issue devoted to crochet. There are some lovely garments and helpful articles, so let's do a quick preview.

In addition to all the usual amenities in a VK magazine (like a yarn shop preview, book reviews, and other features), I found the articles in the Crochet Special Issue particularly helpful. Dora Ohrenstein has written an article about finishing crocheted sweaters, along with some photos demonstrating three techniques; Robyn Chachula has written about crochet symbols and charts, and how to decode them; and Daryl Brower spotlights several fiber artists who incorporate crochet into their work in unusual ways.

But I was really taken with the projects in this magazine. I have been guilty in the past of dismissing crochet for sweaters because of the thickness of the fabric and the lack of drape.  (I've probably also been scarred by growing up in a house full of crocheted 70s afghans...) I must remember that crochet does some things that knitting doesn't do, and when handled by top-notch designers who know their craft, it can be absolutely beautiful, especially in its ability to create fabric and motifs with circular, floral, and lacy detail.

My favorite "story" is called "A Fine Romance," and features lacy, feminine garments. This cowl, designed by Yoko Hatta, is lovely

as is this tunic-length wrap sweater (by Robyn Chachula) that uses joined medallions.

Shiri Mor's mesh socks take a very traditional motif -- the pineapple -- and use it in a very untraditional and sexy way!  (The Lorna's Laces Solemate looks luscious; I'm going to have to get some to try out, too.)

Here's a pretty scalloped sweater designed by Dora Ohrenstein:

and Doris Chan doesn't disappoint with an extremely cleverly-designed lace top. There are flower motifs in it, but it is completely seamless and uses variations on the main motif to achieve the shaping.

Two stories highlight specific designers.  Nicky Epstein (who tried to feel up my underwear at Stitches East last fall) shows off some of her crocheted work, such as this lovely top with embellished neckline:

and a medallion throw.

Mari Lynn Patrick's style is very different, as you can see in her profile, featuring a colorful asymmetric top

and a granny-square tunic.

There's an interesting story featuring crocheted jewelry

and another section with some very appealing and wearable sweaters. This is a terrific jacket in rich red designed by Cristina Mershon;

a mitred wrap by Jane Slicer Smith;

Jennifer Hansen's short-sleeved cardigan with lots of drape;

this terrific long sweater by Lisa Daehline with wrapped dropped stitches;

and a lovely tunic top by Mary Beth Temple.

Kathy Merrick's cover wrap, with medallions in various vivid hues of Rowan's Kidsilk Haze is a stunner.

I have to confess to looking through the magazine with an eye on the patterns labeled  "Very Easy" since I am very tempted to pick up a hook and give some of these a whirl....Vogueknitting Crochet is available now, at yarn shops and bookstores; for $6.99, it's a helluva lot of gorgeous crochet for the money.

I was sent a free review copy of the magazine to entice me to review it here, which of course was no hardship.