Sunday, March 26, 2006

I got totally sidetracked by the Jewish thing at the inlaws yesterday and forgot that I had this whole big lengthy post planned about the way that the yarn-oriented shelves at Barnes and Nobles are expanding. I went in looking for the Yarn Harlot's new book (alas, twas not to be found) and was quite shocked at how the knitting selection had grown since my last visit to the store. Used to be, maybe one shelf at this particular B&N. Now that is very much not the case. Shelves full of knitting books abound and there are gorgeous knitting book displays set up on tables. Knitting has obviously become the new big money as far as booksellers are concerned.

There is a whole genre of knitting literature now. I enjoy essays by other knitters and I own the KnitLit books. I love the Yarn Harlot's stuff. Knit humor makes me feel like I'm in the club and the essays often read like blogging, but edited by professionals and sized to fit in my knitting bag (which is handier than my laptop when I'm on the bus.) I noticed that slapping the words "new age" or "spiritual" or "meditate" on a book of knitting patterns appears to be a new way to get people to buy more knitting patterns. At $15+ for some of these slim volumes (rich in spiritually significant exposition, not a lot worth knitting) that's not bad marketing. There is a LOT of knitting for dogs, knitting for kids, knitting one skein wonders, knitting kitsch, knitting hip, knitting at the last minute, knitting on Saturday, knitting with odd balls, you can buy knitting romance novels, knitting mystery novels, there is a lot of stuff about knitting being put out on glossy paper at a premium price. Amazing. Boom. Here we are, we are a marketing force to be reckoned with, to be sold to.

I have a pretty simple gauge for whether or not I want to buy or make something. If it has no purpose, it is pointless. The decorative elements in my home all serve a purpose or have sentimental value/history. There's not a lot of random knickknackage going on and what there is has a point. Form plus function please. The next rule is just as simple. Now that we've established function, is the form pleasing to me? Applying those questions ruled out about half of the books on the shelf right off the bat. Many of the clothing pattern books were either full of patterns that are going to look really dated in six months or were trying too hard to be "hip". In others, the patterns were just plain pointless. Do I want a corsety looking neck collar or a wimple? No. Do I want an off the shoulder puff sleeve bolero with a huge felted rose in the middle of my chest? Not really. Between the puffy bolero up top and my ass in the middle, I'd look like a French Poodle. Imagine that in mohair. Seriously, not, you might not survive the imagining. I almost didn't. In the end, I was left with a rather small selection. So here ya go. What I came up with last night while I was killing time at B&N plus a few others off my Amazon list. Yarnpirate's opinions about books available about knitting that are maybe worth owning.

I was really impressed with some of the patterns in the new book by Fiona Ellis, Inspired Cable Knits. I love the cables, the shapes are modern, and I could see myself knitting at least three or four of the patterns out of this book as written, plus adapting some of her other cable patterns to use with different projects. Overall it'd more than justify the cost. I was also quite taken by Vintage Knits and I could definitely see several of the patterns in this offering by Sarah Dallas being quite useful in my wardrobe which was surprising because her other book didn't thrill me quite as much. Knit, of course, in black or grey or maybe a nice dark rich jewel tone that goes well with black. :-P The book showed a lot of pastels but once you get past the scary color, the lines are good. The Rowan book, also titled Vintage Knits is another that I'd like to get. I am on the fence about Alterknits which is to say, if I had an excess of cash, I might buy it but I could also leave it and have thus far. Erika Knight has a new one, Simple Knits for Little Cherubs that I'd like to get for the many babies in my life who are about to grow up to be toddlers. The stuff in there is classic and timeless. So there you go. 4 books, plus one maybe.

This stuff wasn't on the shelves last night, but strikes me as worth owning. Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls by Martha Waterman is on my list to buy, I want Nancy Bush's Knitting Vintage Socks, there's two basic pattern books by Ann Budd, a couple of stitch treasuries, a book on Viking inspired cables and honestly? That's it for now. I'm sure there's other quality books out there, in fact I know there's a huge lot of them that I haven't listed, but that's where I'm at right now.

I'm not a knitting snob. I get teased about it and once I really pissed off a friend who got mad at me for not wanting to buy acrylic yarn. I wasn't snotty, I just wanted merino. I don't feel as if I am snobbish so much as thoughtful and aware of what I like. I like to do things well, I appreciate good tools and materials and I like things to last.

So what are your top knitting book picks in the vast sea of new knitting books to be had? Help me round out my wishlist. What do you think about knitting books and marketing these days? Please no felted wizard hats for dogs. I would have to come to your house and poke you with a pointy wooden stick until you repented.


Inky said...

I earned a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card via a website I visit and used it to by A Gathering of Lace because I'm infatuated with lace. I also covet Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller.

I have Knitting Vintage Socks and while I haven't done any of the patterns yet I do love this book. As far as sock books go I think Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch is a must have.

The book(s) I refer to most for help are Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti and also Sally Melville's Knit book and Purl book. I haven't picked up her color one yet. The patterns are indeed meh but her how-to and step by step photos are library worthy IMHO.

Will Pillage For Yarn said...

Inky, I love Gathering of Lace, that's got to be one of my favorites. Folk Shawls is another that I really love. I find the Heirloom Knitting book to be terrifying, but give me a few years and I'll probably work up to it.

I wasn't as keen on Sensational Knitted socks in the store, I did flip through it but didn't really give it an in depth read.

I have the Reader's Digest Knitters Handbook that I use a lot for reference on basic knitting technique. I'll have to check out the ones you mentioned, thank you!

Geogrrl said...

My best resource is the stitch "treasuries" by Barbara Walker. Well worth the price of each book, IMHO. I also have the Vogue book of Knitting, which is a good overall resource. Maggie Righetti's book on design is also excellent.

I love Elizabeth Zimmerman's books for their inspiration and the way they break down construction to something understandable. I don't care for her sweaters--I think as a designer she left something to be desired.

Martha Waterman's book is worth the price--again, she explains things well. You can knit the patterns she gives but she also gives you enough info that you can take off in your own direction.

I've seen the photos from Fiona Ellis' book and am lusting after it. I love the patterns in it.

I agree about "Vintage Knits". I wouldn't use all of the patterns--some are too "girly" for me, and I look silly in girly. The only caveat is the sizing. I realized that for them to fit me I will have to resize pretty much any pattern from that book. I have a 39-inch bust, and I think most of the patterns only go up to 36" or so.

I also recommend "Knitting in the Old Way" by Priscilla-Gibson Roberts for the general patterns and the way she breaks down sweater construction. Again, she gives you the tools to fly on your own.

Regarding the previous post, I was appalled at what your MIL said. I would have reacted about the same--stunned surprise. But chances are I would say something later, after some thought. After I'd cooled off, I'd calmly let her know that she had insulted me and my children and that none of us would again be comfortable around her until there were some changes.

Will Pillage For Yarn said...

geo, thank you! I actually didn't note the sizing issue with Vintage Knits - are you talking about the Rowan or the Dallas book? I'm a 39" bust too, so that'd be an issue.

I've been eyeing Knitting In The Old Way, thanks for the rec!

Geogrrl said...

Heh. Yeah, I forgot to say that the "Vintage Knits" I was talking about is the one by Sarah Dallas. I haven't seen the Rowan one yet.

Re-sizing isn't that big a deal--with a resource like Vogue Knitting or something you can rewrite it to your size. It's a matter of whether you like the pattern(s) enough to take the trouble.

Re-sizing a pattern will likely take an evening to do. Draw schematics for yourself as you go (something Dallas' book also lacks) with the measurements you plan to use. A schematic gives you a clear picture in your head of where you're going.

Lucia said...

I find the Walker treasury books indispensable. Knitting in Plain English is very good -- I'm less keen on Sweater Design IPE, as I don't think the designs actually look good on the models. (Tastes vary, however.) I like Ann Budd's Handy Book of Patterns better -- I have the general one, haven't bought the sweater one yet but plan to. I like the Big Book of Knitting for its clear explanations and illustrations. The Knitter's Handbook is also good but sometimes more theoretical than I find strictly necessary. (Show me how to do it already! I sometimes yell at it.)

I am basically a sucker for any and all lace books, whether I actually make anything from them or not. I have this allergy to following other people's patterns (this gets me in trouble in various ways), but I'm always willing to drool and learn.

I learned my favorite sock technique from Wendy's Knitty article and now always use it. That doesn't count as a book, I realize, but it helped me immensely.

Ragnar said...

I just started knitting "celtic icon" from "inspired cable knits" and that is the most fucked upinist cable chart I've ever mucked through. I got about 5 inches into the right side and frogged the whole thing. I'm substituting a pattern form "Viking Patterns for Knitting" by Elsebeth Lavold which is my bible. That is simply the coolest book ever. The sweaters are sort of so-so but I put those cables on everything.

My $.02

Geogrrl said...

Ragnar, let the "Yarn Harlot" know. She knows the author and has just reviewed the book on her blog. I'm sure that she and the author would appreciate your pointing out any problems with the cable charts.

Scroll down to "Book Review the First".

Will Pillage For Yarn said...

Ragnar, oh no! that's like, the sweater I like best about the book. Is the chart hard to follow, is it errorful, what exactly is bugging you about it?

I wonder if there's an errata coming out.

Z said...

Did I tell you the Harlot is coming to Pittsburgh on April 7? And I can't go because it's a special oneg? Aint it always the case?

Ragnar said...

First of all let me say that it's very strange that I'm working on this sweater on the very day when both Yarns Pirate and Harlot are blogging about this book. Makes me feel Cutting edge? Sheep like? Very strange anyway.

The chart isn't hard to follow or errorful, just very...finicky? Is that the word I'm looking for?

There was one aspect of the design that I just didn't like after having knit it, and that's the center of the medallion. It's like four crossing cables, that should make four little boxes, except it seems to cross early so the top box is sort of squashed, which in the photos seems like a deliberate design detail, but in my swatch it just looked like a mistake. Also the loopy things out to the sides are sort of wonky. Maybe I just didn't get her "increase 4" direction, or maybe she explains it better elsewhere, but increasing 4 into one stitch (and more importantly decreasing 4 in one stitch on the other side of the cable) made an unattractive least on my swatch.

These problems I'm sure could be worked out with better/different technique than I was using. Repeat, it's not necessarily a problem with the pattern.

The main problem that I had with it was that I was going to be glued to the chart line by line, and she does say that "it would be difficult to memorize" (understatement) There are a lot of places where one cable moves one stitch to cross and the other side moves 2, etc. I found it hard to keep track of.

Knit a swatch of just the cable and see how you like it, maybe yours will turn out all rosey and beautiful. Mine turned out all wonky and whackety, and I'm pretty experienced with cables.

Maybe I'm just spoiled by Elsebeth Lavold's cables because everything is based on sets of two and you can very easily anticipate where things are going to cross and you don't have to refer to the chart every single line, yet they are complex and beautiful.

I'm still knitting the "icon" sweater, I just snatched a cable out of "viking patterns for knitting" that had a similar stitch count (I'm actually doing a wider one, because I want a size that's somewhere between large and extra large...blah blah blah) and I'm flat up substituting it, and following all of her directions (with all the stitch counts recalculated for my wider cable, blah blah blah) and if it gets whacky around the decreases I will fudge it.

Actually I'm sort of suspicious about the decreases, because none of the photos in the book show what happens to those cables when she starts decreasing for the raglan sleeves...and photoshoots being what they are I'm wondering if it was deliberate...paranoid? Yes I am thank you. that was way more information than you wanted/needed.

Basically, the pattern is fine, but not suited to my brain. Just knit a swatch and see if you like it.

Atla said...

Anything by Nancy Bush is certainly worth picking up.

Jess said...

Heh. I just received Inspired Cable Knits and Vintage Knits from my book club this week. There aren't that many patterns that I'd wear as-is (although Inspired Cable Knits is giving me a taste for loose-fitting sweaters), but they're so inspiring. I've learned a lot by trying to deconstruct the patterns to see what makes them work and why I like them.