Just knits and purls (plus giveaway)

You know that thing we tell new knitters when we’re trying to be reassuring?  That thing about how knitting is just knits and purls (and that really those are just the two sides of the same stitch)?  And that’s true.  Of course it is.

But there’s also that thing that happens when there aren’t any skittish looking new knitters around to scare.  That thing where you say you just spent 45 minutes trying to figure out which of six subtly different decreases you like best.  Or you tried three different cast ons to see which was prettiest with your ribbing.  Or you tucked your decreases inside a cable and you’re feeling ridiculously pleased with yourself.  And you tell another knitter about these escapades and their eyes light up and they totally get it.  And then they regale you with the thing they’re working on that’s every bit as nuts nifty.

Well, if you’re past the point where you want reassurance that it’s all easy and you’ll have it down in ten minutes flat, and have moved on to the point where you’re excited at the idea of there being a bunch of ways to accomplish your goal (because you get to find the one that’s just perfect for your project…and you might even get to learn a new one), then what you need is a reference book (or maybe a few reference books…they tend to multiply if you’re not careful).  The folks at Vogue have just sent me a copy of their updated and rereleased Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book, and it could be just what you’re looking for (as always, amazon links are affiliate links)!

So let’s talk a little bit about reference books.  If we’re being honest, very few folks are going to sit down with a big book (and this is a marvelously big book), start at page one, and read all the way through to the end.  I know I don’t.  I generally pull them out when I want to look something up (I will never remember the provisional cast on right on the first try…and it’s more efficient if I double check how to graft in garter rather than just swearing at it for an hour and then giving up and checking anyway).  And that means that the organizational structure of a reference book matters a lot.  The folks putting this one together paid a lot of attention to organizing this in a way that makes it easy to find what you’re looking for.

There’s a general table of contents and index of course, but they’ve taken it quite a bit farther.  Each chapter starts with another mini table of contents (so if you’re going to the chapter on lace, you can look at the chapter table of contents to figure out where the section on blocking is).  The chapters are also color coded (with a stripe on the edge of the page), which makes it easy to see ‘oh, the cable chapter is blue, let me just flip to the blue pages.’  And, on many pages, there’s a little cross references section at the bottom that points you to related things you might want to know.  So on a page about grafting, it says hey…did you need to double check what slipping knitwise or purlwise meant? Those are over here. Or maybe you want to brush up on right side and wrong side? They’re over here.  The result is a book that’s easy to use.  And since reference books are meant to be tools, that’s really important.

There are chapters on things like supplies (yarn, needles, tools), basics (casting on, knitting, purling, increasing, decreasing, binding off), lace, cables, colorwork, and what they call advanced techniques (brioche, double knitting, dropped stitch patterns).  There are also chapters on understanding patterns (because really…most patterns make a lot of assumptions about general knitting knowledge), correcting errors, finishing your projects (meaning how to put them together, not how to actually get around to knitting the last few rows), and caring for your knits.  And finally, a set of chapters on designing sweaters, shawls, and accessories.  Each of the chapters gives a solid introduction to the topics without providing so much information as to risk being overwhelming, and that’s a hard balance to strike.  It’s easy to do a cursory explanation, and it’s easy to do a Massive Brain Dump.  But finding a balance between the two, especially across such a wide range of topics, is impressive.

Now, no single reference book is going to be a perfect fit for every single knitter on every single topic (and if it tried, it would be 2,400 pages long and too heavy to lift).  And there is a tiny list of things I’d tweak a bit.  There are few increases and decreases I felt were missing, I wish they’d explained that chart symbols vary widely from pattern to pattern rather than suggesting that standard symbols were a thing, and I’d have loved to see recommendations for books to read if you want to learn more about a particular topic (one of these days I need to make this myself…).  But those are very minor quibbles.  And if we’re being honest, I’d have a similar list of tiny tweaks for any book that tried to do this much in one volume.

But if you’re at the point in your knitting where you’re past the need for the ‘no really, it’s super easy, if you can tie your shoes you can do it’ pep talk and ready to have dig a little deeper, this will totally help you do it!

The good folks at Vogue are letting me send a copy of the book off to two of you.  We’ll give one away here, and one over on this instagram post (it’s totally fine to enter in both places).  To enter here, just leave a comment on this post telling me your very favorite reference book.  Is it a fabulous stitch dictionary? Or maybe a really great cookbook?  Or maybe you have a soft spot for the Chicago Manual of Style?  There’s no right or wrong answer (and it totally doesn’t have to be a fiber book…), it’s just awesome to know what you guys go back to again and again.

Comments left between now and the end of the day (eastern time) Friday, March 30, 2018 will be entered to win.  I’ll pick a winner, contact them to get their addresses, and arrange to send the book their way.  Be sure to use a real email address so I can contact you if you’ve won (I won’t do anything with those email addresses besides notify the winner).  If I do email you, I need to hear back from you within 72 hours or I will pick a new winner and contact them. Sorry, but I can only ship physical prizes to US or Canadian addresses.  Oh, and for anyone playing along at home, the picture of the book cover is Vogue’s, but they said I could use it.

Fall with SweetGeorgia (review and giveaway)

I have a long history of loving SweetGeorgia’s yarns.  I used them way back in my very first book and have been happily playing with them ever since (oh and there just might be a pattern in one of their yarns in the new book due out next month).  I love it when yarn companies collaborate with designers, so when I heard they were releasing a collection this fall, I was totally excited!

fall with sweetgeorgiaThe collection is called Fall with SweetGeorgia (that ‘volume 1’ part there makes me hope there are more things planned), and it’s delightful.  It’s a lovely mix of accessories and garments, all carefully designed to show off the depth and richness of hand-dyed yarns.

The collection includes a total of 12 pieces, four sweaters (each in at least six sizes, which is awesome), two big shawls, and six smaller accessories.  Glenwood is totally my kind of sweater (and, if one of you could just turn me into a sweater knitter, I know I’d wear it all the time), Reiland looks like just the thing if you’re looking to tuck into a big lace project, and Nexus seems like a perfect cross between a scarf and a shawl.  I suspect you’ll have a grand time with any of them!

The patterns are all available individually (though I confess I wish there were a way to buy them all together, they’re pretty enough I think you’ll want more than one), and there will be knit alongs over on the SweetGeorgia ravelry group if anything has caught your eye.  The folks at SweetGeorgia are going to get one of you started on a pattern of your choice.  Just leave a comment letting me know which pattern you’d most like to cast on and why.  I’ll pick a winner next week and put you in touch with the SG folks to send the pattern your way.

Comments left between now and the end of the day (eastern time) Monday, October 19, 2015 will be entered to win.  I’ll pick a winner, contact them to get their rav name, and arrange to send the pattern their way.  Be sure to use a real email address so I can contact you if you’ve won (I won’t do anything with those email addresses besides notify the winner).  If I do email you, I need to hear back from you within 72 hours or I will pick a new winner and contact them.  This is an electronic prize, so it’s open to anyone.

Knit Wear Love (review and giveaway)

More TNNA goodies to share, this time it’s the delightful Knit Wear Love: Foolproof Instructions for Knitting your Best-Fitting Sweaters Ever in the Styles you Love to Wear from Amy Herzog.

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You know how I always say I’ll never knit a sweater?  Now part of that is because of my whole short attention span / that’s an awful lot of fabric issue.  But part of it is also because I’ve been scared I’d make one and not love it when it was done.  I’m absolutely a product knitter.  If I’m knitting something, it’s because I want the finished piece.  Can you imagine the heartbreak of making a whole sweater and not absolutely adoring it at the end?  It would be too much to bear.  But Amy’s bound and determined to keep that from happening.  And I’m pretty sure, if you follow her advice, you’re going to be safe from sweater heartbreak!

She starts by helping you figure out which style you’re in the mood for (vintage, sporty, casual, bohemian, modern, romantic, classic, or advant-garde) and talking about the fibers, fabrics, and colors work well with each style.  This intro totally sets the tone for the rest of the book, conveying Amy’s absolute confidence that you can do this, you’re in charge of your knitting, and you’re the expert on what you like.

Once you’re excited to begin, she makes sure you’re ready to work by laying out the technical info you need to make a sweater really fit.  That includes understanding your measurements, understanding the sweater’s measurements, and knowing where and how to tweak the sweater (on the off chance that your bust, waist, and hip measurements aren’t all exactly the same as the pattern says).  If the first section gave you inspiration, this section will give you confidence.

The main section of the book is the patterns.  Amy’s taken eight silhouettes (pullover, cardigan, vest, cowlneck, tunic, wrap, tank, and bolero) and offered three adorable variations of each.

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And if that’s not enough, each of those 24 patterns is written for three weights of yarn (sport, worsted, and aran) and twelve sizes (to fit a bust of 30-54 inches in two inch increments).  It’s all beautifully laid out so your numbers are easy to find.  But just to make it even easier, there are also worksheets for each style where you can fill in just your own numbers for exactly the size you’re making.  You can either photocopy them from the book or download them from the website (you can see lovely pictures of each of the sweaters there as well).  It’s the perfect touch to make the book amazingly easy to use.

If I ever do make the leap and start a sweater, you can bet I’ll have this book (and very likely Amy’s previous book, Knit to Flatter) clutched firmly in hand to make sure all that hard work pays off!

I’ve got a copy of the book to inspire one of you on your own sweater knitting path.  Just leave a comment telling me how you feel about knitting sweaters.  Is it all you knit?  Are you starting your first?  Still working up the nerve?

Comments left between now and the end of the day Monday, August 3 will be entered to win a copy of the book.  I’ll pick a winner, contact them to get their addresses, and arrange to send yarn their way.  Be sure to use a real email address so I can contact you if you’ve won (I won’t do anything with those email addresses besides notify the winner).  If I do email you, I need to hear back from you within 72 hours or I will pick a new winner and contact them.  Sorry, but I can only ship physical prizes to US addresses.

Increase Decrease (review & giveaway)

So that secret suspicion you had?  That feeling that maybe TNNA was an awful lot like a birthday party with lots of goody bags for everyone to take home?  Yeah, there’s actually some truth to that!  One of the things that came home with me was a stack of lovely books to review and give away.  And today we’re starting with Judith Durant’s marvelous Increase Decrease: 99 Step-by-Step Methods.

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The short version of the review is ‘oh my woolly goodness, if you like to experiment with your knitting instead of just following instructions, go get this right now.’  I have more to say, but really, this is a nifty book, and I suspect you’re going want it on your shelf.

So, do you remember how, some time early in your knitting career, you learned to yarn over, ssk, and k2tog, and all of a sudden you felt like the world was yours?  You were no longer confined to straight lines, you could make things swoop this way and that at will (or, if you were like me, sometimes not at will).  You had a new superpower and all was right with the world.

Then, somewhere along the line, you started wanting to tweak those increases and decreases.  You wanted stitches you could work on the purl side.  Or that you could work in a column of twisted stitches.  Or that were a bit showier (or a bit more invisible).  So you learned a few new tricks, or maybe a pattern taught you something fun somewhere along the way.  But I bet you always suspected there were even more options.

Well, you were right!  Judith Durant has gathered together a lovely pile of increases and decreases, provided clear and careful photos of each, and aranged them in a delightfully tidy fashion.  The result is a fabulously useful little reference guide.

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The thing that makes Increase Decrease so helpful is its organization.  Judith shows you how to work each stitch on both the right side and the wrong side of your fabric and, when appropriate, shows you how to work both left-leaning and right-leaning versions of the stitch.  So you get a right-leaning knit decrease, a left-leaning knit decrease, a right-leaning purl decrease, and a left-leaning purl decrease, all presented one after the other so you understand the relationship between them.  Then she does the same for twisted versions of all those stitches, and for lifted increases, and make one increases, and for oodles of other increases and decreases.  Grouping them like this helps you develop a better understanding of how your knitting actually works, which makes you a more confident and resourceful knitter.

And of course it’s not just single increases and decreases (where you create one new stitch or turn two stitches into one).  She’s got options for twos and threes and more.  The section on working increases and decreases while maintaining larger stitch patterns clarifies a subject an awful lot of folks seem to dread, and the section on decreasing a two-color circular pattern is a special treat (I swear any of the swatches she shows there could be turned into adorable hats).  This really is a marvelously thorough guide.

And while it doesn’t cover every conceivable combination (twisted centered double decreases are the one thing I really missed), it gives you the pieces to put together the things it doesn’t cover.  You could easily spend an hour or so walking through all the stitches in one section (say, the lifted increases or the double decreases) and come away a stronger knitter.

DSC_1245This is going to have a permanent place on my technique shelf.  It will live right next to Cast On Bind Off, which is another offering by the same publisher in the same handy spiral bound format.  (I dearly hope they do a whole series like this, perhaps cables should be next!)

And I’ve got an extra copy to send to one of you to add to your shelf.  Just leave a comment telling me where you are on your increase/decrease adventure.  Are you happy with a little handful of techniques?  Are you ready to learn a few more?  Or do you get an unreasonable amount of glee from picking exactly the right decrease for a given situation?

Comments left between now and the end of the day Saturday, July 18 will be entered to win a copy of the book.  I’ll pick a winner, contact them to get their addresses, and arrange to send yarn their way.  Be sure to use a real email address so I can contact you if you’ve won (I won’t do anything with those email addresses besides notify the winner).  If I do email you, I need to hear back from you within 72 hours or I will pick a new winner and contact them.  Sorry, but I can only ship physical prizes to US addresses.

The image of the book’s cover at the top of the post belongs to Storey Publishing and is used with their permission.

Pattern Writing for Knit Designers (review and giveaway)

There seem to be a handful of jobs everyone secretly thinks they can do.  Run a bed and breakfast is one, open an adorable little bookshop is another.  For knitters, their daydreams are often a bit more yarn focused.  Many of them seem to flirt with the idea of either having their very own yarn store or designing knitting patterns.

Three out of the four of those sound amazingly hard.  They require you to have some sort of physical building people can visit, and they likely require the help of lawyers and accountants and insurance professionals and quite possibly a knowledge of city building codes and zoning regulations and other alarmingly adult things.  But that last one…that pattern writing thing…that one is a bit less daunting.  That sounds like the sort of thing one could ease in into fairly gradually.  It might even be the sort of thing you can mostly do at home in your pajamas.

And, now that Kate Atherley has written Pattern Writing for Knit Designers, it’s easier than ever to try your hand at writing your own patterns.

atherley coverKate explains that the book is meant for “any knitter who creates his or her own designs and is looking to write instructions to allow others to knit those designs.”  That applies to an awful lot of knitters.  If you want to share your creations with friends, make them available on your blog, submit them to a magazine, or publish them yourself, this book will help you do that.  (And, on my more curmudgeonly days, I would also suggest that anyone who knits from patterns might find it useful to look through it, if only to see exactly how much work goes into producing the knitting patterns they use.)

Part pep talk (“good pattern writing matters because we want knitters to keep knitting”), part instruction manual (just what should be in that pattern in the first place, and how should it be organized), and part reference guide (really, do read the appendices, they’re worth the price of admission all by themselves), this book will make anyone toying with the idea of writing their first pattern feel like they know where to start.  It will come in awfully handy if you’ve already got a few patterns under your belt, too.  It will help you find ways to make your patterns more consistent and coherent (and probably help you streamline your pattern writing process a bit, too).

And, if you’re already fairly comfortable writing patterns and have your own style firmly in place, you’ll enjoy it, too.  Full disclosure, there are one or two things Kate and I do slightly differently.  These aren’t hard and fast, right vs wrong things, just differences in style.  We’ve had some fascinating conversations about them when she’s tech edited the patterns I’ve had in knitty.  It’s actually really fun to geek out about the technical details of pattern presentation with someone else who gets it, even if you don’t both end up coming to exactly the same conclusions.  But, even if there are a few areas where we present our information differently, it’s always interesting to see how other people approach a subject you know well. And Kate does a fabulous job of explaining why she suggests doing things a particular way, which is tremendously helpful.  If you understand why someone’s taken one approach, it can help you decide how you want to handle the same issue.

In short, if you’re considering writing patterns, this will make it seem less scary.  If you’re new to writing patterns, this will make you more efficient.  And if you’ve been doing it for a while, it will be fun to see just how someone else approaches this funny thing we do.  You can find all the details about how to buy a copy (paper or electronic) for yourself over here.

And, Kate’s generously offered one of you an electronic copy of the book.  If you think it should be yours, leave a comment telling me what you think about writing your own knitting patterns.  Do you secretly want to do it?  Tried it already?  Trying to make it a full time job?  There’s no right or wrong answer, I just want to know how you feel about it!

Comments left between now and the end of the day Thursday, February 12, 2015 will be entered to win.  I’ll pick a winner, contact them to get their addresses, and arrange to send the book their way.  Be sure to use a real email address so I can contact you if you’ve won (I won’t do anything with those email addresses besides notify the winner).  If I do email you, I need to hear back from you within 72 hours or I will pick a new winner and contact them.

The cover images is Kate’s and is used here with permission.

Tempest (review and giveaway)

My love affair with SweetGeorgia yarns is well documented.  I’ve used it in three of my books (it’s on the cover of the most recent one), and there may well be a SweetGeorgia project on one of my sample knitters’ needles right this very moment.  So, when I heard that Felicia Lo (yarn mastermind at SweetGeorgia) and Holli Yeoh (designer of deliciously modern knitting patterns) were teaming up to create a book of patterns for SweetGeorgia yarns, I expected grand things.  And, now that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Tempest in person, I can happily say it’s even more delightful than I expected!

tempest collage shorterThe collection includes 4 sweaters (each offered in a truly impressive array of sizes), 1 poncho, 4 cowls, a hat and mitt set, and a blanket.  The garments all manage that magical casually elegant vibe.  They are the sort of pieces you can imagine wearing just about anywhere, which means you’ll wear them everywhere.  I could see myself just about living in Stormwatch, and the ombre effect on Haven is sure to make it a favorite.  The double garter stitch technique on Breakers is new to me and something I totally want to play with.  And of course, all the patterns do a wonderful job of being interesting in their own right while still allowing the hand-dyed yarn to shine.  You can see all the patterns in detail on the book’s ravelry page.

The book itself is every bit as beautiful as the patterns.  When you make books, you get picky about these things (well let’s be honest, I was always inclined to be the picky type), but Tempest really gets it all right.  The photos are inviting, and there is a lovely mix of glamor shots to draw you in and detail shots to help with the knitting.  The sweaters have detailed schematics (which makes it much easier to figure out what size to knit), and any potentially unfamiliar techniques are explained with detailed photo tutorials.  The book feels much like a skein of beautiful hand-painted yarn; something special, just a bit indulgent, and clearly a labor of love!  You can get the physical book from the SweetGeorgia website.

One of you will be lucky enough to win a copy of the electronic version of the book for yourself.  If you think it should be you, just leave a comment telling me about your experience working with hand-dyed yarns.  Do you love the depth they give to a project? Or find them a tiny bit overwhelming?  Or are you waiting for just the right project to try them for the first time? There’s no right answer, just tell me what your experience is.

Comments left between now and the end of the day (eastern time) Tuesday, October 21th, 2014 will be entered to win.  I’ll pick a winner, contact them to get their addresses, and arrange to get the goodies to them.  If you’re leaving a comment, be sure to use a real email address so I can contact you if you’ve won (I won’t do anything with those email addresses besides notify the winner).  If I do get in touch with you, I need to hear back from you within 72 hours or I will pick a new winner and contact them.  And, because e books are astonishingly easy to move around, this is open to folks anywhere in the world.