Knockout Knits (review and giveaway)

I’ve known the delightful Laura Nelkin for a while now.  We first met back when she was the design director for the (dearly departed and much missed) Schaefer Yarn.  She was kind enough to ask me to design a pattern in their yarns when I was a very new designer and just barely starting out.  We’ve kept in touch over the years (we tend to show up at a lot of the same fiber events), and I was so excited when I heard she was working on her first book.

And now that the book is here, and I’ve had the chance to spend some lovely time with it, I’m even more excited.  It’s called Knockout Knits, and the title is marvelously apt.  Everyone single of these projects is a hit.

knockout knitsThe book’s 23 accessory patterns are divided into three categories: wrapped stitches, advanced lace, and beads.  Each section begins with a lovely introduction to the topic at hand.  These introductions (and the accompanying clear and thorough diagrams) teach you exactly what you need to know to get started with the patterns in that section.

Then (and this is the genius bit), Laura gives you a cuff pattern that makes use of the techniques you just learned.  This is a marvelous way to structure things, as it gives you an instant gratification project with which to hone your skills.  You’ll be done in no time (really, the cuffs take something like 20 yards of yarn) and feeling confident and ready to tackle the larger projects.

And those larger projects are a treat!  The book includes hats, mitts, cowls, shawls, scarves, and of course the lovely knitted jewelry Laura’s know for.  I am fairly hopelessly smitten with all of them.  Check out the book’s ravelry page for the full list (there’s even a free extra pattern, just to give you a little taste of all the book has to offer, you should go grab it).  You really can’t go wrong.  It’s a marvelous combination of instruction and inspiration, all presented beautifully.

And Laura’s going to make one of you very very happy by sending a copy your way.  Just leave a comment letting me know which of the projects in the book you’re most excited to try.  Comments left between now and the end of the day (eastern time) Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 will be entered to win.  I’ll pick a winner, contact them to get their addresses, and arrange to get the book 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.  Sorry, but I can only send physical prizes to US addresses.

The photographs were taken by Lauren Volo, belong to Potter Craft, and were used here with permission.

The Reference Shelf (review and giveaway)

Remember when you first started knitting?  You probably had a ball of yarn, a pair of needles, a pattern, and maybe some sort of basic guide (online or on paper) that walked you through a few simple stitches.  Then, once you realized you liked this tying fancy knots thing, you started acquiring stuff.  Yarn and needles sure, but also patterns.  I’m guessing you eventually got around to having lots and lots and lots of patterns.  The next step, at least for me, was to begin acquiring what I always think of as The Reference Shelf (I hear the capital letters in my head, and, if you’re prone to acquiring these sorts of books, you probably do, too).  These are the books you turn to when you want to know a host of different ways to make a buttonhole or how to do that fiddly decrease on the wrong side of your work or which cast on to use or what to expect from a particular fiber blend.  They are the books that deepen your knowledge of a subject in a way that individual patterns or even pattern collections really aren’t trying to do.  They are the books that you go to when you really want to know how knitting works, rather than just make an awesome hat.

And now, Lara Neel has created one of these reference books.  It’s called Sock Architecture: Heels, Toes, & Techniques for Knitting Awesome Socks, and, if you’re the type of knitter who wants to understand your socks better, it deserves a place on your own personal Reference Shelf.

SockArchitecture_frontcoverIn Sock Architecture, Lara starts by walking you through sock history and anatomy.  Read this carefully, and you’ll know what the heck people mean when they say “high arches” or “square toes” or any of the other mysterious things they say about their feet, how to measure your feet to see where they fall in the spectrum, and what to do with that information.

Next she gives you detailed instructions for dozens of different heels and toes (of course for both top-down and toe-up socks).  This section makes the book a real treasure.  Sure, you can poke around on your own and find different heels and toes.  But Sock Architecture brings a huge number of them together in one place, clearly and consistently explained, with pictures of what they look like, and information about why you might pick one over the other.  There isn’t anything else out there that does that.  If you’re interested in experimenting to make your socks fit really well, then this is just the resource you’ve been looking for.

Finally, to round things out, Lara gives you 17 patterns on which to try out your new techniques.  I will mention that this is a reference book, and the patterns are presented accordingly.  That means clear, sharp photos that show off the relevant features of the socks (rather than evocative photos of beautiful girls lounging on picturesque stone walls with misty fields in the background…and oh yeah they have on some cute socks).  But really, in this context, that’s exactly what you want.

Reading this book, and playing with these variations for toes and heels, will make you a better sock knitter.  You’ll find yourself ready to make socks that really fit, whether that means modifying existing patterns to incorporate these techniques or designing your own socks from scratch.

And Lara wants to help one of you get started right away!  She’s offering a free electronic copy of the book to one of you.  If you think it should be you, leave a comment telling me what fit issue gives you the most trouble with socks.  Do you wonder how tall you should make your heel flap?  Do you never quite like the way a standard toe fits you?  Are you just hesitant to deviate from the pattern at all?  There’s no right answer, just tell me what your experience has been.

Comments left between now and the end of the day (eastern time) Tuesday, September 23, 2014 will be entered to win.  I’ll pick a winner, contact them to get their addresses, and arrange to get the book 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.

Keep Your Cool

My desk chair is positioned squarely in the path of my office’s air conditioning vent.  This is neither an accident nor a mistake.  I’m one of those people who just runs hot.  This tendency sometimes conflicts with my deep and abiding fondness for sweaters.

Apparently I’m not alone in this dilemma, and Julie Turjoman has stepped in to save the day!  Her new book, Knits that Breathe is full of sweaters that work beautifully for everyone, but especially for those of us always looking for the nearest ceiling fan.  ktb smallThe garments in this book are all carefully designed to be both stylish and cooling.  They feature flowing, figure-skimming silhouettes, lovely lace insertions, and clever constructions.  There is nothing clingy or heavy or confining here, it’s all feather light, beautifully airy, and eminently wearable.

And it’s not just the design of the garments that helps keep you cool.  Each of the yarns has been carefully selected for its special properties.  Traditional choices like cotton, flax, bamboo, and silk make an appearance alongside their more exotic cousins like fibers made from soy, milk, and seaweed.  The properties of each are outlined in a handy chart so you’ll understand why they were chosen and be able to make appropriate yarn selections for your own projects.

I’d be delighted to find any of these pieces in my closet (if only I had the necessary fortitude to knit sweaters)!  If you’d like to add them to your closet, Julie and I can help you out.  She’s kindly donated two copies to give away.  Since I’ve got two goodies to give away, let’s have two ways to win, shall we?

For the first chance to win, leave a comment on this post telling me which of Julie’s lovely sweaters calls to you the most (you can see them all on ravelry).  For the second chance to win, pin the picture in this post to your pinterest boards.  To do that, you can either click the pinterest button at the top of the post (it’s red and looks like a p) or you can click on the ‘Pin it’ button that comes up when you hover your mouse over the picture itself.  Just be sure you’re pinning the picture from this post.  I’ll pick a winner from each, and you’re welcome to enter both ways.

Comments left and pins made between now and the end of the day (eastern time) Tuesday, September 16, 2014 will be entered to win.  I’ll pick winners, contact them to get their addresses, and arrange to send the books their way.  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 you win by pinning, I’ll leave a comment on your pin letting you know you’ve won.  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.  Sorry, but I can only send prizes to US addresses.

P.S. This giveaway is closed and winners have been notified.

Explanations

There’s an art to explaining things in a way that leaves your audience energized and eager to get started.  You have to provide enough information to make people feel confident but not so much that they start wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into.  In her first book, Everyday Lace: Simple Sophisticated Knitted Garments, Heather Zoppetti does a marvelous job of striking just the right balance as she demystifies lace and shows you all of the lovely ways you can incorporate it into a host of practical, wearable garments.

everyday lace 2She starts by providing a lace primer (including sections on tools, charts, lifelines, and blocking).  This is a perfect introduction for anyone who might be hesitant to tackle lace.  If you’ve been nervous about lace or charts, this will leave you wondering why you’ve waited so long to give them a try.

After making sure you’re on firm footing, she jumps right into the patterns.  These range from small (hats and fingerless gloves) to more substantial (pullovers and cardigans).  And just as the scale of the projects vary, so too does the amount of lace involved.  Some (like the Engleside Cowl-Neck Pullover, my personal favorite) use just a hint of lace as an accent and provide plenty of quiet space to let you relax and catch your breath.  Others (like the lovely Conestoga Tunic) are all lace all the time to let you show off your new skills.  The mix makes this collection perfect for the beginning lace knitter, but also ensures you won’t run out of projects to tackle as your skills grow!

You can see all the lovely projects on the book’s ravelry page, or get your own copy on amazon.  If you’d like to find out more about the book, Heather’s got a scavenger hunt going on (details over here if you’d like to play along). Heather’s question for this stop on the blog tour is How many sock patterns are in Everyday Lace? And my question is Which of my books doesn’t have any sock patterns in it?

The images are from the book, taken by Joe Hancock, and belong to Interweave. They are used with permission.

Coop Knits Socks, Review & Giveaway

One of the most charming parts of TNNA (and yes, I do still owe you the official TNNA post, but I seem to have brought back the traditional TNNA cold, which has taken up residence in my ear and kept me more or less in bed, so this week has sort of gone spiraling away from me and I’m just the smallest bit behind)…ahem, as I was saying, one of the most charming parts of TNNA is finally meeting in person all those folks you’ve only known online.  Matching up names with faces (or let’s be honest, blogs and twitter accounts and ravelry names with faces) is always delightful.  And this year, one of the people I was lucky enough to finally meet in person was the lovely Rachel Coopey.

Rachel makes really nifty socks.  Well, she makes lots of nifty things, but I don’t think she’d argue if I said she has a deep and abiding affection for beautiful socks, and that her passion shines through when she’s got a new pair on the go.  She’s been designing intricate, engaging socks for years now, and her first book, Coop Knits Socks: Ten designs to warm your feet and your heart, has just come out.  I was lucky enough to nab a copy of it at TNNA, and I wanted to be sure you guys knew all about it!

I’m having an awfully hard time writing about this book.  I sort of just want to just post pictures of all the socks and then point at the little details on each of them and go ‘see…see that right there?  That’s what will make these great fun to knit!  Here’s some yarn, go get started, I’ll wait.’  I suppose that’s not exactly practical (though it would be fun), so I’ll have to restrain myself to something a bit more traditional.

Well, actually, I’m still going to give in and post some pics.  I just can’t help myself.  They’re too pretty not to share!  (The pictures in this post are from the book and used with Rachel’s permission.)

The quick run down is that there are ten intricate sock patterns, all top down (cough, as socks should be, cough), all clearly written and meticulously charted (also, as socks should be).  Each of them includes delightful details (like the beautiful heel on Paignton or the stripes on Saltburn or the mirroring on Budleigh) that make them into something really special and mean you’ll have a blast knitting them.

You can see that Rachel is a dedicated sock knitter, and she’s taken the extra steps to design patterns that are fun to knit.  I can tell you from experience that sometimes the sock that’s fun to knit is a bit trickier to write than a more basic sock would be, but Rachel puts in the extra effort so you’ll enjoy your projects!  The results are beautiful.  (She’s also taken the time to figure out a handy way to make sure everyone who buys a paper copy gets a free eversion…she’s nice like that!)

If you like to knit thoughtful, beautiful, interesting socks, this book belongs on your shelf.  And while I can’t quite manage to give it to all of you, Rachel has generously offered up a copy to one lucky winner.  If you’d like that to be you (and really…you would), go take a look at the socks and tell me which would be first on your needles if you won.  Leave your answer in a comment (and be sure to use a working email address when you leave a comment, otherwise I can’t get in touch with you if you win…I’m the only one who sees them, and I won’t do anything with them save contact the winner).  I’ll leave comments open through 10 am (eastern) on Wednesday, July 10.

Educational

Let’s talk yarn.  The yarn I’m using on the current mitts is Bijou Basin Tibetan Dream Sock Yarn.  It’s 85% yak down, 15% nylon, and working with it has been a bit of a learning experience.  Now, let’s get this part in right up front.  The reason it took me a little while to get comfortable with this yarn is that it is made from a fiber I’ve not used before.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the yarn, it’s that it was new to me and I didn’t know how it would behave. My ignorance is not the yarn’s fault, ok?

The first thing I noticed when I got my hands on the skein was that it was soft.  I mean really soft.  This makes sense, as my handy dandy Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook tells me that yak down has a diameter of between 14 and 22 microns (which, especially at the lower end of that range, makes for a very soft yarn indeed).  It also felt just the tiniest bit fuzzy.  You’ll pardon me if I show my age here, but I believe a few of you are also children of the 80s.  Did any of you have sticker albums?  Do you remember the highly prized flocked stickers?  (Please tell me I’m not alone here.)  It sort of reminded me of a much more luxurious version of those.

I was eager to get the yarn on my needles, so I sat down to wind it.  This is where I hit my first snag.  The yarn is surprisingly delicate.  So much so that the tension of winding snapped the yarn.  I’ve wound hundreds of balls of yarn, and I’ve never had this happen, even with much finer yarns.  I took a bit of yarn to play with, and sure enough, it takes very little force to pull it apart.  You know how if you’re going to pop a strand of yarn, you’ll usually wind it around both index fingers and tug?  Well with this, I can just pinch the strand between my thumb and index finger and give the gentlest of tugs, and it comes right apart.

This wasn’t a big deal while winding, it just meant I needed to use a soft touch.  It became more of a problem when I knit up my swatches.  I’m a fairly loose knitter, but I found myself having to make a very conscious effort to relax and make big gentle movements with the yarn.  If I put any force at all on it, it would break while I knit.  Once I relaxed into the tension the yarn wanted though, it was actually rather soothing, much like knitting with pencil roving.  The yarn worked up beautifully.  The fabric was smooth and the stitches even.  That fuzziness that I mentioned above meant the stitches were very grippy.  They snuggled up right next to each other and made a lovely substantial fabric.

When I blocked my swatch, the fabric relaxed dramatically.  I don’t have before and after pictures of my swatches, but I do have pre- and post-blocking pictures of the mitts I’m working on now.  The one on the left was soaked and patted flat to dry.  It was not blocked vigorously or put under any tension while it dried.  Look how much bigger it is than its unblocked companion (to be fair, the one on the needles still needs two more cable twists before it’s done, so a bit of the height difference is from that, but the majority of it is from the change in the fabric).

Here’s a similar view of the two mitts on hand forms.  The hand forms are slightly different sizes, but you can still see the dramatic difference in how the cables look.

The fabric after blocking was slinky and drapey.  It bloomed beautifully and was, if possible, even softer than when it started.  However, once it was blocked, it lost some of the spring it had before.  It seems yak doesn’t have nearly as much memory or bounce as wool does.  Again, this isn’t a bad thing.  Plenty of wonderful fibers don’t have any bounce at all.  It’s just important to know what you’re dealing with as you go about using the yarn.

This particular yarn would make a wonderful shawl (and at a generous 440 yards per skein, you could make a substantial one) or cowl.  It would be an absolutely perfect choice for a slouchy hat (you’d be able to get a light weight fabric that draped beautifully and was still tremendously warm).  It even works well for something like this mitt, where you want soft and warm, but you don’t have to worry too much about it stretching around bendy bits and springing back to grip (on the thumb, where you do need a bit of that, the ribbing steps in and helps out).

The only thing I’d be somewhat hesitant to use it for is socks.  That bounce or memory is vital to socks.  Clara Parks put it succinctly in The Knitter’s Book of Socks when she cautioned that “‘elasticity’ or the ability for a fiber to return to its original length after being stretched…is the first cardinal requirement of all socks.”  Now, the nylon does provide some elasticity.  And with the right stitch pattern (a nice deep rib would be helpful) and a the right shape (think ankle socks, not knee socks) it could totally be done.  But you’d be working somewhat at odds with the yarn’s inherent personality.  I think you’d have more fun, and make better use of the yarn, if you used it somewhere other than under your feet!

I hope this is helpful to some of you.  Again, I want to emphasize that I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know this yarn, that I’m very happy with the project I’m making out of it, and that I will certainly reach for it again.  But it does take a bit of getting used to, and it doesn’t behave like wool.  If you keep that in mind, you’ll have a marvelous time with it too.

Bits and Pieces

There is absolutely no coherent theme to my life this week.  This means there is very little in the way of cohesion in the blog posts either.  Sorry guys, it’s that sort of day week life.   So, in no particular order:

Rabble Rousers is up on amazon now if you happen to feel a terrible itch to buy it there as opposed to from me directly (sometimes it’s easier for folks overseas, so I like to have both options for everyone).

The marvelous Carol Sulcoski has a review of Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet (plus one to give away) if you’re feeling the need for one.  And since she says it there, I’m guessing it’s no longer a secret and I can share too.  I’ve got a pattern in her upcoming book, Sock Yarn Studio, which comes out in October.  I’m just itching to see this book, I have a sneaking suspicion it will be awfully nifty!  Stay tuned for more about that as we get closer to October (oh god…can we please hold off on October…I’m not ready for the fall yet).

Despite the crazy week, I have made progress on the sock.  Remember what it looked like last time?  Remember what the finished one looks like?  Yeah, the partially finished one looks like the finished one down to about the ball of the foot.  That means I’ve got 2ish inches of plain foot and a toe to go.  With luck, and maybe some sort of mild sedative, it should be done this weekend.

And just as a reminder, this is the last day to leave a comment (scroll down to find the post) to win some of Handmaiden’s ridiculously amazing Silk Twist.  Comments close tonight and winners (plus one more giveaway) are announced early next week!  In the meantime, you can still get Whippersnapper (my favorite Plucky Knitter pattern) for free with the purchase of any other pattern through the end of this weekend.  Details in this post if you’re interested.

You Should Know

There are a few things you should probably know about me.  First, I often take my socks on field trips to things like yarn store events or TNNA.  When I take them on these field trips, I like them to look their best, so I often take them on sock blockers.  Second, despite being a tiny bit nuts about wanting my house to be clean, I don’t really care all that much about my car.  It’s not that it’s dirty exactly.  It’s just that things tend to migrate to the trunk and stay there.  Like that bocce ball set I got last year and that carpet scrap I meant to put under the cats’ litter boxes.

These two things, perhaps, explain what happened today.  I was in the grocery store parking lot trying to make room in my trunk for the groceries.  One of the things I was shifting around was my sock blockers (not because they’re bulky, but because they’re a bit fragile).  The two gentleman getting out of the car next to me seemed to find them very perplexing.  One asked what they were.  Now I’ve explained before that I often find it helpful to answer exactly the question asked, not the question left unsaid.  With this in mind, I said ‘sock blockers.’ And what, they inquired, might sock blockers be for?  ‘For stretching out socks,’ I said.  This did not seem to help matters.  They asked why one might want to do such a thing. ‘To make socks look pretty’ I explained.  This seemed to confirm their growing suspicion that I was nuts-o.  They shot each other a concerned look (I think they were considering moving their car farther away from mine) and scurried off into the store.

I’ve got to stop talking to strangers.  I seem to alarm them.

If you want to see something from someone who would totally understand having a trunk full of sock blockers, swing by Annie Modesitt’s blog.  She’s got a little review of the book and has a copy to give away.  I’m going to go consider cleaning out my car.

You’ve Got to Have Rules

One of the best parts about TNNA is getting to put faces to the people you’ve been communicating with (sometimes for years) only through email.  This time, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Chrissy Gardiner in person.  She’s a member of the Visionary Authors group and was at the booth to show off her brand new book, Indie Socks.  And when I say brand new, I mean it.  She had just gotten the box of author advance copies days before the show.

Chrissy was kind enough to offer me a copy of the book.  This was absolutely delightful, but you see I have rules.  One of the rules I have is ‘don’t read other people’s patterns.’  Now I’m not quite restrained enough to not look at other people’s patterns.  That would be too much to ask.  But I try very hard to limit it to looking at the pretty pictures, and not actually reading the patterns themselves.  I think it helps keep other people’s ideas from accidentally sneaking in and taking up residence in the back of my brain.  So I asked Chrissy if I could take the book and give it to one of you guys.  She was gracious enough to agree.

So one of you guys is in for a treat!  The book offers 24 beautiful sock patterns, each made with a yarn from an independent dyer.  Along with the patterns are helpful tips and strategies for dealing with the challenges that sometimes come along with the more exuberant yarns.  That makes this a marvelous tool to help you actually use some of those yarns you bought, but can’t quite figure out what to do with.  Something in here is bound to work on even the most recalcitrant of yarns!  It will also help you make more informed buying decisions when you’re dazzled by a wall full of beautiful hand-dyed yarn.

Some of my particular favorites are Calpurnia, Orange Blossom, and Pachinko.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what do you think, do you maybe have a skein or two of hand-dyed yarn in your stash?  Would you maybe like a little help finding the right pattern for it?  I think I (or, rather, Chrissy) can help!  Just go over to the book’s ravelry page and and pick your favorite pattern.  Then come back here and leave a comment on this post saying which one you like best.  I’ll leave the comments open through the end of the day (eastern time) on Tuesday.  Then next week, I’ll pick a winner and get in touch to arrange to mail you your prize (that means you must use a working email address, or I won’t be able to find you when you win).

Nomenclature and the Vagaries Thereof

I can never quite decide if this sort of thing is helpful, or dreadfully immodest.  The most recent episodes of two charming podcasts had some nice things to say about the book.  The first is The Knit Girllls (at about 20 minutes in) and the second is Stash and Burn (at about 34 minutes in).  I’m thinking at this point I should stop mentioning such things.  I have a suspicion that if you’re here and reading, you’ve likely realized the book is there and have already decided if you’d like to have it.  I must confess though that I will totally continue to listen to them and to grin like a fool when other people like it.

Perhaps more importantly, I’m realizing that I should have come up with some sort of pronunciation guide for the socks.  It’s one of the things I thought about when I was working on it.  I know some of the names are hard to spell or say.  I could have given them more accessible names, but I really wanted to stay with the theme and name the socks for the rugs that inspired them.  I’m thinking the best option at this point is to add in a pronunciation guide to the various ravelry pages.  Though I must confess I’m hopeless at turning those mysterious symbols into actual sounds, so it may take me a bit to get it sorted out.

This issue, in a slightly different form, is actually something I’m wrestling with for the next book.  The patterns all have a historical (shall we say scientific?) inspiration.  The subject matter gives me lots of material to work with, but it does run into some naming issues.  What do you guys think, would you rather have nice easy to say, easy to spell names, or do you prefer things a bit more on the eclectic side?