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Book Review


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  Knitting with Wire
by Nancie M. Wiseman
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Changing mediums can be wonderfully refreshing. Just try switching from pen to pencil, car to bicycle, or caffeinated to decaf.

To get this same breath of fresh air, knitters only need switch from yarn to another material. Nancie Wiseman chose wire, and eventually this book was born.

Right Place, Right Time
Wiseman's book comes at a time when many of us have already begun to explore wire (and beaded) knitting. It is divided into three sections: hand-knitting, machine-knitting, and a tubular technique that isn't knitting at all, called Viking knitting.

Beads and glass pieces figure throughout, with the knitted components often serving merely as a vehicle for delivering the beads.


Checkbooks Beware
Glance at the list of required/recommended tools at the beginning of the book and you'll realize that knitting with wire is no small undertaking. If you want to immerse yourself completely in all the patterns, you'll need far more than knitting needles and wire.

Wiseman recommends a pair of wire cutters and four types of pliers for plain knitting, a standard-bed knitting machine with all its accessories for machine-knitting with wire, and an Allen wrench, bench vice, and drawplate for Viking knitting.

Add a small hammer, anvil, and piece of suede to the list if you want to make your own findings (clasps, jump rings, hooks, eyes, etc.). And, unless you're lucky enough to have one hiding under your bed already, a new or used knitting machine will cost you anywhere from $400 to $1800.


Putting my Money Where my Mouth Is
I decided to take the hand-knitting section of the book out for a spin. I went online to Softflex and ordered a pair of wire cutters, chain nose pliers, round nose pliers, and materials for the Purple Beaded Necklace and Bracelet pattern at the beginning of the book. My bill, with shipping, came to $52.39.

It would've been fine if I'd stopped there. But then I discovered that the major bead retailer Caravan Beads was based here in Maine.

With the noble intent of covering editorial bases for this review, I drove to the Caravan shop for an inspection. Two hours later, I came out carrying another $50 worth of wire, beads, and findings.

If you thought knitting was a costly hobby, think again. Once you combine knitting with wire and beads, you've entered some very dangerous territory.


Skills Required
Although most of the knitting patterns are nothing more than simple beaded garter-stitch rectangles and strips, Wiseman won't teach you how to knit - you'll need to know the basics, including yarn-overs, increases, decreases, and binding off.

The machine-knitting section, on the other hand, is a bit trickier. You must be comfortable with your machine before tackling wire.

The Viking-knitting section, possibly because it isn't knitting at all, is perfectly suited for anyone, regardless of skill or experience level.


The Patterns
I counted 33 projects total, 13 knit by hand, 10 by machine, and 10 using the Viking technique. Patterns include two pairs of bracelets and necklaces, two baskets, one purse, one collar, two pairs of charmingly whimsical items (a miniature cardigan, pullover, shoe, and sock), and one rather odd sculpture that looks more like a failed basket.

The finer-gauge projects (including the one on the book's cover) are made with a knitting machine, which is fine if you happen to own one. Otherwise, you're limited to the hand-knit projects, which use a thicker wire and tend to have a more irregular appearance.

I found the Viking knitting section the most refreshing, but this might be because I've already tried handknitting with wire, and I sold my knitting machine long ago. The technique produces a snakelike chain that's best for necklaces and bracelets.

In all cases, beads and findings provide the main source of embellishment for the projects.

A Must-Have?
Many of Wiseman's patterns reminded me of designer Annie Modesitt, who makes innovative use of wire for knitted items. Her designs have been featured in Interweave Knits, and you can view some of her finished jewelry pieces online. She adds colorful ribbons where Wiseman sticks to the basics, but the impact is similar.

I was also reminded of beaded necklaces and scarves that I have knit in the past using thread, yarn, or wire other than the brand Wiseman uses throughout the majority of the book.

(Read more about knitting with beads.)

One of Wiseman's necklaces is a simple two-stitch version of a pattern I've seen in kits and patterns for quite some time now. (We discussed this pattern in the article knitting your own jewelry.)

Does this mean the book is a flop? Not necessarily.

If you're looking for a single resource to get you started, Wiseman's book is a marvelous choice. Just keep in mind that only a third of the book covers hand-knitting techniques.

If you're already experienced with wire and beaded knitting, you may still find value in the Viking section. I also enjoyed browsing the more technical resources she mentions in her bibliography.

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