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  Freeform Knitting
by Prudence Mapstone
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Freeform knitting is exactly like it sounds: Knitting without a pattern, beginning with a few small shapes and building from them in every which way until you have a totally unusual, intentionally uneven and texturally fascinating piece of fabric.

It's not a new idea, and Prudence Mapstone doesn't claim to have invented it. But she has been a major proponent of this technique both in her home country of Australia and abroad, where she has toured and taught for several years. In 2002, she took matters into her own hands—much like her knitting—and published this book.

I initially learned of Mapstone's work over a year ago when I stumbled across her Web site. I was astounded at the unconventional freeform items she'd made—my favorite being a totally sumptuous and 100% yarn black-forest cake. I wrote and begged her for a review copy of her book, which she kindly sent me and which I'm now reviewing, far too many months later.

Forced Serendipity?
Because the fundamental idea behind freeform knitting is improvisation and the serendipity of chance fiber encounters, the presence of any start-to-finish patterns would be improper—rather like the futility of sheet music for improvisational jazz.

Instead, Mapstone slowly walks you through the concept of freeform knitting, from visualizing your goals to choosing yarn colors and textures to fabricating freeform patches, connecting them, seaming and blocking them, and caring for your freeform item.

I use the term "item" loosely because freeform is as appropriate for household objects as it is for clothing. Mapstone slathers the book with photos showing the endless possibilities for freeform, including everything from a footstool to bikini and coat.

The photo colors and detail aren't as crisp as they would be in a commercially printed book, but then again most book publishers limit the number of photos in their books to keep costs down.

Potential Pitfalls of Self-Publishing?
Is the book missing anything by virtue of being self-published? Well, of course there's the more conventional binding, stylized layout, and comprehensive distribution channels. Those I can live without.

But the biggest thing I missed was an editor. Not the kind who fixes typos and grammar mistakes, of which there were almost none, but the kind who helps bring order and clarity to an author's thoughts.

Mapstone tends to use 20 words when 10 would suffice, and I often found myself re-reading sentences to get their meaning. It's worth it, but it required a little extra time.

Reading from Back to Front
The book's organization was a little bumpy as well. It launched right into all sorts of details that I really couldn't grasp until I read the pattern section, which came near the end of the book. (Lucky for me, I read most books from back to front!)

Know Your Crochet
As already mentioned, the book's patterns aren't really patterns for finished garments, they're instructions on how to complete various little types of pieces that you eventually connect together to form your item.

Many of the most visually appealing pieces turned out to be crochet, not knit. Mapstone provides no knitting or crochet instructions here, so you must know that already or have a good reference book at your disposal.

Freeform on the Rise
If you're ready for this level of offroad knitting and decide to use Mapstone as your guide, you'll be in good hands. Be patient with her writing, read from cover to cover, and try the technique for yourself. You will be hooked.

More freeform-style knitting classes are being offered at yarn shops, festivals, and events, and this may also be a wise route to take if you prefer to learn in the company of others.

Expect to see more books on this subject soon. I expect that the glossier mainstream publishers will be a little longer to react, and when they do, you'll probably see some compromise between freeform and full instructions for completed projects.

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