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Book Review

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Mason-Dixon Knitting
by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne

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The notion of bloggers writing books makes me nervous. Not because I doubt their skill, but because good blogs are often as much about a close-knit community as they are about content.

When you isolate that community on paper, it can read like a private conversation with a Chosen Few that leaves the rest of us feeling decidedly left out.

But when I heard that Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne were writing a book, I was intrigued. Gardiner and Shayne are the two voices behind Mason-Dixon Knitting, an ingenious blog based on the ongoing correspondence of two friends (they met in an online knitting forum, and one lives in New York while the other resides in Tennessee—hence Mason-Dixon). Their blog is a warm and welcoming place, and their creative endeavors never cease to inspire me.

But could they do a book as well as they did a blog? And how would they manage to convey the concept of two voices?

A Sneak Peek
The book is slated for a late March release, but I got my hands on an early copy at TNNA last week. I tucked it in my bag and promptly forgot about it until later that night when I was back in my hotel room and getting ready for bed. Having already read the room-service menu not once but twice, I figured I'd let Kay and Ann put me to sleep.

But they didn't. An hour later I was still wide awake, relishing every word and unable to believe the book could be this good.

Don't Fence Them In
This book defies categorization. There's an unspoken (and outdated) notion that knitting books should only be about patterns, history, technique, or people—and few authors are able to break the mold. This book does so beautifully, and I hope it will lead the way for more like it.

It has patterns from the authors and gifted, adventurous contributors, but it's far more than just a how-to book. It has personal stories, but they're always perfectly placed within the context of a project, a lesson, a bit of advice, or an inspiration. It has interviews with, essays by, and profiles of inspiring people Kay and Ann have met over the years. And it has lists and tips, both lighthearted and serious.

Best of all, a delicious sense of humor runs throughout the book. It isn't forced, nor is it sarcastic or slapstick. It's just plain funny, from the Timeline of Knitting History ("1896: Siobahn Ogwnngyfleioghnn knits so poorly that she accidentally discovers the cable stitch") to Novelty Yarn We're Working On ("Pound of Woe: 50% burlap/50% fiberglass").

Navigating the voices of two different authors turned out to be easy. Whereas the blog entries usually begin, "Dear Ann" and "Dear Kay," each chapter begins with the name of the person doing the writing. There were still moments when I could feel Kay tapping on Ann's shoulder, or vice-versa, and whispering suggestions—which is part of the fun of this book.

A Springboard for Exploration
It's assumed that you already know how to knit, or that you will soon be taught by someone who does. The book starts with extremely easy concepts—the dishcloth, washrag—and then gradually stretches them further and further into the realm of exploration.

What happens if you knit a garter stitch square, cast off all but one stitch, turn it clockwise, and pick up and knit stitches along the new edge, and repeat again and again and again until you've knit up all the yarn in your stash? The answer is "log cabin," and their exploration of this simple technique left me obsessed.

Some of the things will seem easy to all but the rank beginner. Even then, I recommend you surrender to the process and try them anyway. You never know where they'll lead.

Cool to be Kind
Within these pages, Kay and Ann have managed to capture all the goodness and wackiness and generosity that can exist among knitters, especially online.

You'll meet friendly, creative, generous, and prolific people of all ages and from all walks of life, united by a concept that's right on the front cover of the book: "Created for knitters everywhere who share the give 'em hell spirit of just picking up the needles and making stuff."

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