On the Shelf:
Books in Review

11 Picks for 2005
a selection of book covers

This was a great year for readers. Not a week passed when I didn't receive at least one glossy new title on the subject of knitting.

As the months progressed, I soon had more books to review than space in which to review them. Here I spotlight some of the most noteworthy titles that I haven't yet reviewed this year.

coverIt's a Wrap!
For many knitters, a highlight of 2004 was Pam Allen's Scarf Style. This year she and Ann Budd followed up with Wrap Style: Innovative to Traditional, 24 Inspirational Shawls, Ponchos, and Capelets to Knit and Crochet.

Although the authors intentionally say they're using the term "wrap" to define ponchos, capes, and "other unstructured garments that hug or drape the body," some vocal critics complained that the book was too much about ponchos and not enough about what they considered real wraps. I'd rather skip the semantics argument and focus on enjoying what's under the covers: beautiful items that adorn your shoulders.

Besides the patterns, the real gem in this book is in the Design Notebook section at the back. Here you're walked through the most common wrap shapes and styles and shown how you can design your own variation, with custom closures, necklines, closures, and trim.

Holiday Help
The holidays can be a frantic time for knitters as we try to plow through an ever-growing list of gifts we'd hoped to knit people. Two books were released this year with the express intent of helping us navigate these challenging waters: Melanie Falick's Handknit Holidays and Sara Lucas and Allison Isaacs' Holiday Knits.

coverHandknit Holidays is a large, heavy, beautifully produced collection of "gifty" items for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice. Falick gathered some relatively ornate and unusual patterns from the likes of Betty Christiansen, Priscilla Gibson Roberts, Nicky Epstein, and Jo Sharp, as well as a larger number of new names I look forward to seeing more of in the future.

My favorite would have to be Veronik Avery's suggestive Sugarplum Pullover designed in the Swedish Bohus style and featuring Kimmet Croft Fibers Softie yarn. The only problem is that I'd knit it for myself, when I'm supposed to be finding projects for other people. Alas.

coverHoliday Knits comes to us from Sara Lucas and Allison Isaacs, founders of San Francisco yarn store ImagiKnit. The 25 patterns are arranged by timeframe: about a weekend, a week or two, and two weeks or more.

Most of the objects follow clean, unadorned style lines: the requisite Christmas stocking and knitted ornaments, plus a felted tote, a family of mittens, baby booties, mother/daughter ponchos, a striped bolster pillow, placemats and a rug.
coverGorgeous Glossies
We were gifted with several large, glossy knitting books, most of which came from Stewart Tabori & Chang via Melanie Falick's editorial guidance.

Joining Teva Durham's inspiring book Loop-d-Loop in the category of gorgeous, glossy inspirational tomes is Leigh Radford's Alterknits. In it, Radford presents some unusual and imaginative projects paired with some solo and group exercises intended to help stimulate your creativity. There's even a small 16-page notebook included on the inside of the front cover so you can work through Radford's exercises.

While I won't be knitting myself a screen door or a crepe paper crown, that's not always the goal with these books. Sometimes I just want to leaf through a book for inspiration, even if I have no plan to make anything in it. (I do the same thing with cookbooks.) I will, however, add her cute felted PDA case to my list of future projects. Right after I get a PDA.

Fast and Faster
Our quest for fast-knitting instant-gratification projects hasn't lessened. A few new books stand out in this category: Big Knitting and Saturday Sweaters.

coverAs the name suggests, Doreen Marquart's Saturday Sweaters is a collection of patterns for the kind of super comfortable sweaters you like to wear on... you guessed it.... Saturday.

The sweaters stick to just a few set styles, but she varies their surface texture with different stitch patterns. In a few cases she also provides patterns for the same sweater in different yarn weights, giving the patterns more flexibility. I was also pleased with her yarn selections, including some lesser-known but marvelous materials from Marr Haven Farm and Shelridge Farm.

coverI am confident, however, that I could knit one of Sophie Britten's sweaters in a weekend. The patterns from her book Big Knitting put the B in bulky—some even use a US 36 needle, which I normally reserve for afghans using five or more strands of yarn together.

The bigger your stitches, the more clunky your garment can be. I was impressed with the way Britten managed to add shaping and finesse to her sweaters. While some of the garments are shown on models, many are photographed in gravity-defying poses on coat hangers—normally the kiss of death for heavy bulky sweaters.

The 19 patterns range in skill level from rank beginners to moderately experienced knitters. The majority of the patterns use Rowan Biggy Print or Big Wool or Colinette Point Five, although Britten did add a few others for variety.

Also worth note is Sally Harding's Fast Knits: Fat Needles, which includes not just garments but all sorts of accessories and helpful information on superbulky knitting techniques.

coverMighty Mittens
If you want to knit something in a weekend but use smaller needles and exercise your mind in the process, look no further than Robin Hansen's Favorite Mittens, which contains selections from her Fox & Geese & Fences and Flying Geese & Partridge Feet collections.

These are mittens the way I remember them: colorful, warm, and begging for a snowy day. Gifted knitter and avid folklorist, Hansen presents a vast collection of traditional mitten patterns from rural Maine and Canada, drawing upon British, Scandinavian, and French folk motifs passed down from generation to generation.

Each pattern begins with a wonderful story of its heritage, sometimes including pictures of the person who gave the pattern to Hansen. Adding to this book's utility is the fact that Hansen includes sizes ranging from a child's small to adult XL.

coverPut a Sock In It
Nancy Bush does for socks what Robin Hansen did for mittens—especially in her latest book Knitting Vintage Socks. Borrowing her inspiration from Weldon's Practical Needlework, Bush resurrects 24 classic patterns dating from 1887 to 1914.

The patterns now suit a wider range of sizes and wearers (men, women, and children), with larger needle sizes and more contemporary yarns, plus an excellent section on different styles of heels. Rank beginners may need a few socks under their belts before tackling these patterns, but they're worth it.

coverWeekend Woofs
If you have a small dog who tends to get chilly during winter months, you'll want to get your hands on a copy of Jil Eaton's newest book Puppyknits. With the same colorful clownlike whimsy she has applied to her Minnowknits line of children's patterns, Eaton presents 12 adorable garments for dogs.

The patterns tend to suit small dogs best, although Eaton does provide a selection of sizes and clear instructions on how (and where) to measure your dog to pick the best-fitting pattern. The largest finished chest circumference in these patterns averages 18 inches, so your Great Dane may have to be cold this winter.

coverCuties for Kids
If you thought my review of Claire Garland's book Knitted Babes was over the top (one reader called it "pure flackery"), wait until you take a look at Lucinda Guy's Handknits for Kids.

Imagine being transported into your favorite childhood Amelia Bedelia book, but in which all the children are wearing spunky handknits. That's precisely what this book does, both literally and figuratively.

Instead of depicting the garments photographically on human models, the designer set them on cartoonlike forms against a drawn background. As a result, you don't quite know where reality ends and fantasy begins.

The patterns are divided into the four seasons. Each features a boy's and girl's sweater, plus a stuffed animal, a blanket, and some sort of accessory—hat, scarf, socks, etc.

I particularly like the stuffed animals. Instead of your standard teddy bear, Guy gives you modern-styled mice, dogs, cats, and birds. And in each pattern, all the tidbits that make up the stuffed animal are laid out in a photograph so you know what each piece is supposed to look like and how they fit together. It's a very nice extra.

A follow-up, called And So To Bed... Handknits and Things, is due in May 2006. I can't wait.

coverColor, Color, and More Color
And finally, a sentimental favorite from Elaine Eskesen, owner of Pine Tree Yarns in Damariscotta, Maine. Years ago, before knitting was hip and hand-dyed yarns were everywhere, I'd escape to Elaine's shop for an afternoon of dreaming. Her space overflowed with huge skeins of her hand-painted yarns in glorious, often astonishing color combinations.

She was always excited, always trying something new. She'd often lift up a hank of some yarn and ask, "I just got a whole box of this and I'm thinking... blues and golds with a pop of violet. Wouldn't that be fun?"

When I heard that Elaine was finally writing a book about dyeing, I was pleased that she was finally being given her due. The book, Dyeing to Knit, lives up to my memories of Elaine. Reading it is almost as overwhelmingly informative as spending an afternoon in her shop.

Every professional hand-dyer has unique techniques and preferences for how things should be done—and Elaine is no exception. With that in mind, if you're as intrigued by color as I am, you'll want this book in your dye collection.

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