Posts categorized "Reviews"

Review: Custom Socks - Knit to Fit Your Feet

It's HERE!

Kate Atherley's new, fabulous book that will become THE guide to making socks that fit your feet (and the feet of anyone you wish to knit for).  

Custom Socks

I have been waiting for her book since I had the privilege of reading a very early draft a few years back.  Kate knew that I've had some troubles making socks to fit the growing-boy in my life and her advice has made me a better sock knitter and ensures Xander will have the hand-knit socks he loves.  

Full disclosure: Kate is a personal friend--we share a love of good beers, spreadsheets and general geekery.

I know I sound a bit fan-girl about this book, but I can't help it--it has DATA (and I love data).

For this book, Kate conducted an online survey of sorts, asking knitters of the internet to provide foot measurements--lots of measurements from lots of feet.  She used this information and her clever math skills to determine the dimensions of an "average" foot.  Kate noticed that a lot of feet had similar proportions: foot length to foot circumference, heel diagonal to foot circumference etc.  Using this information she was able to provide both a standard sock construction (in a bunch of sizes and gauges) and could also provide instructions for "outlier" feet to customize the fit.

Custom Socks - The Wellington Road Sock beauty image - Copy

Her research is outlined in the book and it's the basis for what amounts to about 100 standard socks patterns fitting children through to adults (with large feet like Xander's) in a range of gauges in both top-down and toe-up configurations AND a guide to knitting the socks that work for any foot you can measure.

Like all of Kate's books, measuring and planning is everything.  Custom Socks provides detailed instructions on how to measure a foot and determine where the not-so-average parts are.  She takes a gentle approach for the measuring- and math-shy, walking the reader through her method in an easy-to-read fashion with good visuals.  Knowing the foot you are knitting for makes all the difference and by following her guide you can plan for the problem spots and knit a sock that fits.  The book has lots of advice that isn't measurement dependent including where to add reinforced stitches to prevent premature wear, how to choose the right yarn and how to break the rules when needed (e.g. if your feet aren't the same size, knit two different socks!)

There are also chapters on Yarn, Needles and Gauge and Adding Stitch Patterns which is where Kate starts showing her beautiful designs--plain socks are great, but sometimes a knitter wants to have some fun and these patterns don't disappoint.  

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Patterns for lace, cables, stitch patterns, fair isle and the most amazing knee socks are in this book (I've already purchase my yarn to make these).  

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Makes your knitting heart sing...right?

The final portion of the book is all about customization.  Kate takes some of the more common non-average situations and provides expert advice on how to customize a sock to fit: skinny and shapely legs, larger and smaller ankles, low and high arches (my sock nemesis, we meet again) and toe shaping (bet you haven't considered that one before--I certainly didn't).  Again, the book takes a guided approach to the measuring and math, walking the knitter through the steps to determine a solution to the sock knitting issue.  

Kate's approach can be a bit of tough medicine: you have to measure, and swatch and plan before jumping into a project (even the simple sock) but the payoff is worth it--you make beautiful socks that fit, you rip less and you become a better knitter.

Want some proof?  Kate has been tutoring me on how to make a sock to fit Xander.  He has size 12 feet thin legs and an enormous instep (seriously, that's a 7.5" dpn), and he has socks that fit!

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I've already measured Emma's foot for her next pair of socks and was almost disappointed to find out her feet and absolutely average--I wanted to take Custom Socks through the full method for this review.  Then I realized, knowing this was just as good.  I can knit the standard sock for her foot and be confident it'll fit and I'll have a happy kid in Spock Socks (yarn is Live Long and Prosper by Turtlepurl).

Custom Socks is an excellent addition to any sock-knitter's library.  And a great guide for a new-to-socks-knitter or the sock-knitting wary.  I highly recommend it.


Burton Hills Coat: From Folly Cove

If you've been following the From Folly Cove Blog Tour, I'm betting you've been drooling over the beautiful designs from Julia Farwell-Clay.  Butterflies, a dress, a skirt, shawls and wraps, snazzy-dress-to-impress-pieces and cozy-frolicking-in-the-garden-knits.

While I want to embody the gorgeous style that is the cover piece of Julia's book (featured yesterday on Getting Stitched on the Farm), I'm not really the flowing hair, ribboned-beret type.  

Today's featured pattern, the Burton Hills Jacket, IS me.  It's an innovative knit that makes a wear-anywear jacket.  I'm also not willowy, so the proportions and lines of this coat suit my figure.  

  Burton hills 1

Julia is a SMART woman and a CRAFTY knitter.  This is interesting knitting.  It's got an element of challenge, but it's not a follow-every-square-on-the-chart difficult.  

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I love the swooping lines and that touch of a colour change which gives those lines some emphasis.  I'm also a sucker for the woodsy colours.

Burton hills 2

It's knit in Blackthorn by Classic Elite Yarns.  This would be an awesome kit to have and Classic Elite is giving away yarn to a lucky winner who comments on their blog at the end of the tour on February 6th (I'll wait while you go and bookmark their blog).

And this week only, the all the patterns in the From Folly Cover collection including the Burton Hills jacket are 10% off on Ravelry using the code: FFC10.  

And!

One lucky commenter on my blog will receive a free copy of the Burton Hills Jacket pattern.  

So tell me what kind of knit you like to wear vs what kind of knit you sorta wish you wore and I'll choose one of you at random and let Classic Elite know you're the winner!  Comments close at midnight EST on February 6th.

While Burton Hills is going into my queue, I'm also excited about the Natti pullover which will be featured tomorrow on Ana Campos' Toil and Trouble blog.  Be sure to check it out.


Blogging like it's 2007...A Blog Tour!

The fabulous and talented Julia Farwell-Clay has a new book out and she's cleverly organized a blog tour to promote her beautiful designs. Remember blog tours? I loved reading them!

The book is called From Folly Cove and is full of lovely wearable knits. I'm one of the last stops on the tour so I don't want to say too much. But there are contests! And discounts! Classic Elite, the publisher of the collection is even giving one lucky winner yarn to knit whatever design from the book they choose.

Check it out on Julia's blog or Ravelry.

 

 


Top-Secret Mission REVEALED

The whereabouts of my Honeybee Cardigan in the month of August can now be revealed.

I lent it to the fabulous Kate Atherley as a prop for her newly released Craftsy class on BLOCKING.

Kate

The timing was perfect--she put out a call to borrow handknits, I had a cardigan almost finished that needed a blocking and I was happy to have it done by a pro.

My sweater even shows up in the promo video (it's famous!).  And it came back nicely blocked so all I had to do was sew on the buttons.

Kate is a fantastic teacher and she has the same zealous love of blocking handknits as I do (full disclosure: we talk about blocking over beers).  

Blocking makes your knits easier to seam, pretty and soft.  Blocking hides imperfections and evens out your stitches.  And if you use nice woolwash like Soak or Eulacan your handknits smell nice too.

The video/class covers all kinds of knitwear and techniques and shows you how getting your woolies wet is a risk free, worthwhile part of finishing.  

Go check it out.

Also: isn't Craftsy amazing?  Online, video craft classes--I love the internet!

 

 


Book Review: Knit Accessories

I have a healthy stash of oddballs and am genetically programmed to really feel the winter cold. I like hand knit accessories, to knit and to wear and am happy to see that Kate Atherley has written an excellent book filled with simple patterns and great tips.

Knitted Accessories: Essentials and Variations, the follow up to Kate's must have guide Beyond Knit & Purl, again uses her no-nonsense, easy to understand style guiding the knitter through projects to create useful accessories like scarves, cowls, hats, mitts, socks and legwarmers. A cold-weather intolerant person like me, she knows the importance of bundling up and offers all the patterns in various yarn weights, shows how each pattern looks in solid vs variegated yarns and provides tables and advice on creating one's own accessories using different yarn weights.

Throughout, Kate provides advice on how to tackle things like knitting in the round, getting the correct fit and how to knit for someone else when you might be unsure of her size.

These patterns are also a great starting point for a lazy person like me who doesn't want to think too much before diving in, but who might want to improvise a bit along the way. I can choose a basic pattern and add a different stitch or throw in a cable and make something pretty.

Knit accessories is a great edition to my library. I have it on my iPad which means its always with me. I highly recommend this book for both new and experienced knitters.

 


Review: Beyond Knit & Purl

Kate Atherley is a Toronto-based knitting tech-editor, teacher, designer and the knitter behind the Wise Hilda Knits blog.  She's an occasional knit-bud of mine who makes a mean fruit cake and she's recently released her first book: Beyond Knit & Purl: Take Your Knitting To The Next Level.  She sent me the nifty PDF version for review (the iPad is made for books like this) and in short,

YOU SHOULD BUY THIS BOOK.

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I'm not saying this because I know Kate.  I say it because it's a great book and I have a lot of respect for her work. Her experience as a knitting teacher really shows as she discusses what a new knitter needs to know after he or she learns how to knit and purl.  Things like how to choose a pattern; how to spot trouble in the instructions and perhaps decide to find another clearer one; how to tell if a pattern might be challenging and how to assess if your current skill level aligns with the pattern you want to knit. 

Kate spends a chapter talking about choosing the right yarn for your pattern and on knitting a gauge swatch.  Another chapter walks the reader through the fundamentals of a pattern: how to figure out the instructions for your size, how to work from a chart, what the heck the dreaded "at the same time" or "reverse shapings on the other shoulder" means.  For me, it's the first book of its kind that explains these concepts in plain language and even if you know your knitting, it's a good resource on the basics--like a Joy of Cooking for yarn and needles.

This book also tells you knitting things that you might already know, but can sometimes forget or that you overthink in the late hours when you're trying to finish that sleeve: Does work increase every 6th row mean I do the increase on row 6 or row 7?  How many times should I do it if the final stitch count isn't in the pattern?  What the heck is the difference between K2togtbl and SSK?  That stuff is all in there.

After covering these concepts, she moves on to other important fundamentals like shaping, Continental vs English knitting and how to finish and care for your handknits. By Chapter 6 there are both mini-projects to help a new knitter learn the skills covered and more challenging patterns for those ready for something larger (or for an experienced knitter looking for a pretty yet relaxing knit). 

In the remaining chapters she outlines the basics of knitting in the round, socks (the knitting I most associate with Kate), cables, lace and colourwork.  She provides both mini-projects and more involved ones for each technique (like a nifty lace bookmark and a fair isle phone cozy) and her designs are both educational and pretty.  I've already added a few things to my Ravelry queue and plan to try her sock toe on my next pair (even though I rather like Kitchener stitch).

 

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The book has plenty of photos to instruct the reader on techniques and to show off the designs.  The nicest little extra is the knitting tips from experienced knitters which are both kernels of wisdom and nice motivators for new knitters.  This is a great addition to my knitting library and the pdf is great to have when I'm on the go.

The book is available at many local yarn shops or directly from Cooperative Press (where you can get the digital too).  The instant gratification PDF is available as a Ravelry download.

 


Book Review: Aran Knitting

The much-awaited re-release of Alice Starmore's classic Aran Knitting has been met with much happiness in the knitting world.  That happiness is well-deserved since Aran Knitting is a fantastic book, both as a resource on the history of these gorgeous cabled hand-knits and as a collection of timeless sweater patterns.

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I've had the new copy of the book for about a month now, but have been trying to think of what to highlight in a review.  This book has a mythic status, the original copy was fetching crazy prices at Ebay auctions and most knitters are well acquainted with the fabulous patterns: Na Craga, St. Brigid, Aranmore, Fulmar...So what else is there to say?

There are a few things.  But let me start with a little story about my history with Aran Knitting.

I started knitting in the early 90's and didn't have much support in my knitting beyond the yarn department at Eaton's department store and the Paton's patterns found in the mall.  There was no yarn shop and I didn't know anyone who knit with anything more than an acrylic-wool blend.  Then I met Dina during my time at grad school in Thunder Bay.  She was from Toronto and had all kinds of crazy things--100% wool yarn, magazines devoted to knitting, patterns from Rowan and Phildar and she recommended yarn shops like Romni and Passionknit.  Totally changed my world.

I happened to be in Toronto at some point on a research expedition and and at that time The Creative Sewing and Needlework festival was on.  So I went.  More expanding of my knitting world.  At one stall there were kits for the most beautiful sweaters.  Cabled, intricate knits and beautiful heathered and tweedy yarns.  I immediately fell in love with this:

St brigid
St. Brigid.  Swoon.  Those gorgeous cables.  That heathered rich yarn.  The fringe (I know people hate it, but I always loved it).  The romantic craggy shores where I could be wearing this sweater and walking on the Aran islands.  I needed to have it.

Alas, I also didn't have the money for the kit.  So I noted the book--something called Aran Knitting and added it to my wish list.  

Aran knitting
I told Craig about it around Christmas time: I would love this book called Aran Knitting, it has some great patterns in it.  I had no idea who Alice Starmore was and no concept that she was an innovator in the knitting world (I didn't conceive of anything like a knitting world for that matter).  I got the book for Christmas, read every word of the history of these garments, studied the designs and then stuff got in the way.  I remember it being an expensive gift at the time and didn't realize that it would be out of print shortly after.

Some time later we were living in Toronto, I found the big yarn shops and my knitting evolved.  I decided it was time to crack open Aran Knitting and make something from this book.  For reasons, I don't remember beyond what I suspect was a desire to knit something for my husband, I chose Na Craga and bought the called-for Scottish Heather yarn to make this gigantic cabled sweater.

Na craga
(It could have been because of that photo--yum.)

It took a long time.  So long that I had a baby that I knit a lot for in between.  On December 24, 2002, I finished it for Craig.  It looked amazing on him and I was very pleased.  I don't have a photo of him in it (since it does predate my blog, but here's some FO photos from a long, long time ago in internet land). 

He still has the sweater, but I confess he doesn't wear it very much because he finds it too hot (I must make him go outside in it more often).  And while I have picked the book up over the years to browse the patterns, and I've got a sturdy purple tweed stashed for St. Brigid, I've never made another garment from it again.

But I didn't sell it either--even when it was fetching a fine price on the Ebay market.  There is something so classic in those patterns, even if they do have rather 80's styling--yes, they are rectangles with sleeves.  The cables are just so beautiful, the locations so pretty that it's a book you need to keep in your library.  I've also seen some amazing modifications of these patterns over the years--just have a look through Ravelry to find fitted versions, pullovers made into cardigans, gauge changes and all sorts of beautiful knits inspired by this book.  

That's why I'm so pleased for the re-release.  The book, now in softback (which I find a bit more difficult to use since it won't lay flat) contains the same historical and technical information as the original.  The original designs are all included, but there have been some important modifications.  Most have been re-photographed (though some of the original images are used) and the sizing and gauges have been changed to a more modern ease.  This means that designs are sized down and in some cases the largest size is not as large as it was.  There are also more sizes in some cases.  

It seems that the size changes come about mostly from changes to gauge/tension, which if you're already a bit sore from Alice Starmore's bullet-proof gauge, may be a bit tough.  I suspect one could go down yarn size (ie from worsted to dk) and make a perfectly fine sweater, that still has a solid gauge.  For sweaters involving this much effort, swatching is SUPER important.

Here's a few examples by way of comparison:

St. Brigid Original: 2 sizes: 45 & 48 inches.  Gauge: 21sts and 27 rows

St. Brigid Revised: 3 sizes: 42, 45 and 48 inches.  Gauge: 22sts and 32 rows

Aranmor Original: 3 sizes: 46, 49.5 and 52.5 inches. Gauge: 19sts and 24 rows

Aranmor Revised: 4 sizes: 41, 45, 48 and 51.  Gauge: 19.5sts and 26 rows

While these sizes still seem large if you're more petite or like your sweaters form fitting, remember these are garments meant to be worn with a fair amount of positive ease--all those cables shouldn't sit tight on the body in worsted or aran weight wool.  And really, these almost count as outerwear for Fall or early Spring.

One thing I dislike is that all patterns do not provide yardage; only the weight of yarn required (ie 850 grams of Hebridean 3 ply).  I know this is to encourage you to buy directly from Ms Starmore (who doesn't share the yardage on her site or print on the labels) but this smacks a bit as elitist and greedy--there's lots of yarn in the world to use to make these sweaters (and in my stash too!).  But in the end, it just means a bit more searching online to get a sense of yardage requirements from those who have knit up these patterns. 

To end on a positive note, check out this bonus to the new edition--a new pattern by Alice Starmore (click the image to embiggen).  

  Eala bahn

Eala Bhan is stunning.  A fitted, delicate cardigan with an open neck and a lovely shape.  The sleeves are set in and is described as "a fine example of how knotwork motifs can be specifically designed to incorporate precise body shaping".  While I might say it seems Ms Starmore was a bit behind the design times with this statement, the results are too pretty to care since Eala Bhan is both modern and timeless and on my to-knit list.

 


Knitting 24/7

Veronik Avery's new book is great.  She knows lots of us love to knit, but also have busy lives.  Knitting 24/7 recognizes this tension and is a series of small, easy to do patterns that are easily stopped and started and many of which are portable for knitting at soccer, in a line, on your commute or any time you have an extra five minutes.

Knitting 24-7 cover 

 

The patterns show off Veronik's classic style and vary in difficulty and object: hats, shawls, mittens, scarves, bags, vests, sweaters and things for the house.  All of them are very pretty; there's lots in this book I want to knit.

Knitting 24-7 socks 

 

And I have to say, I love this skirt.  The details are so pretty on it.  Wanties.

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A variety of yarns are used including Veronik's own St. Denis which I'm using to knit the Cabled Beret from her book.  

Knitting 24 7 beret 

 

The publisher asked me to be part of a Knitting 24/7 knit along and it'll be fun to have a small project that's not socks and try the St. Denis yarn.


Toe-Up Socks for Every Body

I'm a vanilla sock knitter.  I love love love plain stockinette and socks are perfect for that kind of knitting.  I can take them anywhere and I don't have to do a whole lot of thinking about my knitting.  In my sock knitting career the most adventurous I've been is to knit a pair of Jaywalkers, a pair of Monkeys and a bit of skull fair isle.  

This might not make me the best person to review Wendy D. Johnson's new book Toe-Up Socks for Every Body because there isn't a plain old stockinette sock in sight. 

Cover  

This book is lovely.  First off, it's a nice sized paper back printed on heavy glossy paper.  The photography is clear showing off the details and the art direction is very nice--whimsical, just like knitted socks themselves which are really a luxury for the feet.

The text is clear and the instructions are easy to follow.  Johnson has included everything needed to get someone started on toe-up socks and there's a nice section on designing your own socks which is great for a vanilla sock knitter like me.

But after that, you're right into a whole lotta fancy socks; lace, colourwork, cables, thigh-highs--a whole ice cream shop of patterns and textures.  There isn't a single pattern in this book that I don't like.  And I love the variety and the fact that there are kiddie and manly socks included.  This really is a book for everybody.  

The patterns use single coloured yarns for the most part, but nothing multicoloured so the yarn doesn't compete with the pattern.  And most of the big names in sock yarn are included: Dream in Colour, Socks That Rock, Louet Gems, Cherry Tree Hill, Lorna's Laces, Fleece Artist, Shibui, etc.  

I group my favourites into 2 categories: those I want to try (ie moving me away from the plain ol' stockinette) and those that are aspirational; maybe some day I'll knit them.

I already have some Dream in Colour Starry earmarked for the Victory socks and I'm almost ready to jump right in and make the Wrought Iron Knee Socks.

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Some day I will try the Sanquar socks (and maybe that'll get me knitting the gloves!) and I absolutely adore the Norwegian Rose socks--they are stunning.

NorwegianRoseSock_medium 

I also like that Johnson uses a few different heels which shows off the recent innovations in toe-up designs. The whole book is a delight that I'm very happy to review and add to my shelf.  


How To Knit a Love Song

I confess that I'm not much of a reader.  I surf the net, watch the tweets, read the blogs, but I don't tend to pick up a work of fiction very often and have a good read.  I blame the PhD a little bit and the nature of my current work which also involves reading all day; it just doesn't feel like a leisure activity to me.

As a pal of Rachael Herron's I have been anticipating the release of her debut novel How to Knit a Love Song.  I'm so happy she's now a published author, doing what she loves.  I bought the book in digital form to read on my Iphone's Kindle app. 

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And I ate it up.

I was reading on the subway, sneaking a read in on the couch while the kids were doing homework, staying up too late to see what would happen next. 

I really enjoyed it.

Not only am I not much of a reader, I'm definitely not a romance reader.  So that surprised me.   I like being surprised.

What hooked me was the solid pacing of the story and the utter charm of the main character Abigail.  Also, instead of being whisked into some fantasy that involves me shopping on Rodeo Drive, I got to fantasize within my own realm.  What knitter doesn't dream of an inheritance that involves fibre and knitting?  Oh, and maybe a hot cowboy who can, ahem, really skein your cashmere (if you know what I mean). 

The book also had Abigail in some very Anne of Green Gables moments. Some little scrapes that made me giggle.  I liked that.  A good story, fun characters, some romance and discussions of handknit socks.  My kind of book.

Congratulations Rachael, a fine first novel and you helped get me out of my reading slump.