Must-have books lately

Must-have books: The Vintage Shetland Project

There have been all kinds of books published, obviously, since my last little Books Lately post in October, but there are 3 that have come into my possession this spring (all of them hardcover) that simply must be noted—

I first mentioned Susan Crawford’s The Vintage Shetland Project back in 2015, when she had completed the garments and patterns and photography for this epic book and was beginning a crowdfunding campaign for the printing. Not long after, she was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer, and I think a lot of us held our breath both for her and for this incredible work-in-progress. Thankfully now she and the book have both come out the other side. This is a project — and thus a book — like nothing else. I don’t know how to summarize without doing it a disservice, but the elevator-pitch version is that Susan made it her life’s work to study garments and accessories in the Shetland Museum, to learn from them, and to recreate 27 of them in pattern form. The garments she chose are all from the first half of the 20th century (an epic era), knitted by for-hire knitters but who made these garments mostly for themselves or loved ones, from their own imaginations, employing techniques and details that wouldn’t be conducive to either commercial knitting or pattern writing. Think about it: To recreate them, Susan had to literally study every tiny stitch (of Fair Isle colorwork and lace), build charts from the fabric in front of her, and even create yarns in weights and types and colors to match the scale and fabric and palettes of these garments. And then to write usable, graded patterns for them — it’s mind-boggling. And then she photographed it all on the windswept isle of Vaila! But beyond all that, the book she has written melds fashion history and knitting history and the individual histories of these garments. It’s truly remarkable — and mammoth in scale — and I’m so happy it exists. Thank you for sending it to me, Susan; it’s a treasure. (The link above goes directly to Susan’s webshop, but note that she is in the UK. I’m not sure how widely available it is in US yarn stores or whatever. If you can’t find it at your LYS, Mason-Dixon is stocking it.)

Must-have books: Vogue Ultimate Knitting Book

When I was learning to knit six years ago, I picked up multiple encyclopedic how-to-knit books, but Vogue Knitting’s Ultimate Knitting Book was not among them. And those I did buy, I consulted in piecemeal fashion — looking up how each author suggested I pick up along a neckline or whatever. I’ve still never seen the original (1989) or previously updated (2002) editions of this book, but if I had had this edition — which is “completely revised and updated” — I would have sat down on my couch with it and read it from cover to cover, and saved myself lord knows how much trial-and-error anguish and googling and trauma. This books start at yarn — weights, fiber types, etc — walks through every conceivable how to from cast-ons to cables to colorwork, and heads straight into how to design for yourself. It’s only 350 pages (which seems slender compared to the other big knitting bible on my shelf) and packed full of illustrations and photos, and yet it manages to provide at least introductory level info on literally everything. I don’t know how they did that. But I might still sit down on my couch and read it cover to cover.

Must-have books: Japanese Stitches Unraveled

The world is full of stitch dictionaries, but the latest one from Wendy Bernard, Japanese Stitches Unraveled, has a couple of interesting things about it. First, it’s a compilation of stitch patterns she’s found in obscure Japanese stitch dictionaries and has named and re-charted to make them more accessible. But she’s also gone so far as to chart each of them up to four different ways, depending on whether there are distinctions to be made if you’re knitting bottom-up or top-down, flat or in-the-round. And she also offers guidance in the front of the book for how to go about incorporating them into your knitting projects. Each section of the book ends with a pattern, ranging from garments to home goods.


Of course, the book I’m most dying to get my hands on right now is Jen Hewett’s Print, Pattern, Sew. Jen and I are teaching together at Squam next week (and we’ll both have tables at the Art Fair) so I’m definitely coming home with that!


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Beyond New Favorites: Marlisle

Beyond New Favorites: Marlisle

The most astonishing thing about knitting — this thing people have been doing for centuries! — is that not only is there always more to learn, but there are still clever people coming up with new ways do things all the time! New shaping and construction methods, smoother increases/decreases, original stitch combinations and motifs. You can argue that there’s actually nothing new under the sun — that every idea has been had before; maybe we just don’t know about it. But it doesn’t matter! It’s the constant flow of creativity that thrills me. And Anna Maltz’s new book, Marlisle: A new direction is knitting, is a superlative example. The book released on Saturday (our copies are going quickly!) and I can’t remember being so excited about a brilliantly simple idea or a collection of patterns.

It occurred to Anna (aka @sweaterspotter) awhile back that if you were knitting with two yarns held together — creating a marl — and you dropped one of them from time to time, carrying it as a float in the back for a few stitches, you could suddenly do all sorts of intriguing things, with none of the fuss of intarsia. She calls the idea “marlisle” — marl crossed with Fair Isle — and it first appeared on her Humboldt sweater, which has been in my queue ever since. With this new book, though — and the 11 patterns it contains — she’s really pushing the envelope, and applying the idea in a variety of ways. There are simple but very effective applications like the hat above, Hozkwoz, or the cover sweater, Midstream, with vertical stripes up the front and back. There are slightly more complex ones, such as the drop-dead stunning yoke sweater, Trembling, with its 3D facet motif. And there’s the incredibly meticulous pair of mittens, Delftig, with an intricate tile-like design achieved by alternating between holding one color, the other, or the two together. So she’s covered a range of surface designs — from bold and graphic to allover flame patterning to gingham and plaid and trompe l’oeil effects, and used them on everything from hats and cowls to shawls and sweaters. The whole thing is truly stunning, and I’m sooooo excited and inspired by it all. I cannot wait to cast on.

You can see all of the patterns at Ravelry and order a copy at Fringe Supply Co. (Our stack is dwindling but we’ll have more any minute!) There’s a fresh interview with Anna on the East London Knit podcast, and you can also read more about the Ricefield Collective here and her appearance in Our Tools, Ourselves here.


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Colorwork mitts




On Seattle and Shetland

On Seattle and Shetland

I’m on a plane to Seattle today — tending to some very important FSCo holiday business, being a guest at Tolt’s Stitch Night (Thurs 6-8, are you coming?) and seeing a pack of my favorite knitters, some of whom are also in town for Tolt’s anniversary celebration this weekend. I’m sad that I have to board a plane on Saturday at the same time Gudrun Johnston is giving a talk at Tolt about the history of Shetland knitting. If you have to choose between going to Tolt when I’m there and when Gudrun’s there, you should totally choose Gudrun! She’s signing her new pattern collection, The Shetland Trader Book 2, in the morning and then the talk is from 1-3. For those of us who are going to miss all that, at least there’s the book, which she was kind enough to send me, and which is lovely. It was shot by Kathy Cadigan (whose photography skills, coincidentally, are the chief purpose of my trip) at the end of that Grand Shetland Adventure I wailed about missing out on a few months back.

The book contains nine patterns: four pullovers, a cardigan, a tank, a hat (two variations), a stole and a cowl, and it’s heavily Shetland inspired — from the yarns to the stitch patterns. But as Gudrun explains in the Foreword, it was also very specifically influenced by Belmont House, where the photos were taken. The house is on Unst, as far north as the Shetland Isles go, and the restored 18th-century estate lent its color palette to the garments as well as the photos. So there’s a lovely symbiosis about it all. My favorite patterns are the ones pictured above: Northdale colorwork pullover, Snarravoe twisted-rib and lace pullover, Hermaness Hats, and the Sandwick striped cowl for being so unexpected. You can see them all (and get the book for yourself) at Ravelry.


One quick note: DG will still be here packing the Fringe Supply Co. orders while I’m away, but today is Veterans Day, so there’s no mailman to hand off today’s orders to till tomorrow.

Q for You: What are your favorite knitting pattern books?

Best knitting pattern books

This Q for You comes from rachelalise in the comments, who is looking for recommendations on the best knitting pattern books:

I have an (unrelated) question for you and your most wise readers as I work out my Christmas list: do you have any favorite pattern *books* that a knitter should own? I realize that I almost exclusively knit from online patterns purchased one-off, and I’d love to build a collection of books that I can return to that contain patterns. (I have a good set of what I guess I’d term “technique books,” and all the most wonderful EZ books, but nothing else that is exclusively dedicated to patterns.)

I’m rather in the same boat and share her curiosity. For me, in my admittedly narrow experience, there aren’t a lot of books that have enough good patterns in them to warrant the cover price. So I have only invested in a few. Here are the ones I’m happiest to have bought, in no particular order:

1. The Knitter’s Book of Wool by Clara Parkes. Not “exclusively dedicated to patterns” — it’s about half education and half patterns, but both halves are well worth owning. (I believe the same is true of her Knitter’s Book of Yarn, but I loaned it to someone and never got it back, so can’t say for sure.)

2. More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson is the book that made me a knitter, and it is just wall to wall with excellent patterns.

3. Pom Pom Quarterly is like a really good pattern book that happens to be sold in installments.

4. Pioneer by Martin Storey. They may be classified and sold as periodicals, but the one-off editions of Rowan are actually slender, beautifully produced, paperback books. This volume (which I originally raved about here) contains more patterns I want to knit than any other bound object on my shelf.

5. Knitting by Design by Emma Robertson. Just published a few weeks ago, and I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with it. It’s very young and bright and funky, not designed or photographed like any other knitting book out there, but contains several wildly adaptable patterns. E.g., a knitted tank sweater happens to be white and dip-dyed, but you could make that tank a million different things by changing the yarn/color, dyeing it or not, etc. Same with the colorblock mittens, the adorable vest, etc.

6–8. Knit One Knit All, Knitter’s Almanac and Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmermann. It takes a little imagination to see how some of EZ’s garments and accessories can look modern, but they can. I did a riff on this in Street styling Elizabeth Zimmermann (a year ago today! how weird), but just look at Abigail Chapin in her light grey Icelandic Overblouse (from Knit One Knit All), which is just like EZ’s original and looks perfectly current.

Those are the ones I’m most likely to knit from, although when it comes time to browse patterns, I do turn to my PDFs. I’ll also mention that one book I really want but don’t own yet is Fair Isle Style by Mary Jane Mucklestone. So let’s hear it, please: What are your favorite knitting pattern books?


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you join a new ball of yarn?

The book that made me want to write about books again

Lena Corwin's Made by Hand

You may not know this about me, but in the aughts I ran a site called Readerville, where for nine years I covered books from every possible angle — from reviews to cover critiques to author discussions in the once-booming forum. I knew from having worked several years at Salon how many review copies of books are sent indiscriminately to the addresses of people who publish book reviews, but didn’t grasp what a … shall we say … mixed blessing it is to be on publicists’ mailing lists until the mountains of books began landing on my own doorstep. It took me years to get off some of those lists — not even an unannounced change of address could stop them! So as much as I’ve wanted books to be a part of the mix here at Fringe, I’ve been reluctant to risk finding myself back on those lists. But lately there have been a few books that are just too good not to write about, and first among them is Lena Corwin’s Made by Hand.

The story goes that Corwin, an illustrator and textile designer, used to host classes in her New York studio, with her various creative friends teaching their various creative skills. (Including Cal Patch — hi, Cal!) Reading about it makes one envious of everyone who got to teach and/or attend those classes. They ceased a few years ago, but luckily someone had the bright idea to recreate them in book form. So what lives between these covers is twenty-six projects, “taught” by the original slate of instructors, plus a few new ones. I say projects, but really each one is a lesson in a technique — from braiding a rug to tie-dyeing a pillowcase to coiling a bowl — that can be extrapolated and applied in as many ways as you can dream up. Some of them are what you would think of as large-scale undertakings shrunken down to kitchen-table scale, most notably a technique for using a rolling pin to simulate the action of giant rotary fabric-printing machines. And while there’s soap-making and beading and candle-making, nearly all of the projects are fiber-centric: printing and resist-dyeing fabrics; knitting and crocheting everything from socks to garlands to cat toys; weaving on improvised “looms”; sewing; embroidery; braiding; fabric origami; the list goes on. And the book manages to be extremely beautiful without failing to be useful: Every project is accompanied by copious step-by-step photos, diagrams and patterns, along with the materials lists and instructions.

Ever since I first stumbled across Jenny Gordy’s blog posts about her socks, I’ve been wishing she’d publish her pattern, and here it is! But there are so many wonderful, fundamental skills to be learned here, it’s hard to decide where to start.

Lena Corwin's Made by Hand