Category Archives: book review

By Hand Serial: From Portland to Portland (review)

I’ve been savoring a new book series, By Hand. This new venture features maker communities around the country.

Author Andrea Hungerford writes:

In this day and age, many of us are searching for community–a sense of belonging, a feeling of unity, a desire to share our passions with others. As a sense of community becomes ever more elusive, we look for ways to build our own. A community of makers–those who find joy in creating with their hands, minds, and hearts–gives us a chance to share and celebrate our ideas and passions.

Thus we have “making communities”–areas areound the country where makers with a common ethos work and, in turn, are inspired by each other–and we are “making communities,” even where physical proximity isn’t possible, by sharing our stories and journeys and images with each other.”

I love this concept. Although Andrea has a strong knitting focus, not all the makers featured in the books are fiber artists. The first lookbook focuses on Andrea’s home town of Portland, Oregon, which is my home, too. Some of the featured makers are:

  • Indie dyers Amy Lee Serradell of Canon Hand Dyes and Sarah Kurth of Bumblebirch
  • Yarn companies Woolfolk, Brooklyn Tweed and Shibui Knits
  • Other non-fiber artists including ceramicists JaMpdx (Jenn Gauer and Megan Radick, pastry artist Anna Henrick, and paper artists Tess Darrow and Kara Yanagawa of Eggpress Design and Letterpress. And more!

A visually stunning visit to Timberline Lodge was a non-fiber highlight for me. This whole book felt like a visit with friends, some of whom I have not yet met. The book also includes 3 knitting projects, a fabric project, and a recipe. I’ll be spending more time with these.

Andrea’s second book focuses on the other Portland, Portland and mid-coast Maine. There is so much fiber and textile history in that part of the country, and it is also the home of a resurgence of the industry. I wondered if I would like this book as much as the first Portland book, since I’ve never been to Portland, Maine. This did not disappoint.

The table of contents reads like a who’s who of fiber all-stars; designers that you know and love, and yarn companies that you recognize from your LYS. Hannah Fettig (Knitbot), Clara Parkes, Bristol Ivy; and yarn companies Swan’s Island and Quince and Co. There are instructios for 6 knitting projects, 2 sewing projects, and a family recipe for Cinnamon Swirled Orange Bread. Yum!

Andrea is working on her third book, which will visit Nashville, Tennessee. You know I love Nashville. I am really looking forward to purchasing this issue!

I’d like to thank Hannah Thiessen, whom I met in Nashville at Craft South, for putting me in touch with Andrea Hungerford here in Portland, and thank Andrea for the review copies of By Hand, too. I’d also like to share the fun. Who would like my review copy of Lookbook #2, Portland, Maine? Let me know in the comments. I’ll pick a winner after next Sunday, April 23.

Thanks also to my helpful assistant, Biscuit. She’s been under the weather for the past two weeks; we don’t know what’s going on with her, but she’s had many visits with our favorite vet. Send good thoughts her way?

Disclosure: Andrea Hungerford provided these review copies for me. All opinions are my own. I loved them!

Book Review: In Search of the World’s Finest Wools

What’s your favorite luxury fiber? Cashmere? Qiviut? Taewit? What?

I received a review copy of this beautiful book, In Search of the World’s Finest Wools by Dominic Dormeuil, photography by Jean-Baptiste Rabouan. It’s a tribute to the growers and producers of the world’s finest fibers. Dormeuil is the Chairman of the House of Dormeuil, a fabric house that was founded in 1842.

My first instinct was to page through the book, just to enjoy the stunningly beautiful pictures. We are treated to travel through Greenland, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Ladakh, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and Peru.

I knew Qiviut came from the arctic musk ox, but what does that really mean? I didn’t realize that the musk oxen in Alaska came there via a 1954 breeding and conservation program in Canada and Alaska. I’d heard the romantic tales of plucking the tufts of fiber from the shrubbery that the musk oxen rub against in an effort to shed their double fleece in the spring.

What I didn’t know is that there are wild musk ox in the Kangerlussaq tundra of Greenland, which was the focus of the qiviut chapter. There, the musk ox are hunted as game for food, and the the fiber brings additional revenue to the hunters. (The climate does not support agriculture.) Before the opening of a wool production workshop in 1997, the skins were discarded; now there are several workshops that process the skins for the wool. Food and luxury fiber from the same animals, excellent.

The book focuses on eight luxury fibers. Two come from wild sources (qiviut and vicuña), and six from domesticated animals: two from sheep (Shetland and Merino), and four(!) from goats (cashmere, pashmina, taewit, mohair). I’m especially in awe of the goats; the luxury of their fiber is a direct result of the inhospitable climate in which these small hardy animals live.

The existence of these luxury fibers is dependent on a way of life that is threatened by industrial progress. The book is a beautiful celebration of both the animals and the people who bring us their wool.

Shetland Sheep with moorit bronget markings
We’re more familiar with sheep’s wool, such as this Shetland sheep of Scotland,

and this half shorn merino sheep in Tasmania.

The book closes with a chapter on the vicuña of Peru. Vicuña were hunted almost to extinction in the 1960’s, and have made a tremendous comeback due to a protection program initiated by the Peruvian government, and newer techniques for shearing without killing. The wild vicuña featured in this chapter are protected, and gently corralled for shearing via a 300 person human chain. How nice is that?

From wild to nomadic to farms to wild again, this book is a beautiful celebration of the source of the luxury fibers of the world. I enjoyed the visual tour, and learning about the people and the animals. I highly recommend it!

A teaser: Have you heard of Taewit goat wool from Kyrgyzstan? I hadn’t. It’s most likely a cross between the Kyrgyz goat and the Orenburg cashmere goat. I’ll let you imagine just how wonderful that must be.

I received this book in exchange for review. All opinions about it are my own. All pictures are my photographs of the book, so they’re not as nice as the book! Thank you to Firefly Books for the opportunity.

New: Rain Chain Shawlette, ebook and yarn for you?

Back from Madrona, but it’s going to take a few days to be ready to properly blog about it. In the meantime, here’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you about for months!

Rain Chain Shawlette KP

I’ve been dying to wear this new piece for the last year, but I had to wait until it was published this month. This is my Rain Chain Shawlette.

Rain Chain Shawlette KP2

The shawlette is a sideways crescent triangle, one of my favorite shapes. It features a rain chain detail at the top edge, and spring flowers on the lower edge.

Rain Chain Shawlette in Velveteen

My prototype version features beads that look like raindrops both in the rain chains and in the flowers and edging, to add sparkle and drape. Instructions for bead placement are in the patttern.

Rain Chain Shawlette bead detail

The Rain Chain Shawlette is knit with Knit Picks Gloss Fingering, a 70/30 blend of merino wool and silk. The silk gives it a drape and a bit of a shine. This shawlette is in the new Knit Picks book, Little Luxuries, which is available as a physical book, and also as an e-book. The single pattern is also available from Knit Picks.

I”ve enjoyed looking through the book that just arrived; it includes 23 patterns for beautiful accessories such as shawls, cowls, hats, and mitts. All patterns use less than 100g of yarn.

I’m giving away a pdf copy of the Little Luxuries e-book, and 2 balls (100g total) of Gloss Fingering in the winner’s choice of color. Leave a comment and let me know which color you want to knit your Rain Chain Shawlette; color choices are here. I’ll pick a winner on Monday, February 27.

Rain Chain Shawlette gradient

The prototype before the prototype was knit with an end to end gradient from Alexandra’s Crafts.

Fibonacci and Fan

And now finally! The winner of Knitted Wit Victory Sock yarns to knit Fibonacci and Fan is Rhea Kohlman. Her pick? Snowy Woods, which is the color that launched the entire snowy line. Good choice! Rhea, I’m emailing you to get your addy.

So many things to knit! So many things to blog. Back soon, I promise.

Do you read while you knit?

Are you a monogamous knitter, or do you like to have many projects going? I usually have two projects, or three at the most.

More linein minisNext on the needles

I like to have one thinking project, which is usually a design project. I have to work on it at home in peace and quiet, and there’s a lot of ripping and re-knitting as I figure things out. It helps to take good notes!

Red ZephyrJust off the needles, a multi-tasking dream

And I like to have one project that is good for multi-tasking, where I can read, watch TV, or chat at knit nite. Usually the design project becomes a multi-tasking project, after the kinks get worked out and then it’s easy knitting all the way. I like to design things that are good for multi-tasking or meditative knitting, where you don’t have to be tied to the instructions for every stitch or row. This is the kind of knitting I like best.

I read a lot of blogs while knitting, and I like to read on my Kindle. I prefer Kindle to physical books, because it lies flat, and I just have to tap or swipe to turn the page. The last time I read a physical book, I tapped the page and nothing happened!

Burials

I’ve been enjoying Mary Anna Evans’ Faye Longchamp mysteries for many years now. I just had the pleasure of reading an advance review copy of Burials, her latest which is coming out on March 7. Faye Longchamp is the scrappy protagonist. Originally from Florida and the descendant of a slave, she’s a smart archaeologist who is something of a murder magnet. She and her hunky husband Joe are always involved in discovering who did it, and how. We learn about archaeological procedure along the way. I was sorry to get to the moment where the murderer was revealed, because I didn’t want the book to end. Fortunately, I’ve just pre-ordered the Kindle edition so I can read it again in my preferred format. Why buy a book I’ve already read? It’s only $6.99, less than 2 cups of fancy coffee, and I’ll catch all the things I missed when I was reading the pdf on my iPad. If you’re looking for a smart, fun read, try this one. The book works as a stand alone story, you don’t have to start at the beginning of the series. But if you want the backstory later, or you want to start at the beginning, Artifacts, the first book in the series, is only 99 cents for the Kindle edition. And on iTunes, it’s free, at least for now. I’d be envious, though, because you’d get to see the character development of my lovely friend Faye. (She seems real to me!)

In the notes at the end of Burials, the author talks about the Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma, the setting for the novel. This Native American historical site dates back to 1400 AD. Some of the finds there include cups, pottery, tools, and textiles. Of particular interest is a bit of lace. Click here to see a picture and learn more about this lace. I had not associated lace with Native American culture, so this was fascinating to me. Can you imagine someone finding a piece of your knitting 600 years from now? What would they make of it? Would they think it was mainstream, or something special for ceremonial purposes?

OK, off to bed. I’m at Madrona, and teaching tomorrow. Blocking first!

Rosaria edge detail

Good night!

Anna Zilboorg’s Splendid Apparel

just landed in my mailbox!

splendid apparel

Looking forward to savoring this one. It will be like a trip back to History Unwound! Click the link if you missed my review of that wonderful event.

Gotta run. Off to Seattle for some fun with the Piano Babes. I’ll check out the book when I get back…

Book Review: Sock Yarn Shawls II

sock yarn shawls II

I have a review copy of Jen Lucas’ new book, Sock Yarn Shawls II: 16 Patterns for Lace Knitting. Jen and I share a love of fingering weight shawls of all shapes and sizes.

The book is organized by the size of the shawl. This is great, since many of us look at the yarn in our stash (yes, even I, the non-stasher, now have a stash) and wonder what we can do with the yarn we have. The categories in this book are small (single skein), mid-size (two skeins, either the same or coordinating colors), and large (at least 900 yards and more).

There are many different and fun constructions in this book, including the traditional top down triangle, bottom up crescent, half-pi and full pi (circular), so you won’t be bored, even if you knit them all. What I found most interesting were shawls where Jen plays with familiar constructions, like changing up the length of the short rows to narrow the shawl ends of Jasmine, a crescent shawl,

jasmine

or placing the usual 4 increases over two rows of a triangle shawl only out on the edges (no center spine) of Earth and Sky,

earth and sky

and combining constructions in Sparrow, which begins like a half-pi shawl, and then changes to a 3 sectioned shawl with two increase lines (like a triangle shawl with two spines).

sparrow construction

sparrow

Jen has an inventive mind! No matter what the construction, all the shawls feature lace and are very pretty. The lace instructions are shown in both chart and written form, and the pictures are clear and informative. This book is a definite winner. With so many construction styles, including some join-as-you-knit borders, you’re sure to find a shawl that will look great and teach you something while you knit it, too.

You can see all the shawls on the Ravelry page for this book. The book is available as an e-book through Ravelry, or as a hard copy through the usual outlets.

All images from Sock Yarn Shawls II by Jen Lucas, Martingale, 2015; used with permission. Photos by Brent Kane. All rights reserved.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free with the understanding that I would review it, with no promise of a positive review. My opinion is my own. The book is wonderful!

I win! and win…

Remember the 10,000 frogged stitches?

frogged!

There were more along the way, but I finished my secret project, wrote it up, and it’s off to a test knitter. Hooray! I love the finished object, and I think you will, too. I look forward to sharing it with you…next year.

I wish I had some knitting to show you. And actually, I do.

Saturday was busy with secret knitting and blocking in the back yard, since the sun has returned. But then at 11 p.m. I realized that I needed a gift for Lorajean’s baby shower at my house on Sunday. I had seen this cute pattern a while back, and while I’m not sure how functional these booties are, they at least say, “Hey, I’m going to knit a gift for Franny Jean, but for now, look how cute these are!”

chaussons mignons

They took an hour, tops, Saturday night. A definite win. I used leftover yarn from my Raspberry Vodka Lemonade cardi. Full details on mods are on my Ravelry project page.

image

And one more win: I won a drawing on Jen Lucas’s blog. The prize is this book, Free Spirit Shawls by Lisa Shroyer. It’s lovely! Lots of pretty shawls, but even more important, great reference material on shawl shapes and construction.

image

And Jen threw in an extra book, 150 Scandinavian Motifs by Mary Jane Mucklestone. Lots of traditional and some more unusual motifs in here. I can see using them in scarves, cowls, and even Christmas stocking cuffs.

Now that I have a breather from deadline designing, I am looking forward to a leisurely perusing of these books. Thanks, Jen!

What did you do this weekend?

Treasures(?) in the attic, 70’s edition

I went over to Mom’s house the other day, and on a whim we started looking through her books. I came home with a small box of curiosities.

that 70's look

Knitting Techniques and Projects from Sunset Books came out in 1976. We’re not sure why Mom owns it, since she never knitted, as far as I remember. The techniques section is a good basic tutorial on how to get started. But did we ever really dress like this?

that 70's look

And did anyone ever knit herself a bikini? One can only imagine what happens when that knitting hits the water…

that 70's look

I wonder if today’s fashions will look this dated to us in 40 years. On the other hand, there are classics like these two pillows. The gnarly cabled one is by Elizabeth Zimmermann (I’m guessing it’s her, although the credit spells it Zimmerman), and the striped one is by Mary Walker Phillips.

that 70's look

And these hats by Barbara Walker would be very current today, in a different color palette.

that 70's look

Are you diggin’ it? I think the book’s a keeper! The other thing I found was this:

that 70's look

Remember K-tel? And Ronco? Oh, yeah, as seen on TV. Let’s get a closer look at that outfit on the box:

that 70's look

Hot pants! And this outfit is also featured on the box:

that 70's look

I checked out the instructions, and it looks like it’s just glorified crocheting, except you don’t have to control the yarn separately. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just use a crochet hook. But there you have it.

What’s in your attic? Time for a treasure hunt!

My Grandmother’s Knitting

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of this gorgeous book, My Grandmother’s Knitting by Larissa Brown, at Sock Summit.

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The book explores the question, “Who taught you to knit?” with 17 designers, including Meg Swansen, Jared Flood, Kay Gardiner, and more. It also features 21 patterns, some by the interviewees, and some not. Not all the interviewed designers have patterns in the book, but all the patterns are quite lovely. I especially liked this hat by Teva Durham, described as “somewhere between a slouchy beret and a milkmaid’s bonnet.” (and hey, that’s Sally!)

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And I love these ‘Olina Socks by Emily Johnson, the creator of the Family Trunk Project.

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Judy Becker contributed the pattern for this simply beautiful Grandma’s Fan Dishcloth. Of course it begins with Judy’s Magic Cast-On!

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I think every knitter of a certain age knit house slippers like these, shared by Wendy Bernard.

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Wendy goes further to add her own embellished version.

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The book is beautifully photographed, and an easy size to hold and read (oversized books are nice to look at but make me tired!). It’s a perfect tribute to those who taught us to knit. Who taught you to knit? My Aunt Rose taught me when I spent the summer with her family at age 14. She was just here in town to help celebrate my mom’s 75th birthday. Of course we went on a yarn crawl. She was surprised to find that I didn’t own a swift and ball winder, and insisted on buying both for me as a gift. Thanks, Aunt Rose!

I just went looking to find the things she knit for my kids when they were born.
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I’m filled with nostalgia. We just dropped our youngest in Orlando, Florida for college. We’re empty nesters! I think this means I’ll have a lot more time for knitting…

Books!

Just home from knit nite. I brought five new books with me. One was Lorna Miser’s The Knitter’s Guide to Hand-dyed and Variegated Yarn that I told you about here. Another was The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting by Margaret Hubert that I told you about here. The third was a Christmas present that I haven’t taken a picture of, so I’ll tell you about it later. And the last two were from TNNA. Let’s pretend that you went to knit nite with me; you can see the two new books (and go back to the other two linked books, if you’d like).

At TNNA, there were book signings every hour, and the books were free. Two came home with me. This is Rosemary Drysdale’s Entrelac: The Essential Guide to Interlace Knitting. As you know, I’m completely entranced with entrelac lately, so I was thrilled to get this book. Actually, Lorajean (Knitted Wit) picked it up for me, because I was already on my way home during this book signing. Thanks, LJ!

entrelac book

This is a gorgeous book. Drysdale constructs her entrelac a little differently than I do; she starts her base triangles on the purl side, and has right side and wrong side rectangles. I work everything from the right side, and so I call mine left and right leaning rectangles. I don’t think it matters. If you don’t already do entrelac, it’s a good place to start. If you already do entrelac, the rest of the book is a treat. She goes through several different things you can do to spice up your entrelac,

entrelac book3

including texture, lace, cables, colorwork, beads, embroidery…all lovely. And the photography in this book is gorgeous. Here’s a little embellishment.

entrelac book4

I saw these fruit caps at TNNA; they are really cute!

fruit caps

There are several patterns in the book too, incuding a felted bag, scarves, a poncho, a cardigan, the fruit caps. I love this book.

The other book is Nicky Epstein’s Knitting Block By Block.

nicky 1

She accidentally signed the book in the back, upside down, so she signed it again in the front. It was worth a giggle!

nicky3nicky2

You can use these blocks for anything: a blanket, sweaters, scarves, hats. There are blocks of cables

nicky cables

colorwork

nicky color

other embellishments. The i-cord here is sewn on to a plain block. There are so many ways to use this technique.

nicky embellish

I love this blanket.

nicky4

And there are patterns, too. Another beautiful, inspirational book by Nicky Epstein.

What else am I reading? Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua! This book has gotten a lot of attention recently since an excerpt appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

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My in-laws sent this to me. Are they trying to tell me something? I actually think it’s rather tongue in cheek; some of the things she says are so over the top that I can’t imagine saying them for real. (“Why not A+?” has been a joke for many years in our house.) I had theTeen read the chapter on Suzuki piano, and he just smiled. We did Suzuki piano for nine years, and it was pretty wonderful.

Oh, at knit nite I was knitting with this. I’ll show you what, when I’m further along.

chroma

It’s unseasonably warm here (about 55 degrees fahrenheit), and the tulips think it’s spring. (I like they way they’ve pierced the dead leaves that I never got around to raking. That’s violent growth!)

tulips

The hostas think it’s spring, too.

hostas

I think they’re all going to have a rude awakening.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods?