Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Knit Simple Magazine Holiday 2012: A Review

In all fairness, before I begin reviewing some of Knit Simple's Holiday 2012 offerings, I should explain that I really don't care at all for Knit Simple or Knit.1 or any of the other beginner-level knitting pattern magazines out there. I've never bought a single issue. I'll look at a new issue when I see it on the news stand, but I always wind up flipping quickly through it, thinking, "Meh," and then put it back. I certainly recognize that such magazines fill an important and necessary niche in the market, that they give knitters who aren't yet very skilled patterns and technical instruction and other articles geared specifically for them, and that this is a unqualified good thing. The last thing I want is for beginner knitters to feel intimidated or unwelcome in knitting culture.

However, as someone who has been knitting for over thirty years, I don't select knitting patterns based on skill level but on aesthetics, calibre of design, and practical concerns. The level of time commitment required by a pattern used to be more of a factor for me, but a few years ago I decided I would rather begin knitting and sewing fewer, better-designed items than whipping up a lot of simple items as I used to. I've been much prouder of and more satisfied with the items I've made since I put that resolution into effect. And so I approach a review of a simple knitting magazine in much the same way an accomplished pianist would approach a John Thompson's Modern Course for the Piano— Grade Three booklet. Which is to say, expect at least some condescension.

That's not to say that simple knitting magazine patterns aren't worthy of review. There are very effective and attractive simple knitting patterns that even master knitters would be glad to make, but there are also many that look amateurish and tacky. And so I'm going to review them with the same care as I do any other knitting magazine, and I'd urge even the most uncertain of beginner knitters not to leave their taste at the door when choosing knitting patterns. You're putting your valuable time and money into making these items and you deserve to wind up with an item you're proud to wear.

That disclaimer over with, shall we have a look at some of Knit Simple's Holiday 2012 issue patterns?

I really like this one. I wish there were more sweater patterns with ballet necklines. It's so flattering.

I don't like the laddered effect in knitting — it always looks like runs, and catches on everything. Replacing the ladders with another stitch would have improved this hat.

Nice classic man's cardigan.

I'm not sure how I feel about the slipknot tie on this shawl. On the plus side, it's practical. This shawl should stay put. You won't have to constantly rearrange your shawl. On the minus side, you can't rearrange your shawl. That shawl can only be worn in that one particular way, and being able to drape a shawl to different effects is part of a shawl's attributes.

I'm not sure about these slippers. I don't like the leather cord in them, for one thing. It looks as though someone thought Grandma's slippers could be made into a man's by adding the decorative cord from a Stetson. It might look better if it were colour-matched to the yarn. Or you could go with some other kind of cord, such as grosgrain ribbon, or a shoelace. These slippers also look a little thin to me, and as though they might stretch out. There's a reason you often see slippers with very textured stitchwork to them, such as cables: textured slippers are thicker and warmer and hold their shape better.

Oh come on. Look, knitting magazine editors, and I'm talking to each and every last one of you, I'm trying to keep an open mind on boot toppers, but you're going to have to meet half way and come up with something that doesn't look like something produced during Craft & Cocktail Hour at the local senior citizens' home.

When the very cropped Spencer jackets came in several years ago, for what was possibly the first time since the Regency period, I thought they were the most universally unflattering trend I'd ever seen in my lifetime. They were cut to lie open and worn over separates, and they made a woman's torso look chunky and were particularly unkind to the look of her breasts. I literally never saw them do any woman any favours, regardless of how good her figure was, and I was relieved that the look only lasted a summer.

But when I see this Spencer-length sweater on this model, I have to admit she's carrying it off. I think the key to wearing a Spencer jacket or very cropped sweater successfully is a) only wear them if you are small or flat-breasted, b) wear it closed, c) wear it over a dress, not separates, and d) check out Jane Austen films for Spencer jacket inspiration and affirmation.

I forgot to mention when discussing the Spencer jacket rules above that you can wear an open Spencer jacket any way you want to if you're under ten. This is a really cute look. I like the idea of matching the knitted flower ornament to the dress, and this sweater would knit up so quickly that it would make sense to make one just to go with a specific dress or two.

The problem with double-breasted jackets and sweaters is that though they look good when you're buttoned up and standing up, they look bad when worn open and/or you're in any other position. Which will be most of the time, even for an adult. I don't like this colour combination either — unless your daughter dresses almost entirely in pink, how much of her wardrobe will this jacket go with? If you've got the skills to adapt this pattern, make it single breasted and in one colour, or at least in two colours that work with your daughter's clothes.

Love the flowers on this little purse, but hate all that loose yarn. I'd like to comment on the rest of the purse, but I can't see it.

Just adorable.

I don't even know what's going on with this design. Are the reindeer supposed to be half-mittens or puppets? And in either case, why put them on a scarf where the child's wearing of or playing with them will be brought to a halt by his throttling himself? There might be a cute "reindeer on the end of a scarf" pattern out there somewhere, but this isn't it.

Cute robot mittens. I'd make these for the kindergarten-and-under age group though. Rule #1 about knitting for a child is that said knitting shouldn't result in the child's getting beaten up at school.

Nice sweater. I've made something similar for one of my nieces that was all striped like the yoke in this one. It was called the scrap yarn sweater, for obvious reasons. This one would still use up a good amount of scraps and be more suited to a boy.

Very simple yet eye-catchingly pretty baby sweaters.

I just can't endorse knitting for pets. Do you really want to knit something that will get chewed to bits and that your pet may end up partially ingesting? And does that dog look happy to you? Maybe I could support knitting the pet cushion, but that's as far as it goes.

Mmm, luscious. I could take a nap under that afghan right this minute.


Um, I don't know what this is. Is it a cover for your hot water bottle? If so... I am not sure I would go to the trouble of making one since it's generally hidden away at the bottom of your bed and behind your back, but whatever. If it's a cushion, which I doubt because it's flat, your cushion doesn't need a turtleneck because it doesn't, you know, have a neck.

Classic shawl-collared man's cardigan.

Knitted pencil cases? Hadn't ever thought of it, but why not, and these are very pretty. I'd use a durable, washable yarn — something with nylon in it.

This looks like a pattern someone found in a seventies' era-homemaker's magazine. And that should have stayed there.

The same owl reworked, and it's still not working. I mean, my mother loves owls, and she would hate this.

At first I thought these were doilies, and now I think they are probably intended to be trivets. And they're not terrible, though these are maybe a little on the chintzy-looking side because of the doily-type colours, but I wouldn't make knitted trivets or potholders. They'd have to be washed often, and would get so ratty so quickly.

I don't know if this bag is lined, but if you should wind up making it and the pattern doesn't call for a fabric lining put one in anyway, unless you're planning on only using it to go to the market for a single garlic bulb. Knitted bags will stretch out very quickly, especially when they are knitted in light, lacy stitch like this one is. I don't really care for the style of this bag, but that's just personal preference. If you're the type to float around in Laura Ashley-style sundresses and a big straw hat in the summer, it can work for you.

This bag looks sturdier and more practical. And less frilly.

Not a fan of this design. Colour blocking seems to be back for the first time since the early nineties, and when you're living through the second coming of a trend, you're harder to convince. A lot of colour-blocked designs look a little lazy to me, as though they were just pieced together randomly and not a lot of effort was made to get the components to work as a whole. I'd do something with the join between the blue and black sections, maybe add a few lines of patterning in the two colours, to pull the two parts together. And I don't think I'd do the top in dark blue and black anyway. There isn't enough contrast to make the combination pop and they just look like they don't quite work. Gray and black might be a better combination for this design.

If you want to knit your own jewelry, you're probably going to have to buy yarn that very closely resembles metal, or even knit with fine gauge metal wire, rather than pulling from the scrap yarn bag. These just don't look convincingly like actual jewelry.

This picture was in the section of patterns Knit Simple designated as "For the Party Girl". I don't know what kind of party the editors had in mind, but I should think these would be perfect as an accessory for an Ugly Sweater party. They'd probably score the wearer a special prize, the prize for the Dumbest and Most Useless Knitted Accessory.

My guess is that since a buttonhole big enough to accommodate the big, square button on this scarf would be just too unsightly, that you wouldn't make one but would simply sew the button on and through both thicknesses of scarf. It's one way to make a scarf stay in place, and the button is over-sized because it was chosen to be an accent to the scarf, but I don't care for this particular example. Maybe this scarf could be a decent accessory in a different yarn with a button that's more attractive and complementary.

This is in the "For the Teacher" category of patterns. And I'm just going to say, don't make this for the teacher. She won't have any use for it and she won't feel as though she can throw out something that you worked so hard to make for her. She'll just be stuck with a cute but useless item for the rest of her life, and will resent it, and even that low-level resentment can do your child's grades no good.

This eyeglass case it not only not attractive, it won't keep your glasses safe. There's a reason eyeglass cases are hard-sided these days.

Knitted cup holders. Hmm, I suppose they'd save paper, but they'd have to be washed fairly often so I don't know how far ahead we'd be environmentally speaking. And I keep thinking how soggy and crusty they would get once you spilled a little of your latté on them. They look good in a "I'm so leisured and monied that I knit little cashmere sweaters for my coffee cups" kind of way — if you don't mind looking like that kind of person. I'm thinking I'm going to come down on the side of "buying a good-looking travel mug and getting it filled at the coffee shop" to save both the paper cup and the knitting.

This is not just a beginner's project, this is the Chopsticks of beginner projects. It looks not bad here, draped artfully over a very attractive model, but it's not going to look as good in other, more ordinary settings. For your very first project, which will be, yes, a garter stitch scarf, choose a beautiful yarn and put a fringe on it. You don't want to make anything that screams "BEGINNER PROJECT" quite this loudly.

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