Friday, 13 June 2014

Knitty First Fall 2014: A Review

This year, out of all the knitting magazines I review, Knitty was first out of the gate with a autumnal issue. Let's have a look at Knitty Issue 48, First Fall 2014.

This is the Indigo Cones design. It's attractive and wearable and should whip up quite quickly and easily.

The Arlen cowl has good texture and would be a good way to showcase a beautiful hand-dyed yarn.

The Bloc Party cardigan. Oh, I very much like this one. This cardigan is sharp and professionally finished and yet so simple and wearable and not all that difficult to knit. This is one of those designs in which colour blocking has been done right, which is more rarely found than you might expect.

The Dreaming of Ankhesenamun cowl. Not so pleased with this one. The colourway and the design both look a little on the crude side.

The Vermilion Cliffs cardigan is a lovely piece of work. The shape is good, the texture is excellent. One minor quibble, though, is that I would have placed the top button at the top of the front ribbon band. That little open part looks more like a mistake than a design decision.

The Katie cowl. I'm not too enthusiastic about this one. It's just too basic a piece to even seem like a design.

The Briar mittens. These aren't bad at all. It's the colourwork that gives this very basic mittens design a bit of sophistication.

The Carry on Solefully socks. I like these. They've got a very original look and an inventive construction.

The Double Take Shrug. I'm divided on this design. It looks good from the back and the side, but so unflattering from the front. I'd make the front somewhat longer and the sleeves shorter.

The Snowfence Scarf and Cowl. Love this one — the texture is awesome.

The Hidden Gussets Mitts. Not all that taken with these. They're pretty basic. I think using a really beautiful yarn, such as a hand-dyed mohair, would turn them into something special.

The Planorbis Corneus socks. Quite a cute pair of cabled ankle socks.

The Jasseron pullover. Hmm. I like the concept and shaping, but not in this colourway, which is too flat and looks too much like baseball t-shirt styling to work with this pretty design. That's so easily changed, though.

The I Can Knit a Rainbow toy. I would want to size this up and make it into a cushion, because I can't imagine what a child would do with a rainbow toy. Rainbows don't have interesting adventures. It's not like a rainbow ever held a tea party or saved the world from an arch villain.

The Pat Hat, named for Julia Sweeney's Saturday Night Live sketch character, the puzzlingly androgynous Pat, is a witty solution to the old "what do I take to a baby shower when the parents haven't revealed the gender yet" dilemma. Also, it's very cute.

The Reverso socks can be worn inside out or in. Very clever and should save the wearer laundry turning time.

The Rhaeadr Shawl is a very attractive piece. Love the texture and the edging.

The Grantangle shawl employs the crochet stitch used for the ubiquitous granny square. I can't say I care for it. This stitch is just so intrinsically dated.

Delaware is for Cables hat. Standard cabled hat. I think it needs the pom pom or a tassel to give it a little more interest.

Franklin Habit restyles an 1847 pattern for a knitted flower into the Heart's Ease Boutonnière and muses about the frustrations entailed in writing about knitting history in the article that accompanies the pattern.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie and other knitting fables

Sometimes Stevie felt she needed to recapture that "string bikini at the beach" feeling in mid-winter.

Dakota's mother was so thrilled by her purchase of All You Can Knit and Crochet for Babies, because she now had a way to use up her scrap yarns and the resulting outfits would mean blackmail photo ops that could be used to keep Dakota in line as a teenager. And all for 50 pence!

Kaila thought her new line of "Couch Wear" fashions had turned out rather well.

After all, Kaila reasoned, what could protect women from street harassment better than camouflaging themselves as couches? Men love and respect couches!

Model Victoria's contract had a strict "no face showing in crocheted trousers shots" clause, for which she could never be thankful enough.

"No, hon, I can't see anything."
"Thanks loads for checking! You know a girl likes to be clean-scrubbed and demure and to be careful not to show too much boobage when she wears hot pants and go-go boots."

Ophelia felt that the combination of her new "Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie" sweater and just the right amount of poutiness and broodiness was bound to drive her boyfriend Rex absolutely wild.

"Oh hell no, you weren't interrupting anything! Freddy and I were just getting into the spirit of the photo shoot, weren't we, Freddy?"

Megan planned to be squatting just so on her rug and throw pillows when her party guests arrived so that they'd be duly impressed with the way she'd coordinated her hostess outfit with her décor.

Chet was confident that the devastating combination of his silk scarf and his thousand yard stare was bound to start bringing all the chicks running once he had it perfected.

Ingrid's pixie hat and sweater set scored her free drinks so reliably often that she had decided to make more pixie hat and sweater sets in different colourways.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Walkie Talkie Knitty Man

In this 2003 music video for New Zealand punk band Steriogram's song "Walkie Talkie Man", the band steps into a knitted, crocheted, felted, and string art world, and when disaster strikes, they break out their crafting skills to save the day.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Miss T.M. James and the Intangible Benefits of Knitting

Knitting class, Henry Street Settlement, NYC by Lewis W. Hine, 1910

Late last summer my cousin gave me an antique copy of Longmans' Complete Course of Needlework, Knitting and Cutting Out, which was written by a Miss T.M. James and published in 1906. The course is complete, all right. Its 452 pages contain instructions for every kind of hand sewing. From basic stitches (i.e., tucking, pleating, and herring-boning), to ornamental stitches (i.e., hem stitching and scallops), to lesser-used techniques (i.e., french seams, smocking, and "gathering for shirtwaists"), to mending (i.e., patching in flannel and calico-patching), to darning (i.e., fixing stocking ladders and setting a "breakfast-cut darn"), instructions on how to cut out a garment (such as chemises, drawers or knickerbockers, nightgowns, pinafores, flannel petticoats and combinations), to drills in basic skills such as how to wear a thimble (no less than seven illustrations are provided to enlighten the reader on this crucial maneuver), this book can tell the reader everything she or he ever wanted to know about hand sewing and more.

The knitting section of this book contains absurdly detailed instructions on how to hold a knitting needle, a dissertation on "the parts of a stocking", some lace stitch patterns, and patterns for a man's stocking and a boy's stocking, mittens, cuffs or wristlets, mufflers, babies' boots, babies's gloves, babies's shirt, a hug-me-tight, a school cap, "knee-caps", "washing gloves", knitted cord (which the book assures the reader is suitable for use as a stay lace), a "kilt pattern for petticoat", a woolen comforter or three-cornered shawl, and a raised leaf pattern for a quilt. There are no illustrations of finished items given for these patterns, so how they'll look when done is anyone's guess.

Then, too, Miss T.M. James offers us her cast-iron opinions on the importance of needlework skills. She states in the introduction that "one of the essentials of good wifehood and motherhood is to know how to use the needle, and apply it in everyday use, for the benefit of others as well as themselves, and in this way to cultivate the Christian grace of unselfishness", that "by following and perfecting themselves in womanly and home accomplishments, they will be doing their part in life's great problem as effectually as any heroine of whom they may have read or heard", and that when teaching needlework to the young, "not only lessons in the subject itself will be given, but a deep and lasting moral training in habits of thrift, observation, comparison, exactness, construction, and economy".

Even though I don't expect I'll ever need to cut out a flannel petticoat or patch any calico, there is quite a lot of useful information in this book and so it has its place in the bookcase that holds all my knitting and sewing patterns and crafting reference books. Hand sewing techniques haven't changed much at all in the past century, though of course we now use them to add details to machine-sewn garments that don't much resemble those worn in 1906. I am glad, however, that I don't have to rely on this book for knitting instructions and patterns. I have not only The Ultimate Knitting Book published by Vogue Knitting and other knitting instruction books that offer much clearer instructions and photos in my bookcase, but also a host of online resources that include YouTube videos and the incredible resource that is Ravelry. Knitting and crafting instruction has gone high-tech and easy access in the last century.

A class of boys knit for the war effort during World War II.

The way we think and talk about the intangible benefits of needlework has changed as radically as our access to technical information on how to knit. No one needs to know how to sew or knit these days, and understanding needlework isn't at all essential to being a good wife and mother. I wouldn't go any further than to say that it's a good idea for everyone, male or female, married or not, child-rearing or not, to learn how to sew on a button and change a hem and stitch a seam that's coming apart back together. Thankfully, we've stopped trying to convince women that being a good homemaker is her sole or highest possible purpose in life, and though there's still a huge gender divide in terms of who is most likely to take up needlework, we've at least stopped referring to it as a "womanly accomplishment".

I have fewer bones to pick when it comes to Miss James's argument that teaching needlework provides "a deep and lasting moral training in habits of thrift, observation, comparison, exactness, construction, and economy". I find parallels to this statement in modern discourse about knitting and other types of needlework. No one considers needlework "moral training" now, but it's fair to say learning needlework skills can give us money-saving options and can teach us to be more observant and detail-oriented.

These days anyone who writes about the benefits of knitting tends to point to peer-reviewed research studies rather than making such high-sounding sweeping statements. The Washington Post reports that scientific literature shows that hobbies such as "arts and crafts, music, meditation, home repairs and reading stimulates the mind, reduces the effects of stress-related diseases and slows cognitive decline". According to this article, crafting is also unique among leisure-type activities for its ability to involve many different areas of the brain. Crafting not only employs memory and attention span but also visuospatial processing, creativity, and problem-solving abilities.

Those of us who knit have always known how enjoyable it is and how happy it makes us, but now scientists are investigating just how beneficial enjoying knitting can be. As mentioned in the Washington Post article, in a study of 38 anorexic women who were taught to knit, "74 percent of them reported less fear and preoccupation with their eating disorder, the same percentage reported that knitting had a calming effect, and just over half said knitting gave them a sense of pride, satisfaction and accomplishment". In another study, mentioned in this article by the Craft Yarn Council, that involved oncology nurses suffering from work-related burnout or "compassion fatigue", all the nurses studied showed improvement in terms of their "burnout scores".

Thinking back over my own 32 years of knitting, I can't say that knitting has improved my morals or made me a better wife or mother (probably because I never did get around to taking on either of those roles), but I will say it's given me a sense of accomplishment and confidence. I have long been very quick to tackle a new project in a medium I've never worked in before and am always bemused by those who think they can't learn to knit or do minor hands-on projects. At the age of ten I never doubted that I could learn to crochet because I'd already learned to knit at eight and how different or much harder could crocheting be? As time went on, I reasoned similarly about needlepoint, rug hooking, counted cross-stitch, embroidery, dressmaking, drawing, painting and other fine art mediums, stained glass, and then home renovation skills. Each new skill learned was another brick in the wall of my confidence, at least when it came to skills involving my working with my hands. (More holistic physical skills such as downhill skiing can still scare the crap out of me.)

Some people have said to me that knitting must teach self-discipline. I don't think it does, but then self-discipline is such a nebulous concept. Yes, I once kept doggedly (if intermittently) at a fingering weight fair isle sweater until I eventually finished it two years after I started it, but that was because I really wanted the finished sweater and I had the skills to get there eventually. There have been many times in my life when I've spent time knitting when that time should have been used attend to other things that were more important and pressing, such as my schoolwork, and while I suppose I exercise discipline in some areas of my life, such as finishing nearly every project I start, in other arenas I am quite disastrously the reverse. In my late twenties I had to make a rule that I would only let myself knit during time that would otherwise be non-productive: while watching TV or movies, during lunch break at work, while commuting or travelling, and while talking on the telephone, and I've kept that rule quite consistently for a dozen years or so, but I have yet to rein in my habit of aimless internet surfing.

Self-discipline is more a matter of strategy and planning and working with your own character's needs and motivations than it is about strength of character. The military is known for their discipline, and they don't hand their new recruits a list of tasks to be accomplished and expect them to use their inherent sterling worth to get everything done. Rather, the military organizes and regulates their soldiers' lives in nearly every respect, trains and drills them until whatever specific things they are required to do are nearly second nature, and expects everything to be done according to very specific rules and regulation and on a strict schedule. Knitting will teach knitting skills, is productive, eases stress, gives one a creative outlet, and instills a certain confidence and sense of achievement that makes a knitter generally more ready to tackle other things, but it won't help knitters to keep their houses clean, meet deadlines at work, write a novel, or be better parents, as those tasks require strategies and skills of their own.

And I hope by analyzing the personal development benefits of knitting I haven't take all the fun out of it for you, or come across as some sort of modern-day Miss T.M. James, who sounds to me like the type to rap knuckles if she sees someone isn't demonstrating proper thimble-wearing form. In the last analysis, we knitters don't need all these research studies to tell us what we've always known: that knitting is enormously pleasurable and a way for us to make beautiful, useful items for ourselves and for those we love.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Supersized Knitting

I've previously written about a knitter who made her own needles out of PVC pipes and duct tape, but another knitter has taken super-sized knitting to a level beyond even that. When Kait Brink, whose grandmother taught her to knit as a child and who organized a knitting club in her high school, was told to make a large scale version of an ordinary object for a woodworking class in university, she chose to make a large pair of hand laminated knitting needles out of pine planks. And then, of course, she wanted to use them. Even the bulkiest of commercially made yarn won't knit to a gauge large enough for size US228 knitting needles, so Brink makes her own yarn:

I like to take objects that are discarded or unwanted and make them into something desirable again. The blankets are all from The Salvation Army; in good condition but still less than perfect. I wanted to make a yarn that would match the scale of the pine needles I hand carved a few years ago. The blanket yarn is stuffed with all things pliable: newspaper, old or unusable bits of yarn, unused curtains, blankets, old dresses, craft scraps, plastic packaging, etc. Now all these materials are fused together to make a new object come to life.

This video shows Brink and an assistant (because her knitting needles are too heavy for one person to manage alone) knitting. Nine stitches and nine rows of garter stitch and about an hour of knitting that's more like gator wrestling than conventional knitting makes one very heavy blanket.

To learn more about Brink and her work (she also works in other mediums, such as watercolours), you can check out this article on, or visit Kait Brink's own web site.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Noro Magazine Issue 4: A Review

As of today's review post, I'm adding a new magazine to the roster of knitting magazines that I review, Noro Magazine. It's a fairly new publication that has only reached its fourth issue. I ought to have been reviewing it from the very beginning as it launched after this blog did, but although I was dimly aware of it I never got around to looking into doing so until recently. Incidentally, if there is a knitting magazine out there that you would like me to start reviewing, feel free to post a comment or send me an email suggesting I do so. Just keep in mind that the proposed magazine will need to offer online preview pictures of its patterns if I'm to review them. There are several knitting magazines that I can't review for this reason, and I recently had to stop reviewing the former Knit n' Style because when it restyled itself as Knit Style it ceased to publish a full set of preview photos online.

Now, to the review of Noro Magazine. As you might expect from a knitting magazine produced by a yarn company, the focus is on showcasing (and, er, selling) the yarn rather than on design, and given that rich colours are Noro's trademark, we're looking at a photo shoot characterized by colour and what I can only call a "high street boho" kind of styling.

This is the Teardrop Vest. This is rather bulky and shapeless and would look kitschy and odd on most women.

The Cold Shoulder Pullover. I actually kind of like the shoulder cut-outs here — they give an otherwise standard shoulder a bit of sass — but the pattern combined with the colour combination is a little too afghan-like. I'd make this sweater in another yarn that didn't have that striped effect.

The Drop Shoulder Tee. This piece is on the bulky and shapeless side as well, but I suppose, like the Teardrop Vest above, it could work on the right woman, such as an art teacher whose clothes are more about colour and concept than about style or practicality. And there's nothing wrong with that — people who dress that way are always fun to have around because they're so visually interesting.

The Double Eyelet Tee. This is an adequate little summer top. The shaping could be a little better, but it has a fun, fresh look to it.

The A-Line Tunic. This is one of those designs that grew on me as I studied it. The shape is good and I especially like the shoulders of this tunic. I'd put it over a coordinating sheath though, rather than a shirt and trousers.

The Waterfall Vest. The stripes and stitchwork on this piece are very pretty, but this is going to be one difficult item for any woman who isn't a professional model to carry off. I'd take that yarn and pattern and shape them into a more conventional, wearable piece.

The Dragonscale and Cable Capelet. Very pretty and wearable capelet.

The Cabled Hooded Shrug. I think you'd have to be very young and cute to carry off that pixie hood. But I can see it working on the right person, though there definitely is a "Little Red Riding Hood took an acid trip to Grandmother's house" joke in there somewhere.

The Multi-Texture Cowl Neck Poncho. I must admit I like this much better than I ever thought I'd like a poncho. The colours and texture are pretty and this is a piece that will turn a t-shirt and jeans into an outfit.

The Open-Front Poncho. This is an interesting and original redesign of the poncho. And I like it — it's got a clean, contemporary shape, it will stay in place and allow the wearer to still use her arms, and the colours are very attractive.

The Flower Lace Scarf looks like something Little Red Riding Hood will see draped over the back of the toilet when she takes her acid trip to Granny's house.

The Lacy Scarf. I... don't mind this. It has a cohesion that the Flower Lace Scarf lacks, at any rate. I can see this looking quite pretty when worn with a coordinating simple summer dress.

Appliqued Tote. Please don't ruin a simple, classic bag by stitching crocheted crap all over it.

The Racer Track Bank. This looks like a mesh shopping bag with flotsam and jetsam randomly sewn around the neckline.


The Garter Stitch Jacket. This is really a lovely piece. The shape is so polished and the design so visually striking. One couldn't not notice this coat.

The Chevron Cowl. This is pretty, but it does look more like a swatch of afghan has been randomly tacked around this model's neck than like a professionally designed and shaped cowl.

The Feather and Fan Lace Shrug. I like the relaxed lines and rich colours of this shrug.

Feather and Fan Lace Blanket. This isn't bad. It's granny afghan-like, but the colours of the Noro are more sophisticated and subtly blended than the usual afghan of this type, which makes it look like it came from a new generation of granny afghans. This granny travels the world and wears jeans and turquoise and silver jewelry rather than watching The Price is Right and fussing over her ferns from her rocker.

The Asymmetric Shawl is lovely in an offbeat, interesting way.

Drop-Shoulder Pullover. This is a little too afghan-like. Better shaping would help this piece a lot.

The Oak Leaf Lace Socks. Interesting lacework.

The Faux Cable Socks. Classic stitchwork and very pretty colour striping.

The Spiral Lace Socks. Great texture.

Lattice Cable Socs. Love the stitchwork here, and the colours are so pretty.

The Eyelet Beanie. This is cute, but I'd recommend that older wearers consider omitting the flower.

Reversible Cowl. I very much like this one. The colour and texture combination is perfect.

The Mesh Wristers. These are... okay. I think the yarn choice isn't working terribly well here, because it's making these fingerless gloves look randomly striped and unfinished. A more definitely marked pattern of colour would have been a better choice for this very simple pattern.

The Lacy Wrap. This looks more like a Slice O'Afghan than like something one is supposed to actually wear.

The Mesh and Bobble Cowl is very pretty and fun in a way that one needn't be a teenager to wear.

The Entrelac Watch Cap. This looks a little weird, like knitting is growing out of the top of the hat.

Hyacinth Wrap. You can borrow clothes from your partner and make them look chic (hey, Chanel even did it), but you should not borrow wearing apparel from your couch.

The Bucket-Style Tote. I've seen better knitted bags, but this one is definitely acceptable. It has a good shape and I like that they've used a commercially made strap, which really elevates the tote and gives it a bit of style.