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Free Spirit Book Review

April 19

Free Spitit Knits Cover

I love the Southwest. The colors and landscapes have a unique beauty and spirit about them. No wonder I was immediately enamored with the book Free Spirit Knits: 20 Knitted Garments and Accessories Inspired by the Southwest.  The author and designer, Anne Podlesak, lives in northern New Mexico. I can easily see the influence of her surroundings in her Santa Fe Wrap:

Santa Fe Wrap

This photo for the Grand Canyon Coat shows off the scenery’s subtle colors and its influence on the pattern. Motifs evoking the waters of the Colorado River set off the golden colors of the rocks. I love Anne’s choice of a tone-on-tone main color for this coat. The subtle striping reminds me of the striations of rock in the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon Coat

My time in Arizona taught me some history about sheep ranching in the West. Knitters tend to love all things sheep-y, so the Churro Sheep Cowl is appealing. (A knitter’s note here…if I make this cowl, I think I’ll try a different top and bottom edging to discourage the fabric from curling.)

Churro Sheep Cowl

Free Spirit sets itself apart by offering a number of nice patterns for men. The Salt River Sweater’s traditional cabling, combined with a motif that echoes Native American art,  would appeal to a lot of guys:

Salt River Sweater

Anne’s book includes several techniques, from lace to stranded knitting to cables. There are small projects as well as the stunning sweaters, coats and wraps.

As you may remember from my previous post, I made the book’s Petroglyph Socks.

petroglyph socks

I enjoyed making them so much, I looked up Ann Podlesak’s patterns on Ravelry. I love discovering designers whose work I like so well!

I’ll be giving away a copy of this gorgeous book in May. Stay tuned!

Publisher Info:

Free Spirit Knits: 20 Knitted Garments and Accessories Inspired by the Southwest

By Anne Podlesak

Interweave/F+W; $25.99

http://bit.ly/1M5c5IM

144 pages

Petroglyph Socks

March 30

Falling in love with a new-to-me yarn is one of my favorite parts of knitting. This happened to me when I tried Dragonfly Fiber’s gorgeous Djinni Sock yarn recently. A blend of merino, cashmere and nylon gives it a wonderful hand, and the just-right ply makes for delightful knitting.

When I was a young, I spent a lot of time in Arizona. I loved nothing more than to ride through the hills, exploring beautiful canyons and desert vistas. It was on one of these rides that I discovered a whole hillside of petroglyphs. Ancient carved rock pictures of snakes and stick figures captured my imagination.

No wonder I felt compelled to make the Petroglyph Socks from Anne Podlesak’s Western-inspired book, Free Spirit Knits.

Petroglyph Socks

I modified the Petroglyph pattern by making a rounded toe. If I had it to do over again, I think I’d choose a yarn that is a true solid so the socks’ stitch pattern would show up better. That said, I know I’ll get a lot of use out of these socks. I like the pattern, and the yarn makes the socks heavenly to wear.

I will be reviewing Free Spirit Knits and offering a brand new copy as a giveaway in the coming weeks.

Resources:

Dragonfly Fibers offers many weights of yarn, in a staggering array of gorgeous colors.

I encourage readers to purchase books through their local yarn shops. Please ask for Free Spirit Knits there. You can check out the patterns in the book on the book’s Ravelry page.

Anne Podlesak offers many great patterns on Ravelry.

Giveaway and Book Review: New Lace Knitting

February 13

Heart

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY

In the knitting world, lace offers a romantic flair. Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’m celebrating by giving away a fantastic book – New Lace Knitting: Designs for Wide Open Spaces by Rosemary (Romi) Hill.

New Lace Knitting cover

Fans of Romi’s shawl designs will be happy to know that the book contains several delightful shawls, including the “Main Triangle”:

New Lace Knitting shawl

Romi has a real gift for pairing stitch patterns and proportions. Check out her “Hope Valley Flounce” skirt:

New Lace Knitting skirt

Whenever possible I like to work a pattern from a book before I review it, just to see how the instructions are presented. I made the “Virginia City” cowl and was very impressed by Romi’s clear instructions. The gauge really did result in the indicated finished dimensions, which is refreshing! She even includes fantastic directions for blocking and finishing. I’ll devote another post to my finished cowl, but here’s the cowl and and matching cloche photo from the book:

New Lace Knitting VA city

Romi’s attention to detail is fantastic. She includes several beautiful tops in the book, including the “Williwaw Cardigan” with its unusual construction:

New Lace Knitting cardigan

Sometimes I’m in the mood to make a smaller project. One of my favorites is the “Silver Birch Slouch”, with its lovely leafy motif:

New Lace Knitting hat

New Lace Knitting is a book I’ll have on my shelf for years to come. Romi’s designs are beautiful with clear instructions. The book includes a lovely variety of yarns and colors. I know from my own book that it takes a lot of thought and effort to strike just the right balance between types of projects, yarn weights and colors. Romi’s book accomplishes it all.

[Here I am going to interject my pet peeve (listen up, publishers!). Books today are pitifully lacking in indexes. This book is no exception. I would have liked to have seen index entries for types of projects, such as “shawls”, “cardigans” etc. Index entries for yarn weights would be great, too, so if you had stash yarn you wanted to use up, you could just find which projects use them.]

Now, about the giveaway… Wouldn’t it be great to have a Valentine’s Week instead of just one day? In keeping with this sweet notion, you’ll have the whole week to enter your comment to win this book. Leave your comment here on this post by the end of the day on February 21st (midnight Eastern Time). Please include your contact information in your comment so I can let you know if you’re the winner. I’ll be conducting a random drawing to determine the winner. (One comment per person, please, with only one comment and email address per person.)

I can mail this book anywhere in the world as long as there are no postal or delivery restrictions.

Publisher’s Info:

New Lace Knitting: Designs for Wide Open Spaces

By Rosemary (Romi) Hill

Interweave/F+W; $24.99

http://bit.ly/1dlHNHx

 

Resources:

Errata (definitely check this out if you get the book)

You can see all the designs from the book here.

Romi Hill’s web site Designs by Romi features additional patterns

Please buy this book from your local yarn store! If you absolutely positively can’t get it through your local store, here is the link to its Amazon page.

Book Review & Giveaway: Unexpected Cables

December 8

In the past year I’ve gotten to know designer Heather Zoppetti’s work through industry trade shows. I admire her patterns and attention to detail. I was excited, then, to see her book Unexpected Cables: Feminine Knitted Garments Featuring Modern Cable Knitting.

Unexpected Cables jacket

In her new book, Heather takes the magic of cables to new levels. Cabling may be an age-old technique, but she uses it to craft modern designs and silhouettes. In some designs she pairs cables with lightweight yarns and delicate details. In others, she uses bold cables and unusual construction. This gives the book a nice range of patterns. It is also well-balanced in terms of larger sweater projects, and smaller accessories such as socks and hats.

The book’s patterns are divided into three chapters:

In the first chapter, titled “Refined”, Zoppetti successfully bursts any notion that cables must be heavy-looking. She uses lightweight yarn and twisted stitch cables to give an updated, feminine flair, as in her pretty “Rapho Socks”:

Rapho Socks

Chapter 2 includes projects that marry cables and lace. Heather’s versatile design sense is evident in the delicate detailing of the “Talmage Pullover”:

Talmage Pullover

Her “Stevens Vest” is a fabulous circle vest that is high on my “Knit This!” list. It includes openwork alongside my personal favorite, reversible cables:

Stevens Vest

 –

Chapter 3, called “Abstracts”, features unexpected cable placement or construction. Here, the “Penryn Pullover’s” asymmetric cable lends a modem, sophisticated air to a V-neck sweater:

Penryn Pullover

Brilliant construction comes into play in the “Fulton Shrug”. The piece personifies the book’s concept of “unexpected” and “cables”:

Rapho Socks

To me, cabling is a fun technique that adds variety and interest to my knitting life. In Unexpected Cables I’ve found plenty of patterns to keep me intrigued and entertained for a long time!

To win this book, enter a comment here on this post by the end of the day on December 14th (midnight Eastern Time). Please include your contact information in your comment so I can let you know if you’re the winner. I’ll be conducting a random drawing. (One comment per person, please, with only one comment and email address per person.)

I can mail this book anywhere in the world as long as there are no postal or delivery restrictions.

Publisher Info:

Unexpected Cables: Feminine Knitted Garments Featuring Modern Cable Knitting

By Heather Zoppetti

Interweave/F+W; $24.99

128 pages, available in print and digital editions

Gaugefy App

February 27

You may remember I’ve been working on the second level of the TKGA Master Hand Knitting Program. I’m learning to be a stickler for gauge (oh dear, I’ve become one of those people). In Level 2, we have to write instructions for our swatches, including gauge.

A tool that I’m finding to be helpful is the Gaugefy app for Apple devices. It’s very easy to calculate gauge, since it lets you enter any measurement for your swatch – you’re not stuck with 4″ x 4″ for example. It then takes the stitches and rows in your swatch and calculates stitches per inch.

app, Gaugefy, gauge

You can then hit the “Create” button to go to a page that allows you to to use your stitches-per-inch calculation in a number of ways. I like using it to get the 4″ gauge to put into the gauge section of my patterns. Or you can you can estimate the measurements that you’ll get using a certain number of repeats. Or go the other way and figure out how many repeats you’ll get in a given measurement.

app, Gaugefy, gauge

This handy app has a free version which I use all the time. For $1.99 you can get a version with even more features. It will store your gauges for you for future reference.  As a designer, this is really handy. I can have at my fingertips the gauges for yarns I use in design work, or gauges for specific stitch patterns.

app, Gaugefy, gauge

Gaugefy seems like such a simple little app, yet is very handy!  You can check it out for free in iTunes and upgrade to the paid (but still really inexpensive) version if you’d like to be able to save the results of your swatches, including yarn and needle size.

Bargello Knits

October 8

For me, one of the best things about knitting is that it provides a never-ending opportunity to learn something new. You might say I ‘m a techniques junkie! Through classes or books, I might learn a new variation on a technique I already use. Other times I’m exposed to a whole new way of thinking and creating.

The latter’s the case with the book Bargello Knits. I first met the author, Patty Nance, at a convention. She was knitting a spectacular creation, full of colors placed in an astonishing way. I could hardly wait for her book to come out so I could learn her inventive “Bargello” way of knitting. And here it is!

knitting book, Bargello Knits

The book’s beginning leads the reader through the genius of Patty’s discovering and refining the Bargello technique. She uses lengths of yarn, carefully cut so colors stack in the desired way. The yarn requirements are quite specific, since placing the colors where you want them is a key element. Patty does a great job of explaining the different color placement on hanks or balls of yarn, and why they’re important to a project’s final outcome.

Patty is a natural teacher. In very clear terms, she guides the reader through the fundamentals of her technique, preparing the knitter for a practice swatch. I easily followed her very clear instructions, from selecting an appropriately-dyed hank (in this case some Lorna’s Laces Sportmate)…

Lorna's Laces Sportmate

…through a little icord test, to a stockinette swatch, to lengths of yarn organized in little baggies, to a final swatch. It’s a testament to Patty’s precise writing style that I was able to pull off the Bargello technique on my first try!

Bargello Swatches

The 28 patterns in Bargello Knits are presented in a way that allows the knitter to build skills. They start with easy hats and scarves, then progress through an adorable skirt, to shawls and lace, and culminate a section of gorgeous sweaters using more advanced techniques.

Now that I’ve added Bargello to my bag of knitting skills, I can try some of the beautiful patterns in the book.

Bargello Knits patterns

Resources:

Patty Nance’s Bargello Knitworks website goes into detail about yarn recommendations

Individual print and digital sales information, and wholesale inquiries, can be found here: Bargello Knits

Published by Cooperative Press

posted under Book Review | 1 Comment »

Cast On, Bind Off: 211 Ways to Begin and End Your Knitting

May 29

CastOn BindOff_8

My latest favorite knitting book is Cap Sease’s Cast On, Bind Off: 211 Ways to Begin and End Your Knitting. It’s brilliant!

I’ve recently had two reasons to put the book to the test. I was making socks with K2P2 ribbing on the leg, and wanted an attractive, stretchy cast-on. I have lots of reference books that include sections about casting on, but I’d have to dig through a lot of techniques just to find the one with the qualities I was looking for. This is where Cast On, Bind Off really shines. Right in the beginning of the book, Sease provides grids which show the purpose of the various techniques. In the case of my sock, all I had to do was look under the column called “Purpose” in the grid for cast-ons to find the section called “Elastic”; it lists seventeen cast-ons that will produce an elastic edge. Further down was the section labeled “Socks”, which was even more specific. Flipping to the section of the book for sock cast-ons (yes, there’s a whole section devoted to socks!), I found the perfect technique – the “Rolled-Edge Cast On for K2, P2 Rib”.

The next situation I needed to use the book for was binding off my Color Affection shawl. Before looking at the Cast On book – and kind of ignoring some warnings from Ravelry users – I figured I could just go up a needle size or two and bind off in the usual manner. Big mistake. The bind-off was too tight, and I had to take the whole thing out. Aarg! What I really needed was an elastic bind-off that would be neither too tight nor too loose for the shawl’s curved edge. Voila! Cast On‘s fabulous tables in the front of the book list a whole slew of bind-offs which can be used for elastic edges. I tried one or two, and settled on the “Suspended Bind Off Variation.”

Not only does this book provide an incredible array of techniques, it’s just so intelligently laid out! In addition to tables which organize cast-ons and bind-offs by purpose (elastic, firm, lace, etc), there’s a table which shows which cast-ons to pair with which bind-offs to create matching edges. Those of you who regularly read my blog or scarf book can just imagine how happy this grid makes me! I love for the beginnings and endings of my projects to mirror each other.

That Cap Sease has been knitting since childhood may explain the variety of cast-ons and bind-offs she’s gathered for this book. Her experience as a teacher shines through in the concise yet thorough instructions for each technique. The illustrations are thorough and very helpful. I would highly recommend this book to any knitter who wants to go beyond the basics and use cast-ons and bind-offs to exercise more control over the appearance and usefulness of the projects they knit.

Keep looking here for a special giveaway of this book. The winner will receive a copy personalized and signed by Cap Sease! (A hint – the giveaway will commence on a practically unheard-of day of celebration in June…anybody care to venture a guess?)

 

Entrelac Online: Part 2 (or, Who Knew It Could Be This Easy?)

August 27

Gwen Bortner, entrelac, infinity neck cowl

When I last posted about Gwen Bortner’s online Entrelac Knitting class , I was just getting to know my way around Craftsy. Now I’ve had a chance to dig in and actually start taking the class.

Gwen’s wonderful in-person teaching style translates well into her videos. She’s really upbeat, and she anticipates things that may prove challenging for the student.  Her class uses three projects to teach entrelac; a neck warmer introduces the student to basic entrelac technique, next a scarf and then a cape build on those skills with more complex patterns.

Working on the first project, the Infinity Neck Warmer, I learned how to make the triangles and blocks that form an entrelac pattern. Gwen’s directions were so clear, and presented in such an organized manner, that I had no problems at all. One of the super-cool things about Craftsy classes is that you can post a question to the teacher, attaching a photo of your work. For forever, my ssk’s have been wonky as heck. Every other tier of entrelac blocks uses ssk’s, and true to form, my ssk columns of stitches were all crooked. I posted a photo of my crazily-tilting stitches, and Gwen wrote back to me right away with a suggestion for how to fix it.

The only thing I found the teeniest confusing in the class so far was the way the downloaded homework assignments are presented. If you take the class, be sure to start with the right pattern – go by the name on the pattern, rather than the number in the corner or the order they’re presented in the list of homework downloads. (The first pattern pdf has a “2” in the corner, while the second project is labelled “1”, which I found confusing).

Gwen’s lessons are filled with helpful tips. Who would have guessed I’d be learning how to knit in both directions as part of this class? It makes working all those squares faster. I’d always been interested in learning this technique, but  felt intimidated. Having it as part of the class was like getting a bonus class-within-a-class. And typical Gwen – her instructions are clear and she anticipates where things might prove to be challenging. (She warns that at a certain point your brain will stop, and she was right on – my brain stopped!) The video was so good, I only had to watch it once and was able to apply it. (I’m glad I have it to go back to when I need a refresher, though!)

I was so excited to get started on this project, I turned to my stash for the yarn. My stash pretty much consists of one ball of everything, since I had a lot of yarn samples left over from my book. So I grabbed the only stuff I had enough of – a solid Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran  and a gently striped Classic Shades by Universal Yarns. I think it turned out to be a serendipitous combination.

Gwen Bortner, Knitting Entrelac, entrelac, infinity neck warmer

 Normally, I love to block my projects. For this one, I chose not to block it, so it would keep its textural quality.

knitting, entrelac, Craftsy, Gwen Bortner, cowl

 

Bottom line? If you’ve had any curiosity at all about learning entrelac, I highly recommend Gwen’s Entrelac Knitting class. It was fun to learn and much easier than I thought! I look forward to continuing the next two phases of the class – the textured scarf and eventually the cape.

 

 

Entrelac Online: Part 1 (or, Craftsty – My New Best Friend)

July 23

When I heard that Gwen Bortner now teaches her Entrelac Knitting course online, I was excited to check it out. You may remember I took a fantastic workshop from her in Cambria a few months ago. Gwen clearly loves to teach and her sense of humor make her classes fun. Her book Entree to Entrelac helped transform entrelac from esoteric to wildly popular.

Since this is the first online class I’ve taken, I’m going to write a series of posts for this topic, sharing with you some of the super-smart features of Craftsy as I discover them for myself through taking Gwen’s online class.

I’ve always been curious about entrelac; I’ve oohed and ahhhed over everybody else’s’ entrelac projects. But it scares me –  I’ve sat with many a  knitter trying to tackle entrelac on her own, and it usually involves swearing and ripping. Along comes Gwen’s class on Craftsy. If anyone can teach me entrelac, it’s bound to be Gwen. But could an online class be as informative and fun as her real-life classes?

I’ve only recently discovered the world of Craftsy. One thing I love is that they post sample videos so you get a sense ahead of time whether you want to take the class. When I think about the money I’ve spent on travelling to knitting events, and then paying for classes, I realize that the cost of $39.99 is very reasonable. The process for joining Craftsy and signing up for class is super easy.

What’s really cool about the online course is that, unlike when I get behind in a real-time class, I can go back any time to any of the video segments to refresh my memory or review a tricky technique. Once I buy a Craftsy course, it is mine to keep forever.

I was worried that without actually being in the same room as Gwen, I’d be unable to ask questions or get help when I got stuck in my knitting. There’s an area right next to the video for posting questions, which Gwen responds to. While there isn’t the instant gratification of an immediate answer, there is the advantage that I can see everyone’s questions and answers,  which add up to a broader range than would be asked in a typical class. That means I get to learn even more. I can even attach a photo of my knitting if I get stuck and need to show Gwen where I went wrong. That’s comforting!

When I take a real-time class, I scribble all kinds of notes as the teacher explains things. I can do the same thing with a note-taking section under the video window; I love that I can pause the video while I type, meaning I won’t miss a word.

The projects and instructions for the course start off with the basics of entrelac, and then build skills from there. Now that I’ve learned the ropes with the Craftsy format, and have sorted out the downloaded instructions, I’m off to dig through my stash for some project yarn. In the next post, we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of the class.

California Revival Knits

July 9

One of the best things about writing my book has been getting to know the work of other authors. I first met Stephannie Tallent at a knitting event. She was knitting an absolutely stunning sweater, which I walked up to admire. As fate would have it, she too was working on a book for Cooperative Press, and the sweater was one of the patterns in it. Here’s the finished Wrought Iron Cardi from Stephannie’s book California Revivial Knits:

California Revival Knits, Stephannie Tallent, knitting book, Wrought Iron Cardi

Stephannie’s book came about from her interest in architectural details from the California Revival period. Not only are her patterns gorgeous, but the photos that illustrate her story are absolutely stunning. Photographer Kathy Cadigan created images for this book that beautifully show architectural elements that influenced Stephannie’s designs. There is a gorgeous sequence that shows how the the traditional tiles are crafted. I just love the way the book ties together the story that led to this collection with the designs themselves.

California Revival Knits, fair isle, Stephannie Tallent

I love the variety of patterns in California Revival Knits. There are small projects and large, cables and lace, and beautiful colorwork. Here you can see how a traditional peacock motif influenced mitts and a cowl design.  Beautiful beads and buttons add another technique to the mix, as well as lending sparkle and elegance.

 I’ve been itching to make the Peacock Mitts since I first laid eyes on them. In the meantime, I’m going to make the Wrought Mitts, with their beautiful wrought-iron inspired cables, for the Ravellenic Games (the Ravelympics having been renamed due to the ridiculous heavy-handedness of the US Olympic Committee). I’ll post more about that as the Opening Ceremonies draw near.

And guess what? Cooperative Press had given me a copy of this fantastic book to give away to one of you, Dear Readership! Look for the California Revival Knits giveaway in the next few weeks.

 

To order California Revival Knits for yourself, here’s the link to the ordering page.

Published by Cooperative Press

Photography by Kathy Cadigan

Stephannie Tallent’s website is Sunset Cat

posted under Book Review | 3 Comments »

Craftsy

July 3

Like a bystander being swept up into the mob surging into a free Black Eyed Peas concert, I’m suddenly surrounded by everything Craftsy. I’m just now discovering what all the excitement’s about.

Craftsy bills itself as “the fastest-growing online crafting community on the web.” It offers online classes, workshops, patterns from indie designers, and an area for sharing photos of finished projects. It includes all manner of crafts, from cake decorating to weaving. My focus is knitting, of course.

I can’t wait to try out some of the online classes. First, I’ll try Gwen Bortner’s Entrelac Knitting. I’ve taken a couple of classes from Gwen, and thoroughly enjoyed them. And I’ve always wanted to learn entrelac, in a curious-but-intimidated kind of way. So it’s a perfect fit.

I was delighted to see that Caro Sheridan, the ace photographer who worked on my book, offers a class. It’s called Shoot It! A Product Photography Primer. Caro is an absolute genius, and her talent and fun personality make this a class I’d love to take too.

I was lucky enough to win a free class of my choice during a TNNA event. I can take any class I want. How fun is that?! I have my eye on subjects ranging from short rows to lace shawl design. Or socks. Or cables. Or….

I’m having a blast getting caught up in the Craftsy phenomenon; now I know what all my crafty friends are talking about!

posted under Reviews | No Comments »

Skeletons on the Zahara Review

January 21

This is the first time I’ve mentioned a non-knitting book on my website. I recently read a book that was so compelling, I simply must break with tradition.

Cover Skeletons on the Zahara

The book is Skeletons on the Zahara, by Dean King. It’s the riveting true story of American sailors who were shipwrecked off the west coast of Africa in 1815. The good news was they made it safely to shore. The bad news was that they were taken as slaves by desert nomads. The captured sailors’ trials and tribulations are beyond my ability to comprehend – they were starved, beaten and sold to other cruel masters.  Literally, they were walking skeletons by the time their ordeal came to an end.

I loved Dean King’s writing style – his narrative is gripping without being hyped-up dramatic. He weaves amazing facts and bits of history into the story. For example, did you know that not so long ago (about 5500 to 2500 B.C.) the Sahara was quite fertile? It had all kinds of wildlife, including hippopotamuses living in lush rivers. It’s hard to believe, looking at it now.  Another thing I found fascinating is that camels originated in North America (!).

If you want to read an amazing account of courage, tenacity and survival, check out Skeletons on the Zahara.

posted under Book Review | 1 Comment »
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