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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.

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Book Review: Ethnic Knitting

April 22

Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “I’m sorry I wrote such a long letter. I did not have the time to write a short one.” The book review that follows is long, but I couldn’t seem to pare it down any further without skipping some of  the book’s great qualities.

Ethnic Knitting Exploration: Lithuania, Iceland, and Ireland ek2_front-cover-rule

I love sweaters that incorporate ethnic designs, so I was pleased to read “Ethnic Knitting Exploration: Lithuania, Iceland, and Ireland”. The author, Donna Druchunas, walks you through all the steps and techniques required to design sweaters, and some smaller practice projects, with an ethnic flair. She clearly explains how to use color and texture stitch patterns from Lithuania, Iceland and Ireland in your designs.

Right from the introduction, I liked Druchunas’s approach. In a concise yet friendly manner she explains why she uses certain sweater styles, rather than others. This means you’ll end up with a sweater that is flattering rather than too boxy.

She goes on to cover some knitting basics: how to determine your sweater’s size, and how to knit in the round, including the two circular needles and the magic loop methods. This chapter makes a good primer for the beginning knitter and a nice reference for those with more experience. I’ve knitted sweaters before using short rows to shape the shoulders. But I learned something new in her description of short-row shaping for a sweater back. That said, I wished for more information on how to know whether to use this technique prior to starting the design process. Druchunas says that some body types like this adjustment, but I’d like to know what types those are.

I love the book’s format. The chapters on Lithuania, Iceland and Ireland include interesting facts about the origins of knitting in each region. Druchunas presents a variety stitch patterns from each – color ones from Lithuania and Iceland, and textures and cables for the Irish Aran tradition. Then there is a practice project and sweater project. Every project includes wonderful step-by-step instructions. You fill in the blanks on the worksheets and end up with your own design, customized for the fit and stitch patterns you’ve chosen.

I wanted to test out the book’s methodology. I chose the Fingerless Gloves project from the chapter on Lithuania. From making a gauge swatch to adjusting the stitch pattern to knitting the gloves, I found it very easy to make my own customized gloves. All I had to do was fill in the blanks on the worksheets. Each worksheet lays the foundation to make an entire pattern – painlessly.

fingerless-gloves-2

The project was so logically presented, my confidence is boosted for making a sweater next. The only hard part will be choosing from among all the lovely stitch patterns!

If you’re interested in buying “Ethnic Knitting Exploration: Lithuania, Iceland, and Ireland”, you can find it here on Amazon. Donna Druchunas’s  web site, Sheep To Shawl, describes the other books she’s written.

fingerless-gloves-and-book

Fingerless Gloves

April 18

I’ve been looking forward to finishing the Fingerless Gloves from the book I’ll be reviewing in a few days. I had a great time knitting them, in part because the author has a really neat way of guiding you through the design process. Here’s my creation, based on the project guidelines in the book.

fingerless-gloves-2

I made the ribbing extra long to keep my wrists warm as I take photos. I also crocheted a little border around the thumbholes to give them a bit of extra support.

These will be living in my camera bag so they’ll be at hand when I go out on cool mornings to shoot wildlife (we’re talking pictures) and flowers.

fingerless-gloves-3

I used odds and ends from my stash. The yarn smorgasbord includes Knit Picks Merino Style and Swish DK, Mission Falls 136 Merino Superwash, and a smidge of Rowan’s RYC Cashsoft DK.

fingerless-gloves-1

[Many thanks to hubby Steve who once again patiently played the part of knitwear photographer for the shot of me in my gloves!]

Fingerless Mitts Swatch

April 8

Remember that picture of the yarns as seen through the Teleidoscope? You don’t?? Ok, to refresh your memory here it is:

teleidoscope-5a-colors

Here are how the colors came together in the actual swatch:

swatch1

The swatch is my launching point for making fingerless gloves from a book I’ll be reviewing later in the month.  The book walks the knitter through all aspects of planning and designing her own projects. Now that I have a color combination that I like and gauge from my swatch, I’ll follow the author’s simple worksheets to create fingerless gloves just the way I want them.  I can hardly wait to get started!

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