Book Review: Island by Jane Richmond

Jane Richmond is one of those designers I’ve been keeping an eye on for a couple of years. I’ve knit her Mustard Scarf, and it’s one of those great stashbuster + quick knitting patterns. I’ve got quite a few of her hat patterns on my “want!” list and she’s published a few women’s sweater patterns lately as well. Her aesthetic is somewhat preppy, somewhat trendy, and completely classic and timeless.

I saw a couple of her patterns from her self-published book ISLAND and was immediately intrigued. Five brand new patterns exquisitely photographed around Vancouver Island, this book is more of a catalogue of excellent, low-key adventure scenes than a knitting pattern collection. Good product photography makes you wish you were living in that scene and everyone of the shots in this collection hits that nail squarely on the head.

Strathcona is a lovely, simple biasing lace scarf. It may just be the color and the latticed lace look, but I feel that Strathcona is beautiful matched in the Rathtrevor mitts.


Arbutus was the first pattern in this collection to grab my attention. A squishy garter ridge cowl, it manages to achieve a gorgeous layered look with only one skein of DK weight yarn.

Renfrew is a simple slouchy hat with a reverse stockinette body and a lovely cable pattern running up the side (or front, or back, or wherever you place it).

Finally, Grace is a cozy cardigan with raglan sleeves and a lace yoke on both the back and fronts. The sample was knit in Sweet Georgia Yarns BFL sock, and now I can’t get the idea of making one for myself in that yarn out of my head.

ISLAND is a wonderful homage to Jane’s neck of the woods, and is only CAD$18 for all five patterns. Purchase the print edition next month for a beautiful combination coffee table/daydream book and knitting pattern collection, or nap the digital edition today to maybe whip up a few last minute holiday gifts.

All photos are from Ravelry pattern pages; no copyright infringement intended. I purchased my own digital copy of this book and this review is comprised of my own opinions.

Book Review: Needles and Artifice

About five months ago, I included the Null Hypothesis Scarf in a Friday Finds. I broke one of my self-imposed Friday Finds rules to include that—at the time, there was no pattern available and no confirmed release date. I broke that rule because that scarf is so mind-boggling amazing that I had to share it immediately.

The good news is that now it’s available as part of a collection of steampunk-inspired patterns, Needles and Artifice: A Refined Adventure Story with Ingenious Knitting Patterns. Twenty-three knitting patterns in total make up this whimsical book, but that’s not all. The patterns are arranged in groups, and each group is preceded by a chapter of a thrilling steampunk adventure featuring The Ladies of Mischief. The book is available now in both print and digital versions from Cooperative Press.

Elizabeth at Cooperative Press asked me to review the book and I jumped all over that like a Victorian lady over a pot of tea (except, maybe, with a little less decorum). I love this book in all its exquisite detail. The flyleaf and title page feature beautiful hand-drawn scroll work, the photography is incredible, and the story is delightful fun. On top of that, the patterns are inspiring and look like they’d be a lot of fun to knit.

I had a chance to ask the Ladies a few questions about the genesis of Needles and Artifice, and thought I’d share them here! Be sure to purchase your own copy via Ravelry or Cooperative Press.

The Ladies of Mischief first came to my attention with photos of the Null Hypothesis Scarf, which first appeared on Ravelry in June. How long have the Ladies been Mischieving? How did the group come about?

Valerie DiPietro (Theodosia La Duke, project manager): We have been working on Needles and Artifice for 2 years now but our group began a little over 5 years ago. While we don’t make up the entire group, all of us are members of the Capitol Hill Knitters of Dooom on Ravelry. Basically the idea for the book came about after several steampunk-themed parties were thrown for one of our friend’s birthdays. We realized that we had some amazing talents within our group, with everything from creative writing, to costume design and sewing, to unique pattern design ideas (several of the patterns featured in the book were already floating around in our heads long before we began the actual writing). We figured, why let all that amazing talent go to waste! Let’s write a book. So we did!

Sarra Loew (Coraline Hackworth, co-author): We all met through Ravelry, we’re members of the Capitol Hill Knitters of Dooom group there. We got into steampunk when my husband wanted to have a steampunk-themed birthday party in 2009. It was great fun and we started getting really inspired by steampunk fashion. Val and Amanda coordinated on the very first project, a lace gear handkerchief pattern with coordinating yarn for a steampunk themed yarn sampler. After that we thought we could go big and make a whole book! We held our first official book meeting in October of 2010, drawing volunteers from our knitting group who were interested.

How did the idea to do a collection of steampunk patterns evolve? From the group’s blog, it looks as though there’s much more to the story than what made it into Needles and Artifice.

Sarra: Once we started talking about making a book, we had a ton of ideas! We wanted to use everyone’s strengths, and we really liked the idea of creating a knitting book that people who didn’t knit could still enjoy. Lots of people get into steampunk because it lets them be creative, so we knew that they would enjoy a good story and some lovely pictures just as much as knitters do. People signed up for various roles based on their strengths, and we ran with as many ideas as we could manage.

As for the story, we had several unique characters already thought up, and we wanted to use the blog to introduce them to the world. We decided to present it as if the blog author had discovered a box of artifacts from the Ladies, and was presenting them to the world. It was fun to create the bits and pieces—letters, sketches, lists, etc that all told bits of information about the ladies. The story itself happens in the time period after the letters, etc. on the blog. People can read the book without reading the blog first, or they can get to know the ladies on the blog before (or after) reading the story.

This book is a labor of love from a number of contributors, and it shows in the clever storytelling, the attention to detail in the photos, the lovely patterns themselves.

What was it like to work together with so many collaborators? What kinds of challenges did you have to overcome?

The great part was that we had a TON of ideas to work with, both in terms of book components, and in terms of pattern designs. The book is filled with unique little pieces that add to the overall feel of the world. The chapter themes, the sketches and illustrations, the bios, pieces of the story, the photoshoot settings, they all came from the wonderful interaction of many creative people working together. The finished book is something bigger than any one of us could have done on our own. I’m so proud of how it all came together.

The hard part is that we’re friends and business partners at the same time. In order to actually finish the book we had to make hard decisions and cut some elements or patterns. It was incredibly challenging any time we had to make a tough decision for business reasons. The other challenges mostly had to do with keeping track of where everything is at a given time. With so many patterns and pieces to track, it was easy to miss something and have to rush to get it completed on time!

I credit Valerie for keeping us on track through the two years we were in production. She was the one who scheduled meetings, managed deadlines and focused our discussions. She had to be the tough one who held us to deadlines and didn’t let uncomfortable topics drop. It’s not easy to discuss things like compensation, or to have to drop a pattern that didn’t meet the deadline, but she did what she had to. I’m very glad that she was in that role!

Where did you find inspiration for the collection? Do you or the other Ladies have any authors, movies, musicians, or other artists that inspired your pieces?

Sarra: I found inspiration in books: Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, with his Neo-Victorians, was my first glimpse of how Victorian ideas could be incorporated into different ages. The combination of the romantic aesthetic and the far-future technology is thought-provoking. Coraline Hackworth’s name is my tribute to that book. Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate series has a fabulous main character whose voice inspired my writing style. The series is a fantasy/steampunk hybrid, stylish and sharp.*

Why do you think the idea of steampunk is something that appeals to knitters?

Sarra: Steampunk embraces the idea that functional items can also look fabulous—something knitters have long understood! Steampunk is a playground for creative people, with a few general rules and a very large space for creativity. It incorporates elements from the Victorian era—the wonder of new technology, the beauty of form and function combined, the adventurous spirit of world exploration, and the divine fashions. At the same time, it provides complete freedom to take the elements that inspire you and leave the rest. The lifestyles and behaviors of the Ladies of Mischief would certainly be condemned in the real Victorian England. But with steampunk, we have the freedom to write our own version of the world, where the oppressive hand of society is easily shrugged off, and a woman can do anything she pleases.

We hope to inspire knitters to take a similarly creative route with our patterns. We want them to be inspired by our work, and to take the elements they love and leave out the ones they don’t. If they love the pattern completely, that’s excellent! Personally, I find it impossible to follow a pattern exactly as written, and I hope that our readers feel that they have the freedom to make each project their own.

Approximately how much tea was consumed during this venture?

Sarra: Enough to fill the second-largest cargo room in Coraline Hackworth’s personal airship, the Lilith Ascending. ;)

*I have to second Sarra’s recommendation of The Parasol Protectorate, which is now available in a boxed set and is really a most delightful introduction to the genre. Other books I would recommend are Clockwork and Corsets, an anthology edited by Trisha Telep, and Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan series for young adults.

All photos © Jessica Glein/The Ladies of Mischief

Book Review: The Knitter’s Life List

Like most knitters, I think, I love a good book full of information and patterns. But sometimes I tend to overlook, on first glance, those books that may be lacking in patterns for whatever reason. Unless it’s a knitting history book, for some reason I do grab those.

I first picked up Gwen W. Steege’s The Knitter’s Life List and had that “eh” reaction. “Why do I need a book to create a list for me? Have you seen my queue?!” But I kept coming back to it as something to flip through, and finally I did. Last night, right before I planned to review it, because that’s just how I roll. And this book requires a more in-depth look than I can really give it, having flipped through it after I started taking NyQuil last night (fighting off a cold). While it’s lacking in new patterns, The Knitter’s Life List is a fantastic resource of inspiration and brief insights into different aspects of the craft we love. It’s organized into eleven sections, including “The Yarn Life List,” “The Sweater Life List,” The Socks Life List,” etc. Each section is packed, and begins with a check list of sorts—the Yarn Life List, for example, includes different fibers to try, and the Sweater Life List includes different sweater constructions to knit, as well as movies and books that somehow relate to sweaters. The lists also include people to “meet” and those people are introduced in short bios throughout the chapter.

If you enjoy books that are full of information about a particular subject, such as Clara Parkes’s Knitter’s Book of Socks, you should take a peek through The Knitter’s Life List. While more broad and less in-depth than any of Parkes’s books, the sections in Steege’s book provides concise, at-a-glance information relevant to each section—the Socks Life List includes tutorials on Kitchener stitch and a variety of cast-ons, for example.

Again, I haven’t had the chance to poke around this book as much as I would like, but from a pretty quick, NyQuil-laced glance, I can tell that this is a fantastic reference and inspiration book for knitters of all skill levels and years of experience.

Book Review: The Knitter’s Book of Socks

If you’ve been around this blog for longer than a minute, you’ve probably noticed that I enjoy knitting socks. Unlike Allyson. And I also really like yarn (Allyson does too, and it’s quite likely that you do too; if not, I’m a bit curious as to why you’re at a knitting blog, but welcome nonetheless). So I really, really like Clara Parkes’s new book, The Knitter’s Book of Socks.

Knitter's Book of Socks Clara Parks sock knittingIf you’ve read either of Clara’s first books, The Knitter’s Book of Yarn or The Knitter’s Book of Wool, you know the level of detail to which Clara describes yarn in all it’s glory. The Knitter’s Book of Socks begins in much the same way as The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, by discussing the different types of fibers, twists, and constructions that make up a skein of yarn. The difference in this book, obviously, is that it relates all of that information specifically to the knitting of socks. This should be a go-to guide for anyone interested in learning about the best yarn for sock knitting, as well as anyone with aspirations to design sock patterns.

And of course, there are the patterns. Clara contributes a pattern herself (and you can download her Stepping Stones socks, worked in a DK yarn, for free at Knitter’s Review), and enlists Cookie A, Cat Bordhi, Sivia Harding, Nancy Bush, Jared Flood, and more to contribute patterns to the book. This is a fantastic book to add to anyone’s sock book collection, whether you consider yourself a sock novice or master sock knitter.

Book Review: Knit Local by Tanis Gray

There’s been a lot of focus, in general, on buying local lately: groceries from farmer’s markets, shopping at little mom and pop stores, you know what I mean. And based on a recent Twitter conversation I “overheard,” there’s some crafters looking to source yarn locally as well.

If you’re one of those knitters, Tanis Gray’s Knit Local is a book you need to look into. In her introduction, Tanis discusses the reasons for buying local yarn, including the variations in the definitions of “local.” Tanis highlights 28 yarn companies in the United States, including Brown Sheep Yarn Company, The Fibre Company, Quince and Co, and Brooklyn Tweed, but also features other ranches and operations that I’d never heard of and will be looking into in the future, like Red Barn Yarn and Mountain Meadow Wool. Tanis makes sure to note how many yarns are produced in the United States, and when certain manufacturers made strides to source local or fair-trade fibers.

Each company featured in this book also provided yarn support for a corresponding pattern or two, and the patterns are simply stunning. There’s Kate Gagnon Osborn’s Scandinavian Hat in The Fibre Company’s Savannah DK, featured on the cover. Susan Lawrence’s Oquirrh Mountains Wrap, knit in Elsawool’s Cormo blend, is absolutely stunning—and if you ever have an opportunity to squish a skein of Elsawool, I highly recommend it. One of the stores in town carries it and for some reason I haven’t yet bought any, but not for lack of staring at it with longing in my eyes. Not in Ravelry yet is Kristen Rengren’s Betsy Baby Cardigan, a sweet little cardigan knit in a Pagewood Farms yarn, or Elli Stubenrauch’s Dreaming of Spring Mittens, worked in Mountain Meadow Wool’s Kettle-dyed Artisan Cody.

If you or a crafter in your life are pro-local, I’ll be doing a post later this month in anticipation of Plaid Friday, and you’ll see Knit Local again on that list. I’m hoping to provide some relatively local alternatives or ideas for shopping for crafting supplies locally. If you have any tips regarding local or small-business crafting, please share them with me in the comments!

Month in Review: October

Ten months down, and only two to go! That thought kind of gives me a headache.

So, this month, lots accomplished this month. One project finished early on that I can’t show you yet (and still need to photograph, now that I think about it).

My Elise shawl.

IMG_2895

My Snicket socks.

IMG_2932

My Felicity Hat.

And a Baby Surprise Jacket that I will post about very soon. It’s so cute! So much more than meets the eye! No, that will not get old.

I think next month I may knit Nutkin socks. I’m doing some traveling and they would probably be a good on-the-go pattern. PLUS, I’m hoping to bang out at least most of a sweater—I’ve started swatching for Chambourcin, so hopefully that will go well.

I’m not even going to discuss the yarn. Oi.

How was your October? Hopefully your November is excellent!

They’re so PINK.

October 10, 2011: See updates below.

A while ago, I wrote about The Hip Girl’s Guide to Modern Life and how I appreciated it as a source of ideas for maybe streamlining parts of my domestic life. Since then, I’ve read a couple more books in that sub-genre (is this self-help? DIY? I can’t tell!) and well, I think I peaked with Hip Girl’s.

Three Black Skirts by Anna JohnsonThe first book I read was Three Black Skirts by Anna Johnson. The title comes from Johnson’s philosophy that every girl should have at least three black skirts, one short and casual, one professionally appropriate, and one “long black skirt for seductive purposes.” (I’m paraphrasing, as it’s been a little while since I read the book.) That pretty much sums up my feelings on this book. It has great ideas for getting your life together in a casual way and how to be professional and then how to sink your hooks in a man. Never mind doing this stuff for yourself. At the end of the day, you’re still supposed to have a man to seduce. (The Goodreads blurb includes the line “It’s about man handling.”)

The Modern Girl's Guide to Life by Jane Buckingham The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life by Jane Buckingham follows in a similar fashion. Get your self sorted, be professional, keep your man in line. Buckingham includes advice for being able to choose your own furniture (give him the choice between shopping with you all day or staying at home watching football) and keeping him entertained (stock up on guy friendly music like Radiohead and movies like James Bond and Braveheart).

First, let me say that both of these books include extremely useful, clever tips for just getting your life together. Buckingham includes a thorough descriptions of how to change your own tires, checking your own oil, preparing for job interviews, and many other things that every person should know. I would like to give specific examples from Three Black Skirts but again, it’s been a while and I can’t remember; I do know that Johnson also provides a lot of great ideas and inspiration.

But I’m overwhelmed and kind of turned off by the approach both writers have taken to summing up their ideal readership, and especially some of the things Buckingham writes about male partners (neither writer assumes the possibility of a same-sex partner). Perhaps it’s where I am in life—a heterosexual woman who has been single for a long while and lives on her own—but it’s driving me batty to be reading like this: “oh, that’s a good idea. Oh, clever. WTF why do I have to have scotch on hand just so my man can drink it?” (For the record, this panda likes her Johnny Walker Black label with just a little bit of water.)

I grew up a tomboy. I grew up teaching myself how to do things because I hate relying on people to do things for me (this is both a good thing and a bad thing and I recognize that). I grew up playing basketball and volleyball and even a little bit of golf and watching football—I don’t need a chapter in an entire book to tell me the basic principles of those games so I can “hang out” with my man on a Saturday. And even if I didn’t know those things—for example, I know nothing about soccer—if a guy didn’t want to be with me because I knew nothing about soccer, then why would I want to be with him? I can’t stand watching baseball (I just broke Allyson’s heart a little bit); any guy I end up with is going to have to understand that I’m going to do my own thing while the baseball games are on (Allyson, if there’s baseball watching in a pub, I’m down for that, at least I can drink my way through the game).

I do recognize that there are women who would be better served by these books than I am, women whose lives fall into those patterns more than mine does, and that’s fine. I’m just frustrated that 67% of the books I’ve read in this genre (yes, 2 out of 3, I’m a layman researcher without a lot of time for a proper sample size) all come back to something that feels like “here’s how to be the best girl for your man” instead of “here’s how to be the best you overall.” Because while we women shouldn’t live in a vacuum and we should surround ourselves with men and women who love us unconditionally, either platonically or romantically, how can anyone truly love us if we’re so focussed on being “right” for them?

Maybe this is why I’m still single, but I learned long ago that trying to be good for other people does absolutely nothing for anyone.

The Bust DIY Guide to Life by Debbie Stoller and Laurie HenzelI’ve also got The Bust DIY Guide to Life by Debbie Stoller and Laurie Henzel in my to-read pile from the library. I do love BUST magazine and Debbie Stoller’s general approach to sharing life experiences (fellow knitters should recognize her name from the Stitch N’ Bitch series), so I’m optimistic that this will be more along the lines of Hip Girl’s Guide to Life in it’s tone and content. I will not take up any more of this post by bitching about the PINKNESS of these covers. Really, publishers? Women will only read DIY books if they’re pink? Blech.

(I don’t mind pink as a color, I just hate the whole “women only love PINK” mentality that WILL. NOT. GO. AWAY.)

UPDATE Some clever if abridged Twitter conversations (140 characters, ugh!) lead me to update this a bit. Context is crucial to reading anything, but especially books that kind of accidentally veer towards defining gender roles. I don’t believe that definition was at all what the authors above were going for, not by a long shot, but in their writing, they somewhat inform readers as to their ideal gender roles, which is difficult to not do when writing about modern women.

Three Black Skirts was published in 2000, Modern Girl’s Guide in 2004. I’m not going to suggest that women are necessarily leading better lives across the board in the last seven years, but there have been some changes, notably, more acceptance of same-sex partnerships and more of a movement toward do-it-yourself and do-for-yourself that neither writer could have predicted when writing these books (likely in the late 90s, given most book publishing schedules run two years ahead of release dates, though not all). Perhaps if I had read these books right when they were published, I would have had a different reaction to them, though I still question the pinkness.