Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

I got the cutest book in the mail the other day: Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett, whose website bills him as a “writer and strongman-for-hire.” I should also note that he is currently running a contest for booksellers that involves knitting, and so might I kindly recommend that you team up with your local indie bookstore for this? Why? Because it is AWESOME.

Thanks to the ministrations of HarperCollins’ publicists, I got the chance to ask him a few questions about the book. Annabelle, the main character, finds a box filled with all kinds of yarn (in my variation of this fantasy, it’s all Alisha Goes Around…an entire fluffy box of it…but knowing my luck it would probably be poly-blend in 70s colors). The box NEVER runs out of yarn, no matter how many things Annabelle knits. Oh, and she knits a lot. So word gets around, and (dun-dun-dunnnnnn) ENTER THE VILLAIN, an archduke! You’ll have to read it to find out what happens next.

As a Certified Ex-Graduate Assistant and History Nerd who has had more than her fair share of Habsburg-related excursions in her life, the archduke made me laugh out loud. So that’s what I asked about first:

Why an archduke for a villain? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s delightful…but what made you pick an archduke?

Archdukes are just the worst, aren’t they? At least all the ones I know are. I love the word “archduke”–it’s loaded with many centuries’ worth of ignoble connotations, and I wanted to tap into those associations here, especially because his arrival is so sudden. The archduke sails into almost as if from another story–it’s a narrative move that you see in a lot in ballet and opera and a certain kind of classic picture book I admire. His entrance to be abrupt, surprising, and, hopefully, delightful. I’m glad you liked him.

(The spread where the archduke arrives is one of my favorites. Can we show it? Let’s show it!)

[hey, if the author asks, the author gets… here you go, everyone]

Did you know about yarn bombing before you wrote the book? Or did something else inspire you to show the houses, the trees…even the pickup truck covered in yarn?

I wrote this book back in 2008. And while I know yarn bombing was going on back then, I was not cool enough to know about it. Annabelle’s sweater-making is the consequence of her essential character and her box of yarn, but I’ll bet her motives aren’t all that different from many yarn bombers. I think yarn bombing is really terrific, and I smile whenever I’m lucky enough to walk by a knitted signpost or tree branch.

Did you ever get in trouble for being crafty during class as a kid? (I did, I got busted for embroidering)

I was the kid who got in trouble for doing terrible crafts during art. My gods-eyes were gluey, my dreamcatchers nightmarish.

So there you have it. Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett. Go grab a copy for your favorite Annabelle…or archduke.

Upcoming blog tour for Vintage Modern Knits

Coming up next week, I’ll be participating in the Vintage Modern Knits blog book tour. Here’s a sneak preview from the Kelbourne Woolens site. I’m hoping to catch up with Kate and Courtney when I’m in Philadelphia this week for some video (remember, I’m teaching at Loop on Saturday! come say hi even if you’re not in class!)

Here’s a list of the sites participating in the blog tour:

2/5: Ready, Set, Knit podcast (WEBs)
2/7: Knitting Daily
2/8: Knit and Tonic
2/9: Winged Knits
2/10: Narrating Life
2/11: Knitbot
2/14: Knitting School Drop Out
2/15: Never Not Knitting podcast/ interview, giveaway
2/16: Knitgrrl
2/17: Sunset Cat Designs
2/18: Neoknits
2/21: Tenten Knits
2/22: Lolly Knitting Around

And here’s the roundup post about the tour over at Interweave’s Knitting Daily.

I was so pleased to read a tweet from Courtney yesterday that noted the book was sitting at #1 in knitting on Amazon and #368 in overall books — it’s even higher today! So excited for them both. It’s a gorgeous book.

Blog tour: Modern Top Down Knitting

Today I’m excited to be the opening stop on the blog tour for Kristy McGowan‘s Modern Top Down Knitting. Miriam and I both got copies of this at Rhinebeck, and it is SPECTACULAR…the kind of book where you immediately cry because you know you don’t have enough time to knit all the things from it that you might want to knit!

Here are some interior shots so you can sob for yourself (well, unless you have more time available for knitting than I do). I am a huge fan of the dresses in this book…anyone feel like knitting one for me? There’s a timeless aspect to them that I adore, it reminds me of my favorite vintage 1940s dress which always looks good, no matter where or when you wear it.

I had the chance to meet Kristy at Rhinebeck, where she reminded me that we’d met ages ago at Suss Cousins’ NYC yarn store, and I followed up my devouring the book with a few questions for the tour… keep reading all the way through, there’s a contest at the end! And check in at the STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books blog for other blog tour dates…

What was the general concept behind the book and why were you inspired to create it?

Though it sounds somewhat simple, I really just wanted to share my design ideas and create a collection of items that I made myself. I dreamed about writing a knitting book since I was 15.

What’s your favorite piece in the book and why?

The Pavement Jacket was the first top-down piece that I ever made and the process of creating it was especially interesting and joyful.

How amazing was it to hang out with Barbara Walker in person? Come on, spill. What’s she like?

I was pretty hopped up and happy that day. It was the kind of trip where you dopily smile at everyone en route because the whole thing is an adventure. I realized only at the end of the day that I had put on two different earrings — completely distracted and preoccupied as I was. I have often thought of and love the relationship readers can have with books, how reading can often feel otherworldly — and how perfect it is when you’re really able to float away off into another place for a while. The experience seems especially personal with craft books, and when you have a voice as strong as Barbara’s encouraging you along the way and teaching you amazing things, the pay off feels that much greater.

I imagine like many knitters, I felt very connected to her and grateful for her brain and sense of curiosity. She’s encouraging and very modest and soft spoken and her face gets beet red when you joke with her and ask if she realizes how great she is. She’s meticulously organized — everything is perfectly in its place — and every spot in the house displays elements of her creative journeys. In the living room is a painting that she did that came out of her work on developing a tarot card deck — it depicts a regal-looking woman with long hair and a lion by her side and incredible glass cases filled with rocks line the walls of that same room and showcase her extensive collection. It was almost too much for me to take in or absorb fully until later. She’ll casually explain that although she had never painted before, she ended up painting an entirely new tarot card deck and writing an accompanying book on how to use them.

The same was true for her knitting — she didn’t teach herself how until she was 36 and then look what happened. I was 37 at the time she told me this, and so it all really resonated. I found her stories incredibly uplifting and they really renewed my faith in the benefits of taking less traveled paths.

What tips and tricks do you like to use to alter or more accurately fit top-down patterns to your personal shape?

I think being really aware of your own body’s measurements and knowing how to decrease and increase between any given point A and point B is the most helpful way to ensure a good fit. On page 12 in Knitting from the Top, there’s a section titled “How to Calculate Shaping in Four Simple Steps” — which has been repeated in other books. That section has been immensely useful to me — that short paragraph is the basis for anything you’d need to know. There’s also a great section on how to achieve all sorts of different necklines on pages 76/77.

What’s on your needles right now?

I’m working on a few new designs and have been experimenting these past few days with Jared Flood’s Shelter yarn. I bought a huge amount of it in a rich purple color called Thistle. [ed. note: Aaaagh! that’s the next color I’m buying in that yarn, it’s gorgeous!] I love contemplating a yarn that I have not worked with before and having it sit in my brain for a few days. I’ll knit up multiple swatches of it and pin them on my dress form and just stare at them for a while — which is all I’ve been doing so far with it. It’s tempting to go all-out cables and tradition with this particular yarn — there’s something truly rustic and lovely about how it works up — but the color itself is also extraordinary & so I want to see how I can make that the focus. It’s just a beautiful thing when on a Sunday you can start working on something, glance at the clock and have it be 9 am and then when you look again, poof, it’s already 4pm and you have idea where the time went. That’s the delight I’ve had so far with this yarn.

Tell me more about what you learned when it comes to using trim on your sweaters — what tips and tricks have you been able to apply to your work to make it look, hang and fit better?

Applying trim and finishing knit pieces with it, for me, is just an added creative outlet and way to take even more pride in a finished piece. I don’t like to sew, but it’s such an easy step and adds so much (I think) that it’s worth the effort. It helps your pieces feel really finished — and there’s something rewarding about peeking on the inside and seeing it. The tips and tricks would be to remain mindful of stretch and making sure you choose a trim that has enough of it if you’re going to use it around armholes and neck openings or hems. And also just having fun with it and making the selection your own. It’s a nice way to further customize. I’m partial to velvet stretch trim, but the possibilities are endless. A whimsical rick rack — or ruffled trim can add a lot of fun — not to mention the the process of shopping for it. Daytona is my favorite spot here in NYC — here’s a clip of me at Daytona that friend made a short time ago.

If you had to narrow everything you know about top-down designs down to one tip, what would it be?

Hmm….I guess my tip would be that if you haven’t already tried it, you should! I’m slightly biased, but it really is a wonderful technique to have in your creative larder — one that you can go back to again and again and use for all sorts of things.

Would you like your own copy of this wonderful book? Leave a comment and we’ll choose a winner!

Delivering Happiness…plus giveaway

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, is a fascinating read.

(I should mention that since we’re mere days away from our big knit industry tradeshow in Columbus that Zappos might as well be a show co-sponsor, since it seems to be a tradition among my friends to buy new shoes for the show from them beforehand…I know that’s where I bought these!)

Starting from his childhood memories of entrepreneurship (worm farm gone wrong, anyone?) and highlighting all of his trials, errors and successes along the way, Hsieh is a truly engaging writer. I think that’s important in a business-related book — more important than most publishers seem to think! Jargon is boring: tell me about you, the person behind the brand! That’s always stood out to me as one of Zappo’s strengths even before this book came out. Fancy words don’t make you any better, they make it sound like you’re hiding behind whatever new trendy buzzword you’re spouting. One of my favorite quotes in the book, about Hsieh’s company LinkExchange before he sold it for $265 million dollars, was this:

(I never actually did figure out what a “strategic partnership” meant and how it was different from just a regular partnership, but everyone who said it sounded smarter so we liked to use that phrase a lot).

After selling LinkExchange, and doing some personal inventory about where to go and what to do next, Hsieh finds an investment opportunity in a shoe-related website. Raise your hand if you remember the crazy stuff going on in late-90s dotcomland — pets.com, anyone? I was a stockbroker in 2000, I watched that stuff collapse from the inside, all while reading The Industry Standard and other dotcom bibles cover to cover. Before Zappos, no one was doing drop shipping directly from manufacturers to customers on a large scale in the footwear business. You know what? it’s finding those weird little niches that helps you come up with a viable business model. It’s not like we’re all going to stop buying shoes tomorrow.

What I really liked reading, though, was how Zappos developed its company culture, from cultivating shared values and deciding what their focus would be (customer service is paramount — as a Zappos customer myself, I’ve experienced their amazing, human customer service firsthand). The employees had a say in what happened, and this made them even more determined to live up to the high standards they set for themselves, unlike the top-down management styles of most Big Corporate Whatevers. At the end of the book, Hsieh challenges the reader to turn the tables and stop passively reading the book but actively use what s/he’s learned to figure out what it is that makes them happy, and why.

Why should you, a knitter, knit designer or other person in my usual readership care about this book? Apart from being an entertaining read, it sparked a lot of ideas in me for improving my own customer service skills and other sides of the business I don’t often actively think about. Sure, some of it is me on auto-pilot, responding to emails or whatever, but Delivering Happiness made me rethink what it is I’m doing and why.

I’m giving away a copy of the book to the person with the best customer service story in comments. You can be on the giving or receiving end of said service, just tell me what stood out the most to you and made you think “I would like to do business with this person again”.

You can read more about the book at here (check out the Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Read This Book), and follow along with tweets about it at @dhbook (see also: @zappos)

Hey, sweater knitters and wanna-bes!

Recently I was offered a copy of Margaret Fisher‘s Seven Things That Can “Make or Break” a Sweater (available via Amazon) to review. What seven things, you ask? Fisher teaches about the cast on edge on the public side of the garment, the placement and type of increases used in ribbing, slanting decreases, invisible increases, blocking, picking up stitches for bands, and buttonholes using a baby sweater “tutorial project” divided into sections that correspond to each chapter. There are also 6 adult sized sweaters (I’m quite fond of Eugenie’s Cardigan and My Sister’s Sweater — the others I could take or leave, particularly because they’re not well-suited to larger women. And by ‘larger,’ I mean ‘over 90 lbs.’ They might be nicer knit in a smaller gauge yarn, but I know the last thing I need is a bunch of heavy stitch textures centered over my midsection).

This is not, though, primarily a pattern book, so the patterns are of less concern to me than the instructions and tutorials. One thing I love about this book is its clear step-by-step photography. As someone who’s done her own books’ how-to photos before, I know how tough it is to pull this off and do it well. There are plenty of great tips — one I hadn’t even thought of on page 74 is to sew a small flat button (the one in the photo is clear) behind all your buttons to stabilize the fabric and prevent it from pulling and stretching each time you button and unbutton. It makes sense, though, doesn’t it? Like having a washer on a bolt. You’ll also like the section on blocking, if that’s something you have a rough time with — and a lot of knitters do.

Seven Things That Can “Make or Break” a Sweater would be a great gift for one of your newer knitter friends who’d like to expand their skills, too. Check it out!

Picture Perfect Knits

Laura Birek‘s new book Picture Perfect Knits just came out and the title is apt! From Chronicle’s site:

Just what the heck is intarsia anyway? One of the most overlooked knitting techniques, intarsia allows knitters to add graphics—think argyle diamonds or mod motifs—to their knits. There’s no tricky double stranding and knitters can incorporate intarsia into almost any project—be it a cozy blanket or tiny mittens. This handy guide includes instructions to make 12 projects plus more than 50 intarsia graphs that can be used to customize almost any knit.

And I’m not just saying it because I have a pattern in there. (*Cough* pages 113-114 *cough*). My pattern is based on Amy Butler’s Starflower Tiles fabric, one of my favorites — thanks due, of course, to Amy for allowing me to do this for Chronicle — and although it’s complex, you could include it in any number of patterns. How about a messenger bag flap (then line the bag with the actual fabric)? Or a big, cozy sweater? I know for a fact Cascade has great colors available that fit perfectly into this pattern. If you want to know which color numbers, leave a comment. Jamieson’s would be great, too.

What I really love about this book is that although it has pattern patterns in it, it’s really more of an inspirational jumping-off point than your typical knitting pattern book. You get a good dose of clearly-written how-to in the front, enough for any knitter to feel like they’ve got a grasp on the concepts, and then intarsia charts by a ton of designers that you’ll want to put on everything. Are you like me? Do you have that same-old, same-old easy pattern you like to knit when you don’t want to concentrate too hard on details? Put in an intarsia chart or two and liven it up!

Overall review: solid info, great charts, beautifully put together. A keeper!

Buy Picture Perfect Knits here.

Interweave’s first e-book!

See? Electronic books are all the rage. First me, now Interweave. Awesome. Just in time for the holidays, it’s Christmas Stockings: 7 Classic Holiday Treasures To Knit. The patterns in this e-book were taken from Christmas Stockings: Holiday Treasures to Knit by Elaine Lipson (Interweave, 2001), a popular book no longer in print. There’s something for all skill levels (I’m in love with the Sock Monkey stocking, as well as the Austrian Alpine Treasure stocking, which has some supremely beautiful twisted stitch motifs).

Like all Interweave publications, this e-book contains thorough how-to illustrations for stitches and methods used in the book.

I can’t wait to see more publishers embrace the possibilities of digital. I know that I’ve been working hard to point out its considerable advantages (and I have some things brewing behind the scenes apart from the Kindle stuff, too). It’s gratifying to see it finally happening, and to have something as cool as this Christmas stocking e-book lead the way.

Cupcakes and book reviews and yarn (oh my!)

Crafty Dabbler asked (in comments on this post) for my Earl Grey cupcake recipe. Admittedly, I took the cheater way out, but you can adapt my methods for any vanilla/plain cupcake recipe. I used Trader Joe’s vanilla bean cake mix, and for the milk/liquid portion of the recipe, I scalded it with Earl Grey tea bags — go heavy on the bags, I think I used 4-5 of them. After all, you’re going for the flavor, not drinking it!

Let it cool before you begin mixing everything together, unless you think potentially scrambled eggs in your cupcakes = yummy. For the frosting, I made a standard butter/powdered sugar concoction flavored with double strength vanilla from Christina’s in Boston and a little orange/lemon flavor oil. Earl Grey is flavored with bergamot, which is a rather sour variety of orange, so I think the lemon gives an extra kick. Voila! Not as amazing as Life is Sweet’s cupcakes, but good.

Before I get down to my rather substantial list of book reviews, I want to show you some supremely gorgeous yarn. I told Abby that the lilac yarn she’d spun (as seen in this post) was absolutely killing me. So what does she do? Send it to ME! Thank you, Abby! I’m dreaming up something excellent to show it off, and I’ve got something in the solar dyer out back that I think has her name on it…

Yesterday I trained my mom to dye so she can help me out this summer. My mom’s a painter, and dyes are basically watercolor-like, when it comes down to it, so it wasn’t too tough for her to figure out. She was on a yellow and purple kick, though, we’ll see how they come out. Yes, I know purple and yellow together sound weird but it actually makes a very cool brown/ombre effect if you blend it the right way.

Righto — books! I haven’t done a review in a while and they’ve been piling up. Literally. Before we got down to dyeing yesterday, I was cleaning our dining room (aka “the spot with the big table where everything ends up”) and sorting out the to-reviews into a stack.

Uncommon Crochet, by Julie Armstrong Holetz (Ten Speed Press) — buy now

Ten Speed’s website has it right: “When granny squares and crocheted doilies are made from black leather twine and organic hemp, they have an unexpectedly modern cachet.” Boy, do they. Why, just read the quote from me on the back of the book:

Uncommon Crochet is the ultimate resource for fiber crafters who enjoy a challenge. Julie Armstrong Holetz brings her unique design principles to life, encouraging the reader to experiment with unusual materials and techniques to create functional, fabulous pieces that are as useful as they are beautiful.

I wrote that after reviewing a PDF of the book several months ago, and I stand by my overall assessment, but with a few caveats. The book is way better than the PDF. It’s big — over 160 pages! It’s got a great reference section, and I’m a sucker for those. The photography is excellent, the how-to material outside of the patterns at the front of the book is varied and reliable — everything from how to crochet and felt to finding unconventional materials for your projects.

There are 20 patterns for boxes, bowls, purses, baskets, totes, and bags. Julie uses recycled materials along with wire, hemp, leather, jute, twine, and sisal. If you like unusual fibers and “fibers” (well, if it looks like wire but you’re not using it as wire, what would you call it?), you will love this book. Many of the projects have that modern/retro vibe a la Amy Butler. It’s a brilliant book — congrats, Julie! For more on the talented Madame Holetz, check out her author spotlight on Ten Speed’s site.

Start Spinning, by Maggie Casey (Interweave Press) — buy now

Maggie Casey is co-owner of Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins, a yarn shop in Boulder, Colorado. She is also a veteran spinning teacher, and apparently a Goddess (more on this in a bit). You can preview the book at Interweave’s website here, which is a very nifty little feature.

I have only ever heard fabulous things about Maggie Casey. Alas, I haven’t been lucky enough to take classes with her myself, so I am relying on secondhand information…I think the blog I’m about to quote belongs to the almighty Jillian‘s friend Carla:

This is Maggie Casey and she’s a Goddess. It’s plying, how hard can it be? Well, it’s not hard to do, but it is kind of hard to do well. [read more of this post here]

Listen, the basics are what you need to get you to that I-can-do-anything stage, and Casey’s got you covered in Start Spinning. In the intro, she says “all it takes is fluff, a spindle or wheel, and patience.” Uh-huh. Especially the last part. I’ve found that beginning spinners fall into two categories: easily frustrated and not-so-easily frustrated. The latter are much, much easier to teach, because they realize they’re not going to be perfect immediately, but they’re willing to be patient and try.

So if you’re a beginning spinner, and you don’t have anyone local to teach you, I think Start Spinning plus my book Spin to Knit are the way to go. (Not to mention two books = cheaper than a spinning class most anywhere you go these days). Casey fills in the gaps from Spin to Knit (which was intended to teach you the most basic principles of spinning and then how to apply those principles to using handspun yarn in various patterns) and goes beyond — there’s info on using your handspun for weaving, lots more photos of spindle spinning, great plying tips (including flowerpot plying — cool!), and troubleshooting. Plenty of very useful troubleshooting. I love this book and consider it a valuable addition to my own reference library as well as something I can recommend to new spinners who are learning in my shop.

The one thing Start Spinning doesn’t have that Spin to Knit does is patterns, but you can find great patterns for handspun in Spin to Knit, Homespun, Handknit and Lynne Vogel’s books The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook and The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters. Let Casey teach you “everything you need to know to make great yarn” (the book’s subtitle) and get spinning!

Knitting New Mittens and Gloves, by Robin Melanson (STC) — buy now

Background, from her publisher’s website says: “Growing up in Cape Breton, on Canada’s Atlantic coast, knitwear designer Robin Melanson learned early on the importance of gloves and mittens in a harsh winter climate. Now this self-described “mitten and glove aficionado” shares her enthusiasm for these ordinary items by presenting 28 extraordinary ways to make them for year-round style.”

Gloves, mittens, arm warmers, mitts, and fingerless gloves — if you’re a Sock Person (you know who you are, all you SPs stick together), you will love love love this book. If you’re not, you’ll probably still adore it, but the Sock People need to find new places to deploy their sockweight yarn stashes, and expand upon them. Not to say that everything is knit in teensy yarns — in fact, there are quite a few worsted+ patterns. I’m coveting a pair of halvvanter med tunge (page 91), a Norwegian glove with negative space in which the top part of the hand is covered, but the bottom is not, so your hands are still free to do stuff. Think the text-messaging mittens from Knitgrrl, but in a much more sophisticated shape.

What’s really cool about this book are the various details on the pieces — everything from buckles to a fluffy yarn trim. And seriously — I don’t often say this, but there isn’t a single pattern in here I wouldn’t knit. Now, let me amend that slightly: one pattern, I’m not so hot on the yarn color. But just about everything else? I’d happily knit them as seen in the photo. And I NEVER do that! This should give you an idea of just how lovely the book is. Tired of knitting socks in the summer because it’s too hot to knit anything bigger? Clothe your upper limbs as beautifully as your feet with this book.

Knit Couture, by Gail Downey and Henry Conway (St. Martin’s Press) — buy now

Gail Downey (one half of the popular London label Weardowney) and Henry Conway have quite a lollapalooza of stuff going on in Knit Couture. From the Weardowney site:

Knit Couture explores where the knit is today, with profiles on who has made the most impact. From the design houses to boutique labels, the book charts the movement of hand-kitting through innovations and practice now. Gaultier, Galliano, Kenzo, Rykiel and Westwood are all looked at in detail. Weardowney and its boutique approach to hand knit in fashion are explained.

The history of hand knitting and knitwear is explored, from the origins of knitting in Damascus, through to the first machine knit, hand knitting in the industrial age and into the 20th century. Knit Couture tells the story of how hand knitting transformed itself from utility clothing to high fashion, especially by fashion genius of Schiaparelli and Chanel.

The future of knitwear is an area that is rarely given much substance, but Knit Couture gives insight to exciting developments in technology and knit that will change our world, from the synthetic knit that could save the lives of heart patients, to the techno-knit that forms the basis of modern aviation textiles (flying in a knitted plane sounds unsettling, but the technique actually creates the safest and most advanced technical textile available).

High fashion? History? Knitted aviation? Is there anything this book doesn’t cover? (I say, incredulously). There’s a lot of good stuff packed into a small space. Downey, who designed knitwear for John Galliano in the 80s (and if you know fashion, that should give you an idea of where she’s coming from) teamed up with a former catwalk model to create Weardowney, which is not just a fashion label but an entire umbrella of related cool stuff under one roof — fashion boutique, knitting shop, a magazine. Wow. What I really loved in this book were the see-through pages with sketches and scribbles over top of a knitwear photo. Sometimes I wish all books had these kinds of intimate notes from the designers themselves…

The historical portion of the book, as well as the info on knitwear’s movers and shakers in the couture world, is fantastic and photo-filled. In that respect, it’s a bit more interesting than the other handknitting histories such as Rutt’s History of Hand Knitting (Interweave Press). Other online reviews have panned the patterns at the back, saying they’re repetitive, but you know what? I think they’re quite good, and give you the foundation to start working on your own designs. After reading this book and getting inspired by both thousands of years of knit history and what’s going on in the modern world, how could you not? I’d compare this book to Sabrina Gschwandtner’s KnitKnit book — if you liked that, I think you’ll love Knit Couture.

A Fine Fleece, by Lisa Lloyd (Potter Craft) — buy now

Lisa Lloyd, online at afinefleece.com and here, has made a lovely, lovely book full of very classic designs that use handspun yarn. So, add this to the list I wrote down earlier in the reviews — here’s another book with lots of handspun patterns. Like so many Potter Craft books, this is coffee table book yarn porn. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. But also really useful — from full-on Bradford count and other info on the sheep breeds used in the book to info on “crafting a color story,’ dyeing and blending fiber colors, spinning the right yarn for your chosen pattern… it’s all here. But wait — it gets better. All the patterns are knit not only in handspun, but in a commercial yarn as well. No patience? Not a spinner? Want to knit now now now? It’s cool! You can! Lots of cabley goodness in the sweater department, which I always adore. (I am adding the sweater Staghorn to my endless knit-someday list, it’s seriously yummy, and Harriet, too. Whoops. Two more on the list. I’ll live forever at this rate, since I can’t die until I get through my to-knit list).

Twenty-six patterns. Pretty much all of them must-knits (I had to restrain myself in only adding two patterns to the must-knit pile). If you spin, or if you think you might want to, or if you love great patterns, go buy this book.

Shear Spirit, by Joan Tapper (Potter Craft) — buy now

Aha! Potter admits they make coffee-table books! From their website:

Part coffee-table book, part inspirational work, and part pattern guide, Shear Spirit connects knitters to the yarn-producing community in a new and intimate way. Filled with stunning photographs, fascinating essays, and heartwarming profiles, this book follows the writer and photographer to 10 fiber farms and ranches across America-from the Willamette Valley of Oregon to the coast of Maine-capturing the essence of the people, places, and animals that, together, create yarn. Twenty projects featuring yarns from the farms surveyed will inspire knitters everywhere.

Now if they’d only be honest and say they produce “yarn porn.” “Coffee-table book” isn’t nearly as descriptive.

This is another gorgeous book, nicely laid out, filled with wonderful photos (the border collie sitting in a mini-bathtub on page 21 is worth the price of admission alone). Although I liked many of the patterns, I didn’t like them nearly as much as I did the patterns in A Fine Fleece. This is more a book for ogling, a book for envying (when you are a City Girl Who Yearns For Her Own Sheep, like me) and a book for leaving out on the coffee table when you are trying to convince your boyfriend that moving to the middle of the woods is a great idea. In short: the writing is thoughtful, the profiles of the fiber farms fascinating, but don’t buy it for patterns alone. In fact, I think the book is very much targeted at city girls — with chapter subheadings including “Realizing a Vision, Acting on a Dream” and “From Hobby to Business to Lifestyle,” how could you think otherwise? Gale Zucker’s photography is the clincher if you’re on the undecided side of the fence. This book is really beautiful!

Softies tour lands at Stitch Cleveland

Ok, if you haven’t seen the adorable book Softies: Simple Instructions for 25 Plush Pals, then seriously, you need to get a move on. Here’s my short book review: awesome. Though my taste in softies runs more to the Natasha kind — see here, scroll past adorable kitten photo first — I think this book is fantastic and will give you a good grounding in techniques plus plenty of inspiration.

We have signed copies available at Stitch Cleveland, so yell if you want one and we’ll get you set up. Lucky the Dog softie is blogging from the road, and there’s a new Softies group on Flickr as well. Yarn softies: they’re not just for crochet anymore…


I can’t write this review yet. I just can’t. I have to re-read the book about five more times just to get a superficial grasp on how awesome it is.

(But that should give you an idea of the review to come)

If you’re not already familiar with KnitKnit, you should be. I’ve been stocking the ‘zine for a while in my (old) online shop, and we’ll have them at Stitch Cleveland as soon as I can hunt the issue 7s down in my studio (they appear to be hiding in plain sight, still in their envelope), but trust me — find back issues if and when and where you can, you won’t regret it.

Plus, is it just me and my OCD, or do the lines on the cover girl’s sweater ever-so-perfectly match the vertical lines and colors of the knitting needles?

(Yes, I actually do notice things like that!)