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Book Reviews: Socks!

I’ve got a thing for sock books. Despite the fact that it seems that I don’t knit a lot of socks these days, I still can’t read enough of them. In fact, I seem to be drowning in all the sock books I’ve gotten from the library lately.  I’ll be doing a handful of mini reviews this month in case you, like myself, are wondering which of the many new sock books out there might be worth a splurge. Sure, we all know Cookie A,  Cat Bohrdi, Wendy Johonson…but what about the rest? I’ll try to give you a quick run down on some of the lesser known books out there.

So the book for tonight? The Big Book of Socks, by Kathleen Taylor.

I really liked Kathleen’s felting books, so I was excited to see what she came up with for this book. For the 75 patterns alone, it’s a great deal, but is it really the ultimate guide??

I’d say she came pretty close, and the one exception might be more a mistake of the publisher rather than than author. There really is a bit of everything in here: basic tube socks (for those afraid of the heel), afterthought heel, flap and gusset heel, no wrap short row heel, tow down, toe up, stripes, cables, lace, fair isle and some “just for fun” projects.  It’s a nice progression from basic to advanced, although I would say that the majority of the projects lean towards the advanced beginner or intermediate knitter.

Paging through the book, I saw quite a few patterns I liked right away. She has a nice mix of  yarn weights with quite a few worsted patterns, nice for this time of the year when you might want to pound out a couple of pairs of quick socks for gifts. The Striped Knee Highs are cute, and I’m in love with the Argyle Socks. The lace patterns she has are not too complex and would be good for an advanced beginner ready to beef up her skills a bit. Kathleen’s fair isle socks are my favorite. The Mosaic Tile socks are stunners and the Holiday Garland socks would be nice this time of year. The thrummed slipper socks are a perfect quick Christmas knit.

So far so good, so what’s the problem?? I’m a very visual knitter. The first time I tried to knit a sock I had nothing more than the written directions. And it was a disaster. It wasn’t until I came across a book that had very clear pictures that I understood what the heck was going on with this whole heel turning thing. And that’s the mystery of this book. Despite the fact that it starts with something as basic as a tube sock, it is completely lacking in instructional pictures. There is one teeny-tiny drawing at the beginning diagramming the socks parts. But there is not one picture or diagram to walk you through a heel turn and that’s the trouble. I kept thinking, “there must be diagrams in here somewhere…” but nope, all you get is that little diagram in the beginning. Even the chapter on heel and toe variations in the back lack pictures. This might be okay for a knitter who knows the basics and just needs to read through the directions, but a novice knitter would be pretty lost. You do get one photo of each sock and charts, but that’s it.

Now granted, it does bill itself as a “beyond the basics” guide. But then why the tube socks? And all the detailed the directions on heels and toes? I felt a bit like the book didn’t quite know what it wants to be: the progression of pattens makes it a good candidate to be a great basics book, but the lack of detailed diagrams truly turns in into “beyond the basics.” But as I said in the introduction that could have been a publisher choice as well. In a nutshell, if you’re looking for a wide range of lovely patterns all in one book and you have some skills, this one’s for you. If you’ve never knit a sock, you’d be better to find a different book to start with and come back to this one later.

Who this book is for:

  • The budget conscious knitter who wants a ton of socks patterns.
  • An advanced knitter with knitting experience but no real sock experience.
  • A knitter who enjoys knitting socks in a variety of weights, from fingering to some speedy worsted weight socks.

Who this book is not for:

  • A very beginning knitter
  • A highly visual knitter
  • A knitter who prefers all her socks to be a fine weight.

I’ll be back in a few days with a review of The Joy of Sox. And a new Spinner sweater to share.

Enjoy your weekend!!

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Review: Vintage Baby Knits [and a contest]

I’ve been blogging for nearly six years now, I think. And it’s been interesting to see how the knitblog has evolved over the years. One thing I used to love was all the banter about books and magazines; the detailed reviews made it easy to decide what I might want to order or grab at the library. But those reviews seem to have dwindled off. Maybe because there are so many new knitting books out there, it’s not as exciting every time a new one comes out. Maybe it’s because more knitters are turning to online patterns rather than the books.  Then there are so many knitting, sewing and general crafting books out there now and it can be tough to sort through it all. I mean really, how many sock books will appear out there? And which one is worth your hard earned money? The reviews I run across are few and far between or just don’t give me enough information.

My point? I’d like to try to fill that void a bit. I’m blessed with a killer library system here in the Twin Cities and I’m usually picking up at least one or two knitting books a week. And after  flipping through them I find I want to tell someone about them, and well… the Skeptic is just not interested. My plan is to give you readers a useful review so you’ll have a better idea of what books you might want to purchase. I’ll review a new book every other week and keep track of them here on the blog. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions. Is this useful for you? Is the Amazon review system good enough or is there more you’d like to know about a book before you buy it? Is there someone else already writing great reviews that I’m just missing? (That would save me some work! 🙂

The contest, you ask? It’s been ages since I’ve had one here and it’s about time. Read through the rules and then enjoy the review.

Contest rules:

1. Review a knitting, sewing, spinning….any kind of craft book really, on your blog. It doesn’t have to be as detailed as the one here but do take some time to give us a few points think would be helpful. Short and sweet is fine. Maybe a couple of patterns you think are great. Is it a book worth buying? What about the photography?

2. Leave a comment here directing us all to your review.

3. Post a link in your review that links back to the contest here at the blog. That way your readers will be able to read the comments section here and get their hands on all of the great reviews; they’ll also have a chance to participate.

4. That’s it! I’ll leave the contest open until the end of the month. On November 1st (hey, that’s our anniversary!) we’ll draw a random entry to win a prize. The winner will have a choice of either a project bag or a needle roll, your choice of fabric colors. I’ll throw in a few surprise goodies as well. Be sure to complete all three sections and have fun! (If you’re blogless feel free to post your review here in the comments section.)

5. If you’re not planning on entering the contest please feel free to just drop a comment and let me know what you think.

And now the review. Just a note, the header links to the actual book and author website where you can see hte general gallery. Patterns that I highlight will link to Ravelry.

Review #1: Vintage Baby Knits by Kristen Rengren.

There is a reason that this book sparked a need for me to tell everyone about it. I have to admit, after having three babies, being surrounded by friends having babies, and knitting massive amounts of baby stuff I had become rather fatigued by baby knitting books. They all started to look the same, especially the boy stuff. Then I checked out Kristen Rengren’s book yesterday and all I can say is I wish Spinner was brand spankin’ new again just so I had more time to knit baby stuff for him.

I always love a book that includes more than patterns, and this books meets that criteria. Kristen gives an interesting history of how she got into vintage knits as well as the challenges of modernizing these patterns. She gives a nice little history of knitting in the 20’s through the 50’s throughout the book, along with some tips on tools and choosing yarns. You’ll know what types of yarns were typically used in vintage patterns, what modern ones would work, and what yarns are good choices for babies. Her resource section is fabulous. Should you feel the need to tackle those old vintage patterns you inherited from your great-grandma, you’ll have the know-how from this book. (I know I’ve got a large stack of them upstairs!)

There are no basic knitting instructions in this book, and I’d say most patterns are not for total beginners. This is an advanced beginner to advanced knitter book. There is a basic glossary that seems to cover the few odd directions you may not know from memory (kitchener stitch anyone?) but you will need to have some skills to knit the patterns. If you don’t know what psso means you’ll need some extra help.

The patterns? Where do I even start?Forty plus,  they cover the usual gamut of baby garb: sweaters, blankets, toys, booties. But she expands on the usual by adding in soakers, a onsie, a christening gown and other styles that you just don’t come across.

It’s boy friendly, which I love. As a mother of three boys I’m always jealous of the huge lot of fancy baby girl outfits while the boys just get the usual cabled cardigan. With this book I’m not sure where to start. The Archie vest or Otto pullover  perhaps, with their lovely fair isle patterns? Or maybe the Harry sailor sweater? The Floyd pullover? Or maybe I pull out all the stops and knit the Felix suit with it’s kitty intarsia on the front and it’s classic green color. (Although the Skeptic did say he wasn’t sure he could leave the house with us if I dressed Spinner in that. But personally, I think it’s adorable.)

The girls don’t lose out either. There are sweaters galore and the Pearl shrug would be a quick little knit, perfect for a gift. The Avery christening gown can be made into a beautiful dress and the Hazel cape is so sweet. The Daisy soakers make me want a baby girl to knit for. There is also plenty for the gender neutral knitting as well. The Stella hat would make an excellent shower gift, as would the Bunny Blanket with it’s unique applique.

As would be expected with patterns based on vintage knits, the yarns tend to be finer. Most pattens call for needles sized 2-3. The largest I came across was a size 8, but when you remember you’re knitting for small people the fine yarns really aren’t that daunting.

There are schematics for all the patterns and charts as well. There are a few one piece patterns but there is quite a bit of seaming to do with many of the patterns.

There was really only one downer for me and that was the limited range of sizes. Babies grow so fast, and I like a baby book that gives sizes from 3 months to 3 years. The sizing in this book is a bit wonky. One sweater might have three or four sizes available, one sweater might only have one or two. Most patterns are sized from 6m-18m. Quite a few go up to 24m and there is one pattern that goes up to a size three. But it was disappointing that the Otto Short Sleeved Pullover is only sized up to 12m, too small for my baby who already wears 18-24m. I know I could do the math, or just use a  bigger needle size but I do wonder why more size options were not included.

Overall I would put this book in my “one to purchase category.” The patterns are unique, beautiful and of course, timeless. Kristen Rengren did an amazing job of transforming these old vintage patterns into something knitters can use today.

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