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Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

No-Bull Book Review: Sock Architecture, by Lara Neel

Today’s book review is the intriguingly-titled Sock Architecture, written by Lara Neel and published by Cooperative Press.

neel cover

Sock Architecture is, as you might infer from the title, a sock knitting book that is very much concerned with sock structure. [Sometimes when I write a sentence like that, I have to step back and chuckle. A huge percentage of the sock-wearing population is unaware that people still knit socks by hand, and if they are aware of handknit socks, they often say things like "Why spend all that time knitting them when you can buy them so cheaply?" So it amuses me that I know quite a lot of people out there who not only have the patience and skill to knit socks, but also think about the best way to create a sock heel, or wonder if cuff-down is superior to toe-up, or look for new or innovative approaches to something that's been around for hundreds of years.]

But I digress. For those of us who care about handknit socks, Sock Architecture is a treasure. Because obviously Lara Neel has given a lot of thought to the process of sock knitting, and compiled a lot of helpful technical information in one book. So let’s take a closer look.

There is some very useful information in the beginning section of the book, beginning with an overview of sock knitting in recent history, discussing some of the differences between Western-style socks — traditionally made from cuff down, with an emphasis on horizontal design — and Eastern-style socks — traditionally made from the toe-up and using an afterthought heel, with a more vertically-oriented approach to design. Neel next traces the rise of the so-called French or round heel, then spends some valuable time discussing fit. All of that is good and helpful stuff. But the heart of the book is devoted to a thorough discussion of the structure of a sock, with emphasis on heel and toe styles, organized via the direction of the knitting — and this is where the book really shines.

Neel begins with top-down socks, which for a long time were the traditional and most frequently-used approach to handknit socks. Neel also begins with the flap heel plus gusset method of knitting socks (also the way a great many socks have been made over the years), addressing issues like the height of the flap, different stitch patterns for the heel, and types of heel turns. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between, say the Half-handkerchief Heel, the Square Heel and the Round Heel, Neel lays out each type along with pros and cons; she also covers less commonly-encountered heel styles, like the Balbriggan and variants on the Common Heel. Neel shows how to work an Afterthought (or Peasant) Heel, and includes general tips like how to avoid gaps near the heel. The same thorough treatment is given to sock toes; Neel discusses wedge toes (including long, medium and shorter versions to fit different-shaped toes), round toes and swirl toes, to name a few, and there are many clear photographs to walk you through each style. Very valuable info!

Mouchoir sock, knit toe-up, heel view

Mouchoir sock, knit toe-up, heel view

If you’re a toe-up sock knitter, do not despair. There’s just as much information devoted to working socks from toe up. Multiple methods of working toes, tips about cast-ons, gussets, heel styles, tips for stretchy cast-offs, even some links and suggestions for specific designers who have experimented with different styles, it’s all here. It’s great to see a book cover both cuff-down and toe-up approaches in some detail, for those of us who like to experiment with different techniques, and compare different ways of shaping a sock.

And last but not least, you’ll find a pattern section to allow you to try out some of the techniques you just read about. There are 17 patterns, and all are shown in clear photographs with solid-colored yarns, so it’s easy to discern stitch patterns and styles of heels/toes. Seven of the designs are provided in both cuff-down and toe-up form (comprising fourteen of the total 17 patterns in the book), such as the Checked & Square Socks:

Toe up version

Toe up version

Cuff down version

Cuff down version

and the Procrastinatrix Socks:

Cuff down version

Cuff down version

Toe up version

Toe up version

 

The remaining three designs feature less conventional structure.  The Uncommon Dragon socks feature a textured stitch pattern, side ribbing and a shaped common heel that’s grafted at the back.

neel dragan
 

The Bootstrap socks feature a row of garter stitch down the side, a Balbriggan heel (also requiring a bit of grafting) and a wide toe box:

neel bootstrap

 

The Adjoin socks are knitted from the toe up, with a novel heel structure: the heel is a flap that extends across the back of the foot, then is bound off, and stitches are picked up around the edge to knit up for the leg.

neel adjoin

Several things I really like about the patterns:  they include a wide range of sizes (Women’s XS through Men’s Large); they include the ability to make a custom size to fit a specific foot, including worksheets that help with the math; there are a lot of close-up photos of specific sections of the socks, like the heels, which clearly show the details of the finished project; some patterns contain multiple options within the pattern (for example, one pattern gives three different toe box options, with full directions for each, allowing very easy customization and experimentation).

I hope that people will not take a quick glance at this book and skip over it, dismissing it as too basic. While the socks are all knit in solid yarn rather than self-patterning or brightly handdyed yarns, and they are photographed very straightforwardly — no fancy locations or whimsical styling — there is a goldmine of technical information in this book. The patterns are fully customizable and give the reader a chance to experiment with a whole host of techniques and styles of sock knitting, plugging in different variables — various toe styles, cuff-down vs. toe-up construction, heel and gusset variations. By providing all these options, as well as help in customizing patterns, a sock knitter can find a perfect and individualized fit. This would be a great resource for someone who has recently learned the basics of how to knit a sock and wants to explore different methods to decide which styles fit her foot better or to add some variety to her sock repertoire. But even sock knitters who have been knitting socks for a while will learn from Neel’s excellent resource.

Details:
136 pages; softcover; printed copy MSRP $26, 95 but available for $23.99 via the link above; PDF version only for $16.95/both versions for $26.95 via the Cooperative Press website.

Photographs copyright 2014 Lara Neel, used with permission for review purposes.


Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

FOs and un-FOs

It’s been a busy fall, and I have been remiss in my blogging duties. Here is a list of the things I SHOULD have blogged about this fall:

1. Charcoal’s birthday — he turned 9 years old!

charcoal

2. Boris’s birthday — he turned two!

Boris oct 14

3. Stitches East — I had a fabulous time!

4. Rhinebeck — ditto!

5. the first day of school — it went well!

6. my next book — it’s now listed for preorders on Amazon and BN.com!

cover LYS

I’m sure there are a bunch of other things, but I am running out of exclamation points, so today I am going to show you a few photos of a sewing project that I finished this past weekend. After the Bridget-Quiltapalooza, I had so many deadlines and trips that I didn’t have a chance to do much quilting, and I’ve really missed it.

This weekend, after several big deadlines were over, I decided to do some improvisational quilting and make some throw pillow covers for the family room. I picked a selection of fabrics that picked up the colors in the rug, and just played around. I ended up with one Log Cabin-ish pillow

log cabin pillow

a simple arrangement of squares, alternating prints with solids,

patchwork pillow

and a little one in which I alternated stripes with rows of a solid.

stripe pillow

I was happy with the way they came out, and it’s whetted my appetite for more quilting…. What have you been working on?


Monday, November 10th, 2014

Book look: A Head For Trouble, by Julie Turjoman

I mentioned that Julie Turjoman was in our booth in Chicago signing books,and during the show, she was kind enough to give me a copy of her latest, called A Head For Trouble: What To Knit While Catching Crooks, Chasing Clues, and Solving Murders (20 Hats and Adornments Inspired by Lady Detectives of the Roaring Twenties).  Yep, that’s an awfully long title, but it does tell you a couple of important things about the book. First of all, the feel comes from the roaring twenties, time of flappers, suffragettes, swinging ropes of pearls and cute cloche hats, a stylish and evocative time period.  Second, it tells you that the patterns inside are inspired by literary lady detectives — a book genre I personally adore. It also tells you that the patterns are for accessories — lots of hats, but also things like fingerless mitts and scarves.

So let’s dive right in and explore the beautiful patterns and detectives of A Head for Trouble.

turj cover 2

 

Julie Turjoman was entranced by the cool, sophisticated heroines of roaring twenties detective fiction. So being the self-starter that she is, she assembled a list of her favorite literary detectives from that time period, contacted the authors who created them, and asked for permission to use the characters as inspiration for a book of knitted patterns. Turjoman explains the fascination that this time period has for her:

The period between the World Wars was a watershed moment for women, not least because the suffrage movement galvanized many to engage in politics with a sense of personal urgency. Others sought meaningful employment or were admitted to universities. Many were matured by their wartime experiences as front-line nurses or ambulance drivers in WWI. An unprecedented number of women owned cars and had no intention of giving up the freedom they allowed. After the war, as a result, one thing was certain:  having sampled a heady mix of independence and self-sufficiency, there was no going back to corsets and bustles, fussy coiffures or finishing school.  Fiction’s lady detectives are the embodiment of the early 20th century’s advances in women’s rights and fashion.

By the number of roaring twenties lady detectives out there, it seems that many of us share Turjoman’s fascination with this historical era.

So who are the fictional women and the patterns they inspired?

Two of my literary favorites are included:  Maisie Dobbs is the WWI battlefield nurse turned detective — after the war is over, Maisie Dobbs becomes a private investigator aided by her association with a London psychology expert.  Jacqueline Winspear’s series includes ten books as of this writing. Turjoman was inspired to create the Maisie cloche,

jt maisie

using a colorwork brim and ruching. (There are matching mitts, too!)

Another favorite detective is Georgianna Rannock, star of Rhys Bowen’s “Royal Spyness” series of mysteries. Georgiana is minor royalty but penniless, and gads about to estates all over the US and Europe, solving murders and struggling to keep her finances afloat during the depression. Check out the charming Georgiana scarf

jt georgiana scarf

(there’s a matching cloche). Delightful!

In addition to the lovely patterns (many of which would make perfect holiday gifts), I am delighted to have a chance to learn about some new fictional detectives I haven’t discovered yet. The Daisy Cloche pays homage to the Hon. Daisy Dalrymple, who struck out on her in London, writing magazine articles and sharing a flat in a bohemian neighborhood with a friend.

jt daisy cloche

The Jade fingerless mitts were inspired by character Jade del Cameron, a photojournalist who travels through Africa, seeking adventure and to escape her awful memories of WWI.

jt jade mitts

And I was delighted to see the Verity hat and scarf combo, knit up in Black Bunny Fibers blue-faced leicester dk-weight yarn:

jt jade

Verity Browne is the invention of author David Roberts, and is a radical journalist with a British lord boyfriend and a taste for the finer things in life.

jt verity

Love this combo!

In total, you’ll find ten caps:

jt jasmine

Jasmine Pillbox & Scarf

four scarves/neckwear;

jt scarf

Daisy Collar

two charming bags:

jt bino bag

Dandy Binoculars Bag

and four sets of mitts.

jt mercy cuffs

Mercy Cuffs

The book begins with some helpful tips to speed your knitting along, such as a look at hat architecture and how to get proper fit, then jumps right into the patterns. Each set of patterns is prefaced by a charming description of the detective; patterns are grouped by twos, with each detective inspiring a hat plus one accessory. Patterns are written in easy-to-read type, with charts as necessary, and the photography is wonderful — clear but evocative shots of the designs, with several photos for each pattern, from different angles so you can appreciate the design details. The book is paperback and on high-quality paper; about 122 pages; beautifully laid out with styling that perfectly evokes the feel of the roaring twenties.

You can pick up a copy of the book via Amazon ($19.86 as of the link above) or via Julie’s website, where you can get your copy autographed! You’ll have a hard time deciding whether to knit one of the wonderful patterns first, or explore one of the terrific detective novels first….

Photographs copyright 2014 by Zoe Lonergan; used for review purposes with permission.


Friday, November 7th, 2014

Summer Search raffle winners!

Drumroll please!

1. A $100 gift certificate to Black Bunny Fibers — Barbara H.

2. A copy of my new book,Lace Yarn Studio, as soon as I have a copy in my hot little hands to give you. (The expected publication date is April 2015, so this particular prize won’t ship until sometime in late April.) — Carrie P.

cover LYS

3. A box of knitting and crochet books, including a copy of Sock Yarn Studio signed by me, that will give you plenty of wonderful patterns, information and inspiration– Janet L.

4. A free subscription to the next round of the Black Bunny Fibers/Brooke Nico yarn club. (We expect the next round of the club to begin in February 2015, and you will be treated exactly as one of the paying members.) This is a $160 value! — Jennifer D.

Chianti: month 3 of the first round

Chianti: month 3 of the first round

5. A free Craftsy class taught by most excellent teacher and designer Patty Lyons — and Patty was generous enough to offer TWO of these, so two different people will win — Rebecca & Julie

6. From fabulous designer and yarn maven Kristin Omdahl, a skein of her new Bamboo So Fine yarn!–Melanie

bamboo so fine

7. Author and designer Stephannie Tallent will send you your choice of one of her Wild West e-books, full of terrific patterns inspired by the west — Ulrika

8. Designer extraordinaire Barb Brown has offered up PDF downloads from her Ravelry store: five (YES — FIVE!!!!) winners will get their choice of three of her patterns– Melanie, Mary Kay, Marianne, Carrie & Sharon

9. The bodacious Andi Smith is giving one lucky winner a PDF copy via Ravelry download of her fantastic ebook Synchronicity (which contains a terrific pattern using BBF yarn)–Sharon

synchr

10. I am touched that Sharon F, a blog-reader and one of the winners in last year’s raffle, is so supportive of Summer Search that she is offering a skein of Bad Amy yarn from her personal stash–Marianne

11. Designer and author Mary Beth Temple has offered free copies of her Arm Knitting and Finger Knitting books– Liz

arm knitting

12. Designer, teacher and author Donna Druchunas will give one lucky winner a boxed set of her new journal, Stories in Stitches. This is a brand-new journal that goes beyond patterns (although it includes plenty of them) to give you the untold stories behind the stitches. Great for those interested in historical knitting, ethnic traditions and knitting from around the world– Sara

13. I am also touched that blog-reader & dyer extraordinaire Betty Murphy will provide a winner with a skein of Moose Manor Handpaints yarn — lovely stuff! — Dianne

14. Ditto for being touched and so appreciative that Heather H S is offering Tsarina Tsock yarn as a prize– Mary Kay

tsarina

15. The wonderful Ancient Arts Fibre Craft will provide a prize of a skein of yarn and pattern to go with! Caroline’s a great dyer so you’ll really love this one! – Faith

ancient arts logo

16. Hunter Hammersen, author of so many wonderful books, including the new volume of her Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet, which I will review on my blog soon, is offering winner’s choice of any of her e-books, to THREE different winners. I just reviewed Hunter’s latest book, and it’s gorgeous– Carolyn, Cynthia, Julie

hunter cover 3

17. And just added to the list, the generous Jo Ann, owner of Stash, a great yarn store in Havertown, PA, has offered the winner’s choice of a free knitting or crochet class at her shop. What a great prize!! — Ellen

I will be sending out emails within the next day or so to everyone to arrange prize delivery, so check your email — you should hear from me by Sunday evening.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for another successful Summer Search raffle! You are the best!


Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Summer Search raffle

Deepest apologies for taking so long to process the raffle! Before I draw the winners, I want to make sure that I have all the entrants on my spreadsheet. So far I have the following donors:

Faith L.
Dianne S.
Julie R.
Melanie T.
Barbara H.
Mary Kay C.
Cynthia M.
Rebecca
Carolyn K.
Ellen S.
Marianne R.
Ulrika R.
Liz S.
Jennifer D.
Janet L.
Sarah B.
Sharon F.
Carrie P.

If you are not on the list but made a donation, please message me or leave a comment so I can track you down. According to my tally, we raised over $650 for the wonderful nonprofit Summer Search. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!


Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Holy moly!

Whenever I get back from a show I feel like I will never not be tired again. And this was was no exception.

However, I simply could not love Chicago more. It is the home of dear friends, like Franklin and Kristen and Michelle (who brought her adorable daughter to see me!)

10593028_10152750306490469_2841873464864959144_n

It is a city full of excellent, enthusiastic knitters, many of whom were in my classes and lecture.

It is a beautiful city, with character and charm.

IMG_3177[1]

It is a city where you can choose to transact your business at the ATM in Polish if you wish. (My Bopchi would have loved that.)

My trip was extra-special because it started with my oldest kid accompanying me. He’s a high-school junior and starting to think about college. We added on an extra day to our trip and went to look at the University of Chicago.

IMG_3168[1]

The school was beautiful, the tour was informative and we had a blast! We also went to see the Art Institute; Millenium Park; ate donuts at the most amazing place

IMG_3180[1]

and generally had a wonderful time.

He also helped haul boxes and set up our booth — and we were rather pleased with the results. We had Julie Turjoman and her brand-new book, A Head for Trouble (review coming soon!) in our booth,

IMG_3186[1]

along with Brooke’s breathtaking Peacock Wrap pattern and yarn custom-dyed to match.

It’s always hard for me to explain the peculiar state of mind shows like this put me in. Excitement, the contagious inspiration of seeing so many beautiful things, the feeling I’ve come home and am surrounded by my tribe, anxiety at putting on good classes, concern that we will sell enough yarn to make the trip pay off financially, the exhilaration of an amazing city like Chicago….

Now I’m home, and mulling over all that I did and saw and making plans for the next show.

Thank you, Chicago, for a wonderful trip. I hope we meet again soon!


Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Nana-palooza

Everyone wish a very happy birthday to my mom, also known as “Nana” or “Shirley.” (I recently was at a dinner in which 3/5 of the fiber professionals present had mothers named Shirley — an elite club indeed.)

nana easter

Nana is 84 today and in great health, with all her buttons, living on her own in her house. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for all of those things.

IMG_1857

She is funny and silly, the kindest person you’ll ever want to meet, and her unwavering love and support have made me so much of the person I am today.

DSCF7034

She was married to my dad for over 50 years:

atlantic city

raised my brother and me to be responsible, caring adults:

mom wedding

and I love her more than I could possibly say.

mom tot


Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Onward to Chicago and Booth 103!

    The month of October has been unbelievably busy. Now the last big trip of the fall season is upon me: I’ll be heading out to VK Live: Chicago bright and early tomorrow morning. I love Chicago and I love teaching at VK Live — and this time, I’ll also be vending in the marketplace. Brooke Nico and I will be selling all sorts of wonderful things in Booth 103.

What kind of wonderful things? you ask…..

    • Freshly-dyed yarns, including Avondale (silk/wool singles fingering weight), Fairview (baby alpaca/merino fingering weight), worsted weight Baby Blue (merino/baby alpaca blend), and lace weight old favorite Flutter and new Tibetan yak (shown below; Brooke whipped up a lovely free-with-purchase pattern for this, too)!

yak

  • Free patterns with purchase — for example, the Fairview Cowl pattern, in an easy-to-work lace pattern:

cowl 3

  • a new kit, called Extremities. You get 400 yards of a semisolid and 200 of a coordinating multicolor, all handpainted by me, and your choice of a mitten or sock pattern designed especially for the kit! (These won’t last long….)

In honor of our host, the historic Palmer House Hotel, Brooke has designed the gorgeous Peacock Wrap (the peacock is a symbol of the Palmer House). We’ve got gorgeous handdyed BBF yarn in the Peacock colorway, and a warm red called Great Fire (just in case you like warm colors better).

peacock

We will have Julie Turjoman with us on Saturday morning to sign her brand-new book, A Head for Trouble, which includes two wonderful patterns knit in BBF dk yarn (and we’ve got the yarn, too!):

turj head cover

turj verity

BTW, I’ll be teaching Yarn Substitution, my most popular class, and giving a lecture on handpainted yarns — including pooling, how handdyes are made and an introduction to intentional pooling. Sign up for those here.

So please come to the show, take some classes and then meander over to Booth 103 and say hello. I bet we’ve got some wonderful yarn and patterns that will beg to come home with you!


Friday, October 17th, 2014

Back in a flash!

Don’t worry, I will be processing the Summer Search raffle very soon. Right now I’m a bit swamped so I thank you for your patience. Um, imagine I wrote a really clever blog post here about how much fun I had at Stitches East, m’kay?