Slightly Handicapped

You know what’s funny? I finally sewed the buttons on Hey Teach, (which has been finished since the 2nd of September and only needed buttons sewn on, which is really really pathetic, but sort of encapsulates the whole September I’ve been having – where it would only take a minute to really tie things up but you still can’t properly tie things up because a thousand things need just one minute?) So I finally sew the buttons on, and I think “Well this is excellent, because it will give me a blog post, which is even more excellent because I don’t think I can take another picture of the Peacock Feathers Shawl because even though it’s really coming along, it still looks exactly the same as ever other picture I’ve taken of it… which is to say that it’s a very pretty blob of laceweight yarn but not really showing progress, which I think is sort of the nature of shawls, that they’re really blobby until suddenly they’re not blobby, but in the blobby phase things are really unsatisfying from a photographic perspective, so boy is it great that Hey Teach is done so I don’t have to take another blob picture.” and then I think “Holy crap was that ever a really ungraceful run-on sentence” and then I thought “Oh double crap. My camera is in the mail between Oregon and here. (I sort of forgot it.)

Therefore, I got nothing. Can’t take lace blob pictures, can’t take Hey Teach pictures…. so I decided that today was a great day to start something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve got all of these fantastic knitting books, I’m sure you do too… and I thought that I might start reviewing them. Actually, that’s not accurate. Not really “reviewing” because I think that implies that I might trash one (and as an author, I feel like I can’t do that to another author, no more than I could walk up to them at a party and slap them in the face. I know other people will do critical reviews, and that’s cool, but I won’t be one of them. Code of the knitting book author.) but talking about what’s inside of the book so that maybe you would know more about if you’re interested in it. I’m going to do this once in a while, and I’m going to call it “Other peoples books”.

First up? A really interesting book that has been kicking around my office for a while. (Those are the books I’m starting with. Books that arrived in the house and haven’t made it to a bookshelf. I think it’s a good sign when six months after I got it it’s still near my desk or on the bathroom shelf.) It’s Meg Swansen and Joyce Williams Armenian Knitting. Hold on. I can take a crappy photo with the camera on my Macbook.


Obviously the writing on the actual book isn’t reversed, it just looks that way because I used the macbook and I can’t figure out how to flip it in Imageready. Now, to be really honest, there are some of you who aren’t going to be very interested in this book. This is a niche book. This is a book for a specific sort of knitter. This book details the technique that was used in the knitted sweaters of the designer Elsa Schiaparelli – most famously the Bowknot sweater, (which is famous enough that I bet you’ve seen it somewhere) and gives patterns for about a dozen projects to knit using this technique to it’s best advantage.

The interesting thing about that sweater, (knit for Schiaparelli by an Armenian knitter, and so hence the book title of “armenian knitting”) is that it isn’t intarsia. It’s a sort of stranded knitting, even through the plain parts of the body and arms. Curiouser than that is the technique, which is really simple in a sort in that annoying-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that way. It’s knit using “trapping”, which you’ve probably done a little of if you’ve done colourwork. It’s the way that you catch up the yarn on the wrong side to avoid a long float of yarn in stranded knitting, doing your level best to avoid the colour peeking through on the right side. In fact, most of us avoid catching the yarn just to avoid the peeking. Great and long knitterly theories on how far a distance you can go without catching, how to avoid catching, what you can do if you have to catch and it does peek through on the right side and how long it took the knitter to get back out of therapy after there were peeks from catching on their sweater have been written. (Some by me.)

Clearly, these Armenian knitters weren’t hung up on it, because the presiding theory of this technique is that the peeks through are design features. That they give the knitting another interesting dimension, and a wonderful consistency, since the foreground colour and the background colour are both carried throughout the project, “trapping” and catching the yarn regularly to avoid floats and create a unified fabric. As mentioned, this book has a group of patterns that use this to it’s best advantage. My favourites are the Olive Branch sweater, with the tree up the back


and the branches dripping ’round the front….


and the supercharming Knit Purl Pullover, which has a picture of knit fabric on the front,


purl fabric on the back (of course) and garterstitch side panels. (So sorry about the crap pictures. Again, a reminder that the “tink” on that sweater is not “tink” but “knit” just I can’t win a fight with image ready, although I bet that picture just answered a question a new knitter had out there about why we all keep talking about “tinking” back our work. Tink = knit backwards. Undo. Get it?)

Some of the most interesting patterns in this book to me are the ones where the colour held behind and trapped (to create the visible “peeks”) changes throughout. There’s the Lily Jacket, where there are three shifts of the colour, and it creates not just the lily design, but a wonderful shading of colour on the whole garment. Interesting idea, this trapping of colour – where it is used throughout, especially with the shifts of colour it reminds me of some of the principles of pointillism, or the thilll of the flecks in tweed yarns.

This is a simple book. There are about a dozen patterns, clear photos and illustrations demonstrating what Meg and Joyce have found to be the most efficient ways to trap, and as always from this pair, charming prose. There are other calling cards of Schoolhouse Press throughout -for example, in the fine tradition of Elizabeth Zimmermann, the garments appear in one size each. Where it is possible to up or downsize the pattern, a note may be made about the best place or manner to do so… and after much careful perusal, I believe that a knitter who was willing to think a little could easily make the modifications to most of the patterns to generate other sizes. (With some exceptions. A few of the patterns have designs that preclude simple up or downsizing – but may be possible to translate into other sizes using gauge alchemy.) If you are a knitter who usually needs a pattern that is much smaller or larger than a medium (and you don’t know anybody who is a medium who you would love to knit a sweater for) and you are not a knitter who likes to think while you are knitting (fair enough. Some of us do it to turn our brains off for a bit) then you might have a hard time, not with the technique, which I truly believe could be mastered by anybody… but the patterns.

If, on the other hand, you are a knitter who is interested in the history of knitting, interested in adding as many tools and to your knitterly toolbox as you can, interested in techniques the way that I am interested in my morning cup(s) of coffee …or interested in supporting endeavours to record knitting history, technique and tools before the people who know this stuff are lost to us… then this book is going to be a charming addition to your bookshelf.