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.

85 thoughts on “Slightly Handicapped

  1. I bought that book at a memorable trip to the Sow’s Ear in Madison and immediately sat down to read it over coffee and yogurt & organic granola, yum. And an hour went by. Fascinating!

  2. I saw that book at the Iknit shop in London , and am kicking myself that I didn’t get it as it was such an interesting book (sat down on the sofa and had a good look). Its going on my wish list – thanks for sharing it !

  3. I really like the Tink sweater…what do you mean that’s not how it’s made??? I’m not sure that I don’t like it better that way…hmmmm…great many negatives in the first part of this sentence which leads me to think that if I were creative enough I could make a run on forever sentence like Steph’s but I’m fairly sure I’m not that creative or grammatically inclined but of course then again, who is? Not bad…lol

  4. Joyce came to my library last year to show of many of these sweaters. The Lily Jacket is almost floor length on her and she wore it for her lecture. When she flipped it open so we could see the strands of color inside there was a huge gasp and round of “wow”…Very cool!

  5. I love seeing you peek around the sides of the book to see if they are properly aligned with your camera – it is (sorry) cute. Really it is.

  6. If you’re using Photobooth on your Mac to take a picture, just hit cloverleaf+f and that will flip it.

  7. I saw those sweaters at camp. Most of them are knit with unspun icelandic, so though they are double thickness, they are quite lightweight. (Lightweight from a wool-wearing minnesota perpective.)

  8. Your previewing books is a wonderful idea! It will add another dimension to my way of thinking (you can’t have too many books or too much wool). Tink is the name of one of my kitties! I never realized her name was really Knit.

  9. I like your book review and your blog. I don’t usually read all the comments so I don’t add one. I also have knitting books around that haven’t been read. Maybe I’ll read one today.

  10. I bought a copy of Armenian Knitting myself, a few months ago. I love the technique (without having tried it yet) because it provides one more example of the flexibility of knitting: those peeks of color don’t have to be undesirable, if you consider them a design feature.
    Not to detract from the charm of your untouched photos (I especially like the way you’re peering around the book), but I’ve put flipped versions on Flickr for anyone who wants to see them “frontwards.”

  11. Thanks for the book review. One of these days, I will go through my knitting library, and then start deciding if I want to add anything to it. When that day arrives, it will be helpful to know what other people think of certain books.

  12. Two thoughts… My husband is of Armenian heritage and I’ve thought about buying the book to add to our Armenian library (a cookbook and a couple novels). Thanks for sharing the technique. It makes the book even more intriguing.
    I also wanted to share my first lace project. I was a relatively new knitter and took it to a relatively new knitting shop because it looked so small and lumpy. We agreed that I should rip it out and add additional panels. Sadly, neither of us knew about the wonders of blocking and I still have the rewound yarn in my stash. Small sigh.

  13. I’m one of those peek-avoiding knitters (too much stranded work as a contract knitter in the 1980s, I think…); fascinating that somewhere it’s a design feature. I imagine it makes the whole garment a lot warmer, too, in a climate like Armenia; sort of couture thrumming…

  14. Innnteresting — I think I probably trap too much because I get worried about the long floats tangling, so on one pair of mittens that I knitted in baby alpaca with a too-loose gauge, all of the yellow does look “unified” with the green. I actually kind of like it, though, and will now refer to it as Armenian-style, haha.

  15. If I understand your description of “trapping” correctly, I’ve been doing it all of my life (well, since I started knitting, anyway). It’s very easy.

  16. I didn’t know tink was knit backwards! And for me it would be appropriate to have Knit on the front and tink on the back!!

  17. You can flip the photos yourself in Photobooth by going to Edit >> Auto Flip New Photos (it’s in the bar at the top)
    I hope that made sense…

  18. I’ll look forward to reading more of your book reviews.
    I’m reading ” Knitting Rules” by some Canadian writer or other, it’s very good, I highly recommend it 😉

  19. I tend to “trap” the yarn every other stitch when I do color work because I don’t like long floaty strands in the back. Too easy to catch fingers, and it just doesn’t have a neat finish (which was important on the red-and-white Christmas snowflake afghan that I knitted). If the knitting is a bit on the tight side, the show-through is minimal or even eliminated, and on a pattern where color changes are frequent (like Fair Isle) a tiny bit of show-through can even get subsumed in the pattern.
    But I like the idea of show-through as a design feature. That tree sweater is gorgeous. ::sigh:: Another one to add to the growing queue…

  20. Very interesting blog post! I really like your idea for reviewing of knitting / pattern books. This will really open a lot of doors for me, perhaps. Or at least expand my horizons anyway, since I have been knitting for about a year. I look forward to future reviews!!

  21. You know, if you took a picture of your picture everything would be right way round again. And impossibly blurry. Take your pick. One more thing. Does taking pictures of a knitting book with a webcam make it knitting porn?

  22. Thanks for this great review! I had always wondered what that books was about, but was never brave enough to order it from the Schoolhouse Press catalogue. The fashionista in me says “no!” but the knitter says “yes! yes! yes!” The knitter is much stronger than the fashionista, fortunately, so there may be some Armenian sweaters in my future!
    I agree with “apple13” in the comments: [Apple]+F flips the picture inside the Photobooth program. (You can also go to “Edit” in the top menu to give you the same option).

  23. It was great to have you review this book-I happened to be at Knitting Camp the year it was published and they were very proud of it’s content. Joyce is the most amazing pattern designer and her knit shawls will be in museums someday!
    Hope you continue to review books and even patterns. I am so annoyed when I purchase a book without looking at it and then find it really wasn’t what I wanted. Although, my vast collection of knitting books laughs at that last sentence.

  24. I adore schoolhouse press, so interesting to know the book talks abotu the float stuff, as I’ve wanted to learn this for a while. I am trying to design a sweater with little cherries on it and in order to avoid more then 5 stitches of blank area I’ve had to make the cherries very boring compared to what I could do if I didn’t have to worry about that. It’s more fair isle but I could use that knowledge to make it pseudo fair isle! I’ll have to get it eventually!

  25. Thanks. I love book reviews. I do them for my local Knitters Guild newsletter.
    And that’s a book I’ve contemplated a few times as I’ve perused the Schoolhouse site. I’ve wanted a bow sweater since I was about 18, but not in black and white. One of these days, maybe.

  26. Stephanie:
    I love reading your blog and particularly loved
    your postings from London. I felt like it was a
    mini-travelogue and I was walking right along with
    you. You spoke of leaving your camera behind
    in Oregon–can you tell me what kind of a camera
    you use? The pictures are always so clear.
    Thanks very much.Connie/Rochester,MI

  27. Hey! I used to do this ‘trapping’ when I started knitting Kaffe Fassett sweaters in the ’80s. I remember an older knitter told me I did it ‘the wrong way’. Cool to know now 20 years later (28 years later!) that I did it ‘the Armenian way’. Keep the book reviews coming – informative, and as always witty and fun to read.

  28. Yes, please tell us what kind of camera you use, or if not, please write about how you learned to take decent photos of knitting with a digital camera. Do you take a million shots with the hope that one will turn out? Or, do you know what settings work best under what circumstances?

  29. I believe, if you’re bound and determined to go with Imageready, the means of rotation resemble those in Photoshop. Thus:
    Image > Rotate Canvas > Flip Horizontal
    You should also have an option within Photobooth to autoflip yonder image.
    Skitch, now in public beta, will also do this. Subjectively, I’ve found it pushes the iSight’s capabilities more effectively. It also permits captioning, fun arrow-drawing, and some amount of integrated webposting (on or otherwise).
    And now, to drown in the avalanche of comments.

  30. OK, So I have to agree that as informative and fabulous (per usual) as today’s blog is, I have to say my favorite part is you peeking around the pages….no, I’m not a freak, but yes, it’s cute.

  31. The book is an intriguing mix of the curious and creative, the fashionable and a frolic in a technique we all can master. I knit a hat ala Meg’s 3 hats instructions, using Joyce’s “knit” and her knit stitch patterning. Came out really well.

  32. Thanks so much for the review! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts regarding other books as well. I’ve finally caught up on your archives and look forward to every new post. 🙂

  33. Do you know of the book “Fair Isle Sweaters Simplified” by Ann and Eugene Bourgeois. I took a class from her in Edmonton once, and learned how to produce a Fair Isle knit that looked as good inside as outside. It’s all explained in the book. Plus, the book has a very interesting beginning section about how they got into producing wool. A great book with great patterns!
    Louise in Alberta P.S. I love your blog and read all the entries. Thanks for the inspiration.

  34. Thanks! I’d seen that book on the Schoolhouse Press website and had wondered what “Armenian Knitting” might be, but hadn’t gotten around to investigating. That seems like a really cool technique — are you planning on knitting anything from the book?

  35. Glad you’ve got your camera coming back to you! I laughed at the bow-tie sweater: I pictured it, clicked, and yup, that was the one. Thank you for the heads-up on a book I hadn’t heard of–I can’t wait to see it in person and learn more about a technique that I don’t seem to have ever thought of before. Cool.

  36. I’m a newbie–in techniques attempted, if not chronologically–who hasn’t yet dared colourwork, but I’m very familiar with the “design feature” school, hehehe. Armenian knitting may just be what the doctor ordered.
    (Love the new review feature!)

  37. I’m really excited about your take on knitting books. I’m sure to see things I would never have come across otherwise, and be able to hear a breakdown of what’s actually inside the book. The “I LOVE IT!” or “I HATE IT!” reviews might be cathartic for the reviewer, but they’re completely unhelpful for anyone else who is curious about the actual content of a published work.
    Thanks so much!

  38. Snapping photos of photos this way makes the images look very painterly. Also, is that Darth Vader looking over your shoulder in the first photo?

  39. while i enjoy a big dish of snark as much as the next person, you’re right, stephanie — that’s just not your style. i’ll look forward to other reviews — it’ll help me know what to request from the library if the budget’s not quite up to a new book.

  40. Very kewl. And I have to agree with some of the other commenters, it is very cute to see you peeking out from behind the book. Looks like a kid hiding behind her mom’s skirt….
    Interesting book. I SUCK at color work though so I never do it. It just gets to me. I love charts, I love lace and cables, but colorwork kills me. I get very lazy. I don’t understand, if they can make self-striping yarn why can’t they make “self-intarsia” yarn. I have been DYING for some socks with skulls on them but I can’t bear to grab 2 colors of yarn and knit them myself. So very lazy…. =^P
    Keep up the book reviews! You have great taste and it’s fun to find patterns you’ve latched onto.

  41. I was puzzled for a few seconds as to why they would design a sweater with Knit spelled backwards (I was thinking that they should have been showing the purl side of the knitting part also if the words were backwards) and then I remembered that your camera-thingy was reversing the photos. Ha. Ha.

  42. Thanks so much Stephanie! That was a very good review, in words I can understand. I look forward to seeing your Hey Teach when your camera gets home. 🙂

  43. I never really thought about the origin of the word TINK although I do it quite often in my knitting. Thanks for answering a question I never thought to ask and clearing it up so precisely! Who would have thunk it???? I wish you happy knitting and minimal tinking!

  44. I am so relieved you brought this book to my attention. I have three (five done previously) Christmas stockings (Yankee Knitter banded pattern) to make this, well, soon. I’ve done the ribbed bands but then got stuck trying to choose between stranding like I did with the others or doing “true” intarsia as in Lucy Neatby’s videos, which I bought to improve my intarsia skills, specifically with these stockings in mind. I think I should order this book. It will be sort of like having an “it’s okay to do it that way” therapist at hand when the “peeks” start to raise my knitting anxiety level.
    Hey, thanks!

  45. I saw those sweaters at Knitting Camp and they were just beautiful and looked wonderful on the people who tried them on. I think that most of them were knit in Elsbeth Lavold Silky Wool which is a really nice yarn – it feels like a dk but knits up at a worsted gauge.
    I look forward to more book reviews.

  46. I had no idea that stranding behind your knitting was a special technique. I’ve been doing that for years, because I don’t like bits of yarn hanging all over the place and I like heavy sweaters. I’ve never had a problem with “peeking,” though. It just never came up.

  47. I like the idea of some book ‘reviews’. So many out there and which ones to add to the shelf?? (Besides Harlot ones, of course!)
    I always forget how to flip the pictures too. These should always be a click that says “Flip picture” instead of burying it in obscure menus labelled something else.

  48. Just realized, reading this post, that I have somehow gone from being totally frustrated when I have to tink back, to just calmly realizing, oops – not right, and fixing it, and I ascribe it all to your blog showing that NOBODY always gets it right the first time. Sometime you knit, sometimes you tink – no biggy.
    Thank you!

  49. It’s amazing that you posted about this book right now! I picked up a copy of it while out of state (far out of state) for a job interview! I’d seen it on the Schoolhouse Press website before, but I’d never seen it in person. I was totally blown away by the techniques and by the art of it. I knew immediately that it had to come home with me.
    Thanks for posting about the book! You’ve gotten me even more excited about it.

  50. Oh goody, Book Reviews about knitting books! This is so exciting. I can’t wait for more. Thank you!
    Peeking around books: a bonus.
    (And buttons for Hey Teach, double bonus!)

  51. I have this book and I love this book and I’ve been meaning to make something out of this book for ages. But somehow it keeps ending up on the bottom of the ‘to do’pile. Thanks for reminding me to move it to the top of the pile.

  52. I love the Olive Branch sweater it is fun to learn new things.I look forward to your reviews of books and I look forward to seeing Hey Teach when your camera catches up to you;)Hugs Darcy

  53. Trapping? People hand knitting fair isle, etc. don’t do that? I thought only cheap machine made sweaters had those long floaties that drive you nuts when you are trying to put the damn thing on. I like the idea of “reviews”. I realise you aren’t really reviewing, in the traditional sense, but what you are doing it exactly what most of who have seen that cool book online or a publishers catalogue (librarian, sorry) need to know – what is actually in the damn book!?

  54. I really like your idea of a book review; very informative and interesting to read. Please do write more of them.
    The picture with you peeking out from behind… way cute, even if that isn’t what you were going for.

  55. I’m not generally a fan of sweaters with intarsia like images splashed across them (I know, I know, this isn’t intarsia.. but you know what I mean!) but the front of that Olive Branch sweater has really caught my attention! I may have to look into this book after all. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  56. Holy crap…THAT’S what tink means? That totally makes more sense to me now. Ha ha ha! See? If you hadn’t left you camera in Oregon, some of us wouldn’t have been enlightened…so thanks!

  57. I’m going to dig back through my magazines from the 60s. I remember an issue of either Women’s Day or something like that which had sweaters with this look.
    I look forward to your reviews. Along with knitting, I love books.
    If your readers haven’t used the library feature of Ravelry, they are really missing something. I’m a knitting bookaholic, and putting my books in my Ravelry Library is really helping me keep track of what I have and what is in them. If you click on the list view they are alphabetized by title.

  58. I AM interested in techniques as much as I’m interested in your morning cup of coffee! =)Thanks for the review. I love the idea of this, and I’m going to incorporate it myself. And if you were sizing up or down, you wouldn’t have to touch the design, but just the area around it, wouldn’t you? At least on some of the patterns.

  59. SO glad to see other authors are upholding the code… I’d highly encourage giving this a try with the first hat in the book. It’s fidgety at first, but totally worth the effort.

  60. Meg’s article in Vogue about Armenian knitting inspired my Olympic Knitting project two years ago. I made a hat from alpaca, and it’s warm and wonderful. It was a fun project.

  61. Just wanted to add that I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on various knitting books. It’s not about whether a book is “good” or “bad” but how it might interest each of us. Alot of these books are only available by mail order and you can peruse them for us! And let’s face it, we’re really just going to want them in the end. Thank you!

  62. I may have missed someone else saying this already, but there are options in Photo Booth in the “Edit” menu that allow you to either Flip Photo, or Auto Flip New Photos. Though it is fun reading the words backwards 🙂

  63. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you chose this book–and first! I am a Joyce Williams fan (Meg Swanson goes without saying). She is gracious and lovely. Her knitting brain is A-mazing.
    This book lives on my bookshelf next to Joyce’s “Latvian Dreams”. (Yours live there too)

  64. Oh, great. Because only three shelves of knitting books is clearly not enough.
    I want to at least look at this book, because throughout my knitting career I have been completely unable to trap yarn without its showing through on the other side, unless the trapped yarn is on the wrong side of a cable (there are people who think I am raving loony even to contemplate intarsia cables, and then there are people who arrive at this judgment with no reference at all to knitting, but I digress). When I design a stranded pattern I always, always make sure that the yarn doesn’t have to be carried for more than 5 sts. And I can’t imagine how to trap yarn so that it 1) does show through, at least a little 2) looks OK anyway. Consider my curiosity piqued.

  65. to flip the pics in photobooth, go to edit and select auto flip new pictures.
    it took a while for me to figure that out too.

  66. When I re-started to knit 3 yrs ago my second project was the intarsia bag with the circles in from Interweave. I didn’t know it was supposed to be hard. I love colourwork, but don’t do much of it. This book sounds glorious and I will definitely take a look, thanks to your review.

  67. My 13 month-old grand-daughter is nicknamed Tink. I shall have to buy the book and seriously downsize the pattern.

  68. Sooo beautiful, I hope you wear it when you and Joe go out to celebrate. I love the Waves of Grain in Knitty and the Lace Ribbon Shawl, Can we limeys send you some contraband kidsilk haze to knit it in? Good luck blocking it.

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