Friday, October 30, 2009

Review: New Stranded Colorwork

Today, we got a few boxes from Amazon (BamBam's birthday is the end of next month ...) and one of the books was actually for me ... and about knitting.  I just spent the last couple of hours since dinner reading this book ... drooling over this book ... and plotting my next project!

Mary Scott Huff's newest book, The New Stranded Colorwork: Techniques and Patterns for Vibrant Knitwear is an amazing mix of knitter's "eye candy", glorious and unique use of color and traditional/classic designs that mean that this book will be usable for a knitter for many years to come.

Personally, I bought the book because I fell in love with the pattern on the right front cover:  Norwegian Blue is a gorgeous combination of blues, taupe and a blaze of red!  Wow!

But as I first browsed through the book, I found many more beauties:  Timberline (which is knitted for a man, but I'd make it for myself!), Kjersten (a gorgeous jacket in green and black with accents of red and orange that look great rather than gaudy), Kiss that Frog (which would be a great sweater for one of my boys), the Johnny Jump-up Leg Warmers (which would be a perfect Christmas present for my little ballerina), the Bee's Knees (which , altho it's designed for a toddler, I would make for my String Bean who LOVES bees but I would change the border from sage green to a pretty pink), and the lovely, final design which is called Wedding Belle and is meant for the Bride once she realizes that the gorgeous gown she chose is a bit nippy and needs something other than her groom's jacket!  These are gorgeous.

The really cool thing about this book ... for me, who can't follow directions/rules to save my life ... is that the design motifs are charted.  So, I can lift a piece from here and an element from there, with a color scheme from another and I've got a unique sweater or hat or leggings or socks or whatever!

I also love that she's got very clear and concise directions for the techniques she's used throughout.  And some of these techniques are extremely unique to Ms. Huff -- she suggests making two sleeves at one time by casting on the sleeve stitches together, with steeks between and then slicing, sewing and finishing off the sleeves!  Genius!  She also clearly describes how to add the traditional (but optional) ribbon bands to the sliced fronts and recommends a certain kind of thread that "buries itself into the knitting without kinking" -- cool, huh?

I do have one small quibble ... the Koi Vest (that's shown on the front left cover) hasn't been finished properly ... the armhole flares out and should pull-in (either a case of the shoulder sts not being slanted properly or the facing band being too thick -- either way, a detail that should have been rectified especially as it is featured on the cover ). 

Also, the felted bag that is shown on the front cover is an oddity that doesn't fit with the other designs -- a case of "which of these items doesn't go with the others"?  It's a very funkey design, with its flower appliques and neon color scheme while all the others are classic styles with colorwork that, well ... works! 

Hmmm ... I wonder what they were thinking?

Even those couple of designs aside ... check out this book -- it really is a great addition to my knitting library!

Happy knittin'
Mary C. Gildersleeve
By Hand, With Heart -- hand-knit designs

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Designing: books and software resources

Yesterday, I went up to a local Catholic school and talked for a full 45-minutes (which was NOT enough time) about knitting and bending/breaking the "rules" and designing your own. I brought some of my "library" with me, but thought I'd do a full post about all the great resources out there for hand-knits design.

I didn't mention this in class ... but I should have. Software is not a necessity but a really great "nice to have".  I like that the software does much of the number-crunching/drudge type stuff so I have more time to knit -- always a good thing.  There is a company called Knitting Software which has some of the best, easiest to use, most versatile design software out there. Carole Wulster (and now her family, too) started this company back in 1990 ... a computer programmer and knitter, she created the first version of Sweater Wizard (now in Version 3)... than went on to create other software tools for knitters. I was blessed to be able to help beta-test some of these software programs over the years and have used them extensively in my own design work for the past 15 years or so. Here are all the software available to help knitters design so we can spend our time KNITTING!
  • Stitch and Motif Maker -- to chart textured or colored stitch patterns (some books STILL don't chart these and it is so much easier for us visual folks to see what the stitch should look like rather than trying to follow the words (or worse, abbreviations and symbols!) 
  • Sock Wizard -- to design socks that fit! You can input foot length, ankle diameter, leg length, whatever to get a sock pattern that really fits 
  • Knitting Math Wizard -- for quickly "doing the math" of placing even decreases or increases, getting the appropriate angle for sleeves, etc 
  • Print-a-Grid -- for printing out graph-paper blanks that is exactly what your gauge is -- the right sts and rows to the inch so you can really see what the pattern will look like (especially great when graphing intarsia or picture knitting) 
  • Swatch Wizard and Mitten Glove Wizard -- these are two new programs that I haven't used yet but look great. Swatch Wizard keeps a database of swatches so you can "remember" exactly what you got with which needles and which yarn; Mitten Wizard allows you to design mittens with directions "written" for 4 or 5 dpns, 2 or 1 circulars knitting!
Books -- Here are the books I really like for designing ...
Many of these books should be at the public library, so you can check them out (literally!) before buying.  The Fanderl books, although in German, have the stitch patterns charted so it doesn't matter if you read German or not!  There are many other great stitch-ionaries out there and Ethnic/folklore pattern books are great for inspiration.  I particularly like the new Interweave book by Marianne Isager, Inca Knits: Designs Inspired by South American Traditions, packed with beautiful designs inspired by the clothes, textiles and pottery of South America.

Other supplies you might like to have: 
  • sets of knitting needles in all different sizes; I've used this Boye set for more than 20years.  The Boye set is similar to the Denise Set or the Options Set from Knit Picks.
  • graph paper
  • calculator
The above should get any novice designer a great start ... post a comment or email me (bhwh.mary at if you have questions or would like other suggestions for books, materials, and yarn!