Of Rats and Jen (Inactive)

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

Knit Kimono

Filed under: Books,Knitting,Reviews — folkcat at 3:36 pm on Thursday, November 15, 2007

I realized this wound up being a mini book review, so I’ve cross-posted it to Shopping Jen. Enjoy! And no, this isn’t the review I’ve been hinting at that needed feedback from the publisher – that’s still to come.

Winter is coming soon, and I have a problem.

I haven’t had a proper winter coat in a couple of years.

For a long, long time, I wore a leather jacket that I found at an incredible sale at Lane Bryant. A $230 jacket, for something like $60. Classic bomber style, and a little large for me at the time, but come on! Such a deal!

That was about 1991. I loved it to pieces – literally. It was comfortable, and warm enough for me, and served its purpose well.

I finally decided, a little over a year ago, that it was time to retire it. The leather itself was starting to shred in places, the lining had torn out years ago. The knitted cuffs were unraveling.

Last year, I got by with a polar fleece jacket I’d purchased a while back at a Burlington Coat Factory. But it was always a tight fit, and I’ve gained weight since buying it. Add the //zap!// factor of perpetual static electricity generated by polar fleece, and I just don’t consider it an option any more.

So, here’s the problem. I’m a big girl. Even local shops that have plus sizes, don’t have my size – they stop a little short. I’m also hard to please, style-wise – I tend to think most fashion trends look pretty bad. I want a good, basic, functional coat, and if possible, one in a style that I actually like.

Okay, I’m a knitter. What can I do that will work, and be fairly quick?

Knit Kimono: 18 Designs with Simple ShapesEnter the Interweave Press book, Knit Kimono, by Vicki Square. This is not a review copy – I actually chose to buy the book from Amazon myself. I’ve been fond of some of Vicki’s other Interweave books – Folk Hats and Folk Bags, for instance – and I’m passionate about Japanese design.

There are 18 patterns for jackets, vests, and kimono in this book, all based on traditional styles. And all knitted. Some of them are even large enough already to accommodate my body, without modification! And those that aren’t will be easily altered, since the essence of kimono is that they’re made from rectangles. How hard would it be, then, to simply add a little width to the parts? Not very!

The issue at hand, then, is a coat for myself. Can I answer that with a kimono? I think so! I’ve got a couple of prime candidates in mind. Sorry for the flare in the photos, I couldn’t take them without flash on this gray, rainy day.


Noragi, from Knit Kimono

Based on a field worker’s garment, this is built from simple garter stitch rectangles. The yarn called for is Plymouth Linen Isle, a cotton/rayon/linen blend, but I could probably use any worsted weight yarn that will give a nice hand to the finished fabric.


  • The size of the garment in the pattern finishes with a 50″ measurement at the chest. This is at least 8 or 9 inches narrower than what I need.
  • The sleeves as designed are impractical for a utilitarian winter coat.*
  • Miles of garter stitch could be boring.


  • The construction of the garment is simple rectangles. It will be easy to add the width that I need without harming the style of the coat.
  • I could replace the sleeves with a tapered shape more suitable for a coat.
  • Miles of garter stitch is perfect mindless knitting for television watching, or Knitting In Public.
  • Garter stitch also can be finished without absolutely requiring blocking.

Water & Sky

Water & Sky from Knit Kimono

Water & Sky was inspired by the way that “Japanese architecture harmonizes with the environment, weather, and geography.” Vicki describes the yarn she chose (Classic Elite Fame, a rayon silk blend) as “a blend of pale natural colors that represent the reflection of sunlight as water trickles over a rocky streambed.” The bottom edges have an open-work, ripply stitch pattern to further evoke the sense of water, while the bulk of the garment is knit in stockinette stitch.

This is a roomy piece – the circumference measures as about 73 1/2 inches! That would be perfect for layering. The sleeves are a more practical design for a winter coat, too.

It’s a bit long, though – 42″ shoulder to hem. The model wearing it in other photographs shows it coming down to her knees. I’d probably shorten it.


  • Miles upon miles of stockinette stitch.
  • Uses over twice as much yarn as the Noragi.
  • Specialty stitch pattern at hem, coupled with short row shaping to induce curves, takes the beginning of each front piece and the back out of the realm of mindless knitting.
  • Blocking will be absolutely essential to prevent curling of the large stockinette pieces.
  • Garment is too long as designed. Might even be too wide!


  • The style of the Water & Sky has somewhat more flare, with the curved hems and the rippling stitch pattern at the hems.
  • Altering length is even a little easier than altering width. Just stop knitting sooner.
  • After the fancy stitchwork at the hems, this is miles of stockinette stitch. But if I shorten it, not as many miles. The stockinette stitch portions also take this back into the world of mindless knitting, at least for portions big enough to count.
  • Garment as designed could be layered for extra warmth.
  • Sleeves are perfect style – in fact, if I do the Noragi after all, I’ll probably steal these sleeves!

Of course, anyone who has read here for a while knows that I would be knitting either of these choices in different colors than the designer did. They’re beautiful, mind you, just not me.

Neither garment has provisions for buttons, but it would be easy to either add a frog-type closure, or use a pin. Or just wear them open – I seldom fasten my winter coats anyway.

What will I decide? That may be influenced by the choices of yarn I can find. I doubt I can afford to make these in either of the yarns called for, so substitutions will be in order. Using a wool or wool blend will be warmer anyhow. I’m planning to stop by my LYS today and see what I can come up with. She’ll be having her annual Anniversary Sale a week from Saturday, too, and all yarns will be 20% off that day – maybe if I plan right, this project won’t have to cost much!

Stay tuned for more – I’ll be sure to report on developments as they arise!

As for my overall opinion of the book – let’s just say that in the end, I want to knit all 18 designs offered here. They’re just that gorgeous!

Related Links:

*I have to admit, though – the more I look at the classic kimono-style sleeves on the Noragi, the more I like them anyway…hmm.

Piecing It Together; and, Knitting New Scarves – a Mini Book Review

Filed under: Books,Knitting,Reviews — folkcat at 4:31 pm on Friday, November 2, 2007

A quick note: Freebie Friday will happen – just not quite yet. I’m having one of those slow start days. I promise, I’ll get it up here later.

Meanwhile, I did, in fact, get back to the piecework last night. See?

QIP - Grandmother's Flower Garden Table Mat #1

That partial column of hexes on the right is what I accomplished last night at Panera. Not bad! It felt good to get a little of my other projects back into the mix.

pb020785_edited.jpgOn the other hand, my most recent order arrived from Amazon yesterday. I first saw this book over at Grumperina’s blog; she, in turn, had learned about it at the purl bee. It’s Knitting New Scarves: 27 Distinctly Modern Designs, and I’m finding it endlessly fascinating.

I haven’t studied the details of this book in as much depth as I normally do for a review, so let’s call this a mini-review. I will tell you this – even with the quick look I’ve had, I highly recommend this for any knitter who wants to stretch their imagination, and learn to take their knitting in new directions.

Knitting New Scarves: 27 Distinctly Modern Designs

Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.)

Acquired by: online purchase from Amazon.com

Purchase Price: $14.93

Cover Price: $21.95

The author and designer, Lynne Barr, has done the sort of thing that always makes my toes tingle. Diving in headfirst, she took the basic techniques of knits and purls, and then threw the rules out the window. She uses dpns, circular and flat knitting, short rows, picking up stitches, and more, in unconventional ways to create three-dimensional scarves that really wow me.

I am already itching to cast on for a large number of the patterns in this book. Some of them would be great as stash-busters, some simply manipulate the spatial reality of knitting in such tantalizing ways that I can’t wait to see these twists, turns, and shapes coming from my needles.

Here’s a small sampling of the many designs that caught my eye. As always, click on any image for a larger view.


That last scarf shows that there are even patterns for the rawest of new knitters here – it’s a simple garter stitch scarf that derives its curves from short rows. Some of the other patterns involve using double point needles in ways I never dreamed of – not just knitting around in a circle, but knitting to create lobes and wings and flaps. The wavy scarf is entirely created by knitting a flat tube with larger needls on one side, smaller on the other – then swapping the sizes at regular intervals.

I am unbelievably excited by this book, and eager to dig in. I love the idea of sculptural knitting, and I want to master these techniques so I can then play with them myself. The only question that remains – where to begin? There are 27 patterns in this book, and I think I want to knit every one of them!

Related Links:

Inspired Fair Isle Knits – The Publisher Responds

Filed under: Books,Reviews — folkcat at 4:58 pm on Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s review of Inspired Fair Isle Knits, I’ve had some communication with the Marketing Manager for Potter Craft, the publisher of the book:

Thanks for your review. We always strive to have our books void of mistakes, but when some get through the cracks we correct them in future printings. If you have any specific correction suggestions or if you want to point me to the page numbers, we will correct it in future printings and post the correction on PotterCraft.com

I responded promptly with a detailed list of the issues I had found while reviewing the book, and soon after I had this response:

Thank you very much for pointing out these errors! We will fix them in the next printing. Also, your readers may want to know that all our corrections live here:


and they are welcome to e-mail us with any mistakes they see in our books, or if they suspect there’s a problem with a pattern. Our authors are always quick to supply us with a correction which we post here.

Isn’t it nice when the world works as it should? I was very pleased to hear all this, because you know, the book wasn’t bad, really. As I mentioned in my review, the writing was quite good, the information was very inclusive of all the knitter would need to know. My only quibbles were with the designs themselves, which is a matter of personal taste, and the editorial errors I caught, which made the book look unprofessional.

The message here is, don’t be afraid to tell someone if you think their efforts fall short of the mark they intended! Publishers aren’t trying to put out bad books – they genuinely want to be proud of their product. Speak up, politely, and let them know!

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Inspired Fair Isle Knits

Filed under: Books,Knitting,Reviews — folkcat at 12:59 pm on Tuesday, October 2, 2007

inspired fair isle book jacket_edited.jpgInspired Fair Isle Knits by Fiona Ellis

Published by: Potter Craft (Random House)

Acquired by: Free copy from Publisher

List Price: $35.00

Available: Oct. 2, 2007

Edited to add: Please see link at end of article for the publisher’s response to this review!

Knitwear designer Fiona Ellis has established a style that borrows from traditional knitting techniques, takes inspiration from nature, then turns both on their ears for a modern interpretation of classic designs. Her new book, Inspired Fair Isle Knits, is no exception.

Following her 2006 title, Inspired Cable Knits, Ellis has now turned her attention to the traditional techniques and motifs of Fair Isle knitting. Named for a small island in the Shetlands, north of Scotland, where it originated, Fair Isle knitting is a multi-colored technique, usually using two colors in a single row of knitting. The color not in use for the current stitch is carried at the back of the work until it is needed further down the row.

Traditionally, in such a cold place on the North Sea, Fair Isle knitting is used to make warm sweaters to brave the cold ocean winds and winter weather. As Ellis explains in her introduction, she has re-interpreted Fair Isle knitting for a modern design sense by playing with traditional elements of Fair Isle design, including placement of the patterning, use of color, symmetry, and types of garments.

In Inspired Cable Knits, Ellis used the themes of change, nature, energy, and time to gather her designs. This time, the themes are the four natural elements – water, air, fire, and earth. In each section, pieces are shown for nearly every season of the year, from turtleneck sweaters to halter tops, with a few styles for children thrown in.

But does the book measure up to its promise? I’m not sure. I found it to be well written, but there were many problems that give me pause about recommending it. Let me tell you what I found, and see what you think.

First things first…


Sizes of the finished garments are givein as XS – 3X (though not all go that small or large); finished chest measurements for women range from 32″ (XS) to 54″ (2X). I find the measurements confusing, though, without an indication of the real body chest measurement they’re intended to fit.

The XS measurements for women, for instance, range from 32 to 35 inches. S ranges from 32 – 39 inches. Those garments with an upper size of 2X measure from 46 to 54 inches. And the 3 items for women that have an upper size of 3X have measurements from 49 1/2 to 53 inches.

I found this confusing. No explanation of the ease of any garment is given, so it’s difficult to know what size you should knit. Is a 3X that’s 53 inches really meant to be smaller than a 2X that measures 54 inches? Your guess is as good as mine.

In the front sections of the book, choosing a size is addressed. The suggestion given is to measure a garment that fits you well, then compare it, not to the chest measurements and sizes listed, but to the schematic shown alongside the instructions. That will work for most, but without a discussion of the ease designed into the garments, you might have trouble getting a fit similar to that shown in the book.

The Effort is There

There is a strong effort to help the knitter, whatever their level of experience, succeed. The front of the book includes sections covering, at least in brief, such topics as stranding the colors as you knit, working in the round, and even setting in zippers – a topic that I’ve faulted other books for not including.

Each pattern includes, after the Materials list and Gauge, a special note calling out any special techniques required, with a pointer to the page that section can be found on. For example, the Classic Cardigan with Felted Pockets (p. 108), reads, “REFER TO TECHNIQUES ON PAGE 18 FOR: Felting, Short Rows, Single Crochet, 3-Needle Bind-Off.

Information like that means that even a beginner – so long as they actually read through the instructions – will have a better chance of completing a project well. Sure, some of the how-to explanations are very short, but at least the knitter has something to start from, which is more than many books include.

The instructions are carefully written, too. Anytime that the nature of the piece you’re knitting changes – for instance, when you need to begin shaping a section – it’s called out as a new paragraph, with a title in an alternate text color. Pay attention, and you’re less likely to whip out ten rows of stockinette past that point.


No two projects in this book use yarns from the same company – no, wait. There are some yarns used by at least two projects, but of the 20 items shown, there are at least 16 different brands and labels of yarn called for. If you want to make substitutions, information about yardage and weight is given at the pattern, and also in a 2-page spread at the back dedicated to the yarn specifications. There is also a full guide to vendors from which the yarns used can be purchased.

Editorial Flaws

There were a number of places that showed flaws in the editorial process. The author’s “A Last Word” at the end of the book has several errors, both missing words as well as words out of place.

Finished chest measurements are given for all garments, which is a good thing. But there’s an inconsistency – on some patterns, fractional measurements are given as decimals. On others, they’re shown as actual fractions. Very unprofessional.

And then there’s this photo:

Inspired Fair Isle Knits - Blurry Photo

The blur that you see is not from my poor camera skills. That is actually in the photo that was selected for publication in this finished, hardcover book. Fortunately, it’s not the primary image for this particular sweater. But why was it included? Were they that desperate for a photo that showed the hood up?

Errors like these are jarring to me, lifting me out of the enjoyment of the book, and making it difficult for me to think anything but, “goodness, this was poorly put together.”

Worth it?

So, the book is flawed. Editorial errors distract the reader’s eye, and detract from the overall quality. Still, Ellis clearly made an effort to be very inclusive of the information that the knitter would need to complete her designs.

Let’s see some pictures of a few of them, and you can decide for yourself if it’s worth pursuing this book – in spite of the flaws.

The Designs

(As usual, please click on any photo to get a larger image.)

Inspired Fair Isle Knits - Waves

I think this sweater is way too large for the model. But I like the unusual take on a classic rope cable – obviously the continuing influence of Ellis’ previous book. I’m not so sure that the Fair Isle yoke looks like it goes with the cabled sleeves and body, however.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits - Drifting

A cute sweater for a child, this raglan has buttons up both front raglan seams. Of course, my regular readers may recognize that the colors are influencing my opinion here – these are among my favorites.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits - Whisper

This is listed as a turtleneck, and normally I have a strong aversion to anything close around my neck. But clearly, this collar isn’t close fitting. I think that I could actually wear this, if I could size it up for my body. I like the cute detailing of lace at the collar and cuff.

The only thing is – and this isn’t good for a book on Fair Isle knitting – I think this design would work better without the sections of Fair Isle patterning. They distract the eye from the lacy details.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits - Sunkissed

One of the younger styles in the book. If I had the body for it, I’d wear this, though maybe not in these colors. This is knit in Young Touch Cotton DK yarn by Estelle Designs, so I’ll bet it’s comfortable to wear.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits - Kindle

This scarf is knit in the round in a sportweight alpaca yarn. At 9″ across, it’s wider than I’d care for myself. What caught my eye, though, was the fringe detailing. Each end of the scarf includes a row of eyelets, through which a single, long I-cord is threaded. The cord is stitched in place to keep the fringe loops from sliding. I might not want to knit the scarf, but I thought the fringe was clever.

The Huh?

Inspired Fair Isle Knits - Sway

This Huh? is for the pose. The model looks like she just peed her pants, and is trying to keep the puddle from getting bigger. I think they’re trying to show off the flirty pleated cuffs, but in the process, her posture and arm position almost completely hide the sweater.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits - Peat

The Huh? in this case is for the choice of yarn in the body of the men’s sweater. What is the woman at the front thinking? “Hey, I didn’t do the laundry, he did. And I told him to check the pockets for kleenex first! But does he ever listen?”

Bottom Line

I really wanted to like this book. There was clearly a serious effort to include everything the knitter would need to know to be able to complete the projects, something many books fall short on. But few of the designs caught my eye favorably. Of those that did, it was usually something other than the Fair Isle details that I liked about them – not good when Fair Isle is supposedly the point of the book.

Much of the photography distracts from and hides details of the garments. The editorial errors distract from the quality of the copy.

The copy itself is actually fairly good. What we’re left with is a well written book of knitting information and instructions, but with designs that don’t, well, inspire me. Add the poor copyediting and the inconsistent quality of the photography, and I find myself disappointed.

Maybe Fiona Ellis’ designs aren’t to my taste. But I like the quality of her writing, and I think her books could be better. I hope she keeps trying – I’d like to see where she goes.

Related Links:

Kaffe Knits Again

Filed under: Books,Knitting,Reviews — folkcat at 12:30 pm on Thursday, September 27, 2007

kaffe knits again book jacket.jpgKaffe Knits Again by Kaffe Fassett

Published by: Potter Craft (Random House)

Acquired by: Free copy from Publisher

List Price: $35.00

Available: Oct. 2, 2007

I come to this book with a bit of a disadvantage. I am familiar with the general style of Kaffe Fassett’s designs for knitting. But I have never owned, nor had access to, any of his books.

The one thing I do know is that Kaffe Fassett is known for color. Rich, joyous, color. His inspirations often come from paintings, tapestries, fabrics, and other antique sources.

His new book, Kaffe Knits Again, is typical Kaffe Fassett. The colors and visual textures are like a wedding cake to someone used to eating Ho-Ho’s.

Kaffe Redux

The 24 designs presented here are not completely new. They are actually some of Kaffe’s older designs, re-invented, re-imagined, and updated for this publication. If you’re familiar with his previous work, then, much of the material in this book may seem familiar to you.

As Kaffe explains in the introduction, he has always been

disappointed when [his designs] are dismissed by even experienced knitters as too difficult to attempt. With this book, I am giving all nervous knitters the opportunity to try out color knitting. Using current Rowan yarns, I’ve reinterpreted some of my favorite patterns from years past that deserve a second chance.

Many of the patterns have been transformed from coats and sweaters into easier projects like scarves, throws, shawls, or cushions…There are several simple two-color-a-row designs as well as more challenging fare.

And there we have the premise of this book – not just a re-hashing of old designs into something newly marketable, but a reinterpretation to make them more accessible to more knitters.

Who’s the Book For?

Kaffe Knits Again is, on one level, eye candy. The first section of the book is pure coffee table art, with high quality photos and printing displaying Kaffe’s designs to their best advantage. The setting for the photo shoot, Charleston House, was apparently something of an artists’ colony in the UK in the early 1900’s.

A great deal of attention was given to the layout and design of the book. The cover is not a paper jacket – it’s full-color photography skinned directly on the hardcover binding. I imagine this will stay good looking far longer than paper would.

At that level, this book is for anyone who loves looking at colorful, rich art. I could happily keep this book on my table and just browse through it, enjoying the great images.

As to knitters, it’s always been my contention that this stuff isn’t hard – it’s just that some variations on our craft have more steps involved than others. Kaffe’s multi-color designs count among the more involved, even in this version designed to make his projects less intimidating.

Don’t let the colors scare you! Multi-color knitting is no more complicated than making a sweater from multiple knitted pieces is. You’re just following a chart – much as you would for counted cross-stitch or needlepoint – and placing the correct color of yarn in each stitch, as instructed.

The experienced knitter will have an easier time working these designs, of course. But the adventurous beginner, who is willing to take the leap of faith and believe that she or he can do this, will find success here as well.

Clear Instructions

The instructions for the projects in Kaffe Knits Again are well written. Full measurements are given for both the body being fitted, and the sweater you’re knitting. Needles required are called out in both US and metric sizes.

Gauge instructions are quite specific as to what stitch pattern and needle size to use. The special note “To save time, take time to check gauge.” is an appropriate reminder to all of us who tend to take shortcuts. These designs might suffer badly if your gauge is off even a smidge!

I will grant you that I haven’t read the instructions line for line, cover to cover. But what I’m seeing is very detailed, very concise, with little left to the imagination of the knitter. These instructions were written by someone who wants the knitter to succeed.

Many knitters will never have worked with a Fair Isle or Intarsia chart before. Again, the instructions are very precise – at the point in the knitting where you must begin using the chart, the first two rows are usually spelled out in text for you as well, to help you establish the pattern.

The charts given are as large as practical, usually spanning a full two-page spread. Still, many of the boxes and symbols are small – it would probably be advised to photocopy and enlarge the charts for easier reference while knitting.

Table of ContentsThere is a traditional “Table of Contents,” but also, at the beginning of the “Gallery of Designs” we find this photographic index. I love books that include this feature – it makes it easy to see at a glance which design you want to jump to.


The sweaters in this book are in the average range for most knitting patterns, with most women’s designs sized for a 36 to 40 inch chest, and men’s up to a 44 inch chest. Some of these designs have up to 5 or 6 inches of ease built in, however, so it’s worth studying the numbers carefully to see if the sweaters might work for you after all.

Some minimal information is given in the back in reference to sizing, but it speaks more to choosing the correct size for you – and not how to re-size the patterns to fit a larger or smaller body.


All designs in this book were created for Rowan yarns, which should come as no surprise – Kaffe has worked with the company since 1981. In case you wish to make substitutions, a section at the back of the book gives full specifications for each yarn used, making it easy to match those qualities with an alternate choice.

The Best of the Best

First, I must beg some forgiveness for the quality of these photos. The pages in this book are high-quality printing, which means a high reflection factor, too. I was forced to photograph them without a flash, and the resulting images are somewhat less focused than I care for.

Kaffe Knits Again - Mirage

I recognized the inspiration for this sweater even before I read the descriptive text – kilim carpets. I like how it’s interpreted here. The pattern could easily be adapted for a bag or cushion as well. And Kaffe makes a great model for his own designs.

Kaffe Knits Again - Puzzle

Another pattern that I recognized, Kaffe found this graphic on a bathroom floor in an American hotel. I once had it on my floor as well, in a former apartment bathroom. Both Kaffe’s and my versions were in black and white tiles – I love this adaptation with Kaffe’s signature color style.

Kaffe Knits Again - Gridlock Pillow
Gridlock Pillow

Kaffe Knits Again - Gridlock Throw
Gridlock Throw

Inspired by “an ancient carpet,” the Gridlock Pillow and Throw look refreshingly modern and vintage at the same time. I can also see re-doing this as a quilt – I wonder if Kaffe did that in any of his quilting books?

Kaffe Knits Again - Foolish Virgins Scarf
Foolish Virgins Scarf

I think this may be my favorite project in the whole book. I love that it includes a little of everything. There are the figures of the virgins, some tumbling blocks, a little woven look. And all in those rich Kaffe Fassett colors. There are seven charts used to create this masterwork – if the project as presented seems a bit intimidating, Kaffe offers a suggestion to “take any one of the seven charted patterns and…use it for a cushion cover, shawl, or throw.”

That’s a great reminder that this book is about more than just knitting the patterns as written. Knitters are encouraged to borrow, adjust, adapt, and make something other than the suggested finished project. If a whole sweater seems too much for you, take a snippet of the charted pattern and practice on a pillow first. Soon enough, you’ll be stepping up to the plate and trying the sweater itself.

Kaffe Knits Again - Caterpillar Stripes
Caterpillar Stripes

On the other hand, sometimes a knitter wants to dip their toe in the pool without also having to dig the hole for it themselves. As a simpler project, Kaffe offers his classic color sense in Caterpillar Stripes – an entire sweater knit with only one color on any row. Instead of a chart with a box for every stitch, the instructions for this sweater have a table listing the color of yarn to use for every row.

Some of my other favorite projects included the Houses Bag – a shoulder tote with a bold graphic of a house and checkerboard borders; the Moody Blues cushion, adapted from a sweater design; and Polka Dots, a zippered cardigan worked in white polka dots on a background of wide, vertical, pastel stripes.

Bottom Line

This could be a book for just about anyone who loves color and visual texture. Some of the designs look cute and vintage; still others look very modern. Simply changing the colors can create an entirely different look for any of these items, and Kaffe encourages that with suggestions scattered throughout.

As a large woman, the sizes clearly won’t work for me. But you know what? I don’t care – I love the patterns, I’m infatuated with the colors. I can easily see adapting some of these charts to a sweater pattern that will fit me. And then there’s always the scarves, throws, and pillows to knit. I have a feeling my Ravelry queue may become a little overloaded!

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Suss Design Essentials

Filed under: Books,Knitting,Reviews — folkcat at 12:30 pm on Wednesday, September 12, 2007

suss design essentials book jacket.jpgSuss Design Essentials by Suss Cousins

Published by: Potter Craft (Random House)

Acquired by: Free copy from Publisher

List Price: $30.00

Available: Sept. 11, 2007

Suss Cousins grew up in Sweden, and learned to knit as a child. When she became a fashion designer, it was natural that she included many pieces of knitwear in her collections. Her latest book, Suss Design Essentials, gathers the thirty patterns that Suss herself considers the best knitwear designs of her ten years in fashion.

First Things First

Let’s clear the air about one point right away – sizing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m a large woman, and if you don’t have patterns that fit my body, your book starts at a disadvantage with me.

The sweaters, tops, and dresses in Suss Design Essentials come in several sizes, but the largest tend to be about 40 inches at the chest. So for me, there would be a lot of work to re-size and re-write the patterns.

That being said, I had mixed feelings about the designs offered in this book. A number struck me as beautiful; a few as outright ugly; and one or two as impractical or ill-conceived.

Target Audience

Although a couple of patterns are fairly easy, most of them are at least a little more involved. Finishing and seaming are important elements in most designs in this book. Some patterns knit in sections might be convertible to knitting in the round, but to my eye, it appears that Suss has usually created seams that are important to the final look, fit, and drape of the garment. I’d be reluctant to change that.

In the introduction, Suss herself calls this “a book for those who have knit a sweater or two.” I’d place the average skill level required for these patterns at Intermediate and above, but I also think it would be worthy inspiration for an adventurous beginner.


The style of presentation for the instructions supports this assessment. Materials lists are thorough, even specifying every last notion you might need while working. Gauge instructions are very precise – if you should measure while the swatch is stretched flat, Suss not only tells you that, but tells you why.

Schematics are offered for all pattern pieces, with full measurements in both metric and English.

Sizing is a bit more vague – Small, Medium, and Large, mostly, with measurements given for the finished knit, but not for the body that pattern size is expected to fit. No reference is offered for how much ease was designed into a garment.

Actual step-by-step instructions are given in a style that more experienced knitters will be able to cope with, but that beginners may need help understanding. “Bind off 4 stitches at the beginning of the next two rows.” “Maintain cable-10 pattern when shaping armhole and shoulder.” The expectation is clearly that the knitter following these instructions has an understanding of how they go together to achieve the desired results.

I wouldn’t warn beginners away from this book completely, but I would recommend they enlist the support and aid of a more experienced knitter before committing to a project.


In 2006, Suss Cousins released her own line of premium knitting yarns. Her own products are called for throughout this book. A full substitution guide is offered at the back, however, listing several alternative yarns by brand name for each of Suss’ own selections. And where the yarn needed is specified in the pattern, full weights and lengths are given in both metric and English measurements.

The Good

Click on any picture to view a larger version.

The designs themselves run the gamut from gorgeous, to indifferent, to outright ugly. Most of the designs I really liked had classic lines and a simple elegance.

Embroidered Dress
Embroidered Dress

I so wish I had a body that could wear this dress! Alas, it looks better when your curves are concave, not convex. Maybe one day, if I can ever get the idea of dieting to work.

Button Tee
Button Tee

Simple raglan lines, with a whimsical detail in the buttons at side seam and sleeve. I like that the model isn’t a waif, either. I may not be able to knit the pattern as written, but I can take inspiration here and re-work it to make one my size.

Deep V-neck Cable Vest
Deep V-neck Cable Vest

This has a very 70’s feel to it. I like it. It’s preppy without being preppy. I like that it’s a longer, tunic-length vest – I think that’s very flattering on many figures.

Fuzzy Scarf Coat with Bell Sleeves
Fuzzy Scarf Coat with Bell Sleeves

Suss is pretty straightforward with the names for her designs. And it works – you don’t have to wonder what this coat looks like, do you? Again, we have a design that is very 70’s in feeling. I can see myself wearing it. But then, I’m a child of the 70’s – those were my teen years. I think we always have a fondness for what we liked in our teens.

Believe It Or Not, My Favorite

Open-front Pullover
Open-front Pullover

I know – it surprised me, too. This is clearly a gimmicky design, but for some reason, it resonates with me. It looks comfortable to wear, and awfully sexy.

The Bad

Half-Moon Bag With FlowersShirtdressSoft Fringed Shawl

Let’s just say that not every design in the book was appealing to me. The bag on the top left made want to say, “I do not like it, Sam-I-Am,” even though it’s clearly not green, nor eggs, nor ham. The white shirt dress almost worked, but I felt the fabric looked a bit stiff. And then the sleeves were left so long, but with functional snaps, but which you weren’t meant to snap closed at all. Huh?

And then there’s the orange shawl. Knit on size 50 needles. I just don’t think that the results here look like anything I’d want to claim I made myself!

The Why?

Asymmetrical Buttoned Sweater
Asymmetrical Buttoned Sweater

Why would one design a carefully tailored, asymmetrical, sweater, and then photograph it in such a way that you’ll never know it’s asymmetrical? Asymmetrical details can be fun, if handled correctly. But we’ll never know if Suss achieved that here, because the model is twisted and contorted until the button line – which actually goes at a slant towards her right hip – is straight up and down from our point of view. The only other photographs offered show the back – which looks absolutely symmetrical – details of the collar and button band, and one front view that doesn’t show the full length of the sweater. You get a hint of the assymetrical line of the button band from that last photo, but not the full impact.

The Final Assessment

I actually liked enough patterns in this book – and my skill level is within the range of the target audience – that if I had the body for it, I’d probably have a struggle over how many to cast on for, and how soon.

As I prepared to write this review, I did some research on the Web to bring myself up to speed on the author. I’ve learned that Suss Cousins is something of a controversial subject, with many people feeling she has an attitude that she’s God’s gift to knitting. I can see their point – many of the descriptions in Suss Design Essentials contain casual mentions of the film stars who bought this design or that, and she frequently talks about how she’s designed for movies. As she describes how luxurious the yarns are, it’s as if she were a devoted fan gushing, and not the person who designed them.

Arrogant, or showing a proper pride in her accomplishments? I wouldn’t try to judge that unless I had a chance to spend time in Suss’ company.

The overall style sense in this book is a bit retro, harking back to the 70’s and 80’s, with a hint of punk thrown in now and again. Many commenters I found on the Web call her unoriginal – I felt that she brought her own perspective to the styles she chose, adding details that made them different from what came before.

Bottom line – not all designers, books, or patterns are for all people. I liked what I saw in this book. Others may have an issue with how she presents herself. Me – I’m content to enjoy her talents as a fashion knit designer, and to consider creating some sweaters in a Suss-like style for my goddess-size body.

Related Links:

I won’t link to any of the anti-Suss sites I found. That would just be spreading negative gossip, without having any knowledge of where the truth actually lies. If you really insist on seeing it, just Google Suss’ name.

WIPs and Bullies

Filed under: Knitting,Movies,Rats!,Reviews — folkcat at 2:56 pm on Monday, September 10, 2007

A bit of a rough weekend here. Lola started to be very aggressive with Sable, jumping on her and kicking hard enough to make her squeak. I was at my wit’s end trying to figure out how to handle it.

I finally went with timeouts. I set up Lola’s original cage with the bare minimum, and when she jumped Sable, I put her in the old cage for a one hour timeout.

I thought this worked the first time I did it. It was several hours before I heard the distressed squeaks from Sable again. But there they were, and Lola got another timeout.

After this next hour, it only took two minutes before she jumped Sable. I was at my wit’s end. Gryphon came home from work shortly after that (this was Friday night), and we decided that rather than have Sable keep getting beat up, we’d set up Lola’s old cage as living quarters for a day or two, and leave Lola in there until we figured things out.

I wasn’t the least bit happy with this, and neither was Lola. Having both cages around is very difficult, and the walls of wire dominate the living room.

By Sunday, we were willing to try putting them together in the big cage again. This time, we had one new idea to try – we took out the Wodent Wheel. This large object took up a fair bit of space on the bottom floor of the cage, and as much as I’d hoped Lola would take to it and burn off some of her energy, she never did. So it was crowding things, without contributing to their welfare.

I don’t know if removing the Wheel was what did the trick, or if Lola has become a bit contrite since her short stint in solitary. But things have been calmer since. (Touch wood, and invoke every other counter-charm against ill luck that I can think of!)

Having calmed down the Rattie situation, I got back to my knitting on Sunday, finishing the body of the Christmas entrelac bag.

WIP - Christmas 2007 knitting, entre-lac bag

Next up I need to knit two long I-cord straps. I think I have enough of the two shades of green to knit one strap from each. I’m certain I don’t have enough of any color to knit both straps to match. Two shades will at least look like it was somewhat planned, though.

Today at Shopping Jen: My review of the 1975 television production of Ballet Shoes. Did I like it? Don’t guess, just go check it out!

Lazy Weekend?

Filed under: Blog Admin,Knitting,Rats!,Reviews,Video Clips — folkcat at 4:54 pm on Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Yes, and no. Gryphon spent a lot of time getting much needed sleep.

My time was spent about 50/50 between so lazy I didn’t even craft (much), and working very hard.

When I was working, it was on the new blog, Shopping Jen. There is now a proper About page, and even the raw beginnings of a F.A.Q. (If you have any questions about Shopping Jen that you’d like to see answered in the FAQ, just leave a comment on the FAQ page.)

The largest part of the job, though, involved this blog, Crafting Jen. Over the two and almost-a-half years that I’ve been writing, I’ve created over 860 posts – 46 of which contain reviews of one type or another. It’s my plan to extract those reviews and re-post them to the new blog as a means of seeding it with content.

It took time to locate them all, though, many hours scrolling through my archives and looking at every single post I’ve ever written. As part of another future project, I also identified every recipe I’ve ever posted – it’s my plan to someday list them under that mysterious “Link 3” at the top of this blog.

So far, the only reviews that have been copied over to Shopping Jen are the three I did a couple of weeks ago. One of the edits I made was to include a list of related links at the bottom of each post. So now, for example, the review for Romantic Hand Knits includes not only the publisher’s link, and one to buy the book at Amazon, but links to both Annie Modesitt’s blog and website.

The weekend was not completely craftless, however, even though long stretches when I wasn’t working on the blogs were spent doing nothing but watching TV. And I mean, really nothing.

I did, eventually, do some work on the entre-lac bag, mostly on Monday night. I’m currently on Tier 5 (of, I think, 14 or so). The more I do these, the faster they get.

WIP - Bags and Books

I love the colors in this one – quiet blues, purples, and greens. It might be hard to give it away come Christmas time!

You may have noticed that the bag is posing with a stack of books. That’s a teaser for upcoming reviews! All five of these titles will be evaluated over the next week or two, and I’ll tell you what I think of them over at Shopping Jen. And here, too – craft book reviews will always be cross-posted to Crafting Jen.

Other reviews are coming up which will only be posted to Shopping Jen. Gryphon and I went to Panera this weekend, and tried a few of their new menu items. Shopping Jen readers can look forward to hearing about the new Chipotle Chicken Sandwich, the Orchard Harvest Salad, and the Pecan Braid. And I’ve got some newly released snack items from the grocery store to check out.

Rattie at Work

It was not a lazy weekend for Lola, who went into Fiber Inspector mode again. She has to make sure that entre-lac bag is top quality, after all!

Sadly, she still doesn’t quite grasp that the knitting, while available to her for inspection and to cuddle with, is not hers to take home.

I’m sure we’ll get the hang of the concept eventually. Meanwhile, I’ll just stay vigilant while both knitting and Lola are around!

Review: The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Knits for All Seasons; and, a Giveaway!

Filed under: Knitting,Reviews — folkcat at 3:28 pm on Friday, August 24, 2007

yg knitting seasons.jpgThe other book I’ve been sent a review copy of recently is The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Knits for All Seasons, by Julie Carles and Jordana Jacobs.

I have heard of the Yarn Girls before, but this is my first exposure to their books. As I understand them, their designs are targeted at new knitters, with each book introducing somewhat more ambitious projects than those before.

Knits for All Seasons contains a lot of classic designs. Nothing here is going to turn the fashion world on its head, but there are many timeless styles that you can knit today, and still wear in twenty years. Or keep the book around, and knit them twenty years from now.

What doesnt’ work

Of course, this only works if the patterns fit you, or if you’re skilled enough to size them up. I mentioned yesterday that I am a large sized woman. Clearly, Knits for All Seasons didn’t have me in mind when creating their patterns – most of the women’s garments only knit to 42″ or less at the chest. When you consider that’s the finished measurement of the garment, and you must allow for ease as well….we’re talking about projects that, at best, I would have to size up by over fifty percent to wear. Might as well design my own from scratch at that point!

Of course, you can only figure out those measurements by taking the one number they give you – the finished width of the garment at the chest, not the circumference of the chest – and doubling it. Why, if you’re a book for less experienced knitters, would you require that your readers take that extra step? No pattern tells you what real body bust measurements each size is intended for, and in fact, the only size references given are XS, S, M, and L for women, and S, M, L, and XL for men.

Yarns for each pattern are specified by brand, which is good. But what if you want to make substitutions – or are forced to because your LYS doesn’t carry a yarn, or because it’s discontinued? No guidance other than gauge is given for the weight of the yarns needed, and in many cases the yarns are knit doubled, which would have to be accounted for in estimating the weight used. I searched the introduction, and couldn’t even find a suggestion that you ask your LYS owner or an experienced knitting friend for help with substituting yarns.

While the instructions are generally okay, there are places where the reader is left hanging. Zippered cardigans have good finishing instructions (with good step-by-step illustrations in the back of the book), but then end with a simple statement to “Sew in zipper.” No suggestions about how and where to place the zipper in relationship to the edge of the sweater front. No help regarding what thread to sew it in with, or a preferred stitch to use.

What does work

Each pattern has a schematic drawing of the main pieces, showing all the important measurements – an essential guide to making sure the piece you’re knitting meets the expectations of the pattern. As for putting your sweaters together, there’s a well-illustrated, step-by-step guide in the Finishing Techniques section at the back which covers most of the needed procedures. (Sadly, though, not sewing in zippers.)

The garments are all photographed on real people, and those photos are clearly unretouched – freckles and imperfections on the models are all intact. Some of the garments fit the models better than others – there is at least one sweater where you can see the model’s chest was a bit larger than the size knit, and the sweater pulls and stretches badly at the corners of the v-neck. Mostly, however, the sweaters look reasonably good, if sometimes a little frumpy, on the bodies wearing them.

All that being said, there are, as I mentioned before, many designs that will stay classic for years. Here are some of my favorites:

Nancy's Knit
Nancy’s Knit

This is the very first project in the book, in the Spring section. The yarn is Alchemy Synchronicity, a 50/50 silk/wool blend. The color they chose, Waterlily, may be my reason for liking this one, at least as much as the 3/4 sleeves, the diagonal rib, and the boat neck. The only shaping required is for the set-in sleeves, which would make this an easy knit for a beginner.

Suzanne's Bright Idea
Suzanne’s Bright Idea

This may be the cutest pattern in the whole book. Found, of course, in the Summer section, this great little dress is knit from Tahki Dream, an 80/20 wool/nylon blend, held doubled. Minimal shaping makes it an easy knit, and the contrasting hem is even folded to the inside to give a more finished look, and a little weight for better drape.

Olivia's Sweatshirt
Olivia’s Sweatshirt

This actually struck me as a good, attractive, yet functional garment. The yarn is Crystal Palace Merino Frappe. There are lined pockets, and a hood. Minimal shaping again, only the set-in sleeves. Still an easy knit, just more pieces to make. I can see this becoming a comfy, everyday jacket.

The Catwalk Cable
The Catwalk Cable

Preppy style all the way! I think this may have been a little large for the model – what looks like drop shoulders are actually set-in sleeves, suggesting the shoulders of the sweater are a little too broad for the girl wearing it. Otherwise, there’s a lot of nice texture, and though there are three types of cables, they’re all of the simple rope variety – just crossed in different directions and widths.

Other Projects

There are 8 sweaters for men in this book as well. Some of them are nice, comfy-looking, bumming around types. None of them stood out to me as “nice enough to wear to the office on Casual Friday,” however. And I felt all were a bit lacking in imagination when it came to colors and textures.

There are also 8 different accessory projects. None of them impressed me much – one was a garter-stitch belt so simple, the instructions were nothing more than how many stitches to cast on, and a directive to knit to the desired length. Oh, and how to add fringe to each end. Your mileage may vary, of course – there is a beach tote in the Summer section that almost twinges my knitting fingers, but not quite.

All things considered

The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Knits for All Seasons is a flawed book, and may trip up the apparently intended audience of less experienced knitters. On the other hand, if readers can remember to ask for help from a more experienced knitter if they need it, there are many classic designs here that can be worn – and knitted – for years to come.

Keep in mind the sizing, though. This is not for the zaftig, or even the reubenesque. If you’re among the fortunate who have kept their size down, or if you often knit for teenage girls, this book may be worth picking up, but if you or your target recipient is built like the Venus of Willendorf, as I am, I’d pass it by.

I really wanted to like this book more than I do. I’m just not who it’s meant for.

Giveaway time!

That being said, I don’t have a need for this book in my library – no teenagers around here to knit for! But maybe there is one among you who would like to have it? If so, just leave a comment on this post before noon, Eastern time, on Monday, August 27th, and I’ll enter you into the random drawing. The winner will receive The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Knits for All Seasons absolutely free.

Mention this giveaway and link to this post from your own blog, and I’ll enter your name in the hat a second time. Just be sure to tell me you did!

Have a great weekend, everyone, and good luck!

Review: Romantic Hand Knits

Filed under: Books,Knitting,Reviews — folkcat at 1:27 pm on Thursday, August 23, 2007

Romantic Hand Knits by Annie ModesittLet’s just start by saying that I’m always going to have a built-in bias when I review knitting books that mostly contain garment patterns.

I’m a large woman. No, I mean it – really large. Let’s just say that my bust measurement is 57 inches, and the waist and hip measurements aren’t far off that. I’m the definitive example of the apple-shaped physique.

How’s that for an honest beginning? Not many people would admit to those dimensions, but they’re mine, and they are a significant factor if I’m going to consider a book of garment patterns. Not many designers create for much larger than a 40″ chest. Which puts them over two feet short of hitting a home run with me.

And so, it’s a size-biased eye that I turn to the first of this week’s knitting book reviews: Annie Modesitt’s Romantic Hand Knits. The burning question is: how does it measure up to my needs?

The answer is surprisingly well! A cursory glance through the patterns revealed that a fair number of them are sized up to at least a 56 inch bust, meaning that modifications for an extra inch would either be easy, or completely unnecessary, depending on the ease of the fit. There are even a number of sweaters I might consider knitting for myself.

As other reviews I’ve seen have mentioned, Annie does a magnificent job of both designing an attractive, complex-looking knit, and writing a pattern that explains it so clearly you feel like you could, actually, knit it.

Full sizing information is given, making it easy to see how much ease is designed in, and what the end results should be. Materials call out specific yarns by brand and color, giving exact quantities in both English and metric measurements, but they also specify the weight of the yarn if you want to substitute (and we all do that!).

Where there are fancy stitch patterns, both text and chart instructions are given. Some like one, some like the other – I prefer to have both, because the text can serve as a proof for the chart, and vice-versa.

Special techniques, such as embroidery or millinery, are described in sections near their first use in the book, making them easy to find and reference.

All of this adds up to making this a good book for either experienced knitters, or adventurous beginners who aren’t afraid to trust the instructions. Either would find they could create awe-inspiring projects from this book with little trouble.

But on to the projects I liked, the ones I might actually consider knitting. Please forgive the slightly elongated look of the photos. I find it easier to take a picture of the pages, rather than scanning them.

Romantic Hand Knits - The Heiress
The Heiress

This one comes in sizes up to a 56″ bust (58 3/4″ finished measurement). Fairly tight ease, but adjusting up for a 57″ bust should be easy – just the slightest change in gauge, and I’m golden. I don’t normally wear anything this frilly, but at it’s roots, this is a very nice ribbed cardigan. I could leave off the lacy edgings and embroidery and have a good everyday sweater. Or I could do the lace in the same color as the sweater, adding a slight, but less obvious, frill. Or I could go for broke, and make the fully frilled version as shown, which would help me bust down a few walls in my usual style choices.

Two For The Road
Two For The Road

This one’s a little short-waisted for me, but it should be easier to just knit the body longer. The pattern sizes up to a 54″ bust, with a 60″ finished measurement. If I don’t mind less ease than designed, I could knit it as is, or, again, it should be easy to size up just a skootch.

The really clever thing about this pattern is that the sweater is knit with two sportweight yarns held together – a solid, and a handpaint. Then, when you get to the collar, each is used separately to create a lacy, ruffly, layered effect, with the solid highlighting the neck and face nicely.

There’s a lot of potential in this idea, even if I don’t knit this sweater.

The Bishop's Wife
The Bishop’s Wife

Here’s one that I don’t think I’d wind up knitting, but I think it’s beautiful and classic. (I just don’t wear dresses often enough to justify the time involved.) Not many people think in terms of knitting such a dress these days, but I hope Annie convinces some of them otherwise with The Bishop’s Wife.

There are many nice accessories in the book, too. Scarves, shawls, hats, mitts.


Gigi looks like a lovely, quick to knit scarf. Lightly lacy, with an undulating wide rib, this looks like it has a nice drape. Sadly, the photo above is the only one in the book – I would love to have seen this all stretched out to display the pattern better.

The Wavy Lace stitch that’s used, as with all other stitch patterns in the book, is given in both text and chart instructions. As well, Annie promises that “after the first few rows you’ll memorize the pattern and find it much easier than you might think!” Looks like this would be a great project for a beginner who wants to dip their toes in the lace pool, or a quick knit for anyone to give as a gift.

One place where Annie really stretches the knitting envelope is with hats. Yes, hats! She gives two patterns for lovely, tea party dressy hats. I liked Gone With The Wind, with its wide brim and classic black and white striping, combined with a lacy brim.

Gone With The Wind
Gone With The Wind

It’s another project I’m not likely to make for myself. Though I must remember that it’s only last year I was hoping to find a knitting pattern for a sunhat to give to a friend! Something like Gone With The Wind, combined with Annie’s excellent millinery instructions, would have answered that call brilliantly.

Romantic Hand Knits is my first significant exposure to Annie’s design sensibility (I don’t read the magazines), and I have to say, I’m thoroughly impressed with the woman’s eye. And her talent at writing a good pattern, too. It’s one thing to be able to create a jaw-dropping sweater or dress, it’s another altogether to be able to explain how you did it in a way that any brave knitter can replicate. Kudos to Annie!

Coming Tomorrow:

My review of The Yarn Girls Guide to Knits for All Seasons. How do they measure up to my standards? I’ll let you know.

I’ll also announce the giveaway – what’s at stake, and how you can enter. Be sure to come back!

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