Of Rats and Jen (Inactive)

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

Knitting, the Moors, and Watching Company Alone

Filed under: Books,Cooking - Folkcat in the Kitchen,Knitting — folkcat at 1:31 pm on Monday, March 17, 2008

A weekend of knitting and watching interesting television. I’d saved several of the Masterpiece productions of Jane Austen novels, as well as the two-part Jane Eyre, since they were broadcast back in the fall. This weekend, I went through Jane Eyre, Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park in fairly short order, all while working on my Adult Surprise Jacket. (ETA – Persuasion! I also saw Persuasion. Thank you, Elspeth, for reminding me!)

Adult Surprise Jacket - 03/17/08

Yes, that’s a brown-based variegated yarn that’s been added in. This is a stash-busting project, and while I’m a huge fan of purples and other bright colors, I don’t have enough of them in my stash to do the whole jacket in those hues.

I added the brown at the point where you start increasing at the underarms. So it will be placed closer in to the body. I think it works, it helps to offset the bright colors and makes them pop even better.

I have one skein (I think it’s a 3 1/2-oz. Red Heart) of the brown, and I’m going to knit it until it’s gone. Then it’ll be back to the brights.

I’d never read Jane Eyre, nor any of Jane Austen’s works. I loved the A&E broadcast of Pride and Prejudice as much as anyone, however, and had seen Emma Thompson’s version of Sense and Sensibility, and I think it was Gwyneth Paltrow who did Emma?

I was impressed with all the programs I watched this weekend. Jane Eyre is an epic, classic tale. I can see why it endures. It has a tragic hero and heroine, a happy ending. But not without Rochester getting his karmic payback for his sins, even as he lives happily-ever-after with Jane.

Northanger Abbey is now my favorite Jane Austen, I think. I found the tale of a young girl who was enamored of romance novels to be very relevant, even modern for its age. Mansfield Park was all right, but I was continually distracted by the presence of Billie Piper as the heroine, Fanny Price. I kept expecting the Tardis to turn up in the garden! Billie was memorable as Rose in Doctor Who, but somehow just doesn’t seem like a Jane Austen heroine to me. Although, maybe that was part of the point – she wasn’t meant to be a typical heroine, because she was the poor relation who depended on the kindness of her uncle and personally had no expectations of love or fortune.

Perhaps the most notable result of my mini marathon of the Janes – Eyre and Austen – was that I now want to go and read the actual books. Especially Northanger Abbey.

The other interesting show I watched was the Great Performances presentation of the Broadway revival of Sondheim’s Company. This was a show I’d never seen, but I’m a huge Sondheim fan. It seemed both strange, and somehow oddly appropriate, that I watched this almost abstract musical about relationships and commitment while sitting alone, knitting. (Gryphon was at his computer playing EverQuest II.)


My lucet arrived on Saturday. Handmade of purpleheart wood by Lynn the Weaver, up in the Pacific Northwest, this is a beautiful fibercraft tool. While my makeshift wire lucet was good to get me started, I find my speed is way up with the proper equipment. Plus, there’s that supreme satisfaction that comes from working with a well-crafted tool.

Purpleheart Lucet

If you want your own, just visit Lynn’s website at http://www.lucets.com/. In addition to the lucets, Lynn makes a number of other fiberart tools, including kumihimo stands, looms, and more.


The first batch of bread in the machine on Friday came out great. I used a basic sourdough recipe – the same I’d been using for hand baking the bread, actually. I did oops and add a bit too much flour, but it came out all right. There was just a tiny bit in the corners that didn’t bake in completely.

Gryphon’s eating more sandwiches, what with good bread to make them on, so I’m baking again today.

Honey Oatmeal Sunflower Bread

The recipe this time is Honey Oatmeal Bread – 2 lb. Loaf. I found it at Recipezaar.com, which has become one of my favorite online sources for recipes of all sorts. This particular recipe was well reviewed by other users who had baked it.

I made two changes when I put this together. The recipe calls for 2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast. I had the Fleischmann’s packets, which each contain 2 1/4 teaspoon. I decided to just go with the quantity of yeast in one packet, especially after reading one reviewer’s comment that their loaf rose so high it overflowed the pan.

Then, to add a little texture to the bread, when the machine beeped to add mix-in ingredients I used a little over 1/3 cup of sunflower seeds. Not sure if that was really enough for this big a loaf, but it’s a start. If it seems a bit light on sunflower when it’s done, we can always add more next time.

Free At Last

Filed under: Books,Cooking - Folkcat in the Kitchen,Knitting,Rats! — folkcat at 5:40 pm on Monday, March 3, 2008

The pictures from my phone camera, that is. The UPS guy was at the door today with my new USB stick, and it reads the micro-SD card perfectly.

So here are a couple of the pictures I promised. Maybe not the greatest photos. The shutter speed on the camera phone is like molasses, and rats are not.

There’s also an issue that anytime you hold up a camera, the Ratties have to come check it out, immediately. After all, you might be offering them something edible.

Yuri and Lola

Yuri is walking down from my shoulder here, trying to figure out what’s in my right hand. You can see Lola in the background. She’s doing what she often does – standing on the corner of the chair, staring off into the distance to see what’s out there. As in, is it worth jumping down to go get it? I think lots of rats do this, from what I’ve seen – Star and Sable often did.

Yuri Explores, Leo Burrows
Yuri Explores, Leo Burrows

How many pictures have I posted of a Rattie sticking their head out from this same blanket? I think most of the furry four-leggers have been shown in this pose. In this case, it’s Leonardo taking a brief break from his burrowing under the blanket to see what’s up. Yuri, meanwhile, wants to get to the little table I use in front of my chair to see what might be left in that bowl from my lunch.

In The Home Stretch

I took a break from knitting most of the weekend. I actually had cramps in my left hand after Thursday night’s knitting, and the hand and wrist felt a little weak on Saturday. Must have overdone it a bit!

SG:P4 - The Home Stretch

I dug out my Thera-Gloves and got back to work yesterday, though. Turned the heel on Gryphon’s sock number two, and now I’m in the home stretch, just knitting the leg until it matches the first sock.

And a Winner!

The pea soup that I was experimenting with on Friday came out pretty darn good! The only element that was missing was some ham for a slightly smoky flavor note (and a little extra protein). So Gryphon and I picked some up on Saturday. On Sunday, I diced it up, and cooked it with another half of an onion chopped up. I stirred these around in the skillet until there was some carmelization starting, then dropped it into the crock pot and added back what was left of the soup.

Four hours or so on low, and the soup was done. And it tasted even better than it had the first day, without the ham.

I’m going to work on finalizing the recipe and posting it. In fact, I’m going to be working on new formats for all the recipes I’ve posted in the past, and get them up under that “Link3” item on the top menu bar of the blog. Which will suddenly, at that point, read “Recipes”.

Amazon Buys

One thing that’s going to help with the recipes – once upon a time, I used to use MasterCook Deluxe v4.0 to keep recipes in. But that must have been several computers ago, and I guess it never got installed on newer systems over time. In fact, I found the CD and tried installing it on my current computer, and the software is so old it won’t even install. So I looked around, and found that the current version (MasterCook Deluxe v9.0) was only $19 on Amazon.

Of course, you know you can’t order just $19 worth of anything on Amazon anymore. So a copy of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac wound up in my cart, too.

I now have three of her books altogether – The Opinionated Knitter, purchased in Syracuse at Christmas from gift money; Knitting Without Tears, purchased along with my Harmony DPNs from KnitPicks to meet minimum order for free shipping; and now, Knitter’s Almanac. I’ve wanted to add EZ’s titles to my library for years, but couldn’t ever decide which one to start with. Finding The Opinionated Knitter at the yarn shop I visited in Syracuse rather decided that for me, and now it’s just a matter of filling in the gaps.

So does this mean there’s an EZ project in my future? Yup, it does. I’m looking at making an Adult Surprise Jacket as my next attempt at personal outerwear. And I’m planning to work from stash for it, making a coat of many colors and burning off lots of existing surplus.

In fact, this will probably be the very next project after Gryphon’s current socks and a nesting bag I’m knitting for the Ratties. So stay tuned, it won’t be long!

Toys to Crochet

Filed under: Books — folkcat at 5:25 pm on Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I’ve put a new book review up over at Shopping Jen: Toys to Crochet. I didn’t like all the designs, but it’s a well written book with good instructions, and enough designs I do like to keep me interested. You could easily pick up a copy of the book now, too, and manage to make some gifts from it in time for the holidays. Enjoy!

Wag The Dog

Filed under: Announcements,Blog Admin,Blogfriends,Books — folkcat at 4:33 pm on Monday, November 26, 2007

First things first – I’ve posted a review of the new Potter Craft Book, The Yarn Lover’s Guide to Hand Dyeing, over at Shopping Jen. Do go read it – there were some, um, interesting developments in the process of examining this title.

Second – over the Thanksgiving break, I’ve had a chance to think about the place that blogging holds in my life. I originally created my blogs with the intent that they would support, and help me to explore, my crafting.

I have generally really enjoyed the process, writing blog posts, making connections with so many people who have become friends. Which is why I was really surprised to find last week that I felt relieved not to have to blog. That had never happened when I’ve taken breaks before.

I had plenty of time to think about the why and wherefore of that discovery. The conclusion I came to was that the blog was no longer being driven by the crafting – the crafting was being driven by the blog. I had reached a space where I would alter my crafting choices so I had something to blog about, make myself work on projects when I didn’t feel like it, and more.

I had become a blogger, not a crafter. And Crafting Jen is supposed to be about my development as a person who crafts. Not as a blogger.

Clearly, the blog has started to get in the way of me doing what I really want to be doing. It makes sense, then, to change that.

I’m not saying I’ll never blog again. But it will only be when something really noteworthy happens, like whenever we finally get a new pair of Rattie babies to add to the family.

As for Shopping Jen, I had already pulled that back to a “when I have something to review” basis, and I think I’ll leave it there. So it won’t go away, either.

I realize this choice will make it difficult for my readers who don’t use a news aggregator like Bloglines or Newsgator to read. I’ll understand if you can’t keep checking back to see if I’ve posted something new. But I have to do what I have to do.

As a corollary to the above, I’m also going to stop reading the vast majority of the fiber blogs I follow. There are some that are genuinely entertaining that I will continue reading. And of course, there are some of you that I feel a special connection to whose blogs will stay on my roll as well.

If I am known to have read your blog in the past, and I disappear, please know that it’s not you. I just can’t keep reading all the blogs that I do, and writing a blog daily, and continue to pursue my crafting in a way that is meaningful to me.

Freebie Fridays will also disappear, though I may offer a freebie on random occasions where I come across something to good not to give away. I won’t promise anything – we’ll just have to see what develops.

It’s been a long, strange ride, and I’ve learned a lot from my blogging, and from all of you. Maybe I’ll come back to this one day, maybe not. Meanwhile, I’m leaving the blog up so the information it offers will still be available to all who want it.

Thank you to all my friends and readers, and have a very Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

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.

Real Knitting, Virtual Gardening, And An Upcoming Book Review

Filed under: Books,Knitting,Second Life — folkcat at 4:19 pm on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Finally, here I am with pictures of the current Scarf In Progress!

Linked Rib Scarf

Pattern: Linked Rib, from the book Knitting New Scarves
Yarn: Plymouth Boku, Color #7
Needles: Bryspun dpns, size 8 (6 needed for project)

My best advice to anyone who wants to knit from Knitting New Scarves – follow the instructions carefully, and have faith in them! When in doubt, don’t be afraid to frog back to the beginning and start over. Ultimately, just trust in the pattern and your intuition.

The first trick to the Linked Rib is that you’re knitting a three-lobed shape, but knitting flat. Trust me, it works. Just pay attention to the photos in the book, and the instructions, and you’ll get there.

Linked Rib Scarf - Needle End
Detail of working end at beginning of transition back to three lobes

The second trick is that you then take those three lobes that you’re knitting flat, and convert them to a tube that you’re knitting around. Then, several rows later, you switch the stitches back to knitting three lobes flat. But now, your lobes are offset to sit between the lobes of the previous section.

It seems like magic, until you’ve done it once or twice, and then you go A-HA! and don’t need to refer to the instructions again.

Linked Rib Scarf - Cast On End
A look at the cast-on end

I am loving the process, and the yarn is very nice to knit with. Plymouth Boku is 97% wool, 3% silk. It’s fairly soft, and the colors are nice. I think it’s meant to compete with yarns like Noro Kureyon and Silk Garden. The Noro colors are better, but at only $5.99 for a 50 gram ball, I have to confess the Plymouth Boku is a reasonable substitute.

I don’t know how many balls I’ll be using, or how long I’ll knit the scarf. I bought four in the same color, and feel I should have enough to make a useful neck wrap. What I’ve knit so far – what’s in the top picture – is about 15 1/2 inches long, and I still have enough of the first ball of yarn to get a few more lobe sections. I’m guessing 3 balls of Boku would give me maybe 60 inches – 5 feet – of scarf.

Second Life Gardening

I went in and took an aerial shot of our land in Second Life today.

Landscaping in SL

Just out of sight at the bottom of the screen is a canal. At the left, you see a little woodlot – that’s wild mountain pine and birch. The pale gray blob in the middle is what’s visible of a Native American sweat lodge.

On the far right, there’s a gray line – that’s the fence at the edge of our neighbor’s property. I expect to plant more trees along our property line there. The row of structures you see before that are a tiny one-room Japanese house, a cherry tree in bloom, a Turkish-style tent, and finally, a small pavilion. Each is considered the “home” of one of my or Gryphon’s avatars.

There’s a lot more landscaping to do. The woodlot needs underbrush – I’ve got wildflowers and grasses to plant. I need a firepit of some sort for the tents. The Japanese house needs a little bit of a garden, and maybe a koi pond again.

I also need to decide if I’m going to do anything along the shore of the canal. I could cut into the land a tiny bit, make a little inlet, and perhaps have ducks there or something. Haven’t decided yet.

Best thing of all – there’s no dirt under my fingernails, it’s perpetually temperate weather, and I can plant the tallest of trees without any assistance!

Coming Soon

I’m hoping to have my review up this week of the new book, The Yarn Lover’s Guide to Hand Dyeing. The quick take – generally, it’s very good, but I’ve found something I consider a glaring oversight, and I’ve contacted the publisher for their input before I post. Hopefully, we’ll have a good resolution to the matter!

Lookie There – She’s Been Knitting!

Filed under: Books,Knitting,Second Life — folkcat at 7:38 pm on Wednesday, November 7, 2007

First things first – over on Shopping Jen today, there’s a new review of the Veronica Mars: The Complete Third Season DVD set.

Told you the crafting wouldn’t stop! Here’s how far I’ve gotten on the Rusty Entrelac Bag.

Rusty Bag, Ran Out of Black

I had hoped to continue the bottom in solid black from this point on, but I ran out after the third round that used that color. So the bottom of the bag will be red. Which means the straps will probably have to be in the yellow color. That even works – the top of the bag is where the yellow is anyhow.

This bag, then, is winding down to a finish. I think I need to decide which of the scarves in Knitting New Scarves I need to cast on for next!

Speaking of Knitting New Scarves, I actually heard from a couple of the editors at the publisher, including Melanie Falick herself. They pointed me towards the new Stewart, Tabori, & Chang blog, both for up to date news about their books, and a link to a knitalong for Knitting New Scarves. It’s at www.melaniefalickbooks.com – check it out! These are also the folks who published such titles as Loop-d-loop, AlterKnits, and Knitting Nature, so I have a feeling they bear close watching!

Virtual Crafting

I’ve been very, very busy in Second Life. Here’s what I’ve created:

Probably Art Gallery

Yup, that’s the gallery I’m calling Probably Art, located in the sim known as VLS. (A sim is a geographic unit in Second Life.) There are photographs by Genna Lunasea; paintings by her twin sister, Probably Perhaps, who is also the proprietor of the gallery; and graphic art by their cousin, Regan Blackburn.

The floor looks a little empty – I expect to add more items as I create them. I have plans to make easels that I can display additional art on (as well as selling the easels). And Regan wants to put some of his art on t-shirts.

If you are in Second Life, and would like to visit the gallery for a closer look at my art, just click this link: Probably Art Gallery.

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:

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn

Filed under: Books,Knitting — folkcat at 10:00 am on Tuesday, October 16, 2007

knitters book of yarn book jacket.jpg

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes

Published by: Potter Craft (Random House)

Acquired by: Free copy from Publisher

List Price: $30.00

Available: Oct. 16, 2007

Every time I sit down to examine a book or product for review, it’s my profound hope that I’m about to make a great discovery. Sometimes, I am at least delighted with the find. Occasionally, I am bitterly disappointed.

I am very pleased to say that today’s review is about a great discovery. If you are a knitter, and you want to better understand what your yarn is, why it behaves the way it does, and how best to show it off, The Knitter’s Book of Yarn is a must-have for your library.


First, though, a disclaimer – though I have been a knitter for almost 40 years; and have been reading (and writing) knit blogs for nearly 3 years; and likewise, have been using online resources for knitting information over those same 3 years; still, I was completely ignorant of the resource created by Clara Parkes known as Knitter’s Review.

If Knitter’s Review is new to you, briefly put, it’s a weekly, online magazine format, which presents how-to articles, as well as reviews and news about knitting books, tools, and especially, yarns. I don’t think there’s anywhere else on the web that offers such in-depth examinations of different yarns, including swatching results, blocking data, how they hold up to washing, and more.

The Book

Now, Clara has taken the passion for yarn that is apparent in her online yarn reviews, and put it all into The Knitter’s Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn. This is the reference book we knitter’s have needed for years.

The knitter is taught everything about yarn, from what the properties of fibers from the different sources (protein, cellulose, etc.) might be, to how they are used in a yarn, to what the knitted results tend to be like. Clara explains how we should evaluate a yarn before buying – what qualities to look for, and how to see them. For instance, I never knew about guard hairs in cashmere. Clara not only explains their presence, but tells us how to see them in the finished yarn, and what it means for the quality of the yarn.

I’ve only read word for word up to page 35, and I think I know more about yarn now than I’ve managed to learn by trial and error in 40 years of knitting.

Section 1 covers Fiber Foundations – the sources and types of fiber. In Section 2, Clara explains the various things that happen to those fibers as they become yarn – from being processed in Mills and Microspinneries, to various methods of dyeing. We’re also taught about some of the ways we can find some of the rare, one-of-a-kind yarns, by seeking out local fiber farms and festivals.

The largest part of the book is devoted to Section 3, Ply Me a River. Here, we not only learn about the properties of different plies of yarn – single, two-ply, chenilles. We are also offered 40 patterns for knitting, each one designed carefully to make the best use of the yarn it’s paired with.

The final section is called Putting It All Together. Here, we find even more valuable information. How to care for and wash all the fiber types discussed in the book. How to remove odors from yarn. What WPI (wraps per inch) means, and how to apply that number, complete with a chart for converting it to a meaningful understanding of the weight of the yarn. An explanation of the Craft Yarn Council of America’s Standard Yarn Weight System. A guide to abbreviations and techniques; a list of online resources for yarn and notions.

If you want to learn more, Clara has included a guide to Recommended Reading that is more than just a simple list of book titles – she discusses each book in brief, including why she will turn to it and what it can teach us.

The Patterns

Although the patterns aren’t the sole reason for buying this book, they don’t hurt its quality a bit. Aside from Clara herself, there were sixteen other designers who contributed to The Knitter’s Book of Yarn. Among them are such instantly recognizable names as Norah Gaughan, Cat Bordhi, and Teva Durham. Other names may be known more from their blogs – for instance, SABLE stasher Amy King of www.spunkyeclectic.com.

I mean that last statement. While I might not be interested in knitting every one of these forty patterns, I didn’t find a single Ugh in the book. Not one. When was the last time we could say that?

The projects run the gamut from home decor, to pet toys, to garments and bags. There is lace, cables, colorwork, felting, and even plain old stockinette. There are items both simple and complex here, so knitters of every skill level should feel satisfied.

Each pattern begins with a listing of materials, measurements, and gauge. Specific yarns were used, and are called out by brand and color number. Because this is The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, we are also told exact fiber content, length, and weight of the skeins, as well as specific information as to what to choose if we want to substitute.

Artyarns Silk Rhapsody (70% mohair, 30% silk; 260 yards [238m]/100g) 1 skein #RH123. If substituting, use 260 yds (238m) of 2-ply worsted-weight yarn, preferably a yarn with shimmer and drape.

Even the visual properties and the hand of the yarn are mentioned, making for a great chance of success for the knitter who picks an alternative yarn.

A paragraph or two at the start of the instructions explains the choice of yarn, and what properties in that yarn influenced the design of the pattern. The instructions themselves are to the point, but inclusive of everything a knitter needs to be told to complete the object.

If you’ve read my other book reviews, you probably know that by now, I’ve usually mentioned the issue of garment sizes. Not this time, though! That’s how good this book is – I like it a lot, and don’t care if the sweaters will fit me as written. And with the patterns including so many items that aren’t fitted garments, there’s a lot to work with here regardless.

It’s All Good

Seriously. Still, here are a few of my favorite projects from the book. As always, click through the picture to see a larger image.

Cabled Tea Cozy
Cabled Tea Cozy designed by Jennifer Hagan

Knit from Malabrigo, you could also use any single-ply worsted-weight yarn. The quality of the Malabrigo being displayed here is how a single-ply yarn will show a sculptural knit such as cables with good definition and stich clarity, yet still have a soft look.

Rhinebeck Hat and Mitts
Rhinebeck Hat and Mitts by Shelia January

Knit with a three-ply yarn (Spirit Trail Fiberworks Bluefaced Leicester), this project shows the effective use of a solid color together with a variegated yarn in Fair Isle knitting.

Cabled Swing Cardi
Cabled Swing Cardi by Norah Gaughan

I love the lines of this sweater – I can imagine it would flatter almost any figure. It’s designed for bust sizes up to 54″ closed, but there’s enough overlap there I believe I could make it work for me with very little modification. Just one change I think I’d make – I’d add a second button, at the top of that collar end on the right front.

The original model shown here was knit from Berroco Ultra Alpaca, though you could use any 3-ply worsted weight yarn.

Wavy Socks
Wavy Socks by Amy King

I like the soft waves of cabling in these socks. I can imagine these moving through the knit blog world like a tidal wave. Expect to see lots of Wavy Socks online in the coming months. The yarn used for the book was Karabella Aurora 4, but it’s suggested you could use any multistrand DK-weight yarn instead.

A Sturdy Book

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn is destined to be a staple in every knitter’s library. The designers of the book knew this, and planned for a book that will be pulled off the shelf and referred to frequently. The covers are sturdy hardbound, with a matte finish. The pages are made of a heavy matte paperstock, just shy of cardstock. Though not spiral bound, the book lies fairly flat when opened on a table.

A lot of thought went into the creation of this book, and it shows. Clara Parkes has clearly, through her work at Knitter’s Review and her own knitting, been preparing to write this book for many years. The designers she’s gathered together have put their hearts and souls into creating beautiful projects that make full use of the yarns’ best qualities.

I am honored to have The Knitter’s Book of Yarn in my library. I hope it stays in print for a long, long time!

Related Links:

The Return of Freebie Friday – Inspired Fair Isle Knits?

Filed under: Announcements,Books,Contests — folkcat at 3:43 pm on Friday, October 5, 2007

Welcome back to Freebie Friday!

Freebie Friday this week is open only to mailing addresses in the United States and Canada. My apologies to readers overseas – you’ll get a chance again soon!

inspired fair isle book jacket_edited.jpgThis week’s prize is the new book Inspired Fair Isle Knits by Fiona Ellis. I reviewed this book on Tuesday, both here and at the Shopping Jen blog. If you’ve been reading here, you may recall my review wasn’t entirely favorable.

The key points in my review were:

  1. The editorial work was sloppy – there were typos, grammatical errors, inconsistent style, and bad photos.
  2. I didn’t like the designs, mostly, and for those that I did, I’d remove the Fair Isle detailing.
  3. The writing was excellent, providing good and complete instructions. This book was better written than most I’ve reviewed thus far.

Point #1 is unfortunate, but mainly a cosmetic issue, and is being addressed by the publisher. You can read their response here.

Point #2 is largely my own personal taste. I didn’t like the designs – someone else might. Maybe you?

Point #3 is worth noting. The instructions in this book are very well written, and information is given for nearly any technique you might need while working a project. Fiona Ellis is a good writer, and it shows here.

Although I gave a generally unfavorable review, it was based largely on my opinion of the designs (influenced slightly by the bad editing work). There might, though – just might – be some among you who like some of the designs I showed. And editorial errors aside, you won’t be disappointed in the writing.

How can you win this book for your very one? The rules, as always, are simple:

  • Only mailing addresses in the United States and Canada are eligible for entry to this drawing.
  • Enter by commenting to the contest post before Noon, Eastern Time, on Monday, October 8th. Only one entry per person for commenting.
  • Earn a second entry by posting about the contest on your own blog, and linking to this post. E-mail me at fiber AT folkcatart DOT com to tell me you’ve done so. Don’t forget to post soon enough that your own readers have a chance to join in the fun!
  • Have you won a prize at Crafting Jen before? No worries, you can enter again!
  • The winner will be chosen by a random drawing from all entries received before the deadline.
  • I’ll announce the winner on the blog on Monday, and will also e-mail them for their mailing address.

There it is, then – are you the one this book is meant for? Drop a comment, post a link, and get a chance to find out!

Good luck, and have a great weekend!

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