Book Review Break

I know I haven’t churned out a book review in a while. It’s because I got burned out on writing them. I’m sure in the future, maybe after summer, I’ll get back in the groove. Until then, I have created a new page you can surf to from my home page. Click on the button “Book Reviews” and you’ll see a list of all the books I’ve reviewed with links to their corresponding blog posts. I organized it all in alphabetical order by title and indicated whether the text is for knitting, crochet, or both. I do not receive books from publishers to review. Also, authors do not send me requests. I review whatever I feel like talking about on here.

Some friends of mine – including my good buddies from my knitting and crochet club – have asked me how and why I got so many books and patterns. In case you’re curious, here’s my answer:

First off, I’m a book enthusiast, a trained literary critic, and I like to have patterns just to have them. It’s sort of like being a coin or rock collector. I just like to have plenty of literature and I like to have special editions of my favorites. There’s a practical reason, too, which is that I find a lot of inspiration in patterns. When I see something I like, I buy it, after some thought.

Another method of acquiring so many is that people have given them to me. Friends and relatives alike know what my vices are. Also, my sister made a habit of getting me Amazon gift cards for Christmas and my birthday and I’ve been able to buy a lot of Kindle versions of pattern collections and other types of crafty things. When the gift cards were flowing I got a whole ton of goodies.

Over the years I’ve also had magazine subscriptions. I’ve recently canceled all of them, though, because I started to feel like I was seeing a lot of the same every month.

Additionally, the way my parents raised me has a lot to do with it. My mother and father encouraged me to read and take interest in my own education. When I was a little boy my mom took me to the library once a week so I could borrow books. I remember always getting excited about the regular library excursions. If I saw something in a book shop I liked and it wasn’t available in our local library my parents had no qualms about buying it for me, even though sometimes it meant waiting for when there was extra money to spend. Books and food were considered worthwhile expenses and there was no established limit on them. If I was hungry they fed me. If I wanted to read they strove to keep me interested. My dad also instilled in me the importance of taking care of my things, making sure they were kept organized and out of harm’s way. This means he also taught me not to write in my books. He turned me into a collector. So, in my adult life my library is something special to me and I don’t ever feel guilty about buying stuff to add to it. They’re educational so they are a good investment. Of course, we mustn’t exaggerate. I don’t spend all my money on texts and I’m certainly careful not to go overboard.

Lastly, all of this encouragement I got in my childhood turned me into a literature and language specialist. In high school my favorite class was English and I got really excited about all the literature we read in those classes, from Homer to William Faulkner. In college I studied Spanish and Anthropology and I went on to get a PhD in Hispanic Literature. My undergraduate double interest was due to my inner conflict about whether I wanted to study mythology, archeology, Spanish American colonial history and literature, or Spanish Peninsular literature. So, obviously, books are very much the center of my entire life, from when I was a toddler to middle age! I have special treasures in my library that are not crafty at all. For example, my very old Obras completas de Miguel de Cervantes (Cervantes’ complete works), my facsimile edition of the first publication of Don Quixote, my Complete Works of Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, respectively, and many more.

All of these factors have shaped me into the pattern and book collector I am today. I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading and getting extreme pleasure from discovering a new book, whether it be a literary work or a craft-oriented one.

Getting ready for Halloween

As many of you know, a lot of people tramp through my house because I tutor them in English in my living room. Well, after two years, I’m tired of looking at this leisurely work space. I need to add new colors and patterns to perk it up.

I’ve decided that it would be entertaining for the students to see festive decorations during particular key seasons for Americans: Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November, Christmas in December, etc. So, I’m getting ready for Halloween by planning and creating little things to put out here and there in the living room. I’m pretty sure I’ll knit and crochet some things: how about some knit throw pillows with Halloween-colored stripes and some amigurumi bats? I’ve also decided to cross stitch some things to hang up.

This week I’ve started cross stitching some pumpkins I found in Just Cross Stitch. There are six different ones. I haven’t decided if I want to stitch all of them because I might like to mix them with other Halloween-themed items. I’ve finished one pumpkin and started another one. Here’s the one I finished this morning:

pumpkin

I like them because they aren’t the typical Jack-o-lantern, although I plan to stitch up one of those, too. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. How about you?

Mostly, I’m cross stitching

I’ve been knitting my socks and crocheting my table cloth some, but, for the most part, I’ve been cross stitching. I’m pleased with my progress, but it’s slow going.

cross stitch jul15

The part that makes this project evolve slowly is the border. It’s very detailed. I’ve considered just getting the rest of the border finished before doing anything else, but the border doesn’t run completely around the piece. There are other things that interrupt it and add interest to the design. Once I get this quarter of the chart all stitched I’m going to complete the backstitching in this section before moving on to the next. What I can’t decide: work to the right or go up? I suppose I’ll figure it out when I get this done.

A helpful tip: it IS possible to backstitch before completing the entire project, just as long as you backstitch in an area that has all the cross stitching around it completed. The cool thing about this pattern is that the backstitching only happens inside the borders. So, I can do the little details bit by bit when I finish cross stitching a quarter of the piece.

Today I’ll also be knitting because it’s knitting and crochet club day. We’re going to a new bar that has a large outside seating area. It’s a beautiful day for a beer and a little sock knitting with friends. I’m looking forward to it a lot.

Weldon’s Practical Needlework Deluxe Editon

This is not really a review. Instead, it’s more like a narrative of my experience with this large collection of books. Weldon’s Practical Needlework was a periodical publication that circulated around the British Empire during the Victorian era. It is believed that the first issue was published around 1888. It’s difficult to say an exact year because these bulky newsletters don’t have dates. The 20th century becomes discernible when the company’s phone number begins to appear on the front page of the publications. All of these newsletters were published by topic. The knitting ones, for example, had the title of Weldon’s Practical Knitter First Series. One of the selling points of these magazines was that they never went out of print. They could be ordered by title and series number. Another benefit to its audience was that it contained a lot of photographs and illustrations that were high-quality for the time.

Interweave sells the Weldon’s series in facsimile format. I decided to buy the deluxe edition because I couldn’t make up my mind which volumes I wanted to have in my library. Having never seen one of these before I was very surprised to see that there is plenty of text to read. There are many commentaries and suggestions to guide the Victorian crafter who wanted to do “Lady’s Fancy Work.” This makes it an interesting historical document about middle-class Victorian women who were eager to occupy their free time with various needlework activities. To my surprise, comparing the past with the present, an equal number of things are different as they are the same.

What’s the same? Well, to start with, a lot of the publications that intend to instruct the crafter refer to the days of yore, when past generations regularly did this or that craft but then it was “lost” or ceased to be practiced. The Weldon’s Practical Knitter First Series in fact presents knitting as a forgotten art and provides all the instructions necessary, with illustrations, on how to hold the needles, knit, purl, etc. Even tatting is treated as an “old-fashioned” hobby in the periodicals devoted to this challenging thread work. I had always imagined tatting as something that was considered “usual” in the 19th century! When I first read through these books I was also surprised to see the use of the word “cosy.” Apparently, it became a common way to talk about home decor in the British middle class in the Victorian days. Sock patterns appear in all the knitting publications, however there was also a separate series called Weldon’s Practical Sock Knitter. Victorian knitters, like many of us, were really addicted to sock knitting. There were even multi-colored sock yarns available! Sock knitting is presented as a useful and convenient activity that requires little thought, ideal for when a “Lady” is too tired to do something more complex. Does this sound familiar? There was also a series to instruct women on how to sell their makes which included “bazaar items” patterns to sew and embroider. Crazy patchwork, apparently, was very popular. I had no idea women made crazy quilts in 19th-century England. Above all, one of the things about patterns that hasn’t changed one bit since Weldon’s was the concept of trying to make everything easy to understand and execute for the crafter. Patterns in the Weldon’s newsletters are very often marketed as “quick and easy.” And, oh yes, let’s not forget the tea cozies. They abound in Weldon’s.

Of course, we can also observe how things have changed. To begin with, people don’t wear gaiters or fascinators anymore, along with a whole heap of other accessories. A gaiter was a long tube of knitwear that began below the knee and continued down to cover the foot’s instep. It was sort of like a leg warmer but with half a sock covering the tops of the feet. A fascinator was something women wore on their heads. They were often frilly and could be very extravagant. Also interesting is to see all the patterns for knitted and crochet underwear. For knitting I was very much surprised to see how double knitting was treated as totally run-of-the-mill and easy to do whereas today it is not very often done and is considered “extreme knitting.”  As for sock knitting, I counted more than fifteen different style heels. Furthermore, if you read all the Weldon’s Practical Sock Knitter issues you observe how construction techniques evolved over time, culminating in the now standard “heel turn.”

Some of the text in these magazines also gives some insight into middle-class Victorian attitudes in England. The author, for example, informs his or her audience without mincing words that one should buy cheap, inferior-quality wool to make shawls for poor women (not cool). Disabled people were also talked about insensitively, as demonstrated by a pattern for “invalid’s boots.” Ladies who made crazy quilts were encouraged to use them for decorating their servants’ or children’s rooms, implying they were too common for the lady of the house to use. These days a pattern that does not list gauge or measurements exactly is not even acknowledged as a pattern. In Weldon’s there are instructions for one size which is very imprecise. Garment sizes are vaguely described as “for a girl of 4” or “for a gentleman,” etc. It was assumed that if the “Lady” used the knitting needle sizes and exact yarn indicated then that was enough to create the perfect fit. I suspect that there were many Victorian “gentlemen” who found their handmade clothing very uncomfortable. However, I suppose people were more prone to say “good enough, it’s done!” in Victorian England.

I’m really glad I bought this. It is very unlike a lot of old patterns and books I’ve read from the Antique Pattern Library. I will definitely use a lot of the patterns, especially the afghan blocks, knit and crochet stitch patterns as well as the embroidery and cross stitch ideas. If I ever decide to knit a block from these bulletins, however, I’ll adapt them for knitting in the round, as the patterns call for knitting four triangles and sewing them together. I don’t think it is too difficult to adapt them for the modern age.

I really enjoy historical things, so this collection is just the right thing for me. It’s not something to get for practical purposes — how ironic given the title!

I can talk about my WIPs on a Wednesday

This morning I actually caught a break from working and had time to photograph my WIPs with some good quality sunshine. I’ve been knitting, crocheting, and cross stitching.

My sock made with Cascade Heritage Prints is taking its time. You’d think I’d be pumped to finish the first of the pair since I’ve already finished the foot and most of the leg. But, nope. My hands get too sweaty in this 90 degree (F) weather.

sock

The background for my sock is my crochet tablecloth, which is also progressing slowly because I only work on it for maybe twenty minutes a day. Again, it’s the uncomfortable feeling on my hands in the hot weather. Cotton breathes but while it’s doing that it suffocates my hands!

Anyway, as you can see, it is approaching the correct size of its intended wearer, which is the table that it is resting on. When I use up this second skein of cotton it will be time for me to start a nice border for it with skein 3. I’m thinking about using a filet pattern.

tablecloth

My crochet “Telegraph Sweater” designed by Peter Franzi is also coming along very gradually. If the cotton is uncomfortable in my hands, just imagine how the wool feels. Anyway, this garment can take its time. I’m in no hurry just yet to wear it, considering it’s July and I wish it wasn’t necessary to wear clothes.

Cross stitch – for the most part – has cured my need to create in uncomfortably hot Castilian weather. I’m glad I’ve got back into this pastime. I’ve been spending most of my free time cross stitching and less of it knitting and crocheting. The pattern I’ve chosen, which is Joan Elliott’s “Celtic Wheel Cushion” from her book Magical Cross Stitch, is a delightful challenge with very fine color details. The rose and the bunch of grapes you see have three or four shades. If you think the fruit and the flower look awkward you have a good eye. There is a lot of backstitching to complete for outlining things as well as to add stems and other little details. Right now the poor rose’s leaves are just suspended in midair and disconnected from the flower.

crossstitch

I have already become an over-enthusiastic cross stitcher and ordered more stuff for future projects. I’ve got plenty of Aida cloth in different colors and I’m waiting for some seed beads, floss, and Kreinik metallic threads to arrive in the mail. Yeah, you bet, when I’m in, I’m all in. After placing my order I forgot that I wanted some gold-colored Aida cloth for a bookmark I’d like to make, so I’ll have to buy some more supplies soon.

I can’t wait for the end of the day when I finish work and relax with a little WordPress browsing so I can see what you’re up to with your WIPs.