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.

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!

Review: 300 Classic Blocks by Linda P. Schapper

300 Classic Blocks for Crochet Projects by Linda P. Schapper, Lark Crafts: 2011, 256 pages. Paperback and hardcover editions available. Grade: A

When the title says this is all about “classic blocks” it isn’t a joke. These grannies are all older than the hills and mostly simple to crochet. In fact, we can find directions for some of these floating around the Internet free of charge. I’m actually grateful that “classic” is in the name so that I know what I’m getting into if I decide to use this to make something.

I think it’s also important to remember that this is a revised edition. It was originally published in 1987 and since then it has been redone several times. The fact that it continues to be edited is promising and also means that there are people who would buy this title (like me!).

I like how the blocks are organized by the types of stitches that are used to make them. For example, there’s a category for post stitches and another for bobbles, etc. Motifs that don’t fit into any of these groups are organized according to their overall shapes, like circles and triangles.

An experienced crocheter will no doubt open the book and say, “I could have made that up myself!” Indeed, there are many very basic patterns that a lot of us can just make off the tops of our heads. Others are traditional and we have memorized them by now. However, there are also more complex designs. My motive for getting this collection was to have all my information in one place without having to actually sift through millions of web links and/or patterns for afghans that take advantage of the “classics.” I’ve got all the basic things in one nicely organized book so that when I want to make something simple I can refresh my memory quickly. Alternatively, if I want to make up my own complex block, I can start with one of these simple ones and pimp it any which way I like.

I recommend this book to new and experienced crocheters. New crocheters will appreciate some guidance on how to make different shapes and learn how stitches can be stacked on each other to achieve a variety of effects. People with more hooking history might like to have this title for the same reasons I got it: all the classics in one place. I’ll add that it’s useful for designing our own blocks, maybe starting with one from this book and adding our own modifications to turn it into something else.

Review: One-Skein Wonders (r) and Designer One-Skein Wonders (r)

One-Skein Wonders (r): 101 Yarn-Shop Favorites, by Judith Durant, Storey: 2006, 240 pages. Paperback and digital editions available. Grade: A

101 Designer One-Skein Wonders (r) by Judith Durant, Storey: 2007, 256 pages. Paperback and digital editions available. Grade: A

So far I haven’t referred to Amazon reviews of the books that I subject to scrutiny on here, but this time I feel it is necessary.  I was wary before buying the ones I’m discussing here because I read some negative opinions about them. I want to spread some peace of mind all round the world and, hopefully, fewer people will debate with themselves whether or not to believe the harsher critics on Amazon. Additionally, I’ve decided to compare the first two members of the “One-Skein” series because some people don’t want to spend $20 (estimated digital price) and would prefer to just spend $10, forcing them to choose one or the other.

So, let’s start with the Amazon customer critiques, which are about as reliable as a Yahoo! Questions page. Most people who bought these books gave them five stars without leaving much commentary. The trouble comes from the fact that the more negative opinions are long, which seems to lend them authority. I think this is the problem with anonymous reviews, really, because the individual: 1) actually said something and took time out of his or her day to write; 2) the happy people clicked on stars and left it at that, looking like they didn’t read a thing of the book they bought; 3) the harsh critics got a nice “helpful” rating, which means their positive voters decided not to buy the product and never had the opportunity to experience it for themselves, because “helpful” here means “I didn’t buy it because I made up my mind a priori reading this opinion.”

It’s a waste of our time to go over specific commentaries. Instead, I think it’s best to generalize. I surveyed them quickly. Basically, it seems like a lot of the negative Nancies copied each other. So, according to some critics: 1) there are “too many errors,” 2) the word “one-skein” is meaningless because a lot of the projects use up less than one unit, 3) it’s disappointing to have a yarn in your stash you think you’d love to use only to discover you don’t have enough of it, and 4) it is necessary to understand the mysterious sorcery that is yarn substitution because everything relies on exotic, fancy stuff.

How many errors are too many? 18 of the 103 patterns in One-Skein Wonders (r) have mistakes in them, and they have been extensively corrected in the errata list on the Storey Publishing web site. But, this means that approximately 17% have problems. Is 17% too much? You decide. I’m more of an optimist. 83% have no mistakes at all. As for 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders (r), the stats are a bit more disappointing. 30 out of 103 have needed corrections, which means that roughly 29% are not written up accurately. Still, 71% are perfectly error-free. If you hate following along with errata and insist on spending your money on a book with fewer imperfections, the first of the series with an 83% success rate might be your choice if that’s good enough for you. My opinion? I don’t care, really. If by chance I choose to make something from instructions with errata, I just follow the corrections. Go Internet! You youngsters don’t know what it was like to knit or crochet something from a publication with errors, having to wait for the errata to come out in a magazine and remember to store the corrections some place and not lose them once you found them, which took some time. Not too long ago, it was a paper and wait game.

The next critique we must face is the opinion that the word “one-skein” is meaningless because a lot of the designs use less than one skein. I’m sorry Amazon reviewers, but that is sort of silly. This is not important, especially since the pattern notes state how many of a particular item you can get out of one ball. It’s so exact that there are directions for a mitten that tell us that one unit will make exactly five items – that last mit will remain unpaired with one ball only, so knit two pairs and use the rest for wrist warmers. Anyway, I like this information. If I want to knock out a bunch of one thing to give away to people, I can plan ahead and buy the right amount of yarn. I’m looking at you, “Wine Gift Bag” by Leanne Walker. To make these yarn counting people happy the title would have to be changed to Partial Skein Wonders. That doesn’t sound too catchy, does it? Again, I source my optimism: this set here is good for leftovers, too!

And then we have the whiner who complains about not having enough yarn for a particular project. I think that if you blame the book for the content of your stash you really need a couple of things: 1) an introductory course on logic, available in a college philosophy department near you; 2) a psychologist to help you understand how you – and only you – are responsible for your feelings. I mean, really!

Finally, the comment about “having to understand yarn substitution” made me laugh a lot when I saw it. It’s really easy. First of all, you need to buy some equipment: a microscope, some beakers, a Bunsen burner, litmus paper, the eye of two toads, a purple butterfly’s wings, the legs of an ostrich, the horns of five unicorns… If you think swapping one yarn for another is really problematic, let me help you: try the yarn you want to use and knit up a little swatch, preferably with the main stitch pattern the directions call for. Does the gauge on your swatch match the number indicated in the pattern? Do you like how it looks? If you have answered “yes” to these two questions you now have your official diploma in Yarn Substitution and you’re all set to legally practice this DARK ART at will, any time you wish.

Sometimes it’s tempting to pay attention to Amazon blatherers because it feels like their opinion must be better than our suspicions because they bought the book and took the whole thing in themselves while we did not. Now that I’ve glossed some of the most frequent negative opinions about the two One-Skein Wonders titles, I think we might judge some of these people as trolls, or just plain silly. The only observation that might be reliable or understandable is “too many mistakes.” This, of course, is subjective, but it really could be a valid reason to avoid a book for some people.

On the other hand, the projects in these two collections are really clever and help us yarniacs who tend to collect stray skeins here and there. Some are for crochet, too, even though the majority of them are for knitting. I think crocheters who don’t knit shouldn’t buy these books because the majority of the directions would be useless to them, but knitters who happen to crochet will be doubly thrilled. Both texts have the variety every knitter craves: bags, vests, socks, scarves, cowls, jewelry, various more accessories, and even decorative finishing touches to add to any project. In the original One-Skein Wonders (r) (2006) I particularly love: “Beaded Diamond Bag” by Diana Foster, “Crocheted Bag” by Deidra Logan, “Cozy House Socks” by Sue Dial , “Four-in-One Gaiter” by Nancy Lindberg,“Gossamer Shell Scarf” by Tamara Del Sonno,“Handpaint Highlights Socks” by Leah Oakley , and “Aran Tam” by Carol F Metzger . From the 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders (r) (2007) collection, I really admire “Basic Cable Mittens for the Family” by Marci Richardson ,“Broken Rib Socks” by Kathleen Taylor,“Cable That Bag!” by Chrissy Gardiner,“Kat’s Hat” by Diana Foster ,“Simple Mistake Rib Vest” by Karn J. Minott , and “Tucson Lattice Shawl” by Nancy Miller.

As far as the difference in the titles goes, the second book’s starts with the word “Designer,” which seems to give it more pizazz. In reality, the different wording has to do with where the patterns came from. In the first and earliest published set, One-Skein Wonders (r) (2006), the designs are by pretty cool yarn shop owners who thought it would be useful for their customers to give them patterns that only need one skein. So, the word “Designer” is used for the second one (2007) because the authors are not shop owners or hobbyists. The projects, really, come down to individual taste. If you only want to buy one of these and not both, I would suggest checking them out on Ravelry. You can see finished objects as well as the photos provided in the books. So, go to One-Skein Wonders on Ravelry to see all the patterns for the first title and just click on Designer One-Skein Wonders to see what the second set offers.

Both books organize the projects by yarn weight. This is especially convenient for those times we are thinking about a particular skein in our stashes and want some ideas on what to do with it. This structure makes consulting the text much more efficient. I also like the practical presentation of the designs, with very precise information about yardage and the number of items that can be made from one skein.

I recommend both of these collections to knitters, as well as knitters who crochet, that have some stray yarn and are looking for inspiration. There is enough variety in both books to please just about everyone. Errata haters, I understand your hesitation. For me, personally, it doesn’t matter, just as long as I have access to the corrections so I don’t drive myself crazy while trying to figure out “what went wrong” in the middle of my project.

Review: Crochet One-Skein Wonders (r)

Crochet One-Skein Wonders (r) by Judith Durant and Edie Eckman, Storey: 2016, 288 pages. Paperback and digital editions available. Grade: A

Do you crochet? If you’ve answered “yes” to this question, you will probably benefit from having this book in your library. The reason? If you often wield the hook, this means you have some singles lying around your stash. Even if you don’t, you are no doubt happy to crochet projects that only require a small amount. It’s cheaper to buy one ball than two or three. Also, a project that only needs one of something is fast to crochet, something I need so I can take a break from larger endeavors.

The number of projects to be crocheted with just one skein is impressive. I personally like books like these because sometimes I don’t feel like being creative and dreaming up my own way of using a ball or scraps. When I’m in the mood to plan and execute what I thought about, I’m all in on the creative process. Other times I just want to browse through some designs and find something to make and get on with crocheting right away. As a matter of fact, I love this collection so much I bought it twice: once for me and then another time for my sister at Christmas. In case you’re curious: she loves it, too. I have only made one item from it but plan to do more in the future. That was “Tunisian Croc Rock Cap” by Yvonne Cherry, which creatively combines Tunisian and standard crochet. I had so much fun making my first cap that I made a second one.

Then, there’s variety: toys, baby clothes, kitchen gear, projects with beads, hats, scarves, bags, table ware, and the list goes on. It’s really hard to pick some favorites because I like every single project in this collection. That’s right! I like all 101 of them and my life’s goal is to crochet every single one. That’s never going to happen, but I want to, I really really want to. There is just so much creativity here, also. To name a few examples: playing with self-striping yarn, as we see in “Autumn Camouflage Scarf” by Janet Brani, weaving, employed for “Boutique Weave Scarf” by Nirmal Khalsa, buttons with appliqué for “Fuzzy Tea Cozy by Melinda A. Sheehan, and felting with “Maywood Purse” by Brenda K.B. Anderson.

Finally, it isn’t necessary to use the recommended yarn for these items. For example, when I made my “Tunisian Croc Rock Cap” the first time, I used a “thick and thin” multi-colored number and it came out great. The second time I used some self-striping Katia City and I got really good results. The recommended skein-of-choice? Lorna’s Laces Worsted. The same can apply to the other patterns. Just think of the possibilities with the thread crochet stuff in this book, especially. You could even alter the gauge for some of them to make other things that are larger or smaller. For example, why not turn a coaster into an afghan square?

Crochet One-Skein Wonders (r) is very useful to me and it will continue to be handy in the future. I think crocheters who like to make small, quick projects, like to buy single skeins, or have leftover yarn from other projects will truly enjoy this book and go back to it again and again.

Review: 150 Knit and Crochet Motifs by Heather Lodinsky

150 Knit and Crochet Motifs by Heather Lodinsky, Interweave: 2011, 128 pages. Paper back and digital editions available. Grade: A+

I think it’s pretty obvious why I bought this book a few years ago. It’s for people who like to knit and crochet. Another motive for getting it is that I’ll never stop adding things to my library, especially motif books and stitch dictionaries. They provide me with lots of inspiration. Finally, I was eager to grab this title because it’s no-nonsense.

It’s just motifs and a handful of projects to illustrate how to use them. The book starts with a visual table of contents. A clear picture of each motif is presented and captioned with its page number. All dictionaries should be planned this way. It’s so much easier and time-saving to just see all the photos and decide which ones are appropriate for the project in mind. There are very few squares in favor of more interesting and unusual shapes. It’s delightful to see circles, leaves, flowers, and many other cool forms.

Although the idea here is to create interesting projects that combine knit and crochet, the reader doesn’t have to do that. I like the idea of combining the two crafts but I haven’t really got serious about it just yet. I see myself trying it out in the future.

After the motifs come five projects using some of the presented patterns: two beautiful afghans, a bag, and a cushion. The directions are very straight-forward and visual. I hope I have time in the future to try one out because they’re really beautiful designs.

At the end of the text comes a little tutorial on techniques. Among the more useful instructions are on how to fit motifs together and planning an original project.

Something that has come to mind while thinking about this book: It’s possible to combine stuff from this book with others from other catalogs, both knit and crochet.

This dictionary most certainly isn’t for everybody because some people only know how to do one craft or the other. I recommend this title to people who equally enjoy knitting and crocheting and would like to have a book with motifs made with the two methods. Anyone who is curious about creating original designs that combine knitting with crochet would also want to add this book to the pattern stash. I’m certainly not sorry I bought it. I hope in the future more references include a visual table of contents. It’s one of the strong points of this collection aside from the fact that I want to knit and crochet all the motifs now that I’ve perused it again!

Review: Stashbuster Knits by Melissa Leapman

Stashbuster Knits by Melissa Leapman, Potter Craft: 2011, 144 pages. Paperback and digital formats available. Grade: A+

Of all the books, leaflets, and digital patterns I have in my library, I ought to use this one, but I haven’t yet. I do have a ton of sock yarn scraps in my stash, as well as some stray skeins leftover from knitting sweaters that I should try to use up. When I decide to get going on this task, at least this book is waiting for me to use up my scraps.

Part 1 gives some very good advice on how to organize a yarn stash and get the scraps ready to use in a project. It’s very practical and straight-forward. Knitters who don’t know what they have in their stash or who frequently take a peak into it without being able to remember why they bought this or that skein will especially benefit from this how-to. I know what I have in my stash, but it is most certainly disorganized. If it grows any more I’ll have to tackle organization following this guide. The author includes a primer on joining scraps of yarn together to create a “customized variegated ball of yarn” and a very handy chart on how to substitute strands of yarn held together so that, for example, if you have some worsted weight and a few stray pieces of sport, you can combine strands of sport weight to knit it with the worsted.

Part 2 brings on the patterns. One of the most surprising aspects of this section is the variety of designs. Melissa Leapman didn’t leave out any type of project. There are sweaters, baby clothes, bags, bracelets, shawls, cowls, scarves, and the list goes on. It’s also very helpful that the patterns are organized by yarn weight. That way, if you say to yourself, “hmmm, I have a ton of sport yarn scraps” you can just go to that section and see if you want to use it up knitting this or that project. The variety of techniques that each pattern highlights is also impressive. Cables, colorwork, stockinette, garter stitch: All the bases are covered to bust any old stash.

As far as the patterns go, I like all of them. The photos definitely demonstrate that no one would ever know that they were knitted up with scraps. I think I would like to knit up just about everything. Of course, I don’t need everything in this book, so I won’t, but that’s how awesome the designs are. Just check out the “Cables and Colors” and “Sea of Blue” sweaters. They’re amazing. As a matter of fact, they’re so beautiful that they’re worth buying yarn especially to make them.

This book is for any knitter who is stumped about what to do with the variety of scraps lurking in the stash. Even if you have a mixed bag of stuff, with various amounts of sock, sport, DK, and worsted, you can combine it all to knit up something beautiful and stylish. I plan to use this book in the future, especially because I want to use up my sock yarn scraps and don’t see myself starting another afghan with it all.