Review: Celtic Cable Crochet by Bonnie Barker

Celtic Cable Crochet by Bonnie Barker, Interweave, 2016. 128 pages. Paperback and digital formats available. Grade: A

There are 18 patterns in this collection. All of them are intended for women to wear. I bought this book looking for inspiration because I think in the future I’d like to make up my own accessories and garments with crochet cables. The cover says that the designs are all “modern,” which I suppose means that the usual kinds of cabled items won’t be found in here. I definitely got what I wanted and was not disappointed by the “modern” descriptor. The designs all play with shaping just as much as they work with cable panels.

The two sweaters featured in this set are truly fine examples of creative design with cables. The “Binne Cardigan” has an interesting shape, ending at the bottom with subtle ruffles that aren’t too strong to annoy, but with just enough ripple to add more pizazz to it. The “Orlaith Robe Sweater” may have an unfortunate name, making it sound like a bathrobe, but it is a very tasteful coat with lots of texture and eye candy.

The two ponchos, one of them a wrap “hybrid,” could be turned into afghans, and the hats and cowls are also very exciting, both to wear and crochet. There’s even a sweater-wrap hybrid, an innovative shape that seems to be becoming very popular lately in several crochet magazines. As with most books, it’s helpful to check out its Ravelry page to see how everything looks before considering purchasing the title.

The instructions look clear enough to understand and the sizing is also varied enough for people to work out something that will give them a good fit.

I think people that want to add cables to their crochet pattern collection would like to have this book as well as anyone like me that is looking for inspiration in their own creative efforts.

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Review: The Art of Slip-Stitch Knitting by Faina Goberstein and Simona Merchant-Dest

The Art of Slip-Stitch Knitting by Faina Goberstein and Simona Merchant-Deste, Interweave, 2015, 176 pages. Grade: B+. Digital formats available.

The Art of Slip-Stitch Knitting is a pretty good book. I must admit, though, that it disappointed me a little. I wanted more stitch patterns in the dictionary. I would say that a large number of stitch patterns have been documented in other books. On the other hand, the authors made up several of their own for this book, which is a positive note worth emphasizing and really makes this title worth having. I suppose someone in the future will need to write the definitive tome on slip-stitch knitting with every single thing ever invented in it. I would love to have a reference book on that. Anyway, here’s how this book is organized: Each chapter, following the first one about how to slip-stitch knit, covers a particular style of slip-stitch knitting, a dictionary of stitch patterns that fits in that category, and ends with some patterns for garments and accessories that use some of the documented stitches.

Chapter 1, as I’ve mentioned, outlines the techniques employed in slip-stitch knitting. It covers a lot of techniques of how to execute stitches with success, offering advice on tension and the different effects that can be achieved by slipping with the yarn in front versus back, etc. I’m pretty sure this is the most thorough explanation of every aspect of these techniques and the illustrations show what it describes very well. There is even advice on color choices, with photos of bad combinations. I think anyone who is new to slipping stitches would benefit tremendously from this chapter.

The second unit is when the stitches and patterns start appearing. This one, called “Traditional Slip-Stitch Patterns,” offers a dictionary of stitches that reiterate a lot of what Barbara G. Walker and others have documented. I think it’s good that the authors included a chapter like this, sampling some of the older and well-known stitches, so that knitters that are new to the technique can have a useful starter set. For someone like me, who has been slipping stitches since the age of the dinosaurs, this section would have stood out for the patterns. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything I’d like to make. Maybe in the future I’ll change my mind, but for now, I don’t want to make anything here. If you’d like to see all the designs in this book you should go to its Ravelry page and see everything that this text has to offer. There is a whole lot more here for women. More than likely, very slender women, like all the models in the book. This, indeed, is another negative aspect. All the models are young and slender. I have no idea how the sweaters would look on someone with some more meat on their bones.

“Woven Slip-Stitch Patterns” is the title of Chapter 3. Don’t get confused about the word “woven.” There isn’t any weaving here. The word refers to how the stitches look, especially thanks to slipping with the yarn in front. I like a lot of the stitches and I think I’ll try some of them out in the future. Again, the patterns don’t appeal to me, but I’m a man looking for things to make for myself. Women will have better luck, I think, although I must admit I wouldn’t make any of the clothes for the women I know.

Chapter 4 is all about “Fancy Slip-Stitch Patterns” which involve interesting textures and colors. I like the dictionary quite a lot. Again, the garments and accessories are not speaking to me right now. I have to confess that sometimes I don’t like patterns at one point in time but then in the future I’m into them because something about my taste has changed or maybe I just look at the samples in a different way.

Finally, in Chapter 5 we have the long-awaited stitches created by the authors themselves. They are awesome. There’s even advice here on how to transform stitch patterns into something else more innovative. There are some patterns for clothes and accessories, here, to bring the total for the entire book to 16 patterns. Not bad, really, considering that there’s also a stitch dictionary.

I’ve given this book a B+ because I wanted it to be more than it is. I guess I just wanted more dictionary and fewer patterns for clothes and accessories. I have not given my B+ grade because of the patterns, however. I am capable of giving an A to a book with patterns I’ll never use because of the explanation of something new, or just good advice on techniques.  I wanted more stitches in one place. However, I’m really glad I got the book even though it doesn’t make me gush. I like the new inventions the authors included in the final chapter and I’m sure I’ll play with them in the future. I’m believe  I’ll at least change my mind about the scarves and cowls. I do not doubt that crafters new to slip-stitch knitting will benefit the most from this book. More experienced knitters might not need this, unless they’re willing to pay for having some new slip-stitch patterns that haven’t been published elsewhere.

Review: Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders

Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders by Judith Durant. Storey Publishing, 2012. 288 pages. Digital formats also available. Grade: A

I am sock yarn’s number 1 fan. I think it’s fun to buy a random skein of it here and there. Obviously, I had to have this book. It has not disappointed me. Although it’s true that I have yet to make anything out of this book, the time when I will in fact knit up something featured in the collection is approaching. As a matter of fact, a long time ago I bought some orange Spud and Chloe 4-ply yarn with one pattern in mind, which is the “Candleglow Scarf.”

This book is different from others in the One-Skein Wonder series because all of the patterns call for the same type of yarn. So, instead of grouping the patterns by weight they are grouped by the usual categories: socks, scarves, shawls, mittens, etc. The knitting samples are all photographed well and the patterns are written clearly.

One of the refreshing things about this title is how, although focused on sock yarn, it does not overdo the variegated and self-striping material. I think there is a good balance between patterns that call for multi-colored yarn as well as solid colors.

Also, knitters who like making children’s clothes and accessories will be pleased to find a special section devoted to this category.

Even though I’m most eager to get going on the scarf pattern I mentioned above, my favorite section in this book is the one for gloves and mittens. The designers really outdid themselves with some very original and creative glove designs. There are a good number of mittens and gloves that go all the way up to the fingertips as well as some fingerless mitts. If you would like to see all the patterns in the collection, have a look at its Ravelry page.

This book will be handy for knitters like me who tend to accumulate skeins of sock yarn. Sometimes, it can be tough to decide what to do with these little treasures we keep in the stash and an arsenal of patterns like this can help in the decision-making process. As a matter of fact, I have more than one skein of sock yarn in my stash that will probably not be turned into socks thanks to this useful book.

Review: Interweave Crochet vs. Simply Crochet

In this review my goal is to evaluate two crochet magazines in a very general way. I’m doing this mostly because I used to be a fan of magazines. I actually had subscriptions. Two years ago I canceled all of my magazine subscriptions but I still continue to buy single issues here and there of two related to crochet, which are the titles being examined here. I think it’s important to compare them because, in my humble opinion, they are the two best crochet magazines out there. I buy one of them on occasion because I just have to have such-and-such pattern I saw on Ravelry. The other one is a title I get more frequently just for fun because it has innovative designs in it. Can you guess which is which after reading this review? Can you feel my sadness of having to say all at once that these are the two very best yet not worth subscribing to?

I’m going to discuss my general comparisons according to these categories: publication frequency, price, design innovation, regular columns, and presentation. I’m not going to give them a grade because I think it isn’t appropriate in this case. Grading a whole magazine is like putting a price on a life. Periodicals have histories and go through different phases.

Frequency

Interweave Crochet is a quarterly publication. So, if you order a subscription, you only get four issues a year. The subscription is $21.95 US for the print edition and $19.95 on Amazon for the Kindle edition. Single issues cost $7.99.

Simply Crochet is a monthly publication. It costs $59.99 US for a digital subscription. Single issues are similarly priced to those of Interweave Crochet.

Price

Proportionally speaking, the pricing of both magazines is fair in the sense that they cost about the same as any old magazine. (See above)

Design Innovation

Both magazines attempt to show off modern style and trends as well as introduce readers to new techniques. Interweave Crochet has been brave in that it occasionally provides sweater patterns intended for men (no, they don’t want crochet sweaters usually, alas) whereas Simply Crochet does not (how brilliantly practical, my dear Watson!). I’d say, however, that overall Simply Crochet wins in innovation. It always provides patterns for interesting accessories and clothing that are equally practical and decorative. I often open an issue of Simply Crochet and say at least once, “Huh! I never thought of doing that!” One memorable issue has a pattern for a Tunisian crochet sweater done in the round on a cro-hook. I plan on making this sweater some day for myself, but with different colors. I might add that this is very unusual to find in a magazine. Another favorite of mine is something I actually crocheted: woven potholders. One side of the potholder is made of strips of single crochet woven together. The other side is a crochet square. The strips are held to the other side by crocheting around the edge of the potholder, not by slip stitching or sewing or other “boring” technique.

I think Interweave Crochet most often excels at publishing “viral” patterns from time to time. They are not necessarily difficult or challenging, but are popular because they’re easy to make as well as surprisingly different to look at. The Babette Afghan is a fine example of this type of pattern. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Babette. I just don’t think it’s a grand challenge to create which is why it’s so popular. In my opinion, it’s a good one to make to use up a ton of scraps, perhaps another reason why it’s gone all viral.

Regular Columns

Interweave Crochet‘s regular columns are not very interesting to me. Often, they talk about something floating around on the Internet. One of their biggest mistakes was to introduce readers to free form crochet by giving a pattern for making an object that looked free form. The author totally missed the point of what the term “free form” actually means. Another time there was a regular author who attempted to uncover the mystery behind creating interesting color designs with self-striping yarns. The goal was to “set the record straight” and help readers who might have been misinformed by untrue things people have said on the ‘net that were just plain wrong. The problem here is that Crochet Crowd had already done this and the article was available for people to see for free. Another time, one of the designers wrote about how he hated that people used a color different from the suggested one in his pattern. I mean, really, people, you have to make everything just like the picture! In conclusion, the regular columns in this magazine are not very interesting. I also call all crocheters to make all the things with a color other than the one pictured or suggested by the designer to send a bold message out there. Oh, never mind, that was already done with everything.

This is not to say that Simply Crochet‘s are any better. I begin reading one and my eyes glaze over with boredom. I can’t remember anything I read. Mostly, they are incomplete instructions for some trendy technique or an interview with somebody without asking very challenging questions.

The stories in both magazines about how crochet has helped people or charity work are very interesting, of course!

In conclusion, it seems both magazines think that people buy their issues because they want patterns and pretty pictures.

Presentation

Overall, Simply Crochet‘s presentation is a big winner. Interweave Crochet has recently tried strange photographs in which the models appear in unreal or unusual settings. Other times, they don’t show me what I need to know about the finished object. Sometimes models wear their sweaters with the sleeves rolled or riding up (shocking, yes). In Simply Crochet the photos are a little more practical. The goal, I suspect, is to give us a good view of the piece and make it pleasing to the eye with colorful props and sharp images.

Conclusion

The magazine issues I buy most often out of simple curiosity are from Simply Crochet. I buy issues of Interweave Crochet very rarely because I see a must have pattern on Ravelry. Overall, I’d suggest not subscribing to either and just buy one or two individual issues a year. In the end, I believe this manner of buying them has saved me a lot of money. I am actually very sad to say this because for me it was like Christmas twelve months a year to have magazine subscriptions. Every month somebody sent me something nice and I momentarily forgot I had paid for it. I not only had subscriptions to craft magazines. I had also subscribed to many others such as National Geographic. I really hope that magazines work out how to compete with the Internet more effectively. Right now it just doesn’t make much sense to subscribe to anything anymore. My advice to craft magazines in particular would be to assign tasks to regular contributors such as: research something unusual or invent something nobody can find on the Internet. The old way of doing it is old, you know?

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.