Karie Bookish Dot Net

Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Painted Woolly Toppers For Kids

If you asked me which designers I really admire and why, Woolly Wormhead would be one of the first names out of my mouth. There are many things to admire: the well-defined aesthetic, the technical know-how, the way she photographs her work, and the fact that Woolly runs a sustainable and ethical business.

For me, personally, I also admire the playfulness and sheer fun she brings to her knitting designs. Knitting can feel so very serious at times with stone-faced models in crumpled linen dresses glaring across a misty forest lake whilst wielding an Estonian lace shawl made from unicorn yarn. Now look at this photo and don’t tell me it doesn’t bring a smile to your face.

aranivymae-lr

If this photo doesn’t appeal to your sense of mischief, Woolly’s work probably isn’t for you. But you’re missing out on a lot of fun knits!

Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids follows on from Woolly’s 2015 book, Painted Woolly Toppers. Like its parent (huh-huh), the new book explores how to use handpainted yarns in ways that show them at their best. Woolly has designed 10 Hats for kids – and all Hats carry stonking appeal both for the knitters and the kids.

chesser-lr-1

Chesser (photo above) is one of my favourites. It is knitted in Skein Queen Crush DK (other dyers in the book include Countess Ablaze, OMA, Ripples Crafts, Five Moons, and Yarns From The Plain).

Look at the construction: sideways, up the way, small bits adding decoration. It is a Hat pattern that showcases the colours of the yarn without being overwhelmed by them. And the construction keeps the knitting interesting (yet never difficult).

Now look at this from a kid’s vantage point. Does this look like yet another dull Hat your mum tells you to wear because it’s cold? NOPE. It’s an exploding rocket ship! It’s a crown! It’s an alien fruit! It’s a chicken’s bum! It’s an astronaut’s helmet! It’s AWESOME!

I may be projecting a bit here (I would totally have wanted this Hat as a kid), but I love the combination of knitterly interest and hat mischief.

And Chesser isn’t the only Hat that has that combination – all of them do  – and that is what I admire so much about Woolly’s work.

I learn so much from Woolly’s patterns – whether it is a new way of approaching short rows or a different take on how to construct a Hat – and I often find myself wishing I could knit every one of her hats just to find out how did she do that? But I am also reminded that knitting should be fun and fill me with joy. I look at the kids having fun in front of the camera wearing awesome Hats and I want to knit every one of them for the kids in my extended family.

And that, dear readers, is a sign of a jolly good knitting book.

mobberley-hr-3

Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids. I have done karaoke with Woolly, we share a birthday, and I know that she would want me to share my honest opinion. So, here you go: the book is great fun and it rocks.

The book is launching later this month and will retail at £10 (PDF) or £16.99 (printed). Just in time for you to make some awesome Hats for Christmas (and use up some of those single skeins I know you have in your stash). Sign up to Woolly’s newsletter or follow her on Twitter/IG for more news regarding the launch.

(All photos used here are  © Woolly Wormhead 2016)

Review: Blacker Yarns Tamar

Knitting has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. When I first got back into knitting, we had all sorts of fibres available to us: silk, cotton, bamboo, pineapple, banana, milk and .. well, wool. Some yarns stated they were merino wool but most yarns just said wool. If you are a keen knitter, you may have noticed that has changed.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of people like Clara Parkes and Deb Robson, us ordinary knitters now understand that wool is not just wool. There are many different sheep breeds – each offering their own particular type of fleece which has its own properties. Some breeds have a lot of lustre, other breeds have very strong fibres etc. We also talk about knitting local (Ms Knit British is exceptionally vocal about this!) and we are beginning to understand that what different wools have to offer. Here in the UK we are lucky enough to have companies like Blacker Yarns that are truly passionate about all the different sheep breeds around us and what they have to offer a hand-knitter.

This blog post has been a long time in the making: I am passionate about making people think about what yarns they are using and how different yarns act differently; I am also passionate about making sure my yarn has not travelled more times around the globe than I have; I also worry about animal welfare and the provenance of fibres. These things matter to me as a knitter.

So, I was sent a small sample of Blacker Yarns’ new yarn, Tamar – a mix of Teeswater, Leicester Longwool and Wensleydale. I wound it by hand because I wanted to feel its handle before I started working with it. It has a certain stickiness to it which I found interesting given its description of having drape and lustre. I am not a spinner and words like drape and lustre made me think of silk. Tamar was definitely not silky as I wound it.

Then I began knitting with it. I started out using the stitch pattern I also used for Frances Herself – a small motif with a stocking stitch centre encircled by decreases. Tamar responded beautifully with a touch of halo. Then I switched to stocking stitch and I saw why the yarn was described by having drape and lustre. It flowed off the needles with a cheery little kick. I liked the fabric. Finally I did some rows in garter stitch. This was probably my favourite knitting experience. The yarn produced a light fabric with a lot of bounce, but crucially the drape was still there.

IMG_20160303_111714-horz

Let me explain.

If you are working with garter stitch, you usually end up with quite a dense, bouncy fabric which stays put. You have to compensate for the density by switching up needle sizes (e.g. if you are working a shawl in garter stitch and you want to introduce some drape – this is where designers’ yarn suggestions are crucial). I was so pleased when I realised that Tamar retained its drape despite the bouncy garter stitch. As a designer, that is really rather cool. I sat thinking how I’d respond to the yarn during the design process. I wouldn’t need to make as many compromises on my needle size which meant I could be slightly more particular about design features. It’s always joyful when a yarn provokes such responses in you.

The palette of the yarn is beautiful. The grey tone of the Leicester Longwool gives the dyed shades a really lovely muted look. I also like the range of colours. It feels wonderfully well worked out with dark, mid-, and light tones all represented. This is perfect for colourwork purposes and I really appreciate when a yarn company takes that into account.

IMG_20160303_111643-horz1

Verdict?

Tamar is a beautiful, beautiful yarn. It is fantastic to see Blacker Yarns continuing to develop yarns that are breed-specific and take the knit local ethos seriously. It is also fantastic to see a yarn that feels so very, very thoughtful. As a knitter I feel very fortunate; as a designer, I find it incredibly exciting.

And just because I sometimes get the urge to say it: I don’t do sponsored content. I carry a strict policy on what I review and write about. I need to fall in love with something before I decide to write about it. I was sent a small sample of Tamar by Blacker Yarns, but that is not why I wrote this blog post. I wrote it because I fell in love. It’s that straightforward.

PS. If you are neither in the States nor in the UK, I am very sure you also have local sheep breeds. I urge you to do your own research and see what your local yarn companies are doing. Some places have very ancient sheep breeds – like Iceland, the Faroes, and Norway – but I would love to know more about other parts of the world. Please leave a comment telling me about your local sheep and yarns!

Review: Liz Lovick (ed.) – Centenary Stitches – Knitting in Wartime.

Tomorrow I am at Glasgow’s The Lighthouse design centre for a study day on Knitting in Wartime. No better time to take a look at Liz Lovick’s excellent Centenary StitchesCentenary Stitches is the result of Lovick’s work on providing historically accurate costuming for a film set during World War One, and the book is as comprehensive and authoritative as you’d expect from Liz Lovick.

CS_shawls

Leading a team of more than one hundred volunteers from the UK and the US, Lovick has pulled together a book that features more than 70 patterns – most of which are lovingly updated vintage patterns from the 1910s. Together with over one hundred volunteer knitters and a strong technical team, Lovick undertook the mammoth task of not just updating the knitting terminology, but also offering a larger selection of sizes. I really enjoyed reading the little notes to each pattern – for instance, Liz Lovick says this about the cream shawl pictured above:

Although most of the shawls at the time were square, there were some triangular ones. I found this one in Columbia Yarn books. Like many patterns of the time, this one had several mistakes in the lace section. These have been corrected!

Maybe it’s just my sense of humour, but I found these glimpses of ‘behind the scenes’ very entertaining. A lot of work clearly went into transcribing and ‘translating’ the patterns with some amount of good-willed frustration thrown in for good measure.

CS_child

The patterns themselves are interesting. Some are clearly period pieces, but other patterns seem ageless. As you’d expect, I really found the array of shawls fascinating. The children’s patterns are good, basic garments – I chose to highlight this gansey which is a Liz Lovick original design. I like its simplicity and versatility. It really feels timeless – even with the flat cap and the plaid trousers. Other patterns are really interesting because of their specific context: riflemen’s gloves, helmet/balaclava patterns and simple cushions for the soldiers to bring into the trenches.

CS_soldier

And war does cast its shadow all over this book. Lovick provides plenty of context for the patterns. The photography is handled with much sensitivity and includes screen captures from the film, Tell Them of Us. The book benefits from several long essays that lends context to some of the editorial choices – from where the film was shot to which patterns were selected. The film tells the story of one Lincolnshire family and how World War One affected them. If you are someone who usually skips straight to the patterns, I recommend taking your time. The essays are very good and meaty.

I rarely come across knitting books like Centenary Stitches but I think we need to celebrate efforts like this book. I am always very, very pleased to see ambitious knitting books that seek to treat knitting as both craft and social history – and Lovick’s book certainly delivers that. The book was clearly a labour of love for the people involved with it and I applaud the tenacity behind its existence.

It is not your standard knitting book and it is all the better for it.

CS_walk

(Thank you to Liz Lovick and Elly Doyle who both suggested I would enjoy the book. You were so very right. All photos by Pauline Loven and published with permission)

Review: Defarge Does Shakespeare

I was asked by the lovely folks at Cooperative Press if I wanted a review copy of the forthcoming Defarge Does Shakespeare. As a former English Grad with a ‘keen interest in knitting’ (euphemism), I could not resist. So, just to make things clear, I was given my review copy for free because CP wanted to hear my thoughts. Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

ddsDefarge Does Shakespeare is the third book in CP’s Defarge series. The series features knitting patterns inspired by classic literature (and is named after a knitter in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities) and now the focus has landed on good, old Will Shakes.

The first thing that caught my eye was that the book is divided into Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies – just like the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. It betrays a level of literary nerdery that I can only applaud. Each pattern is accompanied by an essay in which the designer writes about the play she has been working with and how the design developed. If you are unfamiliar with Shakespeare plays, or only know the really famous ones, then the essays are a great read. For me, the literary analyses were less interesting (I’m very tetchy about these things, sorry!) but I really enjoyed reading about the design processes.

Most of the 29 designs are accessories. Six sock patterns (all of them very strong; is a Madame Defarge Does Socks book forthcoming?), 15 other accessories, two home items, two baby items (including the very witty Exeunt, Pursued by Bear (reference) baby cardigan by Amy Tyszkiewicz), and three garments.

I particularly liked the Twelfth Night-inspired socks by Elizabeth Green Musselman called The Yellow-Gartered Dude Abides which are both fun to look at and also calls back very specifically – and wittily – to the text that inspired them. The socks have two different cuff options and they function amazingly well as a nudge-wink to historical costumes and as a 21st century knitting design. Kudos!

Another stand-out is the puntastic The Taming of the Shrug by Heather Ordover. Obviously inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, Heather’s design is reversible so you can either be a flame (Katherine) or a leaf (Bianca). The shrug can also be knitted in two different weights – I always like when this is given as an option. The ‘Bianca’ option is especially appealing with its quirky lace edging. I have up-coming bridesmaid’s duties and this shrug is now on the list of ‘cover up them shoulders’ options.

There is a lot to like about Defarge Does Shakespeare and you can spend a great deal of time digging through this book. Apart from the designers already mentioned, It has a really distinctive feel that is different to many other knitting books I have seen, and it is unashamedly nerdy about William Shakespeare. If you know a literature student who loves knitting small projects, DDS would make a very thoughtful gift.