Category: books

Crafty Reads: The Knitter’s Book of Socks

Clara Parkes has a very specific point of view with regards to knitting: her focus is yarn. Yarn being put in a position to shine and complement our FOs. So The Knitter’s Book of Socks is not about math or fit, it’s about how to perfectly match a sock pattern and a yarn.

The book starts by defining what we want out of a sock yarn. Socks work hard getting stretched over our feet just to be worn and then getting walked on all day, often in sweaty shoes. This means that a good sock yarn needs to be flexible, durable, and breathable. This will allow it to fit over our heels without dropping at our ankles, and last more than a single wear, and let us forget that our feet can be humid little monsters.

Next we get into the specifics of different fibers and how well they perform as sock yarn. She compares them to each criterion to make sure we end up with a lone fiber or a blend that supports our sock knitting goals. Often blends yield the best results – you can get the benefits and mitigate the negatives of each component if you get the percentages and the structure right.

A book about choosing yarn for socks wouldn’t be complete without covering yarn structure. Ply by ply we learn about durability, as well as whether the yarn tends to enhance or obscure texture based on how the strands naturally fall against each other and the shadows they make on the knitted surface. The last topic before the patterns is different stitches you can use for strength and elasticity.

The patterns are a fantastic range – from indestructible to house slippers, from vanilla to rainbow sprinkles. They’re wonderful if you already have a sock yarn you love and need a pattern to match it. And if you fall in love with a pattern and don’t have an appropriate skein in your stash, each pattern has a great description of the kind of yarn best suited to it.

This is a great continuation in Clara’s series of books about yarn and how best to use it. Her love of fiber arts is evident throughout. And it is a fabulous source for patterns for unusual sock yarns.

Sorry this month’s crafty read went up late. I really wanted to do Ysolda’s The Rhinebeck Sweater this month so I think we’ll do two crafty reads this month. Let me know below if there are more books you want to hear about.

Crafty Reads: Custom Socks

For years I have used the same sock pattern/recipe – David’s Toe-Up Sock Cookbook. It has a table for you to enter your measurements and every time I knit a sock I pull up the saved file on my phone and follow the well-trod ground. It fits me well, but as I have seen other knitters post about their different heels and gussets and toes I have wondered if maybe my one true sock was still out there waiting to be discovered. So this month I read Custom Socks: Knit to Fit Your Feet by Kate Atherley to see if I could find something better.

I was impressed from the first chapter, when the author revealed that she got 500 people to give her their detailed foot measurements. She analyzed the data to determine what an average foot looks like and how to write a pattern to fit it.  There’s a section to enter your own foot measurements and then handy charts to see if there are any places your feet deviate from average and would benefit from pattern modification (which is covered later in the book!). One of the most valuable things about the chart is it makes it far easier to knit socks for someone else – if they give you a single measurement (shoe size, foot length, foot circumference), you can plug it into the chart and end up with a pretty well-fitting sock.

The next chapter is more sock knitting tips – the best way to measure gauge, yarn weight equivalents when holding multiple strands, avoiding ladders, and how and wear to reinforce your socks. By the third chapter you’re ready to learn how to make a sock – she talks through both top-down and bottom-up construction in theory and then in detail, section by section. There are tables to plug in your stitch count and find the numbers for each section as well as the formulas to get your own stitch counts if your feet don’t fit the standard dimensions.

My description of the book is pretty factual because that’s what the book is like. It isn’t about what it feels like to wear a well-fitting sock or the author’s journey to appropriately-sized knits. It is math and tables and charts to follow and end up with awesome socks. I know this will be a reference I return to year after year and I won’t have to dig to find the information I am after, it will be plainly available.

The final two chapters are mostly math and theory. First she covers how to add stitch patterns to socks – what and when to adjust and what can be kept the same. Finally she discusses adjustments for non-average feet. One thing I really liked about this section is that she presented the situation (longer and skinnier than average, for example) and then several solutions. It felt like she pulled out all the stops to give every foot a path to the socks they want.

Of course I had to measure all the adult feet in my household after I finished the book. My husband and I both have average feet, but even still I want to experiment with some of the suggestions for non-average feet. I think my husband would enjoy some of the toe shaping variations she suggests. Next month I am going to further my socks reading with The Knitters Book of Socks if you want to read along!

Crafty Reads: The Intentional Spinner

So I know I said I would be reading Custom Socks: Knit to Fit Your Feet this month, but then I realized that since all my other July posts were spinning-related I should read a spinning related book, too. So CSKTFYF will be my book for August. This month instead I will be discussing the classic intro to spinning – The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin.

The first part of the book covers many different types of spinning fiber. The detail on where the fiber can be found and how it goes from its natural state to a spinnable fiber is incredible. The section on the science of fibers has a beautiful table of characteristics of different fiber types. It also includes some tests to help identify mystery fibers. Over and over throughout these chapters I wondered why so many great fibers are so rare. Ramie sounds great, but in the 7 years since this book was published it hasn’t taken off in much commercial yarn. 50/50 silk/cotton sounds like the ideal blend, but I’ve never tried it! It was fun to see the sidebar on the burgeoning organic cotton movement – much more vibrant today! I particularly loved this quote about protein fibers:

From animals as large as bison and as small as spiders, protein fibers are a natural wonder and a testament to both nature’s abundance and human ingenuity

— page 45

The next part of the book is the mechanics of different spinning and plying techniques. It starts at fiber prep and ends with washing the yarn and leaves out no detail in between. It is so much information that it can feel nearly overwhelming – it made me feel badly that my process is so much less thoughtful. I liked that after all of that detail she made it clear that the perfect yarn is the one that makes the cloth you want.

It was a great refresher to read back through all of this information. It also reinforced that I enjoy my distinctly unintentional spinning practice. I love buying prepared fiber and turning it into whatever yarn I feel like making that day. I will bring some tips from the book to my spinning, for sure, but I am also happy to leave the most advanced spinning to others.

Crafty Reads: The Modern Natural Dyer

Crafty Reads: The Modern Natural Dyer

I like doing crafty reads for a lot of reasons. I am lucky enough to have met many of the authors, and it is fun to see your friends’ knowledge and spirit made corporeal. I want to keep improving my skills as a crafter and read up on new techniques and skills. And I love filling my well with inspiration. This month’s crafty read, The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar ticks all of those boxes.

Everyone who I’ve spoken to about the book says the first thing first, “That book is so beautiful.” The photographs by Sarah Remington are stunning and make the book appropriate to display on your coffee table. It is more than beautiful, though, it is filled with detail on the process of dyeing with natural dyestuffs and you walk away ready to set up your own dye studio. Over and over I was struck by how magical it is that water and the plants in my yard can transform the fibers they touch. 

The first chapter is a catalog of materials you can use for dyeing and examples of the colors they can make. I would frame any of those photos on my wall, and the vocabulary of colors is equally luscious. Looking over those pages and reading the accompanying text reinforced that Kristine must be a magician, able to read tiny variables to create these potions of repeatable color.

In later chapters Kristine explains the tools she uses to make magic into science. A dyers notebook is touted as just as important a tool as the water for your dyebaths. The second half of the book is putting these theories into practice with projects you can complete. I was particularly inspired by two of them – flower printing, where you roll up flower heads in a material and come away with a ghostly after image of the flower, and surface design where you manipulate the material before dyeing to create patterns where dye was and was not able to reach.

This book is a special treat and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves beautifully colored fiber, whether you intend to dye or not. I am not sure how much dyeing I’ll end up doing, but I find myself planning a dye garden at home so I have the materials close at hand.

If you would like to read along with me, next month’s crafty read will be Custom Socks: Knit to Fit Your Feet by Kate Atherly.

Crafty Reads: Lotta Jansdotter’s Everyday Style

I adore my well-planned wardrobe. Putting intention into coordinating the shapes and colors and pieces was transformative for my crafting. I have always been a product crafter, but now in particular I know that new items will have a place in my closet. This is thrilling because I know that everything I make will be worn and loved. So, I was very eager to read this month’s crafty read, Lotta Jansdotter’s Everyday Style, which is an invitation to explore the author’s uniform.

The book has five core sewing patterns with variations – two tanks/tunics/dresses, one shorts/pants, one skirt, and one coat/jacket. The text is split into seasons, showing versions appropriate for each season, modeled by wonderful figures in Lotta’s life. At the end there’s a section showing the pieces remixed and restyled. Together it is a delightful representation of the patterns – I walked away with a great sense of the pieces overall and which one I was most excited to add to my wardrobe (an Esme tunic!).

Scattered throughout the book there are also fanciful accessories – patchwork scarves, tasseled shawls, fabric necklaces, giant pom-poms, and bags of every shape and size. Oh, and my new obsession, bias tape shoelaces. Accessories are such a fun source of variety in a uniform wardrobe. As quick, easy projects they can be an introduction to making for yourself for beginners, or a way for an expert to update a beloved ensemble without a huge investment of time.

This book has both information and inspiration. It really covers the five key pieces – suitable fabrics, styling ideas, fit – and includes the patterns for them are in the back to create your own. It also covers what Lotta likes in her wardrobe and provides plentiful inspiration there. What it doesn’t cover is how to find your own uniform of pieces. There is plenty of inspiration for how great a wardrobe made of a few pieces can be, and is a great jumping off point for further research on the topic.

Are you interested in the materials I would recommend to develop your own capsule wardrobe or uniform? Let me know and I can make it the topic of a future post! I would also love to hear if there are any books you recommend for future crafty reads.

Crafty Reads: The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters

Crafty Reads: The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters

After looking at the large pile of unread craft books on my shelf, I decided that I’m going to attempt to read one a month and talk about them here. One thing I’m really enjoying this year is expanding my pool of inspiration – there are so many wonderful ways to make functional and artistic objects with fiber and I want to draw on all of it.

So, for April I’m going to talk about The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting & Living Courageously by Sherri Lynn Wood (aka daintytime).

At another point in my life, this blog about my creative works would be about improvisational comedy. I performed professionally for 10 years and for a long time it was a central part of me. The focus on embracing mistakes, making your partner look good, and rolling with whatever happens was helpful, as those are skills are not my natural gifts. So, when I saw my local fabric shop was hosting a workshop on improv quilting I was intrigued, even though I didn’t really know what it meant.

Sherri Lynn is a wonderful teacher. She takes gentle command – listening to your ideas and feedback and inserting her POV when guidance is helpful. I was so inspired by her approach that I couldn’t wait to tear into this book. She presents improv modern quilting as setting limits for yourself – time, color palette, block size, block shape, materials – and creating within those limits. She groups these limits into 10 scores that she describes in detail with several examples at the end of each chapter. The scores really do remind me of improv games – they are similarly based on a set of rules within which you have total freedom to stretch.

After the nitty gritty of the tools needed, one of the first things she introduces you to is a mind tool for examining the results of your work without judgement. It is such a beautiful focus on process. When you improvise you aren’t always going to love what you create, but that doesn’t mean that time was wasted – you can learn from it and put it away for another day when it may come in handy.

Have you ever . . . battled a severe illness that kindled your sense of gratitude? . . . Sometimes limits are focused on us, and our human spirit makes something beautiful out of the hardship.

— pg 25

. . . I’m reminded that the creative process is nonlinear and even “failures” are not wasted effort but the worthy steppingstones of transformation.

— pg 108

I also like the sense of time and devotion that hand quilting visibly conveys

— pg 161

Over and over, she really spoke to me, not just as a crafter but as a person. I feel gratitude everyday for the ways that my life has been improved by cancer. I wish it hadn’t happened, but I am glad that there have been positive side effects. And YES! to celebrating failure. Failures are teachers and the fertile soil for future success. And another giant YES! to choosing the slow route that gives tactile pleasure and shows your investment in this piece. 

Not just a source of instruction for techniques and design consideration of improv modern quilting, this book was also serious eye candy. Here are links to all the quilts that made me gasp, made my heart race, and made me wish I could hang them on my wall to soak up everyday.

Against the Grain by Michelle McLatchy, pg 30

Curve by Lucie Summers, pg 57

Indigo Bloom by Latifah Saafir, pg 94

Letting Go by Drew Steinbrecher, pg 102

Beginning of the Universe by Carolyn Wong, pg 103

I’m really hoping to try one of these scores for myself. While I was reading score #4 spoke to me the most, patchwork doodling based on the “Yes, and!” concept in improv. Two of my very favorite quilts in the book came from score #9, patchwork curves. Which one do you think I should try? Have you used any of these scores or created your own?

Crafty Reads: Knitlandia

Crafty Reads: Knitlandia

I was fortunate this week to read exactly the right book for this moment in my life. My cancer treatment means I don’t venture far from home much and has the truly unfortunate side effect of leaving me unable to knit in the days following chemo. So it was comforting to lose myself in Clara Parkes’ Knitlandia – tales of her adventures traveling the world to explore and contribute to the knitting community.

One of the things I love most about this book is that while I was reading about Clara’s experiences, it felt deeply personal to me. Her stories don’t make you feel left out of exclusive events but invited along as her friend and confidante. I am extraordinarily lucky that I have attended several events depicted in the book and found myself nodding along at how well she captured the essence of each.

In the chapter on the first Vogue Knitting Live, Clara talks about the fact that we have to gather with our teachers because there is no knitting university that keeps them in one place. Over and over in the later stories I reflected on how lucky that makes us; we have these events on our home turf and our experts come to us to share their knowledge. We’re lucky that there are so many vibrant local knitting communities across the world and you’re not left out due to geography. The chapter about her Iceland adventures reveals that you can even be lucky enough to see these experts naked as part of a class. Clara jokes about the awkwardness of the situation, but truly, it is a credit to our special and intimate world.

TNNA is where I met Clara for the first time in real life and scored a coveted Claramel. Her optimism about capturing the magic of this event when it moves off our usual turf makes me sad that I’ll likely be sitting this year out. I plan to offer this chapter as a convenient reference to the next person who questions why I am so excited to go on a work trip to a yarn trade show.

I felt the most like kindred spirits reading the chapter about Rhinebeck. We share childhoods in upstate NY and going to the Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool Festival settles my senses on a deep level in the same way. It is a place where everything smells right (and I do not just mean the apple cider donuts). The shopping can be overwhelming and filled with lines, but Clara captures the beauty of the non-retail parts of the festival –  taking in the pan flutes and being surrounded by your people. It is a weekend of home.

As an avid baker, I am not surprised that Clara knew to save a sweet treat for last. I have never felt as inspired as my time at Squam. And just as Clara’s weekend there ended with a successful trunk show that cemented her place in the industry, finishing the book reading about my employer left me feeling solidly a part of a group that I sometimes suspect I snuck into. Mine is one of the four families that Ravelry supports. This book has made me contemplate my current role in the knitting community and what I aspire to. I am happy to say I am right where I want to be – using my technical skills to make a home for us digitally and using writing and photography to share my personal experiences as a crafter.

I am left inspired to share more of my personal Knitlandia. I hope that you’ll enjoy hearing about mine just as soon as you finish reading Clara’s.