Thursday, January 18, 2007


I've been meaning to mention various books and TV shows lately, and keep forgetting. So I'm gonna jumble it all together here.


"Knitting Out of Africa" by Marianne Isager. I want to emphasize first off that I like the book. There are some things I didn't like about it, but overall you are getting what you paid for; African-inspired sweaters. The sizes available vary by sweater but most lurk in the 40-50 inch range. Some go down to 34 (at least, one does), some go up to 52, but that's about it. The sizes would be easy to tweak by knitting at a larger or smaller gauge, though. And speaking of gauge, it's 25 stitches per 4 inches/10cm. For Every. Damn. Sweater. A variety of techniques are used - garter stitch, entrelac, meiters, log-cabin, stranded color, you name it. In that respect the book is very impressive.

Now, the drawbacks. The yarn used is an alpaca/wool blend I've never heard of, for every sweater. Two strands held double. While that can give you great options for color blending, you have to buy twice as much yarn, and it's kind of a pain to work. Plus the alpaca makes all these sweaters really hot. She chooses muted colors reflecting the original textiles that I assume were dyed with assorted vegetable dyes (and mud, in the case of mud cloth), which may be historically valid but some of these sweaters would look fantastic in bright colors - she could have at least included some small swatches to give ideas and examples of the possibilities.

My one big complaint is, there's no INFORMATION in the book. It's supposedly inspired by African textiles, and there are photos of each textile at the start of each pattern, but other than that and the general area the textile came from, that's it. No info on the textiles themselves or the people who produced them. I suppose since it's a knitting book I shouldn't complain, but darn it, part of the reason for buying books about cultures not my own is so I can learn about the culture.

At any rate, all the sweaters are wearable and flattering to an average size and shape figure. The inevitable animal prints (giraffe and zebra) were dealt with with more originality than I'd expected.

"Bags - A Knitter's Dozen" from XRX books. (I'd post a cover photo here, but yet again, Blogger is fucking up.) Twenty-one bags to knit. There's a decent amount of variety here (not on the level of 'Folk Bags', but then I don't think anyone will ever top that one for diversity); felted, non-felted, beaded, traditional wools to ribbon yarns, you name it. The patterns are laid out in classic XRX style, which I like, but they're pretty stingy with schematics. I don't care if it's a damn square, I want to see a square with measurements written on it. And they don't deliver in that respect. They do the usual song-and-dance with techniques, with a bit on needle felting the only unusual thing. The drawback, as always in XRX books, is the photography. I can't see the damn bags. Sure the models look great. I don't CARE. I want to see enough of the bag that I can tell what I'm looking at. In many cases here, you can't. (There's one drawstring-bag type deal I think I want to knit, but there's no schematic and the picture sucks, so I'm still not 100% sure how it's constructed.)

It has occurred to me that bag knitting would use up some of these odd balls too. Heh. Hello, Christmas presents.

"Freeform Knitting and Crochet" by Jenny Dowde. I think I paid $18 USD for this book. The section in the front on color and design was worth the entire cost of the book. Which is good, because the rest of it is kind of eh. Many of the projects look like grandma using up extra scraps, which isn't what I'm shooting for when doing off-road no-pattern projects. And they don't make me go "Holy SHIT, how did she do that??!!?" like "Unexpected Knitting" still does after dozens of readings. (By golly, if I'm going to color outside the lines, I want it to look FANTASTIC. This is a failing of mine that dates back to childhood. At least I've quit crying when my experiments don't turn out just like I wanted them to.)

Still, I always enjoy learning how other people work, what they do for creative inspiration, and how they express it. So no, I don't feel ripped off by the book. But it's not something I would buy for patterns. Think of it more as an art book than a knitting book, and choose accordingly.

It's always a challenge around here to find something we agree on to watch. I lean toward general history and science, the husbeast prefers military history and dumb movies, and The Baby always wants cartoons. Add in that I don't like The Baby to see violence on TV (I've given up on profanity, with the way we speak), and the few TV shows we can find, we end up devoted to. Here are a couple we've really enjoyed lately. You may find them boring or uninteresting, but they should be completely inoffensive.

"How it's Made" is a Canadian show (yay, Canukistan!) that essentially does factory tours and shows how, duh, things are made. From hockey gloves to baby chickens to aluminum foil to gummy bears, if it's manufactured, they've either done a segment on it or are planning to. It's usually on in the early evenings when we're all running around doing dinner, playing with the baby, and otherwise doing "Husbeast just got home" stuff. Dinner preparation has been known to halt while I watch how they make plate glass. Or buttons. Or cotton yarn. Or...

"Good Eats" is a cooking show by Alton Brown on the Food Network. Imagine the biggest science geek you know, being trained as a chef, and doing his own TV show. And don't forget to add in the really goofy sense of humor. The guy won a James Beard Award for his book - the one that contained recipes for corn dogs and home-made pop tarts. The man is mad. I love him. Plus you can get all his recipes at I suggest the Chocolate Lava Muffins.

And lastly, BLOGS:
I normally don't comment on other blogs here because we all kind of know each other from the comments or mentions in other knitting blogs, etc. But these are two that aren't knitting blogs.

Opera Chic is the ongoing tale of an American woman living in Milan who is an opera and classical music fan. I mainly read it for the dish, which is hilarious even if you have no idea who half the people are. She's also got some nice commentaries on classical music if you enjoy that (I do). But it's all about the dish. The latest scandal is a production of Salome in Rome that features the heroine running about naked or scantily clad (g-string) for much of the performance. Click here for one of the most hilariously censored photos I've yet to see on the 'net.

And lastly, a photography blog, Strobist. Or rather, a lighting-for-photography blog. I skim it most days, but he offers a lot of very good advice for anyone whose knitting photos never turn out right (like me?) I've just begun reading, but I forsee a great improvement, soon.


Sarah said...

I havent read any of those books, but I do love the two shows you mentioned and for the same reasons, hubby likes totally different show than I for the most part. Except Bones and Heroes and sometimes House, but those are all after the monkees are in bed shows.

April said...

Canuckistan? CANUCKISTAN?!?

Off with her head!

Amy Lane said...

Hey--have you checked out 'Dirty Jobs' yet? They had one on shaving an alpaca--they let the guy in charge of the show shave an alpaca and he totally SUCKED at it...all I could think of was 'if I got a skein of alpaca with these teeny tiny short fibers in it I'd be PISSED!'.

Bells said...

Yay. Reviews! Well that killed 10 minutes of work time. Always grateful for distractions from work, Julie.

LOVE that censored photo. he he.

Sheepish Annie said...

Good recommendations! I tend to get in a rut with the blogs and the TV. It's nice to think about trying something new and different!

KnitTech said...

You mean, Alton Brown, my future husband. :)