Saturday, May 30, 2009


There are actually gonna be a couple book reviews around here... I got wild last pay day and someone actually sent me a book and ASKED me to review it (amazing, in light of the VK Issues), but it's a nice book so I wanna comment about that too. But today's review is gonna be about the fashion stuff mostly, because that's what I've been babbling about. The last pair of books reviewed ARE about knitting specifically, so you can scroll down if you wanna. As always, there is no test later.

First up, my current (really dry) read, "20,000 Years of Fashion" by Francois Boucher.

The scholarship is top notch, which I've gotta say is the only reason I'm reading it straight through. I've had this book for at least ten years, and used it for reference on articles and papers and blog posts, but I never sat down and READ it before. This is an exhausting survey of WESTERN clothing, starting off with stone age statues and stuff pulled out of burials and peat bogs and the like. Again, the scholarship can't be beat. It presents facts and points out similarities and admits there's not enough research done in many cases for further speculation. However. The prose itself is pretty brutal. (And remember, I'm used to text-books and tech manuals.) The book was originally written in French, and whoever did the translation I think worried more about word-for-word than 'give the gist and make it easy to read'. An example: "These analogies permit us to suppose, until fuller research has been carried out, that the various streams of Mediterranean trade and civilization gave Iberia styles borrowed from Eastern and Central Mediterranean costume, perhaps as early as the second millennium, but more probably in the course of the first." ...yeah. Not for the faint of heart. I've known chemistry text-books that were easier reads. For everyday normal people? Get it from the library, flip through it for the cool pictures, and keep it in mind for any time you want to look up something. Only lunatics would read this thing through, let alone buy it.

Next up? Some books on fashion design. I'm pairing this set and the next because in both cases the books are very similar, with one more casual and the other more technical and detailed.

For casual, "Fashion 101, a crash course in clothing" by Erika Stadler.

This is a cute, useful book, and I think anyone interested in clothing - like, say, knitters - would enjoy it, at least as a read from the library. Maybe not as a purchase, though I think it'd make a good addition to a knitting library. Anyway, the book is divided into sections: Dresses and skirts, tops and coats, pants and shorts, shoes, underthings. There are also accessory sections on jewelry, hats, belts, and hand bags. It's done in a casual, informal style, but it contains a big chunk of information. Each type of clothing is listed - A line dress, Apron dress, Baby-Doll dress, Ball gown, etc. Then within each heading are a description, a short history about who made it and who famously wore it, and then the fun bit "How to rock it", with suggestions for how to wear it. Unfortunately they don't get much into different body types and what flatters whom, but still, with half a brain, your own measurements, and this book, you can figure it out pretty well, yourself. Ever wonder what the diff is between pedal pushers, capris, and clamdiggers? It's in here.

In a similar vein is "The Fashion Designer's Directory of Shape and Style" by Simon Travers-Spencer and Zarida Zaman.

Obviously, this book takes itself a lot more seriously, and concentrates more on the high fashion we've discussed around here. I got it for the detail. Unlike the other book, it does get into detail on body types and what cuts flatter what parts of the body, though they seem to labor under the delusion that every woman in the world is a size six or less. Still, it does hit the high points of the history of fashion, what looked good on who when, and the 'directory of shapes' is really cool if you've ever considered making your own designs. For instance, the sleeve section contains line drawings of eighteen types of sleeves and shoulder treatments, with descriptions of each. Then the next pages show sixty-eight (!) line drawings of classic types of sleeves - vest, coat, capelet, etc, with suggestions on what types of fabric suit each style best - woven heavy, stretch, woven light, sheer, etc. Then photo examples from runway shows (heaven help us). Further sections cover necklines and collars, waist bands, pockets, cuffs, closures, hems, and then discusses fabric types and what they're good for. A different kind of book, not 'fun' like the other, but helpful for design ideas. If you want or need design ideas.

Lastly, well, I've been looking into top-down knitting for the same reasons everyone else has lately. It's easy to tailor your knits to your body type, and iffy yarn requirements are easier to deal with (knit until you run out of yarn means shorter sleeves this way, rather than bottom-up when it means having no neck or shoulders). I've actually done top-down before (the notorious Blue Shimmer), but I knew straight off that was the easiest of all the top-down styles so I wanted to see how to do the complicated stuff like set-in sleeves. With that in mind, I wanted both patterns - to see how someone else does it - and philosophy - so I can figure it out and do it myself.

For patterns I went with "Custom Knits" by Wendy Bernard.

I don't want to gush, but this is the best book-of-patterns type knitting book I've seen in a long, long time. The garments are wearable for a wide variety of body types, the sizes are a good spectrum from small to extra large and then some. She uses a variety of materials; cotton, microfiber blends, merino/cashmere, merino/alpaca, silk/wool/viscose, alpaca/silk, silk, linen. All of it is yummy fiber that can be worn against the skin. Coats and jackets are made with warm fiber. Tanks are made with cool fiber. All are done at well-chosen gauges; small enough that the clothing will be flattering and drape, large enough that you won't spend the rest of your life knitting. There are even suggestions on ease, when it comes to deciding what size to knit. Then at the end she goes into theory and how to alter the patterns to fit your specific body type. Truly, an excellent pattern book. I intend to use the lavender cotton that's been in the pit for years to knit something from here, to get in the groove of top-down knitting before I fly off the handle and design my own. If you want one good book of classic patterns, flattering to a wide variety of bodies, this is an excellent choice.

Then I went with another classic. "Knitting from the Top" by Barbara G. Walker.

Because I figured I couldn't go wrong with Barbara Walker, and I was right. (Are we setting up shrines to her yet? We should be. Or mail her chocolate, that might be a preferred method of worship. Ha.) This is the book for design. Combine it with the EPS (Elizabeth's Percentage System) and you can knit the world. Sweaters/jumpers with every shoulder treatment imaginable. All sorts of neck lines. Skirts. Pants. Ponchos. Capes. Even hats, and a drawstring bag. An entire chapter on matching patterns, for when you do set-in sleeves (yay!) The last bit, "Assorted Helpful Hits and Other Miscellany" is like a quick, five page master class in knitting. As always, I am left boggling at the vast amount of knowledge this woman commands. She's amazing.

So there you go, hope all of you enjoyed the reviews. If my ears burn I'll know you're cursing me as you add some of these to your 'to buy' list. Enjoy! I did!


Alwen said...

Me, I'm just singing la la la and closing my eyes and trying not to want more books.


amy said...

I really like those last two books. I also like Jacqueline Fee's Sweater Workshop. It's bottom up, but same idea--in the round, custom fit. I used it with my first sweater "design" (for my son).

Roxie said...

(imitating a zombie's stiff-legged gait and eeirie intonation) Boooks. Booooks! Need booooks!

You enabler!

So would you care to review some self-published young adult fiction about a knitting sorceress? I'll give you chocolate.

Amy Lane said...

Okay-- the Babara Walker one has been teasing me for YEARS... I must buy it... I must at least LOOK at it as an alternative to the Anne Budd book I rely on!

(Who was brave enough to send you a book to review? I'm totally curious!)

Donna Lee said...

I love Custom Knits. When I was looking for a sweater to make for my daughter, I went to Wendy's book. Her directions are easy to follow and she offers ways to make each one your own.

Louiz said...

I've been meaning to get the Barbara Walker one for years... must get round to it before I can't get it any more

Roz said...

First off: my word is "tricis" -- I guess that means knitting times three.

I love it that you do book reviews, and give us all classes on fashion and history and the economics that tie them together -- if VK were smart, it would hire you to do that. I like to think that "high fashion" actually is intellectual, that the "latest thing" actually has links to the past, if you know how to read it, and that no matter how big my ass gets, my eyes can still enjoy the creations from designers famous and not.

And anyone who enables my book addiction is a good person!

catsmum said...

Am I the only one who wishes they'd reprint Knitting From The Top with a slightly more interesting / less dated cover

Terby said...

I like the last two books a lot. I was really blown away with Sock Innovations as well. Cookie does a really great job of talking about designing socks - you should check out my copy or grab one at the store to read for a while. Good stuff.