rushthatspeaks: (Default)
... it appears to be day three hundred and fifty-five. Whoa.

You would be amazed by how complicated a concept the thought of being done with this is. I mean, there are ways in which this project is the thing what has been keeping me sane, and there are ways in which it has eaten major chunks of my life at occasionally inopportune times (I get, like, three days every few months with my girlfriend, you know?), and ways in which I'm absolutely exhausted and ways in which I'm not and I mean what am I even going to do with myself?

Besides reread Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, which is NOT COMPATIBLE with a new book a day, believe me.

The answer to what I am going to do with myself, by the way, is: not this. As incredible an experience as this has been, it ain't sustainable. I am going to, firstly, take some time to relax; secondly, run some statistics, which should be interesting; thirdly, start arranging the reviews as a book and putting together the agent packet and all that jazz. And I assume I'll keep writing up really notable books, and I have some other ideas for Possibly Interesting Blogging Tricks, but no way are any of those starting until oh let us say November or so.

Now, your regularly scheduled review.

If you aren't a knitter, this isn't your book. There are knitting books I cheerfully recommend to non-knitters, mainly Elizabeth Zimmermann, who is an absolutely fantastic prose stylist and as much an autobiographer as a knitter, but this is not one of them.

On the other hand, if you are a knitter, even if you are a complete and total beginner, this really, really is your book meant for you and you should go look at it right now. Possibly even if you only want to learn to knit.

Alice Starmore is justifiably a legend in knitting circles. Her sense of color is amazing, she lives in the Outer Hebrides and draws on a substantial Scottish knitting tradition whose history she actively researches, and one of her sweaters is so famously complex and beautiful that Adrienne Martini wrote a very readable book about the process of knitting it. (Speaking of knitting books I recommend to non-knitters.)

This book is about Aran knitting, which most people know as 'those sweaters with all the cables from those islands off the coast of Ireland'. Starmore begins with a history of Aran knitting, in which she explains where the prevalent scholarly theories about its origin arose (commercial mystification) and proves, using historical records and careful stitch-by-stitch analysis of museum-held knitted garments, that Aran knitting arose as a tradition in the 1940s and was almost certainly based on the innovations of a single knitter working from the base of the Scottish fisherman's gansey. This section of the book is amazing. Very, very few people bother to do solid research into the history of knitting, and Starmore looks at it from cultural, economic, social, and gender-relations directions. I have read books by professional historians on many subjects that were both worse and less comprehensive than this single, gorgeously written chapter.

Then she starts explaining how to do it. All you need to know at the start of this book is how to cast on, make a knit stitch, make a purl stitch, and bind off. That is all. She takes you from there through simple cabling theory (not difficult; when I was learning to knit I taught myself to cable on a twist tie), using photos of real swatches, and then expands... and expands... and expands... She is always careful and logical, going one step at a time: what happens if I use three stitches here instead of four? it does this. If I put two cables right next to each other? it does that. And within a very few pages you're getting these gorgeous cascading complexities that look as though you'd have to be Escher to come up with them, except that they make perfect sense, because they are elaborated from things she explained from the ground up. And she does explain everything she does, from which yarns make the designs really pop to how to keep the border from looking crooked. This is a model for structure in a knitting book. I would cheerfully hand this to somebody who started knitting last week, and I bet they could do Aran from it.

Then there are the actual garment patterns. I am usually one of those fidgety picky people who is like 'I want to knit x pattern only in a different yarn and a different weight and I don't like that bit so I'll graft on the bit from the other thing oh god I'm not experienced enough to be doing all my own designing aagh'. In ninety percent of knitting books, there are two patterns I like enough to consider knitting, and I usually want them to be in a color other than, say, chartreuse. This is why I don't own any knitting books (Elizabeth Zimmermann, being all out of print, is a library thing).

I would knit every single thing from this book, in the yarn she says, in the color she says, knowing I would have to order the yarn from Britain. Okay. Maybe I wouldn't do the pink one in pink. But. I would even knit the hats. I don't wear hats! I don't think I know anyone who wears hats! (As opposed to hat, singular. I know a couple of people who have A Hat.) Most knitted hats look like confused beanbags! I would knit these hats anyway.

In addition to all of this, Starmore points out that Aran knitting sometimes looks a lot like traditional Irish knotwork, except that knotwork is based around the concept of the infinite line that goes around and around, and Aran cable lines begin at the bottom of the garment and end at the top. So she said to herself, I like knotwork, and invented a method of making cable stitches into an infinite line. Which means, if you want to knit motifs from the Book of Kells into a sweater? She did that pattern for you. It's ridiculously beautiful. And there is a section on how to design Aran and knotwork patterns for yourself; I was kind of overloaded by that point but it seems as methodically solid as the entire rest of the book.

Sometimes when people are legendary it is for very good reason.

I have to buy this and knit everything in it ever. I am not actually sure I have much of a choice in the matter. God, now I have to save up for yarn from Britain.
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I knew nothing at all about woodcarving, so I decided to read this.

And this is a pretty good overview. Pye has written other books on the subject and doesn't want to repeat himself, so this doesn't go into much detail about things like 'what is a gouge' or 'how do I pick a piece of wood', but it goes through the broad process of woodcarving in a way that gives me an idea of how it works.

The book is organized by projects, with divagations into little technical questions such as how you should hold the wood so that you don't exert pressure on it in the wrong directions, and what are the most common student mistakes, and so forth. Each of his projects illustrates something about the act of woodcarving, not just a particular technique or tool, so that at the end of one he will talk about how this demonstrates why you should always keep a smooth surface as you go, or what this says about the ways you ought to think about woodgrain.

So it's not a manual for a beginner; he assumes you have tools and know what they are, he assumes you're beyond the very basics. But for a layperson it is a wonderful glimpse at the sort of thing it is possible to think about, after one has learned something about the craft-- unlike many intermediate crafts or trade books, this is clearly explained, not full of technical jargon, and handily illustrated with well-chosen images. It gives you enough about woodcarving to start to realize what questions to ask.

And his work is incredibly beautiful. One of his projects is a Tibetan Buddhist panel relief that is jaw-droppingly stunning, all the more because he seems to take it rather in passing, and he also does two really eerie Green Men and a quite good version of a Dürer drawing. All of them are shown at every possible stage of completion that could be helpful.

In short, this is exactly the kind of book that one is hoping for when one picks up something at random about a subject one knows nothing about: informative, enjoyable, the correct amount of technical, and charmingly written. I may look up his other stuff.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
So why am I reading an advanced knitting book when I have done, ever, two knitting projects?

Because as far as I can tell the key to knitting is not to be afraid of it. My first knitting project was relatively simple: a scarf. (For those of you who care: Noro Silk Garden, garter stitch rib.)

But my second knitting project was this shawl, in a different colorway, yarn weight, and needle size than specified in the pattern. It has nupps. It has beads. It had a provisional cast-on which wanted a crochet hook and the only previous time in my life I'd picked up a crochet hook I had come damn close to needing stitches, and had left permanent scars on the psyches of the people around me because they could not figure out how I could do that much damage to myself with a really large blunt plastic thing without sharp edges.

The shawl came out beautifully.

And the way I went from k2, p2 and repeat to that shawl is the reason I recommend the sort of knitting book that Debbie Stoller has provided here.

I looked everything up, when I got to it in the shawl pattern, which is what I suggest, looking up everything. Everything. Provisional cast-on? Look it up. If it still doesn't make sense, look it up somewhere else. If you have to take it one loop of yarn at a time to make it make sense, fine. If you need to put a marker in every single stitch, cool. If you have to sit down with graph paper and convince yourself about the topology, go for it. I did all that. I cast the thing on nineteen times. The twentieth was right. I forgot the abbreviations in the pattern over and over and over. That's why the pattern's on a sheet of paper, so I just kept looking it up. Doing this works. It will never be quick but it works.

I am not talented, per se, at knitting. I am stubborn and I refuse to be afraid. That is what this book is for: it is a collection, in the same place, of a great many advanced techniques of the sort that you might want to look up. It's not a book on any specific mode of advanced knitting, so it isn't absolutely comprehensive on lace, it isn't absolutely comprehensive on intarsia, it isn't definitive on how to knit with beads. But it has a bunch of useful things about each of them, and about several other things you might want, including, and this is important, how to design your own projects.

It assumes basic knitting knowledge; if you don't know whether you knit Continental or English, this is probably not your book right now, but that's about the level you need. It's pretty dry, because it basically is a list of techniques-- this is not one of those knitting books à la Elizabeth Zimmermann or Stephanie Pearl McPhee which one can hand cheerfully to people who don't knit. It could have more diagrams, and if you don't understand an explanation when you're sitting there with yarn in hand trying to follow along you will of course need to look things up elsewhere as well. And it has a section of projects at the back, which are as variable as all multi-author knitting project collections and which mostly don't appeal to me at all, but, you know, if you like it go for it and they seem like fine examples of how to do the things in the book.

So this is not a literary experience, but it would have saved me so much internet time during that shawl, and I am considering getting a copy to scribble all over so that it can save me that internet time again during the next thing.

Because inexplicably the internet has failed to yield me a pattern for the bathrobe I need to make for B.-- nothing says 'I appreciate you' like the Master's robe from Manos: The Hands of Fate, right? So clearly I will have to design it myself. I am pretty sure I can adapt some of the arithmetic in here into doing that. The key thing is not to let myself be frightened, because arithmetic is scary. But my cause is noble, so I'll let you know how it goes.

So many thanks to [personal profile] khyros for pointing me at the Aeolian shawl pattern. It was just what I wanted.

Yes, this book review is basically me bragging about my knitting. Sometimes these things work out that way?
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
This is the other book Thrud picked up at the Imperial War Museum in London some time ago, along with the cookbook from two days ago. (By the way, over in the Dreamwidth comments to that entry Zeborah has both made and reviewed those potato truffles.)

This one is about clothes: keeping them, mending them, making them, reusing them, and preventing them from wearing out. I suspect it of being a lot more useful than the cookbook to a modern audience, because knitting tips have not changed that much since WWII, but I also think it's a lot less likely to be of general interest, as it is quite technical. Large chunks of it boil down to 'to mend x sort of tear in x kind of garment you should use x stitch', and although I would consider myself at least intermediate at sewing (i.e. I have made entirely by hand garments which were worn in public by myself and other persons), and I live with at least one person who is professional-caliber at it, I have no idea of half what they are talking about. Stitch names may have changed in the interval, or across the ocean, is one thing; and also the fabrics that are common today are not the fabrics that were common then, but I also think the skill set of sewing has changed generally, at least in a local way.

I mean, I am not joking when I say I am living with a professional-caliber seamstress; Thrud has done everything from genuine eighteenth-century costuming to a wedding dress. We were just talking yesterday about the fact that no one in the house has the vaguest idea how to darn anything. The thing is, we don't have to. You can't darn synthetics and the other things are, like, socks, which are cheap enough to us that it would be worth more in labor to fix them than to get new. (If I ever knit anyone in the house socks, well, that is when we will learn how to darn.) And that is one of the major differences between Now and Then: labor, and our time, are by far the more expensive thing, and as far as clothes go, throughout history the reverse has been true more often than not. The skill set of a person who is very good at sewing, in our particular first-world academic-upper-class milieu, is centered around making things, and making them to look pretty, and also if possible to last. The skill set of this book is centered around making things and making things to last, and last, and last, and, if possible, to look pretty. So not orthogonal, but not overlapping much. This could therefore then be a useful reference book to me, assuming I can extrapolate from it to mending modern fabrics-- and assuming that I want to take the time.

Because I have that option. Of course, one of the things this book is good for is reminding one that other people didn't and often still don't.

Also, of course, it reminds one of many other things which are actually past as opposed to just not right here-- for example that women used to wear rubber corsets, and a whole lot of other garments which have gone out. The sections on the care and maintenance of corsets are sufficiently arcane and technical to be by themselves reasons I am glad I've never had to wear the things. I have seen small animals with less complicated life-cycles.

Oh, and if you have a lot of leather boots, you can certainly learn how to keep them in good condition from this. Mostly I have learned I am doing everything wrong.

I shall leave you with the place this book became not just history but living at me and basically kicked me in the stomach. This is a chapter heading:

Here are some ways in which a man's unwanted garments can be converted to your own use, if you are quite sure he won't want them again after the war.

I mean. Ouch.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Are people enjoying reading these? I'm mostly enjoying writing them.

This catches me up-- I read this book this morning-- so these posts will go back to being one a day.

Elizabeth Zimmermann is the great writer to have come out of knitting books. I wish I could remember how I found her. I would almost recommend her work to the person uninterested in knitting, and would recommend it to people who are not knitters but not actively opposed to it. You can always skim the really technical bits. This one has less memoir than several of her others do, but continues to have her dry, delicious, perfectly shaped prose throughout:

[from a section comparing needle materials] )


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