Eclectic Closet Litblog, Book Reviews & Knitting Designs

A litblog dedicated to book reviews/recommendations, as well as literary and publishing news. Now enhanced with knitting designs.

BOOK REVIEW: The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes


Ever wondered why your experience of knitting is sometimes one of ambivalence? Clara Parkes suggests that it may be the materials you are using. Curious to understand why yarn had such an impact on her knitting, she quite her high tech job and applied her experience to providing knitters honest and in-depth reviews of yarn. Her search to understand if there was such a thing as “good” and “bad” yarn led to the birth of in September 2000.

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn: the ultimate guide to choosing, using, and enjoying yarn collects seven years of knowledge that has led Parkes to be considered by some a “yarn whisperer.” Her goal is to help knitters avoid “yarn-related errors” and match the right yarn to the right project, “to hold a skein in our hands, look at it, touch it, listen to it, even smell it, and instinctively know what the yarn wants to become.”

In The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, Parkes explores common fiber types, methods of preparation, spins, and ply combinations. The yarns discussed are meant to serve as examples of type and lead to a better understanding of the yarns in your stash or those found at the local yarn shop. The main body of the volume is called “Ply Me a River,” where Parkes explores the qualities of classic single ply, two-ply, three-ply and four-ply (and more) yarns. Within each section are patterns designed to showcase the best qualities of this type of yarn. Each pattern is by a designer who Parkes admires for “their instinctive love and understanding of yarn.”

The end of this main body is used to explore “modern” yarns; cabled yarns and textured yarns. Parkes also includes information on the “care and feeding” of yarn; that is, how to wash and care for your garments once they are knit. Additional tips are provided on the special handling each fiber requires when it is wet and for removing odors (especially important if you are sensitive to the smell of wet silk). Savvy knitter will reach for The Knitter’s Book of Yarn before their next yarn purchase.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307352161
ISBN13: 9780307352163

256 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: October 16, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: knitspeak: an A to Z guide to the language of knitting patterns by Andrea Berman Price


Knitspeak def. A combination of words, abbreviations, numbers, and punctuation that is unintelligible to the average human and – unfortunately – to the new knitter.” – from knitspeak

Like any group, culture or trade, knitting possesses its own language, one which to the uninitiated is incomprehensible. New knitters are often prohibited from stretching their knitting muscles by a pattern which makes as much sense as ancient Greek. Andrea Berman Price rides to the rescue with her book knitspeak: an A to Z guide to the language of knitting patterns, a handy volume which translates the symbols, abbreviations, and terms while explaining the logic and structure in which knitting patterns are written.

The first section of knitspeak provides an overview “of how knitting patterns are organized and how to read them effectively.” The second section is organized alphabetically beginning first with symbols. This section, which comprises most of the volume, is much more than just a dictionary. Scattered throughout are detailed illustrations, helpful tips such as choosing the correct decrease method, and longer entries on topics like measuring gauge or choosing a needle size.

The appendix is chock full of helpful information: fixing mistakes, estimating yardage requirements and an “abbreviations at a glance” table. Rounding out this handy volume are three worksheets which Price suggests photocopying and using to track knitting projects; for times so that when you put your knitting down, you have a record. A sound idea – especially for knitters, like myself, who have double digit UFOs (unfinished objects) that may, or may not, be stored with the required instructions.

knitspeak’s compact size means it easily fits into your knitting bag. The next time your pattern calls for LLI, grab knitspeak for a translation (LLI = left lifted increase). As Price suggests: “Never stop knitting again because you don’t understand your instructions!”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1584796324
ISBN13: 9781584796329

224 Pages
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Publication Date: September 1, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: KnitKnit: Profiles & Projects from Knitting’s New Wave by Sabrina Gschwandtner


The Fall 2007 issue of Vogue Knitting (25th Anniversary Issue)featured two articles of particular interest: “Knitting’s Old Guard Speaks Out” [an interview with Kaffe Fassett, Alice Starmore, Mari Lynn Patrick and Meg Swanson]; and “Chatting with Knitting’s New Guard” [Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Clara Parkes, Debbie Stroller, Shannon Okey and Vickie Howell]. By featuring the “new guard”, Vogue Knitting highlights the influence that knit bloggers and the “next generation” of knitters are having upon the craft. This influence is something which Sabrina Gschwandtner has been capturing for several years in her publication KnitKnit which looks at knitting “as a vehicle for artists” as well as crafters.

In her new book KnitKnit: Profiles & Projects from Knitting’s New Wave Gschwandtner looks at how a new generation of knitters is blurring the boundaries between conceptual art and craft. These unique individuals “whose work reflect[s] knitting’s current ideas, venues, and forms” are in many cases unknown to the average knitter and so Gschwandtner profiles each one, exploring their art, their motivation and how their work has progressed. KnitKnit includes twenty-seven profiles; from Dave Cole who knits with “heavy, toxic, industrial, or otherwise unusual materials”; to Althea Merback who knits knits miniature garments the size of a quarter; to Debbie New who knit a navigable boat.

In addition to their profile, each individual was asked to create something readers could make and the results are as unusual as their creators. The projects included the expected clothing, as well as 14 foot tall fiberglass teddy bears, miniature sweater earrings and room installations which knitters can “wear”. Even the sweaters are often approached in unusual manners; Liz Collins’ Stretchy Stocking top made from nylon stockings and Debbie New’s Scribble Lace Bolero made with labyrinth knitting.

KnitKnit is a perfect coffee table book for the knitter on your holiday shopping list. The artists profiled will help get knitting creativity flowing, the patterns feature unusual construction techniques and this book will spark conversation for knitters and non-knitters alike.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1584796316
ISBN13: 9781584796312

176 Pages
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Publication Date: September 1, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair by Laurie Perry


Laurie Perry, now best known in knitting circles as “Crazy Aunt Purl,” did not set out to become a blogging superstar. The introverted Southerner transplanted with her husband to L.A. and was stunned when said husband coolly informed her that he was leaving “to get his creativity back.” Left alone with four cats and a penchant for wine as comfort food, Perry quickly finds herself “three minutes from crazy” and grudgingly agrees to join a friend at a knitting class. There she discovers a new best friend – knitting can always be fixed, it helps you keep busy and find your own creativity, and it’s not about to leave you.

As Perry slowly sticks her head out into the world, she finds solace with her new knitting friends and begins to blog about her adventures with a distinctive self-deprecating humour. She quickly gained a loyal following who shared her joys, sorrows, dating mishaps and knitting adventures. Her stories are ones which everyone can relate to and readers love her trademark writing style – her voice just leaps off the computer screen and she immediately feels like a long-lost best friend (as evidenced by the seventeen-hundred condolence messages left on her blog after the death of her beloved cat Roy).

Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair: the true-life misadventures of a 30-something who learned to knit after he split is much more than simply a self-help book on life after divorce or about learning to knit. Perry has penned a book about heartache and self-discovery and each reader will find something here to which they can relate. Readers will laugh, cry and moan along with Perry as she conquers her wine and cheetos problem, heads out on her first post-divorce date and discovers that life does go on after “he splits.”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0757305911
ISBN13: 9780757305917

Trade Paperback
284 Pages
Publisher: Health Communications, Inc.
Publication Date: October 15, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Inspired Fair Isle Knits by Fiona Ellis


Much of Fiona Ellis’ design philosophy is contained in this statement from her introduction: “Even though many of the techniques we use in knitting have been around for practically forever, there are always new ways of using them to achieve fashionable and contemporary-looking garments.” In Inspired Fair Isle Knits: 20 creative designs inspired by the elements, Ellis explores fair isle knitting, combining traditional with modern to create the unique garments showcased in this collection.

Like her first collection Inspired Cable Knits, Ellis draws inspiration from nature. Each of the four natural elements – earth, air, fire and water – influence her choices in colour palette, design elements and fair isle pattern. While Ellis has provided 20 stimulating and challenging patterns, her hope is that her designs will inspire creativity and new ways of thinking in her audience and to facilitate this she includes design notes and reflections.

Each element is the focus of one section of Inspired Fair Isle Knits and is distinguished by its own colour palette, yarn properties and design elements. For example, the water section is worked in blues, greens and purples with shiny or smooth yarns that “recall water’s reflective properties” and wavy edges brings to mind the movement of water or snowflakes.

Ellis designs for a wide range of sizes with finished chest measurements ranging from 32” – 56”, with the average falling between 38” – 50”. Inspired Fair Isle Knits includes two child’s patterns, as well as designs for two wraps, a pillow cover and a felted bag. Many of the patterns here are geared to advanced or experienced knitters with a few suitable for those starting out in colourwork. Those wishing to explore colour theory further should consult the reading list included at the end of the volume.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits focuses on colour and Ellis has pushed the boundaries with some of her design choices, thus knitters’ personal preferences are more likely to affect their opinions of this volume. Knitters may not like every design but Ellis’ strong writing and clear instructions have produced an instructive volume which showcases her growth as a designer.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307346862
ISBN13: 9780307346865

144 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Suss Design Essentials by Suss Cousins


Pulling together designs from Suss Cousins’ runway collections over the past ten years, Suss Design Essentials: the ultimate collection for a classic handknit wardrobe presents a collection sure to delight her many fans. Known for dressing many Hollywood stars, this collection features details commonly seen in high fashion collections: oversized collars, creatively placed closures and asymmetrical design.

Worked in yarns from the Suss collection, Cousins has chosen her top 30 designs which she has broken into five categories: best sweaters; best separates; best dresses; best coats and capes; and best accessories. Each garment is chosen to showcase her design philosophy – creating garments that become wardrobe staples but involve a twist of some sort.

Cousins’ designs fall within quite a small size range, finished chest sizes of 30” – 44”, with only a few falling outside the 36” – 40” range. Each design includes yardage estimates and a yarn substitution guide is included at the back, featuring her substitution suggestions. As well, each pattern includes the standard yarn weight symbol.

While the designs included in Suss Design Essentials will be of interest to Cousin’s fans, plus size knitters would do well to look elsewhere for patterns. These garment designs would require significant reworking to fit the big girl and flatter her frame. The oversized silhouettes and chunky yarns are better suited to a slender body-type and the few accessories included are not worth the price tag.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307346412
ISBN13: 9780307346414

160 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: September 11, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee


Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is the Jon Stewart of the knitting world. She skewers us with our own needles, unravels our obsession for the uninitiated and helps us learn to laugh at ourselves. Her fresh, tongue-in-cheek observations about the crazy world of knitting have become wildly popular on her blog, her speaking tours (accompanied by her trademark socks-in-progress) and in her three previous books.

In her newest book Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: the Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting, Pearl-McPhee looks at knitting as a journey and sets off on a whirlwind tour of the land of knitting. Whether a newly arrived visitor, a long-time resident or a tourist seeking understanding of a loved one; Casts Off is an essential guide to the people, customs, tourist attractions and common ailments of this fascinating land.

Divided into the areas of reference commonly expected in a travel guide, Pearl-McPhee investigates packing tips (just how much yarn does one need to take on a trip), consulates & embassies (local yarn stores), politics (the great “acrylic versus natural fibers” debate) and common ailments (the dreaded “Yarnesia” or the debilitating Viral Second Sock Syndrome), treatment and prognosis.

Knitters who have caught the “Harlot” bug will find themselves laughing uncontrollably through Casts Off and most will remain convinced that Pearl-McPhee knows them better than their closest friend. Whether she is commenting on the “four ways knitting is like playing the violin” (both are worked from a chart) or how to cope when bad knits happen to good knitters, knitters respond to Pearl-McPhee because she understands us. She knows our foibles because she shares them and like all good enablers, she helps us explain ourselves the skeptics around us. After all, as Pearl-McPhee reminds us, “We know it looks like yarn, but it’s love…and for this it’s worth giving up all your closet space.”

This knitter recommends regular doses of the Harlot, along with infusions of social knitting and stash diving, to ensure a pleasant and healthy stay in the land of knitting.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1580176585
ISBN13: 9781580176583

Trade Paperback
218 Pages
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Publication Date: March 22, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Knitting for Him by Martin Storey & Wendy Baker


When Martin Storey and Wendy Baker were approached to design a book of men’s patterns for Rowan, they “realized that most men prefer garments that are comfortable, and prefer colors that are not too ‘gaudy’.” Yet the knitters making these sweaters want a project full of interesting stitches rather than miles of plain stockinette stitch in brown.

Storey and Baker found the middle ground in their new book Knitting for Him: 27 Classic Projects to Keep Him Warm – garments knitters are happy to undertake and ones the man in your life will be happy to wear. This volume contains have many of the “standard” garments knit for men: the argyle cardigan, the fisherman’s guernsey, the tennis sweater and the classic ribbed cardigan. But this isn’t Dick van Dyke’s argyle sweater – the silhouette is elongated and relaxed, featuring a single panel of argyle on each side of the front and a single diamond on each sleeve. Edgings are in moss stitch and, rather than the standard deep v-neck, the sweater buttons all the way up and has a small, stand-up collar.

Storey’s attention to detail is most clearly illustrated in the “Plain Guernsey.” At first glance, this appears to be a very basic stockinette sweater; however, on closer inspection the interesting construction elements become clear. The front and back are basic squares with a garter stitch edging on three sides. Shaping is provided for the armhole and neck by using traditional gussets and sleeves have ribbing at top and bottom. Knit in a luxurious blend of cashmere and wool, the result is a garment that is fun to knit and a pleasure to wear.

All the sweaters in Knitting for Him are designed to fit chest sizes 40” to 48” (102 – 122 cm) and there are projects here for ever skill level. Patterns are also included for hats, scarves, mitts and socks, ensuring the man in your life is covered head-to-toe in hand-knitting.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1561589926
ISBN13: 9781561589920

Trade Paperback
128 Pages
Publisher: The Taunton Press
Publication Date: September 25, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: Romantic Hand Knits by Annie Modesitt


Harkening back to Hollywood’s golden era, Romantic Hand Knits: 26 flirtatious designs that flatter your figure evokes images of a time when sexy didn’t mean skimpy clothing. Figure-hugging silhouettes and feminine styles are sure to turn heads, while satisfying even the demanding fashionista.

Divided into three categories – Above the Waist; Below the Waist; and Accessories – Annie Modesitt’s designs cover all skill levels and incorporate many different knitting techniques. Beginning knitters are provided several simple patterns that incorporate interesting details; the “West Side Story” skirt with its flirty ruffled layers or the sultry “Some Like It Hot” elbow-length lace gloves. Experienced knitters have the option to explore new construction techniques in the stunning tulip skirt “An Affair to Remember” (featured on the book’s cover) or face the challenge of the complex “Notorious” corset sweater. Truly adventurous knitters may wish to try knitted millinery, a specialty of Modeseitt, either with the cloche hat “High Society” or the wide-brimmed “Gone with the Wind” (for more on knitted hats, check out Modesitt’s earlier book Knitting Millinery).

As well as covering all skill levels, Romantic Hand Knits covers a full spectrum of sizes. Finished chest measurements range from 26.5” (67.5 cm) to 57” (145 cm), with the average falling between 30 and 48” (76 to 122 cm).

While taking their style cues from vintage fashion, and the films after which they are named, what makes these designs resoundingly modern is Modesitt’s understanding of fit. Her designs create fabric which drapes to flatter a woman’s curves and uses details such as an interesting yoke or ruffle to draw the eye away from problem areas. Most importantly, she encourages knitters to pull out their tape measures and knit for the body they have, rather than the one of their dreams. As she states: “When we wear clothes that fit us, we look better…Clothes that skim the body, not hug it, tend to be the most flattering.”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

Free Pattern for Notorious can be found here.

ISBN10: 030734696X
ISBN13: 9780307346964

144 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: August 7, 2007
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Favorite Socks by Ann Budd and Anne Merrow


Socks have long been a popular item for knitters to make. Portable and requiring relatively small amounts of yarn, they can be as complicated or as simple as a knitter desires. For many knitters, they are the perfect way to try out a new technique while make something inherently useful, and ensure that loved ones’ feet are kept warm.

From the second issue of Interweave Knits, sock patterns have been an integral part of the popular magazine. Ann Budd and Anne Merrow have combed the archives and selected seventeen of their favourite designs for inclusion in Favorite Socks: 25 Timeless Designs from Interweave. From Meida’s Socks, Estonian-inspired lace socks by Nancy Bush (1997), to the Waving Lace Socks, a popular design by Evelyn A. Clark featured on the book’s cover (2004), there is sure to be an old favourite for everyone.

Patterns have also been pulled from sister publications PieceWork and Spin•Off, presenting knitters with patterns they may never have seen before. To round out the collection, six new patterns have been included, designed by Ann Budd.

Many of the original issues of Interweave Knits have gone out of print and Favorite Socks ensures these patterns are accessible for a new generation of knitters. Besides providing many classic patterns, this collection also includes a helpful tutorial on knitting socks on two circular needles, instructions for making resoleable socks and both toe-up and top-down instructions.

Published with a hardcover and a spiral binding so the book opens flat, Favorite Socks is sure to win pride-of-place in many knitters’ libraries. Patterns range from the basic Retro Rib Socks suitable for beginning knitters (Winter 2004 issue) to the elegant Anniversary Socks in a cashmere/silk blend (PieceWork, Sept/Oct 2003) or the Eesti Trail Hiking Socks in colourwork (Winter 1997) for knitters who seek more of a challenge.

A Knitalong (KAL) has already popped up for Favorite Socks and is open to anyone who wishes to join. As the organizers state: “This is the place to share your photos, suggestions for yarn substitutions or variations, or any other creative ideas related to the patterns from the book.”

Here’s a complete list of all the sock patterns from Favorite Socks (in reverse order of publication), courtesy of the Knitalong site:
1. Elegant Ribbed Stockings – a new pattern by Ann Budd
2. Lace Cuff Anklets – a new pattern by Ann Budd
3. Undulating Rib Socks – a new pattern by Ann Budd
4. Diagonal Cross-Rib Socks – a new pattern by Ann Budd
5. Mock Wave Cable Socks – a new pattern by Ann Budd
6. Flame Wave Socks – a new pattern by Ann Budd
7. Embossed Leaves Socks, Interweave Knits Winter 2005, by Mona Schmidt
8. Cable Rib Socks, Interweave Knits Summer 2005, by Erica Alexander
9. Padded Footlets, Interweave Knits Summer 2005, by Mary Snyder
10. Go With the Flow Socks, Interweave Knits Spring 2005, by Evelyn A. Clark
11. Retro Rib Socks, Interweave Knits Winter 2004, by Evelyn A. Clark
12. Waving Lace Socks, Interweave Knits Spring 2004, by Evelyn A. Clark
13. Eastern European Footlets, Interweave Knits Winter 2003, by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts
14. Uptown Boot Socks, Interweave Knits Winter 2003, by Jennifer Appleby
15. Anniversary Socks, PieceWork Sept/Oct 2003, by Nancy Bush
16. Merino Lace Socks, Interweave Knits Summer 2003, by Anne Woodbury
17. Hidden Passion Socks, Interweave Knits Summer 2002, by Jaya Srikrishnan
18. Austrian Socks, Interweave Knits Winter 2000, by Candace Eisner Strick
19. Priscilla’s Dream Socks, Interweave Knits Fall 2000, by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts
20. Up-Down Spiral Sox, Interweave Knits Summer 2000, by Sandy Cushman
21. Two-Yarn Resoleable Socks, Spin-Off Summer 2000, by Wayne Pfeffer
22. Ilga’s Socks, Interweave Knits Spring 2001, by Nancy Bush
23. Ute Socks, Interweave Knits Fall 1999, by Nancy Bush
24. Eesti Trail Hiking Socks, Interweave Knits Winter 1997, by Nancy Bush
25. Meida’s Socks, Interweave Knits Spring 1997, by Nancy Bush

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1596680326
ISBN13: 9781596680326

128 Pages
Publisher: Interweave Press
Publication Date: April 1, 2007
Pattern Errata: Corrections to Favorite Socks


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