Furthering My Education

Pure Wool: A Guide to Using Single-Breed Yarns is not a typically beautiful book.

Some books are like girls who are all dressed up for the London season, curled and powdered and full of frills and gorgeous glossy pictures. They sit poised to pounce on any titled gent who attends the ball, and they get their share of the attention.

Sue Blacker’s Pure Wool is like the country lass who stays home, away from the ball, caring for the farm with a strong back and a healthy beauty.

There is nothing glossy about this book, but that is fitting. Wool is not a glittery fiber, it deserves a solid, hearty book.


The images are lovely, but the soul of this book is the rich bounty of information about breeds of yarn – presented in an easily manageable manner – so that even a non-spinner, non-sheep savvy person like myself can feel better educated.

I knit, I design and I write. And I crochet (simmer down..) But I don’t spin. I have serious asthma, and the few times I’ve been around a spinning wheel for an extended period led to a prolonged asthma attack, so I steer clear of flying fibers.

Without the intimate, tactile connection with fleece that my spinning sisters have, I feel as though I’m a piker when talking about different types of sheep. I know the basic facts about different breeds, but I lacked a connection between my knitting and my knowledge.  Pure Wool is a book that I will be using to bridge that gap.

I tend to get overwhelmed with wool “encyclopedias”, or maybe I’m just lazy.  They’re excellent for reference, and I am glad to have all that information at my fingertips, but they don’t speak to me personally as a volume with which to curl up in bed and spend a chilly afternoon.

The information in Pure Wool is presented in a way that makes it clear and complete without being overwhelming.

I especially love the tables in the back of the book allowing a knitter to match a yarn to a pattern, determine which fibers would dye best, and obtaining a better understanding of specific breed’s wool characteristics and yarn qualities.

The patterns are hearty and satisfying, laid out like a kitchen table laden with a huge, delicious country breakfast. I can see the garments in Pure Wool becoming perennial favorites among knitters of all levels, they’re good, basic, beautiful garments.  Nothing flashy, just comfortable.

Like wool.


So would you like a copy of this very useful and very beautiful book?  Leave a comment telling me what your favorite fiber is.  It doesn’t have to be wool – it doesn’t even have to be natural – I’ll make the selection of the winner at random.  If you’ve won lately I’ll pass over your name when drawing the winner, but I’d still love to hear about your favorite fiber!

The images shown on this page are from Sue Blacker’s website.

Like to Crochet? This is a book for YOU!

I really like Sharon Silverman’s crochet books, I find them clear with great instructions, but also with patterns complex enough to keep me interested.

Often the complexity on one of Sharon’s projects is a combination of simple techniques, each of which can be isolated and easily mistressed*, which makes the whole experience satisfying on MANY levels!

Sharon’s new book, Crochet Scarves, Fabulous Fashions, Various Techniques is a perfect addition to her growing collection of “go-to” books for a crocheter of any skill level.

ANYONE can learn something from Crochet Scarves ending up with a lovely scarf in the bargain!

The thing about scarves is that they’re FUN to work up.  I like to think of them as a huge swatch, and often use a scarf as an excuse to try a new stitch pattern or yarn.  I also live in Minnesota and have two teenage children, so we can run through a LOT of scarves in a year.

I have a simple 4-point criteria when considering making a project:

  1. The finished product should be beautiful or visually compelling
  2. The techniques involved in the project must be interesting.
  3. I want to learn something from the creation of the project.
  4. The project must be FUN!

Accordion Arrows

The scarves in this book fit all my criteria, with the added bonus that the charts are large and clear (and written in text, too) the technique images are plentiful and the patterns are well written.

One of my favorite projects is the simple mitered scarf which opens the book, Accordion Arrows.

This would be a HUGELY fun project to work up, one of those that would be as satisfying every step of the way, and garner as many compliments while it’s being worked as when it’s finished!

Excellent Charts!

I really like how this pattern is explained in the book, and although the skill level is set at 3, I feel this would be an excellent project for a newer crocheter to move into a higher skill set – a project that would ‘grow’ a stitcher!

Great Technique Images!

It would also be a GREAT project to use up stash!  Imagine this worked in many different yarns, with one color used throughout as an accent to bring all the yarns together?  THAT is a way to bust up that bag of yarns you’re hiding in the spare bedroom!

AND – here’s the good part – YOU can win a copy of this book!

MORE Technique Images!

Simply leave a comment telling me what your favorite crochet technique is.  If you’re not a crocheter, make one up.  If you’d like to link to a video or explanation of the technique, that would be great – that way we can ALL learn from your comment!

I’ll select one comment at random on Monday, July 30, and will notify the winner by email.

SO let’s hear what YOUR favorite crochet technique is – chop, chop!

*yes, I’m aware ‘mistressed’ not a real word, but I like to use it.  Seriously, what is the percentage of women vs. men who are reading this right now? 

I like to think in terms of ‘mistressing’ a technique, it’s one of my idiosyncrasies that make me so – what? – loveable?  Irascible?  Lovably irascible?

A Boost and A Book Giveaway

It’s been a busy few weeks since I’ve been home from TNNA.  I was SO wiped out and full of pain at the end of my trip, but I’m overjoyed at the positive effect my bike riding has had on my muscle and joint pain.  The heat here in Minnesota was terrible last week, but biking 10 miles in the heat works wonders on deep rooted joint and muscle pain.

Having said that, the heat wave’s lifted here in the Twin Cities with my full approval, and to celebrate I rode 25 miles on Saturday and 14 miles Monday.

If I’m not biking, I’m knitting.  If I’m not knitting or biking, I’m editing patterns for History on Two Needles or getting swatches together for the online class I’ll be shooting this Summer.  Life is extremely busy.

Monday, June 9th, was the last day of my Kickstarter Fundraiser for History on Two Needles, and I’m absolutely overwhelmed with the positive and loving reaction I’ve received from the knitting community (and the micro funding community at large!)

It’s such a boost to have the positive reinforcement, and gives me great push as I work through the details of the book.  When I look at all the work that is yet to be done I can get overwhelmed, breaking it down bit by bit makes it easier.  Support from friends makes it seem possible!

To celebrate, I’ll be giving away a bunch of great books and items I received at TNNA over the next few weeks.  Knitting’s only made better by sharing, and the same is certainly true for books!

Knitters Curiosity Cabinet
(Chrysanthemum frutescens socks)

The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet
20 Patterns Inspired by Vintage Botanical Illustrations
by Hunter Hammersen

This is a beautiful book.  If you love interesting, repeating patterns and gorgeous photography, this is a book you MUST have.

Dianthus Superbus Sock

The inspiration for the book is the Victorian ‘curiosity cabinet’ – repository of interesting little tidbits from the world at large – and botanical drawings of the same period which portray that same enchantment with nature.

Linaria Bipartita Sock

There are more sock patterns than anything else, which is absolutely fine.  I find the motifs themselves are worth the price of admission (which, I admit, was free for me…) but they’re engaging, fun to knit up (I already cast on a swatch of Chrysanthemum Frutescens just to try out the pattern used in the socks of the same name)

When I read the pattern names I half broke out in a cold sweat with a flashback to a failed botany final; Rubus suberectus, Rosa rubiginosa, Loasa lateritia are just a few of the pattern names that carry the natural history theme through the book.

Narcissus Pseudo-Narcissus Sock

I was sent this book to review, and before it arrived I idly wondered, “Should I give it away, or should I keep it?”

I’m keeping this one!

But I’m giving a copy away to someone here on my blog – just leave a comment with the name of your favorite floral embellishment; it can be as simple as ‘rosebud’ or as complex as ‘gladiolus caryophyllaceus’, every comment will count and I’ll draw one winner at random on Sunday.

Crochet Like You Knit It

When Robyn Chachula asked me to be part of her book, Unexpected Afghans, I jumped at the chance.

For the record, WHENEVER Robyn asks me to do anything I jump
– I love her that much!

I love working both with Interweave AND with Robyn, so this project was a no-brainer for me!

My own contribution to the book is called “Croises” – a nod to the fact that the design element I chose was cables that resembled the knit version, but are worked using long post stitches in crochet.

It’s a much easier technique than one would think, and simply involves leaping down several rows with your hook to grab onto an existing stitch and working from there.  Think of it as rappelling with yarn.

Anyway, I loved working up this project, I loved making the cables and even more I LOVED working with the lovely, simple greenish-grey Brown Sheep yarn (Lamb’s Pride Superwash) that showed the texture so beautifully!

The design is both charted and written out (but try the charts, you’ll surprise yourself at how simple they actually are!) and here’s what I wrote in the pattern for a good tip to consider while working up the piece:

It may not be popular, but the best tip I can give is to create a SWATCH and practice the front post stitch. If you’re not used to it, it can be a hard technique to handle over a large number of stitches. By chaining 20–30 stitches and playing with the technique, it will make sense much more quickly.

My idea of photographing it with folks’ feet sticking out, as if the afghan was in use in someone’s house, was nixed.  Dang.

The photo below was one I took in my own house before sending the piece off to be photographed by Interweave.  That USPS Priority Mail box in the background is placed there to lend authenticity.

Divisions are Sexy (book giveaway – read on…)

…but they’re not helpful.

It seems that entities are always trying to divide folks – Red vs. Blue, Stay-at-home-Moms vs. Work-out-of-the-home-Moms, Mac vs PC, Pepsi vs Coke, Farmer vs. Cowman – the list is endless.

I believe the reason is division sells newspapers.  It’s sexy.

False division compels folks to fight with each other, and when people take sides, they become engaged and they’ll buy papers or watch TV shows that support their position.

I’m sick of it.

In the crafting world we’ve seen one of these divisions – the idiotic, trumped up gap between Knitting and Crochet – slowly, beautifully bridged as more and more designers are working in both.

These two ways of creating fabric with yarn work so beautifully together, it only makes sense that folks who consider themselves well rounded would learn at least the rudiments of either craft.

To my mind, knit and crochet are very similar.  I explain to my knit students that crochet is just like knitting except each stitch is bound off as it’s worked.  In knitting the stitches are left ‘live’ on the needle. 

In Tunisian Crochet, which is essentially a of blend of the two, the stitches are alternatively live for a row, then bound off in every other row.

Yes, that’s a rather simplistic way of explaining it, but it gets the idea across.  Sometimes a simple explanation is best – too many words get in the way when trying to convince someone to just jump in and use their hands!

This is my long-winded way of getting to a new collection of patterns by Kristin Omdahl that spans knit AND crochet, and they’re beautiful!

The patterns are all accessories, small and portable and ranging in difficulty levels.  It’s an exciting and beautiful collection, but the thing I love the MOST about it is that it may be instrumental in convincing a knit-only person to attempt some crochet, and vice-versa!

I’m giving a copy of this e-book/collection away!

If you’d like to receive this great collection, simply leave a comment below and I’ll select someone at random (using my highly scientific method) and email you the book!

And if you DON’T win the book, but would still like to have a copy, it’s available for $9.95 here!

A Winner! And A New Prize!


The winner of the book below is Elizabeth Howard from Facebook.

She left a comment, I closed my eyes and
touched the screen and I landed RIGHT on her name!
Congrats to Elizabeth!

Stay tuned for more giveaways as life progresses!!

Using a VERY scientific process which involved paper, a bowl and two fingers, I have selected a winner of Knitting Everyday Finery.

Zoe from Minneapolis (PURE coincidence, I had no idea she was nearby!) will be receiving the book later this week.

I’ll be sending her book out to her later today – shoot, I should just bike it over – and I’m announcing a new book giveaway:

One + One: Scarves, Shawls & Shrugs is a great book full of small pieces worked in a variety of skill levels.

Most of the pieces are to be worn around the neck, or close to the face, which makes perfect sense as the yarn used is Iris Schrier’s Art Yarns – a wonderful selection of soft, shimmery, colorful fibers.

I would be happy to knit and own any of the pieces in this lovely book, but a few stand out as exceptional small garments which can challenge a new knitter while fulfilling an established knitter’s need for something engaging to occupy hands and minds.

Lacy Textured Cowl by Laura Zukaite

I especially liked Laura Zukaite’s Lacy Textured Cowl – a very wearable piece which could easily move from casual to extremely elegant.  The yarn chosen – Artyarns Ensemble Light – is a beautiful choice of soft cashmere and resilient silk.

Easy Cable Cowl by Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller’s Cabled Cowl would be an excellent small project to help a new cabler hone their skills.

Slip Stitch Wimple by Annie Modesitt

I have a piece in the book, too – the Slip Stitch Wimple (although it wasn’t photographed over the head, which is where a wimple usually sits, this could work as both a cowl AND a very warm hat-like piece)

Slip Stitch Wimple, Flat

For THIS giveaway, I’m going to select from among folks who leave a comment on my facebook page under this blog post announcement.

(yes, I DO understand you’ll have to be on facebook for this one, that’s how this particular cookie crumbles…)

Leave a comment by Wednesday at noon, and I’ll notify the lucky winner and send the book off soon after!


Book Giveaway – Knitting Everyday Finery

A book landed on my desk a few weeks ago and I thought it was absolutely lovely.

It’s Knitting Everyday Finery: Practical Designs for Dressing Up in Little Ways, and it contains quite a few beautiful pieces that run from relatively easy to knit, to more challenging and knit-skill broadening.

Physically it’s a great book; the photography is elegantly rustic (a combination that seems so easy but is devilishly hard to pull off!)

The instructions are clear and well laid out, the charts are very easy to read and the models have a timelessness about them (no strong fashion or makeup choices which can so easily date a book!)

A book which is all about using knitting to create small pieces that enhance everyday life is a book worth having.

It’s true that we knit to make ourselves happy, but if along the way we also make our lives a bit more refined, rich and pleasant in a simple way, then we’ve used our skill to it’s best advantage.

There’s nothing wrong with adding little bits of beauty to our lives, loving ourselves enough to create something truly FINE for our own use.  This book will help you do just that!

So – would you like a copy of this beautiful book?  Here’s how to get it!

Click the “tweet” button at the top of this post (which will include the link to my blog) and tweet about my review of Mel’s book.  I’ll select one tweet that links to this blog, and I will notify the sender of the tweet that they’ve won this book by noon (central time) on Friday, May 4th.

And then you, too, will have your copy of Knitting Everyday Finery: Practical Designs for Dressing Up in Little Ways and will be knitting some fine, fine, finery!

Crochet By Way of Faye*!

I learned to crochet YEARS before I learned to knit, and in many ways it remains my go-to hand craft (especially when traveling, crochet travels so well!)

There are a lot of great crochet guides out there, many stitch dictionaries and ‘designer favorite’ patterns and motifs.

I’ve got the best one in my hot little hands, though!

To me, Robyn Chachula is the Alexander Borodin of crochet design.  Allow me to explain…

Crochet is Robyn’s love, her passion, but it wasn’t what she was trained to do.  Robyn didn’t imagine herself as a crochet designer as she was growing up (who does?)

Never Known to Crochet

Robyn was trained and worked as an architect and sort of backed into crochet design, and I am very glad that she did!

Like Borodin (a chemist and composer), Robyn (an architect and designer) is occupied with math, numbers and patterns found in nature.

Unlike Borodin, Robyn doesn’t need to ‘play sick’ to find time to crochet.  Right now it seems her problem may be finding time to do anything else!

Robyn’s Visual Encyclopedia is so much more than a compilation of stitch motifs.  Yes, there are the basic color work, lace work and texture stitches, presented very clearly in photography AND in FABulous charts.

But this stitch dictionary has SOUL!  You can feel the gears turning in Robyn’s mind as she crafts some of these lovely motifs – her thinking process is non-linear and very exciting.

I’m well known as a kind of a chart enthusiast, and I LOVE the charts in this book!  They’re clear, they’re easy to read, and they’re intelligently drawn.  I’d like to stress that I DID read this book for the articles, too! 

Actually, there aren’t articles per se, but there ARE written instructions for every motif, so folks who aren’t entirely comfortable with charts aren’t forgotten!

I have a few go-to motif dictionaries that I return to over and over.  Often this is a habit, I fall into using a book because I have become familiar with the layout, or I’ve practically memorized the table of contents.

I have a feeling that THIS wonderful compendium will be taking the place of several of my current stitch dictionaries!

I’ve written and rewritten this next sentence to make it more poetic, but there’s no need; everything I want to say about Crochet Stitches Visual Encyclopedia is contained in the following 8 words…

If you like to crochet, get this book

*for those who may not know, Faye is Robyn’s wonderful German Shepherd!

No One Gets Out Alive


Thursday, October 6, 2011
By Rick Levine

You may run into unexpected delays as your key planet Mercury conjuncts karmic Saturn. You won’t likely get what you want unless you’re willing to work for it.

On the other hand, you’ll surely be disappointed if you don’t give it your all. Today’s lesson points out that achieving your goal isn’t the only reward.

Showing up and playing the game passionately, whether you win or lose, is where you can find the most joy.

Wow, is this fitting today, or what?  Find the joy TODAY in what you’re doing, even if it’s restocking a shelf or mailing books [raises hand] because YOU are responsible for discovering joy wherever it’s hiding.  Life is terminal.

Two Beautiful Things

I want to write about two things that have crossed my path recently, both beautiful and both something for the shopping lists of the crafty (and perhaps nice gifts, too?)

Knitting Scarves From Around The World

Editor: Kari Cornell
Publisher: Voyageur Press

This is an absolutely lovely book!

Northern Handspun Cowl - London Nelson

I remember when Scarf Style came out a few years ago  Folks who had pooh-poohed “another scarf book” sat up and looked closer, and Pam Allen’s great book became a classic.

This is another one of those landmark books.  The scarves in this book are beautiful pieces in and of themselves, but they’re also jumping off points for more in-depth knitting projects (very large swatches?)

Pendleton Scarf - Lucy Neatby

The patterns in this book will encourage many knitters who only think of themselves as “beginners” or “scarf knitters” to move beyond their self-imposed boundaries and move to new knitting pastures!

There are great techniques in the book for double knitting, cabling, working with color, lace and shaping – all in a relatively stress-free “it’s only a scarf, you CAN do this!” presentation.

If you know a knitter who’s ready to move beyond their first rectangular projects, this may just be the book for them!

Beautiful Fabrics

Sewing Green by Betz White

Those who sew are familiar with Betz White.  My own sewing doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, mostly due to the pure laziness that keeps me from opening up my sewing machine and setting up my ironing board as often as I should…

Stitch by Betz White

But recently at the Creative Connection in St. Paul I ran into Betz as she was talking with her editor, Melanie Falick, and I was fortunate enough to be gifted with a few quarters of her impeccably whimsical new line of fabrics to be produced by Robert Kaufman.

Stitch by Betz White

I was lucky to escape with these three magnificent prints, which are available here and at fabric shops locally (how’s THAT for helpful…) and I’m off to get myself MANY more yards!

I am in LOVE with how she uses knit/stitch motifs in her woven fabrics.  Way to go, Betz!


Shaping Shawls

Anna Knitting

Anna Knitting

In the world of knitting books, there are books that are very instructional, books that are pretty, books with beautiful patterns and books that inspire.  Sometimes we get lucky and one book straddles several of these criteria.

Shaping Shawls by Anna Dalvi (available at Ravelry as a downloadable ebook, or at Cooperative Press in several formats) is a unique book that touches on all of the above categories.

Number Demystification

Blueberry Patch

Blueberry Patch Detail

Anna begins the book by laying out the basics of shawl design, examining the best-loved shawl lay-outs, and explaining how one can fill in the “canvas” (her great word) of the shawl shape with lovely repeating lace patterns.

She uses a few unique tools to explain the math, which is welcome because not everyone thinks in the same way.

My own brain doesn’t move in the same direction as Anna’s, but I can appreciate the clarity with which she presents her own method for comprehending and creating lace patterns. 

Margarita Leaves

Margarita Leaves

And isn’t that the whole reason we have libraries of knitting books?  We all think in different ways, we gravitate naturally to different authors, designers and teachers.

But by exposing ourselves to a different way of thinking, we can expand our own brains a bit, which is exactly what Anna’s book did for me!

Anna discusses the “delta” of a stitch manipulation – the final stitch count result broken down element by element in a row of a pattern.

Magic Lanterns

Magic Lanterns

I know from teaching how beautifully this will resonate with many who may have found shawls – and lace in general – a bit of a mystery.

Anna does a lovely job of de-mystifying what is happening in each row of a chart.

My only reservations with the delta / charts section were that I wished the actual symbols had been used in the explanation tables, and I sometimes found it confusing that non-shawl stitches were also included in the actual sample charts. 

This isn’t true for the actual pattern charts, which are great, but it gave me a moment of pause as I was working through the initial chart explanation section.

Creating the Canvas

Blueberry Patch

Blueberry Patch

Anna describes the basic how-and-why different shawls fall in different ways in a clear and concise manner.  She explains how placement of increases and direction of the knitting affect the shape and drape of a shawl.

These simple concepts aren’t hard to grasp, but they can be evasive if not laid out clearly.

Anna does this very well, as I was reading this section I could hear the gears turning in soon-to-be-shawl-knitting brains all over the knitting world.


Chandelier Shawl

Chandelier Shawl

One of the glories of this book are the beautiful patterns!  The shawls are photographed in rich, vibrant colors which absolutely glow against the subtle grey and black backgrounds.

Since this is an e-book, it’s very easy to access, to carry around, to refer to, and to UPDATE as the ubiquitous error rears it’s ugly head (always exactly 3 minutes after the book has gone on sale…)

Cooperative Press, which has published this collection (and–full disclosure–with whom I am affiliated) is a young, small company which is specializing in producing books with a very fresh and indie feel – the type of books the larger publishers may not take a chance on.

CP has done a very nice job of putting this lovely, informative collection of patterns and lace knitting/shawl making tips together in one package.

Next on Anna’s blog tour will be Jaala Spiro at Knitcircus!


Shaping Shawls by Anna Dalvi
109 Pages
ISBN 13: 978-0-9792017-6-9

(available at Ravelry
or at Cooperative Press
in several formats)

Photography © 2011, Kristen Caldwell Photography LLC
Photographic backdrops by Bad Sass Backdrops, Inc
Makeup artist: Elle Gemma for Spell Cosmetics
Models: Arabella Proffer, Elle Gemma, Maria Miranda, Michelle Muldrow