Monday, July 06, 2009

Knit It Together: A Book Review

I'd like to take a few moments to tell you about a lovely new book: Knit it Together: Patterns and Inspiration for Knitting Circles, by Suzyn Jackson.

This book could not have entered my life at a more opportune time. During the past several weeks, my life was more chaotic than usual -- not the typical crazy-day chaos, but that dire, nerve-wracking, anxiety-producing stuff. You probably know what I mean.

In the midst of this nonsense, however, a little whisper of sanity beckoned: "Pick up your needles and knit for a while...You'll feel better..." You know, when I finally sat down for a few hours with my EZ Pi Shawl, I did feel better; and that good, calm mood lasted the rest of the day.

Thus, I was reminded (again) how important my knitting is to me, what it brings to my life: the peacefulness, the self-expression, the community, the meditative, healing, joyous, artistic, blissful THING that is knitting (and crochet, and quilting, embroidery, or whatever floats your boat).

That feeling--and, specifically, sharing it with others--is what Knit It Together is about.

New Skills Blanket, the perfect group project, designed by Suzyn Jackson

The Concept

Knit It Together
, according to Jackson, is "an anthology of essays, stories, tips, and knitting patterns, celebrating the awesomeness of knitting in groups." Yet, when you just can't break away from home or work to hang out with your fiber-cronies, the companionship this lovely book offers can feel comforting as a knitting circle.

Jackson writes:
I set out to assemble this book using the widest possible definition of a knitting circle: more than one knitter, period. I also started with an idea for collaborative knitting projects, projects specifically designed to be knit by a group. Like any good knitting circle, I welcomed a wide range of people.

I like to think of the result as my knitting circle: a collection of writers and designers who have thought deeply about how a community of knitters can bridge divides, spread goodwill, and strengthen us all.
Created specially for knitters involved in (or who want to start) a knitting group, who enjoy knitting for charity, or who simply enjoy knitting straightforward patterns for themselves and others, Knit It Together, like a good restaurant menu, includes something for just about everyone.

The Projects

Want projects? You'll find some very cute ideas in Knit It Together. Here are some of my favorites...

Harlequin Purse, designed by Suzyn Jackson

Learning new skills is an integral part of
Knit It Together. Jackson begins with a fun little handbag (or knitting bag!) designed to offer a gentle challenge to those who haven't yet tried knitting Entrelac (an intriguing method of building an object by picking up stitches to work rows of little squares--or rectangles, or diamonds...).
What do you need to take on a challenge? Some people need a supportive environment with plenty of help along the way, while others thrive on competition. If several people take on this entrelac purse, you’ll get plenty of both types of encouragement. It’s a purse party!
Myself, I'm thinking of knitting this little bag out of Noro Kuryeon, reminiscent of the beloved Lady Eleanor Shawl from Scarf Style: Innovative to Traditional, 31 Inspirational Styles to Knit and Crochet (Style series). With a fun lining incorporating a few pockets, it would make a wonderful project bag. Or, if I added a stronger strap, it might even hold all the "stuff" I carry with me on an average day.
Double Knit Catnip Pillows, designed by Kristin Spurkland

Kristin Spurkland's pattern for these sweet little catnip sachets (AKA: objects that must be bitten, licked, and torn apart with tooth and claw) are lovely compensation for the feline muses who inspire so many knitters. In her introduction to the project, Jackson writes:
Double knitting looks like flat knitting and is just as easy, but when you remove the knitting needles from the work, the knitting magically opens into a little knitted bag! Fill with batting and some catnip (or potpourri if the pillow is for people), add a French knot, graft the pillow closed, and you’re done.
Couldn't be easier, right? And the results are charming. No kitty muse at your house? Why not make a few, fill them with lavender or dried roses, and wrap them up as bridal shower favors? Already, ideas are sparking and I'm feeling inspired to play with yarn.

Stripes and Spots Toy, designed by Suzyn Jackson

Speaking of play, check out this absolutely adorable baby toy--I love it! But behind its oh-so-cute exterior lurks intelligence and childhood development research. According to Jackson...
Newborn babies can’t see very well. Not only do they need to learn to use the muscles that control their eye movements and focus, but they also have to build the connections in their brain that help them understand what they are seeing. Visual stimulation is crucial for this process, and high-contrast patterns provide the strongest stimulation. This is the idea behind this little toy. That, and the fact that I love a gender-neutral baby gift that isn’t green or yellow!...This toy has a different stimulating black-and-white pattern on each side.

But Wait--There's More (A Lot More!)
An experienced knitter and writer, Jackson peppered her ultra-readable book with first-person narratives about the experience of living, learning, and creating in the midst of other knitters. Additionally, Knit It Together features several projects that would make ideal donations to charitable organizations, and includes a list of charities that accept knitted items.

From the first chapter, which offers historical background on social knitting and knitting circles, to an essay about attending the Elizabeth Zimmermann/Meg Swansen Knitting Camp, this book gives us a glimpse into the lives and passions of devoted knitters.

If you're a bit of an activist, you'll appreciate the focus on groups that aim to fight poverty with art or to use knitting as a political statement. And, in my car-and-racing-loving family, the knitted Ferari was a big hit--even my husband and father-in-law got a kick out of that one...Now, I just have to figure out how to talk them out of asking me to make one for them!

Baby Uey Diaper [or knitting] Bag, designed by Vyvyan Neel

Wrapping everything up, the sixth and final chapter offers invaluable advice about finishing techniques like blocking and seaming. Jackson urges knitters to use this book to learn new techniques together, in a setting where group members can support each other, help each other, and cheer each other on. In fact, if your knitting group made every project in Knit It Together, you'd be expert knitters by the time you reached the end of the book.

For those of us who, when we aren't knitting, love reading about knitting, this book is a delight, offering many hours of happy page-flipping. And if you're searching for the perfect group project -- or something new to make on your own -- you'll probably find it here. In fact, this book may be the ultimate bedtime reading for yarn junkies, promising peaceful dreams of projects and possibilities.

Vital Stats
Knit it Together: Patterns and Inspiration for Knitting Circles
Suzyn Jackson, editor
Paperback: 144 pgs (10.9 x 8.4 x 0.5 ins; 1.3 lbs)
Publisher: Voyageur Press (June 8, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0760330735

Here's a link to Knit It Together on Ravelry, where you can peruse the patterns.

And here's a link to Knit it Together on Amazon, for those unable to get to an LYS to pick up their own copy of Suzyn Jackson's very-enjoyable book.


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