20 August 2008

What's in a name?

I’ve been wanting for awhile to write a review about Lynne Barr’s book, Knitting New Scarves (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2007). I typically buy my knitting books in local yarn stores, but I bought this one last year while browsing at a big box store. And I wouldn't have bought it if I hadn't browsed through it, read a pattern or two, and realized what this book really is. I hadn’t seen it before or read anything about it in the knitting magazines. When I see “scarves” in the title of a knitting book, I think this is a book for beginners. After all, scarves are beginner-level projects, right? And there are several scarf books available that are just that. But Knitting New Scarves is not a scarf book and it is not a book for beginning knitters.

If you like the work of Norah Gaughan, Cat Bordhi, or Debbie New, you need to see what Lynne Barr is doing. This book is basically a series of interesting knitting experiments. Some of the techniques are quite unusual. And Lynne Barr thinks geometrically in three dimensions, not two. Many of these scarves are small-scale sculptures. There are few books where I just knit the patterns as written, but this is one where I am interested in knitting most of the 27 designs. Some of these ideas may be tricky to apply to knitted garments, but I think they are well worth considering. And I also think this would be a great book for someone who is looking to run a monthly knit-along. Each month could be a different scarf and a new technique.

Along those lines, I'll be teaching a class on these in September. I've knit up two samples and enjoyed both of them very much. The green one is the Linked Cables scarf (pp.56-61). The cross-section is a three-pointed star, sort of like the center of the Mercedes logo. The shaping is based on the principle that 1 x 1 ribbing and double-knitting are close cousins. Part of the scarf is ribbing in the round. But part of it is 1 x 1 ribbing knit as flanges on double-pointed needles. I've used the Rowan Summer Tweed as Lynne Barr recommends. She calls for only two skeins, but mine isn't nearly as long as hers, so I'd recommend three skeins. If you are making a yarn substitution, a cotton or linen yarn that has some body and stiffness may be needed because the flanges stick out and need some structure. And you'll want to work at a tight gauge, again for structural reasons.

The grey scarf is the Shifting Pleats scarf (pp. 30-35). I've used a different yarn than the one called for in the pattern. In this case Jenna, our local knitting store Yarn Pimp (her term for herself), wisely suggested Elsebeth Lavold Baby Llama. Like Linked Rib, Drifting Pleats is also worked in 1 x 1 ribbing but using a very odd set-up. Each pleat is held on a separate double-pointed needle. Thus, if you wanted to knit a scarf with many, many pleats, you'd need more than one set of double-pointed needles. Every fourth row, the pleats shift, until eventually they meld into the edge. I got two full repeats of pattern out of each skein. Lynne Barr's pattern calls for five repeats, but I did six. (What was I going to do with half a ball of Baby Llama?) This made a sumptuously cushy and soft scarf that is interesting, warm, and yet gender-neutral. In the proper color, this could be a very nice holiday gift for the fashion-forward man on your list.

Not sure when I'll have the time, but I'd like to try some further experiments with both of these techniques. In particular, I'd like to alter the pleats/flanges by making them grow wider and narrower throughout the project. I think the Drifting Pleats might be interesting moving back and forth across the scarf instead of always to the right. And I'd like to try the Linked Rib with a cross-section other than three-prongs. And there are other scarves in this book that I simply must try.

So, note to book publishers: choose titles carefully. This great book for bold, adventurous knitters may be passed over by its target audience because "scarves" equals "newbie project." But those of you who read my blog now know better.

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