Monday, November 29, 2010

Blog Tour Book Review: Modern Top-Down Knitting, by Kristina McGowan

If you're a die-hard knitter, you undoubtedly know who Barbara G. Walker is: author of seminal knitting books, such as her stitch dictionaries (A Treasury of Knitting Patterns in four volumes), still an unparalleled source for its comprehensiveness and variety. Another of Walker's classic volumes is Knitting from the Top, a relatively slim volume devoted to the joys of knitting garments, just as the title states, from the top down, and generally in the round.

Generations of knitters have been inspired by Walker's work, including NYC resident and knitting designer Kristy McGowan. When McGowan finally immersed herself in "Knitting from the Top," after years of putting it off based on her belief that it was too difficult, she describes the profound effect it had on her knitting:
I quickly discovered that not only were no elaborate skills required, but the ideas were exciting and revelatory, forcing me to reconsider everything I thought I knew about garment construction.

The overall message was an empowering one: measure yourself, dive in, look at your work, think as you go, and take control of your knitting. All of this was new to me and made great sense.
McGowan wrote a letter to Walker, and eventually found herself visiting Walker at her Florida home, looking at photographs of Walker's knitted projects and discussing knitting. McGowan channeled her enthusiasm for Walker's work into a design approach, and spent much time, as she herself puts it, "mining Walker's book for ideas" using the top-down approach. McGowan presents the fruits of her labor, 26 projects inspired by Walker's work in Modern Top-Down Knitting: Sweaters, Dresses, Skirts & Accessories Inspired by the Techniques of Barbara G. Walker (Stewart Tabori & Chang 2010). I'm pleased to be part of the Modern Top-Down Knitting Blog Tour today.




McGowan begins with about 10 pages of introductory material, discussing the methodology of her top-down projects. All but one of the sweaters is worked using Walker's seamless set-in sleeve template, and McGowan describes the benefits of this approach. Next she illustrates the provisional cast-on (necessary for this type of garment structure), covers the basics of short rows (in particular, using them to create shoulder shaping), and gives some tips for creating set-in sleeves using her approach. There are lots of photographs to help the knitter decipher these techniques.


Subway Hat

Next up is the project section. And since this is the meat of the book -- over 100 pages -- let's take a good look. The projects are all contained in one large section, so perhaps it makes sense to look at them in categories. For those of you keeping track, the breakdown of projects looks like this:
  • 6 dresses
  • 2 tunics
  • 2 sets of armwarmers
  • 2 jackets/cardigans
  • 2 pullovers
  • 2 skirts
  • 1 cowl
  • 1 wrap
  • 1 belt
  • 1 set of knitted jewelry.
With 6 dresses, and 2 tunics that could double as short dresses, you'll notice right away that this is a dress-centric book. Indeed, most knitting design books shy away from knitted dresses, mainly due to the quantity of knitting involved in creating a full-length dress (but also because of the practical difficulties of stretch, sag and abrasion). McGowan tells us in the introduction that she's a fan of dresses and felt encouraged enough by Walker's methods to "take chances" in her designs. One of her first dresses, the Soho Smocked Dress, is photographed both intended/right-side out and wrong-side out, since when the dress was finished, McGowan liked the wrong side of the dress as much as the right side.



Soho Smocked Dress

The Feather Dress features a wide v neckline and poufy 3/4 length sleeves, there's a wrap dress in luscious gray Shelridge Farm wool,


Wrap-it-up Dress


while the beige dress shown on the cover features crochet embellishment to mimic the look of seams (ironic that in a book devoted to seamless knitting, the dress uses fake seams as a design element, no?).


Jill's Dress

The Cafe Tunic is a piece that could be worn as a long sweater over pants or the dreaded "jeggings," or as a dress with tights or even legwarmers. The Seaport Skirt, one of two skirts, features a cabled pattern reminiscent of fish scales (or mermaid tails...),

Seaport Skirt


while the Chrysler Skirt features a chevron motif (ah, to be young and free of cellulite enough to wear knitted skirts).

There are four sweaters in the book (excluding the tunics and dresses), two of which are pullovers,

Cecily Sweater

and two of which are jackets or cardigans:



Pavement Jacket

Of the remaining projects -- nearly all accessories -- my favorite is the Keffiyeh Wrap, which uses a striking color combination and an interesting stitch pattern (though not really a knit-in-the-round item):


Keffiyeh Wrap

Other options include the Accordion Cowl


Accordion Cowl

the Mulberry Hat,


Mulberry Hat

armwarmers,

Pleated Armwarmers

slippers, and knitted "jewelry."

The pattern section is followed by a ten-page section on finishing, and the book closes with abbreviations, yarn sources, glossary and so on.

When it comes to technical stuff, you'll find all the usuals from our friends at STC: lots of clear yet stylish color photos by Gudrun Georges that capture the urban sensibility of the garments perfectly, schematics, generous size ranges running from XS or 2XL through (in most cases for the sized garments) 2XL, lovely layouts, and a variety of high-quality natural fibers shown for the samples. This is a hardback book, approximately 160 pages long, retailing for $27.50 and available for $18.10 as of this writing, through the link above.

Summing up: Modern Top-Down Knitting is a great choice for fans of knitting-in-the-round, and those who love knitting top-down with its ability to try on as you go -- especially knitters who are interested in experimenting with this technique, but would rather follow a pattern than crunch the numbers themselves. Fans of Barbara Walker's work may also enjoy seeing an assortment of patterns, large and small, inspired by her work. Dress-lovers will rejoice at the number of knitted dresses and tunics in Modern Top-Down Knitting, while fans of McGowan's pared-down urban style will find appealing accessories and other garments.

Win a copy of Modern Top-Down Knitting!

Thanks to the generosity of Stewart Tabori & Chang, I have a copy of Modern Top-Down Knits to give away to a lucky reader! Just leave a comment and I'll pick a random commenter to win a free copy of the book. (I moderate comments to avoid spam, so if you don't see your comment appear immediately, be patient!) I'll draw the name Wednesday, Dec. 1st at noon EST.

Next stop on the blog tour: Visit the lovely Narrating Life, November 30th, link here. Or for full details on all the blog tour stops, check out the STC blog here.

59 comments:

deirdre said...

I've been wondering if I needed this book or not, and your review has helped me see that yes, I probably do!

Jersey Shore Deb said...

I'd love to win. I've been reading about this book and this technique and I've also been wanting to knit a dress, so...sounds like it's something I'd like!

Eve said...

I've been waiting to leaf through this before picking it up.

Emily K said...

I'm so excited about this book. It is one of the few ones where both the techniques and the patterns interest me (usually it is a bit of a mix bag for me).

rebkatz said...

This book truly is beautiful. I adore the mulberry hat. A.Dore. it.

Debra said...

I would love the book. As a fairly new knitter I need all the help I can get.

Ina said...

Thank you for the thorough review, I had been wondering about this book's relationship to the Barbara Walker classic. And thanks for the giveaway!

Natalie Servant said...

After reading this review, I'd love to have a copy in person!

Melanie said...

Thank you for the review. The book looks very interesting!

nestra said...

Add me to the list that need that Mulbery Hat, adorable! Plus I am loving tunic lenth sweaters lately, yes worn over the dreaded jeggings!

All in all, I would really like this book.

knottygnome said...

thanks for the review! it looks like a gorgeous book. my fave is the ruffled sweater, but the dresses look very nice too.

Donna B. said...

Love the range of projects -- thanks for the review!

Jennifer said...

Love the look of all the designs and as a huge propenet of top-down knitting, I would love a copy of this book. Thanks for the great review.

AmyPinSeattle said...

I am LOVING this book!!

Can't believe how many items I want to actually knit...not that the skirts and dresses would be viable at my size - I'd never get it done!

gayle said...

Thanks for the review! I'm a big fan of Barbara Walker, whose Knitting from the Top had a life-changing effect on my knitting. I'd been curious about this book since I first read the title!

Samantha said...

Count me in!

Michael said...

Thank you for the review. I think I need this book.

L said...

I never wanted to knit a dress before! This one is amazing!

LeighB said...

Looks like a lovely book and I'd love the chance to knit something from it. Thanks for the opportunity!

zanelaura said...

Although I almost always pick top-down patterns, I've never been tempted to commit to a dress -- until I saw these! Thanks for the review.

MaleficentKnits said...

thank you, Carol... I was wondering about this book as I prefer to knit my sweaters from the top down and have always felt that many lovely tops and dresses would be better knit to fit this way as well... I am definitely interested in the book and adding it to my holiday wish list!

Jessey said...

Thanks for another great, thoughtful book review Carol!

Deb Barnhill said...

Love it, want it, gotta have it!

sherri said...

Knitting in the round is the way to go!

Susan said...

I'd love to have the book! It all looks so cool, not sure what I would make first. Thanks for the review!

Megan said...

I'd love to own this book. Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

Melody said...

This good sounds good. The projects are very classy.

melodyj(at)gmail(dot)com

Bonnie said...

Thanks you for the review and the giveaway!

katie leigh said...

what gorgeous patterns! i hope i'm lucky enough to take the book home with me!

katie(dot)baratz(at)gmail(dot)com

Lara said...

Thanks for providing so much info about the book - I think it needs to go on my wish list!

Joyce said...

Nice review! I'm more interested in getting this book after reading the review.

Josiane said...

A very useful review, as always! I'm on a dress kick these days, and the ones featured in that book are part of what makes it so tempting... Thanks for offering a chance at winning a copy!

Barbara said...

Thanks for the comprehensive review!

Karen said...

Great review. Makes me want to get the book.

Kim said...

I flipped through a copy of the book last weekend at Borders. I've imposed a spending moratorium on all things knitty so it would be great to have a copy of the book!

craftygurl said...

Looks like a lovely book and I'd love the chance to knit something from it. Thanks for the opportunity!

Ms.Curdy said...

oooh, I so need to check out this book!

emgem said...

I would love a copy of this book.

Marguerite said...

I use my Barbara Walker Top Down book often for top down set-in sleeves without an unsightly, bulky seam.

Should I admit that if I don't win this book I'm going to buy it?

Acrylic-Girl said...

Good review. I'm tempted to pick up the book (although I would love to win it).

anne marie in philly said...

nice! drop my name in the hat!

Julia said...

This review was really helpful and made me want to get the book just for the construction details, let alone the patterns themselves. (The Soho smocked dress is the first knitted dress I've ever seen that made me want to wear dresses!) Like others, I'm really tempted to buy this if need be... Thanks for a great review!

Anonymous said...

As always, Carol, you've done us all a service with one of your thorough reviews. Love the design sensibility in this book - that jacket looks very interesting. Thanks.
- Beth in Toronto

Fiber Ninja said...

Yipee!! A book with a lot of dresses, skirts, and tunics! I've been waiting for someone to write one! I'm crossing my fingers.

Maryse said...

Lots of dresses and skirts! Nice!

Gauss said...

Gorgeous book! I'm so happy to hear it's not all raglans (whatever some might say, raglans do not flatter every single body) and I'm very interested in the knitted dresses. Pick me!

Anonymous said...

Sounds lovely! It will definitely be on my list.

Elaine in NYC

mamayaga said...

Sound like a great book. And I want it!

Linda said...

I checked that book out from the library and loved it. It'd be cool to have a copy of my own!

Mandy said...

Those are wonderful patterns but in particular I adore the seaport skirt!

deidre said...

what a beautiful book. Designers just slay me with how their brains work. Thanks

Maryanne & Duke said...

I've had Barbara Walker's book for years and am still too scared to try top-down knitting. These designs look awesome, so maybe that will be what pushes me over the edge.

LesleyD said...

OH would love it for Jill's Dress alone!! IT would make an awesome dress for me. :-)

Barb B. said...

Great review as always. Thanks for doing them, Carol.

Rooie said...

There's no way I'd wear a knit dress or skirt, but I sure like the looks of some of the other projects in this book.

Thanks for the review and the pictures!

emy said...

The projects look very promising -- items that I would very much knit for myself!

Tim said...

Hope I'm not too late.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see the knit dresses, and hope to knit one someday. TLK

Evelyn said...

I just sold my copy of this book because it wasn't quite my cup of tea. I thought it was going to be an update of Walker's book, but ut was much more than that--an entirely new direction, based on Walker's techniques. Not a bad book, but I am not going to be making any knitted dresses, so it wasn't that useful to me.