Monday, October 31, 2011

No-Bull Book Review & Giveaway: The Knitter's Book of Socks, by Clara Parkes

When she's not taking photographs of the artfully-swirled cream in her cup of java mochalatta, Clara Parkes writes books. Really excellent books, as a matter of fact. Today's No-Bull Book Review examines her latest, The Knitter's Book of Socks: The Yarn Lover's Ultimate Guide to Creating Socks That Fit Well, Feel Great, and Last a Lifetime (Potter Craft 2011; MSRP $30, available as of the time of this writing for $17.85 via the link).

I first encountered Clara Parkes through her excellent newsletter, Knitter's Review, and the message boards that accompanied it. I have always loved Clara's in-depth yarn reviews, her emphasis on small-producer and single-breed wools, and her willingness to share her technical expertise though both her newsletter and message boards. Clara's first two books (The Knitter's Book of Yarn and The Knitter's Book of Wool) are wonderful, information-packed volumes that should be on every knitter's bookshelf. They also feature some lovely patterns, too. It's no surprise that The Knitter's Book of Socks will take its place next to them, as a must-read book for the sock knitter. Let's take a closer look at what's inside.

Knitter's Book of Socks begins with a brief introduction, in which Clara sets out her goal: to educate readers about "the art, science, and sheer pleasure of knitting socks from the yarn up." By using the specific sock yarn as starting point, Parkes hopes to prevent sock knitting disasters that might result from a bad combination of sock and yarn.

Stepping Stones, by Clara Parkes

Chapter 1 is titled "What a Sock Needs," and we learn in the introductory section that a sock yarn needs three qualities: elasticity, strength and absorption. Parkes walks the reader through each of these qualities, discussing what elasticity is and how to measure it; different aspects of strength, including strength to resist abrasion and tensile strength; and moisture management. She finishes with a nod to a fourth, more abstract factor: what I think of as the yarn's charisma -- whether the yarn feels good to wear and work with.

Hickory, by Jane Cochran

Chapter 2 covers the fibers that are used to create sock yarns, not only covering types of fiber (wool and other protein fibers, plant-derived fibers like cotton, synthetic and others) but also issues like blends, the fineness of the fibers and staple length.

Chapter 3 looks at specific types of yarn, instructing the reader about twist, singles vs. plies, even cable-spun and corespun yarns -- all excellent stuff that often is overlooked in discussions of yarn.

Chapter 4 gives the knitter some tips on how to make adjustments to a yarn to compensate for natural tendencies that can affect its suitability as a sock yarn. For example, Parkes gives some guidance on how to use your stitchwork to increase the elasticity of the socks (if you are working with a less-than-elastic yarn); how to improve the strength of a less-durable yarn; and discusses the use of wooly nylon as reinforcement.

Veil of Rosebuds, by Anne Hanson

If your mind starts spinning from the vast amount of valuable information in the beginning chapters, you can always take a break and refer to Chapter 5, the patterns. Parkes presents a selection of 20 sock patterns from leading sock designers, including Cat Bhordi, Cookie A, Lucy Neatby, Nancy Bush and Ann Budd.

Buddleia by Marlaine Bird

There's a great variety of styles included, from stranded

Strago by Jared Flood

and eyelets

Prana, by Cirilia Rose

to cuffs

Lady Tryamour, by Sivia Harding

even unique multidirectional colorwork:

Percheron, by Kathryn Alexander

But of all the gorgeous patterns, my favorite is a lovely one called "Tutu," designed by Melissa Morgan-Oakes and knit up in Black Bunny Fibers Stella yarn:

Tutu, by MMO

The patterns feature charts (in color where appropriate); close-up shots to show off specific design features; notes to help the knitter with unusual techniques; and extensive descriptions that explain how the features of the specific design illustrate the technical information given in the beginning of the book. Sizing varies depending on the pattern; some of the more unusual designs are shown in one size only, but many include two or three different sizes.

The pattern section is followed by a "Resources" section detailing how to care for your socks; explanation of abbreviations and techniques; a chart showing foot size and how it relates to sock sizes; and a bibliography.

The book is hardcover; approximately 208 pages; with lots of photographs and inset boxes; and the mouth-watering photography is by Alexandra Grablewski.

When you really love yarn, especially sock yarn, like I do, it's a real treat to encounter a book as informative and easy to read as it is beautiful. The Knitter's Book of Socks is such a book, and thanks to the generosity of Potter Craft, I have a free copy of The Knitter's Book of Socks to give away. Leave a comment to this post by midnight, Wednesday, November 2. I will use the random number generator to pick a winner and announce it the next day. One comment per person, please! And makes sure you include an email or I can reach you through your Blogger comment login.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Coming soon

to a LYS near you: Koigu Magazine volume 2. I am proud to present Ginger, my baby cardigan and hat combination, knit in Kersti.

There are lots of other lovely items in this issue and I'm hoping to have a complete preview of the issue soon.

In the meantime, we are doing fine after our unusual October storm. We only had about two inches of snow, and much of it has melted already. Keeping fingers crossed that power is restored to those who are without -- having experienced that in August, I have great sympathy for you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Black Bunny Fibers lovers: Occupy Loop!

I am very excited to announce that I will be having a trunk show at Loop in Philadelphia during the weekend of November 12 & 13. I'll be bringing pretty much everything I've got in stock, and I'll be stoking up the dyepots during the coming weeks to make sure I've got some new stuff for you. You'll be able to browse to your heart's content all day Saturday and Sunday, and for those of you who like to touch and see yarn in person, this is a great chance for you to fondle the goods!

I'll also be teaching two classes at Loop. Saturday morning I'll be teaching "Making Friends With Your Handpaints," from 10 to 1, and when the class is done, you'll understand all about why handpaints do what they do (particularly why they pool) and what you can do about it. Sunday I'll be teaching a class that uses the schematic of a pattern as a jumping-off point: what it tells you about the pattern, the important but often overlooked concept of ease, different shoulder styles and ways to tweak patterns to get a better fit.

I'll be hanging out at the shop after my classes to answer any questions about BBF yarns, to sign books, or just to say hi. (And now that Loop has Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter yarn, as well as Rowan yarns (!), you can bet I'll be leaving with a big bag of yarn that I didn't arrive with.....) Full details are here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stitches East: Hartford edition

I first discovered Stitches East when it was held in Valley Forge, just five minutes from my house. I have very vivid memories of attending about 15 years ago, when I was very pregnant with my oldest kid and wandered around buying baby kits to knit. He's almost 14 now, and it seems unbelievable that I've been going to Stitches East for so many years. I followed it to Atlantic City and Baltimore, but I haven't been there since the show moved to Hartford so it was great fun to be asked to teach there this fall.

View of Hartford from my hotel room

It took about four and a half hours to make it from my house to the hotel/convention center, and it was teeming with rain for much of the way -- very stressful. It was a relief to check into the hotel and have a quiet night of watching bad teevee and knitting before the show began. Thursday was jam-packed. I attended the Teachers A La Carte luncheon, which was described to me as "speed dating for teachers." We started out at a lunch table full of students, and as they had lunch, we had about five minutes to introduce ourselves and tell about our classes. Then we moved to the next table, and so on. It was surprisingly grueling but I did get to meet some lovely people, including a bunch of women who were from northeastern Pennsylvania and couldn't believe I grew up in Wilkes-Barre.

Outside the hotel

Thursday afternoon was my first class and it was full of great students. I had dinner that night with lace goddess Brooke Nico, and my second class was bright and early Friday morning. It was another enjoyable class full of great students but since my Friday afternoonwas free, I decided to use it to take a quick whirl around the show floor and then nap. (Teaching takes a tremendous amount of energy out of me and leaves me feeling zombified.) By this time, my roommate Melissa Morgan-Oakes had arrived and so we were able to have dinner together Friday night, thus alleviating any need for me to lurk in the shrubbery with night-vision goggles. (By the way, it has come to my attention that MMO is claiming that she is missing some underwear. I am most certainly not wearing it on my head right now, so please put that thought out of your mind immediately.)

Stalkery of MMO

My last class was Saturday morning and it was my favorite one to teach: Yarn Substitution Made Easy. My class was bright and eager and enthusiastic, and we had a great conversation about the relatively new square-shaped knitting needles vs. round. (Consensus was that it was quite common to find that one's gauge was a bit looser on the square needles compared to the same size in traditional round shape.) The best part for me was that one of the students in the class was a knitter who'd taken a class with me before; nothing's more rewarding than someone willing to come back and take a second class with the same teacher.

Marie even brought a scarf she was knitting in some Black Bunny yarn -- my cell phone photo doesn't do it justice, but it is so fun to see BBF yarn knit up, and Marie was doing a fabulous job with the scarf.

Saturday afternoon was a real treat for me. I got picked up outside the hotel by my pal Kristi and she and her wife Donna and doggie Ripley took me away from the knitting world into the world of Mark Twain. I had not realized that Mark Twain lived for many years in Hartford, and we went to visit the Mark Twain House and Museum. It was just five or ten minutes away from the Convention Center but a world away in spirit.

View of Mark Twain House

The house itself was big and beautiful. I guess you could call it Victorian or Gilded Age, but it also had a sort of craftsman feel about it -- lots of wood, and stenciling everywhere. There were balconies, a glassed conservatory, and amazing construction details. Our tour guide knew an incredible amount about Mark Twain (for example, he could rattle off factoids like "The family had 11 cats during the 18 years that they lived in this house" and other details that made the family come alive).

Mark Twain in Lego (gotta love a museum with a sense of humor)

Donna, me & Kristi

I got back to the hotel in time to chill for a little while and then attend the student banquet. I could not believe my eyes when Lily Chin entered the room wearing an entire Mary Poppins ensemble -- including crocheted hat and long coat, knitted skirt, carpetbag and even a black umbrella with a light-up handle. She kept going around saying that she was "practically perfect in every way."

Once again I had the pleasure of hanging with Brooke Nico and we met some lovely students at our table (several of whom had taken classes with Brooke over the previous days).

Linda Pratt demonstrates the Kid Silk Creation scarf kits

After chatting with my students about square knitting needles, I had to stop at the WEBS booth before I left so I could try a pair. (I'll let you know what I think....) The show floor seemed well-populated (a few vendors were missing due to overlap with the SAFF show) and I got a chance to see some of my favorite fiber folks, including the Elkins, Linda Pratt from Westminster Fibers, and Michael DelVecchio of Universal Yarns. I got to meet Lisa Souza in person (we've been conducting a shameless Facebook correspondence but haven't actually met in person) and enjoyed poking around and seeing what was new in the knitting world.

I will freely confess that after being away from my family for four days, I was very happy to get back on the road Sunday morning and head for home. It was a great trip and I returned home, as I usually do after a teaching gig, both exhausted and energized. If this blog post sounds a little disjointed, it's probably because I am still taking in all the new people I met and the things I saw....

Now it's back to the massive to-do list that was waiting for me. At the top of the list: Halloween costumes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rhinebeck: Part 2

Saturday night ended up being a cozy and mellow evening. My roommates convinced me that drinking lots of wine and eating lots of Chinese food while sitting in the hotel room in my jammies was the way to go, and you know what? They were right. So we gossiped about yarn and the yarn world and cracked jokes and had a wonderful time.

Sunday morning was even more beautiful, and although we had to bid the cool Canadian ladies "adieu," we were still prepared to get our last licks in at the show, before hitting the road. For some reason, we hadn't seen a lot of Philadelphia friends Saturday and we were wondering where they all were. But Sunday was a different story. We ran into the lovely Jody Pirrello Richards and her loyal companion Christy first thing.

Shortly after that, we found Lisa and Purlewe loitering near a display of pumpkins....

and just as we were about to leave, Jim found Craig and Mark (Mark is a love; he very kindly shared his fried pickles with us).

Laura and I were fairly restrained in our shopping, although we did both succumb to the lure of some Bartlett yarn.

In the interests of science, I decided to do an experiment: APPLE CRISP VS. APPLE PIE.
You can see the choices here:

Crisp (Saturday's choice)

Pie (Sunday's choice)

I have to say that I preferred the pie: more apples and the crust was moister than the crisp. (I believe strongly in the scientific method. I am debating whether to do pumpkin pie vs. apple pie next year.....)

Of course, there were all sorts of lovely things to see at the show, and I enjoyed snapping some photos of miscellaneous items that caught my eye. From lop-eared goats

to an entrelac wrap;

sheep of all flavors, colors and sizes;

fiber-related equipment

and handwoven baskets

a baby bun

(This guy was a ham. He absolutely mugged for the camera)

delicious things to eat and drink:

um, Yoda?

but I think my favorite photo from the weekend is this one.

One of the last things we did was walk through the animal barns and see the sheep. Laura seemed to have an uncanny bond with the sheep, and at one point, she had 3 or 4 sheep jostling to try to get her to pet them. I started calling her "the Sheep Whisperer."

The weekend flew, and I've barely unpacked my suitcase and it's time for another teaching gig, this time at Stitches East. So if you're in Hartford this weekend, make sure you stop me and say hello...

Monday, October 17, 2011


How quickly a wonderful weekend with dear friends flies by! I got back from our annual trek to Rhinebeck last evening, and although I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again, I already missed my fibery friends dreadfully. Here's the recap, so if you weren't able to make it, you can experience it vicariously.

The first year we went to Rhinebeck, faithful companion Jim and I

got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday and went for the day. We quickly realized that (a) we are too old to get up at 4 a.m. every year and (b) we needed to spend more time there because it was so fun, so the next year we got a hotel room and stayed over Saturday night. A year or two after that, lovely & uber-talented Laura Grutzeck had been coming with us and we all decided one night at Rhinebeck wasn't enough. So we added Friday night to our hotel reservation and made it a weekend.

We left midday Friday, and the weather was kind of misty and overcast, with the sun peeking through from time to time. Our drive went pretty quickly, and we arrived before 5 p.m. We met up with my girl-crush Veve and her wonderful friends Tara and Kate, and ended up at the Olympic Diner for a quick dinner. We hit the hay early so we would be able to get to the show nice and early.

We woke up Saturday to beautiful sunny skies...(later on, there were short but drenching rain showers, though)

and before we even left the parking lot, we saw Tara and Kate.

Tara just finished her lovely sweater the night before so she modeled it for us (she has previous modeling experience, you know).

We were early enough that we didn't get caught in too much traffic (we heard that some friends were stuck in a gigantic line of cars a little later in the morning -- feh) and we were very pleased to be strolling the grounds while the sun shone and the leaves gently fell.

When I first get to Rhinebeck, it's such a giddy feeling: where to go first, looking for friends along the way, and simply soaking up the great feeling of being surrounded by fellow fiber freaks....So we wouldn't be completely overwhelmed, we adopted a somewhat systematic approach, starting at one end of the barns and working our way through them. It's always interesting to see what new vendors are there, to greet old friends from past years (we always make out way to Maggie's Soaps, because she is a lovely person and the soap is divine!)

and one of our first stops was, of course, to see the inimitable Dr. Mel

wearing his customary kilt and thereby gracing us all with a view of his sexeh legs.

Not to mention the great Icelandic sweater....

We also had the pleasure of running into Amy Detjen

and Rhichard from happy Koiguland (also showing off his great gams)

Of course we saw all sorts of adorable animals, from sheep

(I think this is a Teeswater) to goats

and bunnies

and we ran into several alpaca and llama parades

We made a special stop at the book tent, where I picked up a signed copy of Teva Durham's recent book (I'll do a review soon -- it's fabulous)

Ysolda was signing her new book and showing off her new 'do:

while Ms. Clara Parkes was selling out (SELLING OUT!) of her new book (one of the next books I'll be reviewing)

Lunch was my favorite Polish food from Janek's

(stuffed cabbage rolls and pierogi).

We didn't see a lot of folks from Philly on Saturday, and somehow I completely missed Marilyn and Joe (very unusual) but we still managed to have a most excellent day.

Jim didn't want to leave -- can you blame him?

(Tomorrow: Day 2 recap)