Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What I'm Reading

In the interests of getting something somewhat useful accomplished today--aside from molding young minds, of course--here's a book review I'm working on my for knitting guild.

Knitting Vintage Socks: New Twists on Classic Patterns
by Nancy Bush
Interweave Press, 2005
Rating: 5 sheep/excellent

I've made three pairs of socks from Knitting Vintage Socks and know already that this book will be the one I turn to more often than any other sock book. Bush has taken old patterns from Weldon's Practical Needlework, checked them for errors, updated the gauges for modern needles and yarns, and created a wonderful resource for sock knitters and needlework historians.

The book begins with a brief essay on Weldon's, a very popular monthly needlework magazine published at the turn of the last century. Bush also includes information about the general history of knitting, and stockings and socks in particular. For knitters interested in history, Bush discusses the evolution of knitting patterns and gauges during the nineteenth century. She will quote an extensive passage from Weldon's (say on how to make a gusset) and then follow it with her explication and explanation.

One of the best things about Knitting Vintage Socks is the section on heels and toes. Bush covers four different heels and six different toes. For each, she explains the characteristics and offers detailed instructions. That way, if the reader wants to make a ribbed sock with a welsh heel and a french toe, all that's necessary is to mix and match to make a unique sock. Each of the actual sock patterns tells how long to make the leg before starting the heel and the foot before starting the toe, allowing the knitter to adapt any sock pattern as desired.

Before getting into the fancier socks, Bush begins with four basic sock patterns, letting the knitter feel comfortable with those before moving on to more complicated socks. In addition to the basics, there are 8 patterns for men, 10 for women, and 2 for babies. There's enough variety in the patterns to keep the sock knitter occupied for years--shaped calves, different ribbings and stitch patterns, creative stripes, intarsia, lace, clocking, graphs, and more.

Each reproduction sock is beautifully photographed, and Bush provides the original engraving from Weldon's to let the reader compare. She likewise mentions date of publication and the yarn and needles specified in the original. A few notes introduce each pattern with comments on any changes and special features. As one would expect with any pattern, Bush provides a recommended yarn, needle size, any notions, yardage requirement, finished size, and a gauge.

True sticklers for historical accuracy may want to know that Bush has converted many children's socks into women's sizes by substituting larger needles and modern yarns. Rather than knitting with what must have been a fine thread on 00000 needles, Bush chooses a sock-weight yarn and size 0. On the plus side, the book is filled with photographs of antique knitting tools: a bell gauge, ivory needles, sock stretchers, needle cases, and more.

Across the bottom of many pages runs an interesting timeline of events that happened during the dates of Weldon's publication, letting the knitter's imagination take hold. If you are knitting an 1898 sock, x-rays have been invented, but aspirin has not. The facts on the timeline are the same throughout, but an arrow points to the relevant date.

I have knitted two of the patterns and used Bush's opening notes to adapt a third. I found her instructions very easy to follow and the end results were beautiful. Each part of the sock (leg, heel, gussets, foot, and toe) gets its own section heading, and any special stitch patterns are clearly spelled out in text boxes. It's easy to see why Bush's books are so popular and I give this one my heartiest recommendation. I look forward to spending more time with its patterns.

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