A few years ago I started cataloguing my personal library over on a site called LibraryThing. At this point I'm a little less than half finished, with 887 books on the list.
I used to think I had a lot of books, mostly because upon stepping into my apartment visitors invariably confront the phalanx of overstuffed shelves and exclaim, "Whoa! You have a lot of books!"
LibraryThing has reassured me that no, I do not have a lot of books. There are more than a few collectors on that site whose collections number in the tens of thousands. I don't think most of the school libraries I encountered growing up were that well stocked.
If I attempted to fill this place with tens of thousands of books the floor would collapse. Also, I would have to sell all the furniture and sleep on a catafalque made from the complete works of Anthony Trollope. It's frustrating, this lack of square footage. On the other hand it keeps me from ending up on a very special episode of Hoarders.
Truth is, it's tough for a book to merit a permanent slot on my limited shelves. I cull twice a year, and a dozen or so titles head to the charity shop. I'm still running out of room, but without discipline it would have happened years ago.
It's especially unusual for knitting and needlework titles to stick around longer than six months. So many arrive by mail these days (my life, it is hard) that the population, if allowed to grow unchecked, would soon invade the adjacent cases devoted to authors from the British Empire (on the left) and biography/autobiography/memoirs/letters/journals (on the right).
For a knitting book to earn permanent residency it must bring more to the table than a good collection of patterns. My favorites have taught me to be a better knitter, not just how to add a particular sweater to my wardrobe. I'm a child of Elizabeth Zimmermann and I can design my own sweaters, thankyouverymuch.
So it's rare that a book grabs me as quickly as Gwen Bortner's new Entree to Entrelac.
I've heretofore avoided entrelac by pretending it did not exist. Once, when it tried to say hello during a knitting retreat show-and-tell, I was forced to put my fingers in my ears and shout "La la la la I can't hear you I can't hear you." (Nobody likes to sit next to me during show-and-tell.)
Why this aversion? I wish you wouldn't have asked, because it kills me to admit this.
Long ago, a knitter at a neighborhood meet-up who was working on an entrelac scarf told me what was involved in producing it, and called it a pain in the ass. She demonstrated the making of one square, and I was so put off I swore I'd never touch it. Cowardly!
But when I learned that Gwen–who is nobody's fool–was sufficiently enchanted to run on about it for a couple hundred pages, I got curious. After several weeks of cohabiting, I've decided the book gets to stay. It's empowering, and that makes it a keeper.
Entrelac itself is a very specific technique. It does what it does and it looks like what it looks like, and that's that. To her credit, Gwen pushes it about as far as it will go, using it to fashion not only the usual suspects like scarves and other mainly flat pieces, but also surprisingly fetching fitted garments.
Patterns aside, however, the book explains the underlying principles of entrelac so clearly and exhaustively that after working through the practice exercises an intermediate knitter could begin to design his own projects, or adapt the attendant patterns to suit. I waded in, as directed, with needles and scrap yarn in hand. In 15 minutes I produced my first complete square.
Yeah, fine. I'm not going to enter it in the county fair, but it led me all the way 'round the garden path without veering off into the pachysandra.
Gwen also pushes the technique of knitting left to right (also known as knitting back backwards) as essential to making entrelac a joy, since it obviates the need to constantly turn the work. You knit the stitches from the left needle to the right needle, as usual–and then you knit them back from the right needle to the left needle.
I'd seen it done. I'd envied those who could do it. But I'd never done it. Using Gwen's tutorial, I learned to fluently knit, purl, k2tog and p2tog backwards in five minutes flat. Obviously, here is a work written by a born teacher.
Now, a bit of irony. Learning to knit back backwards has put entrelac within my reach, but it's also the reason I won't be knitting any entrelac right way.
Thanks to Gwen, I can finally tackle a project I've wanted to make since the moment I saw it: the Roman glass vest from Kaffe Fasset's Glorious Color. There are two photographs, but no pattern–only Kaffe's succinct description in the text of how he did it. It's knitted flat, and involves working both intarsia and jacquard in the same row throughout.
I've wanted to make it as a showcase for some of the beautiful, beautiful yarn I've been given by spinners and dyers when I travel (did I mention that my life is hard?),
but didn't want to face working the wrong side rows. Now that knitting back backwards will allow me to keep the right side facing me at all times, it's time to go swatch.
Philadelphia: Back to Loop
Before I forget, I've added a trip to my calendar that's coming up pretty soon–to beautiful Loop in Philadelphia, November 13 and 14. I had so much fun there the last time that I can't wait to come back.
I'll be teaching three classes (lace and photography) as part of a lovely weekend that will also include a class and trunk show by my bosom companion Carol Sulcoski of Black Bunny Fibers and Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn. Full details are here.
And My Thanks...
The outpouring of supportive comments to It Gets Better was mind-boggling. I've managed to put high school behind me–although as you can tell, the memories are still vivid when I summon them. But should some kid in need stumble upon that entry, I have no doubt that she or he will find far more encouragement in your responses than in my testimonial!
And thanks, also, for making my maiden voyage into self-publishing a sweet one–Sahar is doing quite respectably, and there's already a beautiful FO in Rowan Felted Tweed on Ravelry. Who's next?