Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Keeper

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.

Lucky bastards.

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.

Entree to Entrelac by Gwen Bortner

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.

Daddy's First Entrelac

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?),

Embarrassment of Riches

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?


BeatrixB said...

are you ever coming to nashville... maybe I can learn how to spin by then ;_)

Crafty Andy said...

Congrats on Sahar, it is an amazing stole which I am hoping to work on during the Next month or so. I have to agree with the book for entrelac, I actually looked at it last nite and found it very inspiring and not intimidating, I have some overspun yarn that is wanting to become an entrelac vest or Cardigan. Love to you my friend.

Jody said...

Gave up LibraryThing because turns out i didn't have nearly enough books! Thanks for the good knitting book review. Your Sahar is lovely and I may have to break out the Rhinebeck alpaca that I've been hoarding. As always, I am always glad to hear your posts!

Anonymous said...

I loved your review of Gwen Bortner's book. Also, Sahar is lovely. I look forward to fitting it into my knitting schedule one of these days.

Eileen said...

Entrelac and I have never been good friends. But now that we have a mutual acquaintance, could be there's hope! I will see if I can find a copy of this.

As to the books, books everywhere...oh, how I can relate! There are the cookbooks (modern & vintage), biographies, letters, 30s trashy novels (yes, a shelf of their very own), mysteries, household books (vintage), reference...and that's not all!

Gwen said...

So I wanted to see the Roman Glass Vest, went to my bookshelf only to discover, Glorious Color is one of Kaffe's books I do not own!! So now I am super curious!!


PS -- Thanks for the review!

Sherilyn said...

I immediately purchased yarn for Sahar and it mocks me from the kitchen counter, where it is still sitting out because I am determined to cast it on before too long. It and a cardi for my daughter are at the top of my to-do list after I get back from Rhinebeck. I absolutely love the pattern.

As for entrelac, the first time I did it, I fell in love. I have a feeling I will be getting this book because I have not made it to a class on knitting backwards and I'm also interested in how it can be used for fitted garments. Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a delicious looking buffet of yarn... drool.

Sidney said...

catafalque is my new vocabulary word for today...

Samina said...

Anna Quindlen said, "I would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves." I prefer to live my life that way, too.

Peg of Tilling said...

That is the most beautiful photo of yarn ever. It's like the answer to the question "Why do you have a stash?"

lostarts said...

Thanks for telling me about this book! I've done a lot of entrelac, but always turned my work (and turned my work and turned my work and turned my work).

I've always wanted t learn to knit backward, too, and this looks like my best chance.

Some of the books that have taught me the most little things that help a lot are Sally Melville's The Knit Stitch, The Purl Stitch, etc!

M-H said...

I'm glad that you're about to see the possibilities of entrelac. And I have a KF project on the needles too - a Persian Poppies vest - and I'm wondering if he's about to have a minor revival. I blame the huge stashes people are accumulating - mine has grown over thirty years, and having it certainly makes doing KF-style work much more rewarding. I'm sure you will love working that vest - when I'm working on mine I feel like I'm painting in yarn.

Nancy said...

I was beginning to fear that I was the last living reader of the works of Mr. Trollope. How very delightful to have company.

2muchfun on Ravelry said...

I hate to purl. So much so, that I stood in front of a mirror, back in the early 70s, and taught myself to knit left handed. Knitting back backwards is what everyone's calling it now. But back then I could impress friends by doing it. It's lovely to never have to turn your work. To always have the front of the piece facing you. Sadly, I will not be the only one impressing my friends now...

Julie Kwiatkowski Schuler said...

I totally want to learn to knit back backwards. I'm going to look up more garments with that crazy knittery.

mrkite said...

I immediately told my library to buy the Entree to Enterlac book. I may to go buy it for myself though. I've been thinking about learning the technique, and now there is no reason not to. Franklin says so.

Do you think your shawl would knit up with a teal lopi that has a bit of a twist? Bought six small wheels thinking I wanted to knit lace. Sahar might be what I was looking for. I shall ponder.

Thanks for the blog.

Anmiryam said...

Seriously, your life may not suck, but it could be better. I am envisioning a king size bed made of the collected works of Anthony Trollope providing a good night's rest and a bit of insight into the foibles of human existence. I may have to build one someday.

Anonymous said...

Entrelac=crack for knitters. Stash buster. Kureyon. It's just too damn fun. Knitting backwards so you don't have to turn the thing.

Yup. I'm hooked, and I'm pretty sure there's no rehab facility for this one.

Rooie said...

I am trying to convince my husband that a trip to Philly on the weekend you and Carol are at Loop would be a perfectly lovely birthday present. But then the next weekend there's the first annual alpaca show at the Howard County Fairgrounds and I'm not sure I can talk him into both... Though I think you and Carol would win out over even the cutest alpaca.

And I am telling myself that that gorgeous stole is actually named after me because of my witty and perspicacious comments...but somehow you spelled my name (Sarah) just a leetle bit wrong.

Anonymous, too said...

I sympathize with the book problem. I've probably got a sofa or two just with the stuff on ancient Egypt and Tudor England, and a regulation pool table with the science fiction.

That's a photo of your stash and not a display case at Tiffany's? The colors are so sumptious that they should be set in gold or platinum and worn as jewelry!

AnaMarie said...

Oh, oh my god...thank you for cluing me in to knitting backwards! I can do, done it before, and have this blanket that I tried, ever-so-hard, to make mitered colorwork squares in the round work for it. They didn't. The CC squares along the corners looked more like arrowheads. After lying to myself for 60% of the queen sized blanket, I ripped and am re-doing with a tangle of stranded work and intarsia. The most intense rows have 245 sts with 29 different balls hanging off.

Good news is I got good at stranded purling, bad news is it's so apt to tangle that I hate pulling it out unless I have a marathon session to work on it. Even then, I'll find an excuse to work on something else.

Maybe I will actually finish it sometime this century now that you've just made my work that much easier.

lorrwill said...

Hey Yarn Guru,

What is your all time favorite luscious soft yummy yarn for a scarf.

For a dude.

I already polled Queer Joe and I am curious what your pick(s) would be.

Charles said...

I'm working on the Men's Sweater on page 64-68. The Yoke is finished so far.

ktb38 said...

SQUUEE! I adore entrelac. I can do it without looking, until I have to pick up the stitches. I did a fingering scarf about 7? 8 feet long doing entrelac. It's addictive. You can't stop.
Are you going to be doing a meet and greet at loop?

Seanna Lea said...

Wow. I know that I could use my feminine wiles to get a book or two from my husband or maybe a skein or two, but not both and not in enough quantities to make such a huge colorwork undertaking. Your life is hard!

The Foggy Knitter said...

I'm hopelessly bad at getting rid of books, just can't do it. As a result I'm developing quite a book problem! I love your library (was particularly impressed to see "The Chalet School" in there - I'm only lacking 1 of the series now).

Have you read "Aunt Mame" by Patrick Dennis? Also glad to see you've discovered the "Bloomsbury Group" books, I particularly rate "Henrietta's War" in that series, though I'd like to own them all.

Happy reading!

Madame Leiderhosen said...

That's one sexy pile of yarn.

Anonymous said...

I know a guy who bought the house next door (to his) for his library.

And when are you going to get involved in twined knitting? (I know I should do my own research, but you do it so much better!)

Denise L. said...

Hope you will forgive a question totally unrelated to this post ... Are we going to get a look at your niece's poncho sometime soon? (Please?)

Leah said...

Franklin? You have done one entrelac square and your are going to plunge into an entrelac and stranded garment with no pattern? Man, do I resemble that ambition and fear the consequences!

Emily said...

Whoa. You read Trollope?!?

Knitting backwards is one of the most useful things I know. I can follow fair-isle charts from the front, plus it solved my problem of purl stitches that were way bigger than my knit stitches.

I have a lot of books, too, but mine are mostly not very brag-worthy.

tricotchick said...

I am actually knitting the scarf in Gwen's book. I took a class on entrelac at Stitches Midwest, and they gave us the scarf pattern in her book (with permission of course). It's nowhere near as difficult as it looks, and the scarf is actually fun to work on. Hopefully Mom will like it for her Christmas present this year!

Anonymous said...

hmmm...if a person who brags about their sexual prowess is probably lonely, what ought we to make of someone who brags about the number of books they own?

Carina said...

By the way, if you can, please donate any of your culled books to your local alternative high school. We just got a huge grant ($4K!!!) to get books to start a library, but the reality is, even with that kind of seed money, we just don't have enough. Don't worry if you don't think it's school appropriate--we're just happy if we can get them to read something. :)

Tracy Hudson said...

Wow - catafalque and pachysandra, both in the same post. Impressive.
Nail that Kaffe sweater, man - can't wait to see.

Ragnar said...

My friend Sarah knit the sweater on the cover!!! It really is an excellent book.

PainterWoman said...

You can get a bar code reader that sucks off all the ISBN info from the web someplace and types it in a database of your choice. Hubby has one... POWER TOOLS, Rah!!
email me if you want specifics.

Sazji said...

Knitting backwards - I'd tried it quite a while ago because like lots of people I hate long purl rows. I knit Continental, and my mistake was trying to switch the yarn to my right hand and knit mirror image continental. No way. This time I just kept the yarn in the same hand and tried it...noticed the stitches were turned the wrong way, and realized the point was to do a "purl" from the front. Magic! And really not so hard. I also found an extra added bonus - for some reason (I guess even tension on the stitches), stockinette done that way doesn't roll up, but lies flat. Thanks for reminding me of this forgotten project!

www.caceres-3d.com said...

Of course, the writer is totally fair.

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