OOP BOOK REVIEWS – CREATING & KNITTING YOUR OWN DESIGNS…

Back at station. There’s a giant hole in the world today where a dear friend of mine used to be. "Kinsmen die, cattle die. Every man is mortal, but one thing never dies: the?good name of one who has earned it." Havamal, 75.

My heart aches for his wife, son, family, and household.


As promised, here is the second review of the set – Montse Stanley’s Creating & Knitting Your Own Designs for a Perfect Fit, New York,?Harper and Row, 1982.

In the days before knitting software, books like this one, personal apprenticeship, or trial and error were the ways one learned how to draft out one’s own patterns. Not knowing anyone who was doing designs to ask for help, I relied exclusively on the "books plus making lots of mistakes" scenario for most of what I knit. A couple of books in particular were worth their weight in gold. This was one. The pictures and projects illustrated in C&K are now a bit late ’70s funk/frumpy looking, but the basics of this book are as good as ever.

This book is so good in fact that I have used it in training classes for budding technical and professional writers, to illustrate how a complex set of technical concepts can be conveyed to an audience that includes both the experienced and novices without losing either of those readerships. The blurb says Stanley was an architect. I believe it, and would love to find out what sort of things she designed because the clarity of her thought processes rings from her pages.

It’s a survey course in knit design and technique, packaged up in an amazingly brief 175 pages – including index and custom graph paper. Like Perfect Fit, this book covers taking measurements and turning them into dimensioned schematics. Like PF, it skips over making a sloper – but unlike that book it translates the measurements directly to specific vectors on the garments, rather than to an abstract and idealized shape. Therefore short waisted people end up with garments that start out being custom-fit to that figure type, rather than taking a standard shape and altering it to meet their needs. Stanley goes further, taking the brilliant step of introducing ratio-based graph paper into the garment design. You knit up a swatch, figure out your stitch:row ratio, and select the graph paper that matches the closest. You can then lay out your collar shapings or other details "in real time."? Need a 40-degree angle?? Slap a protractor on the graph paper and draw your line. The graph boxes under it each represent a real stitch, and the rate of increase or decrease needed to achieve that angle are easily seen and counted. The book includes about ten pages of ratio graph paper for photocopying. I don’t know if anyone else wrote a knitting book that advocated the use of ratio-based graph paper before Stanley, but nothing else I’ve found has so clearly explained how to use it.

Stanley didn’t just publish a graph paper book, she includes an extensive section on knitting technique, including finishing, grafting, short rows (darts),? mitering, picking up, and types of increases and decreases. She’s got a stitch dictionary section? (all prose, none graphed); sections on materials and suitability, color, composition, and garment shapes – including a huge array of body, sleeve, closure, neckline, collar, and pocket options. Each garment shape is illustrated with a little line drawing, and has a brief prose description – usually enough to get one started drafting out that option on one’s own. The placement of critical measurements on these little drawings enables seeing how the garment works in relation to body shape/size.

There’s a section on moving beyond combos of these garment shape units; how color, knit direction, motif/texture placement and trim can greatly alter the look of a basic garment. Again this is illustrated with little line drawings, some woefully ’70s in feel. Even though some are out of date, the wealth of them can start the reader’s thought processes ticking.

The book closes out with a section on troubleshooting – what to do to correct styles (too long/short, narrow/wide), miscalculations (messed up texture or colorwork patterns), misplaced openings or buttonholes and the like. Add on some basic size charts, growth allowances charts for kids’ clothing, ease allowance charts, a few other quick calculation look-up charts, some color photos of finished items and discussions of them (but not whole patterns) and you’ve got this book.

I admit that a book like this is less valuable today than it used to be. Knitting design software has enabled a much wider audience to do basic pattern drafting without resorting to calculators, graph paper and pencil. But this book will still be very useful for anyone who wants to move beyond? the "black box" mystery mechanism use of that software. For example, you can start off with a knitting software-generated simple cardigan, then get inspired by this book to turn it into a jacket with an asymmetrical closure slanting from hip to shoulder. Stanley won’t tell you the exact stitch count or formula for that translation, but you will emerge from reading the her brief on that style with enough knowledge to make the change on your own. I suspect that everyone who has written a knitting design software package has?C&K on her or his shelf.

Montse Stanley’s work (in combo with?that of a couple of other authors) has made a tremendous difference in the way I knit, the way I look at and use patterns, and the scope of what I feel is within my own limited competence.One warning – this book IS?hard to come by, and sells used at a premium above cover price. But if you can find it and afford it, and?want the inspiration and enabling it contains, I strongly recommend adding C&K to your library.

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