Book Review

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  The Urban Knitter
by Lily M. Chin
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If you've been a knitter for a while, chances are you've heard of Lily Chin. Her designs have been featured in all the major knitting magazines, her patterns are sold through Fiber Trends, and she never fails to put in an appearance at major shows.

She is a charismatic woman with many admirers. The buzz around this book, as you might imagine, has been unusually high.

For Hip Young Urban Knitters
I was excited about the book until I received its press release. Only one paragraph into the piece, I already felt alienated and offended.

"The new generation of knitters does not consist of bored housewives and they are not interested in those shapeless scarves," it began. (Hey wait, I like shapeless scarves!)

"They are young, urban professionals and Hollywood celebrities in their 20s and 30s who see knitting as both a creative outlet and a form of stress relief -- a therapeutic way to create high-end fashion at a fraction of the cost." (Hmmm, hasn't knitting always been therapeutic? And don't most store-bought sweaters cost a fraction of what it takes to produce a hand-knit one?)

By the time the book finally arrived, I was reluctant to read it. There it sat for weeks on end, until one night, I pulled it out and gave it another chance.

The Concept
Chin's goal was to tap into the young, urban "vibe" that newer knitters are bringing to the craft. Toward this end, she sought out and eventually selected 20 knitters whom she met over the Internet. The selection criteria were simple: The knitter needed to be under 40 and live within city limits.

Chin soon dubbed her group her "hip young urban knitters." One by one, she consulted with each HYUK to find out what they'd like to see in a knitted item.

I initially thought each pattern was written by the HYUK, but upon closer examination it's unclear just how much was the result of collaboration and how much Chin did herself. She provides a chatty introduction to each pattern, profiling the HYUK who inspired it and what prompted Chin to design the garment the way she did.

Slowly it dawned on me that Chin had done most of the designs. The HYUKs provided the creative inspiration, tested the patterns, and knit up the sample garments.

The Patterns
Much to the chagrin of whoever wrote the press release, the book does include two lovely, potentially shapeless scarf patterns. You'll also find a pair of sport and evening bras, a halter top, and tempting knitted flipflops with extremely elaborate directions.

Not into knitting your own bras? Fear not, the book also includes patterns for socks, a hat, mittens, pullovers, vests, and even a knitted dress.

The Models
I didn't fully realize the importance of depicting finished garments on actual human beings until this book. Each pattern is given one color image in the center of the book. For that image, the garment is pinned flat against a white background, rather like a butterfly specimen in a science museum.

Without being able to see how the body fills the garments, it took a while before I began warming up to the patterns.

Low-Priced at a Price
Unfortunately, the steps that were taken to keep the book's price low are what peeved me the most. You cannot convey the sensual textures and colors of knitting in black-and-white. And you cannot convey the fluid life of a garment without showing how it fits its wearer's body.

I do know that yarn manufacturers were obligated to pay in order to have their yarns used and referenced in the book. I only wish the publishers had funnelled more of those funds into the art budget.

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