Little Red in the City Knit Swirl

Book Review:
A Fitting Duo

One of the trickiest things about knitting is that we can't try things on before we knit them. How do we know a style of sweater looks good on us, or that a particular pattern will fit? We don't, at least not until we've finished the project—at which point it's too late.

There are a few preventive steps we can take, though. For starters, we can learn more about fitting and sizing, so that we can customize any pattern to fit us properly. That is what Ysolda Teague set out to do in her lovely new opus, Little Red in the City.

The second option is to pick something that will look good, no matter what. I would've thought such a suggestion ridiculous. But then I had a chance to sit in a room and watch a group of women try on Sandra McIver's Swirl jackets. No matter what the shape or size of the person, each jacket looked stunning.

Little Red in the City
Little Red in the City
by Ysolda Teague

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"A pattern, no matter how many sizes it includes, is unlikely to fit you perfectly without any changes," writes Ysolda. Size was a key motivator for this book. Ysolda wanted to show a collection of knitted garments designed for, and modeled by, real people of different shapes and sizes.

The book is far more than its garments, of which you'll find seven patterns total. It also offers more than 100 pages of patiently presented, cleverly conceived instruction on everything from selecting yarn and swatching (music to my ears!) to measuring your body, choosing the right garment size, and customizing garments to create the perfect fit for your particular body type.

Ysolda wants you to understand that sizing and shaping involve far more than just measuring your chest, matching it to the closest pattern size, and casting on. She takes into account many other dimensions of the human body—ones that can vary widely from person to person even within the same general pattern size. And she succeeds in showing you how to feel comfortable and confident identifying and changing problem areas in other patterns.

What's unusual about this book is that it doesn't present garments segregated by size. It shows the same sweater scaled up and down to fit multiple body sizes, as cheerfully modeled by Ysolda herself and her friend, Lorna's Laces manager Amanda Allen (now Jarvis). You can see exactly how and where the shaping was adjusted to fit the different figures, and you learn exactly which techniques were used.

The book's instructional underpinnings are aided greatly by its charming design, which combines images and sketches, Ysolda's handwritten notes, swatches, ball-bands and even yarn snippets taped to pages. All conspire to give the book a highly personal feeling as if this were Ysolda's very own notebook being shared with you. It often feels as if Ysolda were sitting right over your shoulder narrating as you read. "Flattering line," she writes, pointing to one part of a garment. "Not so flattering!" she warns and points to another.

Ysolda's love of yarn shines through, and this may be my favorite element of the book. Her section on yarn and swatching provides deep, tangible information on twist, ply, and fibers—even pointing out how the density of different fibers will change the nature of a yarn when spun. Within each pattern, she also provides a lengthy paragraph about the ideal yarn qualities for that particular garment.


Knit Swirl
Knit Swirl! Uniquely Flattering, One Piece, One Seam Swirl Jackets
by Sandra McIver

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I have another approach to picking well-fitting garments. Instead of studying gussets and darts and short-rows, measuring every inch of your body and calculating your shape down to the last stitch and row, just choose something you know will look good.

Easier said than done. But it is possible.

Several years ago at one of Cat Bordhi's visionary retreats, a woman named Sandra McIver told us about a sweater design she had stumbled onto by accident. It was based partly on the popular circular sweaters you often see in shops—but knit with a clever outside-in construction.

We pounced on her knitted samples and began trying them on. Quite the physically varied group, we marveled at how each sweater looked fabulous no matter who was wearing it. Not only that, but each sweater felt fabulous—it had the cozy embrace of your favorite robe, only in far finer fibers.

Sandra wanted to publish a book about these sweaters. Never mind that she'd never published a knitting pattern before. Years ago she conquered the world of wine, founding a winery that would go on to produce some of the finest wines in the industry. With that same confidence, passion, and skill, she turned this sweater into this book.

The patterns are divided into four basic silhouettes—centered circles, centered ovals, off-center circles, and off-center ovals. Although they share similar overall concepts, they do have subtly different proportions that cause them to drape and taper in their own unique way.

The patterns are all worked from the outside in, beginning with what seems like an absurd number of stitches and getting smaller and faster with each round. Each pattern also has a hexagonal diagram filled with numbers and arrows, accompanied by an equally daunting-looking numeric chart of the sleeve, lapel, and arms. Keep breathing, because they're actually quite clear and intuitive.

Perhaps most unusual is the fact that these jackets do not rely on chest, arm length, or any other traditional measurements for their sizing. You simply measure the yoke—she shows how in the book—and choose from among the three possible sizes based on that number. Long, short, narrow or wide arms? I don't quite know how you're supposed to modify things (perhaps I could borrow a tip from Ysolda's book?), but somehow it all seems to work out.

Each jacket uses quite a bit of yarn. Although Sandra gives very little room for yarn information, she has chosen her materials wisely. You'll find gorgeous examples of Habu, Sundara, Alchemy, Shibui, and Tilli Tomas yarns, among others.

Shifting Publishing Paradigms
The creative, editorial, and production quality of both Little Red in the City and Knit Swirl! break all previously conceived notions of what a self-published book should be. From my own experience I know that no publisher would allow a book to have so vague a title as "Little Red," nor would it support a whole book about essentially one sweater design. I can see the rejection letters from here.

Yet these books are available and are doing well. Therein lies the real potential of self-publishing. Two people believed they knew what was needed and took matters into their own hands, creating gorgeous, comprehensive works that met a need, improve the market, and make us better knitters.

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