three great reads for spring

On the Shelf:
A Trio of Titles

January is a perfect month for discovering new ideas, learning a new technique, traveling far away—even if only in our minds. Here is a trio of books that fit the bill nicely. They're good companions as we make our way out of the winter darkness and into spring.

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by Ann Budd

Ann Budd is a marvel. Her ability to strip complex concepts to their numeric essence and to make those numbers understandable and inviting is unmatched by any author I know.

Following up on the perennial success of The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns and The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, she has now zeroed in on one kind of sweater her previous formulas didn't touch: sweaters knit from the top down.

If you haven't yet tried knitting a sweater from the top down, there are several reasons why you might want to consider it. My favorite is that you can try on the sweater as you go.

Sure, you can also do this when knitting a sweater from the bottom up, but you'll have less to see until the bulk of the work has been done. When you try on a top-down sweater in progress, you can immediately see the potential trouble areas, the neckline, shoulders, armholes, and bust shaping, and make any necessary modifications before going too far. This try-on-as-you-go approach helps guarantee a perfect fit, including the sleeve and body lengths. Simply stop when they're long enough.

In this book, Budd offers master patterns for four basic sweater types: seamless circular yoke, raglan, set-in sleeve, and saddle shoulder. Each is offered in a range of gauges from 3 to 7 stitches per inch. While she only writes these master patterns for gauges in whole numbers, Budd explains in the beginning how to re-read a pattern and adjust if for, say, a gauge of 4.5 stitches per inch.

Patterns are sized in terms of bust circumference, ranging from 36" (91.5cm) to 54" (137cm) for adults, 22" (66cm) to 34" (86.5cm) for children. Budd also provides a chart at the beginning listing the other standard body measurements for each size she uses. Ultimately, with 15 sizes and 5 gauges, the book gives you pretty much everything you could possibly need for your first, second, third, and 300th top-down sweater.

The patterns themselves follow the same format as Budd's previous books, with blocks of charted numbers for each step. Find your gauge along the left axis, find your size along the top axis, and where the two meet in the chart, that's your number. But within each section, she also offers three more patterns, these ones fully written instead of using charts of numbers—and some are provided by guest designers Pam Allen, Anne Hanson, Jared Flood, and Véronik Avery.

If you're looking to explore the land of top-down sweaters and want a good map of the major roads to help you get your bearings, this is it.

by Sandy Black

Here's one that slipped in relatively unnoticed. It comes from V&A Publishing in the U.K., a publisher whose ultimate purpose is to help raise funds for London's Victoria and Albert Museum, affectionately known as the V&A.

The museum has an extraordinary archive of textiles and supporting archival materials dating back more than 1,000 years. Just a fraction of that collection is ever on view to the general public. That's part of what makes this book so beautiful. It brings many of the museum's pieces to light—pieces that you and I would never otherwise get to see.

Sandy Black is a professor of fashion and textile design and technology at the London College of Fashion. She was given carte blanche to dive deep into the V&A archives, pulling out a broad collection of items—garments, tools, photographs, and even leaflets alike. Her goal: To illustrate the story of how knitting has progressed over time from a domestic handicraft to the high-tech textile used in fashion today.

She tells her story thematically, breaking it out into four main sections: "History, Tradition and Mythology," "Livelihood and Industry," "Knitting in the Home," and, finally, "Classics to Couture." Each is written with a clear, engaging voice that only vaguely hints of academe.

While fashion is definitely an ongoing theme of the book, there's much more going on here. Black does an impressively thorough and engaging job of telling our collective history, drawing compelling parallels and showing how social norms, politics, and economics have impacted knitting. Especially helpful, however, is the fact that Black always keeps a technical eye to the knitting itself, whether it's a particular stitch or technique or even yarn.

Depending on how passionate you are about fashion, the last chapter may not interest you as much as the others. But for anyone seeking a greater understanding of how knitting has kept us company over the past 1700 years, and especially anyone interested in fashion, this glossy tome will be your catnip from cover to cover.

by Kate Davies

Here's a treat from British designer and blogger Kate Davies. Colours of Shetland is Davies' self-published creative ode to the Shetland Islands, a place that captivated her during numerous visits.

Like Black, Davies also has an academic background. But rather than use her training to write a tome on the history of the Shetland Islands, or indeed any of its knitting history, Davies simply muses on certain elements of the Shetland Islands that have captivated her during many visits. Each essay (of which there are five main ones) looks at an element of Shetland's history, whether it's language, archaeology, landscape, literature, or even the humble puffin.

After the essay, Davies then looks at that same theme from a knitwear design perspective. She offers ten patterns total, with items including a shawl, tam, tunic, hoody, cardigan, mittens, sweater, and such. If you've ever worked one of Davies' patterns before, you won't be surprised when I tell you that these patterns are all worked at fine gauges. Davies has exquisite taste in yarn, and for this book she chose Jamieson & Smith Jumper Weight.

All in all, it's a lovely book. I've long been a fan of Davies' blog. She writes thoughtfully and intelligently as if it were a letter among friends. This book extends that to 89 printed pages, and with lush photographs and patterns to boot.

I hope there will be more.