Monday, November 23, 2009

Tiered Shrug

To listen to this blog post read by Annie, click here: /112309.mp3

My latest piece for History on Two Needles is based on the painting of Alexandra Amalie von Bayern by Joseph Karl Stieler.

The 1840's were a unique time in costume history, the hair alone could be among the most strikingly un-flattering ever seen in the history of hair. Why every woman suddenly wanted to look like a spaniel is beyond me, but I'm glad I didn't live then with my round, round face.

But Miss Bayern's hair is lovely in this painting - lucky her! - but I was more interested in the top of her ball gown. The lace layers are striking in their simplicity, and I thought it would make an interesting layered shrug. I'm going to call it a "Ball-wrap" just to see if the name catches on.

It worked up VERY quickly in a lovely, lovely yarn. It's Beaded Mohair by Artyarns, and I used some Ultramerino 4 to create the ribbed under-structure

Yes, as floaty as it seems, there's an under-shrug upon which the ruffles are built. If the ruffles were structural, they couldn't be so free. Many things that seems to be weightlessly floating on air are secretly supported and well grounded - a truism I learned in millinery and carry over to many other aspects of life!

And, because it worked up so fast, of course I have to change it. I'm going to remove the middle ruffle and move it to the bottom, thereby echoing more closely what is actually happening in the painting. Then I'll add the sleeves and figure a very nice closure in the front, a pearl?, and one more project will be done!

Useful? Useless? Pretty? Who knows.

This is something I could see myself wearing on a cool summer evening over a sun dress, or on New Year's Eve over a strapless gown. The layers give surprising warmth, and the yarn makes it like wearing a bit of shimmery snowfall.

Chart BIG!
Nothing makes me sadder than running across what might have been an exceptional book - except it isn't.

I find this most often happens when a book is the product of a committee (design by committee are the words most feared by those of us who really enjoy good design) or when an unspoken goal of the book is a misdirected quest for "standardization" above intelligence or individual consideration.

All of these seem to play a part in 400 Knitting Stitches, a book by Potter Craft (a reworking of 400 Points De Tricot published by Marie Claire, 2007)

I was sent a review copy, along with some other Potter or Random House books. I've been giving them away on the blog - it only seems fair - and I'll be giving THIS one away, too.

It's a pretty book, the swatches are all worked in either off-white or dark (making contrasting patterns easy to read), and the size of the photos are good.

The charts are well designed - I really like the use of row numbers on the left and right sides to note the direction of the work - but the charts themselves are SO tiny they're almost a joke.

When I looked through this book I felt such sadness at what MIGHT have been. I'm afraid common sense was the servant of a book design decision.

I like charts. I know some folks don't like them and won't use them - but even if you're in the latter camp it must be acknowledged that charts are an amazing tool in knitting. They leap over a gap that language sometimes has a hard time bridging.

I think several things have combined to make our current surge of interest in knitting alive for 10+ years: the internet, sock knitters, fashion-forward designs and an embrace of different ways of creating knit fabric.

But - for me, at least - COMMUNICATION of knitted patterns is key to greater enjoyment in knitting. This has been accomplished by the [now] almost universal use of charts and schematics in a more visual route to comprehension.

I'm a fan of Edward Tufte and his books on creating comprehensive information storage using visual cues.

I find his work dovetails very nicely with my own thoughts on knitting & comprehension (I only wish I could afford to hear him speak when he's in town!)

Charts are a visual representation of the Right Side (public side) of the fabric - nothing more, nothing less - and there can be variations on how charts are written. There are esoteric symbols that are only used once in a blue moon, and more common symbols that you see in just about any chart.

Some charts omit Wrong Side rows for space considerations (and as long as the WS row is all St st or Rev St st, that makes sense to me!) but this is usually made clear by the row notations along the right edge of the chart (the numbers would read 1, 3, 5, 7, etc.)

Learning to read a chart isn't hard, but it IS a skill that takes a bit of time to develop. There are tricks (using post it notes placed ABOVE the current row, drawing arrows to note the direction you'll be working in any given row, etc.) but just spending time with a chart is usually the best way to begin to wrap your mind around it.

Having said all this, if a chart is too small, it's useless. Charts should be as BIG AS THEY CAN BE! Sometimes there's a space limitation in pattern books and magazines, but one of the graces of the internet is that charts can be as big as they need to be.

When one is creating a book of knitable stitch patterns, charts are essential. Once a commitment has been made to include charts, they should be done well (big) and clearly.

I understand that a certain amount of white space is necessary in book design, but not at the expense of clarity. It seems to me that an executive decision was made that all charts should be based on the same size stitch cell, so that even if there WAS a nice space to make a larger chart, a smaller one was used to adhere to a not-very-useful book design decision.

Overall I give this book 3 stars out of 5. I'd give it 5 if the charts were bigger, and if it were ring or spiral bound. But one can't have everything!

I'm giving this book to a random blog reader who isn't terribly fond of charts. Just leave your comment and whether you'd like to be in the draw, and I'll announce a winner by this Thursday. If you're the winner, email me and I'll send the book right off to you!

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Anonymous Gerri in St Paul said...

Edward Tutfe! Something came up the other day in the world of knitting that made me think of him. He has spoken at the U of M. I got all the books but couldn't get to talk.

November 23, 2009 12:16 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I'd love to be in the drawing!

November 23, 2009 12:35 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

I really like the Ballwrap, would love to see more photos of it to understand it a bit better.
The power of design is great - especially if used well. I came across an article or book or internet site with examples of good and bad design lately - very eye-opening what we put up with and how easily it could be better.
I would love to be in the drawing for your book. I do not own any stich "dictionary" - I love using charts, but I would make enlarged photocopies to actually use them. That would take care of the ease of use (book is not spiral bound) as well.
Thanks for your generosity in passing this along to someone lucky!

November 23, 2009 1:11 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

I just have not used charts and I should really use them more. I would love to win.

November 23, 2009 2:30 PM  
Anonymous pattydeg said...

Avid and able knitter but have never understood the "chart" thing. Perhaps this is the push I need! Can't wait for the new book

November 23, 2009 3:02 PM  
Blogger Beverley said...

Yes please, thanks


November 23, 2009 3:14 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Love the blog; hate charts; hope I win the book. It is sweet of you to give these books away.

Lisa C.

November 23, 2009 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Charlotte said...

I'd like to be in the drawing.

November 23, 2009 4:07 PM  
Blogger athena said...

i love charts! i would photocopy them larger anyway to keep in my bag instead of lugging a book around. i would love to win the book. :-)

November 23, 2009 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes please - and i second athena! i would enlarge them on my photocopier. i like charts alot


November 23, 2009 4:18 PM  
Blogger shortoldlady said...

I'd love to be in the drawing!

The shrug is lovely - I know my DD would wear something like that.

November 23, 2009 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anita said...

I would love to be included in the drawing! thanks :)

November 23, 2009 4:52 PM  
Blogger Ellen said...

I'd like to take a class about charting - sometimes I'm a little afraid to write down my ideas because of the chart/write factor. We could give you a microphone and a smart board to teach on.

The class final would also be a hoot - we would have to knit up someone else's design based on their chart. The best one wins a bottle of wine!

No entry, please.

November 23, 2009 5:13 PM  
Blogger gale (she shoots sheep shots) said...

I'm in. I am a huge fan of charts , and of resource books. I don't mind enlarging the chart on the page I'm using, in fact I usually do that anyway instead of dragging any book around with me (I knit on the go mostly).

November 23, 2009 5:49 PM  
Blogger Sel and Poivre said...

I used to dislike charts until I took a class and your encouragement had me undertake becoming better at reading them by using them whenever possible. Its a great skill to have - and I couldn't agree more - the charts have to be big - I blow mine up on the printer and then colour them in to make the chart even easier to read on the fly.

November 23, 2009 6:05 PM  
Blogger ccr in MA said...

I don't quite "see" charts, and still prefer line-by-line written instructions. Sounds like it would be a good book for me!

November 23, 2009 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

I'd love to be included in the draw!
I work with a knitting club of teenagers. They (and I) could learn a lot from this book.

November 23, 2009 7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love what you have done with your new book and especially like the pattern you show today. I use both written and chart forms. Would also love to be in on the book. Joan in coastal MS, the home of few knitters.

November 23, 2009 7:24 PM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Long time lurker, very occasional commenter... still love your info, Annie, and I'd love to be in that drawing :-) Thanks!

November 23, 2009 7:55 PM  
Blogger evie said...

I'm getting more and more excited about seeing your finished book, the ball wrap looks so ethereal.

I sometimes struggle with charts and find that I need to read it out loud to my self to help figure it all out. I know others who struggle with written out instructions and instantly get the charts. We take in information differently.

As for chart size, I have just figured that most publishers think we all have 20-20 eyesight and don't realize many of us need to enlarge the charts and written instructions.

November 23, 2009 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can follow a simple chart with nothing but knit and purl stitches, but more complicated ones with yarnovers, cables, etc., totally confuse me. This book might just get me over that hump. Count me in, please.


November 24, 2009 4:49 AM  
Blogger madislandgirl said...

I'm glad the publishers chose to make smaller charts if it means they could include more information on the same amount of paper.

Like everybody above, I don't haul a book around with me anyway.

The enlarge button is easy to push.

November 24, 2009 4:57 AM  
Anonymous LaurenS said...

I'd like to be in the drawing please. Thank you,


November 24, 2009 5:12 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

I've been a fan of Tufte's for a long time, since I first saw "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" when I was in college. I believe his original work was self-published and Graphics Press is his company.

I appreciate the work shown in his books, and often make reference to the concepts.

However, someone I know who attended a program of his described him as "not a very nice person", and that he was very abrupt - but I have no first hand knowledge of this. She said she and her husband agreed on this, that they were glad they had gone but wouldn't go again.

November 24, 2009 6:15 AM  
Blogger cedarstrings said...

I agree that the enlarge button is easy to use, but when I have a brand new book, I hate to break the spine to get a good copy. If the book were ring bound, it would be much easier to enlarge the charts as needed.
Books like this one should include either a CD with printable charts to allow the reader to print big as needed, or with a password to a website that would give the reader access to charts to be printed at any size.
After I've purchased a beautiful knitting book that I need to copy a pattern for toting around with me, I frequently borrow it from the library. If the spine has been sufficiently broken by previous users, I make my copy (only one, and remember, I've already purchased the book) but I refuse to break a book spine myself.
My MIL used to "unbind" her needlepoint books, slip the pages into page protectors and create a three ring binder. She could then slip her working chart into her needlework bag and not have such a heavy load to carry.

November 24, 2009 8:20 AM  
Blogger cedarstrings said...

P.S.: I see the ball wrap at prom; I see it on bridesmaids; I see it on me with the summer dresses. I see it on a friend and her daughter in their family portrait. Gorgeous, elegant with a certain simplicity, floaty and airy yet substantial enough to be functional as well as beautiful!

November 24, 2009 8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVE the wrap!!!! It is so feminin - I absolutely would love to make it. Let me know if you need any test knitters. I am sunshinekim on ravelry. I don't usually go for shawls. They just seem sort of matronly, but not this delicate looking thing. LOVE IT! You are a geneous! By the way, one of theses days I plan on making the chain mail helmet thing you designed for my son as well. I could so see him dressed up as a knight, with a dragon vest. Awsome design as well. Thanks for spreading your talents and inspiration. K thorsen

November 24, 2009 8:49 AM  
Blogger astoriaAnn said...

Me, me! I need a stitch pattern book (the only one I have is entirely cables) and I always photocopy the chart I'm working with so I can write on it, enlarging while photocopying is no problem.

The shrug is very beautiful and romantic. I can't wait to see the final iteration.


November 24, 2009 10:13 AM  
Blogger dani, the geek said...

hi there!

i enjoy your blog, and am looking forward to the new book. and i can read tiny charts! please enter me into the drawing?


November 24, 2009 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Miss Bayern's ballgown and your interpretation of it are both lovely! I would advise against the phrase "ball-wrap" however. It will draw howls of laughter from the adolescent-minded among us.
No need to enter me in the drawing, as I have hoards of stitch-pattern books already. Give me charts all the way, though. A picture IS worth a thousand words, especially to guide you in the production of a visual image.
-- Gretchen

November 24, 2009 11:10 AM  
Anonymous SylvChezPlum said...

the tiered shrug is so pretty ! Don't enter me in the draw for this book as I already have the french version, but I find interesting that for once the translation goes the other way round (usually we get the english-language books.. after a while of course !)

November 24, 2009 1:02 PM  
Blogger EstherGrace Gilbert said...

Lovely, honest review, thank you. Please add my name to people who would enjoy having you send the book to them.

I am glad to have found your blog, having enjoyed seeing your knits and reading your patterns for some time. Thank you.

November 24, 2009 5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so NOT a lover of charts, that I'm considering giving away my Barbara Walker that is all charted patterns, but maybe this book could convert me. I'd love to be in the draw!

Jill in NZ

November 24, 2009 7:28 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

I have yet to try a chart (I'm such a wimp!) so would like to give the book a try. Thus by following written directions I just may be able to follow the chart (enlarged of course)

November 24, 2009 8:03 PM  
Anonymous spider (ravelry) said...

charts make it all so much easier!

November 25, 2009 1:07 AM  
Blogger Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

The heck with the stitch book, I want that pattern for the ball gown ruffles! Understand totally what you're saying about structure - it reminds me of how difficult ballet costumes are to make, since they have to look dreamy and stunning while still surviving what they're being asked to do.

Is this pattern going up somewhere? If not, I'll get pad and pencil and work it out myself. Lovely, lovely, lovely! (And who cares if I'm decades too old to ever wear such a thing?)

November 25, 2009 9:50 AM  
Anonymous Maureen said...

Tuffte's presentations are not just "talks" they are performance. Even if it means putting aside a year of movie & theatre tickets, it is worth it (and you also get his books). It isn't something one would do twice but I found it vry stimulating. He is an egotist and a showman but it was a fascinating show. I was also amazed at the number of young software designers in the room when I heard him speak in Chicago. Look at the iPhone and iTouch .... the idea that you can scroll through dozens of apps quickly and see which one you want thanks to good icon design. Brilliant.

November 25, 2009 12:52 PM  
Blogger ellen said...

I love charts, but I really don't care of they are puny. I always photocopy them so I can write all over them. ALso I don't like to haul books around everyuwhere when I can just take a copy or two of the chart.

I'm really enjoying seeing your design process.

November 25, 2009 12:54 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

Please include me in the draw. Reference books always come in handy.
Thanks. The shawl design looks nice so far.

November 25, 2009 8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Annie, I would love this book. The only chart I've ever used in my two years of knitting was one of yours.


November 26, 2009 3:37 AM  
Blogger laurie said...

I hate charts, they scare me. My head can't seem to get it. Help!

November 26, 2009 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Linda J said...

Hope I'm not too late for the drawing. Don't know how to use charts - would love the book!

November 26, 2009 10:04 PM  
Blogger Smellyann said...

Charts annoy me. I think I'd like this book. Thanks!

November 27, 2009 8:56 AM  
Blogger Jackie said...

Looks like a great book,alas,I too would have to enlarge alot!! By the way I am knitting your sideways spencer! love it!
Jackie Ledford

December 01, 2009 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anne said...

Too late to enter, but it's o.k. I just happened to browse the library and checked this out the other day! Coincidence. ;)
I love the patterns too but must agree about the charting. It IS too small, and should be bolder. Sad but true. Good catch and great review.

December 03, 2009 7:35 AM  

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