Category Archives: Book Review

A Life in Stitches – Rachael Herron

A Life in Stitches

A Life in Stitches – Rachael Herron

I like what I am going to call craft memoirs – like this one or this one – I read about A Life in Stitches somewhere (ravelry maybe) and ordered it from the book depository.

Here is the description …

In these 20 heartfelt essays, Rachael Herron celebrated romance novelist by day, 911 dispatcher by night, and founder of the hugely popular blog shows how when life unravels there’s always a way to knit it back together again, many times into something even better. Honest, funny, and full of warmth, Herron’s tales, each inspired by something she knit or something knit for her, will speak to anyone who has ever picked up a pair of needles. From her very first sweater (a hilarious disaster, to say the least) to the yellow afghan that caused a breakup (and, ultimately, a breakthrough), every piece has a moving story behind it. This beautifully crafted and candid collection is perfect for the knitter who loves to read and the reader who loves to knit.

This is a very personal account of knitting and various different life events – some sad and some funny. I found it entertaining, fascinating, thought provoking and occasionally sad. I’m quite nosy I like to know details about people’s lives – not in a malicious way I’m just interested in how people live. Accordingly, I found this glimpse into Ms Herron’s life compelling.

Another review …

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Yarn: Remembering the Way Home – Kyoko Mori

Yarn: Remembering the Way Home

Yarn: Remembering the Way Home -Kyoko Mori

I don’t know how I came across this book. I was looking for something like Knitting Philosophy or Knitting Lifestyle. Possibly it came up as a suggestion from Amazon based on other books I have read.

Here is the blurb …

A memoir of crossing cultures, losing love, and finding home by a New York Times notable author. As steadily and quietly as her marriage falls apart, so Kyoko Mori’s understanding of knitting deepens. From flawed school mittens to beautiful unmatched patterns of cardigans, hats and shawls, Kyoko draws the connection between knitting and the new life she tried to establish in the U.S. Interspersed with the story of knitting throughout, the narrative contemplates the nature of love, loss, and what holds a marriage together.

This book is a memoir about one woman coming to terms with her mother’s suicide, her father’s indifference, a new country (and culture), marriage and dissolving a marriage. And it’s about knitting. Often Ms Mori uses knitting as a metaphor to describe some relationship in her life. For example,

While I had been working to expand my social circle, he had been trying to make his smaller. If my ideal life was a big Fair Isle sweater his was a white linen handkerchief.

She is a solitary person who spends a lot of time thinking (and knitting). It is a quiet story that unfolds slowly, but brutally honest. When her father died without a word to her – she finally realised …

A part of me wanted to believe that Michiko [her step mother] had kept us from having at least one honest conversation. Okiyo-san’s story put an end to this sorry delusion. My father had plenty of time to say his last word to the people he cared about. I wasn’t one of them.

Her writing is beautiful – simple and elegant. This book is for anyone not just knitters, but knitters will especially enjoy it. There is even a section at the end about knitting books.

Another review …

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Up Down, All-Around Stitch Dictionary – Wendy Bernard

Up Down All-Around Stitch Dictionary - Wendy Bernard

Up Down All-Around Stitch Dictionary – Wendy Bernard

I ran my second half-marathon at the end of August (this one) and I decided I needed a bit of a reward. Hence this book! I had eyed it off a few times, but thought do I really need another stitch dictionary? But what is great about this one is the fact that there are instructions for each stitch pattern in the round, flat (from the bottom up) and flat (from the top down)!

Given that I mostly knit socks from the top down (and obviously in the round) this is brilliant!

It is split into eight sections:

  • Knits and Purls
  • Ribs
  • Textured, Slipped and Fancy
  • Yarnovers and Eyelets
  • Cables
  • Lace
  • Colourwork (I had to put the ‘u’ in colour)
  • Hems and Edgings

Each section also has a project – items like socks, mittens, lace stole, a jumper. I’m quite keen on the Checkerboard Mesh Pullover.

Checkerboard Mesh Pullover

Checkerboard Mesh Pullover

and the lace stole

Lace Stole

Lace Stole

As you can see from the above images, it is published in binder form, which means the book lies flat on any given page – I am not sure that was necessary it just means it takes up more space on my book shelf!

I think this is a great resource. Definitely worth buying if you like to design your own knits or even alter an existing pattern (there are instructions on how to switch stitch patterns) or maybe convert a flat pattern into the round, or knit something from the top down instead of up – the possibilities are endless.

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The Amazing Thing About the Way it Goes – Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

The Amazing Thing About the Way it Goes - Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

The Amazing Thing About the Way it Goes – Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

I read this while on holidays and it is the perfect holiday read. I follow Ms Pearl-McPhee’s blog and I have read her other books, but this one was a departure from her normal style – not so much about the knitting.

Here’s the blurb …

From New York Times best-selling author and popular blogger Stephanie Pearl-McPhee comes a new spin and a hilarious look at life, parenting, and, well, pants.

The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes takes on the amazing in the ordinary in this side-splitting series of short commentaries. Pearl-McPhee turns her trademark wit and perspective to everything from creative discipline to a way you would never think about fixing your email situation. This book looks at everyday problems, and honestly, it won’t do much to solve them, but at least you’ll be laughing.

This book is a series of essays written in her normal witty style, but more personal. In fact, I think she was very brave to publish some of these chapters – like the Dear Sydney chapter. There are chapters on joining a writers group, learning to ride a bike with clip-in shoes (I don’t think I am co-ordinated enough for that!), what to do when a skunk moves into the space under your porch (I’m glad we don’t have this problem in Australia), her dentist phobia and more. It is laugh out loud funny, but also made me pause and think about a few things – I wonder if the no-pants parenting will work in my house.

Let me just reiterate this book isn’t about knitting – I read some reviews on Amazon that were negative due to the lack of knitting.


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Book Review – Yarn Whisperer by Clara Parkes

The Yarn Whisperer - Clara Parkes

The Yarn Whisperer – Clara Parkes

I haven’t heard of Clara before, but when I pre-ordered Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting Amazon suggested I might like this one – I do like Amazon’s recommendation system usually I do want it or I already have it.

This book falls into what I call Knitting Lifestyle or Knitting Humour – the Yarn Harlot’s books are in this category too.

This book is a series of essays on various different life experiences using knitting as a metaphor or analogy. For example, there is a chapter ‘A Good Steek’, which is about dramatic life changes and that there is a way to do it safely – like a steek cut things apart once the edges have been reinforced so the whole thing doesn’t unravel.

Occasionally I thought the knitting metaphors were a bit laboured particularly the ones about traffic, but mostly I enjoyed reading about knitting and the place it holds in Ms Parkes’ life.

If you like reading and you like knitting, then I think you will like this book.

More reviews …



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Quilts 1700 – 2010 Redux

Quilts 1700-2010 Hidden Histories, Untold Stories

Quilts 1700-2010 Hidden Histories, Untold Stories

I know I have written about this book before, but I have finally finished reading it. This book is a textile lover’s dream – the illustrations are beautiful and it is full of fascinating information. It is not the type of book to read all at once, but just dip into every now and then (even to just look at the pictures and be awed by the skill, patience and dedication of the maker).

The book consists of four chapters; Making and using quilts in eighteenth century Britain, Complexity and context:nineteenth century British quilts, Maintaining the craft:British quilt-making 1900-45 and Negotiating space:fabric and the feminine 1945-2010.

Here are some of my favourites …

Unfinished Patchwork of Silks, c1860-70

Unfinished Patchwork of Silks, c 1860-70


Pieced Wool, c 1863-77


‘Sanderson Star’ quilt in cotton sateens,            c 1910-1920


Sara Impey, ‘Punctuation’. Machine stitched Silk,     c 2009


Janey Forgan, ‘Liberty Jack’, c 2008


Coverlet, patchwork of printed cottons,                c 1803-1805

As I love liberty fabrics, Liberty Jack is probably my favourite, but Sara Impey’s Punctuation is brilliant to, and then the amount of work involved in the earlier quilts is mind-boggling.

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Women’s Work The First 20 000 Years – Elizabeth Wayland Barber

Womens Work The First 20 000 Years - Elizabeth Wayland Barber

Women’s Work The First 20 000 Years – Elizabeth Wayland Barber

I heard about this book on Ravelry and then found a copy here. It was fascinating – I am tempted to start weaving except for the space and time commitment. I watched a few you tube clips and it takes a long time to set up the warp threads (I already have too many projects on the go).

Here is the blurb …

New discoveries about the textile arts reveal women’s unexpectedly influential role in ancient societies.

Twenty thousand years ago, women were making and wearing the first clothing created from spun fibers. In fact, right up to the Industrial Revolution the fiber arts were an enormous economic force, belonging primarily to women.

Despite the great toil required in making cloth and clothing, most books on ancient history and economics have no information on them. Much of this gap results from the extreme perishability of what women produced, but it seems clear that until now descriptions of prehistoric and early historic cultures have omitted virtually half the picture.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber has drawn from data gathered by the most sophisticated new archaeological methods—methods she herself helped to fashion. In a “brilliantly original book” (Katha Pollitt, Washington Post Book World), she argues that women were a powerful economic force in the ancient world, with their own industry: fabric.

This book was interesting; from the invention of string (who knew string was so amazing), weaving, the economics of weaving (and more particularly who controls the produce), different types of looms (and how local conditions affected their design), and why textile production was considered ‘women’s work’ in the first place.  While being scholarly, this book was still easy to read and if you’re interested in textiles, women’s history or social history this is the book for you.

Other reviews …

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Colours of Shetland – Kate Davies

Colours of Shetland - Kate Davies

Colours of Shetland – Kate Davies

This is a beautiful book – the paper is lovely and the photography spectacular.

It is divided into five sections – with an essay and two designs per section – plus there is a technique section at the end.

I found the essays interesting – Kate’s writing is very evocative there is a strong sense of place.

These are the designs I’m coveting …

Stevenson Sweater

Stevenson Sweater

This is my absolute favourite …

Ursula Carigan

Ursula Cardigan

Kate says this is probably the most difficult design in the book, but could be attempted by a confident beginner. As much as I love it, I think it is beyond me at this stage.

and finally …

Northmavine Hoody

Northmavine Hoody

This one is all about the colours.

This is a lovely book and I think most knitters would love it – even ones like me who just admire the pictures!

There is a code so you can download the e book (when it is available).

More …

Kate’s blog

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Zen and the Art of Knitting – Bernadette Murphy

I found this book at the Borders closing down sale and was intrigued.

Here is the blurb …

Knitting has become the hip new trend among twenty- and thirty-somethings, with celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Winona Ryder, Cameron Diaz, Hilary Swank, and Julianne Moore leading the way. This book explores what virtually everyone’s grandmother always knew — that when passionate knitters become one with the craft, amazing things start to happen.In Zen and the Art of Knitting, Bernadette Murphy explores how knitting fits into the large scheme of life itself as . . .– Meditation– Creative expression– A way to cure writer’s block– A gift to express love– A way for children to develop fine motor skills– A way to connect generations, past and present. Throughout this magnificent work, readers find practical advice, including a knitted stitch per chapter and a basic pattern in the appendix. For serious knitters, casual hobbyists, creative thinkers, and those seeking to discover an unexplored spiritual channel, Zen and the Art of Knitting is a unique work that will be treasured for years to come

Each chapter consists of an essay on knitting, for example Chapter Five is the ‘Contented Soul’. The start of every chapter also has instructions for a different type of knitting stitch; garter stitch, stocking stitch, trinity stitch, etc and there are projects at the end of most chapters ranging scarfs to a jumper.

This book was an easy read and I particularly enjoyed the chapter on knitting and education (Chapter 4 – Ripening the Intellect). My girls are keen on knitting and they have each attempted a garter stitch scarf for their teddies, but neither has shown the patience to finish it. The first grade students at the Waldorf School she visits are making lions or lambs, which must involve a bit of complexity and makes me think I should have persevered more with my girls. Apparently knitting is good for fine motor skills (which is obvious), but it also helps with speech development and when knitting you use both hemispheres of the brain.

I am quite interested in using knitting for therapy (or as therapy), but I didn’t find the book as strong on this aspect. There was quite a bit on knitting as mediation (although no one was prepared to truly commit one way or the other – is it? Isn’t it?). I think I would have preferred more personal stories and less generalities – having said that, however, Ms Murphy’s own story (Chapter One Knitting Myself Back Together) was the type of thing I wanted to read.

It is also a little bit dated, but that’s my fault for reading it 11 years after it was first published. If you like knitting and reading about knitting, then this book is definitely worth reading.

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Quilts 1700 – 2010 Book Review

I knew I would never make it to this exhibition so I bought the book from here – I’ve had it for a while and I’ve looked at the pictures, but I’ve only just started reading it properly.

The first chapter is on Making and Using Quilts in 18th Century Britain. I found it quite interesting that often the bed coverings were worth more than the bed – there was a lot of coverings – quilts, under quilts, bed curtains etc. Bed coverings were so valuable they were listed in inventories.

Not many quilts survive from this period. We know of their existence from the previous mentioned inventories and from quilts that have been adapted to another use – quilted suit anyone? Also, the terminology is tricky – how do we distinguish between eiderdowns and quilts? We can look to contemporary texts for information on terminology. Swift mentions patchwork in Gulliver’s Travels.

 Two hundred sempstresses were employed to make me shirts, and linen for my bed and table, all of the strongest and coarsest kind they could get; which, however, they were forced to quilt together in several folds, for the thickest was some degrees finer than lawn. Their linen is usually three inches wide, and three feet make a piece. The sempstresses took my measure as I lay on the ground, one standing at my neck, and another at my mid-leg, with a strong cord extended, that each held by the end, while a third measured the length of the cord with a rule of an inch long. Then they measured my right thumb, and desired no more; for by a mathematical computation, that twice round the thumb is once round the wrist, and so on to the neck and the waist, and by the help of my old shirt, which I displayed on the ground before them for a pattern, they fitted me exactly. Three hundred tailors were employed in the same manner to make me clothes; but they had another contrivance for taking my measure. I kneeled down, and they raised a ladder from the ground to my neck; upon this ladder one of them mounted, and let fall a plumb-line from my collar to the floor, which just answered the length of my coat: but my waist and arms I measured myself. When my clothes were finished, which was done in my house (for the largest of theirs would not have been able to hold them), they looked like the patch-work made by the ladies in England, only that mine were all of a colour.

The early part of the century quilts seemed to be made from silk fabrics whereas the latter half of the century the quilts were made from cotton fabrics (and these fabrics seemed to be datable to a shorter time span). Was this shift from silk to cotton because the ban on printing cotton fabrics for domestic use was lifted in 1774? Also in the early part of the century there were professional quilt makers (you could order quilting by the yard), however, it seemed to be a domestic industry by the end of century.

Another question was the purpose of quilting – to reuse valuable textiles or to celebrate a specific fabric?

There is also beautiful images …

Bed Curtain 1730 -1750 (Mostly made of printed cottons)

Look at all of those semi-circular shapes.


Cot Cover Quilted Linen (Early 18th Century)

The thing that amazes me about this piece – is that it must have been done by hand!


Bed Cover (Linen embroidered in coloured silks and metal thread)

You probably can’t tell from this image, but this is embroidered!

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