Category Archives: Book Review

The Art of Tapestry – Helen Wyld

The Art of Tapestry – Helen Wyld

In preparation for my trip to England, Scotland and France to see tapestries, I bought this book.

It is a beautiful book with many coloured photographs.

Here’s the blurb …

Woven with dazzling images from history, mythology and the natural world, and breath-taking in their craftsmanship, tapestries were among the most valuable and high-status works of art available in Europe from the medieval period to the end of the eighteenth century. Over 600 historic examples hang in National Trust properties in England and Wales – the largest collection in the UK.

This beautifully illustrated study by tapestry expert Helen Wyld, in association with the National Trust, offers new insights into these works, from the complex themes embedded in their imagery, to long-forgotten practices of sacred significance and ritual use. The range of historical, mythological and pastoral themes that recur across the centuries is explored, while the importance of the ‘revival’ of tapestry from the late nineteenth century is considered in detail for the first time. Although focussed on the National Trust’s collection, this book offers a fresh perspective on the history of tapestry across Europe.

Both the tapestry specialist and the keen art-history enthusiast can find a wealth of information here about woven wall hangings and furnishings, including methods of production, purchase and distribution, evolving techniques and technologies, the changing trends of subject matter across time, and how tapestries have been collected, used and displayed in British country houses across the centuries.

This is an amazing achievement by Helen Wyld. Academic, comprehensive but easy to read.

It has four chapters:

  • Art and Industry
  • Ritual and Presence
  • The Woven Image
  • Tapestry and History

And there is a section at the start on the different techniques. At the end there is a comprehensive section on notes and a bibliography.

The illustrations are fabulous (there are even some double paged images).

This one is ‘Fart in your face’!

The things on the walls are tapestries made to look like silk, a frame and a tapestry.

If you are at all interested in historic tapestries, then you will love this book.

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Silk – A History in Three Metamorphoses

Silk – Aarathi Prasad

I bought this book solely for the cover. I thought it might be a history of the world as explained by silk production and distribution, but it is not that at all. It is about the creatures that make silk; silkworms, molluscs and spiders.

There is not just one story of silk. In silk is science, history and mythology. In silk is the future.

Aarathi Prasad’s Silk is a gorgeous new history weaving together the story of a unique material that has fascinated the world for millennia.

Through the scientists who have studied silk, and the biology of the animals from which it has been drawn, Prasad explores the global history, natural history, and future of a unique material that has fascinated the world for millennia.

For silk, prized for its lightness, luminosity, and beauty is also one of the strongest biological materials ever known. More than a century ago, it was used to make the first bulletproof vest, and yet science has barely even begun to tap its potential. As the technologies it has inspired – from sutures to pharmaceuticals, replacement body parts to holograms – continue to be developed in laboratories around the world, they are now also beginning to offer a desperately needed, sustainable alternative to the plastics choking our planet.

Prasad’s Silk is a cultural and biological history from the origins and ancient routes of silk to the biologists who learned the secrets of silk-producing animals, manipulating the habitats and physiologies of moths, spiders and molluscs. Because there is more than one silk, there is more than one story of silk. More than one road, more than one people who discovered it, and wove its threads.

From the moths of China, Indonesia and India to the spiders of South America and Madagascar, to the silk-producing molluscs of the Mediterranean, Silk is a book rich in the passionate connections made by women and men of science to the diversity of the animal world. It is an intoxicating mix of biography, intellectual history and science writing that brings to life the human obsession with silk.

I found it fascinating. I had no idea that there was more than one type of silkworm – India has several different types and a thriving silk industry, which is as old as the chinese silk industry. And the sea creatures that make silk! Although, they are now almost extinct after several catastrophic events. And finally, the spiders. Who knew spiders could be ‘silked’ and that their silk is amazing – strong and thin with anti-bacterial properties? And unlike both silkworms and molluscs, the spider doesn’t need to die to harvest the silk.

Silk might be the miracle we need to save the world. It can be used instead of plastic. Although no one has yet been able to make farming spider silk commercially viable. One experiment involved putting spider DNA into goats and harvesting silk protein from the milk. However, they couldn’t turn the silk protein into silk thread. Putting spider DNA into silkworms was much more successful, but still not ideal.

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Fabric – Victoria Finlay

Fabric – Victoria Finlay

This book is a beautiful object – the dust cover is lovely. It was languishing in my pile for quite some time. It is well worth reading, part exploration of different types of fabric (Barkcloth, cotton, linen, silk, wool, polyester) and part grief memoir. Ms Finlay travels widely to research different fabrics and adds personal anecdotes about her family, in particular her mother her died unexpectedly and with whom she had planned on doing some of this travel.

Here’s the blurb …

A magnificent work of original research, unwinding history through cloth –how we make it, use it and what it means to us.

From our earliest ancestors to babies born today, fabric is a necessary part of our everyday lives, but it’s also an opportunity for creativity, symbolism, culture and connection. Travelling across the world and bringing history to life, bestselling author Victoria Finlay investigates how and why people have made and used cloth.

A century ago in Wales, women would sew their own funeral clothes over tea with friends. In Papua New Guinea, bark is stripped from trees and beaten into cloth. Harris Tweed has a particular smell, while Guatemalan weavers use dazzling colours. Uncovering the stories of the fabrics people wear and use from sacking to silk, Fabric combines science, history, tradition and art in a captivating exploration of how we live, work, craft and care.

It is beautifully written and there are photographs.

A review

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Davaar – Kate Davies and Tom Barr

Davaar – Kate Davies and Tom Barr

I like the publications from KDD (Kate Davies Designs). I think I have all of them. Their publications are beautiful; lovely designs and beautiful photography (like the one below).

This one has a series of essays on various aspects of Davaar, and then the patterns.

There are 10 patterns; things like a hat, cardigan, scarf/shawl, etc.

I am quite keen to make the Iola cardigan (on the one on the cover) and maybe use a variation of this stitch pattern on a sock

If you are a knitter, her patterns are beautiful and interesting, it’s definitely worth trying one.

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Filed under Book Review, Knitting, Knitting - Colour work, Sock Knitting

Patty Lyon’s Knitting Bag Of Tricks

Patty Lyon’s Knitting Bag of Tricks

This book is great. It contains very useful information. The focus is on why and then the how just happens. The structure of each stitch is described; knit, purl, m1l, k2tog, etc, and then there is information about how to improve each stitch. There is information on joining a new ball (always at the start of a row? maybe not), stitching pieces together, casting on and off, and shaping.

There is a great discussion on gauge and why we should all be knitting a swatch and then how to use your swatch to modify the pattern to suit your gauge.

I bought the Kindle version, but on my Kindle Oasis, the images were missing. However, when I used the Kindle app on my Ipad the images were there. Just something to be aware of when purchasing the e-book.

It is definitely something I will refer to in the future.

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Record, Map and Capture – Jordan Cunliffe

My embroidery teacher brought this book to class, and clearly, I had to find a copy. This is like the intersection of two of my great loves; stitching and maths. Not to mention story telling with stitching and maths.

Here’s a bit of a book description …

This stylish and fascinating book from up-and-coming textile art star Jordan Cunliffe shows how raw data, maps and personal experience can be distilled into textile art, producing mesmerising works with deep meaning, whether obvious or hidden, and concentrating on the smaller, quieter moments that make up our lives.

Jordan explores the use of stitched data to tell stories, pinpoint special places on maps, convey secret messages, and record personal detail, for example daily walks or nightly sleep patterns. Her finished work is beautifully precise, including a long strip of fabric containing a stitch for every day of her life, a reimagination of a favourite childhood book in unreadable code, and pleasing beaded representations of secretly important documents.

Almost any aspect of your life can be represented in graph or map form, and here are many practical ways to achieve this, whether it’s recording the colours of flowers on a favourite path to create your own unique palette, or encoding your most private thoughts in beaded morse code. This visually stunning book explores a new way of working and will help you explore a fresh new angle in your embroidery and textile work.

Illustrated with a wealth of examples of the author’s own work as well as pieces from other data focused artists from around the world, Record, Map and Capture in Textile Art proves beyond all doubt that data can be beautiful, and can inspire stunning works of stitched art.

I have so many ideas for my memory/special things project. I can incorporate special pieces of fabric, use evenweave fabric (my preferred choice) maybe even put in a secret code.

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Knitting the Threads of Time – Nora Murphy

Knitting the Threads of Time – Nora Murphy

I am not sure where I first heard about this book, Brenda Dayne may have mentioned it on her podcast. I found a copy on Abebooks and it slowly made it’s way to me (I wasn’t in any hurry).

Here’s the blurb …

In an era of global warming, war, escalating expenses, declining income, and drugs and violence in schools, many mothers feel they have little control over their families or their worlds. Nora Murphy eloquently demonstrates that many women do control one tiny thing: their next stitch.

While tracing the frustrations and joys of knitting a sweater for her son through the course of one cold, dark Minnesota winter, Murphy eloquently brings to life the traditions and cultures of women from many backgrounds, including Hmong, American Indian, Mexican, African, and Irish. Murphy’s personal stories — about her struggles to understand esoteric knitting patterns, her help from the shaman of the knit shop, and her challenges sticking with an often vexing project — will appeal to knitters as well as everyone else who has labored to create something from scratch.

We follow Nora as she knits her son a jumper and muses on the roles of knitting, textiles and craft in the lives of women. Ms Murphy’s writing style is conversational, you feel like you are sitting together knitting over a cup of tea.

If you like knitting, social history, women’s history, then you will enjoy this book. It is an easy read, with short chapters (I did a lot of ‘just one more chapter’).

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No Idle Hands; The Social History of American Knitting – Anne L MacDonald

No Idle Hands – Anne L MacDonald

I have had this book (on my Kindle) since 2020, but I had a sample of it for much longer. I finally decided to read it.

Here’s the blurb …

“Fascinating . . . What is remarkable about this book is that a history of knitting can function so well as a survey of the changes in women’s roles over time.”–The New York Times Book Review

An historian and lifelong knitter, Anne Macdonald expertly guides readers on a revealing tour of the history of knitting in America. In No Idle Hands, Macdonald considers how the necessity–and the pleasure–of knitting has shaped women’s lives.

Here is the Colonial woman for whom idleness was a sin, and her Victorian counterpart, who enjoyed the pleasure of knitting while visiting with friends; the war wife eager to provide her man with warmth and comfort, and the modern woman busy creating fashionable handknits for herself and her family. Macdonald examines each phase of American history and gives us a clear and compelling look at life, then and now. And through it all, we see how knitting has played an important part in the way society has viewed women–and how women have viewed themselves.

Assembled from articles in magazines, knitting brochures, newspaper clippings and other primary sources, and featuring reproductions of advertisements, illustrations, and photographs from each period, No Idle Hands capture the texture of women’s domestic lives throughout history with great wit and insight.

This was great, if you are at all interested in knitting and history, then this is the book for you. This was published in 1988, and therefore doesn’t cover the last thirty years, but, despite that, it is very interesting. Who knew that knitting was big in the 1930s (and not during war time)? What it also highlights is how women’s roles have changed over time, and how knitting has changed from a necessity to a relaxing hobby that’s good for mental health.

A review

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The Knitting Sutra – Susan Gordon Lydon

The Knitting Sutra – Susan Gordon Lydon

I first heard about this book on the Cast On by Brenda Dayne podcast (I love this podcast – I support it on patreon). I found a copy at Abe books for a pound.

Here’s the blurb …

Available for the first time in paperback, The Knitting Sutra reveals how women can learn to knit their way to nirvana.

When Susan Gordon Lydon was coping with a broken arm, her craft took on new significance. While knitting was essential to strengthening her hands, it also provided her with a newfound sense of peace and creativity. Immersed in brilliant colors, textures, and images of beautiful sweaters, Lydon found healing and enlightenment in a way she had never imagined. Capturing this journey of discovery, The Knitting Sutra recounts her remarkable membership in a community of craftswomen around the world, from sweater makers in Scotland to Navajo weavers, and the adventures that her craft led her on.

As she masters new techniques and conquers old obstacles, Lydon’s story conveys how the lessons she learned from knitting, such as stillness and interdependence, later sustained her through a cancer diagnosis and even the incapacitation of her hands. The Knitting Sutra is both a meditation on craft and an affirmation for anyone seeking heartfelt comfort. 

I read this while recovering from Covid (there’s a 2022 sentence for you). I found it interesting and motivating (I wanted to get back into the knitting). I do like a book about knitting. I liked it so much that I have ordered her other knitting book Knitting Heaven and Earth: Healing the heart with Craft. It’s not going to arrive until July though.

If you’re into knitting, and how knitting can improve your mental and physical health, then this book is for you.

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The Fabric of Civilization – Virginia Postrel

Fabric of civilization – Virginia Postrel

I saw this at my local book shop and had to buy it.

Here’s the blurb…

From Paleolithic flax to 3D knitting, a global history of textiles and the world they made
The story of humanity is the story of textiles — as old as civilization itself. Since the first thread was spun, the need for textiles has driven technology, business, politics, and culture.
In The Fabric of Civilization, Virginia Postrel synthesizes groundbreaking research from archaeology, economics, and science to reveal a surprising history. From Minoans exporting wool colored with precious purple dye to Egypt, to Romans arrayed in costly Chinese silk, the cloth trade paved the crossroads of the ancient world. Textiles funded the Renaissance and the Mughal Empire; they gave us banks and bookkeeping, Michelangelo’s David and the Taj Mahal. The cloth business spread the alphabet and arithmetic, propelled chemical research, and taught people to think in binary code.
Assiduously researched and deftly narrated, The Fabric of Civilization tells the story of the world’s most influential commodity.

This book is fabulous – well written and researched. It made me think about string, banking and weaving in a whole new way. There are chapters on Fiber, Thread, Cloth, Dye, Traders, Consumers and Innovators. Each chapter is a deep-dive into its topic.

If you are at all interested in Textile History (or just History for that matter), then this is the book for you. Easy to read, but very informative.

You can also listen to Virginia Postrel on this Haptic and Hue podcast.

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