Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Custom Knits - A Review

Wendy Bernard's Custom Knits: Unleash Your Inner Designer with Top-Down and Improvisational Techniques is a book I've been thinking about buying for a long time. Ever since it came out - last year? Early this year? I wanted it. Then I wasn't so sure. After a while, I thought maybe I wanted it again. I had my finger poised over the purchase button on The Book Depository more times than I can remember.

In the end, George did me a favour and got it for me, saving me from the indecision because deep down, I did really want it and she knew it.

I think my reluctance to get this book came from a sense that maybe I love the idea more than the execution. I'd done a little seamless knitting, even knitting one of Wendy's seamless cardigan patterns. I was all set to dive headlong into loving this book, and I do now, but the first time I flicked through it at RoseRed's house, the styling really struck me as odd and in particular, the patterns just seemed like things I simply wouldn't knit.

Sure, the patterns look fantastic in the pictures but not in a way that says 'knit me' - at least not to me. My problem with the patterns is that they don't say 'every woman.' Knitwear models are always gorgeous. That's a given. But the knitwear isn't always so obviously directed at skinny, typically 'sexy' girls.

People who know me in real life know I'm not particularly fashion conscious. I tend to wear the same basic styles that I think work for me over and over again. I'll wear favourite items to death with nary a glance sideways at new clothes. I'm also not a particularly flamboyant or showy dresser so when faced with something like this, I blanched.

I haven't got the body for it, nor the desire to wear something so short. Same with this pattern.

It's just not me. I mean, the photos are lovely, but it's easy at first glance to be put off by all the pantsless modelling.

And there's the small matter of the front cover, which is kinda cool, but kinda weird. Who wears an alpaca jumper with bikini bottoms at the beach? I adore the jumper but like so many others, I skimmed past it because of the styling.

So really, what was happening for me was some kind of gut reaction to the book, based almost entirely on my own self image which is often not fabulous. I had dismissed the patterns as pretty but not for me. I'm not putting myself down here, just recognising what I'm comfortable with. I figured my money could be more wisely invested.

But niggling always at me was the notion that this book is about more than some sexily posed knitwear. Everyone seemed to say it's a resource and to me that's what gives a knitting book its weight and longevity. Long after the fashions have outlived their currency, the concepts in books such as Custom Knits are where the real value kicks in. Who hasn't looked at an Elizabeth Zimmermann book and giggled a little at the 1970s styling? We don't love EZ for her high fashion. We love her for her knowledge and the empowerment that comes from knowing how knitting works.

And not all the patterns are presented in a way that's a bit over-sexed. Some are just lovely. Like Cameo.

Or Slinky Ribs.

Now that I have the book in my hot little hands and have been devouring it every night before I go to sleep, I love it. Absolutely love it. And not just for the resourcefulness of it. I've been able to look past the 'not for me' styling and have seen on Ravelry what others who have had the book for some time have managed to do with the patterns. Women of all shapes and sizes have done precisely what Wendy Bernard encourages us to do, what she implores us to do, they have made the patterns their own.

We all know that modifying a pattern is exactly what you should do if some element doesn't suit you. If you're like me, when you read that someone changed a neckline, or added in shaping you might be the kind of person who thinks, well yes, that's all very well, but how did you do it? Wendy Bernard takes you through doing precisely that sort of modification step by step, different sleeves, different necklines, shaping, you name it. Each pattern comes with some ways to 'make it your own' and the last sections of the book go specifically into the maths behind doing this in a way that even a beginner could figure out.

I read that some have said this book isn't necessarily helpful for beginners. OK, perhaps not absolute beginners, but anyone with a basic understanding of how to knit and how to increase and decrease could be let loose on this book and learn some very valuable lessons early on in their knitting life.

I feel like this is a book I'll keep close to me for many years. I've got a yearning to take my knitting to the next level, which for me means grappling with some of the number based information that helps me really make my knitting mine. If you've felt similarly alienated by the way the patterns are presented in the book, get onto Ravelry and see what others have done with them. You won't be disappointed.

I'll be knitting from this book soon. Real soon. Watch this space.