Even an experienced knitter can learn new tricks. That was my overall impression after reading Patty Lyon's brilliant new book, Patty Lyons' Knitting Bag of Tricks. In this blog post I'll take a closer look at what the book is all about, who it's intended for, and what new tricks you can learn from it.
Patty Lyons is a self-professed self-taught knitter with years of knitting and teaching experience from all over the US in various guilds, yarn shops, knitting shows, and retreats. The knowledge contained on the pages of this book is the result of her traveling around the country to teach better knitting hacks for everyday knitters. You can find her writings on her own blog and on the monthly Ask Patty column on Modern Daily Knitting, for instance. Let's just say she knows her stuff.
Even though the cover touts the book as containing over 70 sanity-saving knitting hacks, it's much more than that. For sure there are plenty of knitting tricks but they fill only two thirds of the pages. Before you get into the beef of the burger, Patty starts from the very basics by taking a look at the structure of knitting (Chapter 1), talks about the importance of gauge and swatching (Chapter 2), and guides you how to pick the right size in knitting patterns (Chapter 3).
Four of the five remaining chapters are dedicated to the knitting tricks, tips, hacks, and unventions. These are divided into four broad categories: cast-ons (Chapter 4), increases and decreases (Chapter 5), binding off and finishing (Chapter 7), and a mixed bag of tips (Chapter 6) ranging from jogless stripes to short rows and anything in between. The book closes with Patty's final words of wisdom (Chapter 8) and illustrated tutorials on a few basic knitting techniques.
Who, Why, and How?
Patty Lyons' Knitting Bag of Tricks is not a how-to book intended for absolute beginners. Rather, it's a "why" book: why do we knit the way we do? Is there a way to knit better? What happens if you do that instead of this? Why not try something different?
You do have to know the basics but once you've dabbled a bit in knitting, discovered a few things you'd like to learn how to do better, and ran into a couple of more experienced knitters saying "you should always" or "that's just the way things are done", you're ready to take a peek into Patty's knitting bag.
While the book is mostly targeted for intermediate knitters who want to improve their skills and fix common knitting problems, that doesn't mean advanced knitters couldn't benefit from reading it. Far from it! There are so many tidbits of advice you didn't even think you needed. Anyone can learn from Patty's knitting knowledge regardless of existing skill level.
My best tip for reading this book would be this: have yarn and needles handy! Cast on for a practice swatch and keep it next to you while you flip through the tips in this book. There are so many things you want to try out right then and there. While the illustrations in this book are very clear and informative, the various tips and tricks will sink in even better when you get to practice them yourself rather than just staring at the pictures on the page.
Style and Substance
Patty writes in a very humorous, informal tone as if she's talking directly to you. The style is warm and friendly but she isn't afraid to deal out some tough love, either, especially about knitting that gauge swatch. (You know you should.) The writing style brings to mind Elizabeth Zimmermann's books and in a sense, Patty Lyons is the EZ of our generation. Oh, to be a fly on the wall if these two great knitting gurus could ever have a conversation!
The book is filled with anecdotes from Patty's personal knitting career as well as with funny analogies to explain things, such as Cirque du Soleil acrobats to illustrate why garter stitch stretches lengthwise. (It makes way more sense when you read it.) And to top it off, many of these are accompanied with amusing and memorable drawings by Franklin Habit. I'm sure you've met Dolores Van Hoofen?
Each tip comes either with photos of actual swatches or with detailed, step-by-step artwork that accompanies the text. Technical illustrations in the book were drawn by Linda Schmidt. The chapters are color-coded: page borders, illustrations, and even the swatches dealing with one subject all share the same color. For example, green is used for casting on while increases and decreases are shown in purple. You can see a few examples on Patty's blog.
One thing that surprised me when I got my copy of the book is the size. I was expecting a hardback, coffee-table book sized volume but it's actually smaller than that, about the size of a slim paperback novel. Which is a great thing: it's the perfect size to slip into your actual knitting bag.
Stitch Structure and Beyond
The book is built upon the idea that once we understand why we knit the way we do, we can figure out how to do things better. That's why the book opens with a thorough chapter on stitch structure, the difference between knits and purls, and how they behave in knitted fabric.
Patty Lyons' Knitting Bag of Tricks is the first knitting book I've ever encountered that discusses Western and Eastern stitch mounts, where to insert the needle, and how the way you wrap the working yarn over the needle affects how a stitch a built. In short, whether you get twisted stitches or not. Knitting styles such as Continental, English, and Combination knitting are also covered because they, too, are the very foundations to understanding the way you knit.
Many of the sections in the book are taken almost word for word from Patty's previous writings, such as swatching snafus (page 30), gapping short rows (pages 151–155), or better button bands (pages 188–189). If you've ever struggled with wonky tension, Patty's got the help for that, too. Included in the book is one of my favorite Ask Patty columns, Let the Tool Do the Work, which explains why some of us are tight knitters and some of us loose knitters.
The Ugly Things No One Talks About (But Someone Should)
Throughout the book Patty discusses a phenomenon called "conspiracy of silence". Although it sounds a bit ominous, I suppose it's intended to be taken lightheartedly. The gist is that there are some things in knitting that no one talks about and we're just expected to accept sub-par results, such as gaps in neckline cast-ons, joggy joins when binding off in the round, or left-leaning decreases that zigzag instead of laying flat. Spoiler: there are tricks in the book to counteract all those things.
Indeed, one of her tenets is that you're allowed — nay, encouraged — to question things. On many an occasion I've seen a new knitter on reddit ask how they can improve their edge stitches. And invariably a bunch of more experienced knitters just pat them on the head and say, "Don't worry about it, that's just the way things are." I've even joined that bunch: it's an immutable fact that edge stitches are sloppy. Not so. Patty's trick for fixing the first stitch of the row is on pages 140–141 in the book.
The bottom line: ask the whys and the why nots. If you think there's a way to improve upon a knitting technique, you're probably on to something.
I had to think really long and hard about anything I'd change or improve in the book, and could only come up with two things. One: some of the pages have quite a lot going on. There's multiple font styles and heading sizes, certain titles are underlined while others are not. Some of the visual clutter could be cleared up by paring down the number of fonts and styles that are used.
Thing number two. Patty writes that laziness is the true mother of invention, and — in order to avoid running out of tail — suggests measuring out the length of yarn needed for long-tail cast-on by wrapping it around the needle. I'm even lazier than that: I prefer casting on from two balls or two ends of the same ball. This hack isn't even mentioned! In my book having to weave in an extra end is less of a nuisance than busting out the tape measure before I've even cast on.
Patty Lyons' Knitting Bag of Tricks is an empowering book geared toward intermediate knitters who want a hands-on, visual approach to solving common knitting issues, for those who want to expand their knowledge of knitting techniques, or those who simply enjoy a humorous and practical guide to knitting. It's a quick read — I devoured it in just a couple of days — but so full of knowledge you'll be going back to its pages again and again.
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