Book Reviews

We take a look at some knitting and crafting books

Rag Rugs, Pillows, and More

Over 30 ways to upcycle fabric for the home

By Elspeth Jackson
Price – £12.99
IBAN – 9781782493631
Publisher – Cico Books

We sang the praises of rag rugs in our eco/green issue and Lora showed her large, unfinished wall hanging that she’d started making over 10 years ago on an episode of the podcast. So, it’s no wonder, that we’re a little bit in love with the new book, Rag Rugs, Pillows and More by Elispeth Jackson.

Elispeth was first taught how to make rag rugs by her mother at the age of 14. In 2014, she formed her company Ragged Life, where she sells kits, runs rag rug workshops and takes commissions.

Rag Rugs are recycling at its best and have been around in some form for hundreds of years.  Essentially, it’s the process of turning old unused fabric, from clothes, bedding, etc, into strips, which create a basis for several different rug making techniques.  These include braiding, shaggy and loopy and as the name suggests, this craft has traditionally been associated with floor coverings.

In Rag Rugs, Pillows and More, Elispeth explores rag rugging in different projects.  Rest assured there are still many beautiful examples of rugs included in the book.  Elispeth provides information on everything you need to know to begin rug making.

The first chapter of the book is given over to laying the foundations out.  There is a comprehensive run through on the tools you need to get started as well as a look at the different techniques in more detail.  There is also a helpful section on the common mistakes you can make when first starting out, which is invaluable.

The 30 projects in the book have been divided into three different chapters; Rugs, Home Accessories & Gifts and Festive 100, with something to appeal to everyone. The project instructions are clear and easy to understand: each includes a list of things you’ll need to create your project, a suggested colour palette and several photographs of the finished item with all the details captured.

Some of our favourites include, The Cosmic Rug, with its bold, colourful circles set on a neutral white background, for that extra pop. Elispeth’s inspiration for the design came from the planets and this generously sized square rug would look great worked with a variety of different colours to suit any room.

The Garden Green Rug has a retro feel to it. A loopy rag rug with clever use of a bold colour palette, combined with graphic stripes, it’s a rug that wouldn’t look out of place in an interior design magazine from the present day or the 1970s.

We adore the Watermelon Clutch with its fun, quirky, pop art good looks. It demonstrates how versatile rag rug ‘fabric’ really is.  For a more festive feel to your rag rugging, Elispeth has included wreaths, baubles and bunting.  The Love You Hearts make fun decorations for any room.  Bold and bright or in more muted shades, Elispeth suggests using them for a wedding, or special occasion.

If you’ve ever wanted to give rag rugging a try, Rag Rugs, Pillows and More contains all the information and inspiration you need to get you started.  All you need are a few basic supplies and to clear out all those old clothes you’ve been meaning to take to the charity shop.

Make It With Air-Dry Clay

By Fay De Winter
Price £9.99
IBAN – 9781782215165
Publisher Search Press

Do you remember playing with clay at school? Maybe you made a coiled pot after spending what seemed like ages rolling out a long sausage of clay, while trying to keep it all the same thickness? Perhaps it was a tile you made, pressing leaves and other objects into the damp clay to make an impression?  Very few of us ever think to try it again as adults and yet it’s extremely therapeutic and its popularity is increasing with programmes like The Great Throwdown on BBC2.

Fay de Winter, a London based ceramicist with a BA in Ceramic Design and a MA in Contemporary Crafts, encourages you to delve into the world of air dry clay in her book.  Make it with Air Dry Clay, has 20 projects, suitable for all abilities.

As a medium, air dry clay is an accessible material to work with as it requires no firing. You can still mould it, make impressions and colour it, although it wouldn’t stand up very well being made into more utilitarian items, like a cup or a jug.  It’s the ideal way to ‘dip your toe in’ so to speak and discover if you’d like to find out more.

Fay’s book opens with a chapter called Tools, Materials and Techniques which gives advice on the type of clay to use, decorating tools, ways to manipulate and shape the clay and then sealing your air-dried piece.

The 20 projects contained in the book all include step-by-step photo tutorials with detailed easy-to-follow instructions.  They include jewellery, homewares and quirky items, ideal for gifts.

We were recently playing with air dry clay ourselves for the magazine and it was serendipitous to open Fay’s book and discover clay feathers and textured decorations.  It should therefore go without saying that we love both the Elegant Feather Tags and the Heart Wall Hanging.  We’re also rather taken with the Impressed Trinket Dishes, Coloured Clay Bead Necklace and the Pea Pod Bowl.

We’re sure Fay’s book will convince you to have a go yourselves and who knows, maybe we’ll see you on the telly sometime in the future.

Garter Stitch Revival

20 Creative Knitting Patterns featuring the Simplest Stitch Paperback

By Interweave Editors
Price – £18.99
IBAN – 9781632502988
Publisher – Interweave

As Holli Yeoh says in the foreword to this book, garter stitch is the first stitch pattern we learn as knitters, and like Holli, many of us discard it in a rush to learn new patterns, or in preference of the smooth stocking stitch surface. Garter stitch can be beautiful; it can be used sparingly to add an accent to a garment or as a design feature to ensure bands sit flatter and help prevent curling. Garter stitch should be revered in all its undulating glory.

The projects in this book have been divided into three categories and include patterns from 19 well-known designers.

In Garter Stitch Details, the Seashell Dolman Tee by Kiri Fitzgerald-Hiller is a great wardrobe staple.  Knit from cuff to cuff, with a subtle crest pattern, it could easily be worn alone, or layered over a long-sleeved t-shirt in the cooler months. Knitted in a plain solid shade of yarn to better emphasise the stitch detail, the texture of the garter stitches add that little something ’extra’ and elevates the t-shirt from plain to lovely.

The Flapper Cloche by Megan Elyse Nodecker, is gorgeous. Inspired by the chic cloche hats of the 1920s, the hat is incredibly stylish.  Short rows are used to create the overlapping fan shaped brim, from which stitches are then picked up and knitted to form the body and crown of the hat. The sample in the book has been knitted in Cascade 220 Heathers, which is a classic yarn with a slightly marled look to it. The tonal appearance of the yarn works to further accentuate the ripples created by the garter stitch, creating a more structured looking hat.

In chapter two Garter Stitch in a Supportive Role, garter stitch works side by side with other stitch patterns. Jessie Ksanjnak’s Brioche Cowl, demonstrates the stunning simplicity of horizontal garter stitch stripes combined with two colour brioche.  Worked in the round, the Brioche Cowl can be knitted in two different lengths and because it’s reversible, it can also be worn in several different styles.

The Coney Island Shawl by Anne Podlesak is stunning.  Knitted in two shades of yarn, this triangular wrap is going straight onto our ‘must knit’ list.  The combination of the first colour used to knit lace mesh, which meets the second shade, mingles in garter stitch stripes and ends with the second colour, works incredibly well.  It would look at home worn over a light summer dress, or wrapped over a warm cosy cardigan.

The Santa Monica Cardigan is designed by Holli Yeoh and is the perfect multifunctional, must-have sweater.  A longer, thigh length knit, the Santa Monica is perfect for throwing on whatever the time of year. Knitted in 4ply/fingering weight yarn, it might seem like a bit of an undertaking, but it would be worth it.  Worked back and forth in one piece to the armholes, the garter stitch back wraps around the sides and merges into a staggered pattern that flows into stocking stitch.  The overall effect creates a lovely undulating front edge and beautiful design feature.

Garter stitch reigns supreme in the final section of the book, Garter Stitch All Over.  The Blackcomb Cowl, another of Holli Yeoh’s designs, is a perfect example of how sculptural some knitted garments can be.  By changing the direction of your work and knitting rows of garter stitch perpendicular to each other, there is no need for other fancier stitch patterns.  The use of double garter stitch creates texture and provides added springiness, ensuring the cowl is super warm and cosy. Chunky and oversized the Blackcomb Cowl can also be worn in several different ways.

The Autumn Evening Shrug designed by Melissa Labarre is the perfect garment for layering.  Knitted from cuff to cuff, in chunky weight yarn on 8m needles, you could be wearing one tomorrow. Elbow length, deep ribbed cuffs connect to a rippled garter stitch band that stretches across the back of the garment.  Stitches are then picked up around the body to lengthen the back of the shrug and create a rolled collar.  The effect is a refined, elegant silhouette, that could easily be worn with casual or dressy outfits.

Garter Stitch Revival is a book of beautiful designs to knit, however, Interweave have still remembered to include all the standard information at the back of the book that you would expect to find.  There is a list of abbreviations, glossary of stitches and techniques and list of yarn sources.  There is also a mini biography on each of the designers who contributed a pattern to the book.

As you would also expect from Interweave, each of the designs have been photographed beautifully from every angle and the pattern instructions are clear and easy to follow.  Happily, a schematic is included with each one, making it easier to track your progress and ensure a good fit.

Stitch, Fabric & Thread

An inspirational guide for creative stitchers

By Elizabeth Healey
Price – £14.99
IBAN – 9781782212850
Publisher – Search Press

Stitch, Fabric & Thread us a treat of a book for anyone with even a passing interest in sewing, embroidery or patchwork. The book is a compendium of inspirational projects, from the simple to the sublime. Author Elizabeth Healey gives us over 40 projects that draw their inspiration from around the world: corded works of art inspired by Milton Glaser’s iconic Bob Dylan poster; bold embroidered African masks; Mola appliques; Aboriginal dreamtime lizards; knotted works of art inspired by ancient Mayan counting systems; varsity cross-stitch letters and decorative Japanese book binding.

Elizabeth divides the book into five chapters. The first sets out the crafter’s stall; it establishes the basics of stitching from the tools to the inspiration. The following four chapters cover a good deal of ground and Elizabeth gives us a veritable smorgsboard of projects, neatly separated into different stitches – running, chain, blanket and raied.

We particularly love intentionally random’ in chapter 2 and the penny wall hanging in chapter 3. The patchwork ball made as a christening gift out of vintage and heirloom hankerchiefs has to be our favourite. It’s a beautiful idea that brings old and new together.

In truth, there’s simply no shortage of ideas in this book. It’s bursting at the seams (pun intended!). A handy section at the back of the book gives a glossary of stitches, all the templates you need for the projects and suggested further reading. This is one book you’ll find yourself dipping into time and again.

Tudor Roses

By Alice Starmore
Price – £24.99
IBAN – 9780486817187
Publisher – Dover 

We’ve featured another of Alice Starmore’s books as ‘One of Our Favourites’ in a previous issue, so it will come as no surprise to find that we’re including another of her titles. Tudor Roses was originally published in 1998, reprinted in 2013 and until recently has only been available to anyone prepared to pay upwards of £50.  All that is set to change,with the re-release of Alice’s outstanding book this year.

Tudor Roses is a book of 14 beautiful designs inspired by 14 women connected with the Tudor period. With each design, Alice and her daughter Jade, share a short story of each historical woman. As is the case with other Alice Starmore books, the women’s stories have been thoroughly researched and each design is a tribute to these ladies.

It’s impossible to talk about Tudor Roses without discussing the photography in the book first, after all it is the pictures of a design that draw our attention, isn’t it?  The photographs for each design have been carefully staged to recreate the sense of each woman.  The models, hairstyles, clothes, accessories and poses, fuse together perfectly.

The designs themselves are, to be fair, predominantly for the intermediate to advance knitter.  These are not your basic garter stitch jersey (we love them too by the way).  Intricate and ornate garments, with colourwork, cables or sometimes both, with structure, shaping and exquisite detailing, most will be a labour of love.  We should also mention that the designs might very well not be to everyone’s tastes.  However, if you flick through the patterns, you’ll soon find yourself tempted and before you know it you’ll be dreaming your knitting time away.

Tudor Roses is a beautiful book, full of classic designs and worthy of a space on any knitters’ shelves, even if all you do is take it down to marvel at the creativity and ingenuity of Alice Starmore.