Modern Top-Down Knitting: Sweaters, Dresses, Skirts & Accessories Inspired by the Techniques of Barbara G. Walker Hardcover – Oct 1 2010
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There are several designs that I like well enough to make the purchase price of the book worth it to me. The Soho Smocked Dress which makes use of a smocked stitch pattern to define the waist is one in particular which struck me on my first pass through the book. The styles and lines of the clothing overall have a modern look that does not cross into trendy. Numerous patterns are certainly timeless and portray a pleasing degree of urban-sophistication.
There are a couple critiques I have though. 12 patterns (almost half those in the book) use elastic cord or elastic ribbon to provide tension and pull-in areas of the knitwear, such as at necklines, hat edges, or cuffs. While I find the use of elastic an excellent design detail at times, in my opinion McGowan uses it in places instead of altering stitch patterns to provide elasticity within the knitting itself or instead of adding body shaping to the pattern. The very nature of knitting has the peculiar benefit of allowing a master designer to incorporate such design features without relying on elastic cord, a distinct advantage over working with woven fabric. There are a few patterns within the book for which elastic cord is the best choice, but for many others it seemed to me to simply be the easy solution.
My biggest disappointment though was in the beautiful dress featured on the cover: Jill's Dress. I admit that I was captivated by the seamwork featured on the dress. I saw the seamwork as a great stylistic feature that would be indicative of a interesting, innovative way to construct a dress. Instead I was slightly crestfallen to discover that the "seams" were merely crocheted directly into the fabric after the entire dress is finished; an added-after-the-fact decorative feature and nothing more. The same crochet feature is used in the Promenade Dress where a similar design element could have instead easily been incorporated into the stitch pattern itself. I have no problem with crochet being used in this manner as a decorative element, but it leaves the dress pattern itself (which is what I ultimately paid for) to be a fairly simple construction. In fact, the dress on the cover has no waist shaping at all.
There are times when elastic cord and crocheted details have their place, but McGowan's reliance on them in exchange for more sophisticated knitting techniques makes me want to suggest that this book's audience is geared more towards the beginning knitter who would like to start branching out into slightly more complex pieces.
I will probably just make the few patterns I like out of this book and then pass it on. While a decent enough publication, I do not see a place for it in the permanent library of a more knowledgeable knitter.
But the best thing about the book is that it has given me elements that I will use for the rest of my life in my own designs. And that is priceless. I have looked an MANY MANY MANY other knitting books, and this is the only one that has ever given me something beyond a pattern -- it has provided me with increased wherewithal to make my own. So frankly, even though I enjoy the patterns, what makes this book sing is that I would get something out of it even if I thought the garments were not my kind of thing. To rephrase: even if the garments aren't your type of hype (and they're pretty great) you can totally revolutionize your knitting with this book, no matter what level you're at. It's clear, it's entertaining, and it has a lot of educational as well as aesthetic value. Super awesome book. I hope she does some more.
The book is well done, the photographs amazing but it's not my idea of a "top-down" book. Most of the patterns are not top down, as traditionally thought, but "bottom up". There are some sweaters and cardigans but dresses, skirts and hats seem to rule the day. I think I was hoping for a true update in this technique rather than a completely different approach. I've done one top-down sweater of my own design (with the help of knitting software) and loved the results. I think I wanted a book like Barbara G. Walker's "Knitting from the Top" but an update on her techniques. This author claims her book is "inspired" by Ms. Walker and her words are correct. It is "inspiration" not an "update".
I am not critiquing the book as much as saying that it's not what I expected. If you want a true, top-down book, try Cathy Carron's "Knitting Sweaters from the Top Down". I would recommend Ms. Walker's book but it's a bit difficult to follow, in my opinion. This is why I was hoping for an update. I will be sending this one back to Amazon because it doesn't fit into my knitting library.
The real treasure trove are the great tutorials: one for doing a set-in, seamless top down sleeve, shoulder shaping with short rows, creating sleeve caps with short rows, two methods for tightening loose set-in sleeves in the pick up round, and wonderful articles on trims and elegant finishing methods -- a neglected area by most designers -- thoughtful finishes that truly turn your handknits into prized possessions and cherished gifts.
The only downside (and it's a substantial one) is inclusion of hats, a cowl, armwarmers, slippers, a wrap, jewelry, and a BELT. (A belt?? Come on now.) I would have preferred more shaped sweaters to replace these; these patterns just seem like "filler projects" to me. Nine filler projects are entirely too many for a book with 26 designs ... That's just over 30%.
Breakdown by pattern type:
Dresses/tunics (the tunics are pictured as dresses): 8
Pullover Sweaters: 2
Tank/Camisole Top: 1
Jewelry: 1 (specifically, a bracelet and ring set)
actually want to make and wear. The items are all classic and not overly designed, and the tutorials elucidating Walker are brilliant. I'm very excited about the book. I actually have several STC books in my collection now and they're always so well done - this one is another keeper!