Books with Franklin: Wool Studio and The Mitten Handbook
Since jumping into this sweet gig, I’ve been greeting our mail carrier with with an eagerness that I fear she finds unnerving. The front gate creaks, and suddenly I’m at the door. “Hi! Hi! Hi! Anything good for me today? Huh? Any heavy boxes? Huh? Thin but heavy? From publishers? Huh? For me?”
She tosses a peanut butter cookie into the flowerbed as a distraction, drops the packages, and runs.
I get a lot of knitting books in the mail—good, bad, and meh. It’s fantabulous. It also means that it takes a lot to surprise me. Wool Studio: The Knitwear Capsule Collection (Interweave) surprised me.
Wool Studio, edited by Meghan Babin (also the editor of Interweave Knits magazine), is a daring undertaking in the era of individual patterns sold via the internet. Here is a mixed collection of tops and wraps—in hardcover, no less. For a moment I felt transported back in time. To 2001.
For a publishing house to put out a collection like this has come to feel wildly daring, like the Ford Motor Company reviving the Model T. You have have to ask: why have they done it?
Wool Studio isn’t about one technique or one silhouette. The unifying principle is a look. A spare look, quiet and relaxed. Beachy is the word that comes to mind, and sure enough the patterns are all named after famous American coastal spots, east and west.
The colors are beachy, too. Lots of sandy beiges and rocky grays.
Beyond that? Beyond that, the editor let the designers do their thing.
Pacific Grove Tee by Sarah Solomon.
All the pieces celebrate the ease that comes from dressing in knits. Two of the tees—Sarah Solomon’s “Pacific Grove” and Kate Gagnon Osborn’s “Monterey”—are the sort of thing you want to have in three or four colors, because they can be pulled out and thrown on with jeans, slacks, a skirt, or shorts—and make you feel cute as hell without even trying.
Monterey by Kate Gagnon Osborn.
The pullovers and cardigans are just as (to borrow an adjective from the youngsters) chill. “Pismo Beach,” a breezy pullover by Amanda Scheuzger, is all drape, drape, drape—partly due to clever use of doubled yarn at the hem, partly due to effective use of a very simple lace motif.
Pismo Beach by Amanda Scheuzger.
Norah Gaughan’s “Big Sur” pullover is a sharp take on the classic California combination of a slouchy sweater over a bathing suit—though in this case the straps at the neck are part of the knitting.
Big Sur by Norah Gaughan.
Nice touch, Norah.
And among the cardigans, Véronik Avery’s “Topanga Canyon” stands out for its masterful use of asymmetry, creating swingy drama with perfectly oversized front panels.
Topanga Canyon by Véronik Avery.
This is a deluxe cardi you are not likely to see hanging on a rack in an affordable ready-to-wear boutique—which is a reason we knit, right? To make beautiful clothes we could never buy?
It’s also good to see that although the overall mood of the collection is quiet, there are pieces that push the boat out. I had to look at Andrea Babb’s “Ojai” top a few times to get where she was going with it.
Ojai Top by Andrea Babb.
It’s semi-sheer, and gathered at the shoulder line by a series of abstract, irregular cables. To be honest, I hated it–at first. Then I realized this is a knitted ode to coastal wind and blowing sand. A garment as a piece of art. It’s in motion even when you’re sitting still. Mind you, it’s still perfectly wearable. People will ask you what it is and where you got it—but in a good way.
Wool Studio is a strong argument for the survival of the mixed pattern collection. Buying patterns singly is a great convenience, no doubt. But looking at patterns by different designers side by side in the pages of a book really helps you see what makes them work.
My first completed knitting project was a mitten. A single, very ugly mitten. It was knit from the only pattern I owned for the first ten years I knew how to knit, lent to me by the college friend who taught me how to cast on. (If you’re reading this, Eliza, I have found the pattern in my files and would like to give it back to you now.)
Since then, mittens have become a personal obsession. I love them because they are adorable, I love them because they are useful, and I love them because they are quick. Quicker than a hat, quicker than a baby sweater; so quick that I can usually finish a pair before I am sick of knitting them. Confession: I almost never finish a knitting project before I am sick of knitting it.
Mary Scott Huff’s The Mitten Handbook: Knitting Recipes to Make Your Own (Abrams) is a mitten-lover’s delight. Huff is well known on the national teaching circuit, and her skills as a classroom instructor are on full display in the book.
The first half is all about the structure and components of the mitten—edge, cuff, thumb, and top. Each of these four can exhibit structural variations, and those variations can be mixed and matched and knit to fit. How to do this—in other words, how to knit the mitten of your dreams—is laid out with near-perfect clarity through both Huff’s writing and Lesley Unruh’s lucid photography.
For those who would prefer to work from patterns, there are twenty-two of them, varied as snowflakes. Huff’s aesthetic is by turns whimsical and handsome, with details carefully selected from a full bag of tricks that includes stranded color (“Littermates” is charming and hilarious), thrums (“Thrumplestiltskin), texture, cables (“Lines and Ladders”), and haberdashery (“Pearly Kings and Queens”).
The mitten enthusiast will find The Mitten Handbook a source of inspiration and rejuvenation. The mitten novice will find it useful, intriguing, and ultimately the yarn-spangled gateway to an underground knitting subculture in which the word “gusset” is whispered by devotees like a prayer to a benevolent but exacting goddess.
By their thumbs shall ye know them. Welcome, my child.