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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.

Wool Studio

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.

The Mitten Handbook

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.

Wool Studio: The Knitwear Capsule Collection edited by Meghan Babin (Interweave)

The Mitten Handbook: Knitting Recipes to Make Your Own by Mary Scott Huff (Abrams)

About The Author

Franklin Habit has been sharing his brainy and hilarious writing and illustrations with the knitting world since 2005.


  • Love the mittens, especially the pair with tiny hearts.

  • Thanks for your humorous, informative review!

  • Can’t wait to thrum. Just ordered the book. That green tee is also calling my name.

  • I love that green tee! Thanks for the review! Love your writing!

  • Thank you, Franklin! Just ordered them both from my local library to see if I want to buy them.

  • Wool Studio OMG OMG OMG I have just completely redone my project list.

  • I may even try a mitten (or two). Something that has never held much interest for me does now.

  • When I saw this morning’s post was from Franklin Habit, I said to myself Oh Boy, goodie!! I always love reading his book reviews They’re fun & witty and always make me smile;) I luv the green tee, Pacific Grove. Being a native So. Cal. gal (Sunset Beach) the pattern names were like looking at postcards from home

  • Oh, Franklin! Your reviews are better than most people’s books! I rarely disagree with you, but in this case I have to take issue with your statement that mittens are quicker than hats. Any project where you have to make two–however small–does not beat out a hat for speediness. IMHO. That being said, Huff’s mitten book looks great! Thank you for bringing it to my attention! I virtually rushed to my library’s online catalog and put a hold on it. That’s where I was reminded that Huff is also the author of the excellent and whimsical Fun and Fantastical Hats to Knit. (Which I also initially checked out from the library and now own.)

  • How large do those lovely Wool Studio patterns go?

    I knit for larger people and while I can adjust fit for many items (not all, sadly), it’s obviously a lot easier on my math-challenged brain if I don’t have to calculate proportions more than two or three sizes larger…

  • A few of the sweaters look interesting, but I will never spend the money for a book in order to make a couple of the patterns. Most can be nearly duplicated with patterns I already own or can spend a few dollars for. Even in the years before Ravelry it would take a lot to persuade me to buy a book, or even a magazine.

  • Would love to have a book of your knitted payterns

  • Thank you, Franklin, for “I almost never finish a knitting project before I am sick of knitting it”. I am right there with you, as testified to by my enormous collection of UFO’s. I’m off to order The Mitten Handbook so I too can achieve more FO’s.

  • since I have vowed to bust my stash — I have replaced my purchases with your book recommendations! I’m going to get the mitten handbook as soon as I can sneak my wallet out of the kitchen where my husband is breakfasting. Hopefully I end up with a better project than my last attempt – which I titled – Let’s give Margaret a Big Hand…..Just One. Perhaps a row counter is also in order.

  • While I cannot blame Franklin for my addiction to All Books Fiber, the responsibility for the latest few puchases lies squarely upon his shoulders. I love this mitten book. It will be my best friend this winter. Thrums to you all!!

  • I bought this mitten book after reading this review and I have to say it has become a favorite. Thanks.

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