Books with Franklin: From Baby Shoes to the Stars
Tiny but Fierce: Classic Kicks for Little Feet
I don’t know why I love to knit baby clothes. There is no reasonable explanation. There is not, for example, a baby. Nor any desire for a baby. I know my limits. I make a terrific (if I may say so) crazy uncle; but at the end of the day, when all the ice cream has been eaten and it’s time to deal with orthodontia and tuition and math homework—home she goes.
If I were to become a parent, I would probably end up as a news item with the headline “AREA MAN ABANDONS CHILD IN YARN SHOP.” Or it might be a book shop. Or an antique shop. I am far too easily distracted to cope with fatherhood. My mind wanders. I wander. I suppose at least my hypothetical kid would have plenty to entertain it until help arrived.
Yet I keep knitting baby clothes. I enjoy working on a small scale–that’s certainly part of it. Baby clothes—the really fun ones—pack cool details and intriguing techniques into projects that are finished before my attention span (see “easily distracted,” above) conks out.
In Classic Kicks for Little Feet: 16 Knitted Shoe Styles for Baby’s First Year, Helga Spitz takes the humble baby bootie—such a symbol of impending motherhood that knitting one is a tired Hollywood trope for announcing a pregnancy—in stylish new directions.
The guiding principle behind the collection is made clear by the photography, which places the itsy bitsy boot or shoe in front of the grown-up equivalent. Each evokes a lifestyle, a persona.
The book provides ballet slippers for the ballerina (or danseur). Snow boots for the slopes. Espadrilles for the breezy Palm Beach socialite. Sneakers for the fitness nut. There are high-top shoes (for the basketball court or, one supposes, for the holistic artisanal coffee shop in Brooklyn) and there are sandals (for the beach, or possibly for weekend classes at the weaving co-op).
This is pure, unashamed wish fulfillment. As you dress the baby, so the baby may become. Mama loves her Ugg boots; and dammit, kiddo, so will you.
Spitz does a remarkable job of translating the key details of full-size footwear into worsted-weight knitting. Each style is immediately recognizable for what it is, without overcrowding the limited space available. Frequent, effective use is made of haberdashery bits—the metal eyelets on the snow boots (easily found, inexpensive, easily attached) being a particularly deft touch.
Note that not all the patterns are sized for all ages. Most have a three-month range, i.e., 0-3 months, 6-9 months, etc.
In bringing the book to English-speaking audiences (it was originally published in Germany as Babyschühchen-Tick: Schuhklassiker für kleine Füße stricken), Sixth & Spring Books has happily chosen to preserve illustrator Suzanne Bochem’s charming line drawings of happy mice and cheerful dogs, scattered among the abundant photographs and thorough line-by-line instructions.
Big Ideas Writ Small: Firmament
Classic Kicks is a fairly large book full of tiny projects. Hunter Hammersen’s latest book–Firmament: Stellar Stitches for Your Next Adventure–is a fairly tiny book full of big ideas.
Hammersen’s books (like her two-volume Curls series) sometimes arise from her obsession with a particular method. In the case of Firmament, it’s dip stitch. That sounds like a knitter’s insult, but is rather a method of creating long, decorative stitches from points well below the current round.
In the introduction, Hammersen says dip stitch was only supposed to form the basis of one hat. Then it became another hat, and another; and then a book.
The Constellate hat.
Dip stitches stretch across multiple rounds, rather like slipped stitches; but whereas most slipped stitches (as in mosaic knitting) are usually two rows high, dip stitches may vault across half a dozen. The effect on the texture of the fabric is dramatic, and Hammersen combines dips with decreases, increases, and knit/purl textures to make them dance. The crowns of the hats, especially, are dazzling. The top of Ecliptic is a veritable mazurka.
The Ecliptic Hat.
This is a slim book, to be sure—44 pages, four patterns, and a mere seven inches square. However, into this tight space the designer has slipped (in addition to the patterns) two pages on hat structure and hat sizing; two more on chart reading; six pages of instruction on working dip stitches, with large, clear technical illustrations; five additional dip-stitch patterns; and instructions for turning the hats into matching cowls.
These days, if I’m going to buy a book of patterns, I want it to be more than a book of patterns. I want it to open a door to making interesting fabrics I haven’t made before. Firmament does that, to an extent you might not expect from such a tiny package.