Yarning with Mad Martha: My First Knitting Book…

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

A hearty hello to you all!  Today I’m breaking new ground and taking on the world of knitting (eep!) with My First Knitting Book Easy to Follow Instructions and More Than 15 Projects by Hildegarde Duezo and translated by Marina Orry.  I requested the book from the publisher via Netgalley, working under the assumption that if I were to take up knitting using a book, working from a book aimed at children should be the best place to start.  Surely the instructions therein would be far easier to follow than those in a book aimed at adults?  Well, just wait and see!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If you want to learn to knit, you only need a ball of yarn, knitting needles, some patience — and this book! It’s the ideal introduction to knitting, with easy-to-follow, full-color instructions for more than fifteen projects. Clear, step-by-step explanations of basic techniques make this guide great for beginners of all ages, especially those wishing to create handmade gifts.

An introduction explains the how-to of knitting, from holding the needles and yarn to casting on, basic stitches, and finishing touches. Patterns start out as simple as can be and gradually become more challenging, although by no means difficult. Readers can advance from bracelets, hair ornaments, and pocketbooks to scarves and hats, in addition to a charming variety of household decorations.

my first knitting book

Although the blurb mentions that “some patience” is needed, I would have to say, after having a crack at this book, that “infinite patience” is needed to get started when learning to knit from scratch.  My early frustrations may have had something to do with the fact that I expected (completely reasonably, I might add) to master the basic stitches in about ten minutes and be moving on to completing the projects.  Needless to say, this didn’t quite pan out as I had planned.

Beginning at the beginning (which, according to Julie Andrews, is a very good place to start) I followed the pictures and brief, step-by-step instructions and attempted to cast on.  After about twenty minutes, countless re-starts, a temper boiling over and my brain repeating on loop “this would be so much easier if there were a HOOK on the end of these needles”, I managed to cast on about thirty stitches, thusly:

knit cast on

Being about ready to throw in the towel at this point, and covered in sweat from my brow, I summoned every ounce of fortitude I possess and pressed on to the basic knit stitch.  I didn’t find this quite so difficult as casting on (although thoughts of “why on earth are these loonies using two straight sticks when they could have put a HOOK on the end?!” persisted), and eventually got up a bit of a rhythm.  I did drop a few stitches here and there while attempting to slip the stitch off the end of the needles, but soldiered on because the book gave no indication of what to do in such a situation and I had no clue how to fix it.   Having completed a row of knit stitch, I moved on to purl stitch, which didn’t seem quite so difficult after the trials of casting on and knit stitch, leaving me with this epic piece of needlework:

knit finished rows

You can see from the unevenness of the rows that something has clearly gone a bit wrong here, and at this point I thought the book could have done with a “troubleshooting” section.  As completing these three rows took me just over an hour, my interest in learning to knit diminished quickly, and I wondered how likely it would be for a young person to want to keep going at this point if they didn’t have a helpful, knit-knowledgeable adult around to assist and motivate.

The book provides instruction in a number of other stitches, as well as important things like increasing and decreasing, casting off and seaming pieces together.  The instructions are accompanied by colour illustrations, but I couldn’t help thinking that actual photographs might have been more helpful, either as a replacement for the illustrations or used alongside them.  I have found, when working crochet patterns from blog tutorials, that seeing actual photos of the work in progress is remarkably helpful.

The projects seem basic enough – there is a cute little coin purse, a keyring, some egg-cosies and keen-looking bracelets, amongst others – but again, if you are starting from scratch, gaining enough practice in the basics in order to start working on a project seems like a long path to walk.

I have put aside my desire to learn to knit for the moment after reading this book, given that I can achieve the same, or better, results more quickly with crochet and Tunisian crochet techniques in everything except for socks.  If I were to pick this book up again to continue my brief knitting journey, I would make sure it was supported by a helpful, knowledgeable fleshling to assist with troubleshooting, or failing that, a whole slew of Youtube videos.

But enough about me – what about you?  Have you ever tried to pick up a skill like this from a book? How did you fare?

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

Brick History: A Read-it-if Review

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read it if NEW BUTTON

Today’s Read-it-if Review is for a nonfiction title that will be an absolute winner with anyone who has ever been a fan of Lego and its uses.  We were excited and more than a little grateful to receive a copy of Brick History: Amazing Historical Scenes to Build From Lego by Warren Elsmore from the good folk at Allen & Unwin.  Rather than keep you waiting any longer (which is as painful as stepping on a Lego brick), we’ll get stuck in with the blurb from Allen & Unwin’s website:

From the dawn of time to the first civilizations, we look at the events which took place over the course of the first millennium; events which shook the world and changed the course of history.

Using LEGO bricks, artist Warren Elsmore and his team recreate stunning historic scenes, from the beginning of life in the pre-historic era right through to the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Brick History is a celebration of humanity and its achievements, and of moments in time that changed the course of history. To faithfully recreate each scene or image, Warren uses only standard LEGO bricks-and a lot of imagination! Choosing the right piece, color or orientation is crucial to this process, enabling the models to reflect the spirit of the time through these iconic plastic bricks.

As the book walks through history, the LEGO recreations draw from a 60-year history of the toy itself and tie into many of the company’s most popular themes. In this way, Brick History reveals the adaptability of LEGO to its full extent.

Whether you are a fan of LEGO, interested in world history, or just fascinated by the use of LEGO as a modeling medium, this book promises to take you on a fascinating journey into the past and around the globe.

brick history
Read-it-if:
* you are a teacher looking for the kind of book for your classroom library that will have your students tearing each other’s eyes out in an attempt to be the first to lay hands on it during silent reading time
* you have always wanted to know how to make round shapes from square bricks 
* you find learning historical facts and dates interminably boring and would prefer that such events were jazzed up with hilarious Lego head facial expressions
* you’ve ever considered creating a tiny working model of an orrery, depicting the process by which the Sun, moon and earth orbit one another, but were stymied due to a lack of easy to follow pictorial instructions
* you really freakin’ love Lego
What an awesome concept for a book!  We were palpably excited on seeing this title come up in the catalogue and couldn’t wait to flick through its attractive, easy-to-hold, fully illustrated format when it arrived.  This is going to be a no-brainer success for anyone, young or old, who enjoys Lego.  Obviously, the focus of this book is on historical events, but we were surprised (and delighted) to note that in between the historical depictions are instructions on how to make various related items, including but not limited to, a tiny model of the RMS Titanic, the aforementioned orrery, an Egyptian shadow clock and a brickish representation of Mahatma Gandhi.
The choice of these DIY models is inspired, because many feature building techniques that the run-of-the-mill Lego enthusiast may not have previously encountered, including how to create curves using straight bricks, and methods of building that allow for multiple changes in colour in a limited space, for instance.  I can imagine young builders really getting stuck into this title and developing their building skills quite quickly, before going and showing off to their friends.  The beginning of the book also features some handy notes on how to take photos of your completed models to show them off in their best light.
The only problem I had while reading is that the historical events selected here are very America and Euro-centric. Obviously, in covering everything from the Big Bang onward in a finite amount of pages, there has to be some subjective selection regarding what gets put in and what gets left out.  I was disappointed though at the lack of events from outside Europe and the US.  For Asia, India and Oceania as a whole, we are only treated to six events out of seventy-six and of these, only the construction of the Terracotta Army and the handover of Hong Kong back to China (itself a Euro-dominated event) are depicted as a double page spread; the rest are given in instructional format.  Africa is only represented in the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa and again, only in an instructional format, rather than as a historical scene.  Other readers may not even notice this, but I would have liked to have seen a broader scope of human history represented here.
Despite that small disappointment, this is still a ripping tome that will have adventurous builders busting out their obscure brick pieces and getting to work.  I’d definitely recommend grabbing this one for your permanent shelf while I seek out the already-published titles in Elsmore’s series: Brick City, Brick Wonders, Brick Vehicles and Brick Flicks.
Until next time,
Bruce