22 May 2012

California Revival Knits

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I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date

Yesterday morning, driving through the Vermont countryside, I completely forgot that it was my day to post a review of California Revival Knits by Stephannie Tallent, AKA @StephCat on Twitter. I was tempted to toss off a quick review on my iPad and upload it from the airport, but instead I wrote down my thoughts in my notebook, because I wanted to do the book justice.

california revival knits cover


On my bookshelf, I have three sections of knitting books:

1. Reference books about techniques, stitches, design, and so forth

2. Pattern books by designers I admire

3. Books inspired by the traditions and techniques of a specific place

Of course, there is overlap between these sections, but the third category is the largest and includes almost all of my favorite books.

I have a fascination with how a connection with a place — with it’s nature, culture, history, and people — affect the creativity of artists living in the region. Vermont has been my favorite state since I was ten years old, when my family started vacationing in the state every year. Now I was thinking about moving to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Driving down the road heading south toward the airport in New Hampshire, after spending a week looking for a house and visiting family, I found myself wondering if I’d feel at home here.

Connection with a specific place is something I haven’t experienced for most of my life. I’ve lived in New York, Tennessee, California, and Colorado, spent several months in Texas, Georgia, Lithuania, and England, and visited many, many other places in North America and Europe. Although I’ve loved some of the places I’ve lived and many of the places I’ve visited, I’ve never felt like I was tied to the land in any spiritual and intangible, or in any physical and tangible, way. Perhaps it’s my inability to to make such a connection that makes me so fascinated by those designers who’s work is informed by a specific place and time — by one landscape, it’s lore, traditions, people, and stories.

I also love when knitters, and any artists, take shapes and textures and motifs and colors from one art form and use it in another. This is part of what fascinated me about Dorothy Reade, about whom I wrote in my newest book, Successful Lace Knitting. There is something especially appealing in the unqiueness of the designs that are tightly tied to a place, created with a single vision and a consistent visual style.

Of all the places I’ve lived, my favorite so far has been southern California. Although I only lived there for 9 years, and haven’t felt the same type of intimacy with the land and it’s history expressed so eloquently by authors like Francesca Lia Block and John Muir, the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of California will always be a part of who I am. In fact I loved California so much, that while I was living there and for several years after I moved away, I had recurring nightmares about leaving California and being stuck in one of the other states I’d lived in with no car, no money, and no way to get back to the Golden State. Now that I’ve lived in Colorado for 13 years, and am about to embark on a residency in Vermont, I don’t know if I’ll ever return to California in the flesh, but with California Revival Knits, I can return in spirit through my knitting whenever I want to.


contents 1 CRK

contents 2 CRK

I’ve wanted to get this book since I first saw the Peacock mitts on display at TNNA last year. What I love most about this book is the richness of the colors and textures in the projects, which struck me immediately when I saw the sample at TNNA. Inspired by the gorgeous tiles made in California in early decades of the twentieth century, each project is more beautiful than the one before it, and each of the photos of the handpainted tiles and knitted projects is clear and in focus, with the details of the patterning showing up clearly. The charts are large, and charts are provided for color and texture patterns, as well as for some of the more complex shaping and construction techniques used, making it much less probably that knitters will make mistakes. The projects range from cowls, fingerless gloves, shawls, socks, hats, and sweaters–something for just about everyone.

peacock mitt CRK

Click to enlarge

My second favorite part of the book is the introduction and story that precedes the projects, particularly the section on the author’s design process. I only wish this part was longer! I find that I am often disappointed in knitting books when background materials and stories are kept short, with an almost total focus on the knitting projects in the book. I always find myself hungering for more of the story to inform the projects, to read before I knit, and ponder again and again as I make the projects in the book.

The only downside to this book is that I only have the PDF version, and with the introduction laid out in a single column, it was difficult for me to zoom in enough to read the long lines, especially on my iPhone. I have been reading a lot of ebooks lately, but I still find that having a physical knitting book in my hands is a more pleasurable experience. Fortunately, Cooperative Press offers an excellent price if you purchase the bundle of print and ebook versions of California Revival Knits as a bundle.

Visually, California Revival Knits, is a smorgasborg of West Coast colors and textures, that will whet your appetite for even more. The fact that Stephannie used yarn from small, indy yarn companies for most of the projects just ads to the books appeal. If you’re looking for inspiration and ideas for your own designs, you want a book to read over the weekend, or you are on the prowl for your next exciting knitting project, you’ll find more than you bargained for in this fabulous book.


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