Knitting Book Reviews

Knitwear Design Workshop
by Shirley Paden

Let me start with a story. Do you remember what it felt like on the first day of school? You would go to your first class, and the teacher would hand out the textbooks on a subject that you knew nothing about. Chemistry. Algebra. French. Computer programming. You’d open up the book and glance at the first page and think, “This could be interesting." Then you’d thumb through to the back, glancing at the esoteric equations and diagrams, the elaborate sentences and structures that were completely unknown … and you would feel intimidated. “I’m never going to learn all this," you would think.

Yet, as the year went on and you worked through the book, it would all make sense. The diagrams were illustrative, the equations balanced, the complex sentences turned out to be beautiful poetry. You had been taken to a place you could not have gotten to on your own, a place that had seemed impossibly far away but now felt like your familiar backyard.

This book is like that.

At first glance, it’s intimidating. And big. A large-sized hardcover that has the feel of a full 3-ring binder. In fact, it’s a lot like a notebook, because the book has a spiral binding to make using it easy to use, but with a solid, hard cover to give it protection. But all this physical heft means your first reaction is going to be “Whoa, it’s a huge." (Or at least, mine was.) And flipping ahead just looks frightening.

The important thing, though, is that, if this book is a monster, it’s a friendly monster. A helpful one who explains things clearly and with absolute sincerity. It’s just big, and very detailed oriented.

If you’re interested in sweater design, and want to understand everything, you need to look at this book. It’s amazing. I have other design books in my library–GOOD ones–written by Maggie Righetti, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Ann Budd, Cheryl Brunette, Debbie Bliss, just to name a few … but this one stands on its own.

When I tell you this book is detailed, I mean very detailed. There is some math involved. The author has done the heavy lifting for you, but she helpfully explains how she got her figures. There are equations and diagrams, but I don’t want you to be scared of them. They are here to help, along with a huge number of layouts and sketches to help you put together exactly what YOU need for the sweaters you want to design.

The book reads like a reference book–which it is. It’s not just a collection of basic shapes with a brief explanation on how to use them. It’s like an entire school year of Sweater Design all in one book. It truly is a knitwear design workshop.

Since this is a reference book, there are long sections that you really only need to skim until you decide later that you need to dig into the detail. The writing, though, is succinct and descriptive. There is no question that Shirley Paden knows her stuff.

At the back are a handful of project patterns showing the design method in action. I liked the “Design Process Checklist" at the back that starts with “The Idea" then moves through “The Fabric" “Essential Measurements" and so on until you get to a finished pattern. There’s also “Standard Measurements and Sizing" charts which is always helpful–especially if you’re writing a pattern for publication and need to produce different sizing options.

There is an Index, but it’s only two pages long. It looks like it covers everything, but I wonder if it is missing something. The book has so MUCH detail, after all, how could it all fit on two pages? I thought it was curious that all the photo illustrations of designs (“This sweater is an example of a classic raglan silhouette") are all from older issues of various knitting magazines. I’m not sure why.

All in all, this is an incredibly impressive book, and it feels like a doctoral class on sweater design. Everything you could want to know is in here. If that makes it feel a little intimidating when you first look at it? So be it. The important thing is that it’s thorough, it’s detailed, and it’s going to be a fantastic reference you’re going to use again and again.

Reviewed by Deb Boyken

Deb has been knitting since 1987 and has accumulated quite a collection of knitting books over the years. Her website, Knitting Scholar, can be found at
http://knittingscholar.com .