Friday, January 12, 2007

Book Review: Crazy Heels & Toes by Mary Ann Beattie

I've been hearing murmurings about this book for a few years and was curious about the mysterious "no wrap, no gap" short row heel. I enjoy learning new techniques so I told my parents about it and they gave it to me for Christmas.

Here is the "no wrap, no gap" short row heel:

both sides
this is a scan so things look a little smooshed, but you get the idea

Is it less fiddly than wrapping? Not really, it's pretty much the same, it still involves picking something up (a purl bump instead of a wrap) and working it together with another stitch, which I find tedious, especially at a small gauge on size 0 needles. Are there any gaps? Nope, it lives up to the name, there are no gaps, even when I press my finger against the inside of the sock and distort the fabric to try and make holes appear. This is a great short row heel, and there's even a variation that includes small gussets on the sides for those who need a little extra room.

I still prefer heel flaps with gussets. The thing is, I really enjoy knitting heel flaps and then turning the heel and picking up gusset sts. I find it soothing and clean and orderly, which is exactly what some people love about short row heels. Isn't that funny? I haven't yet found a short row heel that will permanently lure me away from heel flaps.

The short row heel in Crazy Toes and Heels is actually a very small part of the book, the star of the show is a different heel, which looks a lot like a heel flap heel, but you don't actually knit a heel flap or pick up gusset sts. I might as well try that next, even though it contradicts what I said in the previous paragraph. There's also a lot of information about knitting two socks at the same time on two circular needles, different toes, casting on, casting off, and she walks you through an afterthought heel. Instructions are written with the two circular technique in mind, but it isn't necessary to knit socks that way, you can still follow along with your magic loop or dpns.

If you've read other reviews about Crazy Toes and Heels you already know it's chaotic, especially if you are flipping through it. The information is densely packed on the pages and it's very wordy, much like this review. Would I want all knitting books to look like this? Absolutely not. It breaks ALL design and editing rules, and then some you never thought of. It's easy to understand why it makes some people want to tear their hair out. Right now it's a jumble of information, it'd be an astounding book if a sharp editor (with heaps of knitting experience) and a layout designer could get their hands on the content.

A review online claims this book is not for blind followers, but I disagree. It holds your hand every step of the way, for example there are photos that show the before and after of slipping a stitch. It often seems an entire page could've (should've?) been clearly distilled down to 1/4 page or maybe even a few sentences. Beattie writes in her introduction, "Once you actually learn the cast-on and increase movements, you'll fly right through the 26 steps in a flash! For example, the 12 steps of one toe cast on loop takes me about 5 seconds to actually maneuver." Do you need one loop broken down into 12 steps? If so, this book was written for you.

I'd rather show a new sock knitter clear and concise directions on how to knit a sock first. There are some great tutorials online, found over at the Socknitters site. If the online tutorials aren't much help then I think you'd be better off watching an instructional video or taking a class at your LYS. You can buy this book if you're curious about the Queen Kahuna techniques after you understand how socks are constructed. However, I've seen reviews posted on the Socknitters list from experienced sock knitters who couldn't decipher the instructions, the information is presented in a way that doesn't make sense to them, so knowledge of sock knitting isn't a guarantee you'll be able to follow the book.

Here's my recommendation on Crazy Toes and Heels: It's a good book to put on your next birthday/holiday wish list, but only if you enjoy knitting socks. Buy it if you don't want to wait that long. If you're disappointed or overwhelmed it'd be easy to sell, simply post a sale/trade note on the Socknitters list or Knitswap and you'll receive multiple bites. If there wasn't anything new then I'd say give it a pass, but the innovative heels and toes are worth learning if you're into trying new things.

The book is only available for purchase from the author, via her website at Looking over the website will give you some idea of the book's layout and writing style, consider it fair warning. The following URL is a good place to start: Download the pdf on that page for the Aloha cast-on for another sample.

Yeah, there are a lot of quotation marks around random words in the book too, in just about every sentence. In fact that is my #1 complaint about the book: it would be improved beyond measure if every " in the book was deleted.

That's the official end of my review, but there's something else I want to talk about. Before I got the book I thought it odd that nobody wanted to talk about how these heels and toes were done, knitters sure love to share information. Now I understand why, it's the unique copyright notice. I won't reprint it here, but reading it will grant you a one-way ticket to Guilt Trip City.

I'm not a lawyer but from what I understand the actual techniques can not be copyrighted. They can be patented, which is different. For example, Girl from Auntie showed us an old patent granted for a heel turn. I would certainly be breaking copyright if I scanned the Crazy Toes and Heels pages and posted them here, which I would never do, but if I explained how the heels were done, in my own words and with my own photos, that is not breaking copyright. (Again, me = not a lawyer.) But there are a few reasons why I won't do that.

1) If you've ever written an indepth tutorial you know it takes a stupid amount of time, what with taking the photos, editing photos, writing text, editing text, and putting it all together. Eventually someone will write their own version of these instructions and post them for free on the internet, it's inevitable -- maybe someone has and I missed it. I don't want to be that person.

2) People will print the tutorial and share it with their knitting friends and classes, because that is exactly what people do with my other tutorials. Some people are considerate enough to ask, and I always say yes, but I imagine for everyone who asks there are a lot more who just download and print.

3) I feel weird about #2, because these Queen Kahuna techniques are genuinely innovative and complex, it's not as simple as knitting a sock on 2 circulars or using a single circular with loops on the sides. Detailed information on the QK techniques is already out there for people who want it, in the form of Crazy Toes and Heels. It'll cost money but I think the author deserves some compensation for sharing her brand-new techniques with everyone. And you know all the money goes directly to the author, it's not being gobbled up by a publishing house. (I heard a rumor that another author actually owed money to her publishing company after her sock book was published.) I don't believe Beattie is getting rich off this book (and if she is, good for her), because she probably spends a lot of money on printer hardware, color ink, paper, and bindings. I also have to consider the hundreds of hours she spent writing the book and editing photos, plus the time she still invests printing, assembling, and binding every book that leaves her house.

So, what do you think? I'm curious how others feel about these new techniques only being available to you if you buy a book. I can see both sides of the situation. For example, despite my feelings expressed in #3 above, I'd find it silly if people said "Oh no, you can't tell someone how to do applied i-cord, they have to buy EZ's book or video and learn that way." EZ came up with applied i-cord and all the numerous variations, she published those techniques, and then the information was shared and it spread. How is this different? I'm not sure it is.

Where do you draw the line? Showing a small number of friends the techniques? If your knitting club wanted you to share how to do the Kahuna heels would you teach a free informal lesson for everyone, maybe hand out instructions you wrote yourself? Teach the techniques in a class at your LYS, where the students paid money to learn? Post the instructions online (using your own words and photos)? The book's copyright notice informs us that the author prefers you not do any of these things, she expects you to refer people to her website so they can order their own copy of the book. Does that make you less interested in buying her book or bothering with the techniques, knowing the author doesn't want you sharing the information?

Where would knitting be if people were shamed into never teaching what they knew to other knitters? It wasn't that long ago when knitting patterns/techniques/instructions weren't written down, they were almost exclusively shared verbally. But in 2007 is it unrealistic for a knitter to expect compensation for her innovations? Or should we be content to just write the book -- if we have the time and resources -- and hope some people buy it before it's all posted online?

Just some stuff to think about, and I'd like to hear more opinions. Via email is fine if you don't want to leave a public comment: andrade at az dot com.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

2007 knitting plans, plus a boring sock

Projects in mind for 2007:

1) Colorwork mittens -- need 2 skeins of light green Shetland jumperweight, I think they'll be light green and dark green with an angora lining (unfortunately most wool makes my wrists itch like crazy). The hand chart is pretty much done, must finish charting the thumb next.

2) Fair Isle cardigan in Meg Swansen's Knitting, for mom -- need just 8 more skeins. I've been slooowly collecting the Shetland yarn for this over the last 2 years. I'll make it smaller and shorter so it'll be more fitted, but not too fitted. And it'll be shades of blue/silver grey/cream, not the colors in the book.

3) Marihone or Marihøne, better known as the cute ladybug sweater from Dale of Norway -- I started this last night, but don't expect it'll be done soon. Cardigans are more useful than pullovers around here so I'm converting it to a cardigan, and plan to steek the front, neck, and arms. I'm making the 2 yrs size for a couple reasons: (1) We don't know when the adoption my younger brother and his wife are working on will actually go through, so I can give it to Kate (my older brother's newborn) if that doesn't happen before two years is up, and (2) I don't want to feel rushed.

4) A children's cardigan from the March 1994 Knitting Digest -- Who is E.J. Slayton and what happened to her? Last month I found a stash of old-ish Knitting Digests at the thrift store and noticed her name was attached to most of the best patterns. She designed traditional looking sweaters in the round with steeking where appropriate. OK, I googled her name and she has a website. The sock and shawl booklets look interesting but overall there's nothing too exciting.

5) Pixie Cables: a seed stitch/cabled infant's cardigan found in a Red Heart "Soft and Sweet" booklet.

6) Start and finish the 2nd sock in this toe-up pair:

The "no wrap, no gap" short row heel is from Queen Kahuna's Crazy Heels & Toes. I received this book for Christmas, my review will be posted soon with close-up photos of the heel (no wraps and no gaps, the name doesn't lie).

That's enough planning, now back to knitting! Right now I'm working on the ladybug cardigan but the sock will be started as soon as the size 0 needle is free.

But first, we have some Viewer Mail:
Katie asked: I love your Laila socks! Do you have the exact yarn color name that you used for this? Thanks!

I looked around for the multi-colored yarn's ballband and couldn't locate it. I'd like to know what it is too, I'll buy more if I see it again. I looked through the Regia yarns at a few online shops and didn't see it, but I do know for sure it was Regia. I bought it 2-3 years ago at the local Pacific Fabrics so I'll check for it next time I'm there (not holding my breath).