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I recently received a review copy of Custom Crocheted Sweaters: Make Garments that Really Fit by Dora Ohrenstein, of Crochet Insider fame, from the nice people at Lark Crafts.
Like most crocheters, I’ve been waiting a long time for a book like this. Although I personally have little interest in actually making a sweater, I would love to have a greater understanding of how to make a crocheted sweater that fits and looks great.
Knitters have (seemingly) thousands of books about sweater designs (I’ve written about 7 in this post). On the other hand, until January, crocheters seemed to have Modular Crochet: A Revolutionary New Method for Creating Custom-Design Pullovers (out-of-print and for sale on Amazon for $50-$260) and the first section of Couture Crochet Workshop (also selling for $100-$300 on Amazon). (Yes, there are many crochet books of sweater patterns, and some even include tips on fitting and customization, but few seem to be primarily designed to teach the reader to design and customize her/his own sweaters.)
As soon as I heard that Dora Ohrenstein was working on Custom Crocheted Sweaters, I began eagerly anticipating its release. Surprisingly, the book actually managed to live up to my high expectations.
The book opens with a 42 page overview of sweater design, divided into these sections:
- The Art and Craft of Making Garments,
- Overview of Sweater Construction,
- Choosing Yarns,
- Measuring Your Body,
- Understanding Fit,
- Demystifying Patterns,
- Reading Schematics,
- Shaping and Alteration 101, and
- Finishing with Care.
In these pages, Dora covers the different types of sweaters (“Oh, so that’s what a raglan sleeve is!”); provides incredibly detailed instructions for taking your own measurements as well as measuring beloved/well fitting sweaters in your own collection; and shares tips such as the best approach to altering an existing pattern to create a sweater that fits your unique measurements and preferences.
The next section, called The Sweaters, includes 10 sweater designs featuring a variety of construction types. Each sweater has a detailed pattern and is followed by one to three “lessons.” There are a total of 17 lessons, including 4 “Master Class” lessons:
- Altering Body and Sleeve Lengths,
- Fine-Shaping Necklines and Shoulder Straps,
- Blocking to Your Measurements,
- Altering Length,
- Widening the Color,
- Altering Length and Waist Placement,
- Master Class in Fitted Armholes,
- Adjusting Size by Changing Gauge,
- Master Class on Armholes and Sleeve Caps,
- Lengthening Sleeves in an Angled Pattern,
- Internal Shaping with a Bust Dart,
- Widening Sleeves with Internal Shaping,
- Master Class in Sleeve Alteration,
- Adding Neckline Depth,
- Bust Alteration in Top-Down Design,
- Length and Waist Alterations, and
- Master Class in Bust Alteration.
In addition to the lessons, each sweater pattern includes a detailed overview of the benefits of that particular construction type, suggestions on what to consider when substituting yarns, and tips for choosing a size to fit you.
The sweater patterns are primarily written patterns in U.S. terminology, but the major stitch patterns or motifs for each design are also shown in international stitch symbols. The book is cleanly organized and well written.
I didn’t expect to love all of the sweater patterns in this book, and I didn’t. This book is really about the information contained in the opening section and the lessons. The sweater patterns are almost an extra – if you like them, that’s great, and if not, you can apply the lessons to other patterns in your collection. As far as I’m concerned, the information in this book is absolutely worth the price of admission, regardless of whether you actually plan to make any of the patterns in the book. (You can check out pictures of each design on the book’s Ravelry page here.)
And now for the not so good news…
Now that I’ve told you how great the book is, it’s time to discuss the improvements I would suggest for the second edition :).
It would be wonderful if a book like this, which requires a fair amount of reading and detailed focus while crocheting, could be spiral bound. The book is a paperback and doesn’t really lay flat, so you can’t crochet and read at the same time.
Most of the models have long hair and the pictures are lovely. BUT, often times the model’s hair obscures the shoulder construction. Normally, I wouldn’t have a problem with this, but in a book where there are literally pages dedicated to detailed discussion of drop shoulders versus fitted sleeve versus raglan construction, it would be nice to have a clear view of the shoulders and neckline.
The third issue relates to the discussion of math. It is well known that, in general, math is not a strength of most Americans. Dora attempts to rectify this (as it relates to crochet) by talking the reader through the math of making changes related to gauge, stitch pattern repeats, etc. I think these sections would greatly benefit from a little formula box where you could “fill in the blanks” based on your situation, rather than long descriptions of what to do, using fake examples. (I foresee many folks with math anxiety being confused about which number replaces which number in the example, and immediately giving up. Or worse, making a mathematical error leading to a poor fit, and then thinking the book wasn’t helpful.)
Run out and buy this book now, before it is selling for $300 on Amazon and you are kicking yourself for missing out. It’s like having your very own sweater tutor that you can turn to at any moment for help with a project. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars, even with its (few) flaws, because overall it teaches much more than I expected to learn from it, and certainly more than other books that are currently available.
(And, in case you are wondering, yes, I am keeping my review copy and not hosting a giveaway. It’s just that good.)