Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Review of The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

The Singing Bones

by Shaun Tan

Foreword by Neil Gaiman
Introduced by Jack Zipes

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016. 185 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Children’s Nonfiction

This is a book of art. But all the art is based on fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. Shaun Tan has created sculptures based on the tales. On each spread, there’s a short excerpt from the featured fairy tale on one page, and a photograph of the sculpture on the other page.

In the Afterword, Shaun Tan tells us about the sculptures:

The main materials I’ve used are papier-maché and air-drying clay, carved back and painted with acrylics, oxidized metal powder, wax, and shoe polish. The resistance of clay in particular at a small scale encourages simplicity, especially where the key tools are blunt fingers and thumbs: Faces and gestures are abbreviated, just like characters in the tales themselves. The concept of a thing also becomes more important than a detailed likeness: A fox need only be a few red triangles, a sleeping man requires no body, and a queen’s face can be eroded away by the force of a single, elemental feeling: jealousy. What matters above all else are the hard bones of the story, and I wanted many of these objects to appear as if they’ve emerged from an imaginary archaeological dig, and then been sparingly illuminated as so many museum objects are, as if a flashlight beam has passed momentarily over some odd objects resting in the dark galleries of our collective subconscious. Like the tales themselves, they might brighten in our imagination without surrendering any of their original enigma.

He achieves this feeling of simple forms, of the bare bones of the stories. As Neil Gaiman says,

Shaun Tan does something else here: something profound. His sculptures suggest, they do not describe. They imply, they do not delineate. They are, in themselves, stories: not the frozen moments in time that a classical illustration needs to be. These are something new, something deeper. They do not look like moments of the stories: instead, they feel like the stories themselves….

Here they gather for you, timeless and perfect, a mixture of darkness and light that manages to capture Grimms’ stories in a way that nobody, to my knowledge, has done before.

Shaun Tan makes me want to hold these tales close, to rub them with my fingers, to feel the cracks and the creases and the edges of them. He makes me want to pick them up, inspect them from unusual angles, feel the heft and the weight of them. He makes me wonder what damage I could do with them, how badly I could hurt someone if I hit them with a story.

All of Shaun Tan’s work is eerie, abstract, and creepy. But combining his images with timeless folk tales gives them whole new power.

In short, you really need to see these images. Check out this book and take a look!

shauntan.net
arthuralevinebooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/singing_bones.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Arts and Crafts at #alamw17

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

I just posted about a program I attended at ALA Midwinter Meeting about Creativity brought into the library using an Open Art Studio approach. They talked at length about how doing Art is not the same thing as doing crafts.

This was somewhat ironic timing, because I had just spent an hour at a program called “DK Maker Break.”

DK was promoting a new book coming out called Out of the Box about making things from cardboard.

We all made owls.

Now, I had a lot of fun, and the book is packed full of ideas and projects.

But — I could really see the point that was going to be made in the next session I attended.

First, I could easily see that my owl wasn’t very “good,” especially compared to the examples we were shown. Even compared to the people next to me making owls. My conclusion: I’m not very good at this.

Those are all things we don’t want kids to feel or think after making something in the library.

Second, I have absolutely no emotional investment in the owl. I plan to throw it away before I go home.

If it were a project I had come up with, I might care about the result. But the whole idea of making this was imposed by others. It’s cute, and it makes a fun picture. But it doesn’t express who I am or say anything about my life.

Finally, if I were a kid, and my mother decided to display the owl I made — I’d be just plain embarrassed! I know it’s not very good. If my mother tried to say it was, I would be far less inclined to trust her judgment about my art in the future! And I don’t have any emotional investment in the product, so it’s not something I want to be reminded of again and again.

It really made me think, and strongly supported the point made in the Creativity program.

Now, Out of the Box is a beautiful book. I absolutely do think it’s a great idea to make the book available to kids, along with a variety of art supplies. But a context where they can browse and choose something they’d like to make would be far more meaningful to the artist, and far more likely to make Art.

I may be a DK Maker, but the experience combined with the next workshop also has made me a person who believes in letting kids make art rather than coercing them into making crafts.

Review of Thunder and Lightning, by Lauren Redniss

Monday, September 19th, 2016

thunder_and_lightning_largeThunder and Lightning

Weather Past, Present, Future

by Lauren Redniss

Random House, New York, 2015. 262 pages.
Starred Review

Thunder and Lightning is another Science Picture Book for Adults by the author of Radioactive.

As with Radioactive, which is a biography of Marie Curie, Thunder and Lightning is full of facts – but the most striking thing about it is the dramatic pictures.

I can’t really describe the pictures adequately, so I’m going to focus on the words here, but be aware that if this is a book you find interesting at all, you should check it out and see for yourself.

The author explores so many aspects of weather! Mainly she tells weather-related stories, but there are also many things about the science of weather. Some of the stories told include a cemetery washed out by a flood, the secret forecasting formula used by Old Farmer’s Almanac, people struck by lightning, a ship that sunk in fog, swimming from Cuba to Florida, devastating fires in Australia, a World Seed Bank in Svalbard, the ice trade on Walden Pond, and making rain in Vietnam. This perhaps gives an idea of the wide range of topics covered here, which all relate to weather.

The author relies heavily on quotes, which bring an immediacy to each story, each exploration.

Here are some things Arctic explorer Vilhjálmur Stefánsson had to say in 1921:

The daylight is negligible; and the moonlight, which comes to you first through clouds that are high in the sky and later through an enveloping fog, is a light which enables you to see your dog team distinctly enough, or even a black rock a hundred yards away, but it is scarcely better than no light at all upon the snow at your feet.

I think my favorite chapter, though, is Chapter 7, “Sky.” After fascinating ramblings and explorations on various topics, I turned the pages on “Sky” – and discovered 16 pages of paintings of sky. Lovely.

This book is surprising and hard to describe. Check it out and see for yourself.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/thunder_and_lightning.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Normal Distribution Coloring Sheets

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

I’ve made a Normal Distribution Coloring Sheet and posted it in my Mathematical Knitting Gallery, Sonderknitting.

I thought it would be fun to talk more about it and show some examples.

The reason it’s in my Mathematical Knitting Gallery is that the idea began with knitting.

First, it was my Probability Scarf. I read this idea somewhere. Just choose six colors that look good together. Knit the scarf lengthwise. Assign the numbers 1 through 6 to the six colors. For each row, roll a die to decide which color to use on that row. Flip a coin to decide whether to knit or purl.

Here’s how that scarf came out:

Probability_Scarf

But in this scarf, all the colors are equally likely. This is called a uniform distribution. What if the colors were chosen from a normal distribution, a bell-shaped curve? That’s what I did with Jade’s Outliers Scarf, using bright colors for the outliers, plainer colors for the middle of the curve.

OutliersScarf

But then I thought it would be fun — and much, much quicker — to do this with colored pencils or crayons. So I made a coloring sheet that is just a grid. But the instructions explain how to use random numbers chosen from a normal distribution to color the sections in the grid.

The scarf used three colors, plus a rainbow yarn for the outliers. I decided to use four shades of colored pencils: dark blue for within half a standard deviation of the mean, dark purple for between one-half and one standard deviation, green for one to one and a half standard deviations, and light blue for one and a half to two standard deviations from the mean. Then I used a red marker for the outliers more than 2 standard deviations out from the mean. (I may try this in a scarf, so it was nice to check how it looks first.)

Here’s how it turned out:

normal_distribution_hand_colored_small

Since a lot of characteristics in people or in nature have a normal distribution, this gives a good feel for how people vary. It also explains why the outliers might feel like oddballs. And why one outlier might have a hard time finding another like themselves. But don’t change, outliers! You are what makes life beautiful!

I’m still going to try some other color schemes. I’m thinking it might be time to buy some colored pencils with more shades.

But meanwhile, it occurred to me that I could get more shades if I used computer coloring.

My grid is a table in Microsoft Word. And you have the option of coloring each cell, specifying a number between 0 and 255 for the red, green, and blue elements in RGB mode.

So I went back to random.org and generated numbers from a normal distribution with 128 (right in the middle) as the mean and 42 as the standard deviation. So the only way the numbers would go past 0 or 255 would be more than 3 standard deviations out from the mean. (With 990 numbers generated, only one did.) I’m thinking about doing it again using a standard deviation of 64, in which case there would be more variation, and you’d have more using 0 or 255.

It was interesting to do. The majority turned out to be grayish. You’d get the brightest squares when one element was very different from the other two.

colored_normal_distribution

It took a long time — I’m sure it would be fairly simple to create a program that would generate one of these charts, so maybe I’ll do that sometime in the future. I’m also thinking about doing the same thing but using the HSL color model available in Word. HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, and Lightness — but it also uses numbers 0 to 255 for each one.

Meanwhile, I feel like my intuitive grasp of the normal distribution has grown.

But mostly, I think these are pretty.

Review of Patterns of the Universe, by Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

patterns_of_the_universe_largePatterns of the Universe

A Coloring Adventure in Math and Beauty

by Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss

The Experiment, New York, 2015.
Starred Review

I was going to wait until I’d colored more patterns to review this book, but now I’ve decided that having read all the text, I can tell about how fascinating it is.

Toward the end of 2015, I started hearing about the latest fad for adult coloring books. I saw this one based on math, and knew how I wanted to try participating in the fad! I asked for it for Christmas, and two of my sisters sent me a copy. That turns out to be a good thing. I’m going to color one and copy pages out of the other. I think I will copy the pi-related coloring page to give as a prize for our scavenger hunt on Super Pi Day (3/14/16). I’m also thinking about having a math coloring program at the library and using various pages, along with my own coloring sheets. (I figure copying a few pages will tantalize people into buying the book!)

The idea is wonderful: Mathematical patterns to color! There are 57 designs to simply color, and then my favorites are 12 more designs that you help create.

Some of the designs are based on Voronoi diagrams, transformations, fractals, tilings, knots, polyhedra, Fibonacci numbers, and, yes, prime numbers.

The one pattern I have already finished coloring is the Sevenn — a Venn diagram of seven sets. And coloring it made me glad I have another book from which I can make copies and try it again.

Sevenn

The later, more interesting (to me) patterns come under the section heading “Creating,” as opposed to simply “Coloring.”

This is where they have more patterns involving prime numbers and randomness, as well as cellular automata, Latin squares, and space-filling curves.

Here are the instructions for the pi-related coloring page:

PI WALK

The digits from 0 to 9 represent the directions in the key at right. Choose a color for each of them. Starting at the dot, draw a short line (about half an inch) for each of the digits in pi (given above) in the direction of that digit. So, start with the 3 color in the 3 direction, then continue from that point with a new line in the 1 direction in the 1 color, and so on.

When I looked at this section, it occurred to me that my mathematical knitting projects are an example of mathematical coloring — with yarn!

They did have a way of coloring prime numbers. Personally, I think my own way is more interesting, assigning primes a color and then coloring each multiple according to its prime factorization, whether in a grid as in my original sweater or the prime factorization blankets, or in a line in the prime factorization scarf or the prime factorization cardigan. However, the cool thing is there are quite a lot of new ideas that could be translated to knitting — and this book got my brain spinning in new ways.

It also made me realize that I could make my own coloring sheets. My knitting is coloring with yarn, and why not make these patterns available for people to try with their own colors? This book was the nudge that got me to pull out the diagrams and post them on my Sonderknitting page. I’m not an artist, so they are simply made with tables, but I think the prime factorization chart is especially helpful for learning about primes. And the prime factorization charts in other bases are helpful for understanding other bases. The Pascal’s Triangle charts show you pretty patterns from Pascal’s Triangle, and the normal distribution chart gives you a gut-level feeling for the normal distribution that’s different from what you think when you see a bell-shaped curve.

I’m looking forward to what new ideas will spark as I color the rest of the patterns in this book! And I’m also looking forward to seeing how pretty these patterns will turn out and what new insights I’ll get. It’s a win all the way around.

alexbellos.com
maxwelldemon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/patterns_of_the_universe.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Stunning Photographs, by Annie Griffiths

Monday, May 18th, 2015

stunning_photographs_largeStunning Photographs

by Annie Griffiths

National Geographic, Washington, D.C., 2014. 400 pages.
Starred Review

When National Geographic says that photos are stunning, you should believe them.

This collection of photographs inspires awe. They are printed in full color and in large format. This book is one of the perks of regularly checking out library books. It’s so large, I probably wouldn’t have purchased a copy for myself. But I can check it out from the library and take the whole three weeks to browse slowly through it.

I read this book a chapter at a time. The chapters are “Mystery,” “Harmony,” “Wit,” “Discovery,” “Energy,” and “Intimacy.” There’s an essay at the beginning of each chapter, and some quotations sprinkled throughout, but mostly the photographs – truly stunning – speak for themselves.

Check out this book to add some wonder into your life.

nationalgeographic.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/stunning_photographs.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Ah-hA to Zig-Zag, by Maira Kalman

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

ah_ha_to_zig_zag_largeAh-hA to Zig-Zag

31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

by Maira Kalman

Cooper Hewitt, Skira Rizzoli, 2014. 54 pages.
Starred Review

Maira Kalman is pretty much the definition of quirky. On the title page, under the subtitle it says, “Maira Kalman went to the museum. She chose objects from the collection and made this book for you. Completely for you.”

First, it’s very loosely an alphabet book. Each letter has a picture of something from the museum and some writing about it. Something like this (with the picture from the front):

E.

(Except for your dog)

This is the cutest dog on Earth. with the cutest Eyebrows on Earth.

“I really am Extremely cute.”

Or:

F.

The hat on this woman From France is Fluffy and Frothy and Fantastic and Funny.

Or:

V.

It is Very Very Very Very (Very) nice to snuggle.

Or:

Y.

Dance. Run. Smell flowers. Jump for joY. Laugh. CrY. Be mean. Be kind. Eat toast. Be cozy. And be forever Young.

After Z for Zig-Zag, we have:

Oops!

We left out

O.

Oh well. We all make mistakes. Yesterday I wore two different socks. No big deal.

Then there is a double-page spread at the back with photos of all the objects portrayed and notes about what they are. The dog for E is “Figure of a poodle, England, 1820-40; Glazed earthenware.” The lady for F is from “Postcard, A Travers la Normandie; Coiffes et Costumes anciens, about 1909; Printed card with hand coloring.” V refers to “Salt and pepper shakers, Town and Country, 1946; Glazed earthenware, cork.” Y deals with “Square, Boy and Girl, 1947; Printed silk.” And O features “Pair of stockings, France, 1850-1900; Knitted silk.”

Then at the end, Maira Kalman tells the story of Nellie and Sally Hewitt.

They loved to sing and dance.
They were just a little bit wild.
A little bit.
They had sharp eyes. The kind of eyes that really LOOK at things.
One day they decided to collect the things they loved, and create a museum.
And they really did it.
Which is a lesson to be learned.
If you have a good idea — DO IT.

This book gives me a good idea: I should go to the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

I have another good idea: I should tell you to check out this book!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/ah_ha_to_zig_zag.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of A Lion in Paris, by Beatrice Alemagna

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

lion_in_paris_largeA Lion in Paris

by Beatrice Alemagna

Tate Publishing, 2014. 36 pages.

This oversized picture book is a treat for anyone who loves Paris. When I say oversized? I mean enormous. Looking at this book is an event.

The cover opens upward (with the spine on top, horizontal), and you see the lion’s paws unfolding a map of Paris, which will trace his route.

A few sentences show on the plain page on top, while the page in your lap has a large picture with photos of faces and other details inserted in the drawings.

The book begins:

He was a big lion. A young, curious and lonely lion. He was bored at home on the grasslands, and so one day he set off to find a job, love and a future.

The lion begins his journey around Paris at the train station, the Gare de Lyon, and from there we get a wonderful tour of Paris, from a lion’s eye view.

I think my favorite page is looking up the steps to Sacré Coeur:

The lion’s heart was beating very fast as he continued his long walk. At the top of an endless flight of steps he saw a white castle. “It looks like a cream cake, doesn’t it?” said an old lady, smiling at him. “Grrr,” replied the lion. They went back down all the steps together.

At the end of the book, the lion finds a permanent place where he is happy.

The author explains the story in a note at the end:

The lion in this story was inspired by the statue of a lion in the Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris. It was erected by the architect Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi between 1876 and 1880. I wondered why the Parisians are so fond of this lion. I think it is because he looks very happy where he is.

And who can blame the lion? I know I have been happy when in Paris. This book brings some of that joy back.

tate.org.uk/publishing

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/lion_in_paris.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night, by Reife & Susan Tuma

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

what_the_dinosaurs_did_last_night_largeWhat the Dinosaurs Did Last Night

by Refe & Susan Tuma

Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2014.
Starred Review

All you have to do is look at the cover of this book to get your imagination spinning. And to start laughing.

The authors explain in an Introduction how Dinovember got started. They were tired and busy with a new baby in the house. Susan’s parents had sent some hand-me-down toys that their daughters weren’t terribly interested in and languished in a toy box.

The next time we saw those dinosaurs was on Halloween. It had been a difficult day. Leif’s sleepless nights had gotten worse. Trick-or-treating had been canceled because Adele was sick, and the kids had gone to bed disappointed and emotional. Susan and I were exhausted, cleaning up after another day spent cooped up inside the house. We could tell our daughters had been desperately bored because even the neglected contents of that toy box had been dumped all over the living room floor. Susan started sorting through them as she cleaned, and held up a couple of the dinosaur figures.

“I remember these,” she said. “I always loved them.”

As we got ready for bed, Susan set the dinosaurs on the bathroom sink where our daughters would find them the next morning. I asked what she was doing and she shrugged.

“Just having a little fun.”

We went to bed without giving it another thought.

The next morning, our daughters nearly broke down the door to our room.

“Mom and Dad, you have to see this!” Alethea said. “The dinosaurs came to life last night – we caught them brushing their teeth!”

Susan and I dragged ourselves out of bed as the girls looked on impatiently. As soon as our feet touched the floorboards, they grabbed our hands and pulled us into the bathroom. At first glance, it seemed as if the dinosaurs were exactly the way Susan left them – standing in the same places, frozen in the same positions. Then, we looked closer. We looked at our girls’ faces and saw the way they smiled and how their eyes had grown wide. We realized that, sure enough, the kids were right: the dinosaurs had come to life. And, with that, we knew they would do it again.

This was how Dinovember was born — every night of November, the dinosaurs got up to mischief while the children were sleeping. Eventually, the parents took pictures, started a blog — and wrote a book.

I like this summing up in the Introduction:

At its heart, Dinovember is a celebration of imagination. Imagination is both a prerequisite for participation and, ultimately, what we hope to inspire. We want to train our kids to value their creativity, to cultivate imaginative thinking, and to look past what’s possible.

After talking about their daughter’s aspirations to be an artist-scientist, they also say:

The dinosaurs have unwittingly taught Susan and me a similar lesson — that we can be parents and people at the same time. We’ve often felt like we had to be either the parents our kids needed or individuals with our own hopes and dreams — never both at once. When we tried in the past, we seemed to be maintaining two different identities, taking them on and off like costumes in a Metropolis phone booth. We’ve played with enough plastic dinosaurs by now to know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Our kids aren’t a hindrance to the things we want to do — they’re integral to everything we do. They’re our partners in crime and our grass-stained, runny-nosed muses. They’re part of the story we’re telling, and, one day, we’ll be part of theirs.

As for the rest? The photographs say it all. Dinosaurs caught in the act, again and again.

I do have one complaint about this book: The print is teeny-tiny. Not good for beginning readers who might learn to read with this book, and not at all good for older eyes hoping to read the book to grandkids.

However, you don’t actually have to read the words to get yourself laughing out loud. The expressions on the dinosaurs’ faces are classic!

My main problem is how on earth to classify this book. My library has it as Juvenile Fiction. And if you look at it as the story of “What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night,” it works that way. It could be thought of as a Picture Book — but what about the teeny-tiny print? I think I’m going to list it under adult Nonfiction — since the authors address adults in their Introduction, and then you can see the book as a book of ideas for parents. And then it does fit under Creativity — because ultimately, that’s what this book is about. But make no mistake: This is truly a book for all ages, and people of different ages will take different things away from this book.

This book is something unique — and a triumph of the imagination. I dare anyone to look at one of these pictures and not instantly start imagining the scenario that got the dinosaurs into that position!

dinovember.tumblr.com
littlebrown.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/what_the_dinosaurs_did_last_night.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Yarn Whisperer, by Clara Parkes

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

yarn_whisperer_largeThe Yarn Whisperer

My Unexpected Life in Knitting

by Clara Parkes

STC Craft, a Melanie Falick Book (Abrams), New York, 2013. 160 pages.
Starred Review

This book would be an ideal gift for any knitter who also enjoys musings about life (like me). Clara Parkes takes experiences and techniques from her life in knitting, and applies the ideas to life.

For example, she talks about how a steek is like a divorce or other big cuts of life.

There’s a way to do it right, without pain. We work a series of steps called a steek, so that the stitches are prepared for what’s coming and can absorb the shock, heal without any scars, and even thrive in their new environment.

Another chapter is called “Stitch Traffic,” and talks about how stitches travel:

But some patterns do wild things. When you move those stacked stitches around, split them up and swap them over and under one another, force sudden merges and yields, driving becomes much more interesting. Your roads sprout new lanes, fork off in different directions, pass through busy rotaries. They can be detoured by giant bobble boulders, blasted with yarnover potholes, or forced into sudden dead ends….

Cables are the knitter’s version of highway overpasses and tunnels guiding lanes of stitches on their merry way…. Wide cables are like L. A. freeways, their beautiful maze of overpasses and off-ramps leading every stitch home. Occasionally traffic will snarl from a jackknifed big-rig, a mis-twisted cable. You’ll send in a wrecker to unravel the whole thing – or maybe use the Jaws of Life to cut an outside strand and reknit your way back in.

Her chapter on the Kitchener stitch and seamless connecting of all kinds begins by telling about the Knitter’s Handshake:

Two hands go in for the grab-and-shake, but at the last minute, they veer to the closest sleeve or band and grab it instead, while we ask, “Did you knit this?” Our eyes immediately scan the fabric for seams and joins, cast-on edges and edgings. We can’t help it, we’re wired to look for imperfections. A proper seam garners respect and admiration, even envy. Hastily worked, jagged, or lumpy lines are like scars – we know it’s impolite to ask how they got there, but we can’t stop staring.

I like “The Dropped Stitch” chapter so much, I’m going to quote from it at length:

Yarns are like people. Some have abandonment issues. They don’t do well when stood up. They look at the empty chair. They check their watches and realize what’s happened, and they panic. Glancing around, they see happily secure stitches just out of grasp, mocking, sneering, like teenagers in a cafeteria. They look up for the reassuring arms of the next row, but they see only air….

But not all yarns respond in this way. Some stand their ground, not the least bit unnerved by their disconnection or solitude. Their stitches can sit suspended for hours, days, years even. They bring their own books. They write letters home. They nod to passersby, reach out to pet strangers’ dogs, completely confident that eventually someone will notice their absence and come back to pick them up. “Oh, hello there,” they finally greet the returning needle, sliding in quickly and putting on their seat belt. “Nice to see you again.”

What makes a yarn react to abandonment the way it does? Why do some people crumble when faced with that empty chair, while others take it in stride? Does it all boil down to confidence – spunk, determination, security in one’s self and one’s own place in the world? Ironically, the most opulent and imperial yarns – the ones with slick and glossy surfaces that glide past their neighbors without so much as a how-do-you-do – tend to slink out the emergency exit the fastest.

Whether it’s from vanity or perhaps shyness, these slippery silks and smooth worsteds seem to have fewer deep and abiding connections. They look so beautiful in the skein. Their smooth and dense construction may help them last longer in the world. But what kind of life do they have? They’re so intent on holding it together that they rarely relax, let their hair down a little, get to know their neighbors. They sit upright in their fabric, arms held in to preserve their personal space. Knit them too loosely and sunlight will stream in between each stitch; too tight, and the stitches will quickly get grumpy and stiff from the forced intimacy. They expect life to go a certain way….

But those yarns with outgoing personalities – the ones formed from a noisy and jubilant community of lofty, crimpy fibers that are always in one another’s business – those yarns come together in times of trouble. Each stitch, even the tormented teenager who just wants a little privacy now and then, fundamentally supports the others. They willingly expand and contract to fill whatever space you give them. Need to add three more place settings for dinner? No problem, they smile, we can stretch the meal. And when the needle suddenly disappears and leaves a stitch stranded, the others reach out instinctively, “We’ve got your back,” they say, and they mean it….

Depending on where you go, these rugged-seeming woolen-spun yarns may not be sitting at the popular kids’ table. In fact, they’re more likely to be sitting in smaller groups outside, on the grass, under a quiet tree. But you know what? When push comes to shove comes to slipped needle and dangling stitch, when a chair is empty that’s supposed to have someone sitting in it, those are the yarns that will always wait for you. They are loyal to a fault, forgiving and secure in their own twist and tenacity. You want them on your side.

She talks about how yarn stashes are like gardens, casting on represents beginnings, and swatching is “the knitter’s equivalent of sight-reading.” There are all sorts of connections to knitting from the mind of someone who loves knitting and loves life.

I read it a chapter per day, and consistently got things to smile about and some food for thought. All lovers of yarn will find something to love about this book.

knittersreview.com
claraswindow.blogspot.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/yarn_whisperer.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.