Thursday, December 2, 2010

modern top-down knitting: q & a + giveaway!

What if you were so inspired by a crafter you admired that you wrote her a letter...and to your great surprise, you received a mailed letter in response? And what if that correspondence developed into a relationship that led to the publication of your very first book?

Such is the story behind Modern Top-Down Knitting, which is inspired by the techniques developed by knitting legend Barbara G. Walker and written by author Kristina McGowan. This method of knitting advocates knitting from, well, top to bottom, and eliminates unwieldy sewing construction.

McGowan brings this technique up to date with current fashion with her original patterns for dresses, skirts, sweaters, hats, arm warmers, and even a few jewelry items. The designs showcase a modern aesthetic that feels very timeless, and her use of color and flattering necklines and trim are especially striking.

The book features great photo tutorials as well as clear, concise writing by McGowan, who shows interesting techniques in working with elastic cord and reversing the knit to achieve a more fitted, feminine silhouette. She also shows how she customizes garments by dip-dyeing finished hats, creating decorative "seams" with crochet, and adding beautiful finishing touches such as velvet and silk ribbon trims. It's a really wonderful book with great projects, although it was a little unusual that many of the models are photographed with relatively neutral expressions--a cozy but flattering dress would definitely earn a much warmer smile, no matter how modern the woman might be! Nevertheless, the author's capable, friendly tone and well-written tutorials make this an easy and pleasant book for any knitter who wishes to tackle projects that are both classic and fashion-forward.

Kristy was kind enough to chat with me about her terrific new book, touching on her background as an artist as well as the many advantages she sees in using this "top-down" knitting technique.

Q & A with Kristina McGowan

When did you first learn to knit?
I was about ten years old when I first learned how to knit. I went to visit relatives in Austria and they taught me the basics. In later years, I learned from books.

Have you always been crafty?
I was fortunate to have very cool parents who always encouraged my twin sister and me to draw and paint and create things with wood and clay and paper.  All of my memories from childhood involve crafts of some kind. My father built a wooden corner cupboard for us that was filled with our supplies -- the magic cupboard! 

Even now, there are few things that make me feel more at peace than roaming around an art supply store. Last week, I took my twin to Blick Art Supply here in Manhattan – a huge, perfect store -- so she could buy paintbrushes. And as we stood in line, she laughed and told me that she felt like the dazed badger in the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox. And I completely knew what she meant. It’s just the joy and wonder of being able to create something – of having an idea in your head and finding just the right materials to see it realized. I find the whole process incredibly rewarding and comforting.

What are the advantages of knitting in the “top-down” style over traditional methods? 
Top-down knitting allows you to customize at every step and make sure that you’re getting the fit you want. You can try the items on at any point. Simply place your live stitches on a piece of waste yarn and try things on – and right then and there you can work additional increase rounds if you need to, or decrease as needed. The control you have over shaping is wonderful.  If you have long arms or a short waist – or whatever it is -- you can easily knit a bit more or less and make sure that everything is just right.

Can this book be used by a relatively new knitter? 
Yes, I think that it can --- the hats especially are quick and easy starter projects.

This book describes beautiful techniques such as creating seams or pintuck effects with simple crochet. 
Thank you! I spend quite a lot of time drawing things out ahead of time, creating swatches and contemplating, but one thing that I’ve learned is that less is always more. I know that’s cliché, but for me, it’s very true. Many times if I’m stuck on a piece or something just isn’t working, the solution has been to stop trying so hard – to allow just one element to be the focus, whether it’s the yarn, the color, or a simple stitch pattern. I understand the temptation to throw everything you can into a design and to show all that you can do – but for me, resisting that urge has always worked the best.

Have you seen your designs made and by other knitters yet? 
I have! That has truly been a lot of fun. When you meet a kind person from North Carolina who sends you a photo of a dress of yours that she’s just finished and she’s made it in this beautiful cocoa brown – a color you’d not thought of for it, but that works really well --  or a lady from Singapore makes a skirt and sends you stunning photos of it one morning -- or your editor sits next to you during a signing and makes one of your hats right in front of you – that is super exciting and feels really good.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Ideally, it would be great if the book inspires knitters who haven’t already checked out Knitting from the Top to do so.  Designing your own pieces is a lot easier than people may think.

Win a copy of the book!

If you'd like to win a copy of Modern Top-Down Knitting, leave a comment on this post describing the best knitted gift you've ever made or received along with your email address. If you'd prefer not to leave your information here, you may also email your responses through my profile by clicking on "email me." One lucky winner will be chosen at the end of the day on Friday, December 10!

And if you'd like to try out a project from the book, you may also download a free Mulberry Hat pattern from the publisher's site, along with many other free handmade holiday projects (some of which will look very familiar to honeybee blog readers). Please also visit the other stops on Kristina's blog tour here. Happy crafting!

Photographs and review copy courtesy of STC Craft. 


  1. The best knit gift I've ever given was a set of dishcloths. Yes, that's right, a set of dishcloths. I gave them to my sister's roommate as a hostess gift when I went to dinner at their house. She started to cry, and kept hugging me! I know they are NICE dishcloths, but....

    Later my sister told me that her roommate has never been given a gift in the 2 years they have known each other. Not by family, not by friends. She gives constantly, though. She even paid for and did all the work for a friend's wedding reception! And she gets thanks and appreciation, but not gifts.

    I have a scarf I am knitting for her now, and I know she will love it!

  2. I'm in the process of knitting the best gift I've ever made. I dyed some Merino/Tencel roving in a deep, deep cranberry. Half of it I plied with bronze thread strung with garnet briolettes. The other half I just spun as a single strand of yarn. I'm making fingerless mitts for my sister, whose birthstone is garnet. The wrist portion will have the garneted yarn, the hand part will be the regular yarn. I'm almost done with the first one and it's looking great so far. I can't wait to give them to her!

    my email is springtreeroad (at)

    Thanks for the opportunity! I'd love to win this book!

  3. The best gift I made was for my college roommate. She spent a year studying architecture in Italy. During her travels, she bought me a tam and mittens in Ireland. (We're both Irish.) I wore them for many years - still own them - 25 years later, but with holes in the mittens. When she adopted two girls, I knit them a pair of mittens. I couldn't completely duplicate the pattern, but included the "tree of life". (Here they are on Rav: I knew she'd appreciate it - especially since her Grandma was an avid knitter. Thanks for the contest!

  4. My best present was knitting leg warmers from my aunt and when I was kid my grand mum always make me something nice.I hope I will learn how to knitte one day.


  5. Being able to create is a great gift itself. I come from a family where women saw something they liked, made a picture of it in their memories and came home creating the same thing themselves. Growing up my aunt knitted the warmest mittens you can imagine using part of wool from their dogs (!). She also used and old technique making soles from horsehair when it was really cold, nothing beats it. Old woolsweaters with too many holes to repair nicely she washed too warm and cut out soles for the semi-cold winters. I don´t remember ever feeling cold as a child, no wonder perhaps.

    So I´m lucky to come from a long line of creative relatives and even if my technique is far from my aunt´s excellence, I think it feels pretty good when my nieces now phone and ask "auntie, can you knit a sweater with eyes and a long tail?" :)

    kicki.svanstrom (at)

  6. What a wonderful contest! After racking my brain to remember the best knitted gift I've ever received, I realized that I've never received one! Maybe that's because I'm always the one doing the knitting . . . no hard feelings, though. The best knitted gift (IMHO) that I ever gave to someone, was the handknitted harvest orange sweater that I knit for my father when I was about 14 years old. He asked me to knit it for him and he went to the yarn store with me to pick out the color he wanted. I remember running home from school and hurrying through homework so I could get the sweater finished quickly. I don't remember the particulars of the "giving"....but I'm sure I can dig up a photo of him wearing it. We are not a gushy, physically affectionate family, but every time I saw him wearing it, I knew he appreciated it. I felt like it was the warm hug I was never able to give him when I was a self-conscious teenager, too insecure to verbalize my love and affection for him.

  7. The only knitted gift I have ever received is a little coin purse. I LOVE IT. My grandmother's neighbor gave it to me when I was about 12. I still have it 16 years later! Alphachick on swap-bot

  8. I' have never given or received a knitted gift yet. The thing I made for myself that I like most is a hat. It a basic striped hat with a crocheted flower. I do plan to make knitted gifts in the future.


  9. Great blog - keep it up!

    I was thinking about knitted gifts - I have made several and gotten several. But, I think my favorite was a poncho that my mom knit for me when I was in elementary school. I wore it a lot. Then, a few years ago my daughter wanted me to knit a poncho for her - Mom to the rescue! She had saved MY poncho in her cedar chest and got it out for my daughter to wear - and she wore it a lot! The best knitted gift is one that can be passed down and appreciated by multiple generations!

    I go by "LauraAust" on Swap-Bot. Thanks!

  10. The best gift I ever made was a pair of socks for my husband. He picked out yarn I never would have picked for him. He loves them and often surprises me by wearing them often. It is so lovely to knit for someone that loves and uses what you put so much love into.

  11. The best gift is a shawl for my friend Janie out of Casbah sock & Silky wool. I loved it so much that it stayed in my house for a fuul week before I gave it to her. She loved it even more and takes on every trip she takes.


  12. Just a quick note to let you know that a link to this post will be placed on CraftCrave today [03 Dec 01:00am GMT]. Thanks, Maria

  13. Hi, the best knit gift I have ever given was a little white knit dress with pink flowers. I loved how it turned out. I have never been given anything knit though. Thank you for the chance to win this book it looks wonderful. My e-mail is Best Wishes

  14. the best gift i ever received, was about 10 years ago. I always wanted to learn to knit and this little English lady who shared the same birthday as my youngest daughter, was my neighbor. she found out and taught me to knit. she was 90 years young, and said my eyes are bad so you are knitting for me know since I can no longer. She then passed down to me her whole entire knitting supplies, needles, and old books from the 30's-50's, magazines from England w/ knitting patterns in them. she gave me a very wonderful gift because knitting has become my passion. thanks, hope to win!
    email -

  15. The best knit gift I've received was a warm knitted scarf from a dear friend, a beginner knitter, two winters ago. Traveling home in December, the departure of our train from Chicago to Spokane was delayed an entire day due to snow, and the trip back also had many delays. But my friend in Spokane kept track of the delays and met us at our arrival with the beautiful gift of the warm fuzzy brown scarf which cheered my drive home through the deep snow!

  16. Thanks for hosting this blog tour! The most amazing knitted gift I've recieved (maybe the only one?) is this deep purple icelandic wool sweater that my old college roommate knit. Unfortunately I now live in California and so I can never wear it. And it doesn't fit well has been a lot of years since then! So I'm thinking of repurposing it into a large felted handbag - but I haven't been able to muster the courage yet. I'm afraid to mess up and ruin the piece.

  17. Best gift, a pair of slippers that my sister-in-laws grandmother had knit. I wore them til they fell apart, stitched them back together and let them fall apart again! I have also received numerous baby blankets and caps that will be kept with my chilren's memory boxes. I have never tried knitting myself but am beginning to embrace my inner-crafter and would love to try something new! Thanks for sharing this post :)

  18. I made a bunch of baby beanies and booties for my friend's baby shower. I can't believe how well they went over with everyone. They were more popular than the store-bought presents!

  19. I have never knitted more than a couple of rows without dropping stitches. My mom however was a wonderful knitter and was often found knitting a blanked or mittens. When I was younger she made me a sweater that I loved and wore for many years.

  20. My very best project is my next one! That's why I keep knitting!

  21. I'd say the best knitted present I've ever given was a pair of red cabled fingerless gloves that I made for my boyfriend right when we started dating. When we met, he was my exceedingly handsome archery instructor, and I noticed his penchant for wearing fingerless gloves. When I finally got up the courage to talk to him (about something other than how dismal an archer I was), I told him that if he took me out to the movies, I'd make him a pair of red fingerless gloves - we've been together for just over 2 years now and he looks as handsome as ever in his gloves!
    email: mconnell {at} udel {dot} edu

  22. The best knitted gift I ever received was from my mother-in-law when I was going through a particularly difficult and emotionally painful time. She bought it from a friend who prays for the recipient while she makes them. It came with a card attached saying to wear it as a "hug" from the encouragement. It makes me feel loved!
    brettastar1 (at) windstream (d.o.t.) net

  23. The best knitted gift I've made was a pair of socks for my grandma. She loved that they were so soft, and is proud of my knitting skills - she isn't who I learned to knit from, but she's a knitter and is a big part of why I wanted to learn.

    ikkinlala AT yahoo DOT ca

  24. best knitted gift i ever made was a blanket for my son in law in Iraq - his buddies all wanted one..
    knitted in the colors of the 69ers!

  25. The best knitted gift I ever made was an alpaca neck kerchief. The yarn was so buttery soft and the pattern was very pretty. I made it for my aunt and she loves it. She tells me all the time how much she loves the scarf.

  26. The most well received gift I made was the Featherweight Cardigan for my mom's 50th birthday last year. I think she thought it was really special and it's a piece she can wear with anything.

  27. My favorite knitted gift is a lovely, old-fashioned gift. It is a warm, cream-colored vest that reaches to my hips with a slightly open weave, but is surprisingly cozy and keeps me warm over a long-sleeve shirt. The arm openings are edged with a cream crochet trim that, unlike other trims, never scratches or itches. My favorite part is the pattern of
    charmingly embroidered flowers and leaves and the sprinkling of pearls rain down from the petals on one lapel.

    The true gift, though, is not the vest, but the gifting of it. My mother gave it to me, and her mother -- my darling, wonderful grandmother -- gave it to her.

    My grandmother passed away suddenly from a heart attack several years ago. In the Chinese custom, her belongings were burned with her to keep her company in the afterlife, as were many more "spirit items" and "spirit money" that she would use in the Beyond. There are very few physical things left that once belonged to her, or that she once touched. The vest -- MY vest -- is one of them.

    I like thinking that the pearls and flowers over my heart are a representation of my grandmother and mother always near my heart keeping me warm.

  28. The best knitted gift I have ever given is a scarf I made for my sister. I was a very new knitter then and she had been knitting for years. I wrapped it in the best wrapping paper I could find and gave it to her as a Christmas gift. I was so proud of that lopsided garter stitch scarf. I could tell from the look on her face when she opened it that it wasn't something that she was going to love wearing. I couldn't have been more WRONG! She wore it proudly that winter telling everyone her sister made it for her.

    It has been 21 years and she STILL takes that scarf out each Christmas to wear during the holiday season. I couldn't be more honored.

  29. The best knitted gift I've received was from my mom. She's an avid knitter (she just started spinning too!) and has been for years. About five or six years ago, she made a beautiful long multicolored sweater for my Nana (her mom). Nana didn't like it (she was very picky and hardly ever liked anything), so my mom gave it to me. I pretty much always think of my Nana when I wear it, which is particularly nice now since she passed away in March at 95. She was a knitter too - as is my cousin. Runs in the family. :)

    The book looks gorgeous!!

    kathlynlewis at gmail

  30. the best knitted gift I received was from my Grandma - she gave me a plastic doll with a completely knitted wardrobe. She covered a shoebox with silvery paper and lined the inside with quilted fabric and I have that doll still. She even has a "skating outfit" with tam. I'm amazed, because I only seem to knit rectangular or in the round, but nothing with actually fittings or seams.

    My favorite thing that I knitted and gave away was a scarf - the kind where you alternate 2 different strands of yarn for striping. It was lovely and I wish I had taken a picture of it.

  31. The best knitted gift I ever received were a pair of plushie house slippers. They were soooooo warm and in bright pink and purple. I wore them to pieces! I should try and find a pattern and try and make them. Thanks for an awesome contest.

    Elizabethperegrina (AT) gmail (DOT) com

  32. I would love this book! I have been wishing for it since I first saw it reviewed a couple of months ago, or less. I believe my best knitted gift, which I made, is one I will give my niece this Christmas. A pair of fingerless mitts with a butterfly stitch design throughout. They are called Punk Fingerless Mitts and the pattern is available on Ravelry. I was a test knitter for this project, so I don't know if it's a free or fee pattern.

  33. The best knitted gift I ever received was a sweater my mom made me when I graduated from high school. I literally wore it out. I would love a copy of this book so I can share the love and joy of knitting.


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