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.