When Amy Herzog’s Knit to Flatter appeared in 2013, it wasn’t the first book to promise knitters a better sweater. It may well have been the fiftieth. The quest for a good fit is universal; so is the frustration of finding that three hundred dollars in yarn and six weeks of work have turned out a cardigan that makes you look like a lovelorn tyrannosaur. There’s money to be made here, and publishers know it.
What set Knit to Flatter apart and made it a hit was, in part, the frankness of its tone. Weight and shape are touchy subjects, approached by most authors on tiptoe through a smokescreen of euphemism.
Knit to Flatter charged right in, asking you frankly to consider whether you were top-heavy or bottom-heavy or curvy or not; then suggesting without hesitation what you might do about it. If that sounds harsh, it isn’t—because Amy Herzog is that rarest of friends: the one whose honesty makes you feel better about yourself. She tells you the truth because she really, really likes you.
The book struck a chord, and Knit to Flatter was followed in 2015 by Knit Wear Love, and now You Can Knit That. Each book stands up on its own; but taken together they form a master class in good sweater knitting. Whether or not the author intended from the first to turn out a trilogy, that’s what she has done.
First, Take a Look at Yourself
At the heart of Knit to Flatter is Herzog’s system for analyzing the body. She goes beyond the obvious step of taking accurate measurements (a challenge in itself) to examine the often overlooked question of proportion. Bust size—which for years has been touted as the key to choosing a sweater pattern—is only a number. Until you fully understand and embrace your body shape, she insists, you don’t know what will make you look your best. But–refreshingly–the “best” in “look your best” is a moving target. Her introduction doubles as a manifesto:
… I’d like to set the record straight on flattering clothing. Beauty is in the eye of the wearer. Favorite sweaters … are pieces that make you feel great when you wear them. For many knitters, feeling great means feeling attractive, and that might mean looking slender, curvaceous, or proportional. For other knitters, it does not. Both attitudes are fine! This book is not intended to be restrictive. It does not contain a rigid set of rules. It is intended to help you knit sweaters that you want to wear.
True to her word, Knit to Flatter offers more forks in the road than a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Patterns are divided by body type, but the borders are wide open. Every design is chalked up with ideas for modifications to suit the knitter’s taste or shape. Shorter sleeves? Different neckline? Fuller bust? Longer torso? The book tackles them all. There’s real work to be done here, including (gasp) math, but Herzog argues convincingly that it’s better to put in the effort than pick a bust size, knit blindly, and hope what comes off your needles will fit you.
Next: What’s Your Style?
Knit Wear Love revisits the fundamentals of fit and proportion from Knit to Flatter but shifts the focus to the somewhat more nebulous concept of personal style. The introduction proposes that even a well-fitted sweater won’t become a favorite if it doesn’t suit your day-to-day life, so an extensive series of mood boards and a thought-provoking questionnaire help to pinpoint the reader’s favorite look: romantic, casual, classic, sporty, and so on.
Almost on the sly, a chapter called “Sweaters, Deconstructed” is slipped in to introduce the graduate of Knit to Flatter to some of the fine details that separate craft project and couture, from proper swatching (yes, I know—but she’s right) to careful finishing.
A “quick run-down” of how to work with stitch patterns is concise, clear, and should probably be required reading for anyone who publishes sweater patterns. (I would name some names, but that’s better left to the Mason-Dixon Knitting gossip columnist.)
From there, once again the options multiply. Rather than patterns, Herzog offers what she calls “meta-patterns” for eight popular sweater silhouettes–tables of numbers that can be knit up in three gauges and twelve sizes, each with a bushel basket of custom details suggested by the knitter’s style of choice. The message is clear: she’ll hold your hand and cheer you on, but ultimately the sweater you knit from this book will be as much your design as hers.
Knit to Flatter and Knit Wear Love cover so much ground between them that when Abrams announced You Can Knit That, I wondered whether it was actually necessary. The press release was full of familiar Herzog buzzwords (fit! proportion! perfect! Every! TIME!). I worried as only a person who has sat through season 27 of The Simpsons can worry about good material going stale.
A lush batch of luxury
The cover might lead you think it’s a pattern collection, but as in the first two books the patterns (though uniformly excellent) are just the dessert. The wordy bits of knitting books are so seldom worth the time it takes to read them, but that’s not the case in You Can Knit That.
So, what’s new?
Well, quite a bit. Herzog lets herself run wild in the pattern section, having a field day with silhouettes and constructions she left out of her first two books for the sake of simplicity. As usual, these are all pieces that look like fun to knit and fun to wear, versatile enough to become long-term staples in a wardrobe.
A discussion of “The Anatomy of a Pattern” is right up there with Maggie Righetti’s famous treatment in Knitting in Plain English. (If you still aren’t exactly sure what the schematic is supposed to do for you, but have been afraid to ask, this will help.) Stitch patterns and seams are given a closer look, including a very clear tutorial on sewing in sleeves.
Swatching to Get at the Truth
But my favorite section, hands down, is an extended look at swatching (yes, I know—but she’s right) in a chapter called “Before the Knitting.” There’s a very clear discussion of how to do it, which I wish I’d had when I was a new knitter and which contains the priceless line, “Really it’s about keeping you from lying to yourself, intentionally or unintentionally.”
But the discussion of why we swatch goes way, way beyond “getting” gauge. It’s not only about your stitch and row numbers, writes Herzog, though those are vital. It’s also about the fabric itself. Do you like it? Is it suitable for the garment you have mind? If not, what can you do about it? How do you test a swatch for qualities like drape, structure, and durability?
These are questions that designers tend to ask, and questions that too many knitters tend to avoid. It becomes clear, in You Can Knit That, that Herzog’s goal all along has been to build a community of thinking knitters who can, if they so choose, design for themselves from the yarn up. Even if they don’t want to go quite that far, the skills Herzog teaches should allow them to take almost any pattern and make it their own.
Make mitts for all your friends
The Women in Here
No discussion of these books should end without a few words on their design and photography, which make subtle but powerful statements. When past knitting books have acknowledged the existence of plus- (or even average-) sized women, those women have usually been sequestered in books of their own. A large woman on the cover most often signals patterns for large women—and only large women—within.
AMY HERZOG WANTS YOU TO SUCCEED.
Herzog’s three books pay more than lip service to the tired old tag of “for all shapes and sizes.” The covers (and insides) all feature Karen Pearson’s excellent photography of models who embody the idea–dark and light, tall and short, curvy, slim, and in-between. Nerds and executives, creatives and athletes. I even spotted (double gasp) a tattoo.
Though one wishes for at least a few women representing the upper end of the age spectrum, these books on the whole show the modern knitting community as it is and as it ought to be. One hopes more authors, editors and publishers will mark Herzog’s success, and do likewise.
Knit to Flatter: The Only Instructions You’ll Ever Need to Knit Sweaters that Make You Look Good and Feel Great (STC Craft, 2013). 160 pages, paperback.
Knit Wear Love: Foolproof Instructions for Knitting Your Best-Fitting Sweaters Ever in the Styles You Love to Wear (STC Craft, 2015). 192 pages, paperback.
You Can Knit That: Foolproof Instructions for Fabulous Sweaters (STC Craft, 2016). 160 pages, paperback.