Sunday, June 28, 2020

An Inspiring Needle

Back in April, I reviewed two books by ChronoCopia Publishing:  A Handbook of Men's Clothing and Handbook of the 15th Century and A Handbook of Women's Clothing of the 15th Century.  Daniel Serra of ChronoCopia Publishing also asked me to review the following book about nålbinding:

Pasanen, Mervi.  With One Needle:  How to Nålbind. (ChronoCopia Publishing AB 2019).

Mervi Pasanen originally published this book in Finnish. When it came out, I lamented the fact that I wouldn't be able to read it, even if I could afford it.  With One Needle  makes that content available to English speakers, and I have been sent a free copy in order to write this review.  

I am always on the lookout for new books about nålbinding, because I have struggled for some time to learn the art, and am continuing to struggle to do so.  Though I have learned enough to nålbind an undistinguished cap for myself, I have failed several times now at making mittens or socks, and every time I take the craft up again after a hiatus, I have to re-learn the basics nearly from scratch.  So when I was asked to review With One Needle, I hoped that Mervi's book would finally help me reach the level of understanding I need to succeed at retaining basic nålbinding skills once and for all.

The first thing one notices about this book is that the production level is very high.  The paper is glossy and of good quality, the font is attractive and easily readable, and there are many clear and beautiful color photographs.  The cover photograph shown above gives a good idea of how much artistry was devoted to the photographs in the book.

As I read the book, I tried to look at it in terms of how it would be viewed by a total novice to nålbinding, which was not difficult since I'm not that far from being a novice anyway.  And although Mervi's book includes a tutorial for several different nålbinding starts, it's not really the best source available for teaching people who are new to the art how to begin nålbinding. Why?  Largely because there are not enough photographs of every step of the process.  If, like me, you have trouble telling right from left when looking at an object and also have poor visualization skills, you will find that Mervi's photo essay on nålbinding starts does not give you *quite* enough information to advance your game.

But even though Mervi's book may not be the best way for a total beginner--or even a serial beginner like myself--to learn nålbinding does not mean that the book is of no value to nålbinding enthusiasts.  To the contrary, there are many useful things a discerning reader with an interest in nålbinding can take away from Mervi's book.  Here are some of my takeaways from the book:

1.     Inspiration.  With One Needle is packed with dozens of clear, full color photographs demonstrating techniques and interesting projects.  Just finishing the book made me want to get my needle out and start looking for colorful yarn to attempt one of her projects.

2.     Useful Techniques.  From Mervi's book I gleaned the realization that the same basic technique can be used to put a thumb onto a mitten or a heel on a sock.  Mervi also gives the best photographic description I have seen of how to do a Russian join, which is a technique for incorporating a new piece of yarn onto the working yarn.

3.    Helpful Facts.  When I was first exploring nålbinding, I found a photograph of an archaeological find of a thigh-length, nålbinded stocking, and I wondered how such items could be made since nålbinded works are not very stretchy compared to knits.  It turns out that you have to take a lot of precise measurements of the various parts of ankle and leg that the sock must fit and thus tailor it to the wearer.  The book also says that certain stitches are stretchier than others, and thus may be more appropriate for high socks.  Mervi also provides useful measurement and proportion information for the construction of socks in general.

4.   New Stitches.  Mervi's book contains tutorials for learning a number of different variations on Finnish stitch that I've never seen anywhere else.

5.   Expert Techniques.  Have you ever seen photographs of modern nålbinded garments that appear to have a braided edge?  This book contains directions how to do that technique as well.

In short, I recommend this book most strongly for nålbinders of intermediate level--people who have made enough garments using nålbinding that they are looking for new projects to expand their skill with the technique.  However, even for people like me who are still struggling, the book is a fun and thought-provoking read, and an inspiration to increase my skills so that I can try some of the more challenging projects in the future.

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