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Review: Custom Knits

First, the facts:


Title: Custom Knits

Author: Wendy Bernard (aka the brain behind Knit and Tonic).

Published by: Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2008

Pages: 167

Type: Primarily Patterns, but with some how-to for Design as well.


  1. Understanding Your Style, Size and fit So You can Make Sweaters You Love to Wear
  2. Top-Down Raglan Sweaters
  3. Top-Down Set-in Sleeve Sweaters
  4. Round Yoke Sweaters
  5. Designs on the Fly
  6. Unleash Your Inner Designer: Elements to Alter and Starting from Scratch
Custom Knits

Pattern Size Range: XSmall (29″) to 3XLarge (53″)

The In-Depth Look:

The first chapter is about figuring out what styles work best for you. It discusses things to consider, like yarn, body shape, and ease (how tight the fit is). There are even instructions on making your own dress form with an old t-shir, some plastic wrap, and duct tape. (You may have seen instructions for these online, but it never hurts to have it handy.)

I particularly liked the “Reality Checklist”–a reminder list of things to keep in mind when choosing a sweater. Things like “Does this style fit into my lifestyle?” “Do I look good in this weight of yarn?” “Is the yarn called for available/affordable?” And, my favorite, “Will I be forced to buy new shoes to go with it? (The preferred answer is yes.)” This list is helpful and brought up a couple points that I have to admit I haven’t thought of before making some sweaters, but wish I had.

Once past the beginning, most of the book is patterns. Specifically, sweater patterns. Of the 26 patterns I counted, only three were for items that are not women’s sweaters. (The others were a cape/poncho, a beret, and a wrap–and, no, there are no patterns for men or children.) All the sweaters are knit in one piece, most of them from the top down, which is by far one of my favorite methods–it makes it so much easier to try on for size, not to mention not needing seaming later.

Every pattern in the book comes with a schematic. This is almost de rigeur for knitting these days, but still, not every book has them. This one does, though, and they are helpful.

One of my favorite things is that each design comes with suggestions for things you can do to personalize it. Suggestions for lengthening, or eliminating sleeves. Making cardigans into pullovers. Turning a tank top into a skirt… Which is particularly helpful because, I’ll admit, that last one is not something I would have thought of myself, but judging by the photo, it certainly works.

And, the designs themselves? I think they’re lovely. In fact, there’s not a single one that I didn’t like, even if I’m not itching to pick up my needles and knit every single one of them. The Updated Old Classic (the cover sweater) is a nice, yoked sweater, but more streamlined than the traditional version, with a plunging neckline closed with lacing. Ingenue is a simple sweater suited to a beginner, and yet it looks interesting and eminently wearable with its wide neck and wide, patterned borders. Skinny Empire is a fine-gauge, empire-waisted sweater with a subtle ruffle around its U-neck. I love the varying lenghts to the ribs of Slinky Ribs, too–and actually like both its short and long-sleeved versions.

The final chapter is one of my favorites. It’s titled “Unleash Your Inner Designer” and then breaks down the structure of the different top-down designs … what you need to do a raglan for top down, what you do to do a set-in sleeve from top down–all the math and the schematics necessary. Not to mention a very nice section of instructions on what to do to change a neckline, or the depth of an armhole, to make a design more personal.

This, I think, is my favorite part of this book–that it not only has nice designs, but that the author thoughtfully spells out what you need to do to make the sweaters more “you.” She gives you good designs, and then gives you the tools you need to take them to another level–tacit permission to PLAY, instead of trying to make sure you never vary from the designs she gave you.

Okay, so … what isn’t perfect? My biggest gripe is that there’s no listing of all the patterns, and no index, so finding a pattern that you saw earlier is tricky. All you have to go by is that each chapter is divided by pattern type. How hard would it have been to have added an index?

There also is no difficulty rating for the patterns, so unless the description says something like, “This pattern is perfect for a beginner,” the only way I see to tell is to read the actual pattern. This doesn’t bother me particularly because I’m not afraid of challenging patterns, but if you really want to stay in your comfort zone, a little extra guidance wouldn’t have hurt. Though, that said, none of them look impossibly difficult to me, though the top-down, one-piece construction may well be unfamiliar to a lot of knitters. But, hey, my feeling is that it’s never a bad thing to try something new, huh?

As a rule, the pictures are good ones–they are attractive, well-lit, and easy to see, and there isn’t any obvious signs of trying to hide flaws with slouched models holding large bouquets in ‘artistically-lit’ corners. Some designs are only shown from the front, or side, but not the back, but I’m trying not to read anything into that–as knitwear photography goes, these pictures strike me as playing fair.

Overall? I’d say this one is a keeper. Well worth the $18.15 over at Amazon.

Want a better look at the pictures? Click here.

The Gush: Okay, my purely personal opinion? Loved it. Loved just about everything about it. The pictures, the designs, the tips for modification–there really wasn’t anything I didn’t like. I would buy a copy again in a minute!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kim August 28, 2008, 10:53 am

    Excellent and very helpful. This book is a “must get” for me. I’ve always loved Wendy B patterns since most are seamless raglans! Woo hoo!

    Kims last blog post..Lump Forward

  • sharon August 28, 2008, 5:28 pm

    Hi there!

    Am I your first UK subscriber? I think this is fantastic and love it. I have been lurking on Chappysmom for a while now as I too love knitting, reading and dogs – we have 2 cairn terriers. Thanks for setting this up

    All the best, Sharon, Bramble and Coco

  • nancy August 28, 2008, 6:06 pm

    Deb, this is just wonderful. You will be performing such a useful service. I can’t wait to read more and have subscribed already. Thank you!

  • maria August 29, 2008, 12:58 am

    I love it! I’ve been waiting for this book to come out. I hope we get it at the shop I work at. But if not, maybe I’ll get it online. I can’t wait to read your future reviews. (I noticed that the next one is another I just bought.)

    FYI: If you see any books in my library (on Ravelry) that you don’t have but want to review, I might be willing to lend them to you for that. Or do a guest review. Whatever. ^_^

    marias last blog post..Cosmopolitan

  • Lorette August 29, 2008, 6:35 pm

    Excellent review! I love your new blog, and I’m looking forward to hearing about all the books you have in your knitting library!

    Lorettes last blog post..Knitting Hunks, 2008

  • Lorette August 29, 2008, 6:38 pm

    BTW, My rather, ahem, extensive book library is at your disposal as well, if you can’t find something more locally. Not too sure what it would cost to ship back and forth, though. With the price of some of these knitting books, it would likely still be cheaper than buying a new copy. OR, I bet that some of the book companies will be happy to mail you a review copy once you get a nice readership.

    Lorettes last blog post..Knitting Hunks, 2008

  • Klara September 1, 2008, 11:42 am

    First of all, THANK YOU for your reviews! Living in France I can’t leave through books before buying them so thorough reviews are essential for me – and yours definitely qualify.

    Secondly, a question on “Custom Knits”: Apart from the patterns, and the pictures – is there anything (technical info) in it that is not in “Knitting from the Top”? Meaning, if one has “Knitting from the Top”, do knitters who hate following patterns need “Custom Knits”?

    Thanks, Klara

  • --Deb September 1, 2008, 1:21 pm

    Thank you! And, no, if space is tight and you’re not interested in the patterns themselves, there’s probably nothing in here that’s not covered by “Knitting from the Top.” (Which reminds me, I must put that on the to-be-reviewed list.) “Custom Knits” is primarily a pattern book, not JUST a how-to for designing sweaters. Although, her schematics and instructions for doing a basic, top-down raglan or set-in-sleeve sweater are excellent, and the section about different neckbands or armholes does spell out options in an easy-to-find way. (One of the few problems with “Knitting from the Top” is finding specifically what you need, that might be in a different chapter.) But, with “Custom Knits,” it’s the patterns that get the focus–not the chapters on design.

    That said, it’s still a great book and I’m finding the back-matter useful–there’s definitely room for both books in my library.

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