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Review: Mason-Dixon Knitting: Outside the Lines


First, the facts:

Title: Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines: Patterns, Stories, Picture True Confessions, Tricky Bits, Whole New Worlds, and Familiar Ones, Too

Authors: Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne

Published by: Potter Craft, 2008

Pages: 159 p.

Type: Patterns, and inspiration.


1.   Decorating Yourself
2.   The Fairest Isle of All
3.   Covering the Small Human
4.   Occasional Knitting
5.   The Sophisticated Kitchen

Mason-Dixon 2

Pattern Size Range: It varies, but usually XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, and of course the size range for the children’s patterns is, um, smaller.

The In-Depth Look:

Where to start? A self-portrait would help, because I’ve got a big smile plastered on my face. Such a fun book!

In this, their second book, Ann and Kay expertly toss the narrative back and forth, bouncing the stories to each other in their own special fashion, perfected over at their blog. They’re fun. They’re conversational. They’re breezy. They’re serious when they need to be serious–like when Kay sits us down to talk to us about how “your handiest tool is not the Chibi needle case–it’s your head” in the essay, “The Independent Knitter, or Where Have You Gone, Elizabeth Zimmermann?” Or when Ann gives us her pep talk about Steeking in the Fair Isle section. (“It’s the knitterly equivalent of a controlled burn in a forest. It sounds terrible–you’re setting the forest on fire on purpose? But it’s actually very efficient, a part of nature, and in the end, a means to a result that would not otherwise be possible.”)

It should come as no surprise to anyone that this book is witty and amusing. The, um, specialized color wheels on page 41 pretty much proves that. And, anyway, it’s hard to take anyone seriously who would put a mop cover on their dog. (Seriously, I saw the first picture and thought, “What, are they going to use the dog as a mop?” and then turned the page and saw the caption: “Flip him on his back, give him a push, and that dog is earning his keep.” Um, Kay? This is the one pattern in the book that I’m forced to disapprove–if only because my dog Chappy tells me he’s offended at the very idea of dressing like a mop, and well, I have to live with him. So, er, I’m offended at the very idea. Shocked, I tell you!)

Okay, but I’m jumping ahead. You’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that Kay and Ann are scintillating, clever, insightful, and inspirational. The text portions of the book are a joy to read, and they’re just as clever in the patterns themselves. How many knitting patterns do you know that have a paragraph like this in the instructions? “At this point in any felted knit, it is traditional to see how many small children will fit in the thing you have just knitted. The gauge on this fella is that one 8-year-old and one 10-year-old can put it over their heads and it will reach below their knees.”

Which segues nicely into talking about the actual patterns, and they are so worth talking about.

As hinted, the entire first chapter is about things you can wear. Well, that women can wear. Like the Cardi Cozy–a whisper-light cardigan to wear over another cardigan, or anything else for that matter. (I’m already mentally cataloging the KidSilk Haze in my stash–and this takes only 2 balls.) I like the double-layer lacy plaid wrap, too, and the Coaty Coat really is a sweater that looks like a coat. (As Ann says, “It’s not easy to make knitting look like anything but a sweater.”) The Flapotis felted scarf is adorable, and the First Top-Down Knitting Project sweater is remarkable in that it’s a basic, raglan sweater that I actually love. It’s the “secret” of the seam lines that does it–and speaking of seam lines, the added touch of that little, twisted cable is charming. As is the Mystery Sweater, which I think is divine. It’s beautiful, elegant, and darn it, it’s a sweater you can read. (My only complaint is that I’m too short to wear it, but, really, that’s my problem, not yours.)

Then, there’s the Fair Isle chapter. The diagonal zig zag of color in the Kiki Mariko rug is just stunning. I just want to sit and stare at the photo of it; it’s mesmerizing. Then there’s the Baby Dotty blanket of dots, dots, and more dots. And, oh, the Liberty blanket is just divine, with its twisty scrollwork of a design. There are no Fair Isle sweaters, here, but the pieces that are are all lovely, and the explanation of how Fair Isle works is thorough, clear, and not the least bit frightening..

Next comes the chapter for “Small humans”–that is, young people who are older than babies and toddlers, but not yet adults, and therefore at that tricky stage of dressing. Past the cute, bunny stage, not yet chic and sophisticated, but very, very opinionated. The first sweater in this section is the Sk8r, a very cool, diagonal-lines, denim-yarn sweater perfect for an edgy (pre-)teenage boy. And the Emma Peel dress for a little girl? Adorable without being “cute.” Naturally, the Jane Austen Dress (and Shrug) is sweet, and the Blu jeans? Beyond cute. And Ann’s award-winning Fern looks like it just grew right there in the forest.

The final chapter is “Occasional Knitting,” as in, knitting for occasions. It starts off with whimsical Christmas stockings, and follows up with adorable felted Christmas trees, and a Kippah (just to keep balance). There’s a tote bag “cozy” Picnic Bag with a stitched bird on the front, a table runner, a mop cover, and a snazzy pair of dishwashing gloves. Not to mention a very cool string bag and a cover for a paper lantern.

Hmm, so much for an “overview.” I’ve named almost every pattern in the book–and, really, the only reason I didn’t name all of them was because I really am trying hard to make this an overview of the book, not a complete recap. If you know every pattern, you might not take a look for yourself! Which, I have to tell you, would be a crying shame, because this book is a delight. (And I’m not just saying that because Kay and Ann stopped by for a visit last week.)

I’m trying to think of something “wrong” or “missing” and I can’t come up with anything. There’s a complete Table of Contents and an Index, so it’s easy to find things. There’s even an index just for the projects, which breaks them out by types. There’s a glossary that’s entertaining to read. There’s a “Knitting Hall of Shame” with pictures of swatches and attempts that went awry. There’s even a list of sources “Used in the Making of This Book.” The pictures are good, clear, and informative–not to mention lovely.

Honestly, they left out nothing. I even like this book better than the first one–it hasn’t lost a whit of the humor and sense of adventure that the first one had, yet there’s more in here to actually WEAR–and since the bulk of my own personal knitting is sweaters and other garments, I’m thrilled with a book with lots of sweater patterns. Especially patterns this much fun.

If you haven’t bought it already, race over to Amazon where this book can be yours for $19.77. At the very least, hurry and get on your library’s waiting list–if you hurry, there might only be 47 other knitters ahead of you–but trust me, you don’t want to miss this.

Want a closer look at the pictures: Click here.

My Gush: Wow! Oh, my, what’s not to love? It’s fun. It’s beautiful. The patterns are fantastic and varied. The writing is a laugh riot. It’s practically perfection. Other reviews for these authors:

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chris September 18, 2008, 4:32 pm

    Wow, you like it better than the first one?! That’s a recommendation indeed.

  • Aimee Kandl June 8, 2009, 10:40 am

    The cardi-cosy takes 4 skeins of yarn (M), and there were some erratae. Check the website before you cast-on!


  • Linda June 17, 2010, 7:39 pm

    Has anyone filled in the missing parts of cardi cozy? I’m not a beginning knitter, but iI’m having a bit of trouble with rows 5-8, for example: “Continue to increase 10 Stitches…” It would be extremely helpful to have full directions for these rows. Same for rows 10-11.

    In short, is there a way to get the whole pattern?!

  • --Deb June 17, 2010, 8:14 pm

    Linda, Have you checked for pattern errata? Asked the publisher? Checked with the authors?

  • Linda June 17, 2010, 8:55 pm

    I looked through the book and couldn’t find a contact email for the authors. Any thoughts?

  • --Deb June 17, 2010, 9:47 pm

    I’d start at their blog.

  • Linda June 18, 2010, 5:18 am

    Thanks. I had a little trouble finding the email addresses and the errata, but finally did. Now I’m just hoping for a response.

  • Stevie August 21, 2010, 5:26 pm

    Linda, I’m having the same problem! I wrote out the rows using the proportional increases in the first 4 rows. However, I can’t seem to get the right number when I count even though I do exactly what it says. Now to read that it actually takes 4 skeins is very frustrating. Just this past week I sent the authors and email. the address is on the back cover flap.

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