It’s been a while since we had a book review, so let’s rectify that right this minute. (I suppose it’s also been a while – an infinite span of time in fact – since we had a squirrel review, but that might have to wait for another day.)
Under the literary magnifying glass this time is Rachel Boulahanis’ Farmhouse Socks, a self-published hardback bursting with 15 sock patterns inspired by the author’s time on her grandparents’ farms. I like to knit something from books when I review them… but that’s the main reason why I’m so behind with my book reviews, so today I decided to just dive in and have a look around.
Rachel is based in the US, and was raised by parents who were both from farming families, so grandparent-time involved plenty of agricultural shenanigans. (I can relate to the appeal of this, having spent my teenage years in close friendship with a farmer’s daughter who lived in the very misnamed village of Ugley: the adventures we had on her farm would doubtless make a modern Health and Safety Executive weep – it’s slightly surprising that we’ve both still got four limbs and well over 30% of our sanity.)
Before I get to the contents of the book, let me say a little about its author. You don’t need to spend long on Rachel’s website – knitwearby rachel.com – to realize that this is a woman who most definitely knows one end of a sock from the other… and one end of a knitting needle from the other, too. She’s hot on the technical specifics of perfecting your knitting and approaches to design. For this – plus her love of growing and preserving food – I suspect that we could be friends, were it not for her being so wildly inconsiderate as to live on the opposite side of the planet. (Honestly, some people are downright unreasonable, but if she ever wants to join our knitting-in-the-pub night on a Tuesday in south Oxfordshire, UK, she’s welcome.)
Let’s have a tour of the book. The patterns comprise everything foot-related from slippers to half-way-up-the-calf socks. Each uses just one shade of yarn, because her focus is on cables, ribbing, and lace. (I’m quietly hoping that there’ll be a Volume 2 and that it’ll comprise a lot of stranded colourwork, but that’s just me and my extremely personal biases.) Patterns are presented clearly, with a section later in the book offering larger-size charts for people whose vision demands clarity. But this book isn’t just about the patterns. There are anecdotes too, weaving memories of farm-time with the author’s grandparents amongst the knitting patterns.
Sizing for all of the socks is inclusive. Some patterns extend from the babiest of babies to the most expansively-footed of grown men, and every pattern has a decently wide range of size options. Some are top-down, some are toe-up. One of the things I like about this book is the sheer variety of techniques you’d use if you knitted all of its patterns – different cast-ons, different stitches, and so on. I think that completing all the patterns in these pages should qualify as some kind of socky apprenticeship.
There are useful practical touches, such as ‘notes’ pages and metric/imperial rulers beside each pattern. And there are detailed photo-tutorials of important techniques, and two pages where you can record the measurements of your favourite people’s feet. (That’s a lot less weird and dodgy than it sounds.)
If you want a photo-glossy slick compendium of coffee-table artwork with a graphic design budget of squillions and a celebrity on the cover, then this is not the book for you. But if you’re a serious and curious sock-knitter, then you could do much worse than put in an order for 150 pages of Rachel’s wisdom. This is a woman who Knows Her Socks and frankly, I can’t think of many higher complements that one could pay a knitter.
Happy knitting (and crocheting), my fine fibrous friends. May your socks turn out perfectly, every single time.