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Mama Deb
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More reviews of stuff (VERY LONG)

Knitting Novels

That's novels *about* knitting or where knitting plays some kind of role, not novels produced by sticks and string. Just to make that clear. (Am now imagining novels produced with size 0000 needles using cobweb yarn, stranding the letters in a weird fair isle. Am now experiencing imaginary hand cramps and blurred vision.)

There are several series of mystery novels based on either yarn or needlework shops. This is in keeping with the whole mystery novel series thing - the gimmick to provide punful titles, a base of operations and a recurring cast of characters. I'm not particularly a fan of murder mysteries, but there is one writer I very much enjoy. Her real name is Mary Monica Pulver, under which she wrote a series of novels that includes Knightfall or Murder at the War - a murder mystery set at Pennsic, where the sleuth is a police detective who is also a SCAdian. Sadly, the other novels in this (out of print) series have little or no SCAdian content.

However, under the name Margaret Frazer, she's written two series of medieval mysteries, the Dame Frevisse (a cloistered nun with many connections) series and the spun-off Joliffe series (Joliffe is a member of group of traveling players with a past that's being revealed very slowly.) I like all the research she does, I like how the medieval world is realized, and I like how the books are more like novels with mysteries tossed in instead of just mysteries.

That last makes for something rather frustrating - because the history and people and general plots take up so much time, the actual murder doesn't tend to happen until past the halfway point in the novels. This is true for both series.

But I like her writing. And then I discovered that, under the name Monica Ferris, she's published a series of novels about the owner of a needlework shop. And she still does tons of research and they are still plotty, but they also move. She doesn't have to work to produce the portrait of a time gone by, so she can get to the murder far more quickly. Also, the sleuth inherited the shop from her sister (the first murder she solved) and hadn't done any needlework besides embroidery before, so as she learns about needlepoint, counted cross stitch and knitting, so does the reader. Since I've done all of those, it's all interesting to me. And, she includes patterns in the back. I'm almost feeling the urge to pick up some evenweave and floss, you know? Not quite, though.

The needlework always provides some sort of clue to solving the murder, from a missing tapestry to tiny ends of yarn. And along the way, she's clearly researched old ferries, antique cars and allergies. My biggest complaint is that she got the making of cables *wrong*. In making cables in knitting, you switch the order of two groups of stitches every few rows. A simple cable can look like a piece of twisted rope (hence the name.) But the key is, you switch the stitches in the same direction every time. She said that every n rows you reverse the switch, which can be the case for a particular cable, but the context was, "This is how you generally do cables."

I do recommend these books if you want some easy reading with less than complex mysteries (twice I've solved them before the sleuth, which is very rare for me) and you like needlework. If you want more complex mysteries and plots, go for Margaret Frazer's work.

I also found another series of such mysteries, based this time solely on knitting. The author is Maggie Sefton and I have no idea if it's a pseudonym or not. I've only read the first one, though. Clearly, we're going to watch the sleuth integrate herself into a new community and she's already found a boyfriend, but also, she's learning to knit. I had a major quibble with the ending (Spoiler coming.) They ran DNA tests on the blood found on the scene to determine that the original suspect was innocent (same blood type, so they had to go deeper.) The victim was murdered by a child she'd given up for adoption decades ago. Granted that one shouldn't get one's forensic information from CSI or L&O, it still strikes me as strange that the labs didn't say, "Wait a minute! These two are related!"

And then jonbaker found me a book by Kate Jacobs called The Friday Night Knitting Club, which is NOT a mystery, but also includes a knitting pattern and a recipe in back. Good book, interesting characters, engrossing. Recommended.

However, it and the Sefton book both had something that bugged me. Both books had rank beginners, and both books gave them the same first project - a garter-stitch scarf knit with bulky, textured yarn and huge needles. The idea is to give them something "fun" and "easy" that would be done quickly, so they'd have a sense of accomplishment, while the texture of yarn would hide any mistakes PLUS they wouldn't have to learn to purl. And I can't help thinking that's wrong.

Part of it is that big needles and bulky yarns have no attraction for me - the worsted weight sweater I'm currently knitting on US5 needles is about as heavy as I want to get, and my other project is a lace scarf using laceweight yarn and, oddly enough, US5 needles. I'm resisting getting a set of interchangeable needles because I won't use half of them.

But the other part is that fabricdragon started me knitting again with just the opposite sort of project - she sold me smooth, light-colored worsted (medium) weight wool and medium (for normal people - they're the largest I own) size needles, and a pattern for mittens to be knitted flat. She chose a light colored smooth worsted weight because that way, I could see my stitches and correct my mistakes. This pattern required knitting and purling, decreasing, increasing and the use of stitch holders and stitch markers, plus the sewing of a seam. If I hadn't known the knitting and purling already, she surely could and would have taught me them. The rest the pattern told me or I could figure out. And in three days, I had two slightly mismatched mittens and the sense of pride in completing something.

(Ferris's beginner, by contrast, did use smooth, medium weight yarn to learn to knit. Yes, it was a scarf, but it involved a real knit and purl pattern, not just garter.)

Comments

Wow! Someone else who's heard of Mary Monica Pulver! My favorite of hers is Original Sin, because it combines architecture with genealogy, both of which interest me. I liked the Monica Ferris books, too, even though they seemed lighter weight.

On the Maggie Sefton spoiler, though, I think that "running a DNA test" generally means "comparing two samples of DNA," and then they look for matching markers. Oh, wait, you mean that they tested the blood found on the scene first to see if it was the victim's, and then thought it was the suspect's? Yeah, you're right, they totally would have noticed that half the markers were the same.

There was blood on the scene that was clearly the perp's (she stabbed him with a broken knitting needle), plus that of the victim (I believe she was shot - yeah, not paying much attention to that.) They knew the blood was the perp's because the victim had type A and the other blood was type O. So, maybe they didn't do a DNA test on her blood, and I've just watched too much CSI.

I'm figuring she's enjoying the Monica Ferris books, but also, they enable Margaret Frazer to write more Dame Frevisse and Joliffe books, which I'm sure don't sell as well. Witness - the Ferris books come out in hardcover, whereas the Frazer books do not.

So, here's the thing. My MIL has taught many, many people how to knit, and what she's discovered is that very few of them can handle more than garter stitch to start with. Now, a particular individual might be fine with something much more complex -- but every person she's ever taught in the last 50 years (except for me) was totally flummoxed by purling at first.

Probably not coincidentally, I was also the only person she'd ever taught who'd done any kind of handwork before.

I don't disagree with you on the boringness of the project at the back, not one bit, but I think that you might not be the typical beginning knitter, y'know? So I see the other side of it. I don't really LIKE the other side of it, but I get it.

I can see that one might want to do a garter stitch project first - I don't remember learning how to purl, so I don't know.

I was more objecting to the highly textured yarn - I mean, yeah, fun colors are motivating, and bulky yarn does mean the project is done more quickly (I guess - my hands hurt at the thought), which is also motiviating, but I'm not sure it's a good idea to hide mistakes.

Debbie Macomber has a series of novels set around a woman who opens a yarn shop and gives knitting classes and the women who come through there.

The Shop on Blossom Street

A Good Yarn

Back on Blossom Street (that one isn't out in paperback yet)


I've actually only read the second one -- I picked it up not knowing it was part of a series -- but I enjoyed it.

Thank you!