Book review: Learn to Knit, Love to Knit

I became aware of Anna Wilkinson after seeing one of her beautiful fair isle designs on the front of a Debbie Bliss knitting magazine back in 2010. The unusual colour choices paired with a traditional pattern caught my eye straight away, and of course, I bought the magazine.

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I discovered that, upon graduating from Winchester School of Art, Anna won first prize in the 2009 Knitted Textile Student Awards, and then went on to have her work exhibited at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. Impressive stuff! (The interview is, incidentally, also where I first heard about Grey Gardens, and now I’m a huge fan, so thanks Anna!) I didn’t forget about Anna and her talent for design, so last Autumn I was not at all surprised to hear that she was about to have her very first book published. Hooray! I immediately ordered a copy for the library where I work, and after an agonising month-long wait, finally got my hands on Learn to Knit, Love to Knit.

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And boy, I really wasn’t disappointed. It’s a beautiful book, with thorough instructions and bright, clear photographs explaining the very basics of knitting through to all the more complicated bits – cabling, knitting buttonholes and duplicate embroidery.

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Learn to Knit, Love to Knit also employs a very novel approach, with the first section (Learn to Knit) containing ten projects for those just starting out, and the second (Love to Knit) detailing ten projects for more experienced knitters. But this doesn’t mean that beginners can simply play it safe – oh no, the very first project of the book involves knitting mittens, and stripes. And another thing I love: this book is not about sensible homeware – it’s all about garments and accessories. For you! Although I am quite happy to knit myself garments, I know others who feel like they should be making more, well, useful items. After seeing some of the patterns in this book, you won’t be able to stop imagining them hanging in your wardrobe.

The first section of the book includes very non-beginner garments and accessories such as a delicate lace collar, the colourful arm warmers featured on the book’s cover, a perfectly feminine lace top and a knitted collar and matching muff! The round-necked raglan and random striped sweaters are both beautiful as they are, but also provide the perfect basis for designing your own patterned jumpers. Of course, stylish and pretty photography always helps in a knitting book, and Anna and her team have definitely got this pegged.

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I love that Anna doesn’t let the beginner knitter shy away from these projects, which I know would seem daunting to some of my knitter friends. But as I always tell them, if you can knit, purl and decrease, you can knit a jumper! Anna certainly seems to share this view, and her book is marvellous at encouraging less experienced knitters into having a go at something more challenging, and, dare I say it, interesting than a scarf.

Anna’s penchant for bright, bold and often surprising colour choices is still very much a trademark of her work. The second section, containing the more advanced patterns, certainly explores this further. The ‘Love to Knit’ section contains a preppy college-style cardigan, a fair isle tank top (added to my to-do list), polka dot socks (also on the list), a cabled tam and snood and a stunning embroidered cardigan which two friends immediately requested for their birthdays.

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The final pattern in the book is one I may have to move straight onto after I’ve finished my current project. Anna teams deep mustard with dark turquoise and a pop of bright pink in a beautiful little tweed cape. Perfect for the transition into spring, so I should really get knitting…

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My first project from this book, however, is the the short-sleeved fair isle sweater, knitted in that fuschia pink and mustard yellow. I would never have put these two colours together, but when Anna suggests it, it works. I’ve been knitting the jumper on and off since last Autumn, and it turns out that bright pink and deep yellow are the perfect antidotes to wintery weather.

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It’s clear that I love this book, and I am excited to see what the future holds for Anna. You can follow her work on Facebook and Twitter, and if you ever get stuck with one of her patterns, rest assured you can contact her for help. I emailed her recently when I got in a pickle with the fair isle sweater, and she wrote back straight away. Yes, I am firmly in Camp Anna. And if you treat yourself to this lovely book, I have no doubt that you will be too.

A Valentine’s recipe

For the Valentine’s pop-up shop, as well as my usual knitted and sewn items, I decided to made macaroons to give away to visitors to my stall. It was my first time making them, so I was rather nervous, but they turned out really well and were predictably all snapped up. As usual I turned to Mary Berry for my recipe, and if you have a piping bag and a penchant for chewy meringue, I urge you to have a go. They may sound daunting but they really aren’t that bad, and involve very few ingredients. I found piping out the neat little circles of meringue very therapeutic, and now well and truly have the macaroon bug!

I filled my macaroons with whipped double cream and raspberry jam, but a chocolate ganache would be lovely too. The real beauty for me lies in the colour possibilities of these bite-sized delights: I’m now thinking mint-green, or duck-egg blue, for my next attempt. My first batch, though? Pink, of course, for Valentine’s day.

See below for some obsessive macaroon photos and the deceptively simple recipe!

Macaroons
from The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake

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Ingredients:
3 egg whites
105g (4oz) ground almonds
225g (8oz) icing sugar
few drops of red food colouring

To assemble:
200ml double cream, whipped
Raspberry or strawberry jam

Makes about 20 macaroons

– Line two baking trays with baking parchment, and draw out 40 4cm circles on the parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C.

– Whisk the egg whites in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Slowly add half the icing sugar until stiff peaks form and the mixture is glossy and bright white. Add drops of red food colouring until the mixture is the desired colour (remember that the macaroons will turn slightly paler when baked).

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– In another bowl, mix the remaining icing sugar and almonds together. Fold this mixture into the egg white mixture gently with a large metal spoon.

– Spoon half the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large nozzle. Holding the nozzle close to the baking tray, pipe meringue onto each of the circles drawn on your baking trays. As the macaroon forms, pull the piping bag up and away from the tray.

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– Repeat with the remaining meringue mixture. With a knife, carefully round off any peaks on your circles, then gently bang the baking trays a couple of times on a worktop to help the macaroons flatten out. Leave them to sit for 20-30 minutes, until a “skin” has formed on the top.

– Bake the macaroons in the pre-heated oven for 9-12 minutes, until they have formed “feet” on the bottom and are firm to the touch. Let the macaroons cool briefly on the baking trays, then carefully peel off the baking parchment and transfer to a wire rack to cool fully.

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– To assemble, match up your macaroons into evenly-sized pairs. Pipe double cream around the edge of one of the macaroons, then put a small blob of jam in the middle and sandwich together with its matched pair.

– Present to impressed friends, and smile. You made macaroons!

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A Valentine’s shop

This past weekend, I took part in a Valentine’s themed pop-up shop organised by Laura of Laura’s Attic. On Saturday she turned her studio in Mold, North Wales, into a one-day shop, offering the work of local artists and craftsellers to the public. The Attic was transformed into a mini fair, with a total of eight crafty ladies setting up stalls in one room. I was lucky enough to be invited along, and I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that the day was a big success. As well as my hand-knitted and sewn goods, my stall featured gorgeous cards by Suz Hughes, illustrator extraordinaire.

Laura did a great job of advertising the event, and the attic was full of enthusiasm and excited chatter all day. I had a lovely time talking to the other stallholders, some of whom I already knew and some I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time. I was already a big fan of lovely Jen, owner of the wonderful wood-based Loglike, as well as Jenny Murray and her beautiful ceramics. I also had the pleasure of meeting Lora Wyn and seeing her delicate, whimsical jewellery in person. I had a good natter with Sarah, owner of The Way to Blue, whose lovely cyanotype prints would definitely not look out of place in my blue and white kitchen.

Heather of Cinders Cottage Crafts was also in attendance, selling her stunning range of wooden animals, candle holders and other homeware (I treated myself to a little wooden mouse). I also met Sophie Tilley, whose delightful wooden dolls (boasting beautiful packaging) make the perfect present for a special little girl. Last but most definitely not least was Heledd Roberts, a local photographer and lovely lady who, it turns out, enjoys a good film camera as much as I do.

It was a real pleasure spending the day in the company of such talented and friendly women, chatting about everything from knitting, craft projects and running your own business to where to get fabric printed. The event was enjoyed by everyone, with customers filling the attic all day. I even overheard one excited customer saying, “I’ve touched everything here!” I took a lot of photos during the day, some of which you can see below. You can find more over on flickr.

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