Review by Wendeline O. Wright
Chris de Longpré’s new book, “52 Timeless Toys to Knit,” is a collection of toy animal designs that will delight both the beginning knitter and the experience toy-maker looking to expand their repertoire. While certain animals have traditionally been well-represented in knitting patterns—I’m looking at you, sock monkeys and wooly sheep—this book includes a menagerie of lesser-known animals such as a platypus, an armadillo, and a kiwi that will surprise everyone they encounter with their simplicity and sweetness.
The collection is divided into nine sections that group the toys by either type (as in the case of “Flock”) or habitat (like “Woodlands” and “Serengeti”). This grouping works well as it suggests a particular matching set for knitters to make, rather than just presenting the toys alphabetically. Sections like “Down Under” and “Midnight Sun” pack unusual animals together for a delightful and fun assortment to help create sweet sets that will look lovely whether they’re on a shelf or in a child’s hands. Standout Patterns “Flamingo” is a prime example of Ms. de Longpré’s skill in evoking the spirit of an animal without complicated instructions. A short row neck creates a jaunty bend that gives the animal personality, while knitted tubes that are then knotted in the middle give the flamingo its instantly recognizable skinny knock-knees. “Garter Snake” demonstrates how just a touch of embroidery can turn a knitted piece into an animal with its own flair. What begins as a basic, thin black tube is changed into a sweet snake with the addition of strands of contrasting colored yarn running through the stitches.
Each pattern uses written instructions that go line-by-line, leaving very little for a knitter to “figure out”. Many of the designs are based on one of the basic body patterns listed at the front of the book, and each piece of a toy is given its own section to eliminate confusion. The only stitch patterns used are stockinette and garter, which frees the knitter to concentrate on shaping and other techniques.
The patterns use a narrow range of yarns from Brown Sheep Yarn Company, including popular yarns Lamb’s Pride Worsted and Cotton Fleece, which ensures both commercial availability and a wide range of colors for knitters who prefer not to substitute yarns. Also, as the author points out, using wool and wool blends lends itself to ease of finishing since the natural scales of wool helps strands cling to one another. All of the patterns use the same basic gauge, but as long as you are achieving a tight, firm fabric, the author suggests trying various yarn weights that you have available to achieve different sizes of finished toys.
While this book is not intended to teach someone how to knit from scratch, the techniques the patterns use are relatively simple and easy to learn, such as single and double decreases, single increases, grafting, the 3-needle bind-off, and short rows. For a newer knitter, however, the challenge in these patterns is most likely to be small-diameter circular knitting and embroidery. The beginning of the book contains illustrations of various embroidery techniques used, however, and the photos of the toys are very close-up and clear, so knitters are not left to figure out how to embroider on their own.
Suitably, the book design for “52 Timeless Toys to Knit” is relatively minimal; the font is large and clear, and the photos of the toys have no background or distracting props. In many cases, toys that require more than two French knots for eyes have close-ups to assist knitters in embroidery placement. Techniques and pattern notes are all in the front of the book, leaving the rest of the text to be solely dedicated to each individual pattern which usually takes about two pages. Not only will the sheer number of patterns keep toy-loving knitters busy, but since many of the patterns are based on a selection of 3 basic shapes, the knitter’s imagination is encouraged to run wild. By changing colors and switching tails, a friendly beaver could become an inquisitive gopher, or a proud peacock could transform into a Thanksgiving turkey. The author’s inventions use simple shaping and embroidery to such great effect that they’ll doubtlessly inspire knitters every time they flip through this book.