Knitting Nature by Norah Gaughan, photography by Thayer Allyson Gowdy, pub. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006, 2012.
I have always loved Norah Gaughan's work. It's not that she thinks outside the box. The box is simply irrelevant. She approaches each design in a specific, individual way and accepts it for what it is if it grows up to be something other than what she imagined.
I admire that.
Take the cover photo for this new paperback version. Inspired by the hexagonal forms of slowly cooled lava, Norah constructed a top made solely of hexagons (with some wedges removed for armholes). The result is one of her most flattering garments.
For the skirt at right, she made each row of hexagons a little bigger than the one above it to make an A-line shape. The shapes on a turtle's shell are similarly different sizes. This skirt is knit, then turned inside out to wear. The reverse stockinette stitch looks great, but it's the definition in the hexagons (made from picking up stitches on the knit side) that really sings to me.
The hexagon chapter also includes one of Norah's signature long coats (the Hex Coat) with hexagon trim. It's a simple piece with lovely lines. There's plenty of knitting interest in the front, and the moss stich back is good meditative work.
I just may have to make a vest version of the design at right. Click on the image for a link to its Ravelry projects. Norah envisioned the center panel as leaves and little stems, but it turned out to look like a certain little sea urchin.
Whereas hexagons fit together to create flat surfaces, pentagons make a round construction. Norah crafted a yoke of pentagons for her Swirled Pentagon Pullover, and the entire body of them for the Bubble Pullover---fascinating stuff. I have to say, the project pages for these two were very enlightening. Most of the projects look better than the book photos. The bubble pullovers are very flattering on most people (not so much on the model) and I especially like the swirled pentagon variation without the turtleneck.
The next chapter celebrates spirals. I love the one-page introductions Norah gives each chapter, detailing the various forms these shapes take and how they manifest themselves in nature. This chapter is inspired by the logarithmic spiral such as a seashell or horn which "grows larger and larger at a constant rate as the creature making it grows." For an Archimedean spiral, see Knitting from the Center Out.
The Cowl Pullover, despite its tame name, is a glamorous garment with a giant seashell-like sleeve which becomes a collar at the end of it. This piece is sewn and split for the body opening, leaving the cowl and sleeve whole. Ingenious! I love all the patterns in this chapter---especially the Ram's Horn Jacket, the Shell Tank, and the Cabled Spiral Pullover.
The next chapter is Phyllotaxis. It's basically an arrangement of double spirals with the spirals going opposite ways at different speeds. (Don't worry, Norah explains this very clearly.) My favorites are the Roundabout Leaf Tam, which uses the spiral in its construction, and the Sunflower Tam.
Fractals are featured next, to my great delight.
As well as the Ogee Tunic and the Coastline Camisole and Skirt (which I adore), they inspired such subtle designs as the Branching Aran Guernsey and the Frost Jacket. Another of my favorites is the Serpentine Coat which has a fractal motif around the yoke.
Last up is Waves, with the Vortex Street Pullover and the Turbulence U-Neck as eyecatching examples. But Norah features so many appealing unisex sweaters in this collection, I just had to show you one.
Look closely at the Reflection Aran Pullover and you'll see there are thicker lines and thinner lines. All the lines are 4 stitches long, but the thinner ones are mini cables. Norah constructed a chart so that once a line hits the side of the panel, it bounces off at the same angle as the approach.
The Recommended Reading list includes several books on pattern formation, science, and math, as well as the more common knitting references. I'll have to look some of these up.
Sizes are usually XS - XL with chest sizes around 36 - 52" (although they go as low as 33" and as high as 60") and hip sizes from around 32 - 52". The child's Target Wave Mittens come in 3 sizes, but the Sunflower Tam in only 2 (18" and 20") and the Droplet Hat in only 1 (20"). The lower portion of the tam is in ribbing and stockinette. It would be a simple matter to cast on a different number of stitches and just make sure to end with the right number before the sunflower portion. (This is assuming the head you want to fit has a circumference of less than 38".) Likewise, the Droplet Hat could be adjusted near the brim. And of course there's always the option of knitting at a different gauge.
This book is a beautiful and inspiring ode to patterns in nature. I recommend it for everyone---even if you don't know the first thing about knitting. Norah's clear explanations may just motivate you to find some needles and yarn and get to work!
Disclosure: Stewart, Tabori & Chang sent Kangath a free copy of Knitting Nature for review. Kangath was not compensated for the preceding review. All opinions expressed in the review are the blog author's and are not necessarily the opinions of Stewart, Tabori & Chang or Norah Gaughan.
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