Friday, March 2, 2007

American vs Japanese Lace Style

Harsh review follows below, people. Don't read if it you are squeamish. Note that you can click on any photo for a real-sized, detailed view.

Americans are good at inventing cool stuff, but the Japanese are expert at refining our ideas. After comparing Lace Style from the good old USA and Elegance Knit (ISBN 4-529-04273-1) from Japan, I am embarrassed to admit that the American version looks, well, not good. Well, awful, actually.

I thought the patterns in the former wobbled between ugly, pedestrian, and impractical. With considerable disappointment, I realized there wasn't a single thing in the entire book that could even approach third string on my Makes My Fingers Want to Dance with Needles knit list.

NOTE ADDED IN EDIT: Interweave Press was highly annoyed by this review and demanded I remove the images from this post. I am sure that if I had posted a glowing review, nothing would have been said. So I have done what they asked and replaced the pictures with links from other reviews where possible, or page numbers where not. They removed the pictures from their web site so I couldn't link to them. Sorry.

Nice for the under-15 crowd, of which I am not.
Under-12 might be better for two obvious
reasons that unfortunately are shown here.


What's with the weird, saggy hem?
Is she holding it up or pulling it down?
The collar looks really peculiar, flooping
around behind her head.
And wide lapels went out in the '40s.


Another one for the under-15 crowd,
especially those who are color-blind.
You just know that the collar didn't work--
it's hidden under the long hair.

On the other hand, everything in this book makes the Dance with Needles List.

Boredom would not be possible while
knitting this sweetie. What a pattern!
And look at that dainty neckline!

Another handsome pattern.
Simple sweater, but the placement
of the lace panels is perfect.
Exquisite neckline.

I don't even like cropped sweaters,
but this is an exception to the rule.
Another inspired use of pattern and trim.

Oh my.

Notice the following points in the Japanese designs:
  • The exquisite attention paid to detail around the edges. The American sweaters seem to fade out there, as if the designers just got tired of the entire process.
  • The lovely shaping--not a baggy, saggy item in the entire volume. The American sweaters are either too tight or shapeless. Feh.
  • There is no fear of complexity here, something rife in American knitting books.
  • These styles are timeless, graceful, and elegant and can be worn by any age group. American designers seem to forget that there are ladies over, say 40, who want to make sweaters for themselves.
And finally, notice that all the Japanese models have their hair tied back, so you can see the necklines. Of course, given the necklines in the American book, perhaps long hair was a better choice.

The price for the Japanese full-color book with 21 stunning patterns is $9. Budd's Lace Style also contains 21 patterns, is also paperback, and costs $24.95 (KnitPicks has it for $16.95). Even with shipping from Japan, Elegance Knit is cheaper.

I am not purposely being nasty, but I am getting tired of book reviews that pull their punches. You know what I mean. The reviewer makes nice remarks about the photography, gushes about the famous contributors, lists the projects, and then spends a few lines exclaiming about the index. Time for a change, I think.


Lacefreak said...

Dear fleegle,

I have several soft cover books from Japan on knitting and tatting. Why would someone buy stuff they can't read? Because the patterns are just jaw-dropping beautiful and you could, if you really wanted to do them, follow the visual instructions and have a go at the projects the diagrams and pictures are that good. I also looked at the new American book and there was nothing in there I wanted to knit. Bummer. Picture it. Women with money burning a hole in their pockets and nothing to buy. I have hauled my disappointed self off to drool over my pattern and yarn stash. After looking at that book, I no longer need to try and justify keeping a pattern stash. I wish the publishers of those nice Japanese books would get them published in English!

Dave said...

The Japanese are way ahead of the Americans (and Canadians) when it comes to design. So, for that matter, are the Germans. Have you ever seen a Sandra magazine? Just like the Japanese, their patterns have flow and look, well, designed, instead of thrown together. How is the gauge in the Japanese book? The pictures seem to be smaller gauge, which I think makes a big difference in fit and design possibilities.

P.S. Have you ever seen Japanese knitting patterns for men's sweaters? I haven't seen any, ever.

Anonymous said...

Again, just lazy, not anon. Those book reviews you talk about, and I do agree with you, btw, they're maybe like how I feel when presented with the picture of an ugly baby. And contrary to what my SIL says, there are some UGLY babies out there. Unfortunately, even hers, and I love those kids, but I digress. I always try to "tap dance" around the actual baby, "Awww. What a cute outfit!" In extreme cases, "Wow! Look at the excellent lighting on this shot! Who's your photographer?" And, regardless of the actual attractiveness of the baby, someone is gonna think it's cute. They'd be wrong, but still. So that's what we get alot of for reviews. Could you send me a copy of that Japanese book when you get there? Just make sure Harry doesn't have all 8 of his vagabond shoes on! Lori aka jez

fleegle said...

Jane, I wish they would publish in English also, but a fe exceptions, such as cars and electronics, the Japanese are fundamentally uniterested in foreigners. And the other problem is that the patterns are always one size.

We can always do what I did with Mountain Ash--form a Yahoo group, sit down and translate the pattern, and just work through the design together.

It's not a pattern stash, Jane, it's a pattern collection!

fleegle said...

Dave, I have never seen Sandra. Wish they had it here.

The gauges in the Japanese book are run aboout 6-7 stitches per inch, I guess a bit finer than you find in American books.

I have seen lots of Japanese men's sweaters and they tend to be a bit 1950-ish. There was one I saw last year of a guy with an Aran and a pipe! I can't tell you how strange that looked.

I didn't buy any of the books, but this year, I will see if I can satisfy your curiousity.

Janice in GA said...

Most book reviews these days are just product announcements -- worthless to anyone wanting to know what's actually IN the books and whether the content is useful or not.

I didn't hate Lace Style as much as you did. Maybe that's because I rarely knit sweaters. :)

Carol over at Go Knit in Your Hat also does no-bull book reviews, btw. Very helpful.

fleegle said...

Dear Lori, AKA Jez, AKA Anon:

You can order this book by clicking on the link! No need for me to carom from store to store in search of it and perhaps not find it for you.

I have gone shopping for folks in the past, and it was a bit of a nightmare. I don't have a car there, so I have to carry everything while walking from the bus to the train to the store and back again.

Several people wanted something I could only find on the other side of Tokyo--a 3 hour ride, one-way. Another person kept asking for more, more more and I kept having to return to the store for her.

I decided to nix the personal shopping this year. Too tired. Too busy. Too old!

Anonymous said...

About 15 years ago I hosted an exchange student from Japan. I am Asian too. She told me that knitting is extremely popular in Japan, everyone does it (atleast then). She said it's something that is natural. Patterns were used as a guide and for inspiration. I showed her the way I knitted and she showed me her way. It really is about learning from a culture that passes along established arts instead of one that is constantly trying to reinvent. Just my opinion. I am really very pleased to find your blog and see someone so interested in lace as I am. I found you on the Heirloom Knitting group.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I'm wanting to buy another Japanese knitting book. I also really like the one with the little girls' sweaters (posted a while back).

Lori said...

Thank you! A wonderful comparison of the two books, and I'm glad to see someone criticize Lace Style - I'd seen nothing but good things, but found myself unimpressed enough to part with the money... The challenge of knitting "in a foreign language" is I something I simultaneously daunting and exciting; I think this one is calling my name!

KathyR said...

Well said, Fleegle! I do agree with you about many of the knitting books/magazines published lately. The latest IK, for example. And how many reviews do you read that actually make realistic comments about the book? I don't have the privilege of seeing before I buy so I need to rely on reviews or comments I find on-line - and I have been disappointed with some of my purchases in the past because of this.

So thank you for your comments on these publications! I am really drawn to Elegance Knit, it looks superb! Having already bought New Style of Heirloom Knitting I know that I will not be disappointed if I decide to purchase it.

Anonymous said...

Er, actually I was just kidding about sending you shopping. I travel 49 states & folks are forever wanting me to "save them shipping." Like we have room in a tractor, what with me, the 6'6" co-driver, & my yarn & book stash. Sorry you thought otherwise. And congrats on the center panel finish! Can't wait to see some bouncing baby spiders.

Judith said...

hi fleegle -

thanks so much for the review! I didn't care much for LS either. I have a couple Japanese knitting books and love them -try the 250 Patterns Sts. ISBN 4-529-04176-X - beautiful patterns and am about to get another one thanks to your pics!

Anonymous said...

Yup. I'm with you. I have both the Interweave and the Japanese book and I agree 100%. I don't understand if the US publishers think American knitters don't want to get challenged or it is really true that most American knitters are scared of a complex knit. The Japanese patterns are certainly not concerned about the timid knitter. Having tried a few of those patterns, I can tell you that you have to think while you knit:) There isn't one design I feel compelled to knit from the new Interweave book, so sorry to say...They were may favorite US magazine and I counted on them to keep me learning.

Anonymous said...

If the Japanese tendency toward complexity in lace knitting would meet up with a bit of shaping, I'd jump on it in a heartbeat, but I have to say that I find the Japanese patterns in that book very boxy. I don't have Lace Style yet, but I'll be getting it for a review (and believe me, I have a reputation for not pulling punches, so if I hate it, I'll say I hate it and I'll elaborate on why...). I do love the flow of the lace designs in the Japanese book, but I ain't wearin' no squares, dainty or not. You're completely right about the necklines, though. Gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Fleegle, I have been very interested in all the information about Japanese knitting patterns and publications you have been posting (and I thank you for alerting us to them on knittyboard). A few weeks ago, inspired by your accounts, I went to my local Japanese book store to see if they had any of them. They didn't, but there was a whole shelf of knitting pubs to examine, and out of all of them, Elegance Style is the one I came away with, as much for the stitch pattern ideas as the garments (in W. Los Angeles, Asahiya Express on Sawtelle near Olympic; $14, but I got to examine everything to see what I liked). I was going to get around to posting something about this beautiful book, so it is a gratifying to see that you've noticed this book too.

Question on the 1000 Stitch Pattern book you described previously -- how much of that book overlaps with the stitch dictionaries that are common in N. America? Is the whole thing full of things that would be new to me, or is it just certain classes of stitches, or ?? Thanks.....

Lethe a t knittyboard

fleegle said...

Dear Lee-ann;

I don't think those designs are any boxier than standard American sweaters. However, you may be reacting to the fact that Japanese ladies generally have smaller bustlines than American ladies, so the sweaters themselves may look less shapely to you.

fleegle said...

Dear anon--
I couldn't give you an estimate about the overlap of 1000 Patterns. However, 25% of the book is crochet patterns. There are some interesting things in there, but the book does weigh a ton, so shipping might be pricey.

mehitabel said...

Thanks for the lead! I ordered the book and will also check out the Japanese bookstores--LA is pretty close to me. Now that I'm unemployed I have time to search, but less money to buy. The eternal catch-22! And I have to say, I like sweaters that are a bit loose, and boxy is form-fitting for me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! I love Japanese patterns, but can't just blindly order every book on the internet. (I'm in Minnesota.) This one made me click the buy button. I also inspected Lace Style in person last weekend and drew the same conclusions as you.

Alison in MN

Anonymous said...

Your comparison of the two books is quite the contrast. I thumbed the Lace Style and left it on its shelf at the store, nothing for me. IK was totally without interest this last issue, unfortunately, I subscribe. Your Japanese book was remarkable for the beautiful finishing, the careful placement of the patterns, and the somewhat finer gauge.

Big Alice said...

The lace patterns in the Japanese book are exquisitely integrated into the whole design of the sweater. I do very much like the details on the edges. And I VERY MUCH like that they aren't hiding any details with long hair and the photography is crisp and clear.
I'm going to have to go to the local Kinokuniya bookstore and see what they have, after all your Japanese book reviews.

However, the placement of the lace panels on the 2nd one is unfortunately too nipple-riffic for me. And confirms something you said in another comment: bustlines are generally much smaller in Japan, and patterns reflect this. So while I might admire the Japanese designs, the lack of bust shaping will prevent me from knitting them, until I can figure out how to work in short rows or modify the lace pattern for shaping.

And coming only in one size is a bit of a killjoy as well. I'm just physically bigger than most Asian women. It's difficult to modify full-body lace patterns to other sizes. I can add more lace panels and repeats, yes, but depending on the stitch count that might make everything too large.

I'm with Lee Ann on the shaping - they all look a bit boxy. I know how hard it is to add shaping to lace, though. I have not yet seen Lace Style, although I'm interested in thumbing through Fitted Knits.

That said, I agree that the complexity of the knitting is on a much higher level than most English books. I wish that English books with a higher proficiency level were more available.

Anonymous said...

Great review and so to the point, thank you! I leafed through Lace Style and completely agree with your comments. Only the Kathy Zimmerman cabled sweater looked like something I might wear (granted, I passed 25 a looong time ago).

I also find British and French designs more appealing, more wearable, but also more truly in sync with fashion than most American patterns. It is often a matter of color combos and of gauge, too. It's enough to make a knitter want to design her own sweaters.
Your blog is full of great info,thanks for sharing it all with us!

Experimental Knitter said...

Don't you find that American (and British too to an extent) knitting fashion is still in minimalist mode? Hence the lack of dressmaker touches, and the plethora of too-racy (skimpy) styles that pass for "fashion" and the afterthoughts, like the uneven hem on the beige jacket you show, or the collars that do not work out no matter what, like on the orange shrug number.
I have a bunch of my mother's old knitting books from the 1960's. Those Spinnerin books have classy styles in them. Lots of dressmaker touches -shaping, French cuffs (on sweaters knit of sport-weight yarn!), wonderful plackets, half-belts in the back to add shaping, I could go on and on.

Dave, there are men's sweater pattern, I have some in my books.

Anonymous said...

wow, those Japanese sweaters are incredible. So many American patterns just look "ho made" with poor fit and crappy details. I would almost sit down and figure those patterns out, it would actually be worth it.... anyway, Fleegle, thanks for showing us that there is an outside world!

Anonymous said...

I just got my Lace Style copy today, and I SO agree with you.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about LS, but while I appreciate the beauty of the Japanese Lace, I just couldn't see myself making any of them. I have a similar shape, but I just don't find the proportions very fashionable or flattering. It's not just the boxiness, but the placement of motifs, the size of the necklines, etc. That's my usual problem with the "Let's Knit" series. I tend to find them dowdy, while still appreciating their craftsmanship. I go shopping in a Japanese book store about once each year, and I have a lot of fun looking, but I usually don't buy too much. Now if someone could combine that skill with a better sense of what looks good on a human body, I'd be breathless.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the review of this book! I was 'forced' to go and buy it today!! (I was sad to find out that as of last week they no longer have the economy shipping for international for 980yen, shipping for 3000yen - ouch!) It will be in my hands next week or so!

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with the IK people? The newbies will run out to buy that book anyway and the rest of us wouldn't give it shelf space, regardless of your review.


Batty said...

Aaah, the copyright brigade. Oh well, better to take it down than to drag it to court.

The Japanese lace is absolutely incredible. It makes me appreciate your little pattern interpretation tutorials even more.

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that use of the images for a legit review would be covered under Fair Use. A large company like Interweave should be able to take a bit of negative criticism on the chin. I've read other blogs where similar views to yours have been expressed.

I had to buy the Japanese book, and love some of the designs. Now to find the time to actually knit something.

My poor Dragone shawl is languishing. Must finish it one day.


fleegle said...

I googled for other sites with pictures from this book and found at least six. None of them were asked to remove their pictures, because they are still there. Or else they just ignored Interweave's dire warning.

I would think, for the purposes of a review, that using those photos would fall under fair use. Not being a lawyer, though, I wasn't going to argue.

Susan--do finish your Dragone. It's really worth it! Mine is nice and warm...just in time for summer :(

Grace said...

Wow, those are really beautiful. I always appreciate a frank review. I'm tempted to buy it, even though I would have to translate AND up-size the patterns. I like a challenge (famous last words!). Knit-along, anyone?

Anonymous said...

Ha, I'm so amused by this blog post (stumbled upon it through blog browsing).

I'm a total newbie to knitting. I'm a stay-in-home bored wife who is getting into crafts. I stumbled upon amigurumi, which led me into a slippery slope of yarn crafting, and now I'm into knitting. I seriously was not interested in knitting because everything I had seen was bulky, unflattering, and had jarring colours. But if it weren't for Japanese craft books, I would not have known that I could make amazing stuff.

Take the samples in this Japanese blog:

In a very general way, I have bought two or three American knitting books because of the instructions, but I haven't been interested in knitting any of their projects in them unless it's for practice. I've tried looking through bookstore selections, but I leave empty handed and a bit disappointed because most projects are aesthetically uninteresting.

However, I did find Rowan books from England, and they're my other favorite. I just wish the yarn wasn't so expensive!