Book Review & GIVEAWAY!

For those of you who may have stopped by last week to read this, we apologize for the immediate reposting. However, we've decided to do a give-away of this book. If you win, you'll receive a trade paperback copy of What Would Madame DeFarge Knit? signed by each contributor!

The Rules: simple read our review then make a comment in the comment section before 12pm CST on Friday, October 14, 2011. We'll do a random drawing from the qualifying entries and announce the winner in our blog post on Friday 10/14.  If you've won, you'll have to email us your mailing address and we'll get the book out to you right away. Good luck!!

Please check here for giveaway winner!

Our Review of What Would Madame DeFarge Knit?

Occasionally we distractibles will review a product or a book. This week, we bring you our opinions on the book What Would Madame Defarge Knit? edited by Heather Ordover.

Here's how it works... we both checked out the book and then wrote our reviews separately (so you basically get two reviews for the price of one!) Then we post both reviews and enjoy discovering what we agreed upon and what we disagreed upon. Not surprisingly, we often agree on the same bits. Enjoy!

Cassandra's Review

The very idea of crossing classic literature and making sends me into a swoon. So, needless to say, I was delighted when Heather announced on the Craftlit podcast that a book was forthcoming. I procured a copy of the book as quickly as I could after release, but, sadly haven't been able to actually knit from one of the patterns yet. My observations are strictly on the book itself.

Heather from Craftlit LOVES all things literature. No, I do not know her personally, but I know her passion for literature having listened to her podcast weekly over the past few years. So, it comes as no surprise to me that this book does not simply use literary characters as inspiration for knitwear. The book is as true to the literature as to the knitting portion. Each pattern has a well-written essay from the designer. They share personal reflections on why they chose that character as their muse. Very inspiring and again, evidence that this book was edited with a mission to celebrate the classics. I defy anyone who has not read Frankenstein, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, or any of the stories highlighted before the pattern begins to not get intrigued enough to hit their local Barnes and Noble for a Penguin Classic to get the full story. Brilliant.

I am a professional creative who designs print pieces. I'm going to say this because I know I'm a little tough and frankly, opinionated. I'm sure if Heather reads this, she will understand and she can feel free to poke holes in my atrocious syntax or dangling participles! I am not a writer, I just play one on this blog. :)

The design of the book itself is not quite on par with the content. I think I understand the look they were trying to achieve, but it needs some seasoned art direction. I'm pretty sure that the book would flow better from pattern to pattern by using some design tricks. The illustrations have a primitive feel, which is fine, but I think the way that they are presented leaves them a little flat. Now, I understand that designing under the constraints of black and white only can be challenging, but in that challenge lies true creativity. The design has so much potential to be as great as the copy...I would love to get my hands on it. It would be a dream project.

With that said, I love the idea of incorporating the theme with the difficulty rating system...Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité. Brilliant. And the little illustrations of the tools and techniques are very nice.

I have glorious things to say about the actual  patterns in this book. I especially love the Ms Prynn neckwarmer, Lysistrata Chiton sweater, Van Tassel Mittens, and Nora's Glacial Gauntlets....but what has captured my imagination is the Defarge stole. There is something so timeless and mysterious about it. I think that could be my first choice to cast-on of the patterns out of the book.

The companion web site to this book is a wonderful modern touch. Color views of the patterns, more information, KAL links...all great ideas. Overall, I love this book. Glad I have it a copy and I really look forward to knitting a project or two after the holiday backlog is finished.

Alex's Review

What Would Madam Defarge Knit is a practically perfect title.  It is immediately evident that the book has a literary spin. And, the idea that the Machiavellian, vengeful Madam Defarge would knit anything is just short of hilarious.

The book title made complete sense when I learned that the editor of this compilation of patterns was Heather Ordover, the always delightful host of the CraftLit podcast and  Heather describes her podcast as “a book-on-tape with benefits”. You hear a little crafty talk first and then the audio version of some piece of classic literature. It’s a great way to get caught up on the classics while your hands are busy. 

There’s much to love in this book – my favorite thing being the commitment to the concept.
  • There are 21 patterns inspired by classic literature, and each comes with an accompanying essay about the pattern-designer’s inspiration.The designs are categorized by difficulty by assigning one of three visual symbols  - a fleur-de-lis (Liberte for the beginning knitter), a ribbon (Egalite for the intermediate knitter), and a guillotine (Fraternite for the expert or “willing to stick their neck out” intermediate knitter).  
  • Throughout the book, there are little sidebars that point you to the WWMDK website for tips and ideas to accompany the pattern(s).
  • There are nice extras such as pattern resources, a glossary of stitches and chart symbols, links to all the books (either audio or print) that are referenced as inspirations, and a fun visual primer on making tassels.
  • While I’m not a chart knitter, a number of the patterns come with nicely-reproduced charts.
 The contributing designers include a number of very recognizable names such as Brenda Dayne (Cast On podcast) and Chrissy Gardiner (Gardiner Yarn Works) which adds to the overall credibility of the collection.

In the beginning of the book, Ms Ordover explains that they specifically choose to print the book in black and white, for a number of reasons – to keep the production costs down and the highlight the illustrations (there are no photos in the book at all and, in fact, no real representation of the actual projects.) I have nothing against black and white because I know, as Ms Ordover points out, that I can go online to Ravelry or the WWMDK website and see color examples of the projects. However, the majority of the illustrations in the book are incredibly distracting. At the beginning of each pattern, there’s an illustration meant to represent the book or character that the pattern is inspired by. For example, for Jane’s Ubiquitous Scarf (inspiration: Jane Eyre), the illustration is of Jane wearing, assumingly, the scarf from the pattern.

The problem with these illustrations is that they’re simply not that good. The illustrations that DO work, and don’t distract, are the simplest ones – the scissors, tape measure, stack of books – that pepper the pages. There’s also a great, simple line drawing of a woman in period costume holding knitting needles and an iPod. Totally funny and lovely.  But, the illustrations that are meant to be the centerpieces – the real artwork of the book – are, frankly, sophomoric and of a totally different style than the more elegant and appealing line drawings. These primary illustrations detract from what would otherwise be a funny, sophisticated concept by making it look amateurish. 

When it’s all said and done, I really like this book a lot. As a pattern resource and an interesting peek into people’s thoughts about classic literature it’s an absolute gem. The concept is funny, unique, and well executed. However, I miss having, with the patterns, some simple representation of the actual pieces – even if in illustration.

Please check here for giveaway winner! 


  1. It sounds like a really interesting book, Cassandra - you had me at The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, I love that poem ;)

    One of my pet hates is poor design, so I'm intrigued by what seems to be a pro and a con here in terms of the illustrations.

  2. I love knitting book that are not just patterns but actually share the designer's inspiration and thought process behind the designs.

    And also, I feel I need to see these illustrations for myself to make my own judgement

  3. I am a book geek so this book sounds right up my alley! I checked out the patterns on Etsy and now am curious to see what the illustrations look like. I had heard of this on Cast On but then I sort of forgot until now but looking forward to taking a closer peek. Thanks for the review!

  4. clever idea for a dying to see the illustrations in love to win!

  5. What a great way to discover a blog! I saw your post about the drawing on Ravelry & toddled RIGHT over. Love CraftLit, can't wait to see the book. But no project photos? Grrr. Oh well, can't have everything, I suppose.

    Thanks for the shiny!

  6. This book sounded interesting when I heard about it on Craftlit but I've gotten behind in my podcasts and promptly forgot about it after I saw something shiney. Your post reminded me to look investigate further. The patterns look GREAT!

  7. Interesting reviews, would love to read the essays. reading and knitting are my two favorite hobbies.

  8. Love, love, love the classics. Mix them with knitting and You have complete win! I would love this book and your reviews were wonderful - made me want the book even more.

    greyowl60 at yahoo dot com

  9. I don't think I can actually read without knitting haha it helps me focus! I appreciate that you write your reviews separately and share them together, that's neat.

  10. Thank you for the reviews, I hadn't heard of this book before. I like the concept a lot!
    I looked up the projects on Ravelry and they're really nice. I particularly like Bertha's Mad, Mysterious Moebius - and the Cthulhu Waits socks are just so cool! I like the named in general, it all seems very inspired. I'd love to get my hands on this book - maybe I'll put it on my Christmas list.

    ilina (on Ravelry)

  11. Knittinggirl13 on ravOctober 12, 2011 at 1:25 AM

    I love how the patterns are inspired by classic literature! I'm a bookworm who loves knitting, so this is perfect for me:)

  12. Thank you for the review! I'm really looking forward to this book!

    KnitAtHome @

  13. I would love to get my hands on a copy of this book! Like Cassandra, I too swoon at the very notion of knitting and literature coming together. Fantastic idea!

  14. This book sounds quite intriguing! Thank you for the reviews and the contest.

    calendarfish @ Ravelry

  15. What a cool sounding book, and excellent reviews. Fingers crossed! Thanks for the contest. :)

  16. When I was a kid and learned to knit, my mother - who did not knit - used to call me Madame Dufarge. This erstwhile English major/obsessive knitter would very much like to read this book. Thanks for the tale from two chicks.