teva durham

Inspired by Anita’s comment on one of my recent posts, I’ve decided to reprint my response to the Loop-d-loop book, with a few updates– now that I am a more experienced knitter.


It’s a fine line between exciting and unwearable. I admire Teva Durham for walking that tightrope, and I continue to be fascinated by her style and approach to knitwear. I enjoyed reading the text in the new Loop-d-loop book. She has a poetic sensibility and an associative approach to design– the aesthetics mean something to her, which is the mark of a true artist.

But why does she irritate me so much? It’s not because when I ordered something from her website she sent an incomplete pattern. (I knitted the entire vest before realizing that the front and back were not the same. I wrote to her and she said–“oops! Sounds like you don’t have the back page.”) And then when I knitted it again (I was a new knitter and had not yet learned to approximate size) I realized that the XL had a finished bust of 38″ and would look silly on me. Something with ease on the model shouldn’t have negative ease on larger women, and yet this is something that pervades fit in her patterns, including those in the book.

I had hoped that the book would have solved some of the fit dilemmas in the patterns I had ordered from her website, but I was disappointed. She gives a size large as fitting a 10-16. This pretty much sums up every size I have been since I was 12, and there is no way that what I wore as a 10 would fit me when I was a 16, especially when the were body-conscious things as so many of her designs are. Some designs are listed for Small (2-6)/(Medium-Large) (presumably 6-16, if we are to go by the “understanding size” note in the back of the book). This makes no sense what so ever! What would fit my size six friends would not look at all right on me, and vice versa, but this approach to sizing seems to assume as much.

There is a laziness to designers who refuse to incorporate larger sizes in their designs. In my experience as a knitter who is looking for avant-garde stuff, Durham is great at coming up with femme, organic yet modern looks and absolutely the worst at writing patterns for a range of sizes. I wouldn’t torment myself with her patterns if I didn’t think that they were absolutely *meant for me* in every way but her sizing.

(I would add now, two years later, that Nora Gaughan and Stephanie Japel make edgy, earthy knitwear that is very fashionable AND wearable. Their patterns definitely scratch this “itch”– I will no longer be wasting my time and wool on Durham patterns.)

For instance, in the book there is a gorgeous yoke vest– very curvy with organic-looking fully fashioned decreases and increases. It is the kind of design that would make a bulky knit wearable for a fuller figure. But the large chest is only 34 1/2″, finished. (There is the “stretchy” note on the sizing which I take as a “one size fits all” middle finger). But a closer look at the gauge notes reveals that the pattern is only written for the size small (28″ finished bust). She suggests using a larger needle for the large. Sheer laziness on the part of the pattern writer! Not only will this not solve the fit dilemma, it will result in a more open fabric– sure it might stretch, but it will no longer look like the garment on the (size 0) model. It will be more open and less flattering, exaggerating the fact that the garment is “stretched to fit”. Like stuffed sausage, as my grandma used to say.

It seems significant that the man’s sweater that is “one size” comes with a finished chest size of 48 1/2″. Other patterns, like the princess seam jacket and the tree-bark rib sweater state a size large as 44 1/2″, making the sizing even more frustrating, as there is a lack of consistency throughout the book.

My guess is the patterns that are written in a range of sizes (the basketweave sweater, a
“unisex” pattern– lists a size large as 56″) were written for magazines with standard size requirements.

Another challenge in the book is yarn substitution. Many of the patterns are written using hard to find yarn (handspun wool from a friend of hers) or discontinued yarn (rowan polar), yet the weights are not listed. Sometimes a yarn seems to be doubled, but this is not actually said in the directions. Maddening! This leaves more work for the knitter who must google the yarn name to try to figure out what might work in its place, or whether the yarn was indeed doubled.

Another mind-bender– this capelet is supposed to have a finished measurement of 42″ at the base circumference:


This is a picture from the website. I ordered the pattern a couple years ago because I thought it would come in different sizes, and I couldn’t imagine I would be that much bigger than the model. But how is it possible she has her arms out like that? I bought the hooded caplet pattern from the website only to find it was one-size fits all a few. The base circumference of the adult version, 42″, is supposed to fit not only around the bust but both arms? How is the woman girl in the photo wearing it? The pattern was idiosyncratic enough that doing a basic resize would have been maddening.

In discussing the “one shoulder tunic” which has a finished chest measurement in the “large” of 24.5 inches, she says:

Still, even as I sit knitting and munching pretzels, there is something in me (and maybe in you, too) that yearns for this ideal: to attain the level of fitness at which you feel dressed even when almost naked. I’m often draw to skimpy styles thinking that if I buy them– or knit them– I’ll strive to look good in them…

I knit for the body I’m in now, to celebrate its power and beauty whether it be bigger or smaller than it was yesterday. My body has taken me to amazing places, and has survived serious illnesses. It is what it is, and I love it. I want to make clothes that don’t “stretch to fit” but are made for me. It is one of the reasons I knit.

Now that I am a more seasoned knitter than when I wrote the first version of this review, I can recognize qualities in designers I can respect, follow and learn from. It’s sad that Teva’s patterns which inspired me so as a new knitter were also the first patterns which– consistently and without exception– taught me the value of ripping what doesn’t work.

(originally blogged at purlygurl on LJ in 2005, with some edits)


Braided Neckpiece for Christel, originally uploaded by velvetdahlia.

Christel just sent me a care package of lovely clothes for my Blythe, Moet. So I knit this braided neckpiece from the Teva Durham book, Loop-d-loop for her. It’s actually the only Teva piece I’ve knit that I haven’t had to rip out. I knit one of these several years ago and I wear it often. (I’ve knit many of her designs and none of them worked for me.)

It’s knit out of Elan’s Peruvian Collection Highland wool, doubled in Irish Moss on number 11 needles.

I confess. Baubles freak me out. I love aran knitting, but I don’t do much of it because of the damn baubles.

This particular example on the right is from Alice Starmore’s Knitting from the British Isles. I’m fascinated by Starmore’s olympic patterns but they all seem to be a lot of work for something that is often unwearable. This is just one example. I mean, here we’re talking intarsia baubles. On trousers. *shudder* I suppose if you are attempting a burryman look for your child, this is a suitable approach.

Right now I’m knitting the Vortex Street Pullover from Knitting Nature. The art-nouveau like aran curls terminate in baubles. Six baubles. I keep telling myself I can handle half-dozen baubles.

But knitting them– distending the stitch, back and forth– back and forth– (which way is the stitch supposed to go when you pass it back? Never mind, just get the thing over with.) Once done, it hangs temporarily from the work like a massive skin tag, a carbuncle, a tumor.

And on the way back in the next row, it falls to the back and you have to push it through the work, like a pimple that needs lancing.

Once it’s tightened up on the next right side row I find myself pulling and twisting and fussing with it neurotically– can I make it look less lesion-like?

I’ve knitted two– I have four more to go. Wish me luck.

And here are a few more things I’ll not be knitting anytime soon:

bfn4.jpgbu3.jpg Sorry to pick on Teva Durham, but her designs are unwearable. I’m all for the daring and strange, but can you imagine anyone wearing these designs? On her website she recommends wearing them with pleather pants.