A small thing: type (plus tiny socks, and some reading)

posted in: Books, Creativity, Knitting, Publishing | 10

Progress on Ethnic Knitting Discovery: waiting.

Waiting for the offset printer to produce the real copies, which are supposed to be released on October 1 and should arrive in the warehouse about then. This wasn’t the plan, it’s about two weeks later than the plan, but it is what it is.

Waiting for the digital printer to produce another twenty advance reading copies, because we need them to fill the gap that’s resulting from the delay at the offset printer.

But "waiting" is not down time.

I’m working on making charts for Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ new edition of her book on Cowichan sweaters (it’s coming, but not far enough along to have a publication date set). I’m having to limit myself to between three and eight charts a day, for the sake of my hands. Chart-making is intense repetitive-motion work.

I’m also working on the editing and preliminary layout for the next book in Donna Druchunas’ series on basic (and some not-so-basic) ethnic-knitting skills: Ethnic Knitting Exploration.

A simple task for a Saturday night

On Saturday night, I was tired enough that I didn’t feel up to starting the editing on chapter 3 of Ethnic Knitting Exploration (I’ve done the editing and preliminary layout through chapter 2), so I decided to skip to the bibliography. Bibliographies require attention to details but no sensitivity to ideas or phrasing or conceptual flow.

But they are not altogether straightforward, especially when you are working with material that comes from around the world . . . in a variety of languages.

Digression about the initial selection of the typeface for the body of the Ethnic Knitting series

I love type and lettering. That’s one of the reasons I am doing what I do in my life right now.

One of the ways I make the long hours I spend at the computer more interesting is by indulging my love for type. Deciding what typefaces I’ll set a book in can take several months of off-again, on-again experimentation and testing while I work on other tasks that come along more quickly. I need to come up with a handful of fonts that go together and express my vision for the book: a body font (for the main text), sometimes a different caption font, and fonts for the chapter titles and subheads.

A favorite site is MyFonts.com, where I can try out sample words in some of the typefaces I’m considering (not all faces are on this site, of course, although many, many are!).

For knitting books, it’s good to take an especially careful look at the uppercase and lowercase K and the lowercase G, and the 1/l contrasts (one and lowercase L). The word knitting always appears in my sample string. I’ll also set words that are particular to the book I have in mind: qiviut/Qiviut (for Arctic Lace); The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and The Andes (for Ethnic Knitting Discovery); Lithuania, Iceland, and Ireland (for Ethnic Knitting Exploration); Cowichan and Salish (for Priscilla’s next book).


I look at the type’s feel in conjunction with the material I’ll be presenting, and I also look at notes about the designer, consider the regional connotations of the font, and dig somewhat into other details that enrich the experience for me . . . and may lead me to better type and a more congenial design.

Type, like knitting, comes from all around the globe and has deep history. I enjoy connecting the two. Type also is full of weird stories, like any human creative endeavor. Sometimes I get quite distracted and have to pull myself back to the task at hand. That happened Saturday night, and it happened again a few minutes ago while I was collecting links for this post. MUST get back to work. . . .

Techie note 1: One of the fonts in Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ Knitting in the Old Way is URW Alcuin, designed by Gudrun Zapf von Hesse. Most Zapf-identified fonts are the work of her husband, Hermann Zapf.

I want character in the letterforms, but I don’t want them to detract in any way from the contents of the book. Some people say—and I mostly believe—that type that does its job well is invisible.

However, my philosophy goes in a slightly different direction. My ideal typographic treatment will encourage people to pick up a book and begin reading, and then it will feel comfortable enough that they will continue to read. The end result, if I’ve done my typographic job well, is that people will feel like the book they are holding is friendly.

Both legibility and readability play critical roles in my quest. Legibility refers to the clarity of individual letters. Readability refers to the comfortable overall flow of the text.

When I’ve narrowed down my selection of typefaces, I begin setting sample paragraphs of the actual words and paragraphs, or as close as I’ve got to those things when this process begins.

I can’t select type until I have a trim size set for the book. I can’t set the trim size until I know the dimensions of the largest chart that will be in the book. Before considering type, I need to have made preliminary decisions about the text blocks and page margins (although they often change as I work with the type). Readability comes from the interplay between line length, typeface selection, type size, spacing between lines, and other factors. There are certain optimal character counts per line that the eye can scan easily, and so on. These factors all constrain my choices about where the type will go and what it will look like.

The only way to tell how my particular combinations will work, though, is to test, tweak, test, tweak, test again.

In going through this process for Ethnic Knitting Discovery, I surprised myself by selecting a sans serif font for the body, or the primary reading text. If I have a default typographic position, it is "use serifed faces for general text." (I do have several default positions. That’s one of them.) But I kept being drawn to LTC Goudy Sans, which is a sans serif face ("without serifs"). It has a calligraphic feel that in my opinion gives it the readerly flow that serifs often contribute. It also felt right for the material, and for the overall visual effect I began to imagine that the book would have: illustrations (which didn’t exist yet), page layout, and so on.

(Aside: I also seek out typefaces from independent foundries that produce high-quality fonts. In typefaces as in yarn, there are the equivalents of mass-produced acrylics and generic superwash worsted-weights and breed-specific strands suitable for certain knitterly purposes.)

To shorten this story, I ended up setting the main text of Ethnic Knitting Discovery in LTC Goudy Sans Light.

However, that typeface’s numerals are a bit too idiosyncratic for the row and stitch numbers on charts, so I dug around in my type collection (my type budget had been blown by this time) and settled on Gill Sans for those purposes and a few others, like some of the captions and parts of the tables. Gill Sans felt reasonably compatible with the Goudy Sans, and it was sitting on my machine, suitable for the task at hand, licensed and ready to go.

Back to Saturday night and the bibliography

The bibliography in Ethnic Knitting Discovery is set in LTC Goudy Sans, not Gill Sans. When I came to the bibliography for Ethnic Knitting Exploration, I discovered that neither LTC Goudy Sans nor the version of Gill Sans I was using contained some of the characters I needed.

This citation I could manage (except that with my editor’s hat on I’m still tracking the publisher’s name):


The fonts that I’d been using contain the two non-English characters I needed:

But then I came to this citation:


It requires the following non-English characters, which were not available in either LTC Goudy Sans or Gill Sans:

Saturday night got a little less productive and a lot more interesting.

Techie note 2: All my fonts have to be suitable for high-resolution print reproduction. That means they are PostScript Type 1 or PostScript-flavored OpenType. TrueType and TrueType flavored OpenType are only on my computers if they are required by the operating system.

Techie note 3: If you have a few odd characters and they only require diacritical marks in places your font hasn’t provided them, you can play with baseline shifts and radical forced kerning (character spacing) to kludge together substitutes. That wasn’t the case with all of the characters I needed. Kludging characters is also time-consuming and makes the text harder to edit, if that’s necessary.

I did a web search for a version of Gill Sans that contains the required glyphs. It may exist, although I haven’t yet found a link on any Gill Sans supplier’s site to a full character listing that would let me know with certainty.

Techie note 4: The character set called ISO-Adobe supports "most western languages including: Afrikaans, Basque, Breton, Catalan,
Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, Gaelic, German, Icelandic,
Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Sami, Spanish,
Swahili and Swedish. This is the standard character set in most
PostScript Type 1 fonts from Adobe." Just because a character set supports Icelandic, Norwegian, and Sami does not mean it will accommodate Lithuanian. The Adobe PostScript fonts that I have either don’t have the Lithuanian characters or hide them so effectively I haven’t been able to find them . . . accessing glyphs (distinctive character forms) is relatively easy in InDesign, but still not a no-brainer except, perhaps, for professional typographers who have enough of the approximately 100,000 Unicode options memorized.

Wonder of wonders! I discovered that the necessary glyphs were available in Myriad Pro, an excellent font that was on my machine. Myriad Pro does not, however, fit with the font combination I’m using in the book. It’s a perfect placeholder and temporary fix for my problem.

I’m not sure what the ultimate solution to this little complication will be, but I don’t need to come up with an answer for at least six months. Meanwhile, the bibliography is set in Myriad Pro and I can change out the font when I come up with something else.

I may need to find another companion font for the LTC Goudy Sans and swap out all of the Gill Sans in Ethnic Knitting Exploration for whatever that other font is . . . if I can find something affordable. I came out of my Saturday evening type quest with several leads to follow up later. I’m pretty darn sure I don’t want to mix three sans serif fonts, using one solely for the bibliography.

Whatever my solution is, it will probably be invisible to most readers.

(By the way, to the extent that space permits, Nomad Press books contain colophons that let the type-curious know what decisions I’ve made about the typefaces. I usually run out of room and need to give less information than I’d like to. But there are clues.)

Tiny socks and reading notes


I finished a pair of Little Coriolis socks from Cat Bordhi‘s New Pathways for Sock Knitters, Book One (bright  peach, next to the turquoise Little Sky socks). The Coriolis sample’s toes are just right for a baby but way too boxy for my long feet. And I’m not a big heel-stitch fan, although because I’m working through these to change my perceptions of socks I did knit heel stitch on the Coriolis socks, as instructed, thinking all the time about substituting Priscilla Gibson-Roberts‘ short-row heels and toes on this particular design (although Cat offers other toe and heel options in the back of the book, some of which I might find suitable). I didn’t have those impulses on the Little Sky socks.

Also, I am reading Susan Strawn’s new Knitting America, of which
much, much more in future posts. It’s wonderful.

A few odd photographs
and captions were inserted during design and production (including the
staged photo of the older woman and toddler on the cover). Be prepared
to notice and dismiss a handful of peculiarities of this sort (you’ll recognize
them) while luxuriating in the true abundance of Susan’s text and images.

I’m writing a review for Spin-Off and will also go into greater depth here when I have
time. Meanwhile, I’m reading steadily without rushing. And I’ve already
read the book in an earlier draft, so I’m reading AGAIN. It’s an extraordinary piece of work,
and finely done.

Techie note 5: The type’s pretty invisible. Body is a serif font that someone else will be able to identify; I won’t take time to analyze and puzzle it out. Character count per line is good for extended reading, as are type size and leading (vertical spacing).



10 Responses

  1. Hmmm could something so simple as font choice be the problem I’m having getting the Lithuanian characters to display in my blog? Maybe I need to force some Lithuanian text to a different font and see what happens. I wonder if something simple like Arial has “everything”?

  2. BTW, Cat’s book is great. I love the versions of the socks that have the heel stitch on the bottom of the heel, instead of on the back. I always bust holes in the bottom of my socks, not in the back of the heel.

  3. Donna, the Lithuanian characters may not display on another person’s monitor if they don’t have the same font and it doesn’t have the same character set. Arial is pretty likely to be comprehensive, depending on the version you have.

    I haven’t found that heel stitch helps the durability of my heels. Not sure why. . . . Maybe I have really pointy heels. . . .

  4. Thank you for such a fascinating insight into typefaces, I will definitely be looking more closely at the books and websites I read. I always really enjoy your posts and find them very informative and interesting.

  5. Funny you should talk about type. It’s not something I get into detail about, except–some Macreader of my blog is really vocal when something about the settings don’t work for her. It caused me to think more about this, why I change type for the sake of interest and resting my eyes, and why it matters to me. In fact, I recently was reading a book and the type (and the content) were so disconcerting that I just returned it to the library, unread. These things can make a big difference!

  6. I <3 type! I'm not as experienced in it, but I dabbled in studying it several years ago. I think you achieved your goal with ...Discovery... because I hadn't really noticed it, except that it read easily in PDF format 🙂 But now that I think about it, it meshed very well with the feel of the illustrations. In fact, I was surprised when I got to the point where you said the font was chosen before illustrations were begun! So, job well done! 🙂

  7. I will be one of the blog reviewers for Donna’s new book. My review will be about how the books is designed, layout, etc. makes it a good book for knitters. Donna sent me your website and I love the article. This will make my job even easier knowing where you got your inspiration.
    I’m also a graphic designer and love type. I, too, have been leaning more to san serif fonts for text — Gill Sans Serif in particular. I’m glad I’m not alone in this because I too, have almost aways used a serfi font for text.
    Something I’ve seen on the website and also in Knitting for Dummies is poor kerning. I’ve had knitters asf me, what the abbreviation “md” stands for. When I saw the text I had to laugh. What they were reading as “md” was actually “r n d” for round. I can forgive this error on a personal blog, but I have a hard time forgiving the publisher who publishes the “Dummies” books. Maybe they need “Typesetting for Dummies.”

  8. Many of the modern meta-families of text faces – like Nexus and the like, all contemporary and made mostly by European and American designers – are EXCELLENT. For example, take a look at Joshua Darden’s Freight – a titling sans, a micro style for tiny settings, text and display roman – beautiful.

    Myfonts does fill a specific niche and they often have the best prices. That said, Fontshop.com might be a good plae to look for really good, professional families that include ALL the European diacritics. Quadraat is another one you might want to look at – it has display, text, and sans styles. It goes without saying that these all include true smallcaps and all the normal ligatures so you’ll never need to fake them again.

    Note: there is a “type for dummies” book – it’s called The Elements of Typographic Style.

    As for sans for long, continuously-set type: this is a fad and I don’t think fads have any place in book design. Think of the readers, not those who simply look at the book.

    For more personalized recommendations from the designers themselves, go to typophile.com. They’ll give you a half dozen based specifically on printing process / medium, reader demographic and subject matter, your three primary deciding variables.

    -an anonymous typesetter & letterpress printer

  9. Alas, neither Freight nor Quadraat has all of the Lithuanian characters.

    Storm Foundry’s Anselm Sans or Sebastian might work. Anselm’s character set looks deep enough, although reading onscreen I can’t tell for sure if what I need is in the group.

  10. Hmm. You’re right. However, Joshua is a nice guy and might incorporate the Lithuanian characters into the font for you if you asked.

    Mark van Bronkhorst’s Verdigris looks like it might have them; also, Stefan Hattenbach and his compatriots at Fountain should have them in their faces, since they sell so much type to central Europe.

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