Blog Action Day, part 1 of 2: On not printing color pictures in our books

Yesterday I intended to put up the final post in a series of five about the development of the illustrations for Ethnic Knitting Discovery: The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and The Andes, by Donna Druchunas. Then we had a bit of car trouble that wrenched that plan in a new direction.

Today is Blog Action Day: "What would happen if every blog published posts discussing the same issue, on the same day? One issue. One day. Thousands of voices."

When I heard about the idea of Blog Action Day, I was curious. The topic is one I think about pretty constantly—the environment. On August 18, I signed up to participate. As I am composing this, 15,355 blogs are involved.

So today I’m honoring this previous commitment, although this first of two posts on the environment will contain some discussion of Ethnic Knitting Discovery. I’ll get the final installment in the illustration series up tomorrow. It’s almost ready. If the car hadn’t had a problem, it would have been up on time.

Advice for Blog Action participants looks like this: "What works best is to keep writing as you normally would. Your
audience reads your blog for a reason, you don’t need to suddenly
change your voice, style or emphasis. Simply find an angle on your
regular postings which relates to the environment."

Keeping that in mind, I have two primary topics for today’s pair of posts. This installment pertains to my business, a micro-publishing operation called Nomad Press, and the second installment relates to the challenges of getting around without owning a car where I live. I don’t get along without a car. I know a few people who do, but they have unusual personal circumstances and it still isn’t easy for them. Yesterday’s relatively minor inconveniences once again bumped me up against how hard it can be.

So here’s an environmental question about the books we publish:

Why aren’t there any color project photographs in Nomad Press’s knitting books?

I get asked this question fairly often. And although Nomad’s books do win a lot of awards, our publications are often edged out by books that do contain color. Book-buyers today have come to expect (even to take for granted) large quantities of color imagery. So far, none of the Nomad Press titles has contained color photographs or drawings in its interior (covers are another matter), although our most recent release has been printed with two colors of ink (black and an accent color).

Nomad Press’s books to date include:

  • Ethnic Knitting Discovery: The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and The Andes, by Donna Druchunas (2007, softcover)
  • Spinning in the Old Way, by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts (2006, softcover; ForeWord Book of the Year Bronze Award)
  • Arctic Lace: Knitting Projects and Stories Inspired by Alaska’s Native Knitters, by Donna Druchunas 2006, softcover; ForeWord Book of the Year Silver Award, Independent Publisher Bronze Award, and finalist for Colorado Book Award)
  • Knitting in the Old Way: Designs and Techniques from Ethnic Sweaters, by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson (2005, softcover; 2004, hardcover; Independent Publisher Book Award finalist; ForeWord Book of the Year Award finalist; Colorado Book Award finalist)
  • Riddle in the Mountain, by Daryl Burkhard (Dogtooth Books, an imprint of Nomad Press) (2005, hardcover; Independent Publisher Book Award winner)
  • Simple Socks, Plain and Fancy, by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts (2004, softcover; 2001, hardcover)
  • High Whorling, by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts (1998, hardcover; out of print and replaced by the completely re-envisioned version of the information in Spinning in the Old Way)

We are considering the judicious use of color in some future titles where the material can’t be adequately represented in black and white, although we need to resolve both environmental and cost questions before we take that step.

Right now we don’t use color because we want to stay in control, as much as possible, of our books’ environmental impact and because we can’t afford to print color interiors while doing that.

The good news is that black-and-white illustrations have so far also supported the primary purpose of our books, which is to help readers develop new skills and increase confidence in their own design skills.

We haven’t used color illustrations because we don’t think they are necessary and may even work against our books’ purposes (see also the next section)

I’ll use our newest book, Ethnic Knitting Discovery by Donna Druchunas, as an example.

Ethnic Knitting Discovery is intended to help readers leave
patterns behind and knit sweaters that they design themselves. "Design" here means something easy and rewarding, not a complex process. "Design" in this context requires only the skills that even beginning-level knitters already possess.

literacy became prevalent and, somewhat later, knitting patterns began to be published, all knitters worked without patterns. (For information on the history of written knitting patterns in the United States, Susan Strawn’s new Knitting America is a wonderful resource.)

The ancestors of today’s knitters were smart and creative. So are
today’s knitters, but many of us have forgotten how to work without
training wheels. Part of what we lack is guidance. Part of what we lack
is confidence. Part of what we lack is the willingness to try something
and start over if it doesn’t work (although we certainly don’t avoid ripping when we work from patterns!). We’re in such a hurry to be done . . . even if we’re "process" knitters . . .
that we miss the pleasure of discovering what our own visions can

At Nomad Press, we want to expand, not to limit, readers’ visions of what they can achieve.

Ethnic Knitting Discovery presents a series of templates for small projects and sweaters. Photographs of specific projects would unavoidably narrow the readers’ imaginative reach. If
we showed a sweater on a teen-aged girl knitted at
sportweight gauge in yellow, someone might flip past, thinking "I don’t like
yellow, I want to knit for my toddler who’s a boy (or myself, nowhere near those proportions), and I’d really like
to use chunky yarn."

We’ve made some compromises, of course. Even some of the drawings that we do use place some limitations around perception. For
example, a sweater drawn on an adult man doesn’t need to be a guy’s sweater, although it may be assumed to be one because of the way it’s shown.

Another sweater in Ethnic Knitting Discovery, even though it’s called "For Girls Only" and is drawn on a young girl, could just as well be modified for an adult woman (I’d
like a variant of this one!) or a young boy, although he’d probably want different colors and
different trim, as the book suggests. Even an adult man with a sense of whimsy could enjoy a version of this project.

So we’ve compromised simply by showing sweaters on people. We do want readers to get the sense that the garments can be made for real human beings . . . one advantage of photos, although with photo styling it’s not always easy to tell how a garment really looks even if it’s photographed on a model. (I’ve enjoyed Knitting Daily’s recent "how does it look on real people?"posts.) At the same time, we want to leave ideas of color, gauge, and specific design for the individual reader to develop with the book’s guidance.

We certainly understand the desire to see solid, real-world garments made from these
plans. There are a few photographs on the cover. In addition,
author Donna Druchunas is setting up a web gallery that will let
readers share what they’re making from the ideas in the book. It will be at in the near future. For now, that domain name links to a subpage of Donna’s site, but it will be expanding. (From what we hear, Ravelry may also
be a place to find ideas and inspiration that relate to Ethnic Knitting Discovery as people begin working with the book; both Donna and I are still on the waiting list.)

We haven’t used color illustrations because of environmental concerns

We love color photos. We love heavily illustrated books. Yet Nomad Press
also has strong commitments (1) to environmental awareness . . . and environmental action . . . and (2) to pricing
our books so they are accessible to as many knitters as possible.

The most economical color book printing is currently being done in
Asia, not North America. You can get high quality printing of full-color books done on
this continent, but the cost doesn’t fit many publishers’ profit-and-loss
projections . . . including ours. We have more ideas for books and in order to publish them we need to avoid red ink in the bookkeeping department more often than not.

Asian printers are not yet reliably offering papers that meet environmental benchmarks like those set by the Green Press Initiative. For example, there’s an 11-page PDF here
on Asian printing and the papers that are used and their environmental impact. In addition, a lot of
resources, mostly fossil fuels, go into transporting books . . . which
are heavy . . . across the globe. We transport books. We try not to transport them unnecessarily often or far.

Green Press Initiative offers many recommendations for
environmentally responsible publishing. One is to "embrace the
precautionary principle," which states that "it is better to do
something you are sure is not causing harm than to do something you are
unsure of. When applied to paper, it means that it is better to use
paper that you are sure is not sourced from forests that support
crucial ecosystems or indigenous communities."

We are doing that.

In sum, there are no color photographs of the projects inside this Nomad Press book because. . . .

By using black-and-white illustrations instead of color photographs,
we are encouraging readers to exercise their creative muscles (the
point of the book) at the same time that we are certain that the paper
we are using is not causing specific, preventable harm.

The book was printed by a firm that certifies the sources of its paper and calculates the printing’s environmental impact. We chose the printer for this reason. There is an eco-audit printed on the last page of Ethnic Knitting Discovery.

The first print run of this title, using 50% postconsumer recycled paper, processed chlorine-free, saved:

  • 16 trees (40 feet tall and 6-8 inches in diameter)
  • 6,830 gallons of wastewater
  • 2,747 kilowatt hours of electricity
  • 753 pounds of solid waste
  • 1,479 pounds of greenhouse gases

The greater the percentage of recycled paper, the greater the environmental savings. We are using papers with 30%, 50%, and sometimes 100% postconsumer recycled content (PCW). If we could afford 100% all the time, we would use it. We can’t. It is still more expensive than "regular" paper.

Last year, the first two printings of Arctic Lace, on 30% PCW paper, processed chlorine-free, saved:

  • 24 trees (40 feet tall and 6-8 inches in diameter)
  • 9,959 gallons of wastewater
  • 14.2 million BTUs of energy
  • 1,469 pounds of solid waste
  • 2,815 pounds of net greenhouse gases

The savings categories are slightly different because the information comes from a different printer. The savings amounts per copy vary depending on paper choice, trim size, and page count. But overall, our printing choices are making a difference.

We’re very small. Yet with several print runs of our titles each year, little Nomad Press probably saves a nice-sized grove of trees annually, while keeping some water clean and making the air a bit easier to breathe for a few people and critters and plants.


3 thoughts on “Blog Action Day, part 1 of 2: On not printing color pictures in our books”

  1. I really respect you and Nomad Press for your decisions. It is hard to make environmental decisions and choices work in an economy that doesn’t prioritize that,so that makes Nomad’s choice even more admirable. Good for you!

  2. I applaud your efforts. And, I am grateful that you print within the USA…I certainly would accept Canada, too. I don’t wish to sound prejudiced, but the quality of North American work is far above that of some other publishing/press operations. Cost-effective is not preferable when one has to deal with environmental nightmares, such as the toy industry, for one, is dealing with currently.

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