Book Review: The Knitter’s Book of Yarn

It’s going to be a bit of a book review season around here for the next month, as I work through the 4 copies that I’ve currently got my hands on for blog reviews. The one I’m going to look at this week has indeed been out for publication for more than 5 months already – but there are so few knitting books that I come across and truly adore without reservation, and this is one of them. Seriously, you need this book. Beg, borrow, steal, put it on your birthday wish list, whatever you have to do…then hug it a little bit.

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The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes accomplishes 2 things: First, it gives you a crash course in yarn education over two chapters of discussion of fibre types and yarn construction. It’s like they extracted the yarn chapter from Vogue Knitting, 1986, updated it, made it more readable, and included photo support from all the yarns we know and love today. There’s nothing here for a knitter looking for technical instructions, so beginner knitters should still look elsewhere for those things. What this book does is explain how and why different yarns behave in different ways, and it does that well.

After reading these first two chapters, you might feel a little bit like you’ve been given a new interpretive guide to yarn shops. You can impress your friends with comments like, “oh, well that yarn is hand-painted. What you’re actually looking for is something hand-dyed,” or, “you know 25% is a very reasonable amount of angora in that merino blend, you should totally buy that if it’s on sale,” or “tsk, those cables really need a 3-ply or at the very least a 2-ply if you can find one, use the single-ply Noro on this stockinette project instead…”

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As if these first two chapters weren’t enough, the second thing this book does is provide you with 40 patterns (when was the last time you picked up a knitting book with 40 whole patterns?), of all kinds. There are scarves, mitts, sweaters, shawls, hats, you name it. They are organized according to the yarn construction – single-ply, 2-ply, 3-ply, and 4-ply and more. Each of the 4 sections explains how these kinds of yarns may be used to full advantage.

The first one out of the gate are the Maine Morning Mitts (click the link for a free download of the pattern), which use a single skein of ‘single-ply’ (not really plied, of course, but you catch the drift) yarn, such as Noro. I’ve never been much of a fingerless-mitt person, but when I saw some single skeins of Noro Silk Garden on sale at a local shop I decided to try these, and they do not disappoint.

Maine Morning Mitts

These are done in a 2×1 rib and use just a hint of shaping around the thumb, which distinguishes them from many other fingerless mitt patterns and provides some extra comfort. They are an easy weekend project and highly, highly giftable.

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Another single-ply project that stole my heart right away was this Cabled Tea Cozy by Jennifer Hagan, which uses kettle-dyed Malabrigio (above), and is waiting to jump into my current projects once I’ve gotten another sweater off the needles. I’ve never been much of an Inanimate Object Knitter, but this pattern has me convinced – and what a great way to use some bright shades and dress up a teapot (which quite frankly gets a lot of use around my house).

At heart I am a Sweater Knitter, and this Cabled Swing Cardi by Norah Gaughn (one of the 3-ply projects) is going to have me searching for Berrocco Ultra Alpaca at a time of year when we in Canada should by rights be casting off the sweaters and embracing the spring temperatures. I love it. The wrap construction, the cabled centre panel, and the lovely drapey yarn – it’s a winning combination.

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The only drawback to this book (I suppose there had to be one) as a selection of patterns is that there are no projects for men. All the sweaters and accessories are meant to be worn by women, with the exception of some intended for children.

Still, there are many, many patterns here to choose from, and these three are just the tip of the iceberg. Since we’re living in a Ravelry world now, I decided to investigate how many projects from this book have already been ‘Ravelled’. Patterns in books don’t tend to disperse quite as fast as projects in magazines or online publications, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was making my notes a couple of weeks ago to find that 75% of the Knitter’s Book of Yarn patterns have been knitted and completed. Many by the dozen. There are books that have been out on the shelf for twice as long that don’t have those numbers.

The Double-Thick Mittens and Norwegian Snail Mittens by Adrian Bizila are two big winners, as are the Maine Morning Mitts which have already been knitted by the hundreds, at least. The Princess Mitts by Jennifer Hagan (cabled fingerless mitts) are also popular, as is the felted Calla Lily Bag by Cat Bordhi. I would be surprised if you didn’t find anything in this book to fall in love with.

Next up in reviews: More Big Girl Knits, A Fine Fleece, and Tweed.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Book Review: The Knitter’s Book of Yarn

  1. looking forward to the Tweed review…..

    I agree on this book – an indispensable reference chocked full of great information and wonderful patterns!

  2. Cyn

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been coveting that book, and my wallet is now very angry that you’ve done nothing to put me off it, but the rest of me is pleased!

  3. Kai

    Thank you for a brilliant review!! It’s much appreciated. I think just for the chapters on yarn, this is worth buying.

  4. Amy

    Great review. I have the book but I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at it het.

    I love that sweater too. WEBS (yarn.com) has Ultra Alpaca on sale right now. (Ask me how I know…)

  5. I am with you 100% on this book. I checked it out from our library system and did.not.want.to.take.it.back. It is on my wish list! LOVE the tea cozy and that Calla Lily bag!
    That Ultra Alpaca… I have some in my stash, bought it last Fall from the lys, it was what… 7.50/skein? I looked a couple of weeks ago and found it to be 17.00? holy moly. Have they upped the yardage? I failed to ‘look’ so shocked that I was.

  6. Question for you, since I have not paged through this book yet. My friend is looking to get back into spinning (she does not knit, but learned to spin at her teenage job as a reenactor) and I figured I’d surprise her with a few books. Do you think this one would be useful for a spinner?

  7. floderten

    I got this book for Christmas from my dad (he picked out two knitting books all by himself – from a list, but no matter) and gobled it up in a few days. Loved all the information there. No sweaters that I wanted to make, but all the fingerless mitts are lovely. :)

    Looking forward to the Tweed review!!

  8. ladyoctavia

    I bought this one for my birthday back in Feb. It is really lovely (though I was hoping for more tech specs on specific yarns – but I found that for wool elsewhere since).

    I can’t wait to hear what you think of A Fine Fleece.

  9. Oh I already really wanted this, it was on the Christmas list and is top of the birthday list and now I’m doing all I can to resist getting over to Amazon right NOW! Great review as ever, thank you :o)

  10. I LOVE this book (I did a little review on my own blog a while back)! It was an interesting read all the way through. I can’t wait to hear about Tweed and Fine Fleece…Those I have not seen yet.

  11. Lin

    Thank you for the review. I have often looked at that book and wondered what it was about! It sounds good.

  12. Thanks for a great review. I don’t have this book yet, but I’ve been hearing very good things about it. It’s now officially on my wishlist!

  13. It’s a great book. I like that cardi pattern too.

  14. Soo

    Great review! I’m another one who has the book but hasn’t yet had a chance to read it. You’ve inspired me to make a start this weekend.

  15. kelebek

    Just ordered the book on amazon. I was already convinced I wanted to read this book, and your review gave me nudge I needed. More big girl knits also managed to jump into my virtual shopping cart, you know to be able to get free shipping!

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