Daily Archives: April 10, 2008

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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