Kaffe Knits Again by Kaffe Fassett
Published by: Potter Craft (Random House)
Acquired by: Free copy from Publisher
List Price: $35.00
Available: Oct. 2, 2007
I come to this book with a bit of a disadvantage. I am familiar with the general style of Kaffe Fassett’s designs for knitting. But I have never owned, nor had access to, any of his books.
The one thing I do know is that Kaffe Fassett is known for color. Rich, joyous, color. His inspirations often come from paintings, tapestries, fabrics, and other antique sources.
His new book, Kaffe Knits Again, is typical Kaffe Fassett. The colors and visual textures are like a wedding cake to someone used to eating Ho-Ho’s.
The 24 designs presented here are not completely new. They are actually some of Kaffe’s older designs, re-invented, re-imagined, and updated for this publication. If you’re familiar with his previous work, then, much of the material in this book may seem familiar to you.
As Kaffe explains in the introduction, he has always been
disappointed when [his designs] are dismissed by even experienced knitters as too difficult to attempt. With this book, I am giving all nervous knitters the opportunity to try out color knitting. Using current Rowan yarns, I’ve reinterpreted some of my favorite patterns from years past that deserve a second chance.
Many of the patterns have been transformed from coats and sweaters into easier projects like scarves, throws, shawls, or cushions…There are several simple two-color-a-row designs as well as more challenging fare.
And there we have the premise of this book – not just a re-hashing of old designs into something newly marketable, but a reinterpretation to make them more accessible to more knitters.
Who’s the Book For?
Kaffe Knits Again is, on one level, eye candy. The first section of the book is pure coffee table art, with high quality photos and printing displaying Kaffe’s designs to their best advantage. The setting for the photo shoot, Charleston House, was apparently something of an artists’ colony in the UK in the early 1900’s.
A great deal of attention was given to the layout and design of the book. The cover is not a paper jacket – it’s full-color photography skinned directly on the hardcover binding. I imagine this will stay good looking far longer than paper would.
At that level, this book is for anyone who loves looking at colorful, rich art. I could happily keep this book on my table and just browse through it, enjoying the great images.
As to knitters, it’s always been my contention that this stuff isn’t hard – it’s just that some variations on our craft have more steps involved than others. Kaffe’s multi-color designs count among the more involved, even in this version designed to make his projects less intimidating.
Don’t let the colors scare you! Multi-color knitting is no more complicated than making a sweater from multiple knitted pieces is. You’re just following a chart – much as you would for counted cross-stitch or needlepoint – and placing the correct color of yarn in each stitch, as instructed.
The experienced knitter will have an easier time working these designs, of course. But the adventurous beginner, who is willing to take the leap of faith and believe that she or he can do this, will find success here as well.
The instructions for the projects in Kaffe Knits Again are well written. Full measurements are given for both the body being fitted, and the sweater you’re knitting. Needles required are called out in both US and metric sizes.
Gauge instructions are quite specific as to what stitch pattern and needle size to use. The special note “To save time, take time to check gauge.” is an appropriate reminder to all of us who tend to take shortcuts. These designs might suffer badly if your gauge is off even a smidge!
I will grant you that I haven’t read the instructions line for line, cover to cover. But what I’m seeing is very detailed, very concise, with little left to the imagination of the knitter. These instructions were written by someone who wants the knitter to succeed.
Many knitters will never have worked with a Fair Isle or Intarsia chart before. Again, the instructions are very precise – at the point in the knitting where you must begin using the chart, the first two rows are usually spelled out in text for you as well, to help you establish the pattern.
The charts given are as large as practical, usually spanning a full two-page spread. Still, many of the boxes and symbols are small – it would probably be advised to photocopy and enlarge the charts for easier reference while knitting.
There is a traditional “Table of Contents,” but also, at the beginning of the “Gallery of Designs” we find this photographic index. I love books that include this feature – it makes it easy to see at a glance which design you want to jump to.
The sweaters in this book are in the average range for most knitting patterns, with most women’s designs sized for a 36 to 40 inch chest, and men’s up to a 44 inch chest. Some of these designs have up to 5 or 6 inches of ease built in, however, so it’s worth studying the numbers carefully to see if the sweaters might work for you after all.
Some minimal information is given in the back in reference to sizing, but it speaks more to choosing the correct size for you – and not how to re-size the patterns to fit a larger or smaller body.
All designs in this book were created for Rowan yarns, which should come as no surprise – Kaffe has worked with the company since 1981. In case you wish to make substitutions, a section at the back of the book gives full specifications for each yarn used, making it easy to match those qualities with an alternate choice.
The Best of the Best
First, I must beg some forgiveness for the quality of these photos. The pages in this book are high-quality printing, which means a high reflection factor, too. I was forced to photograph them without a flash, and the resulting images are somewhat less focused than I care for.
I recognized the inspiration for this sweater even before I read the descriptive text – kilim carpets. I like how it’s interpreted here. The pattern could easily be adapted for a bag or cushion as well. And Kaffe makes a great model for his own designs.
Another pattern that I recognized, Kaffe found this graphic on a bathroom floor in an American hotel. I once had it on my floor as well, in a former apartment bathroom. Both Kaffe’s and my versions were in black and white tiles – I love this adaptation with Kaffe’s signature color style.
Inspired by “an ancient carpet,” the Gridlock Pillow and Throw look refreshingly modern and vintage at the same time. I can also see re-doing this as a quilt – I wonder if Kaffe did that in any of his quilting books?
Foolish Virgins Scarf
I think this may be my favorite project in the whole book. I love that it includes a little of everything. There are the figures of the virgins, some tumbling blocks, a little woven look. And all in those rich Kaffe Fassett colors. There are seven charts used to create this masterwork – if the project as presented seems a bit intimidating, Kaffe offers a suggestion to “take any one of the seven charted patterns and…use it for a cushion cover, shawl, or throw.”
That’s a great reminder that this book is about more than just knitting the patterns as written. Knitters are encouraged to borrow, adjust, adapt, and make something other than the suggested finished project. If a whole sweater seems too much for you, take a snippet of the charted pattern and practice on a pillow first. Soon enough, you’ll be stepping up to the plate and trying the sweater itself.
On the other hand, sometimes a knitter wants to dip their toe in the pool without also having to dig the hole for it themselves. As a simpler project, Kaffe offers his classic color sense in Caterpillar Stripes – an entire sweater knit with only one color on any row. Instead of a chart with a box for every stitch, the instructions for this sweater have a table listing the color of yarn to use for every row.
Some of my other favorite projects included the Houses Bag – a shoulder tote with a bold graphic of a house and checkerboard borders; the Moody Blues cushion, adapted from a sweater design; and Polka Dots, a zippered cardigan worked in white polka dots on a background of wide, vertical, pastel stripes.
This could be a book for just about anyone who loves color and visual texture. Some of the designs look cute and vintage; still others look very modern. Simply changing the colors can create an entirely different look for any of these items, and Kaffe encourages that with suggestions scattered throughout.
As a large woman, the sizes clearly won’t work for me. But you know what? I don’t care – I love the patterns, I’m infatuated with the colors. I can easily see adapting some of these charts to a sweater pattern that will fit me. And then there’s always the scarves, throws, and pillows to knit. I have a feeling my Ravelry queue may become a little overloaded!