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The Knitter’s Book of Yarn

Filed under: Books,Knitting — folkcat at 10:00 am on Tuesday, October 16, 2007

knitters book of yarn book jacket.jpg

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes

Published by: Potter Craft (Random House)

Acquired by: Free copy from Publisher

List Price: $30.00

Available: Oct. 16, 2007

Every time I sit down to examine a book or product for review, it’s my profound hope that I’m about to make a great discovery. Sometimes, I am at least delighted with the find. Occasionally, I am bitterly disappointed.

I am very pleased to say that today’s review is about a great discovery. If you are a knitter, and you want to better understand what your yarn is, why it behaves the way it does, and how best to show it off, The Knitter’s Book of Yarn is a must-have for your library.


First, though, a disclaimer – though I have been a knitter for almost 40 years; and have been reading (and writing) knit blogs for nearly 3 years; and likewise, have been using online resources for knitting information over those same 3 years; still, I was completely ignorant of the resource created by Clara Parkes known as Knitter’s Review.

If Knitter’s Review is new to you, briefly put, it’s a weekly, online magazine format, which presents how-to articles, as well as reviews and news about knitting books, tools, and especially, yarns. I don’t think there’s anywhere else on the web that offers such in-depth examinations of different yarns, including swatching results, blocking data, how they hold up to washing, and more.

The Book

Now, Clara has taken the passion for yarn that is apparent in her online yarn reviews, and put it all into The Knitter’s Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn. This is the reference book we knitter’s have needed for years.

The knitter is taught everything about yarn, from what the properties of fibers from the different sources (protein, cellulose, etc.) might be, to how they are used in a yarn, to what the knitted results tend to be like. Clara explains how we should evaluate a yarn before buying – what qualities to look for, and how to see them. For instance, I never knew about guard hairs in cashmere. Clara not only explains their presence, but tells us how to see them in the finished yarn, and what it means for the quality of the yarn.

I’ve only read word for word up to page 35, and I think I know more about yarn now than I’ve managed to learn by trial and error in 40 years of knitting.

Section 1 covers Fiber Foundations – the sources and types of fiber. In Section 2, Clara explains the various things that happen to those fibers as they become yarn – from being processed in Mills and Microspinneries, to various methods of dyeing. We’re also taught about some of the ways we can find some of the rare, one-of-a-kind yarns, by seeking out local fiber farms and festivals.

The largest part of the book is devoted to Section 3, Ply Me a River. Here, we not only learn about the properties of different plies of yarn – single, two-ply, chenilles. We are also offered 40 patterns for knitting, each one designed carefully to make the best use of the yarn it’s paired with.

The final section is called Putting It All Together. Here, we find even more valuable information. How to care for and wash all the fiber types discussed in the book. How to remove odors from yarn. What WPI (wraps per inch) means, and how to apply that number, complete with a chart for converting it to a meaningful understanding of the weight of the yarn. An explanation of the Craft Yarn Council of America’s Standard Yarn Weight System. A guide to abbreviations and techniques; a list of online resources for yarn and notions.

If you want to learn more, Clara has included a guide to Recommended Reading that is more than just a simple list of book titles – she discusses each book in brief, including why she will turn to it and what it can teach us.

The Patterns

Although the patterns aren’t the sole reason for buying this book, they don’t hurt its quality a bit. Aside from Clara herself, there were sixteen other designers who contributed to The Knitter’s Book of Yarn. Among them are such instantly recognizable names as Norah Gaughan, Cat Bordhi, and Teva Durham. Other names may be known more from their blogs – for instance, SABLE stasher Amy King of www.spunkyeclectic.com.

I mean that last statement. While I might not be interested in knitting every one of these forty patterns, I didn’t find a single Ugh in the book. Not one. When was the last time we could say that?

The projects run the gamut from home decor, to pet toys, to garments and bags. There is lace, cables, colorwork, felting, and even plain old stockinette. There are items both simple and complex here, so knitters of every skill level should feel satisfied.

Each pattern begins with a listing of materials, measurements, and gauge. Specific yarns were used, and are called out by brand and color number. Because this is The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, we are also told exact fiber content, length, and weight of the skeins, as well as specific information as to what to choose if we want to substitute.

Artyarns Silk Rhapsody (70% mohair, 30% silk; 260 yards [238m]/100g) 1 skein #RH123. If substituting, use 260 yds (238m) of 2-ply worsted-weight yarn, preferably a yarn with shimmer and drape.

Even the visual properties and the hand of the yarn are mentioned, making for a great chance of success for the knitter who picks an alternative yarn.

A paragraph or two at the start of the instructions explains the choice of yarn, and what properties in that yarn influenced the design of the pattern. The instructions themselves are to the point, but inclusive of everything a knitter needs to be told to complete the object.

If you’ve read my other book reviews, you probably know that by now, I’ve usually mentioned the issue of garment sizes. Not this time, though! That’s how good this book is – I like it a lot, and don’t care if the sweaters will fit me as written. And with the patterns including so many items that aren’t fitted garments, there’s a lot to work with here regardless.

It’s All Good

Seriously. Still, here are a few of my favorite projects from the book. As always, click through the picture to see a larger image.

Cabled Tea Cozy
Cabled Tea Cozy designed by Jennifer Hagan

Knit from Malabrigo, you could also use any single-ply worsted-weight yarn. The quality of the Malabrigo being displayed here is how a single-ply yarn will show a sculptural knit such as cables with good definition and stich clarity, yet still have a soft look.

Rhinebeck Hat and Mitts
Rhinebeck Hat and Mitts by Shelia January

Knit with a three-ply yarn (Spirit Trail Fiberworks Bluefaced Leicester), this project shows the effective use of a solid color together with a variegated yarn in Fair Isle knitting.

Cabled Swing Cardi
Cabled Swing Cardi by Norah Gaughan

I love the lines of this sweater – I can imagine it would flatter almost any figure. It’s designed for bust sizes up to 54″ closed, but there’s enough overlap there I believe I could make it work for me with very little modification. Just one change I think I’d make – I’d add a second button, at the top of that collar end on the right front.

The original model shown here was knit from Berroco Ultra Alpaca, though you could use any 3-ply worsted weight yarn.

Wavy Socks
Wavy Socks by Amy King

I like the soft waves of cabling in these socks. I can imagine these moving through the knit blog world like a tidal wave. Expect to see lots of Wavy Socks online in the coming months. The yarn used for the book was Karabella Aurora 4, but it’s suggested you could use any multistrand DK-weight yarn instead.

A Sturdy Book

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn is destined to be a staple in every knitter’s library. The designers of the book knew this, and planned for a book that will be pulled off the shelf and referred to frequently. The covers are sturdy hardbound, with a matte finish. The pages are made of a heavy matte paperstock, just shy of cardstock. Though not spiral bound, the book lies fairly flat when opened on a table.

A lot of thought went into the creation of this book, and it shows. Clara Parkes has clearly, through her work at Knitter’s Review and her own knitting, been preparing to write this book for many years. The designers she’s gathered together have put their hearts and souls into creating beautiful projects that make full use of the yarns’ best qualities.

I am honored to have The Knitter’s Book of Yarn in my library. I hope it stays in print for a long, long time!

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Comment by Elspeth

October 16, 2007 @ 11:09 pm

I love KR. I’ve been a subscriber for a couple of years, and actually like it better than the Knitty Coffeeshop for it’s layout and ease of use. The book looks great, and not necessarily something I would buy otherwise, but after your review I’m going to check it out.

Comment by Amy Boogie

October 18, 2007 @ 8:17 am

What a fantastic review of the book! Thank you for the mentions too 🙂 Would you mind if I linked back to you for this review? I said I’d talk more about the book on my blog but I don’t think I could do a better job than you did.

Comment by Jen

October 21, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

Yeah, what Amy said. What a great review, and thanks for the links!

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