Monday, October 12, 2009
She Had Me at 'Imagine': A Review of The Knitter's Book of Wool
"Imagine if all the wine in the world - red and white alike - were mixed together and sold as generic 'wine'." -Clara Parkes, The Knitter's Book of Wool
I should preface this review with a disclosure, or more accurately three disclosures. First, the links embedded in this post link you to my Amazon store, which means that if you buy through that link I make a small percentage of your purchase. This goes for all of the books in my store, not just the knitting ones, so feel free to shop around. Second, I am holding in my hands books sent to me free of charge for the purposes of review. And last, as if making a dime and getting free books weren't enough, I've also worked for Clara, teaching at her Knitter's Review Retreat last year and again this year. That said, if I don't like something, you won't see it here even if it's free as a bird and the company in question is charming me with all manner of delights. I won't recommend things I can't stand behind. I also won't rip something to shreds here. If I think something isn't what it should be I may share that information with the people who asked for the review, but not you. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's proceed to my review of The Knitter's Book of Wool.
Let me say that this woman knows more about wool than I knew about my children, and I knew my children pretty well when they were small. The information she presents is approachable and applicable to all of the wool arts. We all can benefit from the information within the pages of this book.
I received a sound education in the first 20 or so pages alone, and the information I gleaned was so compelling I just kept on reading. Long past "lights out" pages were turning and my pencil was scritch-scratching away. There is enough information to make you a whiz at wool but not so much that you feel like it's finals week. Clara's comfortable, easy writing style make this a wonderful read for interested fiber folk. As with The Knitter's Book of Yarn, this book had me underlining bits of information that I believe strongly will make me a better knitter, spinner and teacher. In chapter one, What is Wool?, we learn about the structure of wool fibers from scales to crimp and back again. We learn why wool does what it does, and why not all wool is created equal. Chapter two, From Pasture to Pullover, follows the processing of that wool into the yarns we use every day. Skirting, scouring, spinning and dyeing are all outlined here. Knowing what happens to wool from sheep to skein helps us as knitters to evaluate wisely our yarn investments. The chapter ends with an excellent "Wool 101"; a series of quick tips for yarn evaluation. As in The Knitter's Book of Yarn, Clara empowers us to make better yarn choices by learning to be yarn whisperers. We move from wool processing into the wool providers. In Meet the Breeds we learn about the animals that provide our most commonly used wools; what makes them different from one another, how wools are chosen for use, and what the intended function of the wool fibers are. General information on each wool category is presented, followed by specifics about each breed within that category. It's enough information to last a lifetime. A handy list of facts for each breed is given, with data about the fineness, staple length, crimp, luster and suitability of the finished yarn for your intended project. This is very much a spinner's book as well. The final wool-tech chapter, Plays Well With Others, explains how wools can be blended either with one another or with other non-wool and non-animal fibers to create yarns perfect for every use. Luster, halo and warm weather comfort are all touched on. Different fiber types are discussed giving knitters insight into why a specific fiber helps wool to work it's magic on our projects. Just when you think you've gotten every dime you spent out of this book, you discover more - patterns that, as Clara says, "...let you experience everything wool has to offer..." And folks, she's not just saying that! The pattern section begins with a Shakespeare quote: "Joy's soul lies in the doing". I agree, and the range of projects is both expansive and joyful! There are enough patterns in this book to keep any knitter happily busy for a very long time. On my first quick skim through the book, my eyes were drawn to Sandi Rosner's Bella Baby Ensemble, Clara's Sweet Fern Mitts, Sivia Harding's exquisite Tibetan Clouds Beaded Stole and Pam Allen's Comfy Cardigan. The list goes on. There's an adorable family of pullovers; The Three Bears; Mama, Papa and Baby Bear, each knitted in a different yarn yet singing sweetly enough together for the family Christmas photo (get knitting - there's always next year!). Four additional sweater patterns round out the group. Heads and hands are covered with two hat patterns and two hand covering patterns. A trio of sock patterns are presented, and a host of five knit shawls, scarves and stoles. Finally a knitted bag and pillow cover finish off this brilliantly compiled collection of highly knittable items.
Finally, a comprehensive resource list, including hints on washing wool and (dare I say it) moth prevention, helps you find the yarns used in the book. A detailed glossary as well as a list of wool processors, a recommended reading list, designer bios and author acknowledgments round out the book.
In closing, let me say that this book is well worth the investment, as was it's predecessor. Let's hope Clara continues to bring us the best of the best of useful knowledge about the animals and fibers that grace our lives and bring us that joy the Bard talks about above.Now if you'll excuse me, I sense a project needing to be knit...but where to begin? I think we'll start with Fern Leaf Mitts, just in time for Rhinebeck. Or maybe a Baby Bear pullover for Aidan. Although April would be lovely in that little wrap cardigan of Sandi's...stash raid!!