Review: The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes

There’s nothing I like more than geeky knitting books. I don’t mean this in the sense of patterns based on sci-fi or scientific concepts (although I like them too), I mean being geeky about knitting, getting really technical about how things work and why. The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, in Clara’s words, shows you how to be a “yarn whisperer”, to understand the fundamental differences between yarns and how this will affect your finished object.

The Knitter's Book of Yarn

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes ©Rachel Gibbs

The book has four sections: Fiber Foundations (the book uses American terminology and spellings so when quoting I will too), Making Yarn, Ply Me a River (which has patterns) and Putting it all Together. It is a book packed with information and can either be read straight through or dipped into at your leisure if you want information on a specific type of yarn.

Section 1: Fiber Foundations

Endpapers of The Knitter's Book of Yarn

I love the endpapers of The Knitter’s Book of Yarn ©Rachel Gibbs

This section talks about the fibre that is used and is split into protein fibers, cellulose fibers, cellulosic fibers and synthetic fibers. It goes into detail about the different animals that can be used, talking about differences in scales, micron count, staple length and what that means about warmth, elasticity, felting and water absorption. It explains why, lovely though it would be, you don’t want a bulky sweater made of qiviut and why one made of mercerised cotton wouldn’t keep you warm.

I like that it talks about the history of where the fibres came from – how alpacas were nearly rendered extinct by Spanish conquistadors and the struggle to produce artificial silk. This is not strictly relevant for knitting purposes but I find it interesting.

Section 2: Making Yarn

Section 2: Making Yarn

Section 2: Making Yarn ©Rachel Gibbs

While the first section helps you to decide on a type of yarn, the second helps you decide between specific yarns on sale. Why you might prefer one brand over another, and how many indie dyers are using the same base. As the author is American, when talking about specific mills and fibre festivals, they are all US-based. It is also ten years since the book was written and so while the concepts remain the same, some of the mills may not longer be operational and some yarns discontinued.

This section also covers different dying techniques and how this affects the colour of the knitted object. It contains warnings on pooling, bleeding and dye lots, all things that are a good idea to think about before you spend hours knitting.

Section 3: Ply Me a River

The way the yarn is spun (worsted or woolen) and the concept of plies is introduced in section 2 but expanded here. This section is split into number of plies and suggests yarns and projects that are suited to that type of yarn. Specific yarns are mentioned, but also advice is given on substituting.

Some patterns use charts which aren’t always as readable as they could be, since a lot of the page is taken up with the key. None of the patterns are particularly complicated, but there is often more than one size given and they seem to be clearly written. For shawls it’s indicated if the measurements are before or after blocking, and sometimes both are given which is useful.

The patterns use a range of yarns – commercial and small-scale, all different types of fibre. Again, being American, many of the yarns are unavailable here in the UK (or have been discontinued) but as the point of the book is to explain what it is about the yarn that makes it suitable for the pattern, this should make finding alternatives fairly easy.

Putting It All Together

The final section contains tips on washing, specific to the different fibres and including how to get rid of odors and moths. It then talks about the different yarn weights and has a handy chart of the standard yarn weight system (with the numbers in a picture of a skein). A glossary is then included, which is handy as, although terms are explained when they are introduced, it’s useful to have a central resource.

Conclusions

This isn’t a book for everyone. If you’re happy petting yarn and don’t really care why it’s so soft and cuddly or don’t want to do a lot of reading to find out why your latest project is pilling, or wearing through, or hanging oddly then carry on knitting and don’t worry about it. The patterns are ok, but probably not worth buying the book for.

If however, you’re like me and love the technical side of things (once an engineer, always an engineer) then I would recommend The Knitter’s Book of Yarn. It will help you understand the fundamentals of yarn and what to expect when you encounter something new. While it is a little out of date and American focussed, this doesn’t change the principles. I find the style engaging and the concepts explained well.

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