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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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Review: Sock Innovation by Cookie A

This months book, Sock Innovation: Knitting Techniques & Patterns for One-of-a-Kind Socks by Cookie A, is one of the first knitting books I ever bought, and one that I love and continue to use to this day (hence the slightly battered appearance).

Sock Innovation by Cookie A

Sock Innovation by Cookie A ©Rachel Gibbs

Background

I started really getting into knitting when I started Uni in 2007 (studying Electronic Engineering). I knit my first pair of socks a year later, from a Knitty pattern (this was in the very early days of Ravelry). They were not a beginners pattern but despite multiple mistakes and poor yarn/needle choice, I finished them on my 20th birthday (and IIRC was late to lectures because I was redoing a too tight cast off).

In October 2009 I bought my first sock book, Sock Innovation by Cookie A. I was attracted to the complex designs, but it’s the technique section that has made it one of my favourites.

The Patterns

Cookie A is famous for her patterned socks (although I seem to be the only person who has never made a pair of Monkeys) and this book has 15 socks full of lace, cables and texture. They are all named after people and I like the stories of how the socks were inspired by the people they’re named after.

Kai-Mei Socks by Cookie A

Kai-Mei Socks by Cookie A ©Rachel Gibbs

Some of my favourites are Vilai, which combines twisted stitches and lace into a very structural design, Cauchy, named after the famous mathematician (and a cat along the way) with a textured zigzag pattern and Kai-Mei with an iconic angled lace panel.

My Socks

The only socks I’ve ever made from Sock Innovation, however, are probably the most complicated: Bex. I love the three different sections of the pattern, and how they fit together into tessellating hexagons. Then, of course, there is the fact that they’re covered in cables and we know I have a thing for cables.

My Bex socks

My Bex socks ©Rachel Gibbs

I made my Bex between February and November 2010 (thanks, Ravelry project page). I used Cygnet Truly Wool Rich 4 Ply, as I was still relying on what was sold in John Lewis, a British department store which has never been particularly good for sock yarn, especially if you don’t want multicoloured Regia. It’s a bit fuzzy for cables, really, and produced quite an inflexible fabric. I had progressed to 2.25mm Knit Pro Symphonie DPNs, though, which was a vast improvement over the remnants of my Mum and Grandma’s metal and casein (did you know they used to make needles out of milk?) mismatched UK Size 14 (2mm) DPN collection which I started on.

I really enjoyed knitting them, though. The charts were complicated but clear, and I really liked the transitions between different parts of the pattern, such as leg to heel flap, something that has inspired my designing.

The Techniques

Sock Innovation is a very unusual book, in that as well as giving you patterns to knit, it shows you how to develop your own sock patterns. It has three sections – sock techniques, stitch techniques and sock design.

Contents page of Sock Innovation

Contents page of Sock Innovation ©Rachel Gibbs

It starts by describing the basic structure of a sock. All the patterns in the book are top down and most feature a flap and gusset heel, so this is what is focused on, although the book does include information on other heel types. One of the most useful things I’ve found is the chart of heel turn numbers for a large range of different stitch counts. Clear photos are included to show the different options. The art of placement is also discussed – how the same pattern can be placed in different ways on a sock for different effects.

Stitch techniques covers inverting stitches (going from knit to purl) and mirroring stitches. how to chart stitch patterns to include repeats and converting from working flat to in the round. It also covers how stitches affect the knitted fabric, which ones tend to be wider, or narrower and how elasticity is affected by stitch choice. It then covers adapting stitch patterns and transitioning between different patterns.

These techniques are then all pulled together into the final sock design section. This covers the important of gauge swatches (spoilers: very important) and how to put everything together to get a sock you like.

Conclusions

I have learnt so much from this book when it comes to what to think about when designing socks, as well as practical tips on how to do it. These are the things that can make a good sock pattern into a great one.

I love the patterns, there are some really attractive ones and while the instructions are concise, they give you all the necessary information. There is only one size option (usually 8″ leg circumference) given for each sock, which is a disadvantage, however, some include tips on how to change the sizing yourself.

If you like knitting complicated socks, and especially if you’ve ever thought of trying to design your own I would definitely recommend this book.

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Review: Cast On, Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor

This is the second post in my knitting book review series, last month I reviewed Lazy Sunday Socks by Jane Burns. I’ve decided to alternate between sock specific books and more general knitting books (which can often be applied to sock knitting). Today I’m looking at Cast On, Bind Off: 54 Step-by-Step Methods by Leslie Ann Bestor.

Cast On Bind Off

Cast On, Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor ©Rachel Gibbs

Most people when they learn to knit start with either the long tail cast on, or the cable cast on and the traditional chained bind off. These are simple and can be used for a variety of projects but sometimes there are better options out there. There are 33 cast ons and 21 bind offs in this book, separated into categories such as basic, stretchy, decorative and provisional. It also includes specialist cast ons, such as double-sided, most often used to start toe up socks, and möbius.

Stretchy Cast Ons

Stretchy Cast Ons ©Rachel Gibbs

I really like that each entry has a characteristics and “good for” section, to help you choose the most appropriate tool for the job. With so many to choose from it can be easy to become overwhelmed but this helps make decisions easy. It also gives alternative names where applicable as often things are known differently across the world, which can be useful if a pattern specifies a particular method that is unfamiliar.

There are clear photo tutorials for each method, showing what the finished cast on/bind off looks like, as well as every step in the process. While the position of the yarn and needles is always very clear, sometimes I wish there was a close up of how the stitches are supposed to look on the needle, so you know you’re doing it right. Being spiral bound means you don’t have to fight to keep the book open and can have it open on your lap while your knitting needles are in your hands.

Double Start Cast On

Double Start Cast On as seen on my Opal Sweet and Spicy socks ©Rachel Gibbs

My favourite cast on for 2×2 ribbing is the Double Start Cast On, I first learned this from a video Nancy Bush made years ago. This is included in the stretchy section (rightly so, this is why I like it for ribbing) and under “good for” is “tops of socks”, which is precisely how I use it, as without a stretchy cast on for top down socks it can be hard to get the sock over the heel.

I really like this book, I find it clear and easy to use. I think it’s perfect for any level of knitter: those who are just starting out and have only just realised there’s more than one cast on and those who have been knitting forever and appreciate having a reminder of things they know exist but can’t always remember how to do (yes, it includes Kitchener instructions), or want to learn new things.

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Review: Lazy Sunday Socks by Jane Burns

This is the start of a series of new monthly blog posts reviewing some of my favourite knitting books. I’m going to begin by looking at Lazy Sunday Socks by Jane Burns. This is a book of five elegant beaded socks, all worked in Eden Cottage yarns.

The Book

Lazy Sunday Socks

Lazy Sunday Socks by Jane Burns ©Rachel Gibbs

I hadn’t made beaded socks before but I like the concept of socks for lazing around in. So often we worry about how our socks will wear and hide them away in shoes and boots. These socks are meant to be seen, and without the friction of rubbing against shoes and being walked around in all day they can use less practical but very pretty beaded designs and luxuriant yarn.

The book is an A5 sized paperback which comes complete with a code for the digital version, which is always a bonus. I prefer to read paper books but, especially for travel knitting, having the digital copy can be really helpful.

The Patterns

The five designs range in complexity – from Sitting in a Rainbow which is mainly stocking stitch with only 16 beads, No Room for Ravers which is simpler than it looks and up to No Mind to Worry. You could choose to make all of them without beads and still have lovely socks, but Jane Burns has placed the beads to accent the design very skillfully. All feature lace and some have cables too.

All the Lazy Sunday Socks patterns

All the Lazy Sunday Socks patterns ©Rachel Gibbs

The patterns are all cuff down, with a flap and gusset heel, which is also my preferred construction. The patterns have very clear charts, but if you prefer written instructions this may not be the book for you. The socks come in at least four sizes and both the finished sock size, and the to fit size are included.

The Yarn

I’ve been a fan of Eden Cottage yarns for a while. In fact, my Falling Petals Socks are made in their BFL Sock. Victoria makes beautiful muted colours in a range of bases, several of which are suitable for sock knitting. They complement the designs in Lazy Sunday Socks very well. Semi solid colours are well suited to the lace knitting and the colours match the feminine feel (I’m sure there are a few men who would like lacy beaded socks but if any type of sock pattern is primarily female, that would be it).

One pattern uses a typical Wool/Nylon sock mix, but the others are either MCN or Merino/Silk. While these yarns would not be recommended for socks that would be worn in work boots or to hike through a rain storm, for the eponymous lazing around they should stand up fine and feel wonderful on your feet. The socks probably shouldn’t be machine washed though, with the delicate yarn and beads. Jane includes tips on choosing yarn and beads to help you get good results.

My Socks

My favourite was the No Mind To Worry Socks and I decided to cast these on last Autumn. I used WooSheeps Doug in Serendipity and Debbie Abrahams size 6 beads in colour 606, both of which I bought at Fibre East in July. The colours work very well together, I love the complex blue/grey of the beads.

My sock

My sock in WooSheeps Doug ©Rachel Gibbs

I had knitted with beads once before, but it was quite some time ago and I appreciated that a guide to using beads was included in the book.  I used the crochet hook method to place the beads, and while using a 0.6mm crochet hook sounds terrifying it wasn’t  too bad apart from when it poked holes in my project bag. The beads are only placed every four rounds and only four beads at a time, which is quite manageable.

It bothered me slightly that the pattern wasn’t completely symmetrical on the foot, but that’s probably just me. Also, be aware that there is a minor errata for the chart.

My first No Mind to Worry Sock

My first No Mind to Worry Sock ©Rachel Gibbs

I’ve only made one sock so far. As much as I enjoyed beaded knitting, I wanted a break (especially as I got distracted by my own designs).  I’m looking forward to getting back to it some day when I’m in the mood to create something pretty and just go with the flow.

Conclusion

I really like Lazy Sunday Socks. The patterns are well thought out and Jane has included some good tips. The photography is beautiful, as are the socks. The book is even the perfect size to fit in my project bag. If you want to give beaded knitting a try I would recommend this book.