Friday, October 28, 2016

Book Review: The Knitter's Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn

Title: The Knitter’s Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn

Author: Lorna Miser

Date: 2010

Publisher: Crown

ISBN: 978-0-8230-8552-1

Length: 144 pages including one-page index

Quote: “[H]and-dyed yarns…require extra thought and care to make them look as pretty when they’re knitted into projects as they do in the skein.”

When choosing this as one of the books to purchase with an Amazon giftcard I received from another site for which I write, I said that I’d bought Faith Hope Love Knitting, sold a project I knitted from that book the first day I displayed it, and expected good things from Lorna Miser’s second book. So, the question is: Was this book as good as I expected? and the answer is: Better! I expected “excellent”; I got “amazing.”

My pattern hoard contains some other books about knitting with multicolored yarns and/or scraps (and, as in the case of Kaffe Fassett, the multicolored yarns knitters can create by tying and/or splicing together leftover ends of yarn from our stashes). Several of them are good. Some, like Fassett’s Glorious Knitting (or Glorious Knits; same book, multiple printings in different countries) are excellent. Glorious Knitting/Knits was a knitting revolution in its day and is still a source of “glorious inspirations” (not to be confused with Fassett’s multi-arts-and-crafts book, Glorious Inspirations). Then Cheryl Potter and Alexis Xenakis put together Handpaint Country, another glorious knitting pattern collection. But for some knitters I think it’s fair to say that The Knitter’s Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn may be even better.

Is that possible? Apples and oranges, do I mean? Maybe…but if you’ve learned the basics of how to knit, and are specifically interested in knitting with multicolored yarn as distinct from knitting with more than two yarns per project, this is the book to buy. It contains as many patterns as the average knitting pattern book, at least one pattern in all the standard categories (pullover, cardigan, kid sweater, baby sweater, hat, sock, mitten), and also a gallery of stitch patterns that work especially well with multicolored yarn, with a combination of two (or more) coordinating multicolored yarns, and with a combination of one multicolored and one solid-color yarn.

That’s a special, new category of pattern book. I’ve seen the occasional article in Knitter’s, Threads, and Interweave Knits magazines that discussed this specific kind of knitting. Barbara Walker’s classic Treasuries furnish some hints (on which Miser has drawn). Yarn manufacturers have printed patterns that fit into this category in the leaflets displayed along with the novelty yarn of the season in wool shops, and occasionally on skein wrappers.

However, in my 25 years as a pattern hoarder, I’ve not seen another pattern book that either attempts or achieves what this one does. Designers who write books usually skirt the topic of using multicolored yarn because multicolored yarns tend to be novelty yarns. Designers who do venture into this topic, as in Handpaint Country, tend to provide examples of how multicolored yarns worked for somebody, but not try to explain how to make new multicolored yarns work for you, some other year. I hadn’t thought new ground remained to be broken in the field of pattern books for hand knitting. Miser has broken it.

How many of the patterns in this book gave me that delightful “must knit” feeling? All of them…because, even though I don’t like vests and feel no desire to knit vests, Miser’s vest pattern comes with enough examples of alternative patterns and techniques to inspire me to use the pattern  in sweaters, hats, or blankets yet to be designed as appropriate yarn comes along. Meanwhile, er um, anything you could do if you were able to find and afford the appropriate fabulous hand-dyed multicolored yarn, if you’re an Old Knitter, you can probably do with your stash. You’d rather do it with a different yarn from Lorna's Laces, if you could afford to buy that yarn, just to show respect—but if you don’t have the money, you can get a similar effect out of your stash. (Actually, I got into multicolored “magpie knitting” out of a desire to help a long-gone wool shop find suitably lovely ways to use up the lovely yarns left in their stash at the end of each season…in 1989...)

So, if you like madly multicolored knitting and want to go beyond plain knitting, fairisle, and jacquard, this is the book you must have. Run don’t walk. Order a “new” copy from your local book and/or wool store if you can.

What’s not to love? I always spell this out. In this case, I shouldn’t have to. “Madly multicolored” is what some other knitters would not love about this book. They’d be happier with a collection of one-color patterns like, maybe, Viking Knits. Sometimes I like to knit that sort of thing, too.

Also, as noted in my review on Amazon...The Knitter's Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn is for people who already know how to knit one, purl two, increase, slip one and pass the slipped stitch over, and so on. If you need those techniques spelled out and illustrated, you may need to consult the person teaching you to knit or work through a beginner-oriented book first.

Knitting books tend to be marketed more slowly than novels. Publishers print fewer copies, fewer sellers distribute the books, and new copies stay on the market for years. So, Miser's books are not recommended for purchase as Fair Trade Books. You can still buy them as new books, and you should, to show respect. (Though I've not yet read them, to show additional respect I'll also mention Miser's new books, Knit Pink and Pick the Pieces.)