Book Review & Interview by Kathryn Vercillo
Part 1: Book Review + Giveaway
If you only crochet and don’t knit, then you might glance over a book titled The Knitter’s Book of Yarn. It would be a mistake to do so. Subtitled “The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn,” this book is the single most comprehensive guide that you could ever come across to help you better understand the fiber that you work with. Whether you knit, crochet, weave, or even just want to learn about yarn from start to finish, this is the go-to book for your fiber education.
Author Clara Parkes is not just a knitter who wanted to write about yarn. She is, first and foremost, a yarn expert. Her website previously named her a “wool whisperer” which is certainly accurate because she has so much knowledge about wool fibers that she can tell you about almost anything. (She’s also authored a terrific book of knitting essays called The Yarn Whisperer.) If you head to the website today, you’ll see that “wool whisperer” has been replaced by “wool advocate.” This really speaks to the depth of not only her knowledge, but her passion, for the subject. Of course, wool isn’t the only yarn that we knit or crochet with, and the book itself goes into great depth about all different types of fibers. If you love wool, great, but if you’re a fan of plant-based fibers such as cotton or even synthetic yarn, you’ll find plenty of attention to devoted to all of their details as well.
What You Can Learn from This Book
So, what are you going to find in The Knitter’s Book of Yarn? Well, with 250+ pages in the hardbound copy, there’s not much you won’t find here about yarn! But Clara sums it up best at the end of the book’s introduction where she writes,
“By the time we reach the end of our journey, you will have a much better understanding of yarn, how it’s made, who makes it, how it gets to you, and what it longs to become in your hands.”Clara Parks
There are four sections in this book:
- First, Clara begins with “fiber foundations” where we learn about all different types of fibers including animal-based, plant-based, and synthetic materials.
- Then Clara goes into great detail about how yarn is made. If you’re interested in what makes a yarn organic, how mills differ from microspinneries, or how color gets into yarn then this is the section you’ll love most.
- The same fiber can become a very different yarn depending on ply, so section three tells us all about that. This is where you’ll learn about texture, boucle, brushed yarn, and felting. This is also where all of the book’s knitting patterns are located.
- Finally, we’ll “put it all together” with extra information ranging from figuring out Wraps Per Inch (WPI) to learning how to properly wash different fiber types.
Four Types of Fiber
If you only had time to read the thirty or so pages relating to fiber types at the beginning of the book, then you’d still have gotten your money’s worth. There is so much rich information in this section. For example, did you know that there are two types of plant-based fibers: cellulose (like cotton and linen) and cellulosic (such as rayon)? The difference is in the processing.
Clara calls animal fibers “protein fibers” and teaches us all about the different types of animals and their hair. We read at HairClassy that animal hair has scales and that the varying thickness of those scales affects the smoothness and reflectiveness of the resulting fiber. We learn all about:
- different types of sheep yarn
- mohair vs. cashmere (which both come from goats) and cashgora, which comes from an attempt to breed those two goats
- pygora and pashmina, which are also goat types
- angora, from bunnies
- yarn from camelids (camel, alpaca, llama, guanaco, and vicuna)
- qiviut yarn, which comes from the musk ox
- yak, opossum, and silkworm yarn
Learning all about the yarns means that each section includes information about the animal’s hair, how it’s harvested, where in the world it usually comes from, what it looks like in yarn and in yarn blends, and how to knit with it. The latter information isn’t specific to crocheters but offers some helpful insights. For example, Clara mentions that cashmere tends to pill and grow thin over time, so some people don’t like to use it for socks – which is relevant whether you knit or crochet those socks.
Clara goes on to give us the same in-depth information about plant-based fibers (including bamboo, soy, and corn yarn) and synthetic yarn (such as polyester and acrylic.)
All the Steps of Making Yarn
Clara didn’t just read a book about how yarn was made. She traveled the United States with wool, taking it through all of the different steps of the process, and talking to experts everywhere in order to gain a thorough understanding that she passes along in this book. (Learn more about this adventure in the interview below when she discusses the Great White Bale project.)
In this section, we learn the difference between large yarn companies, small mills, and even smaller micro-spinneries, which are sometimes community-based coops. We learn about fiber farms and fiber festivals.
Plus, we learn a lot about yarn. We learn about mill ends (which are bits of yarn that you can buy at a bargain). If you want to know what organic means or what a minimally-processed yarn is, then you’ll get the answer here. If you’re curious about how to define a hand-dyed yarn or what it means to be “dyed in the wool” then this section will explain it. Oh, and you’ll get to see lots of lovely photos of yarn in this section (and all throughout the book.)
How does this information help you as a crocheter beyond just satisfying curiosity? It tells you a lot about the yarn that you might work with which helps you make the best decisions for each project. For example, Clara shares,
“Knit up, worsted-spun yarns tend to have a crisp, clear stitch definition that’s ideal for stitchwork in which you want a vivid, sculptural effect. The effect is slightly muted in two-ply yarns, where the visible ply definition can soften the stitches; but the more plies you add to the yarn, the fuller and more high-relief your stitches become.”Clara Parks
While not all of the notes about how knitting works up will apply exactly to crochet, most of them are relevant. Oh, and by the way, if you’ve ever wondered what “worsted” means in yarn – beyond just being the most commonly used yarn weight – then this book answers that, too.
Plies and Projects
The bulk of the book is devoted to learning about yarn plies, which also means learning about yarn texture and drape. This section also has forty knitting patterns. If you both knit and crochet, then you can enjoy working on the projects in this book to really get a sense of what Clara means when she explains the ply information applicable to each project. However, even if you only crochet, you can still get a great sense of how yarn works by reading through the notes here.
For example, in explaining two-ply yarns, Clara shares in great detail why this type of yarn is perfect for lacework. (It has to do with the airiness and effect of shadows.) This explanation is followed by a variety of two-ply knitting projects including several wraps, cardigans, and socks. Each project explains a little bit more about how two-ply yarn works in different weights. If you knit, you can also learn how it works in different stitches.
A few of the knitting patterns in this book also incorporate some crochet. For example, a three-ply cabled swing cardi closes shut with crochet ties. A four-ply patchwork blanket has a single crochet edging for the border as does the neck and armholes of a sleeveless top. This demonstrates that the information in the book applies to crocheters even though the projects are geared towards knitters.
The book ends with a glossary, which defines more than 100 yarn terms. If you learn each definition in that glossary, then you’ll already have a strong working knowledge of yarn that you can carry forward into your work.
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1 winner will be chosen from the comments on 17 January, 2020.
Winner: Nancy Duff