Book Reviews and Giveaways: Color knitting roundup

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I recently received several books focused on color knitting techniques from publishers for review.  Each book is great in its own way, but all three take very different approaches.  I’ll start with a short review of each book, and then I’ll talk about how they compare to each other.  And then, I’ll have a giveaway for my review copies :).

Book Review: Fearless Fair Isle Knitting

I received a review copy of Fearless Fair Isle Knitting: 30 Gorgeous Original Sweaters, Socks, Mittens, and More by Kathleen Taylor courtesy of Taunton Press.  As the title suggests, this book is specifically about the stranded colorwork technique named after the Scottish Fair Isle.

This book is written in a very conversational tone.  Kathleen’s approach is to reduce the anxiety and stress a new Fair Isle knitter might experience through the use of humor and step-by-step instructions and photographs.  She frequently compares the “fearless way” of Fair Isle knitting with other (presumably fearful and anxious) ways.

Fearless Fair Isle Knitting is essentially organized into two sections.  The Fair Isle Basics chapter covers increasing and decreasing, joining yarn and adding colors, chart reading, using DPNs or circular needles, tensioning for floats, blocking, steeking, and fixing mistakes.  The steeking section is particularly detailed and includes pictures of different methods.  Not only is Kathleen unafraid of steeking, but she even advocates knitting your sweater sleeves together with steeks in between to cut out later.  After reading this section, you will feel fairly relaxed and ready to approach Fair Isle.  (I know I did, and I’ve never had a desire to even attempt Fair Isle knitting before.)

The rest of the book is devoted to the projects.  Each of the remaining chapters features one Fair Isle design which is shown in at least three different projects (except for the complex Dragon Ride, which is only shown on my favorite project, the Dragon Ride Shawl).  There is an interesting variety of projects, including

  • 6 women’s garments (sweaters, cardigans, vests, and the Nordic Snowflake Dress, which I love),
  • 4 children’s garments,
  • 4 bags,
  • 4 hats,
  • 5 mittens/mitts/gloves (including another favorite, Genevieve’s Graduation Gloves, in two variations),
  • 2 pairs of socks,
  • 2 men’s garments,
  • 2 scarf/shawls, and
  • 1 holiday stocking.

The book is very focused on Fair Isle knitting, so Kathleen assumes that the reader has comfort with the basic knitting stitches and techniques, including cast on and bind off methods, increasing, and decreasing.  The patterns include instructions for blocking, assembling, and steeking when applicable.

I would give this book 5 out of 5 stars for an intermediate knitter who has wanted to take the plunge into Fair Isle knitting but was too afraid to do so.  For the general knitter, I would give the book 4 stars.


 Book Review: Knitting: Colour, structure, and design

Trafalgar Square Publishing was kind enough to send me a review copy of Knitting: Colour, Structure and Design by Alison Ellen.  This book is an exploration of knitting design, with an emphasis on construction, fabric structure, and colorwork.

Alison has been a teaching knitting design workshops for 30 years, and the book is written as though you had an inside tour into her classes.  The book would also be of interest to anyone working with freeform knitting.

The Introduction explores different ways of approaching knitting construction.  Alison says,

Experimenting with knitting is not something many of us have time for; it is simpler to follow a knitting pattern.  However, if you enjoy being creative, it is worth putting aside some time to play and see what happens.

If you see some of yourself in that quote, this might be a great book for you.

Knitting from Pre-History to Present reviews the recorded history of knitting and discusses how it was primarily a functional craft up until the end of World War II.

Stitches and How They Work includes illustrations and written and charted instructions for several knit and purl combination stitches, cables, entrelac, lace, zig zags, increases and decreases, short rows, circles and squares, and bias and modular knitting swatches.  Pictures of different samplers are shared and there is explanation of how the fabric texture and structure is impacted by the different techniques and stitch patterns.  Some color play is introduced in this chapter.

Techniques is a brief chapter exploring different methods for holding the yarn and needles.  Alison encourages flexibility here.

Colour features more samplers and explores stripes, slip stitches, Intarsia, and Fair Isle/jacquard knitting.  Here is also where Alison talks about color theory.  She has an interesting 4-step color exercise that is intended as an introduction to design.  She also talks about dyeing basics, including how to wind the yarn into hanks, dye yarn using natural and chemical dyes, and dip and tie dye methods.

The Materials chapter reviews different yarn fibers with an emphasis on natural (animal and plant) fibers.  There is also a brief introduction to spinning, and a discussion about the different ways yarn twists.

Joining, finishing, edges and extras, as the name suggests, talks about techniques for joining, seaming, casting on and bindig off while also providing instructions for button holes, tubular knitting, and preventing holes in your work.  For most techniques in this section, there is an illustration, photo of the hand in action, a swatch, and a written description.

Knitting patterns explains tension (gauge) and the math behind sizing patterns.  The patterns are all for tops and include 6 modular designs, 2 entrelac designs, 3 children’s garments, a shell jacket, and a zig zag waistcoast.  The projects are shown in white space, without models.  There are fairly detailed instructions for construction.

Knitting: Colour, structure, and design is not a book about how to design perfectly fitted sweaters, nor is it a book with stunning patterns that will go viral on the internet.  It is a book written for your inner knit nerd – the one who asks why the yarn, colors, stitches, and textures come together in a certain way.  I would recommend this book for someone who takes a contemplative approach to knitting – who likes to swatch and play around with yarn to see what happens.  If you are interested in learning more about designing, this book will provide you will a lot of background on all of the elements of a knitted fabric.

I would give this book 5 out of 5 stars for a confident knitter who learns well from written descriptions and who likes to create small projects or swatches.  I would give the book 3 out of 5 stars if you are looking for patterns or a “how to become an overnight sensation as a knitting designer” book.


 Book Review: Teach Yourself VISUALLY Color Knitting

I received a review copy of Teach Yourself VISUALLY Color Knitting by Mary Scott Huff from Wiley.  Like the other books in the Teach Yourself VISUALLY series, this book has limited text and emphasizes step-by-step photographs and charts.  This book takes an encyclopedia approach to color knitting and explores many techniques briefly.  Mary assumes you already know the knitting basics and aims to help you differentiate the types of color knitting and provide you with basic skills for each technique.

Why Knit In Color? gives an introduction to color theory and terminology.  The chapter includes a pattern for rainbow reptiles, knit snakes worked in various color combinations to illustrate primary, secondary, tertiary, and analogous colors.

Color Knitting Yarns shares the properties of different animal, plant, and synthetic fibers, with particular emphasis on how the different fibers react to dye and the color options available.  Mary also discusses the structure of the yarn (plys, texture, weight, and dyeing method) – again, with an emphasis on why certain yarns might work well with different types of colorwork.

In Explore Stripes, Mary shares tips for joining new colors and jogless knitting.  She also includes patterns for a striped hat, vest, and turtleneck, as well as 12 color charted stitch patterns using stripes.

Discover Slip-Stitch Patterns starts with swatches showing the possibilities of slip stitch knitting for colorwork.  Mary includes tips for slipping stitches whether working flat or in the round.  She includes a hat, mitten, scarf, and baby cardigan pattern using slip stitches, as well as 12 charted stitch patterns using slip-stitches.

The next chapter, Discover Stranded Colorwork, explores different stranded colorwork traditions such as Fair Isle and Scandinavian.  As you might imagine, since Mary is also the author of The New Stranded Colorwork, this section has a little more detail and includes pictures to demonstrate strand orientation (a fancy phrase for “which yarn goes on top”) and float tensioning.  She also talks about misconceptions about stranded colorwork and shares some more information about steeking and working in the round.  This chapter includes patterns for a blouse, waistcoat, and cardigan, as well as 12 charted designs for stranded colorwork.

In Investigate Intarsia, Mary shares tips for changing colors, organizing your yarn supply for different colors, and weaving in ends.  This section includes patterns for a tunic, sweater, and tea cozy.  There are 8 charted intarsia designs.

Explore Entrelac provides an introduction to the architecture of entrelac and explores why you would use flat or circular methods, whether to knit even or decrease blocks, and then shares tips and step-by-step instructions for entrelac in the round and flat.  The patterns in this chapter, for socks, a tote, and a tam, are all worked in the round.

The next chapter, Make Modules, explores modular construction using squares, rectangles, triangles, and curved shapes.  Mary discusses changing colors, size, and knitting direction within one module to create different effects as well as joining methods and edgings.  This chapter includes patterns for a scarf, a shoulder bag, and a skirt, as well as  12 charted colorwork patterns for modules of different shapes.

In Embrace Embellishment, Mary shares ideas for adding bits of color to other projects using embellishments.  She defines embellishments as functional, decorative, structural, integral, and/or applied, and provides examples of each type.  The patterns in this chapter are for a cloche with a knitted applique flower, a cardigan with yarn embroidered details, and a fish shaped handbag with colorful fins, as well as 12 embellishments including a tassel, flowers, embroidery designs, and edgings.

Enhance Your Color Knitting Skills focuses on the technical details which will improve your color knitting.  This chapter explores steeking, hems, chart reading, buttons, cast on and bind off methods, seaming, wet splicing to join yarns, and blocking.  These techniques are transferable to other knitting projects.  The book ends with an Appendix which includes the list of terms for pattern abbreviations, a bibliography, and a list of suppliers.

This book provides an overview of different color knitting techniques, and can serve as a nice pictorial reminder of different tips and tricks.  As with most books that attempt to cover a lot of ground, there isn’t enough detail in any one section to serve as a definitive guide.  The projects are varied and each demonstrates a particular technique.  This book is helpful as a reference guide but may not have enough detail in some sections for a newbie to color knitting.  If you learn best from photographs and can piece together the steps in your mind without a lot of text, this will be a great book for you.  If you have some exposure to different colorwork techniques but need to be reminded of tips and tricks, this would also be a helpful book.  I give this book 4 stars for an intermediate knitter looking for a single book to explain different colorwork techniques with plenty of patterns and stitch examples.


The Comparison

As you can probably tell from my reviews, each of these books is really targeting a different knitter.  All three books are directed at intermediate knitters, and none includes any information about “the basics.”

While all three are technique books, I would say that Fearless Fair Isle Knitting: 30 Gorgeous Original Sweaters, Socks, Mittens, and More has the strongest pattern collection.  The other two books primarily use the patterns as a vehicle for demonstrating a method or technique.

Fearless Fair Isle Knitting is only exploring one technique, so you would need a great interest in Fair Isle/stranded knitting to be engaged by it.  Teach Yourself VISUALLY Color Knitting is a primarily visual exploration of different color knitting techniques that can serve as a quick reference guide.  Knitting: Colour, Structure and Design gives a much deeper exploration into knit fabric.  This is a book that you will need to sit down and read, but where you will learn a lot that can be useful for any project.

As far as writing style, Fearless Fair Isle Knitting feels like your funny friend is teaching you a new technique for your birthday; Knitting: Colour, Structure, and Design feels like you won a free private lesson with an accomplished designer and teacher; and Teach Yourself VISUALLY Color Knitting is more about the images than the text, so you don’t really get a sense of the author’s “voice.”

If I didn’t live in New York City apartment, I would probably keep all three in my collection!  But, since I have limited bookshelf space, I decided to keep the most general book, Teach Yourself VISUALLY Color Knitting, because it would be helpful to show in my knitting classes.

Full disclosure: A free review copy of each book was provided by the publisher. Although I accept free books for review, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review.  My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.

The Giveaways

Since shelf space is at a premium, I’ll be giving away my review copy of Fearless Fair Isle Knitting, courtesy of Taunton Press, and Knitting: Colour, Structure and Design, courtesy of Trafalgar Square Publishing.  These giveaways are open to all readers here on Earth (intergalactic shipping is just getting too costly).  Enter by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, June 23, 2012.

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