Sunday, 4 May 2008

A Fine Book

I have a new book, it is A Fine Fleece: knitting with handspun yarns, by Lisa Lloyd,just published by Potter Craft in the U.S., ISBN 978-0-307-3334683-4. I'd seen a couple of brief reviews of this book and thought that I'd buy it on the basis that if I didn't like it I could probably find another home for it without too much trouble.

It arrived a couple of days ago, from Amazon U.K. (for £12.59 it was the last copy in stock, and now strangely they now suggest it isn't yet printed - weird?) and I'll be keeping it. I like it. It's basically a patterns book. Did I need a patterns book? No, not really. But I think this book is a bit special. It's also about preparing and using handspun yarns and about choice of yarn for a particular design.

The author is an experienced knitter and knitwear designer learnt to spin quite recently. That's just about the opposite to me – I learnt to spin so had to re-learn knitting!

It's not a book about spinning, but she does give her thoughts on spinning the yarns for the projects in this book, and I found it good to read. I love good writing, I adored Shakespeare at school and then studied English Language and Literature at University. Nowadays I find that too many books seem to have been written in a rush, barely edited and don't read well. Lisa Lloyd doesn't use words just for effect, every word has meaning. She has interesting things to say about spinning and knitting and there's an underlying sense of good humour. She seems to love her subject and also love writing about it. She sees herself as a storyteller, punning on the word “yarn”.

This is from her introduction to the book:

After more than thirty years of knitting everything from acrylic to buffalo, I know one thing: It's all about the yarn. And so my storytelling begins.

This is the right book for me at this time because I'm working at understanding yarn and fibre choices for knitting and weaving. I'm also interested in planning better – thinking more about the end purpose before I start spinning.

If you need help with learning to spin, you need to work through an instruction book (or class) first. However, anyone who has mastered the basics of spinning can prepare their own yarn for her patterns as the yarns she uses are basic 2-ply semi-worsted. She uses some blends of fancy fibres for some of the patterns and provides good information on how to blend fibres and on her own fibre choices. One idea I liked was adding a little angelina fibre to fine wool for a lace scarf, giving a delicate sparkle.

Strangely for a pattern book, this book is about breaking rules. It's about how to make choices and decisions for yourself, whether you buy a yarn or spin the yarn you want for a particular project yourself.

"The first rule of knitting is that there are no rules." (p.14)

Each pattern is shown knitted in a handspun yarn and in a commercial yarn, emphasising the freedom to chose. Yarn characteristics are properly described – how much yarn, the weight and length of commercial yarns used so it is easy to make substitutions. She makes it clear that the most important thing – whether you use handspun or commercial yarn - is to knit a swatch not just to check needle size but also to make sure the yarn looks right in the stitch pattern.

"Classic design never goes out of style". (also p.14)

The 26 patterns are traditional in style: cabled sweaters, a couple of lace scarves, a hat, socks, cardigans, jackets and vests (waistcoats). The styling has little contemporary touches and the stitch patterns have a fresh look to me – traditional and yet a bit of originality about them. They look simple, but a bit special at the same time. All the patterns are graded for intermediate beginner, intermediate or experienced knitters and she explains clearly what these categories mean by giving examples of the type of garment you might have knitted before. I'm just about “intermediate” – this is exciting progress, 12 months ago I was definitely “beginner”.

The resources section at the back of the book is very good for book recommendations, but the suppliers listed and commercial yarns are all U.S. If you are in the U.K., and don't spin yourself, then here's a little list of interesting spun yarns for traditional knits offered by small businesses:

UK Alpaca (yarn from fleece of Alpacas farmed in the U.K.)

Garthenor Organic Pure Wool (organic wool yarns from named sheep breeds).

Moondance Wools (spun from natural coloured fleeces from their own multi-coloured flock of Shetland sheep).

Wingham Wool Work (take a look at the Aran weight yarns from British sheep breeds and 5 ply gansey yarns).

For sources of fleece for handspinners in the U.K., and sources of spinning wheels and tutors, see those listed by Chris Jordan at her handspinner's resources page.

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