Totally Unsolicited Book Review: The Knitter's Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes

I just bought The Knitter's Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes with a gift card a very dear and generous friend gave me for my birthday. I read it cover to cover and enjoyed it so much, I've decided to review it (or, rather, sing its praises) on this here blog. Understand that no one put me up to this. I got no freebie copies from a publisher. I'm just doing it 'cause I want to.

Some books hit you with the first line, like when Jerry McGuire said "You had me at 'hello'". For me, there are a few works of fiction that hooked me from the very first words, books like Lolita ("Lolita,light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.") and Paradise by Toni Morrison ("They shot the white girl first."). You wouldn't think a book about yarn, a reference book no less, would have the same effect, but this is how Parkes opens the Introduction: "All knitterly creation stems from one simple element: yarn. It is the baker's flour, the jeweler's gold, the gardener's soil." I read that, and I was hooked.

This book is not about knitting, but about, well, yarn. Where it comes from, how it's spun, plied, and dyed, how different yarns behave when knit, worn and washed. Not that I ever claim to be an expert, but I thought I knew a pretty decent amount about this stuff. I know the difference between regular and superwash yarn. I know that some yarns are more elastic than others. I know that merino pills, that silk stretches, and that cotton is heavy. But I didn't know why, and that's precisely what this book is about, and more. If you ever wondered why some silk stinks, or how they harvest qiviut fiber from a musk ox, or the difference between baby and royal alpaca, or how chenille yarn is milled, then you should read this book. If you've never wondered these things but you're at all interested in knitting and fiber, you should read this book anyway.

Information is not the only thing you'll find in this book, though. There are many color photographs of various yarns and swatches, and there is a substantial pattern section as well. The book includes 40 projects by different designers that showcase the qualities of particular yarns. I didn't buy the book for the patterns, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I like most of them. Even the tea cozy, and as you know, I don't do cozies.

One of the most significant aspects of this book is Parkes' description of the way the yarn businesses work. In particular, she emphasizes the importance of supporting small farms, small spinners and small dyers. This is not just because it's good for local economies, but because small operations sometimes offer unique selections that would be impossible to replicate in mass production. Some smaller and cooperative yarn companies have yarn available in LYSs all over the country, like the Green Mountain Spinnery and Blackberry Ridge, and of course, there are online vendors, too. Evidently, though, the best places to score this stuff is at fiber festivals. (Wisconsin's got one; I may try and check it out this year.)

Parkes' knowledge if all things fiber is encyclopedic, her prose is engaging, and her enthusiasm is infectious. After reading The Knitter's Book of Yarn, I'm more inspired than ever, and from now on I will examine yarn more closely. It seems I'm pretty committed to this craft called "knitting," and I'd like to understand it better from the fiber perspective, not just the knitting part.


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