In the introduction to The Knitter's Book of Wool: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Using, and Loving this Most Fabulous Fiber, Clara Parkes admits that she runs the risk of sounding like a pro-wool infomercial. But most knitters will forgive her enthusiasm for this versatile fiber because we share it, too.
Parkes, the editor of Knitter's Review, has amassed a huge amount of knowledge about sheep and the wools they produce, and she shares a lot of it, along with 21 patterns that show different yarns off to their best advantage.
A Wooly Education
The book starts out by explaining the basics of what wool is, the different parts of the fiber, and what makes a particular wool feel soft (to some extent it depends on the disposition of the wearer).
She covers the different classes of fleece, how the fibers are cleaned, spun and dyed. And while most of the book looks at breed-specific characteristics, there's also a handy section on determining the quality of a yarn that's merely labeled as "wool."
The main body of the book is devoted to profiles of 37 different sheep breeds and the fibers that come from them. They're arranged by general diameter of the fiber as finewools, mediumwools, down and down-type wools, longwools and dual-coated and primatives.
Each description of the sheep includes some general information about where the sheep are found and how the breed was developed, as well as a look at the fiber's fineness, staple length, crimp and luster. Parkes mentions the sorts of garments a particular yarn might be suitable for and describes the feltability of the fiber.
The Knitter's Book of Wool also contains 21 patterns for a range of knit items, including projects for the head, hands and feet, sweaters and tops, scarves, shawls and stoles and for the home and beyond.
Six of the patterns are rated easy, while 11 are for intermediate knitters and four for more advanced crafters. Garments offer a wide range of sizes, mostly running from small to 2X. Most of the projects are for women, with one sweater each for men and kids, as well as a baby set involving a sweater, booties and a bonnet.
The patterns are designed to highlight the qualities of the particular breed of sheep used to make the wool, so this is one time you might actually want to stick with the yarn the pattern calls for rather than venturing into your stash to find just any old wool with similar gauge.
Some of my favorite projects here include the Windjammer Socks, which have a cable and chevron pattern worked in a pretty hand-dyed yarn; the Comfy Cardigan, which uses a gorgeous organic yarn and an easy, lovely beehive stitch to decorate the bodice; the Prairie Rose Lace Shawl, a tricky but stunning triangle worked in a Merino-qiviut-silk blend; and the Tibetan Clouds Beaded Stole, another of the advanced patterns with a mandala-inspired pattern worked in a Merino-silk blend.
If you're a fan of wool, you're sure to learn something and find some patterns you can't resist in The Knitter's Book of Wool. It's a great companion to Parkes' earlier book, The Knitter's Book of Yarn. Together they provide a great education for knitters about how yarn is made, what the differences are between different kinds of fibers, and how best to use different yarns to their best advantage.
These are the sorts of guidebooks that make us all better knitters because they get us thinking about yarn, not merely as a raw material, but as a thing of beauty in itself that should be respected and used mindfully.
Publication date: October 2009.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.