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Alt Fiber

Fiber Fetish

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Alt Fiber by Shannon Okey

Alt Fiber by Shannon Okey.

Ten Speed Press

More and more knitters these days are looking for eco-friendly and organic yarn to make their projects with. We're all more conscious of the environmental impact of our craft, and with more people taking yarn to a DIY dimension by spinning and dyeing their own, more "green" yarns are becoming available.

Shannon Okey provides a good overview of the wide variety of plant-based (and plant like, such as silk and milk fibers) yarns that are available these days, as well as a variety of projects that can be knit from them in her book Alt Fiber: 25+ Projects for Knitting Green with Bamboo, Soy, Hemp, and More.

A Fiber Education

The book begins with a 19-page introduction to natural, plant-based fibers, including different ways these yarns are made, potential problems working with them and comments on their availability (good news for us is that they're become more widely available all the time).

The book then goes into a sort of glossary of the different alt fibers, starting with some of the more common ones -- bamboo, organic cotton, corn, hemp, linen, kenaf (from a hibiscus plant) silk, soy and SeaCell (from seaweed).

It then goes into fibers that are more difficult to find, such as those made from agave, nettle, banana, cattail, milk fiber, milkweed and more.

A section on dyeing explains how different natural dyes can be used with natural fibers to create a unique look, which is later used in one of the projects, a multicolored cardigan made with naturally dyed Lion Brand organic cotton yarn.

If you've never dyed before this book probably doesn't provide enough information to make you feel confident about dyeing yarn yourself, but it does provide good information on natural dyes that may inspire you to seek out more information and try it yourself.

The Patterns

The book includes 24 patterns, several of which include more than one piece. There are skirts, sweaters, jackets, wraps, socks, patterns for the home and more, using a variety of different natural fibers.

There are two sets that include a shell, cardigan and skirt, which could be knit as a set, or just knit one piece or make them all in different colors.

Some of my favorite patterns include the Fern Tee, a lace-topped tee made out of corn fiber; the Avery Jacket, an Asian-inspired jacket knit in woven stitch with hemp yarn; the Midnight Lace Stole, a beaded beauty made with a seaweed/silk combination; and the Sunny Side Up Socks, knee socks made from a combination of bamboo, cotton and nylon knit in a fun openwork pattern.

The book offers a diversity of patterns that knitters of all skill levels will enjoy, as well as a couple of crochet patterns. My biggest complaint about the book is the limited number of photographs. You can't really see the skirts in the pictures for either of the trio sets, and one of the tops is never shown from the front.

Some patterns have a good collection of photos that show off the details of the patterns, while others have just one photo when several would have done better.

The bottom line is that if you like the idea of working with more plant-based alternative fibers, this is a great book for learning what's out there and how to use them. The lack of pictures on some patterns might make you hesitant to knit them, but there are plenty of others that are well documented.

Publication date: September 2008.

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