Nicky Epstein may have created the most enviable job in the world for herself when she proposed the book Knitting in Tuscany: Fabulous Design, Luscious Yarn, Shopping Secrets, Food & Wine, Travel Notes.
The book is all about that gorgeous region of Italy that contains Florence and tons of tiny, hilly villages full of beautiful churches, inspiring artwork and, yes, a yarn store or two.
Epstein shares her favorite stops in the region, including information on where to stay and where to dine, as well as offering patterns inspired by her travels.
An Italian Travelog
Knitting in Tuscany covers several different parts of this Italian region, covering Epstein's favorite places to stay, eat and shop. She explains the major tourist attractions in each city or town and shares knitting-related stops when they are available.
For the most part there aren't a whole lot of fiber-related spots on her tour. There are a handful of yarn shops (though you may find yarn and notions in shops not specifically dedicated to knitting), a farm where an ex-New Yorker raises cashmere goats and a look at a yarn manufacturing house that isn't open to the public.
Still, the book offers plenty of eye candy in the form of pictures of the Italian countryside and city scenes, as well as plenty of pics of our heroine knitting amid the beauty.
Even if you never make it to Tuscany yourself, this book will at least make you feel like you understand the amazing knitting and fiber arts traditions of the region -- if not actually make you feel like you've visited yourself.
Interspersed among the travel descriptions are 16 patterns that reflect the region that's just been described. For example in the Florence section there's a wreath that mimics the seal of the Wool Guild, originally designed in 1487, which gives you some idea of the longtime influence wool has had in the region.
These patterns are very Nicky Epstein and will feel familiar to people who know her other books. There's a wrap felted with hazelnuts attached to the fabric before felting, a sunburst wrap made of similar circles attached to each other,a scarf with big balls attached to it, a set of pillows featuring felted flowers.
Some of my favorite patterns in the book include a felted Pinocchio doll (the author of the tale, Carlo Collodi, was born in Florence); the Cypress Capelet, taking as its inspiration the tall, skinny trees seen everywhere in the region; the gorgeous and intricate crocheted Bella Bride's Dress; and the fun Felted Etruscan Pitcher.
There are patterns here inspired by Etruscan artwork, Carrara marble, the rooftops of a village, frescos, the vineyards and historical figures.
The Bottom Line
This book would be interesting if for no other reason that in provides real, tangible insight into where one designer's inspiration comes from; you can see the finished garment right next to the thing that inspired it.
But this book is also a lot of fun for its ability to transport us to that land of beauty and wine, to make our mouths water at the thought of locally produced salami and cheese, and to make us sigh a little at the thought of eating such yummy stuff on a balcony overlooking the Tuscan countryside.
The book might just interest you in Tuscany for the first time if you didn't know much about the region before, or it may have you wanting to pack your bags if it's a place you've always wanted to visit.
Even better, though, is the subtle argument running through the book that you can find inspiration anywhere if you approach a place with your eyes open to the beauty, the color, the landscape and the history that is there. That's a lesson you can use without leaving home.
Publication date: June 2009.