The reasons people might not want to knit with wool range from simply not liking the scratchy nature of the fiber (though there are many soft wools these days) to actually having a sensitivity or allergy to wool.
Amy R. Singer understands both the challenges and the opportunities of knitting without wool. The founder of the online magazine Knitty is allergic herself and has complied this wise and fun look at the world of options available to those who don't work with wool, from ubiquitous cotton to linen, bamboo and the much-maligned acrylics.
No Sheep For You: Knit Happy with Cotton, Silk, Linen, Hemp, Bamboo and Other Delights explains how each non-wooly fiber is made and outlines the particular properties of each fiber family, which gives readers a great idea how different fibers can be used and makes the book worth the price of admission even without the patterns.
Information on how to substitute yarns includes advice for picking a fiber with the proper properties when you're trying to substitute yarn in a pattern that calls for wool. Instead of simply asking you to make a gauge swatch, the book advises considering the texture and weight of the substituted yarn so that your project will come out not only the right size, but will also look as similar as possible to the yarn used in the original.
Singer spends a whole chapter talking about the virtues of swatches, but not just for figuring out gauge.
Instead, she encourages the knitting of geeky swatches or "getting to know you" swatches, in which you change needle sizes as needed until you find the size you like and knit a bigger-than-normal swatch so you can really see how the yarn behaves.
She also says this swatch is a good opportunity to see how the yarn handles machine washing and drying. Once you've spent an hour or so working with the yarn, you'll know everything you need to know (including whether you want to invest in a whole project in this yarn). This is a great idea and makes swatches a lot more useful than those common little squares are.
Twenty patterns are provided in No Sheep for You. running the gamut of fibers from bamboo to cotton, silk to hemp.
These patterns are decidedly not for beginners, but they are all beautiful projects that any experienced knitter would love to play with. Even hard-core lovers of wool will find something to tempt their needles in this book, whether its a lacy-backed tank top or a mosaic-patterned sweater using different patterns and different colors on the front and back. There are non-wooly socks, a silky shawl and thrummed mittens, which have an inside layer of silk roving used to make a pattern on the outside.
For those who can't or don't want to knit with wool, this book is a revelation of all the fun and lovely things that can be made without the help of our wooly friends. These projects beautifully illustrate the wide world of fiber beyond the sheep and show the most devoted fuzzy-philes that there are many other great fibers out there to explore.