Koigu is one of those yarns that has a rabid following and an almost mystical appeal. A handdyed merino yarn, in fingering weight (or thereabouts), it's nearly impossible to define its appeal or do justice describing its colors. Solid Koigu colors – which vary in shade and should be called nearly-solids – are rich and interesting. And the multis? Wow. Even colors I don't usually like or combinations of colors that seem unlikely somehow attract me when they're done in Koigu. Koigu is incredibly versatile, too. You can knit it at a variety of different gauges and it always looks great: tight for socks, loose for lace, add a strand of Kid Silk Haze for luster, or double it for faster knitting. See? A couple of sentences into this review, and I'm already kvelling about Koigu.
I know there are some knitters who don't feel the Koigu love. Maybe it's one of those things where you either passionately love Koigu or you just don't get it, no middle ground. When it comes to Maie Landra's new book, Knits from a Painter's Palette: Modular Masterpieces in Handpainted Yarns (Sixth & Spring Books 2006; MRSP $24.95), I suspect that your attitude toward Koigu will color your opinion of this book: people like me, who can’t get enough Koigu, will love it. Those few unfortunate souls who don’t particularly care for Koigu are unlikely to go wild for a book devoted entirely to this one yarn.
Knits from a Painter's Palette is a good-sized book, hardcover, and full of color photographs -- I mean, how could you do a Koigu book without zillions of color photographs? The endpapers show bins of luscious Koigu yarns and the pages are edged with close-up shots of Koigu strands. The book is wider than it is tall, and this works well, giving extra page width for the photos and diagrams of this visually striking yarn with plenty of white space to go easy on the eyes.
As for content, the book begins with an essay called "The World of Koigu," which tells about the background of Maie and Taiu Landra, discusses how Koigu came into being and describes how Koigu is created today. The next section contains some pointers for selecting Koigu colors, along with a "Stitch Workshop" that demonstrates Maie's modular techniques, including some photographs of shapes in various stages of knitting.The remainder of the book is devoted to patterns.
It's hard to generalize about the patterns. They aren't divided into sections, but rather are presented in a fairly random manner, one after another. The most significant thing they have in common is, of course, Koigu. But of the 22 patterns (some designs include multiple coordinating garments, like a matching stroller blanket and pillow, so there are actually patterns for more than 22 individual garments in the book), you might break them down this way: 4 shawls/wraps, 1 poncho, 4 vests, a baby blanket and pillow combination, a "cloak," 3 jackets, 2 dresses, a cardigan in both adult and children's sizes, 2 skirts, 2 scarves, 3 sweaters and a tunic. Oh yeah, and some pants.
Another way to sort out the patterns is by method of construction: there are about 5 or so lace patterns (and I’m using the term “lace” very loosely, to include simple patterns knit on large needles), about 4 or so sweaters knit in the traditional fashion, about two garments knit in strips that are sewn together; the rest – the majority of designs in the book -- are knit modularly. This is a pretty unusual and significant consideration, since there are knitters who simply don’t care for modular construction.
Koigu aficionados will note that some of the patterns have previously been released: the well-known Charlotte's Web Shawl, for example. If you are buying this book solely for the patterns, you'll want to skim through to make sure you don't already have the patterns you're most interested in.
A further note on the patterns: I have heard mixed reviews from knitters about the garments featured in the book. Many of the patterns are boxy and flowing; they tend not to have the body-hugging shaping that is now in style.
This is largely (but not totally) a function of the modular techniques used. If you have no interest in flowing jackets or vests, boxy fit, dropped shoulder, though, caveat emptor. If the dreaded butt sag makes you leery about knitted pants or skirts or dresses, again, buyer beware. The signature style of the Koigu ladies is what it is and creates garments that are as much works of art as they are pieces of clothing. If their style isn’t yours, don’t be disappointed if you don’t knit some or most of the garments in this book.
From a technical standpoint, everything looks in tip-top shape. The printing is easy to read, there are many color photos, there are detailed diagrams (some in color) showing the modular construction methods, measurements are given, and colorways are even identified by the trademark Koigu number. Many of the patterns come in one size, but the sizing is so generous and, well, flowing that this shouldn’t present a problem for the vast range of female figures, although the tiniest and slimmest may be overwhelmed by the amount of fabric that will swirl around them.
Last, I would be remiss if I didn’t try to express the “eye candy” aspect of this book. If you love handpainted yarns, Koigu in particular, just browsing through the book is inspirational. To see that many garments showing off to perfection the many hues of Koigu makes me happy. Considering different methods of construction, unusual combinations of multicolors, the mixing of shape and color, solids and multicolors, inspires me. And having met the Koigu ladies a few times, learning about their lives and their home and their art though this book makes me feel a connection to them.
As my husband would say, this book is the functional equivalent of pornography for knitters. And after seeing the glazed look in my eyes after I leafed through it for the first time, and wiping the drool off the coffee table, he should know.