Monday, December 15, 2008

Hardly-Any-Bull Book Review: Knitting Socks With Handpainted Yarn, by moi

Journalistic objectivity be damned: I'm gonna review Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn, right here, right now, and none of yins are going to stop me.

And guess what?

I rather like it.

This week marks the official release of Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn (Interweave Press 2008), MSRP $19.97; available for $13.67 by following the link above.

The reason I wanted to write the book was simple. Handpainted yarns have become very popular: great colors and combinations of colors, often done on luscious base yarns by an ever-growing selection of artisans who do the dyeing. You can score a skein of sock yarn for under $25 in most cases, which makes it a relatively small investment. No matter what your sartorial style, nearly everyone wears socks and oftentimes you can be more whimsical and colorful with socks than other garments. And because the knitted fabric isn't worn next to your face, you can indulge in colors you might not normally wear. What's not to like?

Well, the pooling. And the splotching. And the way that sometimes colors which look wonderful in the skein don't look so great when you knit them up in a sock.

I wrote KSWHY in order to help people who love handpainted yarns learn how they work: why the colors look the way they do when knit up into a sock, why they sometimes make semi-stripes and splotches and pools of color in a way that's not always attractive, and what you can do if you don't like the way your sock is knitting up (instead of selling the yarn on Ebay...). I also wanted to compile a collection of patterns that were expressly designed for the way handpaints work. Instead of the designer selecting a handpaint that works like a solid, these projects were made for the multicolored hues of handpaints -- and designed to alleviate some of the less desirable color effects that one might get when knitting with handpaints. In this regard, I was extremely lucky to work with approximately 17 other designers who contributed some really innovative and good-looking and creative patterns.

The book is divided into roughly two parts: the beginning chapters cover technical info about handpaints and the second section contains the patterns.

The technical section, titled "The Road to Handpaint Happiness," begins by making clear that this book is meant for people who already know how to knit a basic sock (no "how to knit" instructions here!), and focuses primarily on fingering weight yarn (the most commonly used weight of yarn for socks). The knitter is also warned about the idiosyncratic nature of handpaints: they can vary greatly from skein to skein within the same dyelot, and even sometimes within the same skein. Next comes the heart of the discussion:
  • a brief description of handpaints, discussing machine- (or space-) versus handdyes, fiber choices, different methods of dyeing, and distinguishing self-patterning and self-striping yarns.
  • an approach that divides handpaints into three categories based on color: Nearly Solids, Wild Multis and Muted Multis. Photographs show some examples of each category of yarn, and I give you general tips on how to use each category of yarn to best effect.
  • the section I think of as Color Theory Lite. I discuss the concepts of value and saturation, two other key components of traditional color theory, and apply them to handpainted sock yarn.
  • a thorough discussion of pooling and splotching and striping: why it happens and what you can do to change it.
The most fun part of all is the pattern section. It contains 21 patterns designed with the unique qualities of handpaints in mind. What was especially fascinating to me was seeing the various ways that different designers approached the problem of pooling. For example, Kristi Schueler's Longbourn Socks use a semi-solid handdye and a wild multicolor handdye in a tessellated colorwork pattern to break up pooling. She also embellishes the sock with embroidery to help tack down long floats inside the sock. Clever and good-looking, no?

Laura Nelkin's Whirlpool Socks (top in the montage following this paragraph) also use an eyecatcher to pull attention away from any color effects, but she chose to use small beads instead of embroidery as accents. The swirling textured pattern on the cuff also helps move the color around and draw the eye away from any splotching. Deb Barnhill's ingenious Potpourri Sock (bottom) employs a whole bag of tricks to keep from pooling. Changing stitch counts from round to round, yarn overs, wrapped figure-eight stitches -- these socks move the color around so much it just doesn't have a chance to pool.

Several designers opted for ingenious methods of construction to combat pooling: Jody Pirrello's Chevvy socks (featured on the cover; top in the montage below), use a chevron pattern but also short rows to make some huge vees of color so that the colors won't mass in splotches; Kristi Schueler's Spread Spectrum Socks (bottom left) use intarsia to break up pooling and create visually arresting ministripes; and Chrissy Gardiner's Color Collision Socks alternate garter-stitch stripes (knit flat) with ribbing knit in the round.

All of the above designs are aimed at those sock yarns with lovely colors that are incorrigible poolers. For the muted multicolors in your stash, the ones that aren't quite as prone to color splotching but have too much going on for more traditional patterns, look to the designs that use eyelets (like my own Switcheroo Socks, bottom right in the montage below), travelling stitches (like Lorna Miser's Escher Socks, top) or ribbing (like Barb Brown's Rib Fantastic socks, bottom left).

Another thing that I particularly like about the book is the mix of designers I got to work with. Some of my knitting idols are represented (Nancy Bush, Ann Budd, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Ve-Ve) but also some newer people and some GKIYH pals who submitted kick-ass designs (like Barb Brown, Puff the Magic Rabbit,

Courtney Kelley). To add an extra thrill, Ms. Ann Budd herself used Black Bunny Fibers sock yarn to knit these lovely Punctuated Rib socks.

The patterns are labeled not by difficulty level, but by the type of yarn they will work best with. Some of the more complex patterns appear in one-size-only format; others contain two or more sizes. Unusual or advanced techniques are illustrated in the back section. A bibliography lists some of my favorite sock books, and there are miniprofiles of the contributing designers in the back.

So there you have it: Knitting Socks With Handpainted Yarns. It's the sock book I wished I had when I first started delving into the world of handpaints. And it's full of patterns that I want to try myself. I am certain that I will find much joy pairing patterns from the book with the many, many skeins of handpainted sock yarn in my own personal stash. I hope you do, too.

Stay tuned this week for more KSWHY features, including links to the blogs of the designers as they discuss their individual designs and a special surprise!


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your review of the book. I especially liked knowing what you, as the author, wanted to achieve, as well as a really good look at the contents.

It's a book I'll buy for myself. Oh, wait a minute, best wait until after Christmas. It's a book my knitting daughter might well give me. If not, I'll buy it right after Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I don’t comment as often as I’d like, but I wanted to let you know that I’ve eagerly had your book on my Amazon wishlist since I first read it was coming out. So glad to see some previews and know that it’s finally available! I’ll be getting at least one Amazon GC I’m sure, I know what I’m getting come the 26th. :)

Congratulations on publishing your book, I wish you every success. Considering all the factors you’ve mentioned, it’s high time there was a book full of patterns tailored for such a popular yarn type. I hope it’s an instant best seller!

Bridget said...

Sounds like a good one!

But - will it make me more popular????

Carol said...

Amazon assures me that my copy is on its way. Can't wait!!

Anonymous said...

Carol, your pattern in IK was such a great "trailer" - I'm looking forward to getting the book. Thanks so much - I'm fairly new to socks, brand new to handpaints, so this will be really welcome.
- Beth

Anonymous said...

Amazon tells me that it shipped yesterday. 8-) I'll sit here and drum my fingers until it comes.

Anonymous said...

I just ordered my copy today. I love handpainted yarns and am always looking for good patterns. Good luck with the book!

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting on my amazon order with insufficient patience. Thanks for such an excellent book!

Unknown said...

Congrats!!!! The book looks fantastic!