Friday, October 09, 2009

No-Bull Book Review: 99 Yarns and Counting, by The Green Mountain Spinnery Co-op

I was very pleased to receive a review copy of a new book, 99 Yarns and Counting: More Designs from the Green Mountain Spinnery (The Countryman Press) by the Green Mountain Spinnery Cooperative.

Green Mountain Spinnery, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, was founded in 1981, in Putney, Vermont. Its founders wanted to create a business that, yes, produced beautiful yarn, but did so in a way that was environmentally conscious and supported small-scale wool producers. It's probably safe to say that GMS succeeded beyond its expectations. In its first years, GMS offered only one basic wool yarn in five colors. GMS currently offers 99 different yarns* (hence the book's title), using fibers such as wool, cotton, alpaca and mohair, and including organic lines; they produced a very successful and beautiful book, published in 2003; and more recently, after the majority of the founders reached readiness for retirement, transitioned to become a co-op -- a business enterprise owned and run by its workers.

Retro Ribbed Turtleneck

My experience with GMS yarns has been uniformly positive. I like that they consist of mainly natural fibers -- wool, cotton, kid mohair, alpaca, (I'm not intending to start a debate about whether tencel is considered a "natural" fiber or not; it is derived from wood pulp, but requires extruding; decide for yourself what you want to call it). They have beautiful palettes and their patterns incorporate interesting techniques like stranded knitting and cabling. I like that they strive to have a minimal effect on the environment, and I like that they support small sheep and other fiber producers in the U.S.

Turkish Rose Mittens

So with all that background out of the way, let's take a look at 99 Yarns And Counting to see what's inside.

Meadow Lark Lace Scarf

The basics: the book is paperback, but oversized (a little bit larger than a typical magazine, oriented landscape instead of portrait). It's got lots of color photographs and the page quality is nice. MSRP is $24.95 (purchase it via the link above for $16.37 at the time of this writing). You'll find about 120 pages and a whopping 36 patterns inside.

The book begins with an introduction to Green Mountain Spinnery. With understandable pride, the book describes a bit about the history of GMS, then tells about its transformation to a worker's co-operative. Next, the reader is taken on a "tour" of the shop and mill, going through the processes of scouring fleece, spinning it, skeining and dyeing and plying it. The introduction section finishes with a two-page description of GMS patterns, then two more pages listing some definitions and techniques used in them. There are lots of sheep and wool photos, as well as more casual photos of the garments (and I do like the fact that the models are real people, with real bodies rather than model ones -- and I also like the way that doggies were included in some of the shots).

East Putney Aran

The patterns are written by Maureen Clark, Eric Robinson and Margaret Atkinson, who are all members of the GMS co-op, as well as Melissa Johnson and Cap Sease, who are staff members. If you are a GMS aficionado, the book notes that some of the patterns have been published previously in individual form (though if you're a GMS fan, that might not bother you, since this is such a pretty book).

Melissa's Hat

For those of you keeping track, rough tallies are here (note that some of the patterns are flexible in size or are designed so that a size small will fit a child while a large will fit an adult; the overlap means that the tallies will add up to more than the 36 patterns advertised on the cover):

  • Patterns designed for kids: 15
  • Patterns designed for adults: 26
  • Home: 1
Juliet Shell

Breaking it down by type of item:
  • Sweaters for babies & kids = 8
  • Hats for babies & kids = 7 (but some adult hats may fit bigger kids, too)
  • Sweaters for adults = 9 (includes cardigans and pullovers)
  • Hats for adults = 8, plus the bag can also be worn as a hat
  • Vests/shells = 3
  • Socks = 2
  • One each of shawl, scarf, afghan and bag
  • Mittens = 2

Leafy Lace Shawl

If you are interested in the guy vs. gal vs. unisex ratio, I would say about 10 of the patterns, mainly sweaters, are pretty clearly women's garments, while about 16 or so could be considered unisex. (Again, it's hard to quantify these because to some extent, it depends on your taste and color choices; also, a pickier guy might want some simple modifications, like making the neckline higher on the potentially-unisex Istanbul Aran.)

Istanbul Aran

While there are some simpler, mainly-stockinette patterns included (like a basic pullover sweater, sized from child through adult), many of the patterns feature stranded colorwork or cabling. None of them appear incredibly difficult, but inexperienced knitters or those who want simpler, plainer patterns should take note. You'll find a mix of drop shoulder, raglan and set-in sleeves, even a yoke or two.

Size ranges are generous. Sweater patterns start at around 34 to 38 inches finished chest measurement (sorry, uber-petite ones, although at least one sweater has a 30-inch finished chest) and extend to 44, 48, sometimes even 52 inches finished chest measurement. Children's sweaters include some smaller sizes (for the 6- to 12-month age range) and in several cases, go right up to size 10 or 12. Some items, like hats, include a small/medium/large that should accomodate larger kids as well as adults.

Evening Shadows Afghan

Yarn weight tends to hover around the DK to worsted weight range, since the majority of GMS yarns knit in this range. The sock yarn is a regular sock (fingering) weight, but only the scarf (which can be expanded to shawl size) and the two sock patterns use the GMS sock yarn. Given that most of the items are knit in very commonly-found gauges (e.g. 4.5 sts to the inch, or 5.5 sts to the inch), it would be very easy to subtitute yarns from your stash for the vast majority of these projects -- although GMS yarns are very lovely.

Great Meadows Hat

To sum up, then, I give 99 Yarns and Counting two thumbs up for a collection of classically-styled patterns, using pretty, natural yarns in interesting ways, with a generous number of patterns, and options for just about everyone in the family. GMS is scheduled to have a booth at Rhinebeck next week, and also has on-line shopping at its website here.

* In reaching the 99 tally, GMS counts each color of each yarn base as one individual yarn, i.e., there are not 99 different yarn bases.

Photos by Marti Stone, reprinted courtesy of the Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Co.


Carol said...

I so love their stuff and this book looks amazing. Will have to check it out - maybe at Rhinebeck.

Elizabeth said...

I love this book, too. Two more thumbs up from me.

Sean said...

I've always loved their yarn and patterns! I'm going to have to look for this book for sure. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! (LOL, my verification code is "phole")

well read hostess said...

OK. I'll take one of each.

Wait? You mean you weren't offering to make them for me?


Anonymous said...

I've got their first book, and it is absolutely beautiful- will definitely be picking this one up. Thanks!