Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No-Bull Book Review: Knitting with the Color Guys, by Kaffe Fassett & Brandon Mably

While I was at VK Live, I picked up a couple of books simply because I couldn't help myself.  One of them was the brand-new knitting book by Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably.  Knitting with The Color Guys: Inspiration, Ideas, and Projects from the Kaffe Fassett Studio (Sixth and Spring 2012; MSRP $24.95, available for $15.80 through the link above as of the time of this writing), is a lush, gorgeous book full of, well, color.  From the endpapers featuring a knitted motif to the gorgeous photographs throughout to the projects inside, Fassett and Mably live up to their billing as "the color guys" (although shouldn't it be the "colour guys"?).  Let's take a closer look.

KWTCG is a hardback book, about 9 x 10.5 inches, with about 176 pages. From the very beginning, you know what this book is about: indeed, in his introduction, Kaffe Fassett characterizes his style as "full-on color."  The approach is intuitive, focusing on experimenting and playing with color, rather than giving the knitters a set of hard-and-fast rules. For example, Fassett urges knitters to be bold and try things, reminding them "don't judge too harshly till you have at least ten inches of knitting on those needles." To make it easier to customize projects and color combinations, Fassett notes that many of the book's motifs are done in different colorways, making it easier for a knitter to pick one that suits her taste or home decor. (A special note of commendation must be given to photographer Debbie Patterson both for the lovely photography and for including a nice shot of Mr. Fassett's well-turned leg in her portrait of him.)

Mably's introduction tells a bit more about the duo's design process.  "I was intrigued to see Kaffe using a bright palette in bold contrasts, as oposed to his more usual tone on tone palettes -- usually I am the one to reach for bolder colors and be more graphic with my design work."  Mably notes that he and Fassett design "directly on the needles from simple charts" but echoes Fassett's direction to put the work up and stand back to view it before deciding whether one likes it.  Interestingly, he reveals that the collection grew without "an ordered plan," as the pair would begin by casting on, then pin up a piece of work before deciding, based on factors like the weight of the yarn or the nature of the pattern, whether a given piece of knitting wanted to be a pillow or a scarf or a throw.

Multistripe Stole (KF)

One aspect of this book (and something that I've noticed in other Fassett books) is the inclusion of photographs showing various sources of design inspiration. Before we even get to a single pattern, we see a close-up of paintings, cushions, pottery, sources of the shape and color and texture that end up in the knitting.  It's fun to page through the book, paying special attention to things other than the knitting -- the circular weaving of a chain seat, the geometric wooden inlays of a desk, brightly colored pieces of tile in a mosaic.

Half-Circle Throw (KF)

Ah yes, there I go, getting lost in the color and pattern and texture.

Dark Dot Scarf (KF)

Let's get back to the nuts and bolts:  The heart of the book is divided into four sections:  "Soft Tones," "Singing Color," "Moody Hues" and "Rich Shades." As you can tell from the headings, each section revolves around a general color scheme.

Trapezoid Throw (KF)

"Soft Tones" is inspired by "the delicate, restrained end of the color palette," items like spring flowers, beach pebbles, all-white or all-gray outfits, weathered wood.  There are six patterns:  a striped stole, a baby blanket featuring a triangular motif, fingerless gloves with a zigzag pattern, a second stole knit in Rowan Kidsilk Haze for a "mossy" texture, a scarf with a very easy but effective dot fair isle pattern, and a checkerboard hat, fingerless gloves and legwarmer ensemble.

Checkerboard Ensemble (BM)

"Singing Color" features the vivid hues of crayons, party balloons, carnivals, fresh fruit and vegetables. Nine patterns use bold, bright color: from a zigzag throw to a shadowbox cushion and throw, a pineapple blanket, a zigzag cushion, a triangular cushion, a throw featuring a half-circle motif, a wide scarf with broken stripes and a cushion with all sorts of striped patterns and an hourglass shape in the middle.

Multistripe Cushion (KF)

"Moody Hues" emphasizes faded, stonewashed textures, "the colors of old tapestries or ethnic wraps that have seen a lot of wear." A cleverly-designed blanket featuring diagonal stripes that form blocks, dotted cushions, a blanket knit in striped blocks, a softly striping scarf, variations on the triangle cushion and zigzag cushion, a throw and cushion with trapezoidal pattern, a diagonal garter stitch scarf typify the moody, chalky hues of this section.

X-Factor Blanket (KF)

Last is "Rich Shades," obviously using deeper, darker, more dramatic shades. The red circle stole is a good example; the relatively simple shapes gain drama and depth when knit in ruby red and navy blue. A variation of the dot scarf, diagonal scarves knit in the rich hues of a color-changing yarn, a stole with accordion-style pattern, a ridged scarf, a scarf featuring the half-circle design, and scarf and legwarmers with a "wiggle" pattern use these rich shades to perfection.

Red Circle Stole (KF)

The "Useful Information" section gives some directions on color knitting techniques (like one- and two-handed stranded knitting, how to weave and twist strands, intarsia, duplicate stitch, and information on yarn categories and substitution.

The numbers are as follows:  a total of 31 patterns (although some are variations on each other, I counted each separate pattern entry in the table of contents), of which 4 are stoles; 8 are blankets or throws; 2 pair of fingerless gloves; one hat; 9 are scarves; 8 are cushion covers; plus two pairs of legwarmers.

Accordion Stole (BM)

I know that some knitters will take a quick look at the patterns in this book and say something like "The patterns are all so simple; why should I buy the book?"  But really, this book isn't about patterns per se. The patterns are on the basic side because the focus is on the color -- combinations of color, unexpected pairings, bursts of hue that can rev you up or relax you.  And an equally important part of the book is encouraging knitters to play with color; not to simply copy the combinations that Fassett and Mably have created, as fabulous as they are, but to find something that inspires you, colors that make you happy, to play with shape, to go out on a limb a little and add colors spontaneously and see what you get.

Opal Dot Scarf (KF)

Likewise, I am sure that some knitters will look at the patterns, see that they call for numerous skeins of yarn and freak out.  But I don't think that the point is necessarily to have you run out and buy every single color of every yarn used in a given pattern. Yes, if you have the money you could, and more power to you, but you could just as easily pull together a bunch of leftover balls, single skeins and other odds and ends in about the same weight or category, and use them to craft your own color combinations. Each pattern includes several paragraphs discussing how the colors interact, with suggestions for additional palettes.  Knowing, say, that a pillow requires a lighter and darker shade of the same color, plus a border color, makes it easier to play around with one's own favorites, with some assurance of getting a pleasing result.

Zigzag Fingerless Gloves (KF)

The yarns used in the book all come from Rowan, and range from Kidsilk Haze (airy baby mohair with silk), fingering weight sock yarn, dk-weight cotton, heavy worsted Summer Tweed, chunky color-shading wool, bulky-weight Big Wool and more -- just about every category of yarn is used somewhere. The patterns are for items other than sweaters -- stoles, throws, pillows, scarves, and a few pairs of fingerless gloves and a hat -- and are one size.  You'll find thorough directions if you want to duplicate the colors shown in the sample patterns, and the patterns feature charts (mostly in color) and diagrams to help with color layouts.

Trapezoid Cushion (KF)

There are all different kinds of knitting books, and I value them all. This is a book that I will turn to over and over again when I need a jolt of color, when I'm looking for inspiration, or when I need my spirits lifted by gorgeous photos of pretty things. Of course, the lovely projects packed with color will also provide many hours of knitting enjoyment, especially if one follows the Color Guys' advice to "play with these ideas in any way that occurs to you as you sit down with your own yarn stash."


AudKnits said...

I'm so glad you posted this review. It looks like a gorgeous book, and one I'll be happy to add to my (already groaning) knitting shelves!

Janette said...

Having purchased every book by KF and BM over the years, plus Alice Starmore, and lots of other designers who work with colour, I've recently added KWTCG and totally agree with your review.

It is a great book of source material for colour combination and inspiration, beautifully presented by the colour guys, but what else would we expect :)

And you are right, there is no need to rush out and purchase the exact yarn. That's the beauty with these designs, you can use what you have in your stash (and we all seem to have a lot in our stash at the moment!).

So enjoy your blog - thanks.

Loren said...

I will definitely buy this book!! Inspiring for me.

Kitten With a Whiplash said...

I have several of Kaffe and Brandon's books, they are what I pick up when my inspiration needs a trip to OZ. I know I'll never use any of the busiest, most vibrant patterns, but because of these guys, I will have fewer trepidations about using color and patternwork.