There are times when I get books for review and can’t wait to tell you about them. A Fine Fleece and The Knitter’s Book of Yarn are a couple of recent examples of this. Not only did I drool over them as I flipped through the pages but they are two books that still take up occasional residence on my nightstand for project planning and stash shopping.
And then there are other times when I get a book and am so mystified as to what to write about it, that it just sits there on my desk for months as I endlessly say “I’ll get to that review next week.” Tweed is one of these books. I’ll admit that this isn’t my favourite knitting book I’ve received, but the thing is it does have a few strong points, and it deserves to be written about just like any other book that comes across my desk.
I’m going to start out with what I think are this book’s flaws, because I think they are fairly significant and hard to ignore. The first is that the patterns are, essentially, a big enormous advertisement for Takhi/Stacy Charles Yarns. All of the projects use yarns by this company, most predominantly Takhi Donegal Tweed and Takhi Soho Tweed. Now, these are lovely yarns to be sure, and I know it’s not uncommon for books to favour certain yarn purveyors in a single collection. But in this case the book promises its scope to be about tweed yarns, which don’t belong to one single company. It’s true that Donegal tweed carries much of the historical legacy of tweed, but many yarns now achieve or imitate the tweed effect, and it would be refreshing to be able to compare the different looks of different yarn companies’ versions of tweed. Heck, when even priced-to-own labels like Patons, Elann, and Knit Picks now all offer tweed versions of their popular yarns, it’s safe to say that tweed is no longer the domain of one company. There’s a big missed opportunity here to compare and contrast.
My second gripe with this book is the way it uses tweed yarns in combination with each other, specifically the way the patterns combine different colours. Maybe I’m missing something, and if these are patterns y’all would make happily then please correct me if I’m wrong – but something’s not working for me in a few of these samples:
Folks, I just don’t know about these. With this many colours used in combination in a single piece, how is it possible to still celebrate the tweedy qualities of any single one? It seems to me that in a piece like the Hebrides Sampler Throw (middle), a more muted colour range would do more to show off an individual yarn’s texture and stitch quality.
But the thing is, I just can’t deep-six this book altogether, in fact I think I’ll be passing it on to a friend of mine who is a relatively new knitter, and there are two big high points that explain why. The first is that the opening chapters really do provide a concise and interesting history of what ‘tweed’ really is – in both fabric and yarns. Did you know, for example, that the little colourful flecks are also called “nepps” or “burrs”? and that they were originally inspired by the bright colours found in the natural landscape, to provide contrast to the naturally gray, brown and off-white shades of the sheepswool? Call me a knitting geek, but that kind of information is sort of cool.
Aside from a bit of knitting history, the book approaches knitting and working with yarn in general from a perspective that would be very useful for a new knitter. There are explanations of how to care for woolen yarns, how to felt, and how to substitute yarns. All of the projects make use of yarns which are worsted, aran, or bulky weight, which makes it pretty darned easy to find substitute yarns for the projects involved, in case your pocketbook or local selection can’t supply the prescribed Takhi collection.
My favourite knitting medium is sweaters, and there are few in here that I love. They are simple but interesting, modern enough to fit into your current wardrobe, and not too intimidating for someone new to cables. The Moss Cabled Cardigan and Scottish Isles Pullover are two examples:
I also rather like the ‘Kilt Bag’ knitting bag pattern (above), which would be pretty useful as a project for small quantities of similarly weighted yarns.
So all in all I think this book comes down to personal preference – whether or not you like the patterns, and whether your tweed love is enough to make the history pieces worthwhile. For me, some of the patterns do have merit and practicality, and tend to include a wide range from 36-50″ bust size of the finished garments, which is a non-negligible plus. But I was disappointed not to see more variety of yarns in the samples, and for a book which promises to hold “contemporary designs to knit”, I’d like to call for a review of some of the more questionable ones, above. Contemporary does not automatically mean ‘colourful’.
This book has been on the market for a few months, so I’d be curious to hear from anyone else who has used it or read it.
What knitting books are on your bedside table right now?