Book Reviews

Book Reviews

We take a look at some of the latest knitting, crochet and crafting books available now.

Colours from Nature

A Natural Dyers Handbook (2nd Revised Edition)

Jenny Dean


IBAN: 9780953083534

DT Craft & Design

Jenny Dean’s name is to natural dyeing what Cadbury’s is to milk chocolate. Entirely self-taught, Jenny’s passion for natural dyeing spans over 40 years.

The author of several renown books, you would expect to find at least one of them on the shelves of many a natural dyer. We say one because until recently the most well-known of Jenny’s books have been out of print for some time. Fortunately, for those of us that haven’t been lucky enough to get our hands on a copy, Jenny has teamed up with Debbie and Peter Tomkies of DT Craft & Design in the UK to republish Colours of Nature: A Dyers Handbook, one of Jenny’s most popular titles.

Originally published in 2007 Colours from Nature is a comprehensive guide on how to prepare and use natural dyes for a variety of different fibres. It’s published in a practical spiral bound format, with plastic cover sheets to protect your copy while dyeing. Jenny’s guide is an invaluable resource.

The information is broken down into chapters to make it more accessible. There is a recipe section in which Jenny provides instructions on how to achieve over 100 colours, using both the traditional dyes of Weld, Madder and Woad and those obtained from common plants such as Blackberry, Rhubarb and Walnut.

A Dyers Handbook also includes information on using Natural Dye Extracts and Further Sources of Dye Colour.  The Bibliography contains other interesting publications by Jenny’s contemporaries, many of whom Jenny cites as informative and inspiring.

Colours from Nature is available to purchase from DT Craft & Design and if you’re interested in all things natural dyeing, it would be well worth following Jenny’s Blog.

Something New to Learn About Cables

Arnall-Culliford Knitwear


IBAN: 9781999785918

AC Knitwear Shop

Something New to Learn About Cables is the first in a series of practical books by Jim and Jen Arnall-Culliford that focus in on one specific aspect of knitting.

You may already be familiar with Jim and Jen’s work, as their previous book A Year of Techniques, took the knitting world by storm in 2017.  Something New to Learn About Cables and the subsequent books in the range, expand on this book and go into much more detail.

Three chapters, Basic Cable Techniques, Fixing Cables and Advanced Cable Techniques, are sandwiched between an Introduction and an Information Section. Each chapter includes clear, step-by-step photo tutorials, which are backed up with video tutorials on the AC Knitwear YouTube Channel. In addition to this, you’ll find a knitting pattern or two, to accompany each section, perfect for putting your newly learnt knowledge into practice.

The book is aimed at all knitters, if you’re new to cables it will help you with the basics, if you’re pretty good at cabling you’ll still learn something new.

The book is available from all good yarn stores, but you can also purchase it directly from the AC Knitwear Shop and while you’re there why not sign up for the Arnall-Culliford Knitwear Newsletter?

Mosaic & Lace Knits

20 Innovative Patterns Combining Slip-Stitch Colourwork and Lace Techniques

Barbara Benson


IBAN: 9780811716772


Stackpole Books

Mosaic knitting is essentially knitting in stripes; there’s no big mystery and it’s one of the easiest colourwork techniques.  You use only one colour per row, slipping stitches from the previous row to form the patterns.  Using this technique tends to produce a fairly dense fabric, which is fine if you’re making something like the Modulation Mitts in this issue or the Modulation Cowl in the previous issue. For both of those projects an insulating fabric is ideal, however ‘drape’ isn’t a word you would expect to hear when talking of Mosaic Knitting.

One way of creating drape when Mosaic Knitting is to use a larger needle than the one recommended for the thickness of yarn you’re using.  Whilst this will definitely achieve a looser fabric, you have to be mindful not to use too larger needle or you may run the risk that your background colour will be visible from the front of your work. Barbara Benson has taken this technique and cleverly combined it with lace knitting to create designs that look and feel very different to what you might expect and takes Mosaic Knitting one step further.

In Mosaic & Lace Knits, Barbara begins with an in depth look at Mosaic Knitting and then Mosaic Lace Knitting. The book covers everything you need to know to combine the two techniques effectively. She also includes useful tips and tricks, particularly when it comes to colour choice and the effect it can have on your finished project.

There are 20 patterns in Mosaic & Lace Knits, 19 of which are accessories, with the final one for the home.  On an initial glance at any new knitting or crochet book, it’s true that we tend to gravitate to those made in colours we favour and it’s only on further inspection that we might change our minds.  Whilst some designs, like the super chunky mittens Single Flight, literally jumped out of the page at us, others like the shawl Love Child weren’t so obvious to begin with. In fairness whilst the burnt orange and purple colour combo look well together we can’t help but be reminded of Halloween.  Looking past this, the beauty of the shawl shines through.

Clupeidae is a scarf with a repeating geometric wave effect. It’s made in an ingenious way so it can be wrapped around the neck but still have the right side facing on each end, which eliminates the need to constantly adjust your scarf ends.

A final section in the book is given over to techniques, helpfully these include instructions for several different cast offs, perfectly suited to lace knitting.

Pure Wool

A Knitter’s Guide to Using Single-Breed Yarns

Sue Blacker


IBAN: 9781408171806


We were told about this wonderful book by one of the yarn producers we’ve featured in this issue’s Breed Specific Yarn Review.

Many of you will already be familiar with Sue Blacker, the owner of Blacker Yarns and the Natural Fibre Company. Her experience of working with different breeds of sheep and subsequent knowledge means the Blacker Yarns is renowned for producing breed-specific yarns, for example, their new Jacob Yarn included in this issue.

Published in 2012 Pure Wool is a reference book, history book and knitting pattern book all in one. In it Sue introduces us to 16 different breeds of sheep, explaining the history and personality of each one. Each produces a distinct wool and knitting with each adds a different dimension to your knitting. Through the information in the book, you will become better informed and can bring choosing which yarn will work best to knit with to the next level.

The book begins with a look at Pure Wool Philosophy and it’s split into two parts: firstly there’s The Campaign for Wool and its patron HRH Prince Charles, who has done wonders in raising awareness of  British Wool, secondly, Sue talks about her love of wool and how she came to be so heavily involved in the industry.

Pure Wool Basics, the opening chapter, gives a great overview of sheep. Did you know they have been domesticated for over 8,000 years? A snapshot diary of the sheep and shepherd’s year and beyond leads on seamlessly to the Fibre Facts section, an invaluable resource of sheep and wool terminology for all of us that love both.

At the back of the book, Pure Wool Practicalities looks in depth at what makes a good quality knitting yarn. Included in this section are several useful reference charts for comparing the specific characteristics of the yarns from the breeds looked at in the book, the qualities of their yarn, the natural colours of it and Sue has even listed the colours they most easily will dye to.  Pure Wool Practicalities is rounded off with a little Knitting Know How, there are abbreviations and techniques, with a comprehensive Bibliography in which Sue suggests books, blogs and other resources for further investigation.

Sandwiched between Pure Wool Basics and Pure Wool Practicalities is the information on the 16 different breeds and 21 knitting patterns.  It’s set out in an easy to read style – for each breed there is information on their fleece, their yarn and one or two knitting patterns designed to highlight the qualities of each yarn.  Included are photos of the sheep, fleece, fibre and yarn as well as a close up of a swatch knitted in the yarn, so you are better able to see the characteristics of each and know what to expect.

The knitting patterns in Pure Wool show a care and understanding of the way each breed’s yarn behaves and include accessories, homewares and garments, so choosing just a few to mention here is a little difficult.

The Wavy Cable Jumper designed by Amanda Jones for yarn from the Cotswold Sheep is gorgeous. It showcases the sheen and finesse of this longwool breeds yarn when worsted spun. The basic raglan jumper has a reversed stocking stitch body with a central decorative cabled panel on the front and cables running up the raglan seams.  Knitted in the round from the bottom up, with rolled cuffs and neckband, the jumper is classically feminine.

The Autumn Leaves Beret designed by Rita Taylor reveals the fluffy softness of the Gotland Sheep. It’s knitted with two strands held together, and has a deep ribbed band and decorative leaf design running around it. A lovely quick, easy project, the hat would make an ideal introduction for a first-time lace knitter.

Last but not least, the Practical Cosy Body Warmer, another design by Rita Taylor, plays up the insulating and durable properties of yarn from the Black Welsh Mountain Sheep. The fronts are knitted in Moss Stitch, with the back made in stretchy rib to ensure a cosy fit.

Pure Wool is so much more than a book of knitting patterns. The person who recommended the book to us is a shepherd and to our knowledge doesn’t really knit (although we think they might be able to). If you’re interested in sheep or know someone who is, they’d be thrilled with this book and who knows, they might just be tempted to pick up sticks and yarn?

Knitting Ganseys

Revised and Updated: Techniques and Patterns for Traditional Sweaters

Beth Brown-Reinsel


IBAN: 9781632506160


Originally published in 1993, Knitting Ganseys by Beth Brown-Reinsel has been a much sought-after book, with copies selling for up to €300 in some places.

A knitwear designer, teacher and author, Beth’s work is well known amongst the knitting community. Her book, Knitting Ganseys is based on her knitting workshops, during which she teaches the participants how to create a Gansey sweater in miniature, step by step.

As you would expect from a book based on a historical form of knitting, Beth has included a look at the history and heritage of the Gansey, including what it is, the yarns used, the different tools used and its construction.  Chapters 2 to 11 explore each step of knitting a Gansey in detail. The information they contain is clear and easy to read with step-by-step photographs to better demonstrate the methods.  Photographs are also used throughout the book to highlight sections of a knitted Gansey in more detail.

In chapter 2 you are encouraged to cast on the Sampler Gansey, which if you follow the steps as they are laid out, will be finished at the end of chapter 10. The Sampler is an invaluable way of trying out the different techniques before committing to creating a full sized adult Gansey (they tend to be knitted in fine yarn on small needles).

Planning & Designing, Chapter 11 contains invaluable information for you to design your own Gansey, including helpful worksheets to ensure you’ve remembered everything before you get started.

The ‘how to’ chapters lead on nicely to the knitting patterns, nine in total, and unlike some other Gansey books, the designs in Knitting Ganseys include five or six different size options for adults. Seven of the garments are jumpers, but there is also a dress –  Alouette and Grace’s Cardigan is a practical alternative to the historical pullover.  Each pattern includes a schematic, charts and a note of any featured techniques used.

As a massive fan of the Gansey, despite never having knitted one yet, it seems pretty impossible to single out one or two garments worthy of a mention here. If pressed Jorn’s Gansey would get a giant thumbs up from me as a suitable design for my eldest son.  In a book of textured, patterned garments it’s actually a rather plain knit.  A basic, unfussy ribbed jumper, that retains the traditional Gansey styling, it could be worn by anyone.

Eriskay is Beth’s interpretation of a Scottish Eriskay Gansey.  Suitable for both men and women, the optional short-row shaping can be added to help prevent the back from ‘riding up’.

A little love from me must also go to the aforementioned Grace’s Cardigan. With its classic Gansey styling it is perfect for those times when it’s just too warm for a jumper.

To finish, the book includes a list of resources, suppliers and abbreviations.

Knitting Ganseys will be released on August 31st, 2018.