Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques by Margaret Radcliffe

I promised this review on The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques by Margaret Radcliffe (Storey Publishing 2008) a long time ago, but it took me some time to really get to know this book. It truly is a wealth of information - an instant classic in my opinion.

I have been looking for a book like this for some time now. It seems most of knitting patterns out today concentrate on using one color throughout the work, with different textures (such as lace or cables) being the focal point of a knitted garment. However, the possibilities of using color in knitting are not very widely explored. There are some designers who use colors very vividly and in an inspiring manner, but most knitting patterns with color concentrate on relatively simple stranded knitting, some even use clever mosaic or geometric techniques. And perhaps the color knitting techniques have been overlooked, as there are so many variegated, self-striping, handpainted and hand-dyed yarns out there. Colorful knitting is easy to achieve if you just have some variegated yarns at hand. But I always felt the wildly colored or textured yarns, while fun, were somehow difficult to use. And with the possibilities of hand-knitting, why not take very basic yarns, in simplest of solid colorways and use them in a bold and refreshing way? This is exactly where this book comes in.

What I look for in a book, first and foremost, are the pictures. I enjoy browsing through books for inspiration, and good pictures are what I look for in a book (especially in a knitting book). And this book may not be the most aesthetic book there is, but considering how color knitting as a subject can quickly lead to a book looking like a cat hawked it up, it is very clear and easy to browse. And the colors used for swatches are bright and clear - always a plus.
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The book covers a remarkably wide range of subjects, from basic color theory to stripes, multicolor yarns, stranded knitting, pattern stitches and even...
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Radcliffe has certainly made even intarsia sound like a fun thing to try. (Not that I would, yikes.)

The pattern stitches section covers a wide range of different stitch patterns. Some are knitted with two or more colors, but the section on multicolor yarns even shows what to do with yarns prone to pooling. The pattern stitches are familiar to owners of the Walker books, but if you're interested in color knitting (and who wouldn't be), this is a great collection of all of these clever stitches together, and in full color.
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The best thing about this book, by far, are the techniques. Even with the simplest of stripes, there are clear illustrations on how to hide jogs in circular knitting.
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The section on multicolor yarns concentrates on how to display patterns in variegated and self-striping yarns. Even textured and handspun yarns are discussed to show variations in stitch patterns and color display (for example in marbled yarns). And finally, the author introduces geometry - mitered squares, circles, octagons etc.
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No book on color knitting would be complete without a stranded section. This book discusses stranded knitting, but it's rather straightforward and the approach is very practical. Holding yarns in stranded knitting is shown for both Continental and English knitters, and even a brief sample is shown to display the importance of yarn dominance. And even long floats are covered (I was happy to find my favorite technique among these on p. 157)! Each section ends with a couple of patterns, for the knitter who wants detailed instructions for trying out different techniques. Most of the patterns are small, quick projects such as socks, scarves and purses, which I think is a good and quick way of introducing a knitter to a technique.

And finally, the final technique section is "Other Techniques" which include helix knitting, shadow knitting, mosaic knitting, twined knitting, double knitting and entrelac. Every technique is well illustrated and clearly described, although some of them could be even more widely discussed. But all in all, there is very little extra I would add to this book - it truly is the essential book on the subject. The last two sections of the book are Finishing Touches and Design Workshop, the first of which can never be over-emphasized. Finishing, in my opinion, is what makes or breaks a garment, and I was happy to see this taken into consideration in the book. This interesting section covers neat edges, cast-ons and bind-offs, finishing trims, blocking tips etc.

I would say this book is truly the book to have if you are interested in color knitting. I found this incredibly inspiring (as the pictures of my last two knitting projects show clearly). I am glad I got my copy and I can certainly recommend this for any fellow knitter. I know this will be a go-to book on color knitting in the future.

Disclaimer: I bought this book with my own monies through Amazon. Storey Publishing has no idea who I am, and this is not a paid advertisement, but opinions of a knitter who likes this book a lot. You may disagree with my opinion, and if you do - please let me know! I'd like to hear what others have thought of this book.

So This Is the Life of a Knitter?

I started blogging nearly 6 years ago. At that time, I only had a miserable little point-and-shoot, and no photo editing software. I learned very, very quickly to make my photos look relatively decent.

Then, inevitably, I bought a DSLR. I still have it, and use it for all my photographing needs. It's an ancient 400D, but works well for my needs with the nifty fifty (50mm f/1.8) lens. But this time of year, especially, is so very hard for shooting nice pictures - there just isn't enough light, or there's plenty of hard, bright sunlight combined with bright white snow. Neither are very good for taking pictures.

So last weekend, on a whim, I went and bought a studio lighting set. And I have since then discovered a whole new world. The combination of lighting, my camera and the wee lens is quickly becoming an adventure, which will probably take me years to learn.

I can say for a fact, though, that in the first 15 minutes of shooting, using my learning technique of oops, wait a minute, let's try again and oh no nononono, I learned more than I have in years. And I am happy with the results.

Now, I must say, I am by no means a proper photographer. I still use my DSLR very much like a point-and-shoot. I won't take pictures with the full auto setting, but have very little understanding of how good photos are taken. So I apologize for my pictures have looked horrible in the past, and they certainly will continue to look horrible in the future. There are so many things wrong with my photos, even the one above, that it will take me years to learn even the basic things about photography. Or let me put it this way: my camera and my lens and all of the equipment I have are capable of taking very good pictures; it's me who needs to learn how to use them properly. And that will take time, lots of it. But I can say one thing: I love learning this new stuff. I never knew that blogging would eventually lead me to learn new things about this wonderful world of photography. So, I started blogging about knitting, and now I am a knitter blogging about photography! Who knew this would happen? :)

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Confessions of a Knitter

Most knitwear designers would have you believe that the road from an idea to an actual knitting pattern is relatively short and narrow: first you draw a sketch, then knit up a swatch, then proceed to charting, sizing, writing, knitting and some more knitting. I can tell you this doesn't happen here at the Lair. That is exactly why I don't consider myself a designer so much. Especially on a day like today. In what follows is a short narrative to how things can go so very, very wrong.

First, you need an idea. It may be based on anything: the yarn you want to use, a colorway you have seen, a garment in a store. Or you may stumble* on a stitch pattern so intriguing it must be used immediately.

*Quite literally, too. Who said leaving your Walker books in a pile right in the middle of the living room floor was a good idea?? Ouch!

So you have the general idea, but not much more than that. Then it hits, this faint memory of a yarn bought years ago. Naturally it is stored in the back corner of your storage room, so you go scavenging through some 300 lbs of yarn until said yarn is found. You even remembered what colors you bought (although quantities may have remained a mystery, thus introducing you to some unexpected problems with the intended colorway). And since you parade around the northern hemisphere telling people how they must (must!) swatch (always!), you take your own advice and vigorously knit up a swatch. Proudly, the newly-finished swatch is given a thorough bath and laid flat to dry. And then it's already 3am and it's time for bed anyway.

Next morning, the fourth gallon of coffee finally jump-starts the brain into proper knitting mode and you dig up the yarn you will use. Oddly, you may need to search for it, as you most definitely left it on the kitchen table, and somehow it ended up behind the couch. (Again! I think the gnomes had another party.) And you look at the great balls of yarn, feeling mighty proud of yourself, and think: "Why yes, I think they will go together." And clickety clack, off you go knitting happily away.

And it looks good, at first.

And you knit away some more. Several hours later, you look at it and wonder what happened. You even ask your spouse to give an opinion. He says, quite kindly, that it brings back some fond memories of the 70s.

I think I need some really pretty colors this time. And this time I do believe they will go together. Otherwise I will develop a serious substance problem.
silke tweed cardi

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's 5pm somewhere and I need to erase the seventies out of my brain. Now.

PS. Happy New Year everyone! (Yes, I'm only a month late, but we here at the Lair have concentrated on knitting and not blogging. And frogging. See above.)