a knitter’s review
by Lisa Lloyd
Hardcover, 160 pages
List Price $30, available at Amazon for $19.80
At a time when knitting books are a plenty, I was eager to see how A Fine Fleece set itself apart. Knowing that Lisa’s designs are traditional and classic, often showcasing texture and cables worked in a lovely yarn, I expected several aran designs and maybe a few socks thrown in for good measure.
What I hadn’t anticipated was how beautifully produced this book is. The photography is gorgeous, and I found myself quickly turning to the next page to see what was in store for me.
The book comprises five chapters:
- How to Use This Book
- The World of Handspinning
- Light and Shadow: Studies in Contrasts
- The Forest and the Trees: Scale and Perspective
- Conceptual Stitches and Emotive Design
As a non-spinner, I had expected to leaf through the designs and need to think about what I might sub for the handspun yarn that was used. I don’t have sweaters’ worth of handspun in my stash, and the opportunities to buy a large enough quantity of handspun are seldom for me. When I first got the book, I went directly to Chapter 3 and poured over the designs. This is one of the places the book sets itself apart — each design is worked up in both a handspun yarn and in a commercial yarn counterpart. Brilliant! I would think this is also helpful for spinners. If you don’t have the handspun in front of you to see it, the commercially listed yarn could help you understand the properties of the handspun.
After reviewing all of the designs and making note of ones I might like to knit, I went back to Chapter 2 to see what I could learn. Lisa walks you through selecting and blending fibers, and she writes about them with enough passion that I’m sure she’ll be responsible for converting (or as she’d probably say, evolving) more than a few knitters into spinners. How many commercially produced yarns can be described as having “a creamy color with auburn hairs interpersed throughout, giving it a slightly caramel appearance”? In this case, she’s talking about California Red, the yarn she used for Halcyon.
She also talks about blending fibers and the colors she produces with them. In Two Hearts (right), she combines 50% charcoal gray Blue-Faced Leicester with 50% fawn mohair. The result is stunning — a perfect pairing of design and yarn.
After reading this chapter something unexpected happened. I was compelled to look through the designs again, this time noting the subtle details that Lisa trained me to do in Chapter 2.
Suddenly the handspun sweaters took on more life and I noticed a fleck of color here, a halo there, and how the design and its handspun interplayed. I was intrigued. I briefly considered investing in some spinning materials at Maryland Sheep & Wool next week, and then thought it better to seek out handspun instead–possibly for one of these sweaters:
Le Smoking (left) is a ladies’ smoking jacket with deep cables set right at the edge of the jacket, forming soft, gorgeous curves. The front model is knit in Handspun Icelandic (50%) and Llama (50%). The model at back is knit in a decadent Harrisville Design Orchid with Cashmere (25% mohair, 70% fine virgin wool, 5% cashmere).
The belt mimics the cables on the body of the garment and makes a statement all on its own. I can see myself wearing Le Smoking out at the Farmer’s Market on a crisp November morning, or on a lazy Sunday curled up with a good book.
Gaelic Mist (right) is probably my favorite piece in the book. The styling is simple, but the feminine touches make it special. It’s one of a few designs in the book with set-in sleeves, making it a good option for a more fitted silhouette (although sizing start at 38 and goes up to 52.5 inches around so you may need to adjust for a more fitted garment). The models in the book were knit in a rustic yarn — Reynolds Lite Lopi for the lavender model and Romney (75%) and Mohair (25%) for the lichen green model. The body of the piece is done in reverse stockinette stitch which would also be a lovely background for a subtlely shaded handdyed.
I like the juxtaposition of a hearty yarn with the feminine details, but I envision making this one for myself in something much lighter weight–maybe a fingering weight alpaca blend knit at the cardigan’s tension of 18 sts over 4″ (10cm). I could see pairing it with a trumpet skirt, knee high boots, and a small scarf tied at my neck.
St. Patrick (left) is a gorgeous aran in its own right, but I really became enamored with it when I read more about how the fibers were combined for the handspun version. It’s a combination of Romney/Border Leicester crossbred (75%) and Mohair (25%), hand dyed a dark green heather. The heather dyeing was a result of dyeing the Romney a dark green and the Mohair a lime green. This non-spinning knitter is handspun-green-heather-jealous.
The commercial yarn is Rowan Yarns Scottish Tweed Aran (100% pure new wool) in Porridge.
It was interesting to read about the heritage of this design as well. Lisa explains that St. Patrick was her first design–inspired by Alice Starmore, but until now it had remained unpublished. You can really see how she was inspired by the sweater’s namesake, with snake-like cables flanking the center motif.
The handspun version is knit in a Blue-Faced Leicester (50%) and Mohair (50%). The charcoal gray Blue-Faced Leicester combined with the fawn Mohair create a gorgeous yarn with a beautiful halo and a deep, rich shading of colors.
The design itself is a great companion for the handspun. The large areas of stockinette showcase the variations in the yarn and will allow the mohair to halo over time. The simple cables up the sleeve give interest and the wide cables on the center front make a bold statement but don’t seem to interfere with the handspun.
The commercial yarn used is Lamb’s Pride Worsted in Victorian Pink. Before reading this book I wouldn’t have considered making a cabled sweater in Lamb’s Pride, but after seeing the examples and reading the thought processes behind them, I can understand how it can work.
While the sweaters really take center stage, there are several accessories–socks, a cap, and both cabled and lace scarves. In total, the book offers:
All garments are accompanied by a schematic, and notes are given regarding length adjustments. The sizes are broad but probably start larger than many of you are accustomed to. Most of the patterns start at 38″ or 40″ around, and the largest design goes up to 53″ around. Lisa notes that the designs are created with at least 4″ of ease in mind.
Regarding sizing, be warned that if you’re a smaller size you may find it a challenge with this book, particularly for the few designs that are meant to be fitted. If you do not want to swim in your sweaters you’ll need to downsize them. While some of the simpler garments will be straightforward to adjust, the complex arans and fitted garments will take more forethought and might include adjusting gauge or adding/subtracting cable motifs to achieve the right size.
An example is Gaelic Mist (above right, in lavender). The cardigan simply doesn’t fit the model The design has set-in sleeves but the shoulders are so wide that it appears to be a drop shoulder garment. This is probably an issue of the wrong size model (a size 38″ seems too big for this model*) but it is helpful in demostrating that you’ll have some work to do if you’re a smaller size and want to knit this cardigan.
* Edited to Add: Lisa Lloyd clarified that the lavender sweater is actually a size 46″. She also mentioned that she has a smaller frame but prefers the 38″ because she prefers some ease in a sweater made with such a rustic yarn.
The other criticism I’ll share is that in some cases the photography doesn’t show enough of the garment for me. Books have limited space and selecting photos that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional can be a challenge. In one case, the cardigan was not modeled on a person, and the only photos of it were folded on top of something and a close up. In many cases though, the wide shot of the models is accompanied by a close up of one of the design details–for example, the belt in Le Smoking. Often, if I looked at both the handspun and commercial yarn model, between the two of them and a review of the chart(s) I was able to get a good sense of what the design is doing.
These two criticisms did not discourage me from the book at all. There are a lot of beautiful designs in here, and it has sparked my interest in seeking out some handspun for a sweater of my own.
This is a superb book. It’s not often that I can say that I feel smarter having read a knitting book, and the background and detailed information on the projects make them even more appealing.