Overcoming Fear with ‘Mastering Color Knitting’

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Wool and knitting needles (Photo credits: One Fine Stay)

If you’ve been  following along, you realize I have a not totally rational fear of colorwork knitting.  As in, I can knit lacework all day and all night, but the minute you want me to use more than one colorway my brain locks up.

So when Mastering Color Knitting by Melissa Leapman fell into my library bag (how’d

that happen!) I decided I had to give it a whirl and see if I could get my brain to unlock.

I’m going to ease into this by talking about the book mechanics first. Knitting books should have substance and a spine that can take a beating.  This trade paperback has both, and built in ‘book flaps’ to mark your page for you, no dog-ears necessary. My library copy has got a split on the spine, but there are no pages in danger of being torn loose.

There are four main sections to the book: Getting Started, Stranded Knitting, Intarsia Knits, and Reversible Two-Color Double Knitting.  The book is well set up with plenty of full color pictures, charts, and drawings of the techniques involved.

Getting Started gives you the basics: how to read a chart, the color wheel, and how to change colors. It also explains how to use the three pattern ‘treasuries’ in the book.  Informative without being overly simplistic or too pedantic, it’s good stuff, enough to give a fearful colorwork newbie like me enough confidence to dive in.

Stranded Knitting is by far the easiest technique, and by putting it first, Leapman helps to build confidence.  The first sentences in the section talk about how people who don’t knit think that Fairisle is much more difficult than it really is.  Since that has been my experience with lacework, again, this is great on the confidence level.

Each needed technique is explored in detail, included left handed, right handed, and two handed techniques, ribbing and cables, steeks and hiding the jog.  Not once did I feel overwhelmed reading through the information, and I began to feel confident that I might be able learn this stuff.

The chapter ends with a discussion of how to design in stranded knitting.  The inclusion of ‘how to design’ information is the standout feature of this book for me- it takes you all the way from beginner to ‘design your own’ in a way that doesn’t feel hurried or forced, and which gives you all the tools you need.

The intarsia section starts by talking about tangles, and Leapman uses the words ‘gazillion’ and ‘cat’ in this context in the first two pages. And you thought she was comforting.  Then she states that she does intarsia without butterflies or bobbins, and my awe for her increased tenfold.

Not to worry, though. She stays calm and collected and walks you through how to handle cats and tangles and the trials and tribulations of intarsia in such a way that even just reading it (did you think I was going to start a colorwork project just for the review? I’m not that brave, yet) I felt my confidence grow.  I’m not ready to take on Argyle just yet, but maybe I could tackle a simple star or heart pattern.

And yes, again at the end of the chapter she gives instructions for how to design, as well as a design gallery.  Good stuff.

Finally (well, not quite finally, but almost) she gives a breakdown of reversible two-color double knitting. From casting on to knitting a row to increases and decreases, everything is different in double knitting but honestly, different isn’t necessarily hard. Her instructions, yet again, make the difference between panic and confidence.

I think I’m going to learn all of these techniques eventually, but it might be double-knit that I start with. Missouri winters are COLD, and a double-knit wool coat with matching hat and mittens would be an awesome addition to my wardrobe.

I haven’t yet talked about the patterns included in Mastering Color Knitting, but almost all of them are lovely, and simply designed so that you can concentrate on the colorwork aspect.  I am particularly in love with the Kilim Sampler Throw (sorry, I was unable to find a picture online) featured in the intarsia section and on the back cover. I would make this as a bedspread and luxuriate in it.

The book finishes up with a brief reminder of techniques you probably already know if you’re tackling color knitting, and a couple of useful appendices.

I did have one big disappointment in the book (there she goes again!). You would think that a book about color knitting would have at least one person of color modeling its patterns. You would be wrong.  There are four models used in the book, and all are light skinned Caucasian folk without a tan line between them.  All under thirty-five, and all skinny.  Diversity would have made this a better book.

All that said, Mastering Color Knitting is on my ‘definitely must buy’ list.  Eventually I hope to be considered an ‘expert knitter’ (right now I’m probably well into intermediate level) and having this on my bookshelf at home, without a trip to the library necessary, would be excellent for when I take the leap.

This is simply a beautiful, informative, well designed knit book, and if you want to master color knitting, it should be on your bookshelf.


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