Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Knitter's Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn

Rate this book
Not all yarns are alike. Some make our hearts and hands sing, some get the job done without much fanfare, and some cause nothing but frustration and disappointment. The gorgeous pair of socks that emerged from their first bath twice as long as when they went in. The delicate baby sweater that started pilling before it even came off the needles. The stunning colorwork scarf that you can’t wear because the yarn feels like sandpaper against your neck. If only there were a way to read a skein and know how it would behave and what it wanted to become before you invested your time, energy, and money in it. Now there is! With The Knitter’s Book of Yarn , you’ll learn how to unleash your inner yarn whisperer.

In these pages, Clara Parkes provides in-depth insight into a vast selection of yarns, giving you the inside stories behind the most common fiber types, preparations, spins, and ply combinations used by large-scale manufacturers and importers, medium-sized companies, boutique dye shops, community spinneries, and old-fashioned sheep farms. And, because we learn best by doing, Parkes went to some of the most creative and inquisitive design minds of the knitting world to provide a wide assortment of patterns created to highlight the qualities (and minimize the drawbacks) of specific types of yarns.

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn will teach you everything you need to know about How it’s made, who makes it, how it gets to you, and what it longs to become. The next time you pick up a skein, you won’t have to wonder what to do with it. You’ll just know–the way any yarn whisperer would.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published October 16, 2007

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Clara Parkes

14 books344 followers
CLARA PARKES left her career in the booming high-tech industry to pursue her love of knitting. She lives on the coast of Maine in a farmhouse full of yarn. She is the publisher of KnittersReview.com and a contributor to Interweave Knits."

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
733 (49%)
4 stars
512 (34%)
3 stars
185 (12%)
2 stars
42 (2%)
1 star
8 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 124 reviews
Profile Image for Hallie.
954 reviews124 followers
February 9, 2013
I've owned this pretty much since it was published, but I've done a bit of a reread recently, and it's the kind of book you get a lot out of on rereads. Not because it's unclear at all, but because there's a wealth of information that I, at least, hadn't seen before reading this. There's really only one pattern I love in the book, and that's the Maine Morning Mitts, which is available for free online. (I've made it many times and it's a great pattern.) It wasn't until this browse through that I totally got the match of yarn and pattern though. There are so many complexities of twist, ply, spinning method, etc, that it's just the basics that stuck first time around. On the other hand, on the first read I *did* understand why tee-shirts I used to buy from the Gap all those years ago would end up with twisty seams! That just enhances life a bit.

The only complaint I have isn't really a valid one anyway, and that's the lack of acknowledgment of the very problematic nature of most cashmere yarns. Both environmentally and ethically, much cashmere production is pretty disastrous. I only learned this on Ravelry after becoming seriously hooked on knitting and at times wished a bit that I hadn't, at least until I'd bought a good stash of cashmere! But Parkes is definitely on the side of the angels as far as small yarn producers are concerned, which is fantastic.
Profile Image for Jen.
380 reviews43 followers
January 6, 2009
I am a fiber geek now

I know that qiviut is the warmest yarn (and expensive). That you can knit with opossum. And that rayon used to be called "wood silk".

I know the difference between woolen spun and worsted.

I know why merino feels so dang good.

And why angora is stifly hot.

ohhh the things in my little head.

Good book. Not sure about the patterns, but go have fun.
Profile Image for Jennie.
18 reviews1 follower
October 21, 2007
I'm willing to admit that this book probaby sounds deadly boring to non-knitters, and maybe even to some less-dedicated knitters. But if you want to understand the basis of the medium, this book is a very good start. The organization (kinds of fiber, how they're spun and dyed, and why yarn is or isn't plied) is good. The author does a good job of explaining how the structure of the yarn influences how designers use them in knitted garments. And although I'm not a fan of all the patterns in the book, there are several good ones. In the end, though, I'm keeping this book more as a reference volume than a pattern collection.
Profile Image for Shelia.
5 reviews1 follower
October 12, 2007
I need to qualify my review to mwntion that I am a contributor, in a small way, so I am not totally unbiased. This is a book that I wish had been available when I was a new knitter, and even without taking account of any of the patterns, it is one that will be useful to knitters and other fiber crafters because of the solid infornation that the author has included.
Profile Image for Cillaann.
12 reviews
June 17, 2008
I may be the only one that isn't ohing and ahing about this title. I think the problem is the fact that I have a strong textile chemistry background and the fiber chapters were not all together accurate. So I found the book anoying.
July 6, 2008
An excellent book I'd like to buy. It gives you the family tree (categorizations) of yarn, and tells you, as you have been told no where else, what yarns are good for what types of knitting projects ! It discusses how yarn is made, from what source (animal, veggie, man-made), the types of ply's, whether large industry or small farm, giving patterns for the particular yarns that will showcase them off best. She gives additional reading and internet resources, and encourages patronizing small makers of yarns. She's the author of knittingreview.com. This book is an excellent resource !
Profile Image for Laura Gembolis.
461 reviews44 followers
August 6, 2012
I was seduced by the title's promise to be the ultimate guide.

Even after reading descriptions of different yarn, I didn't see how this would help me when in the yarn shop. Paying attention to the labels in our clothes seems more helpful than this book. I found the listing of brands strange. I wasn't looking for brands - what if they stop making a product line? How helpful is that?
After reading, I came back to my original subconscious thought: Nothing beats experiential learning.

Profile Image for julia.
136 reviews6 followers
September 10, 2008
I LOVE this book! I've learned so much about the different categories of yarn and which purposes each type of yarn are suited for. I appreciate yarn even more now. The projects in here are great too. The next big yarn sale I go to will definitely find me with this book in hand to better understand what I'm buying. A timeless reference book.
Profile Image for Lil' Grogan.
541 reviews4 followers
January 9, 2012
Judging by its billing as the "ultimate guide" this book failed for me. While there were details I found useful, it's very American and author-centric. There were fibres not covered in the book, which may reflect on the speed of new yarn being developed/made available or a reflection on the author's limitations (on availability, it seems. Though if you're setting out to write the ultimate guide, surely you'd try to get your hands on the more "exotic" materials).

At times the book reads more like an advertising catalogue for specific brands of yarn, which may appeal to some but irritated me.

Mainly, this information is available in other books without the heavy emphasis on patterns (which I still find an annoying though understandable inclusion in both her books).
Profile Image for Donna.
1,050 reviews51 followers
June 4, 2008
I learned a lot about different types of fiber from this book, those chapters are clearly-written and really interesting.

I'm not wild about the pattern selection, though of course taste in knitting patterns is really subjective. So I'd be much more likely to buy this book if more of the space dedicated to patterns had been reserved for yarn talk.

The sections about yarn construction were brief and mostly served as introductions for each pattern chapter. These sections weren't presented in a way that helped me really get the concepts as well as I was able to understand the fiber sections.

I guess it sounds odd to complain that a knitting book should have fewer patterns! But more photos of yarn and swatches would have illustrated the points just as well, left more room for text, and would have made the book more of a must-have resource instead of a hybrid info/pattern book.
77 reviews2 followers
April 19, 2013
I treated reading this book like a study assignment, and took 30 pages of notes as I went along. I learned so much about fibers and how they feel, knit, wash, wear, insulate, itch, stretch, and more.

I can apply this information to not only my yarn choices for knitting, but also my clothing purchases. Why does some silk smell bad? What do the Pima Indians of Arizona have to do with my favorite cotton sheets? Why do some of my cotton t-shirts shrink biased? Why is hand-washing better than dry cleaning for my wool sweaters? How can I evaluate the pill potential of a garment? What does mercerized mean? And, how is it I've gone this long without knowing this information?

Clara Parkes knows her fibers, and has done her homework for this book. She includes patterns for different types of fibers, and though not all were to my taste, reading her explanation for why she chose the fiber, the weight, the ply, or the stitch for those projects, was helpful and enlightening.
Profile Image for Jen.
159 reviews15 followers
January 28, 2008
Such a clear explanation of each type of fiber, what its characteristics are, and why. Perfect for someone like me who never finds a pattern and goes out and buys the exact specified yarn - my style is more trying to adjust a pattern I found to yarn I've had for years, or unravelled from an old sweater, etc - so knowing what yarn is appropriate (for warmth, drape, wear, itchiness, type of stitches...) would really be great. A really good resource - now I just have to memorize this before returning it to the library...
Profile Image for Beth666ann.
192 reviews3 followers
November 5, 2007
Excellent, clear description of types of yarn and how they are produced. (note to self: silk is repulsive) Finally, I understand this "ply" thing, and weights, etc.etc. Plus, there are great, great patterns to do in each type of yarn. Very lovely design as well.
Profile Image for Phoebe.
Author 1 book39 followers
September 4, 2008
I expected more from this book. Mostly, I expected it to be a fun read, but it wasn't. While the topic was intriguing, the info well organized, and the illustrations charming, the overall tone failed to hold my attention. Beautiful photographs, though, and pleasing design.
Profile Image for Anna.
853 reviews25 followers
July 28, 2008
Some of the patterns are beautiful, but I didn't find the information on yarn all that helpful. I don't feel like after reading this book I could do any better at substituting yarn than I could before reading it.
Profile Image for Rho.
3 reviews4 followers
August 26, 2008
This may be on my read shelf but it is a book that gets taken of often for information about a yarn I might be thinking of using.
Profile Image for tinyteaplots.
703 reviews2 followers
March 8, 2019
This book should be required reading for anyone in the fiber arts. Whether you knit, crochet, weave, felt, or sew understanding our materials and their origins and development can only fortify our craft.
Profile Image for Joneen.
35 reviews14 followers
February 10, 2021
Don't get me wrong, this is a good book... but definitely not what it is advertised to be. This is not the ultimate guide to understanding overall differences between yarns so you can choose the appropriate one for your project, or match the project to an appropriate yarn. There was a small amount of this in broad strokes, such as: protein fibers being warmer than plant or synthetic fibers -- 3 and 4+ ply yarns being better for structure and stitch definition than 2 or single ply -- yarns with less structure have more drape -- etc. But in then end, the majority of her advice/guidance/direction boiled down to: experiment. Feel the yarn between your fingers, let your hands inform you about the yarn, try out swatches with different needle sizes and types of stitches; let the yarn tell you what to do. I'm not kidding - this is the summary of the "Putting It All Together" section at the end. In multiple places throughout the book, she recommends buying one skein of a yarn you're considering, and experimenting with it in order to decide what to use it for.

I understand some of this is due to the nature of the product itself - there is great variation in nature, and you can't simplify it down to "wool always behaves like this," or "alpaca is always great for this" - even within one species of sheep, there will of course be an abundance of variety on amount of crimp, staple length of fibers, etc. I get that, and that's part of the beauty and appeal that keeps fiber enthusiasts endlessly enthralled with every new yarn! And this doesn't even begin to account for the varieties when you start considering the numerous blends on the market, which a majority of yarns are.

However, I would have appreciated a book that was a more practical, results-oriented approach to understanding the differences between yarns. This turned out to be a more sensory, exploratory approach that reveled in the subtleties and myriad differences changing one component can introduce. If you are familiar with Myers Briggs, you will understand when I say this is a great book for "S" types - but not so much for "N" types, which is what I am. I thought this would be a top-down, big picture framework approach to understanding yarns, and placing the nitty-gritty details into their home within the overall framework. Instead, it was an overwhelming traipse through a jungle of details, one after another, without any of them coming together in a cohesive fashion to create a bigger picture. The only "bigger picture" takeaway I got from this book: this author loves yarn, its myriad varieties, and loves to experiment with them all and see how individual ones work up. And again, there is nothing wrong with this. If I had been looking for a book to vicariously enjoy marveling at the differences from one fiber to the next, this would have been great. But I was looking for something from a more bird's-eye view, so I could have a more general idea in my head that wool is usually good for this, while alpaca is usually great for this, etc. If I slogged back through the book, pulled out little comments here and there strewn throughout the text, and re-categorized them according to qualities such as warmth, elasticity, drape, structure, etc., I could maybe develop such an overview framework. But that is what I understood the book was supposed to do - I didn't buy it just to do this myself! Rrrgh.

Again, I don't want to bring this review completely down and leave people thinking it was an awful book, because it wasn't. The author does a great job of giving a wonderful sense of enjoyment and exploration of various yarns, and there are many beautiful patterns in the book. But I feel it was really sold as something different than what it is - I came away more confused about the varieties of yarn, not less. And that was the exact opposite of what I was wanting from this book.
Profile Image for Colleen O'Neill Conlan.
111 reviews10 followers
February 20, 2016
Like the title says, this is a book especially for knitters to help them understand yarn. It's so easy to be enticed by a beautiful yarn and plunge into a project, only to be disappointed with the results because the yarn wasn't a good choice for the project in mind. This book covers it all, from the raw materials (whether animal, vegetable, or man-made) to the structure (spinning, plying, or more intricate constructions) to dyeing (immersion, dyed in the wool, handpainted, or not dyed at all) to knitted projects matched to the many varied yarn types.

All of this information is presented very clearly and logically. Parkes's writing reminds me very much of that of Rita Buchanan, a spinner/knitter/weaver/dyer who used to write for Interweave Press publications. Both are experts who have a thorough understanding of fiber, and easily convey a wealth of information to the reader. Then Parkes brings it all together, offering lots of knitting and felting patterns (by her and more than a dozen other designers) nicely matched to a particular type of yarn of various plies and textures. The samples shown use yarn brands that may or may not still be available, but the larger point of the book is that you will be able to make thoughtful choices about appropriate substitutions. Very freeing!

As with any pattern book, you'll either like the designs or you won't. I was especially drawn to the Norwegian Snail Mittens and the Double Thick Mittens, and know I can pick a few skeins from my own yarn stash and get started.

Profile Image for April.
20 reviews2 followers
August 5, 2014
The design (and scent!) of this book is so delicious I feel like I should lick my fingers after consuming any bit of it. This seems appropriate given the exquisite yarns Clara Parkes details in the way only a passionate aficionado could. I didn't want this book to end. Within its beautifully uncoated, color-saturated pages, Parkes explores yarns made from natural fibers to manmade and everything in-between, including a look into the different scales at and methods with which they are spun and dyed. The latter half of the book is split into sections of single plied yarns, two, three, and other multi-plied yarns, including patterns to represent each. Two different versions of the patterns are pictured, each using a different kind of yarn, allowing the reader to see how the composition of the yarn affects the final product. My only qualm with this book is that some of the photographs do not do the projects justice--half of the images are purposefully blurred, which may make a nice picture in other circumstances, but considering the subject of the book, I'd much rather be able to see the detail of the stitches in every rendering of the projects.
Profile Image for Jean.
360 reviews6 followers
April 12, 2009
This is an excellent primer on yarn. The author describes the whole process of yarn from the fiber level to the finished spun yarn. She provides a great survey of the different types of fibers and the inherent nature of these fibers and how it affects your knitted piece. It's kind of the "Good Eats" of knitting. She goes into some scientific detail but not too deeply -- just enough for what you need. Very easy to read. I borrowed this from the library and intend to get my own copy as a reference. She also has patterns for projects for each of the different types of yarns and also has a primer in the back on how to take care of the objects knitted. Great reference for the beginner knitter intimidated by the different types of yarn.
19 reviews
December 6, 2015
As an engineer who knits, I have to admit that this book makes every part of me happy. This volume is a wonderful introduction to the world of yarns – their characterizations, what it takes to make them and beautiful patterns optimized to each category. I found myself poring over the descriptions of various plies as avidly as I studied the patterns. While this book is a wonderful introduction, it is not a comprehensive volume. There could be more description of the factory methods used to produce the yarns as well as more details into the material properties at each stage of processing. However, that is the material scientist in me and I realize that it's not necessarily what every person wants to see.
Profile Image for Desiree'.
91 reviews9 followers
August 24, 2015
I must express the importance of this book to all knitter's both inexperienced and experienced. This book will teach you the difference between worsted weight and worsted spun yarn; believe me, there is a difference. Worsted weight refers to how many inches you knit for gauge and worsted spun refers to a spinning technique in regards to wool. If you think you know about yarn, I guarantee you will learn some new information. If you're having trouble determining the difference between different plied yarn, I suggest reading this easy to understand explanation beset by the author. This is a great book to add to your knitting library.
Profile Image for Shari Blakey.
422 reviews
June 5, 2016
I have had this book for a few years, using it as a reference book. But I finally decided to read the first 70 pages instead of just referencing them when I needed to, and found the experience to be well worth it. Clara Parkes writes in an easy reading style but you learn so much in the process! Her yarn knowledge is truly amazing and this book well worth the investment for knitters.
I have used only one of the patterns (the baby hat as I knit often for charity and can always use a new hat pattern, although I modified it to use circular needles rather than knitting it flat and having to seam) but there are several others I intend to use in time.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books72 followers
January 4, 2010
I really enjoyed the first half of the book where it talked about the different types of yarn, and give that 4 stars. However, the patterns in the second half rather confused me (granted, I'm not a great knitter), and I wasn't that interested in them, so I give 2.5 stars to part 2.

I'd actually consider buying this book if it were just the first part and therefore a fraction of the price. Maybe I should check out her "The Knitter's Book of Wool: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Using, and Loving this Most Fabulous Fiber" book....
Profile Image for Joy.
650 reviews10 followers
January 8, 2013
This was a fascinating book, and a great addition to my crafting library. The author goes over various types of yarn, not limited to just the fibers but also the yarn weight, details of how it was spun, plys, and so on. Each yarn type is deconstructed and its behavior explained, with several different examples shown along with a few patterns that show off that type of yarn to its best advantage. As a beginner knitter, I found this incredibly helpful and I think it will help me be more successful with my yarn choices in the future.
Profile Image for Tiffany Klier.
55 reviews
January 12, 2010
So far I've been reading and re-reading the first part of this excellent non-fiction book. I've already learned so many things about natural fibers and weights of yarn. It will be useful one day... sure.

... dateline June 2008... officially ordered my own personal copy of this book. Too many people were waiting for it and it was just so exciting! There were a couple of patterns I'd like to try, so I simply ordered it from Baker & Taylor. currently waiting.....

Profile Image for Shannon.
169 reviews
July 24, 2013
A little bit more advanced than I am...I'm not really to the point of purchasing yarn from specific farms because of their practices and determining the level of processing on the wool. But an interesting book to flip through nonetheless. It could probably be a yarn bible for those who spin and dye their own yarn or seek out those who do. For my fellow "If I Can't Get It At A.C. Moore, I'm Not Getting It" set, this is a little beyond our scope.
Profile Image for Tenli.
924 reviews
August 24, 2008
Tonight when I got home from work there was a package from my friend on the East Coast who just attended the Rhinebeck NY Sheep and Wool festival. Inside was a signed copy of this book. LUCKY ME!!
Chapter II: So far, I've made the Maine Morning Mitts (one and a half pairs and counting) and the Scaruffle, all for holiday gifts. This book is a treasure and I am on a roll with it!
Profile Image for Charlotte.
347 reviews
February 6, 2008
A very comprehensive and scientific look at fiber and how it behaves The patterns are limited (although appealing in general) but the description of the different types of yarn and fiber is excellent. I've already started to incorporate what I learned into my knitting. A bit more talk on substituting yarn and less on fiber fairs would be welcome but that is my own personal bias.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 124 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.