American Spun: 20 Classic Projects Exploring Homegrown Yarn (affiliate link) was released on December 8, 2015. I pre-ordered it, so it arrived in my mailbox a couple of days before the official release date. This book is primarily a pattern book. If I had understood that, I would not have ordered it, which would have been a shame because not only do the patterns seem to be well-written, the book is also much more than just a pattern book.
The projects in this book are all designed using yarns which are made in America, at some point during their production process. Sudo highlights fifteen yarn companies ranging from shepherds who send their own wool out for processing to a mill (Harrisville) to yarn designers who source wool from the United States to indie dyers. Some of the yarns are completely American made from sheep to yarn. Others might be only milled or dyed in the US, from wool produced elsewhere.
American Spun is organized by yarn producer. Each section starts with a two page spread featuring pictures of the company and short interviews with an owner of that company. When I pre-ordered the book, I expected this type of material to make up the majority of the book. While I definitely enjoyed these pages, I was disappointed that each section was so short. You get only a broad overview, similar to what you might get on the “About” page of a website. I was hoping for something more in-depth.
Following the two-page spread is at least one pattern designed by author Anna Sudo using one of the company’s yarns. The 20 patterns offer a little something for everyone — hats, gloves, scarves, shawls, sweaters, slippers, leg warmers, jelly jar cozies, a rug, and a blanket. None of the patterns are suitable for an absolute beginner knitter. Every pattern uses an intermediate to advanced technique like steeking, stranded colorwork, or grafting. A few patterns involve more basic knitting (hat, scarf, mittens), but you then embroider on top of that basic knitting. Anyone who already possesses all the skills represented in this book would certainly be considered an advanced knitter.
I have not knit any of the patterns in this book, so I cannot vouch for their accuracy. However, I will tell you that all the patterns include a feature that I very much like and look for in patterns: detailed information in the beginning of the pattern. Every pattern should include finished measurements and gauge, but often patterns don’t include more than basic information in these areas. In American Spun, the provided measurements are complex. Fingerless mittens give you both the hand circumference and cuff to fingers measurements for all three sizes. Hats specify the circumference at the brim, unstreched. Sweaters give you the chest size both of the person the garment is intended to fit and the finished garment itself, so you can see how many inches of ease Sudo built into the pattern. The leg warmers pattern provides the calf circumference, foot circumference, and length for each size and advises you to choose a size based on your foot circumference. Every single pattern specifies the size of the sample shown in the pattern pictures. The gauge information is also detailed. Most patterns provide multiple gauges, for stockinette and a stitch pattern. Every gauge listing describes the stitch pattern used and every pattern that includes something other than stockinette lists a gauge in the stitch pattern. The pattern lists up front the notions you need for the pattern. While I haven’t knit any of the patterns, the care taken in providing this detailed pattern information raises hope that the patterns themselves were handled with similar care and will be accurate.
Every pattern where fit is relevant gives a range of size options. Accessories like socks, hats, and gloves include two or three sizes. The men’s sweater includes instructions for sizes S to 5X. The two women’s sweaters are graded for sizes XS to 5X. The only one-size patterns in the book are the blanket, scarves, shawl, and jelly jar cozy.
Even if you aren’t going to knit any of the patterns in this book, there is one feature of the book that is worth the purchase price: the three page appendix of grafting instructions. Several of the patterns in this book require grafting, and sometimes that grafting happens along borders that aren’t straight stockinette. All the instructions I’ve ever seen for grafting were written as though you were grafting stockinette, so you are grafting two knit stitches together. But what if you are grafting reverse stockinette edges? Or garter stitch? Or ribbing? And what if your stitch pattern changes along your seam? The appendix of American Spun has grafting instructions for these scenarios. I have too long of a queue to buy and hang onto knitting pattern books, and that’s why I wouldn’t have bought this book and ordinarily wouldn’t have kept it on my shelves after I realized that it was primarily a pattern book. But this appendix on grafting earned the book a permanent home on my crowded shelves of knitting reference books.
Whether you are looking for a coffee table book with stunning photography, an introduction to yarns produced in America, thoughtfully written intermediate to advanced patterns, or clear descriptions of knitting techniques, this is the book for you. The fact that this single volume includes all of these features makes American Spun an outstanding book that belongs on every knitter’s shelves.