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Book Review — Short Row Colorwork

I don't always buy a new knitting book in time to get a book review written up. In this case, I managed to pre-order Short-Row Colorwork Knitting by Woolly Wormhead. Sixth & Spring Books are the publisher, meaning the book was available for pre-order from the Vogue Knitting website.

I ordered this book for a specific reason. I had tried designing with the "eye" or "leaf" shape in short rows a few years ago, but had trouble with the fabric not lying flat. I suspected it was because I was turning the short rows too close together — only one stitch difference horizontally. Woolly Wormhead does not address that concern specifically. However, when I look at the eye-shaped patterns, I can see they typically turn the short row with one stitch separation. In German short rows, this either means creating the new double-stitch two stitches before the last turn, or working the double-stitch from the last row, working a stitch, and then creating a new double-stitch.

As with many things in knitting, this book is a testament to how much design variation can be achieved within limited parameters. All the patterns are worked in garter stitch. All the swatches and projects are worked in Malabrigo yarn. All the patterns and swatches use only two colors of yarn. Yet, there is enough dynamism to keep the book interesting. The author has divided motifs into three categories — adjustable, stackable, and repeatable. These categories reflect the way the stitch patterns can be used, whether they can be expanded horizontally, repeated vertically, or repeated horizontally. There are clear visual and verbal instructions on how to work the techniques, including German short rows, crochet cast-on, working backwards, and garter-stitch grafting.

The middle of the book contains a dictionary of 50 stitch patterns with both written-out directions and charts. The dictionary is divided into the three types of patterns with colored headers bled to the page edge to make it easier to locate. Every pattern is illustrated with a nice clear swatch. The combination of Malabrigo with its semi-solid kettle-dyed colorways and lines of garter stitch work very well here. Oftentimes the background movement of a stitch pattern is as interesting as the motif. The effect mimics the sky in Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night. Several stitch patterns employ bursts of color and slipped stitches. With the distortion of short rows, these short runs of alternative-colored stitches create doodle-like lines in the fabric. Intriguing.

The next section of the book contains 10 projects. Two are hats by Woolly Wormhead, while the other projects are a circular shawl, fingerless mitts, a cowl, two scarves, and three triangular shawls by guest designers. These all look like they could keep the attention of an intermediate knitter without overwhelming. The short-row colorwork technique lends itself to bold graphic elements that feel modern and youthful, while still being wearable. They also look satisfying and enjoyable to make.

The final section of the book feels added-on. There is no double-page spread with thumbnails of all 50 stitch patterns or an overview of all 10 projects. The closest we get is on pages 185-189, as there is a picture of each of the 10 projects. The discussion of designing with the motifs is often technically complicated, but there are no illustrations to aid understanding. Multiple times I wished for a visual example of the pitfall being described. I am wondering if the manuscript overran the desired page count? Or did these concerns arise late in production and were rushed into the book as it went to press? 

The book ends with a two-page spread of contributor bios over a picture of yarn. I'm sort of surprised we don't have head shots of the contributors? The index is on the very last page of the book, rather than a blank end page. This again makes the think the manuscript size and the desired book size were not congruent? Lest I be accused of disliking the book layout too much, I should stress I do like the cover. The paperback cover folds over to hide a quick reference of abbreviations for following the instructions and charts. Nice!

I'm torn on my final rating. Is this book worthy of space on my very crowded knitting bookshelf? I'm not certain. It was worth my time to read it. But will I refer back to it over and over again? Time will tell.