Knitting Book Review: Alice Starmore Must-Have Classics

In our current time, it’s increasingly tempting to keep our patterns digital. I know I certainly have more than my fair share of purchased PDFs that I have knit but never printed off. But there’s a special place in my heart for knitting books, and I think they are a frugal knitter’s friend. If you would knit at least 4 patterns from the book, the cost is less than if you bought 4 different pdfs online. And as a writer, I love the tactile feel of having books and refer to them regularly- they are brilliant for inspiration, or learning more deeply about an aspect of knitting. And I feel like Alice Starmore has written some of the most valuable and timeless knitting books out there.

A perfect example is Alice Starmore’s Aran Knitting: New and Expanded Edition. These designs are unisex and timeless, and there’s a great section at the front explaining the history of Aran knitting which sorts out some of the facts from fiction around this traditional style. This is an especially valuable book for any designer who wants to design with cables – not only is it a rich resource of stitches that can be combined in endless variations, but it talks about the construction in a helpful way. One critique I have of the book is that the designs contain multiple charts; as in, each stitch used in the design has it’s own separate mini-chart, and you have to move from one chart to the next while still on a single row. If you are an experienced cable knitter this is easier than it sounds, but if you are a beginning cable knitter this will likely prove to be a hurdle. It might be worth recharting it out for one large chart that contains all the mini charts so you can review line by line.  You can see what I mean in the photo below:

That lovely navy swatch is my swatch for Na Craga, the cover sweater that I have loved for years. I’ve swatched in Berroco Ginkgo (52% silk, 48% wool), in the Lapis colourway. I feel like I’d love a classic cabled sweater like this in a classic, wear-with-anything sort of colour like navy, cream, or grey. I’m really happy with the resulting swatch- it helped convince me that the chart switching wasn’t that big of a deal, and I really like the almost tweedy flecks that the silk gives the yarn, while looking quite sumptuous. The resulting fabric has drape and is not very crisp, which I think would be a real positive in a densely cabled sweater. If anyone is concerned about a cabled knit making them look bulky, consider a yarn with a bit of silk in it for drape (but please swatch – and wet block that swatch!).

If you want to see how the sweaters from this book have turned out for other knitters, it’s worth perusing the finished knits from the book on Ravelry. So many beautiful knits!

You Should Totally get This Book If: You love cables and classic unisex-style sweaters that are utterly timeless, and you can handle using multiple charts.

You Should Definitely Not Get This Book If: You are a beginning knitter, or if you don’t really like knitting cables.

If cables are not your thing, how about colourwork? Alice Starmore’s Charts for Color Knitting: New and Expanded Edition is the colourwork bible. Hundreds and hundreds of charts arranged by country of origin.

This book starts off with a great section on designing colourwork sweaters and the different types of colourwork from various cultures, including borders and allover designs. The charts are rendered in black and white, which gives you a lot of freedom to determine what sort of colours and how many you would like to use.

I swatched using SweetGeorgia Party of Five Mini -Skein set in ‘Snapdragon’, and had fun playing around with the wonderful colours in this set. I have a tough time resisting mini skeins, and sets like these are well suited to experimenting with colourwork if you feel unsure of your colour matching abilities.

I often don’t feel very confident putting colours together, and there have been many times I thought I had my colours all figured out, swatched, and ended up totally disappointed. Here are my tips for taking the guesswork out of colourwork, if you also sometimes feel a little intimidated:

  1. Just use two colours. There’s no rule saying that because a chart or pattern calls for 12 different colours you have to use 12 different colours.  Low contrast (light grey and medium grey, for example) or high contrast (black and white, or dark purple and light pink) can be used for any chart.
  2. Try using a gradient yarn with a solid (or heathered) contrast colour. Or mix it up and use two different gradient yarns that contrast with each other!
  3. Use a mini skein set of pre-matched colours. A mini skein set with a good mix of light and dark is ideal, because they have already done the hard work of figuring out which colours would look good together. This can provide you with endless opportunities to try combining colours together in different types of charts and developing your abilities to figure out great combos. For example, this was my first swatch (chart is found on page 44, the Sweden section):

While I liked the way the pistachio colour flowed into the medium green, I tried to reverse the contrast and make the background green above the middle line, and it totally didn’t work. But that’s okay! Swatching is brilliant for playing around with colour. I was much happier with my second chart attempt (also on page 44):

You Should Totally Get This Book If: You love colourwork and the idea of playing around with new ideas, and you want a solid resource that gives you a massive array of choice and possibilities.

You Probably Should Not Get This Book If: You want help choosing colours to go together, and you like a lot of advice about colour. The real gold of this book is the focus on designing with colourwork and the black and white charts, not advice on colours.

Tudor Roses is unlike any other knitting book you will encounter. The concept centralizes on 14 women from the Tudor dynasty, which is in and around the era of the infamous Henry VIII. There is a pattern inspired by each woman, and it is prefaced with a quote from a letter that each woman wrote hundreds of years ago. To me this is like a knitter’s coffee table book, in that it is such a work of art.  I have read the letters so many times, that even if I never knit a single pattern I would keep it. There have been many beautiful knits from this book, and you can see all the patterns on Ravelry here. Not all of them are colourwork, either! One of my favourite patterns is Lady Mary, a beautiful colourwork wrap:

The design calls for 9 different colours, but you could achieve a very similar effect with using a gradient yarn and a contrast colour.  My other favourite is Katharine of Aragon:

This stunning jacket has 13 colours, but there is a handy chart that indicates the darker and brighter colour values, so it would be easy to convert to a two-colour version. You could also customize your own with fewer contrasting colours. While most of the patterns feel quite dressy (they were inspired by queens and princesses, after all), if you feel like modifying you could change them up or use different, more casual colours. Imagine Lady Mary just in shades of cream and grey, for example.

This Book is Definitely for You If: You design garments, feel comfortable modifying patterns or experimenting with colour, or if you have been wanting more dressy knits in your life.

This Book is Totally Not for You If: You don’t find the concept a little interesting and you prefer your knits super simple and straightforward.

The good folks at Dover Publications have very kindly offered a coupon code for 25% off of ANY book on their site. Really, any book at all! There’s loads of knitting titles to choose from here, and you can click around and check out all their other craft books, if you happen to be multi-craftual.  Here’s the coupon code: WRBG

Who doesn’t love a giveaway? Dover Publications is also giving away one copy of Tudor Roses (US and Canada addresses only. I’m sorry international friends!)

Click here to view this promotion.

Entry for the giveaway will close on Wednesday, March 8th at 5 p.m. EST. The winner will be announced on Friday, March 10th!

**This is a sponsored post from Dover Publications. All opinions are entirely my own.

23 comments

  1. Melissa Burns   •  

    Yay for your Na Craga! I’m just finishing mine up for my sweet husband! I’m quite surprised how drapery it is, just in wool. It Knits up rather dense, but then after a good soak and blocking, it just…Bloomed into this beautiful fabric. I’m seaming it up now! He can’t wait to wear it.

    I also Love that Alice Starmore colorwork book, I use it all the time, just to play with ideas for mittens or yokes or hats. They are the BEST books!

  2. Snow   •  

    Great review and what a nice offer from Dover Pub!!
    Alice Starmore is epic for resource material. I have to say I was overwhelmed when I first encountered her books as a new knitter but I was also encouraged by what knitting could become with diligence and patience. Cables and I are good friends now.
    Omigosh I had NO idea about Tudor Roses!! I can’t wait to curl up with this book! History, letters, knitting…all my favs.
    I’m truly giddy about this book!!
    What a treasure!!
    Thank you for sharing and Thank you Dover Publishing for sponsoring.

  3. Shannon Yeaton   •  

    Yes, a great review, and I own two of these books. Her designs are definitely classics, but I have yet to make one. You’ve inspired me! And it just so happens the one you’re giving away is the one I don’t have! Thanks for a great giveaway.

  4. Alina   •  

    What a wonderful review, Julie! “Tudor Roses” sound just amazing! Alice Starmore is my big inspiration, such an amazing designer.

  5. mary jo   •  

    Dover keeps so many great books in print and at a reasonable price too.
    some of my favorite knitting books are Dover publications and have been in my library for years. they inspired me when I was relearning to knit in the 70″s and continue to inspire me today.
    thanks for the give away

  6. Jennifer   •  

    I love all of these books so much. I use “Charts for Color Knitting” all the time. The other two are more inspirational for me (I doubt I’ll ever knit anything out of “Tudor Roses,” but it sure is pretty to look at! And, of course, one should never say never 😀 ).

    Love your swatches, too.

  7. Sarah Dunstall   •  

    All the things I love in one book – historical references, beautiful patterns, and a book I can hold in my hands. Love your review, and would love to have one of these books!

  8. Amy   •  

    I’m in total agreement regarding printed books – there is just something special about actual books. On an unrelated note, what can you tell me about that little bowl in the 2nd picture – is that a hedgehog?

  9. Celeste   •  

    Oh I’ve loved the Na Craga sweater for a long time. I’m not scared of cables by any means, but they are a big investment in time.

    I’ve recently heard that sweaters knit with a silk blend can tend to stretch out and not bounce back very well. I’m guessing the larger ratio of wool will negate this to a certain extent. I’m very curious if you encounter this at all once the full weight of the garment is in tact.

    And yes that blue is amazing! I’m starting to watercolor and I have a paint in that shade of blue that I’m constantly reaching for.

  10. Tahnee   •  

    There is truly something special about hard copies of knitting books. But I also find myself most of the times going for the quick and easy solution and simply downloading pattern pdfs.

  11. Stefanie   •  

    I have one of her books that my mum got me. I didn’t know the colorchart one existed; it looks so fun and chockful of charts. I love the one you’re playing with.

  12. Val   •  

    Your swatches are so lovely. How wonderful to read a review of these classic books! Remember when Tudor Roses was long out of print and going for insane prices on Ebay? So nice to see it in reprint! And hooray for physical documents! (says the archivist 🙂

    • Julie   •     Author

      Hi Val,

      it was crazy when the price for out-of-print Tudor Roses was through the roof! I really like the paperback edition, it’s still a huge book (and heavy, not a portable thing), but the content is so amazing. I find the patterns really inspiring, and the historical context is so fascinating to me. I totally want to do a grey and cream Lady Mary shawl!

      Cheers,

      Julie

  13. Stephanie   •  

    Thanks so much for these reviews, Julie! I had always thought of Alice Starmore as someone who designed garments that I would probably never knit due to complex colorwork, but Aran Knitting and Charts for Colorwork are right up my alley. I use my Barbara Walker stitch dictionaries all the time and these might be a good addition to my knitting library. Your swatches look great–I can’t wait to see your progress and finished pieces! And how kind of Dover to offer such a great discount–I will definitely put it to use!

    • Julie   •     Author

      Hi Stephanie,

      The Barbara Walker stitch dictionaries are definitely wonderful – I love mine as well. but I feel like everyone owns the same stitch dictionaries, and so the designs coming out are usually the same sort of stitches we see again and again. What I like about these is a very creative approach and seemingly limitless possibilities just like Barbara Walker’s books. Some classic books are full of great ideas if we approach them less like finished patterns and more like potential stitch dictionaries.

      Cheers,

      Julie

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  15. RuthAnn   •  

    All of these books look wonderful! What a terrific variety of designs that all look accessible (by that I mean do-able).

    • Julie   •     Author

      So true, and I have so many great knitting books, I’ve been meaning to talk more about them and why i keep them. Every year I do a big book purge, but the ones that stick around do so because I find them so interesting and useful.

      Cheers,

      Julie

    • Julie   •     Author

      Thanks so much! It was fun to play around with them, and just see what happened. I find swatches are great for combating startitis, when you want to cast on for all the things!

      Cheers,

      Julie

  16. Michele   •  

    I have Aran Knitting and I love it. Na Craga has been in my queue for a long time – one of these days I will get around to knitting it. Love Alice Starmore!

  17. miss agnes   •  

    nice sponsorship, and a very interesting review post. I love reading about knitting books.

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