Three book reviews: a story, a how-to guide and a book of art

Three book reviews: a story, a how-to guide and a book of art

Three book reviews: a story, a how-to guide and a book of art The Natural Fibre Company

I love reading.  We have too many books, probably, although I am not sure this is possible.  They are in pretty much every rooom of our house …

I have reviewed several books in this blog, all of course related to sheep, wool and yarns.  So here is a selection of recent reads.  Two of these books I requested for review as they seemed interesting and I am pleased to say I was right.  The third I bought.


This Golden Fleece – a journey through Britain’s Knitted History

By Esther Rutter

Three book reviews: a story, a how-to guide and a book of art The Natural Fibre Company

This book has only 300 pages but it took me quite a while to read it – mainly because it is both detailed and interesting!

Esther spends a year travelling around the UK, in no particular order of geography, re-learning how to knit and then experimenting quite bravely with projects suited to the wool and locations as she travels.  So of course she goes to Shetland Wool Week and of course she looks at Cornish ganseys and in between she covers Wales, Suffolk, Cumbria and much else in a voyage of personal discovery.

In some ways the book is completely unstructured – each chapter looks at a particular aspect of knitting, with an excursion into spinning as well.  All is set against the history of knitting and is linked to a series of knitting projects. 

While the narrative is light and easy to read, there is much learning and the index runs to 12 pages, while the references for each chapter cover another 16 pages, along with 11 pages of select bibliography, plus the notes on the illustrations and plates.  So this is a researched and learned book, and also gives the reader an opportunity to delve further into the history of wool and knitting in Britain.

One aspect is that this is also a history mainly of women, although some men appear from time to time.  In particular, it describes how women used knitting to earn a living and also covers their innovative and occasionally rebellious.  The book also covers knitting companies, has stories told by locals and also the knitted projects provide a counterpoint of skills, challenges, mistakes made and rectified and the eventual great success of the background project of a gansey for Esther’s father, which, of course, takes the whole book and a whole year to make.

I very much enjoyed it and would recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-78378-435-6 published by Granta books


Little Loom Weaving – techniques, patterns and projects for complete beginners

By Fiona Daly

Three book reviews: a story, a how-to guide and a book of art The Natural Fibre Company

Here is a very different book – Esther Rutter leaves the reader to imagine the details of her patterns in a history story and personal journey – by contrast Fiona Daly takes us in a detailed step-by-step journey into how to weave and how to make woven items.

She starts with a history of weaving and this book focusses on the simplest of looms – a frame loom, which is probably much like the earliest weaving looms, before we started to move our heddles and shafts around or even reconfigure our warps … 

This is particularly good as you can start with a piece of cardboard and some scissors, making the craft instantly accessible to anyone and perhaps a good way of working with children as well.

The next really good thing is Fiona’s chosen materials: wool, cotton, linen, and so on but all natural!  No plastic here … and the tools illustrated on page 21 are all wood or metal as well – very appealing!  And the page on yarn thickness is very clear and simple too.  And so it goes on …

The introduction is detailed, thorough and beautifully illustrated with clear, simple and colourful photography and sketches.  The main weave designs are introduced and explained and also some lovely tapestry techniques, stitches and edges, which take what might seem a very simple piece of cardboard into a truly craft activity.

The book has, altogether, 100 pages of tuition and these are followed by 5 projects, each of which illustrates the techniques shown earlier in the book and is complete – not just a piece of weaving but a purse or a cushion cover or a wall hanging, with all the information needed to get it to a finished state and indeed to try variations.  You will need a frame loom and the basic tools in order to undertake the projects, as a cardboard loom would not work for them, except possibly the wall hanging, though it could be very useful to try out the techniques, so it is a shame that there is no project for a cardboard loom included, but this is a small complaint in the grand scheme of this book.

I have been following the research reports from the excavations of the Hallstatt salt mines where Bronze Age textiles are being investigated and it is clear that wonderful things can be done with very simple equipment.  This is an inspiring book for someone to start weaving and build up skills with excellent, useful, practical projects.

ISBN 978-0-85762-189-4 published by Quarto Publishing


Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook

By Henry Moore

Three book reviews: a story, a how-to guide and a book of art The Natural Fibre Company

I found this book at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, and of course the title and cover made it irresistible.

Inside the facsimile of Moore’s original sketchbook, there is a wonderful collection of 96 sketches of sheep, first grazing, then with lambs and eventually shorn and with lambs.  The artist has captured, for me at least, both the essence of sheep in terms of shape and stance, and also the personality. 

Moore’s sheep do graze, in groups or alone, and they do feed their lambs.  The lambs run and jump.  But more, the expressions of the sheep, whether curiously eyeing the artist or looking at each other, are very real. 

Like people, sheep have individual faces and expressions and Moore has utterly captured this – from the cover portrait with the knowing look of a sheep not afraid and considering a human to the rather aggressive stance of a sheep wondering whether another needs putting in place, or the patient pose or a ewe feeding her lamb. 

The sheep are clearly a mix of breeds, so this also provides interest.

I need to start drawing again!

ISBN 978-0-500-28072-0 published by Thames and Hudson