Book Review: The Handknitter’s Yarn Guide

The Handknitter's Yarn Guide - Book Review of this Essential Resource for Knitters and Crocheters, from

I have been wanting to learn about different types of fiber for a while, but kept finding myself gravitating back to acrylic, acrylic blends or cotton blends. These are the types of fiber I am most comfortable with using just out of habit. I have a good idea now how these fibers behave and that is really helpful when planning a project.

But when I wanted to start exploring other yarn, it was a little confusing.  How do you find the yarn that has it all,  if such a wonderful thing exists? Maybe you want an economical yarn that’s washable with great stitch definition for cables, but you’d like it to be an animal fiber that’s sustainable. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one handy reference where you can look up the characteristics of various fibers?

The Handknitter’s Yarn Guide: A Visual Reference to Yarns and Fibers by Nikki Gabriel fits the bill. I’ve heard it recommended so many times, I needed to check it out. My first impression flipping through the 176 page book is that it’s a keeper, a reference book that you will want to have until you are a fiber guru and have the world of yarn characteristics memorized, a really wonderful aspiration by the way.

Publisher’s Description: This essential guide for every knitter at any level includes a comprehensive encyclopedia of the most commonly available yarns, complete with full-color photographs of swatches and vital information on how best to work with them.

You can order The Handknitter’s Yarn Guide on Amazon or Amazon UK

This book is laid out very clearly with easy to find information in the same format across each page and section, making it simple to cross compare fibers. I found it an essential addition to my library because it really dispels the confusion of knowing which yarn and  what weight is good for certain projects. It helped me answer questions I often have while crocheting like why aren’t I getting the effect, look, gauge or stitch definition that I want.  The one small drawback for me is it would be nice if crochet was included. The book is about yarn, but it’s the handknitter’s guide to yarn. I would have liked to see recommended gauge and hook size for crochet as well. But that really is my only knit to pick here.

The first section is Yarn Categories that highlights different yarn categories and then each weight in the category (2 ply, 3 ply, etc). Each page has knitting tips, but I think they can apply to crochet just as well. Tips like medium weight yarn highlights ribbing and cables seems to work for both knitting and crochet.

Next is Yarns in Use where Nikki breaks down categories of fiber. Really great information here! Included in this section are Animal Fibers, Vegetable Fibers, Synthetic Fibers, Textured Yarns, and Rare and Curious Fibers (nettle, corn, yak!). Blends are not forgotten, wonderful things like nylon and alpaca can be found here.

The Handknitter's Yarn Guide - Book Review of this Essential Resource for Knitters and Crocheters, from

Sample page from the publisher

Yarns in Use gives the characteristics and qualities, specs, use and care, quick tips, pros and cons, facts, and the burn test for each type of yarn. The specs will tell you the source of the fiber, relative cost (pricey or affordable), the range of weights, and the range of colors. Each section has a gauge and yardage guide to help calculate how mach yarn will be needed for a project and what the recommended knitting needle size is. I’m guessing you could just look up the recommended crochet hook size here, but some math is probably needed to convert knitting gauge and yardage for crochet. Pictures of swatches for each yarn help to show stitch definition in cables and how it would look with a more open stitch.

I love the Categories of General Qualities. I want to memorize these and pull them out at the next party I go to where everyone is talking fiber (it exists right??) “Oh for that hat you’ll want wool since it’s smooth with a mid-sheen.” This is the best part of the book for me. I really want to be able to chose a fiber based around one or many of the qualities mentioned: look, stitch definition, draping, resilience, durability, color retention, feel, warmth, breathability, moisture resistance, moisture wicking, allergens and toxins, fire retardability (wasn’t even on my radar), and sustainability.

I enjoyed comparing the sustainability of the many fibers listed.  Let me give you some examples to compare. “Soya: Soya fiber is considered an eco and organic fiber, It is produced from the waste of soybean production.” and “Nylon and alpaca: Alpaca improves the sustainability of this blend, as alpaca farming has a low environmental impact. This can be a sustainable yarn if the nylon is recycled.” vs. “Mohair and acrylic: The production of acrylic fibers has high environmental risks, reducing the sustainability of this blend.” Ultimately, I think sustainability is going to shape what yarn I work with the most in the long run and I appreciate having the information so handy.

Last but not least is the reference section: calculating yarn substitutes, Yarn labels and symbols, Needle sizes, US/European terms with measurement and weight conversions, and a general glossary.

Exhaustive but concise enough to be a quick reference, I highly recommend The Handknitter’s Yarn Guide if you want to learn more about the yarns you work with.

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The Handknitter's Yarn Guide - Book Review of this Essential Resource for Knitters and Crocheters, from


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