The Knitter's Life List: To Do, To Know, To Explore, To Make

The Knitter's Life List: To Do, To Know, To Explore, To Make

by Gwen W. Steege


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Knit a traditional gansey sweater with indigo yarn. Tour a spinning mill. Discover five ways to cast on for socks. Meet your personal knitting hero. The Knitter’s Life List is a richly illustrated compilation of 1,001 experiences and adventures that devout knitters won’t want to miss. You’ll find classic techniques to master, time-honored patterns to try, unusual yarns to work with, museums to see, books to read, and much more. Get inspired and live the knitting life of your dreams!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603429962
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 10/21/2011
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 715,639
Product dimensions: 8.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

Gwen W. Steege is the coauthor of The Weaving Explorer. She has been weaving for nearly 35 years and has exhibited her work in western Massachusetts, where she lives. For many years she acquired and edited a line of craft books at Storey Publishing focused on spinning, dyeing, knitting, crochet, and weaving. She is the author of a number of knitting books, including The Knitter’s Life List.

Read an Excerpt



For many of us yarn is what knitting is all about. Even the most frugal and normally sales-resistant person can find an excuse for buying just one skein with an undeniably beautiful color or an incomparably soft feel. If you admit that you're a pushover for yarns, here's a rundown of both common and not-so-familiar yarns that you're sure to encounter at some point. Each is worth a place on your life list. Yarn manufacturers continue to explore new processes and new blends, so you may discover additional choices when you shop. I've described only natural fibers, both plant- and animal-based, though some knitters prefer synthetics because they feel these fibers are more easily washed and may be less itchy.


Learn It, Explore It, Check It Off!


• Sarah Anderson

• Ann Budd

• Michael Cook

• Linda Cortright

• Kaffe Fassett

• Kay Gardiner

• Gretchen Frederick (Solitude Wool)

• Vivian Høxbro

• Marianne Isager

• Brandon Mably

• Clara Parkes

• Deborah Robson


• Search out an angora breeder at a fiber fair.

• Talk to breeders at fiber festivals.

• Look for natural-color angora yarn.

• Find the mohair goats at a fiber festival or agricultural fair.

• Search for yarns labeled by the sheep breed the fleece is spun from.

• Ask at your local yarn shop if they carry yarns spun at small U.S. mills.

• Look for fibers you've never used before.

• Look for a yarn sturdy enough to knit a leash or cord.

• Enjoy armchair-traveler pleasures by checking out fiber festival photos on the Web.

• Collect your favorite-color yarns, then build a project around them.

• Let your mood of the moment dictate your color choices.

• Choose analogous colors you love, then throw in a complementary color as an accent.

• Find color inspiration in quilts, carpets, saris, and other textiles.

• Find color inspiration in rusty bridges, old trucks, and industrial buildings.

• Collect postcards of favorite paintings at an art museum, and base a knitting project on the colors in one of them.

• Photograph landscapes and gardens (or clip them from magazines), and use the colors in your next project.

• Collect clippings of textiles and pottery you like and let the colors and textures inspire your knitting.

• Buy a field guide to butterflies, insects, or birds, and use the colors of one to create a palette for a project.


• Work a section of angora into a project as a decorative accent.

• Buy yarns (and fleece) direct from the source.

• Keep track of what, where, and when you purchase your yarns and fleeces.

• Collect your experiments with various yarns in a notebook.

• Hand paint or hand-dye some silk yarn.

• Make something small with cotton, such as a washcloth or spa item.

• Knit an earth-friendly hemp market bag.

• Choose a cotton/linen blend and knit a cool summer top.

• Work on one of Ann Budd's patterns.

• Knit socks from the toe up, with nicely rounded heels.

• Knit a design from one of Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne's books.

• Knit a Debbie Bliss design.

• Make something Jil Eaton designed.

• Work one of Vivian Høxbro's designs.

• Make something designed by Marianne Isager.

• Work a Kristin Nicholas design.

• Recycle an old or secondhand sweater by unraveling it, and knit something new with the yarn.

• Include care instructions with hand-knit gifts: you'll find them on the yarn band.

• If you're a spinner, ply two or more lightweight recycled yarns together.

• Knit a pattern designed by Brandon Mably.

• Knit with two different-colored yarns held together.

• Use multiple, closely related colors in a project.

• Knit something designed by Kaffe Fassett.

• Victorians used to create flower nosegays that carried messages (love, friendship, and so on). Choose two or three colors for their meaning and knit a hat or scarf with a hidden message for someone you care about.

• If you have a PDA or iPad, use an app to keep track of your yarns, supplies, and projects.

• Sign up for Knitter's Review online.

• Knit something for yourself with special yarn that you just love to touch.


• Investigate where your cashmere comes from.

• Read books to learn about fiber-bearing animals and the qualities of their fiber.

• Learn to spin.

• Compare yarns made of alpaca with those of llama.

• Be an armchair traveler: learn about places Linda Cortright writes about in Wild Fibers magazine.

• Compare mohair blends with 100 percent mohair yarns.

• Research the fleece characteristics of different breeds of sheep.

• Compare tussah silk and bombyx silk.

• Read labels and ask questions to determine whether yarns are recycled, organic, and/or fair trade.

• Sign up for workshops at fiber festivals.

• Dig through your stash and examine yarns with different plies.

• Knit swatches from yarn with different numbers of plies and observe the differences.

• Make swatches using yarn made with different spinning techniques.

• Unravel several different yarns to see how they were twisted together.

• Read about how Goethe and/or Johannes Itten described color theory.

• Buy a color wheel and use it to help you plan your next project.

• Learn the intarsia technique.

• Refer to a color wheel, and use three colors adjacent to one another (analogous) as the main colors in a Fair Isle pattern, then choose one more color "across the wheel" (complementary) as the "oddball" color to give your palette a kick.

• Choose one of your favorite colors and find out what it symbolizes to people in different cultures.

• Learn to wind a center-pull ball of yarn by hand.

• Use a homemade nøstepinde to wind a ball of yarn.


• Visit a fiber festival or agricultural fair and "meet" the animals.

• Visit a fiber farm.

• Visit New England's fiber hot spots, including Green Mountain Spinnery, Harrisville Designs, Quince & Co., and Still River Mill.

• Plan a trip to a faraway place and schedule fiber-related activities.

• Attend a "sheep-to-shawl" demonstration.

• Watch herding dogs in action.

• Search for commercial spinning operations where you live.


• Don't resist buying cashmere — buy just one skein, at least.

• Treat yourself to luxury: knit with bison.

• Treat yourself to even more luxury: qiviut.

• Experience the unique qualities of yak.

• Knit something with baby camel hair.

• Find a possum blend and try it out.

• Swatch yarns from different breeds and blends to compare.

• Knit with a silk-alpaca or silk-Merino blend.

• Choose fiber from your favorite designers' yarn lines.

• Be inspired by images and colors you experience when you travel.

• Pay attention to the colors and textures of the seasons and base knitting projects on them.

• Pick three yarn colors you love and two you aren't usually drawn to when planning a project.

• Photograph patterns and colors on a city street that catch your eye and use them in a project.

• Select colors you don't usually gravitate toward, and make a striped scarf with them.


• Wool from at least ten different breeds of sheep.

• Angora

• Cashmere

• Mohair

• Qiviut

• Bison

• Yak

• Alpaca

• Camel

• Guanaco

• Llama

• Vicuña

• Bombyx silk

• Tussah silk

• Cotton

• Hemp

• Linen

• Bamboo

• Banana-fiber yarn

• Corn-fiber yarn

• Metal-wrapped yarn

• Milk-fiber yarn

• Paper yarn

• Pineapple-fiber yarn

• Ramie

• SeaCell

• Soy silk

• Sugarcane-fiber yarn

• Tencel

• Take a tip from Clara Parkes's step-by-step approach to analyzing yarn, and try it with a yarn you're not familiar with.

• Color Planning, Day 1: Lay out several skeins of different colors. Color Planning, Day 2: Decide if you still like them.


• What fiber is lighter than, yet warmer than, wool?

• What animal gives us cashmere?

• What is Japanese washi?

• Who was one of the earliest promoters of using soy for making fabric?

• Where was the first mechanized textile factory in the United States?


We All Need Protein

All yarns that come from animals, whether fleece or hair, consist of protein fibers. The fleece or hair is shorn, combed, or in some other way collected from the animal, then cleaned and carded or combed (or both) before being spun into yarn. The price of the yarn is often determined by not only the quality or rarity of the fiber but also by how easy or difficult it is to get it off the animal and prepare it for use. Both quality and availability are dependent on the conditions necessary for successfully raising healthy animals. Some of the most luxurious (translation, "expensive") fibers come from animals that are difficult to domesticate or that grow small amounts of fiber very slowly.

Knit a Cloud: Angora

Angora fiber comes from several angora rabbit breeds, including English, French, German, Giant, and Satin, each with different characteristics. Although no one really knows where these long-haired rabbits originated, their name links them to what is now the Ankara region of Turkey. The soft, silky, white or colored hairs are removed from the animal by shearing, combing, or plucking. At a fiber festival you may even see a skilled spinner spinning the fiber straight from rabbit to wheel, which doesn't seem to bother the rabbit at all. Angora is often blended with another fiber, such as wool, both to make it go further and to give the yarn greater elasticity, as angora has almost no springiness of its own.

Cover Yourself in Luxury: Cashmere

This fiber deserves its standing as a luxury fiber. This is clear the minute cashmere insinuates itself into your shopping bag, but even more so as you feel the stitches take shape under your fingers. If you've ever worn cashmere, you know that it keeps you comfortable over a wide range of temperatures without being hot or itchy. This quality of its fiber was first recognized in the fifteenth century in the Kashmir province of northern India. Cashmere is grown by goats, and the finest fibers come from goats raised in cold, harsh climates, such as Mongolia; China is currently the world's largest producer. The goats may be combed or shorn in order to gather the soft down undercoat that is mixed with stiff fibers called guard hairs. The guard hairs must be separated from the soft fiber in order to produce high-quality cashmere yarn.



Linda Cortright points cashmere lovers to the Boston, Massachusetts–based Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute, which offers information to consumers and retailers and which she calls the "Ralph Nader of the cashmere and camel hair industry" ( "If you buy something that says it's 100 percent cashmere and it feels a little scratchy," she advises, "it has probably been blended with wool." (Learn more about Linda Cortright.)

Get Your Goat: Mohair

Favored for its characteristic halo, sheen, and silkiness, as well as how beautifully it takes dyes, mohair is great alone or blended with other fibers. It's hard to believe that mohair, like cashmere, comes from goats, in this case angora, or mohair, goats. Like the angora rabbit, the name of angora goats (and also angora cats, as a matter of fact) is associated with the Ankara region of Turkey, but most of the commercial mohair produced today comes from South Africa and the southwestern United States. Adult goats are usually sheared twice a year, when their fiber is 4 to 6 inches long; an adult produces anywhere from 8 to 16 pounds of fiber a year. The mohair from the first, or "kid," shearing is finer and silkier than that of the fiber from an adult; it should be 4 inches when shorn and that first shearing generally weighs in at 3 to 5 pounds. Mohair takes dye beautifully, but naturally gray-to-black- and "red-"coated goats are highly prized. (The so-called red is more copper- or apricot-colored than true red.)

So Many Wools, So Little Time

If yarn is your passion, and wool is at the top of your list, now's the time to challenge yourself to discover the myriad kinds of wool. Get your hands on yarns from as many breeds as possible and discover the very different characteristics and possibilities of each. Two recent books, Clara Parkes's The Knitter's Book of Wool and Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius's The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook describe the most popular wool fleeces and the sheep that grow them. Both books encourage knitters, spinners, and other fiber crafters to distinguish among the fibers from different sheep breeds, recognizing, for instance, that the qualities of one breed's fleece might be appropriate for a baby sweater, while another's would be just the thing for a heavy outdoor jacket.

In her lively introduction to The Knitter's Book of Wool, Clara notes that blending all different kinds of wools together is just as bland, uninteresting, and inappropriate as dumping all kinds of wine into one vat, thus losing the characteristics that make each kind special. (Read more about Clara.) Deb and Carol's book includes information and photos of raw and clean fleece, spun yarn, and knitted and woven swatches from more than 150 sheep breeds, as well as from goats, rabbits, camelids (such as alpaca, llama, and vicuña), and even dogs, yaks, and possum — more than 200 animals in all.

Most wool fleece is obtained from sheep by shearing once (or, for a few breeds, twice) a year. Depending on the breed, the fibers may be long, silky, and wavy (Romney and Bluefaced Leicester, for instance) or shorter and soft with a great deal of crimp (Merino is a familiar example). The fineness of the fibers is one of the primary ways by which wools are classified. Yarn stores are beginning to carry breed-specific yarns, and you're likely to find even more selection (and temptation) if you can schedule a trip to a fiber festival into your year. There, not only can you enjoy the animals, chat with their owners and breeders, and take in all the joys of a fair, but you can also purchase some very special yarns or, if you're a spinner, fleeces direct from the farms where the animals were raised (see Fiber Festivals).

Big, but Beautiful: Qiviut, Bison, and Yak

It may come as a surprise, but this trio of fibers comes from a group of animals that at first glance are just really big and hairy. But these animals share the characteristic of bearing an impressively soft undercoat of down, which, to produce desirable fiber, must be separated from the other coarse and stiff hairs that make up the animals' coats. This down helps them withstand the harshly cold winters of their native environments. Both the processing and the fact that some of these animals are difficult or impossible to domesticate explain the high cost of the yarns made from their down. But their down fibers also share the qualities of being incomparably soft and lightweight, yet warm and truly luxurious.

The fiber known as qiviut is a product of the musk ox (up to 800 pounds), native to the tundra of North America and Greenland. This down must be collected during the animals' once-a-year shedding period. As you can imagine, the processing, which includes separating out the hairs that are mingled with the down, is painstaking and time-consuming.

Like qiviut, bison fiber is a soft down, mixed with those guard hairs that must be removed before the lovely lightweight (but very warm), lanolin-free, and soft yarn is produced.

The desirable yak down must also be separated from coarse guard hairs before being spun into yarn. Both 100-percent yak yarn and wool blends are commercially available. Incredibly soft, warm, and springy — great for hats!

An Unlikely Source: Possum

Early nineteenth-century New Zealanders had what seemed like a bright idea at the time: import possums to their country to initiate a fur industry. Unfortunately, possums subsequently have become true nuisances in New Zealand. Their numbers have increased because they have no natural predators, and their voracious eating habits threaten native plants and birds. Inventive twenty-first-century New Zealanders have found a practical use for these creatures, however: blend possum fur with wool in varying percentages to create a very soft, warm yarn that usually doesn't irritate skin.

International Stars: The Camelid Family

Alpacas, camels, guanacos, llamas, and vicuñas are all members of the camelid family and although originating from different hemispheres as well as different sides of the equator, they have some features in common. Their fiber does not contain lanolin, and because once the stiff hairs are removed, it is smooth and silky, it usually doesn't bother people who mind the itchiness of some wool. It is also very warm (some people feel it's even warmer than wool) and wears well.


Excerpted from "The Knitter's Life List"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Storey Publishing, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

An Invitation to the Trip of a Lifetime
1 The Yarn Life List
2 The Know-How Life List
3 The Sweaters Life List
4 The Socks Life List
5 The Scarves & Shawls Life List
6 The Hats Life List
7 The Gloves & Mittens Life List
8 The Bags Life List
9 The Kids-Knit Life List
10 The Home Dec Life List
11 The Fiber-Lover's Life List

What People are Saying About This

Beth Brown-Reinsel

The Knitter's Life List reveals a startlingly fresh approach to becoming a well-rounded knitter. Knitting along the depth and breadth within its covers will enrich any knitter's skills and understanding.
Beth Brown-Reinsel, instructor, knitwear designer, and author of Knitting Ganseys

Donna Druchunas

What a wonderful book! It makes me want to be a knitting newbie again, just so I can begin exploring the knitting landscape with this book as my travel guide.
Donna Druchunas, author of Successful Lace Knitting,

Sarah B. Anderson

The Knitter's Life List plumbs the depths of this obsession we call knitting in an irresistible blend of techniques, resources, people and inspiration. Let's hope you can read while you knit because this is a hard book to put down.
Sarah B. Anderson, self-taught spinner, instructor, and writer

Linda Cortright

One more list of things to do? Absolutely! Gwen Steege has created the ultimate magical journey for knitters. Connecting remarkable snippets from knitting history to modern day casts and characters, don't be surprised if all your other lists are suddenly left undone.
Linda Cortright, Wild Fibers Magazine

Cat Bordhi

Now we have a book that proves something I often say: the horizons of knitting are astonishingly infinite. No matter how long you live, you may never have time to try everything in this alluring compendium of possibilities.
Cat Bordhi, knitting designer, publisher, teacher, speaker, author

Customer Reviews

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Knitter's Life List: To Do, To Know, To Explore, To Make 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 99 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I get so mad when I see reviews written here from someone who didn't like the Free Book Friday selection!!! This rating is not to rate B & N but the book itself. Why are you giving a book you know nothing about a poor rating just because you don't like the selection that was provided for Free Book Friday! You won't like everything offered every week! Just get over it and move on. If it makes you so mad, stop looking for free books! It's nice that they offer a book for free every week. THEY DON'T HAVE TO!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this as a gift for an avid knitter in my family and thought it was a great combination of patterns, resources, experiences and inspiration! She was delighted with it! I just wish I could find a similar book for people who sew!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am giving this book a 5 star rating to offset the IDIOTS who gave it one star just because they don't like it as a free friday selection. GROW UP people! The world does NOT revolve around YOU and YOUR interests. AND the author of this book does NOT deserve a bad rating for her book just because you are a spoiled brat throwing a temper tantrum! Please complain on the NOOK facebook page or somewhere else that doesn't mess with the book's rating if you have to complain about not getting your own way.
rae287 More than 1 year ago
What a great find! A lovely book for those who love knitting, and the fact that it is offered for free this Friday is just a wonderful little bonus. Thanks Barnes and Noble for remembering that not all people read exclusively fiction! Love it, and I can't wait to really dig into the book for every little treasure!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a crocheter and trying to learn to knit. This book seems to be a wealth of information not only for knitters but crocheters as well. I will be recommending this gem!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you B&N for this book on knitting! This is such a refreshing choice. Pooh on the reviewers who only want fiction, life and reading involve more than just fiction! THANKS AGAIN!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Full of interesting information on yarn and knitting, with lots of new ideas and things to try. Not a pattern book, but a wonderful resource book for many crafts. I noticed that this book was not marked down to free at other book sites, so I think this is a real deal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. A refreshing read! I crochet much more than i knit. Even so i enjoyed this. As a side note to negative reviewers: everyone has different interests. While you might want to read a romance, someone else wants a mystery novel, and someone else enjoys fantasy. So please understand that barnes and noble is just trying to include everybody's interests.
jbaFL More than 1 year ago
I love textiles so this falls into something for reference when looking for something to do. Knitting is so relaxing as well. I have been reporting reviews I have found to be off topic. just because you don't like the freebie of the week is no reason to under rate a book not to your liking. Move on....I don't like every freebie either, but can just go about my business without comment. You can too. be fair to the author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My 15 year old granddaughter and I sat together this past weekend pouring over this book, reading, expanding the pictures, and talking about knitting. We both learned so much, enthralled with the beauty of the yarns and projects. I don't consider myself a knitter although I have knitted several afghans for adults and babies and I love to quilt. My granddaughter taught herself to knit from instructions on the internet, using two pencils and some scrap yarn. We agreed that we must break out my needles and buy her some after reading this delightful book. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in textile crafts. Ladyb
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You cannot have your books soley on free Friday. I am a crocheter but I like this book. Thank you. As for the whiners here rating a book for free Friday , that's why I gave it a five star review. Fyi , knitting books can be very very expensive, but the whiners won't know that as they want a kissy harlquin romance. Grow up and just ACT like you know something. Please.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I completely agree with those who complained about the negative reviews, this is not the place for it! It is impossible to please everyone, there are so many genres of books out there and it seems like BN is just trying to give every one a chance. I didnt like the sports books either, but so what, there are often things i do like. And i have been pleasantly by taking a chance on books i normally would never had purchased had they not been free.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow! Just Wow. Great book. What a great find on the free friday blog. Delicious reading for a fiber junky. Think I'll get a few hard copies for gifts.
Sir_Callipygian More than 1 year ago
I enjoy the variety of "Free Fridays"books that you offer to us nook owners, and nook app users. Today's knitting book was great fun.  I even shared the book info with another knitter too.   For books like his one, I prefer to look at them on my iPad.  For just plain reading, I prefer to use my original 3G/wifi nook. Kudos B&N!
TMaze More than 1 year ago
Once past the list that begins each chapter this book has a great deal of information.  I found the lists mind numbing primarily because of their lengths, although they do include plenty of ideas. There are nuggets and globs of learning in each chapter: technique, history, personalities. Most valuable is the Appendix which lists resources in print and online. It makes the book a keeper even if you already know how to knit backwards or have knit with pineapple fiber yarn. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are a knitter this book gives so much inspiration it's unasuming from the outside but stuffed to the edges with ideas. This is not a knit by pattern book though it does teach you some knitting. But for the most part his is a dream with it book when you are between projects or your ufo's are haunting you or you just want an excuse for buying a bit of yarn you fell in love with, this book will helpyou find one. I open it up many times you can just read anywhere no need to go from front to back . It also gives a huge amount of resources, websites, books magazines and fellow knitters that have new and old tricks to teach us. I learmed to knit when I was 7 that was 50 years ago and I know a lot about knitting and this book is a real joy for me ! There are some tips and tricks in it and it will encourage you to try new things and gives you a ton of reasons to buy new yarn or to bust through you stash! The ebook has links that take you straight to the talked about sites!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found myself up late at night looking through the lists, information, and ideas. I learned more by going through this book in a few nights, then I by trying to search out things on the internet randomly. I have the eBook version of this book on a tablet, so it was easy to continue my exploration of an idea, an artist, or yarn purchase on the web. This book was an excellent find.
swemar More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. I have been knitting for over 40 years & I learned a lot of new tricks & picked up a lot of fun ideas for future projects. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that has any interest in knitting, weaving, spinning, crocheting.
JEAN-LakeOntarioShore-NY More than 1 year ago
Great Resourse and foundational book for all levels of knitting. Mega knitting information, all explained in an easy, sensible format. Love the basic explainations for all different types of yarns.... Extensive review on wools and all natural fibers, what the are, where thy come from and why you might choose one fiber over another for your knitting. Excellent "how to" for an experienced knitter as well as for a beginner. Thank you for such a valuable knitting guide. Jean- Lake Ontario shore.
prospectorBW More than 1 year ago
Chris liked this book very much was good for both beginners and experts
DiAskew More than 1 year ago
The Knitter's Life List has a lot of suggestions for new knitting skills and tips for using them. It also has lists of references, books, and websites to start you on your way to improving your knitting and trying new ideas. I highly recommend it to any level knitter.
65tdy More than 1 year ago
Great Idea. Makes me interested in Knitting again. I had gotten out of the habit. Thanks loads....Lots of information too!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I happened to be thrilled with this selection and am glad to see that I am not alone. I really think it is funny how people can complain about something they get for free.
McPirate More than 1 year ago
Just reported all of you that don't know how to read. I've been wanting to get back into knitting and I am excited to dig into this book!