Some of the most beautiful knitting in the world has been produced with the simple, orderly placement of two colors within each row. Not four, not eight, but just two.
Perhaps the best-known two-color knitting tradition is Fair Isle, but many more exist. Those gorgeous Estonian and Latvian mittens, Icelandic yoke sweaters and Swedish Bohus garments? They, too, follow the same two-color concept.
With such a rich history and depth of creative possibility, two-color knitting is something we should all strive to master. Or, at a minimum, befriend.
Meg Swansen speaks the language of two-color knitting fluently, as does her seasoned cohort Amy Detjen. Together they've created an essential 64-page primer on the subject.
A Little Background
In 2000, Swansen, Detjen, and the late Joyce Williams collaborated on the colorwork masterpiece, Sweaters from Camp, now out of print. It contained 38 designs from attendees of Meg Swansen's famous Knitting Camp.
As gorgeous as the designs still are, what many remember about that book was the solid technical information presented at the beginning, 27 pages total.
In Knitting with Two Colors, Swansen and Detjen borrow from that earlier foundation to build a completely new book. Far from derivative, it's a masterful riff on a tune they know well, made deeper and more soulful by accrued wisdom and the passage of time.
Right off the bat I should tell you that this is not a coffee table book, even though the pictures are certainly pretty. Nor is it a readymade meal of patterns.
This is a book for the thinking knitter, regardless of skill or experience level. You have to be an active reader. They put you to work, showing you how to grow, harvest, and prepare your own garment from scratch.
At the very beginning, before any mention of gauge or speed-swatching, they sit you down and make you knit a Technique Practice Cap. It's intended to get your hands familiar with working two strands, something that certainly does feel different if you've never tried it.
From there, they walk you through each critical step in a garment's creation, from the cast-on to to body shaping, armholes, steeks, sleeves, bind-offs, borders, and buttonholes. Then they give you the formulas, diagrams, and more targeted information to go it alone with a design of your own.
A Comforting Companion
Read each paragraph carefully. Not just because Swansen and Detjen have packed them with clever tips but because the voice, itself, is such a pleasure.
They don't blather, yell, or wag fingers. Nor do they dumb down their information. They speak to us intelligently and reasonably, with both wit and compassion. They genuinely want to help you learn something they both quite obviously love.
My favorite section would have to be the one labeled "Miscellaneous." It's like what I imagine Julia Child's pantry must've been—stocked with random tidbits you didn't realize were absolutely essential to your cooking.
There's a section on knitting-back backwards, intarsia in the round, the jogless jog, you name it—all vital components of a healthy two-color knitting experience.
A Comforting Classic
The publishing world is changing. We certainly have more books at our disposal than ever before. Slick photostyling, exhaustively designed layouts, clever Facebook fan pages, live-Tweeted book tours, and blog contests...they all make books shinier and more fun. But if the guts aren't good, the rest is merely window dressing.
This book is a refreshing reminder that still waters run deep. Quality doesn't need a megaphone. It's a great little book by two of our national treasures, conceived, written, photographed, and even printed right here in the U.S.
I always question why people choose to write the books they do. The answers may surprise you. But here, without any doubt, Swansen and Detjen genuinely want to help us become better knitters. And this book does just that.