In the yarn panoply, worsted-weight reigns supreme. Knitting up at between 4 and 5 stitches per inch, worsted-weight yarn offers a perfect gauge for projects you want to complete relatively quickly without sacrificing the pleasure of subtlety or detail.
The Cascade 220 Club
Among all the worsted-weight yarns on the market (and many exist), Cascade 220 is one of the most consistently popular. This 100% Peruvian Highland wool yarn comes in generous 220-yard skeins (hence the yarn's name), is available in more than 96 colors, and retails for only $7. It works equally well in colorwork, cables, and simple stockinette. Oh, and did I mention that it felts nicely too?
As I said, Cascade 220 has a substantial following. Chances are you probably have some of it in your stash.
No wonder the editors at Sixth & Spring (in conjunction with Cascade Yarns) decided to compile an entire book of projects expressly for this yarn. Of course "expressly" is a relative term, since Cascade 220 has many imitators. In fact, most of us could probably knit all the projects in this book using other yarns from our stashes.
The book lives up to the promise of its title, delivering 60 projects total—20 hats, 20 scarves, and 20 mittens—that all classify quite clearly as "quick knits." (Of course some may be quicker than others depending on your skill level.) The small scale of the projects—no coats, afghans, or sweaters here—means that even the more challenging ones will go by quickly.
The pattern difficulty level spans from rank beginner to intermediate knitter, covering everything from stockinette and seed stitch to cables, colorwork, ribbing, bobbles, duplicate stitch, and lace. No felting projects, though.
Nearly all of the patterns require only one or two skeins of yarn. If you stick with Cascade 220, that means you can make a quick, cute project for between $7 and $14. Cheaper than dinner and a movie, and far more memorable.
The editors did an admirable job of assembling varied patterns that work well both with Cascade 220 and fall in line with the "quick" premise. The book kicks off strong with Lois Young's Chain-Link Scarf, in which a solid honeycomb stitch dances over a background of semisolid stitches. (The funny thing here is that the scarf is photographed next to a pair of beautiful Lantern Moon single-pointed straight needles that would never accommodate the 264 stitches this scarf requires. But we'll forgive them a little artistic license.)
You'll find a fairly even blend of sophisticated, functional, elegant, and fun projects. Highlights in the latter category include Puppy and Bunny mittens by Sherry Graziano, a Lion Scarf by Amy Bahrt featuring a happy lion's face at the end of a seed-stitch body; and a Monkey Hat by Irina Poludnenko that is exactly what it sounds like, an adorable children's hat with ears and a monkey face above the forehead.
Some of the patterns can be used as extremely simple base templates for your own explorations, such as Julie Gaddy's Embroidered Mittens (which really only require embroidery if you feel so inclined). The silly and simple are followed swiftly by the elegant, such as Debbie O'Neill's angular, flowing Wave Scarf that shows off the variegation of Cascade 220 Paints; Lynn Wilson's Tweed Watch Cap, which pits solid against semisolid in a dance of tiny cables and garter ridges; or Amanda Blair Brown's elegant Zigzag Scarf that mimics a tight herringbone tweed and would make a perfect gift for men.
Mittens, mitts, and gauntlets are also well represented. Tanis Gray's extremely simple 2x2 Ribbed Wristers serve beginners and last-minute gift-knitters perfectly. Tonia Barry's Smocked Fingerless Mitts are not really smocked but cabled, with buttons for adornment.
And Anne Farnham's Mock Cable Wristers, my favorite, feature a large cabled swirl over the top of each hand. If you really want to be clever with these, you could reverse the cable on the other hand so they mirror one another.
The cable pattern in these mitts and in several other projects is not charted, presumably in an effort to save space and help fit all 60 projects into a tidy 160 pages. But the projects are so small and manageable that avid chart readers should still be able get along just fine.
Guessing on Substitutions
All patterns specify yarn in terms of the number of Cascade 220 skeins you'll need. This is presumably because Cascade was involved in the creation of the book, and yarn companies are, after all, in the business of selling yarn.
Because Cascade 220 has a more generous yardage than many other worsted-weight yarns, you'll have to do a little guesswork if you want to use a different yarn. For example, Tanis's simple Ribbed Wristers most likely only use half the 220-yard skein the pattern requires. Ditto Carol Sulcoski's sassy Ribbed Pillbox.
Best-case scenario, you'll be stuck with leftover yarn; worst-case scenario, you'll embark upon one of these projects using a lower-yardage skein from your stash and run out before you're done. When in doubt, plan for more yarn. And if you run out, just remember that carefully planned contrasting stripes are your friends.
Another thing you won't find here are the basic how-to-knit instructions that other publishers often jam into the first 15 pages of their books. The editors assumed (rightly so) that you already have the basics under your belt and simply want a great collection of quick projects. Likewise, you won't find any stitch or technique explanations in the back.
Ultimately, this is purely a pattern book. And toward that end, it meets—dare I say exceeds—all expectations.