This is my new knitting book, and, like most of my knitting books, it doesn’t actually have patterns in it. I noticed this, I think, because The Knitting Curmudgeon (http://www.knittingcurmudgeon.com/) was being curmudgeonly about new knitting books yesterday, and today recommended some old ones. Elizabeth Zimmerman’s books, not for the garments but to improve your knitting skills. Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, the one I reach for most often. And Barbara Walker’s stitch treasuries. She recommended a couple of others that I don’t have, and since her top three were exactly my own choices, I think I will have to go buy her other suggestions.
But when it comes to new knitting books, she is very negative. She says that we don’t need any more patterns for basic socks, scarves, hats, or mittens. I think an experienced knitter doesn’t need any patterns for those things at all, unless he or she is very math-challenged. But it is true that the new knitting books normally contain nothing but patterns for rather simple things. Old knitting books are different.
My new knitting book, which was first published in 1981, is in the typical mold of 20th century knitting books. There is some history. The SnB books are not going to tell you what the Moors were doing with their needles in the middle ages, or how the Victorians kept their white work clean, but for the traditional knitting books, it is de rigeur.
Then there are instructions on how to do things: make a glove, or do jazz knitting, or as with my current book, knit Fair Isle garments. The idea is that, knowing the method, you will then choose your yarn and needles, decide on a color pattern or pattern stitch, plan the details of neckline and sleeve and such according to your own preferences, and knit yourself a garment. People who do that nowadays consider themselves designers, but until very recently, it was part of the definition of knowing how to knit.
Vogue Knitting and other pattern magazines were probably a reaction to that. They offered special things designed by professional fashion designers, which would look different from the traditional stuff. They still do. You might not want to knit yourself a metallic corselet like the one in the current issue of VK, but Mayflower just made herself a beautiful sweater from it. It is a very recognizable design — I see it around and think “Oh, that’s Mayflower’s purple sweater!” And I have a few books that are collections of excellent designs by special designers — Elsabeth Lavold, Alice Starmore, Debbie Bliss. They mostly do have history in them, and charts which can be used with plenty of other garments, but they were departures from the Mary Thomas tradition.
After all, some people are math-challenged. Trying to “Establish the size of the garment…” as Traditional Fair Isle Knitting puts it, and “Work out the number of stitches needed by multiplying…” would give them a headache. Plus, old knitting books have no pictures of belly buttons, and no directions for making cell-phone cozies.
So what new knitting books might be good? Big Fish, Little Fish has all the basic garments, plus stylish photos. No history, though. The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Simple Knits has many basic patterns, as long as you don’t object to all bulky all the time. It also has a lot of errors and omissions, but I am told that the errata pages are readily available on the web. Simple Knits for Sophisticated Living could be your main knitting book if you knit for gift-giving and home decor more than for your wardrobe. It has all the popular stuff, including cell-phone cozies and a couple of really nice felted bags, but no set-in-sleeve sweaters.