Think Tank Thursday: A Knitter’s Library

Filed in Uncategorized by on February 4, 2010 1 Comment

I can’t wait for Gwen’s book to be released. It has been a great experience to get a peek into the process of writing and publishing a high-quality knitting book. I am impressed with the detail that she has addressed in creating the designs and working with the publishers to walk the line between what is commercially appealing and what will best serve the reader. Future Thursday posts will likely include thoughts about specific books, but today I wanted to wax philosophical about knitting books in general.

When I first started frequenting yarn shops back in the late eighties and early nineties, there were a few knitting books available. There were the seminal Elizabeth Zimmermann books. There was the superb Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt. There were Alice Starmore’s exquisite books. There was the outstanding Knitter’s Handbook by Montse Stanley.  And a few others. I’m thinking that, in those days, it might have taken quite a lot to talk a publisher into making a book about knitting, so they had to be really good.  So, it seems to me that what that period lacked in quantity of knitting books, it made up for in quality. I know that is a generalization, but this is not a scientific piece of writing, it is an opinion. Being a true bibliophile, and a person who prefers to learn on my own from a book,   I tended to snap them up where and whenever I could find them. Each one was a golden nugget of precious information that gave me confidence and the words to describe my burgeoning and  self-taught knitting skills. I would pore over them and try the projects and test the theories. They became my trusted knitting companions. If there was ever something I needed to know, something that wasn’t explained in the pattern, or something new to me, I knew I had a source for at least a stab at learning the heretofore mysterious skill.  The thing about those books is that I’m still using them. I was and continue to be fascinated and stimulated by the fact that these authors, all masters of their knitting domain, did things differently. It was how I learned that there is no wrong way to knit.

Nowadays, in the flush and fat era of Knitting Popularity, there are so many knitting books that it is difficult to know what’s great, what’s okay, and what should just be passed by.  I still think of knitting books as sort of rare, so I buy far too many of them, but really, they’re not rare anymore. Try to remember that. While there are still specialty publishers that focus almost entirely on the fiber arts, and have as their editors and authors true enthusiasts, the truth is that many mainstream publishing houses started putting out knitting books due to the incredible popularity of our beloved craft over the past 10 years or so.  Worse, they started pumping them out to satisfy demand, whether anyone in the process knew anything about knitting or not. Many of those books, including many that I’ve bought in the last 10 years, have sort of come and gone.  Only a few have joined the classics on my Shelf of Knitting Fabulousness.

So, what makes a great knitting book?  Well, I can only answer that for myself. You’ll have to figure it out on your own. For me, a great knitting book is one that has a strong voice, whether I agree with all the methods found therein or not. This means that the author is a confident and trustworthy teacher who will either get me going in the right direction, or get me thinking about how I might do it differently. Also, a great knitting book is more than just a collection of patterns, although there are collections of patterns that are on my list of great knitting books because they possess those characteristics of strength and teaching.

As you look for knitting books to buy, I encourage you to look for techniques that are new to you, explained in ways that get you thinking and exploring for yourself.  You have my official permission to disagree with an author, do things differently, and take ideas and expand on them in your own way. As a teacher,  I can honestly say that nothing makes me happier than when a student breaks away from religiously following me and uses what I’ve taught them to take off. In fact, it thrills me. So, rather than buying a book of patterns just to reproduce the garments in the photos, buy a book that will teach well enough to give you the confidence to create something that truly represents you and your abilities. That book will stay on your shelf, I promise.

While I don’t want to just give you a list, because I don’t just want you to go buy my favorite knitting books, I do offer for your perusal some titles that that serve as examples of the kind of current knitting books I feel are worthwhile:

Knitting Nature by Norah Gaughan
Scarf Style, edited by Pam Allen
Knit One Below by Elise Duvekot
Knitting New Scarves by Lynne Barr

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