Friday, December 23, 2005

Books for Newbies

Dear friend, occupational therapist extraordinaire and fellow Pisces Molly asks:

What book might you recommend for me (literally 3 scarves total and I so far only know how to cast-on, do the knit stitch, and cast-off)?

We get asked this question a lot at Rosie's, and fortunately there are many good choices. Most pattern books today seem to devote a section in the front or back to basic instructions, so if you see a book with some designs you like, check to see if there's enough instruction in there for your purposes. You can also check out some of the web sites that offer knitting instruction, although the quality (particularly of the diagrams or photographs) varies. With a ten-second Google search, I came across the Craft Yarn Council's basic directions (though I think the diagrams aren't great); KnittingHelp offers on-line videos; Better Homes and Gardens if you can stand the pop-ups and other ads; and Lion Brand's website also contains directions.

Personally, I like having a book to learn from, and if the book also contains patterns and other helpful information, so much the better. Here's a few that I often recommend:

Kids' Knitting by Melanie Falick. Not just for kids.

Walks you through tools, winding yarn, casting on and so forth, and includes interesting information like how to dye yarn with Kool-Aid and tips for keeping track of your needles. Patterns start with very easy beanbags (you could easily make them larger and turn them into throw pillows), rectangular projects like scarves and afghans, then the book introduces skills like shaping, embroidery, knitting in the round, stitch patterns, felting and finishes with a simple roll-neck sweater. Lots of diagrams and photos, all in color.

How to Knit by Debbie Bliss. I still refer to this book (it just barely missed my top ten list for most helpful books) and I love the way it includes some lovely classic patterns as well as nice big drawings and a mini-stitch library. Beautiful photography, too. Organized in a workshop format, so that you can begin with the first skills and complete 1 or 2 projects in that chapter, then move on to the next topic and practice with the projects in that chapter, and so on.

The Knitting Experience: The Knit Stitch and The Purl Stitch, by Sally Melville. This is a two-book series, one which focuses only on the knit stitch, the second on the purl stitch. Buying two books to learn how to knit may be economically inefficient, but you will get a very thorough grounding from this one-two punch. I seem to encounter two schools of thought on this approach: one is that it's wonderful to not rush into the purl stitch and to be able to learn additional techniques and make attractive items quicker. The second is that it creates a mystique for the purl stitch that is hard to overcome, and why not just learn it and start practicing it right away already. You decide.

Stitch 'N Bitch, by Debbie Stoller.

This book has taught a lot of urban hipsters how to knit. It's a thick book, although unfortunately the majority of it is in black and white which detracts somewhat from the overall quality, making it harder to see clearly pattern details, charts, and diagrams. Thorough directions and extensive, somewhat trendy pattern section aimed at twenty-somethings. If you flinch at cuss words, then this sassy-talking book may not be the one for you. But there's a lot of info packed in its pages and for about $13.95, it's good value.

First Knits by Kate Haxell and Luise Roberts. I don't own this one, but I've heard it's pretty good. I've seen photos of some of the projects, like this shawl

and this bag

which look quite nice, especially for newbie projects. Worth taking a look.

I hope that helps, Mol.


Anonymous said...

One of the books I learned with was "Knitting for Baby", Melanie Falick and Kristin Nicholas. I think the drawings are similar to or the same as the ones in "Kids Knitting". The baby-sized projects were less intimidating in terms of time and yarn costs.

Jen said...

A good list, and I can't argue with the inclusion of any of those books.

I am puzzled by one of your comments about Stitch 'n Bitch - "It's a thick book, although unfortunately the text is mainly black and white which detracts somewhat from the overall quality."

What's wrong with black and white for text? Last I knew, it was a tried-and-true standard that had been used for centuries. Most of the best knitting books that I've seen never stray from the black text on white page formula.

What would you have recommended that Stitch 'n Bitch do instead of black and white? Why would it have been an indication of better quality? Inquiring minds want to know!

I'm really enjoying your book lists and reviews, and find that the books you like, I like too, and for much of the same reasons. Same thing about the books you dislike. I'm likely to find your future reviews useful. Keep 'em coming!

Carol said...

Don't get uppity with me, girl. I was using "text" to differentiate between the majority of the book, and the center few pages, which show the projects in color. I think that any knitting book will be of higher quality if the entire book is done in color, rather than just a handful of photo pages in the center. This is especially true when you're trying to teach someone a new skill involving motor coordination. Color photos show three-dimensions way more clearly for this purpose. (They also show garments and the details thereof more clearly.) I will change the term "text" to something else to avoid confusion.

Anonymous said...

Carol I suspect that the lack of color photos is one reason the book is only $13.95. I've made about a zillion of the umbilical cord hats. I like the Pinup Queen sweater, but I havn't started it yet. Maybe during my TWELVE (oh thank you intelligent designer for the TWELVE blessed days away from my job) days of freedom I'll finally start it.

Anonymous said...

I like Kate Buller's Ultimate Knitters Guide for a newbie and not so newbie book. It's title in the UK is the Knitters Bible but some committee of editors in the US was afraid that using "bible" in the title would offend some potential knitters. Jerks!
Anyway one of the best things about the book is that it is spiral bound. Also the pages are split so you can page to a pattern and then find the other split part of a page with the graphics for a technique. Brilliant.

Anonymous said...


That is TREMENDOUSLY helpful! Thanks also to fellow posters who added their thoughts. Oh, and Carol, I'll keep it a secret that you probably knew I'd lean toward colorful instructions way more than b & w....I'm that kind of learner! Right or wrong, I do the same way w/ cookbooks and other instructional volumes; color pictures are way more inviting/less intimidating for me when I'm facing something new (which is why I'm sure it was no accident that you mentioned it...:^)

Jen said...

Okay, that makes a lot more sense! I did take you literally when you said "text". But you're right, it would have felt like a higher quality book to see more color used in pictures, charts, and illustrations throughout.

Thanks for taking the time to clarify!