Saturday, July 14, 2012

Building Your Knitting Skills With Books

Knitting is one area of life where we learn best by doing.  We can read about knitting, watch someone else, or study a completed garment, but nothing gives you the muscle memory and even tension that experience will develop.  So why do people try to learn to knit from books?

For me pride is involved.  I know I hate when I'm in a class working on a new skill and I'm having a hard time picking it up.  I don't want to hold up the class, and I feel a lot of pressure to figure it out, so I'll break out the books when I get home.  Another time to learn from books is refreshing an old skill.  If we haven't done it in a while, we figure reading it through will put us back on track.  And of course, sometimes we want to learn how to do something when we have no opportunity for a friend or colleague to teach us.

The bummer is that we'll spend a small fortune on a book only to learn that it doesn't make sense to us.  Not every book is meant for every knitter.  How do you know what book is a really good bet?  Borrow from the library or a friend first, whenever you can.  A preview will increase your odds of buying the book that works best for you.  Can't find what you need?  I'll recommend some of my favorites.

The way I build or rebuild a skill when I need improving is by knitting swatches.  I've made a couple of blankets this way, just by making all the swatches the same size and in coordinating colors.  There is a wonderful book by Barbara Walker called the "Learn to Knit Afghan Book" that takes this concept as far as I can imagine it.  Her directions are very straightforward.  She walks us through knit, purl, mosaic stitch, cables, lace, and a variety of shaping techniques one small square at a time.   Since each square is a manageable size, it isn't at all intimidating.  And you can make as many or as few squares of each type as you need to feel good about a skill before moving on.  Combine them into blankets, pillows, bags, etc. There are several editions of this book available - it originally came out almost 40 years ago - so you can pick it up new or used, locally or on line.  It's well worth it.

Another indispensable book is Seven Things That Can "Make or Break" a Sweater, by Margaret E. Fisher.  Published in 2008, it is a common sense guide in the vein of what a close girlfriend would teach you as you sip coffee on her couch.  Ms. Fisher walks us through the knitting and assembly of a child's sweater.  It builds and reinforces all the necessary skills, but in a small sized garment that won't cost a fortune in yarn or time.  I've seen several brand new knitters turn out lovely garments on the first try by using this book.  Even if you don't have a special child in mind to receive the finished sweater, buy this book and make this sweater.  Maybe make more than one.  The sweater is adorable!

The Knitting Answer Book by Margaret Radcliffe is always in my knitting bag.  The layout is unique, in that the entire book is a question and answer format.  It's my go-to answer guide to confirm the order of steps in a particular bind off style, making an unusual button hole, and just about everything else.  (It would be swell if she'd write a book about coping with teenagers, but I digress.)  It's very small and lightweight, so it's the ideal guide for your project bag.
Looking to get into socks?  The first few pair are going to involve a learning curve.  Rather than get a big book with dozens of involved patterns, I recommend How to Knit Socks by Edie Eckman.  There are ten attractive but uncomplicated patterns.  She explores three basic methods of knitting socks in the round, on several needle sizes and sock sizes.  DPNs, magic loop method, and working on two circular needles are all represented, and explained with clear and simple instructions.  You'll enjoy knitting your first socks from this resource.

1 comment:

f1bercat said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent blog post. I own one of these, and am definitely checking out the others. While I love to look up specific techniques/stitches on Youtube, I really like to have the information in print and love good reference knitting books. Thank you for these reviews.