Book Mini-reviews

I've been buying a lot of knitting books recently in an effort to improve my knowledge and skills. Some have been good, while others have been disappointing. I figured I'd write up a few opinions on my most recent acquisitions.

The Knitting Answer Book by Margaret Radcliffe

Overall impression: Very limited audience

This books claims to have "Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face" and "Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask." These are big claims, and unsurprisingly the book fails to deliver.

There is good information in the book, but most of it is very basic stuff. Even with only a couple months knitting experience, there is not much I can learn from it. The book in written in a question and answer format which is very readable, but makes it less useful as a reference.

All in all, it strikes me as this book is useful for three kinds of knitters: First, those that are just learning and don't know much beyond the basic knit and purl. Second, knitters that only do a project once in awhile, and need something to prod their memory about how things work. Finally, it strikes me as being useful for knitters that are going to teach a class, to remind themselves about some of the basics that are so second nature to them that they don't even think to explain them.

Finishing Techniques for Hand Knitters by Sharon Brant

Overall impression: Passable

I bought this book because I thought it would fill a huge deficiency in my knitting. I think I do a fine job with the knitting, but when it comes to even such simple finishing as weaving in ends I don't think that I do it properly.

There is certainly useful information for me in this book. However, it struck me as most of the book is on other topics than the title would indicate. Out of 110 pages, only around 30 are on actual finishing techniques. The rest of it is on basic knitting, alterations, a few uninspired patterns, and other things that I really don't care about. The author makes a case that you should be thinking about the finishing process from before you even cast on, but I'd still rather have more detail on the actual process of finishing.

I can't recommend this book for a knitter with any experience, but it is decent for someone just starting out.

Big Book of Knitting Stitch Patterns

Overall impression: Meh

This is a knitting stitch dictionary. I didn't find it organized very well, and I wasn't particularly impressed with the stitches in it at first. On a second perusal it is better than I first thought, but I'm sure there are better things out there.

If you don't have a stitch dictionary and you find this on a bargain table, go ahead and pick it up. I wouldn't bother trying to track it down, though.

Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls by Martha Waterman

Overall impression: above my level

This book seems to be focused on learning how to design your own lace shawls. There is a good section on styles of shawls, and then most of the book is on different lace patterns.

There is a brief section on the history of shawls, which was interesting but most of it seemed cribbed from other sources. More than anything, reading it made me want to track down her sources.

The last chapter gives some complete shawl designs, but since the photos are in black and white they don't come across as inspiring.

I don't want to give a "good" or "bad" rating to this book, since I'm not yet to the point where I really can get much out of it. If I really get into lace knitting I might revisit this book, but for now it is just going to sit on my shelf.

Lavish Lace by Carol Rasmussen Noble and Cheryl Potter

Overall impression: poor

This was advertised as a good beginner's lace book. I beg to differ. Sure, it has some good advice in it, and it has a number of simple patterns that would make a gentle introduction to lace knitting. However, I find the patterns to mostly be hideous.

Some of the more advanced patterns in the book are passable, but nothing really inspires me. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone.

A Gathering of Lace by Meg Swansen

Overall impression: Fantastic!

This was the most expensive book that I bought, and it was definitely worth it. This strikes me as the book to learn lace knitting from. It has wonderful photography, and doesn't waste time with "here is how to do a knit stitch" stuff. It takes 3 pages to discuss some of the differences between lace knitting and standard knitting, and then it jumps right into projects.

And what projects it has! Even the beginner's patterns look great. There may be better lace books out there, but if so I haven't come across them.

Knitting the New Classics by Kristin Nicholas

Overall impression: Good, but a few problems

This book is entirely about sweaters, with 60 different patterns (if you include the variations).

There are a lot of good-looking designs in the book. Unfortunately, I have a few complaints. Some of the male patterns seem almost to be an afterthought. Most are just slight modifications to the women's sweaters, or else just look noticably inferior to the ones on the women. There are other male patterns that look nice, however.

Also, the lack of charts for cable patterns really knocks the book down in my opinion. While the information is there in text form, and it would be easy enough to copy it over to your own chart, it is much more difficult to see and understand the pattern without something visual.

Still, despite its problems, I think it is a good book. Particularly if you are going to occasionally knit a female sweater, you get a lot of nice looking patterns for an inexpensive price.

(The Best of Knitter's) Arans & Celtics

I'm not going to give an overall impression for this book, because I think it is pretty obvious. If you like Aran sweaters, this book will be great. If you don't, then it isn't worth your time.

The vast majority of the designs are for women. However, there are some very nice ones for men (I adore the "Wall Street cables" vest), and several of the women's sweaters would look equally attractive on a man.

The cable designs are all charted, at a readable size.

I think that between this book and the "Knitting the New Classics" above, I'd recommend the Classics. This is still a good buy for a more focused sweater book, however.

Whew! That took more time to write up than I intended. I hope this was helpful, now it is time to actually go do some knitting...


kiwiknitter's picture

Thanks for giving us your thoughts on these books! It is always helpful to have this kind of information when shopping on-line for knitting books.

I have The Knitting Answer Book and have read through it a couple of times. I agree with your thoughts on it. I learned a few new things and I will pick it up and re-read certain sections from time to time, just to see what I might have forgotten.

I disliked Finishing Techniques for Hand Knitters. I thought the title was very misleading. It isn't worth the money or effort to locate it. My copy is in the discard book pile.

The Big Book of Knitting Stitch Patterns is one I like because the photos of the stitches are large enough to get an idea of what they might look like. I have a number of stitch dictionaries and this is just one of them. I find that one such dictionary is not enough; I like to look through multiple books when searching for a new pattern.

I enjoyed reading your comments! Thanks for this. I don't knit lace (not enough brain cells left to follow such complicated patterns) but have been wondering about the Aran and Celtics book (on my list).

My knitting is totally tubular!

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.  ~Billy Connolly