More Book Mini-Reviews

I've been trying to cut back on my obsession with buying knitting books, but I recently fell off the wagon again and have been ordering more than I can afford. Here are my thoughts on the standouts:

Fair Isle Knitting by Sarah Don

Overall Impression: Some good stuff, but terse and dated in style

This is a recent reprint of a 1984 book. It is mostly black & white, with only four photo-glossy color pages in the center to show off some of the patterns and motifs.

I have two major problems with this book. First, the style comes across incredibly out of fashion, which surprises me given that the book is supposed to be on very traditional garments. One look at the man on the cover, however, and you immediately are reminded of the 1960s. (So I wonder if it looked out of date even in the 1984 printing.)

The actual knitting content is decent, but not great. Almost every topic is condensed down to a single paragraph. While that is nice to see the basics distilled that way, can you really fully cover color theory in six sentences?

The patterns included are all fairly basic men's, women's, and child's sweaters. I think that the patterns are supposed to be examples of how to go through the design process rather than being fantastically original.

The main strength of the book is in the traditional Fair Isle designs. There are several pages of motifs, charted and photographed. Since the book is black and white, you don't get a full appreciation of how it might look, but at the same time you don't get distracted by one particular choice of color.

If this book were more expensive, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. But at $12.95 US, I think it has enough useful content to warrant a buy for some people.

1000 Great Knitting Motifs by Luise Roberts

Overall Impression: Focused, but useful

This book is just page after page of charts for stranded knitting. (Toward the end it throws in some designs that would require intarsia as well.) The designs are taken from around the world: it includes Fair Isle, Scandinavian, and Mediterranean motifs, as well as many more.

The entire book is color, which may distract a peruser from seeing how the motifs would look in other colors. The colors chosen are well thought out, though.

My one real complaint with this book is that many of the patterns in the "Fair Isle" section aren't really Fair Isle designs. Far too many of them utilize more than two colors in a row, and next to none of them have the gradual shifting of color that I expect from Fair Isle. This isn't to say that the designs aren't pleasing, it is just that I wouldn't call them Fair Isle.

Cables Untangled (An Exploration of Cable Knitting) by Melissa Leapman

Overall Impression: Decent, but not exceptional

I bought this book because of the absolutely fantastic looking cabled afghan on the cover. Unfortunately, that was the only pattern in the book that I found truly inspiring. There are other decent looking patterns in the book, but nothing that I haven't seen dozens of variations of elsewhere.

The second half of the book is a cable stitch dictionary. It is well laid out, has excellent photos, and is certainly a good source of inspiration.

I'd say this is overall a good buy for someone that is interested in cable work but doesn't have a good source yet. For those that already have a respectable knitting library, there probably isn't much worthwhile here.

Meg Swansen's Knitting (30 Designs for Hand Knitting)

Overall Impression: Artistic, but not practical

Flipping through this book, one really gets the a feeling for knitting as an art rather than just a craft. The knitting and photography are both just stunning.

Unfortunately, aside from that feeling, I think the book was a waste of money. First off, it was too expensive at $39.95 US. I could have gotten three other knitting books for the same money. Secondly, while reading the book, I really got the feeling Meg Swansen was trying too hard to imitate her famous mother's style. There were paragraphs that I would swear were just ripped directly from "Knitting Around" and put into a different context. It isn't that I don't enjoy Elizabeth Zimmermann's writing, but I'd rather read something that captures the essence without being a blatant copy.

More importantly, I can't see ever using this book as anything other than a picture-book. There are great looking patterns, there are men's patterns, and there are patterns that a sane person might actually attempt. Nowhere do those three things intersect.

Confessions of a Knitting Heretic by Annie Modesitt

Overall Impression: One of my favorite knitting books

This book was a self-publishing attempt by the author, and it certainly doesn't have the glitz of a major release. There is no color on the pages, and many of the pictures are blocky computer graphics. A large portion of the book covers the basics of knitting, and it isn't organized very well.

With all these problems, why do I adore this book? Quite simply, I think that Ms. Modesitt has the perfect attitude about knitting. She is adventurous, experimental, and versatile. She has her own style, but doesn't criticize those that choose to follow a different path.

I briefly considered directly quoting some of my favorite passages from this book, but quickly realized that I'd probably be typing in five pages. Let's just suffice it to say that the book resonated with my views on knitting.

In terms of actual content, the real strengths are in two areas: combined knitting, and wire knitting. I'd heard of combined knitting as being a third alternative to English or continental, but I'd never understood exactly what it was. It is fully explained here, as well as giving another axis to consider... eastern vs. western knitting. I doubt I'd ever use wire knitting (mainly used for knit jewelry), but reading about it was fun.

Knit Kimono by Vick Square

Overall Impression: Fun

I should give a very brief bit of background before talking about this book. Before I ever bought a knitting needle, I was trying to decide what craft to take up. I was considering crochet, but after looking though over a hundred patterns supposedly for men and not finding a single one I liked, I was getting frustrated. Then someone suggested knitting, and I started looking into men's knitting patterns. I looked at around five patterns, found three that I liked, and from then on I've been yarned in.

One of those three initial patterns that got me interested in knitting was a knit kimono featured in I haven't made that pattern, but when I saw an entire book on knit kimonos, I knew that I had to have it.

There isn't a single male model in the book, but of the 18 designs featured I think that 6 of them would look fine on a man. (In fact 4 of them are based on men's kimonos.) The designs are all simple in shape, but many involve fairly complicated knitting techniques. For example, one of the kimonos I was interested in making was the "Medallions & Scrolls" design. It has a gorgeous gold on scarlet design, that on first glance I thought was stranded. On more careful reading, though, I realized that it would have to be made using both stranded and intarsia techniques. I think I could pull it off, but wow, it would take months to do.

At any rate, making anything from this book isn't on my list until after Christmas, but I look forward to making some garments that have a more eastern look to them.

The Knitting Man(ual) by Kristin Spurkland

Overall Impression: Great book

Buying this book was an absolute given. I'm pretty much committed to buying every book that is specifically focused on the male market. (Ok, I haven't picked up "Simply Beautiful Sweaters for Men," but that is because that book is overpriced and I don't like a single design in it.) Fortunately, this book has a number of great projects in it.

Really, my only fault with this book is that it is written by a woman. In fact, I rankled a bit reading the introduction where she says, "I drew on knitting traditions because I wanted to created sweaters and accessories that men would actually want to wear (rather than what women think men should wear), and it seemed the best way to achieve that was to look to the classics." Isn't she really falling into the same trap she is claiming to avoid, by assuming that men want to wear traditional designs? Wouldn't it make more sense to, you know, actually ask some men what they like?

That objection, though, is really only on an intellectual level. I have to admit that all in all her picks are on the mark. (There are some spectacular failures as well, though... I shudder at the Nordic hats she included.)

The book includes the seemingly obligatory section on knitting basics. I thought it was a nice touch to use a man's hands in the pictures, though.

There are things in the book I want to make, but it will probably take quite awhile to get around to them. So much to knit, so little time....

Anyway, I hope these mini-reviews are helpful to someone. If anyone wants more detail on any of the books, just ask, and I'll answer whatever questions you have or spout more nonsense off the top of my head.


Bill's picture

Thank you for these thoughtful reviews!
...very helpful...unfortunately, also enabling! (grin)

Cables that cabled pillow...

mr.strange's picture

Oh god! The nordic hats were a bit ridiculous in my opinion. Glad I'm not the only one.

stch's picture

speaking of enabling - (goodness knows I'm weak when it comes to knitting books, especially those oriented to the male population) - there is another book that was released on 25 September that is worth a look, titled "Knitting for Him - 27 Classic Projects to Keep Him Warm" authored by Martin Storey and Wendy Baker.
Both the Knitting Man(ual) and Knitting for Him are wonderful additions.

Celowin's picture

I haven't picked that one up yet, but it is on my Amazon wish list, along with "Son of Stitch 'n Bitch" which will be released in November. (Well, and along with about a dozen other knitting books as well, but I won't go into those until the next long list of mini-reviews...)

kiwiknitter's picture

As a fellow knitting book harlot, I always appreciate your reviews. Since I have to purchase almost all my knitting books from overseas, you keep me from making some expensive and disappointing mistakes.

I have Fair Isle Knitting by S Don and I agree with you. I think the patterns are true FI and although the models are out-dated, the garments are still timeless (in my biased opinion). I have the original edition; I think they could have included colour in the newer edition.

1000 Knitting Motifs is a good reference book, especially for the colour-challenged like me. I find the book very useful and would recommend it for the FI knitter who wants to design his own garment.

Confessions of a Knitting Heretic is definitely one of my favourite knitting books. Everything you said about it is true and more! If a knitter wants to let go and free his knitting, this book is a definite read.

I have Knitting Man(ual) on my wish list at Amazon. Thanks for all the work that went into posting these reviews!

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