Book reviews: an assortment of goodies

I’m a terrible collector of books. Mind you, I’ve spent most of my life around books and words and print, so that’s not surprising, and sometimes I’m asked to review books on here. Generally, I say no because I don’t like the books – dissing things is easy, and I’m not into that… though if something is truly bad, then it can be quite entertaining. But for something to stay in my library it has to be worth it.

Increase DecreaseA while ago I reviewed Cast On Bind Off, which I found fantastically useful (in fact, I just had to go searching for it, and found it under a pile of knitting on the dining table – I know, I know). Now we have Increase Decrease in the same format, this time by Judith Durant. As you can probably tell from the photo – I could not persuade it to lie flat and be photographed nicely – I’ve already had a good go at this one. Fascinating.

Like its companion, it’s an American book and at first I thought there was a giant elephant missing from the room – the S1, K1, psso decrease so common in UK knitting patterns. But it is there, just abbreviated differently: SKP (slip, knit, pass, I suppose). But I’d never really thought about it, never really given much attention to left- and right-leaning decreases – just, by and large, done what the pattern said. Except when the pattern said something which just didn’t look right – and then I had to improvise.

Did you realise, for instance, that the reason S1, K1, psso was normally matched with K2tog in a UK pattern was that one leaned left and the other leaned right? Oh, all right, you most likely did. But did you think about it? Many of us have now encountered the common US decrease, SSK, which is often paired with K2tog as a left-leaning alternative to it:


but did you realise that there was an alternative to the K2tog which made a better match? I must have come across it, but I can’t really remember, and this book makes it clear. It pairs SSK and K2tog, and SKP (S1, K1, psso) with KSP, or K1, S1, psso. They go together better. They really do – I’ve tried it.

One of the most significant parts of this book comes when it looks at increases and decreases in lace knitting. Increases and decreases are essentially how lace is created, and it is so vital to keep tabs on what you’re doing. I’ve knitted a lot of lace, plus I’m knit-picking (see what I did there?) and, as my father said once, a ‘natural mathematician even though you made a complete mess of your exams’, and it doesn’t faze me any more, but I know from helping people on Ravelry forums that it can sometimes cause confusion and strangely shaped garments.

Often UK patterns say something like ‘continue, taking increased stitches into pattern’, and they do this even if the lace pattern is charted. This little book helps, with some clear examples at the back

lace increases etc illustrating how to make sure this happens properly.

So, basically, yes, this is definitely staying in the library – oh, and it’s helpfully colour-coded, with the increases on a pale cream background, the decreases on blue, and the ‘combinations and special circumstances’ section (lace, in effect) on grey – useful.

Knit and crochetI was also sent two other books, one on crochet (which I don’t), and one on knitting – The Crochet Answer Book and The Knitting Answer Book. The latter is by Margaret Radcliffe, and I am a huge fan of her instructional books – indeed, I’ve reviewed her Circular Knitting Workshop and The Knowledgeable Knitter here in the past. At first I thought ‘oh, this is going to be really basic, this is for people who are new to knitting’, but I’m wrong.

There are questions and answers on things like fitting, for example – amending the fit of garments after you’ve sewn them together (cough, cough). And I never thought much about things like needle tips, for example: I knew what I liked, but I didn’t really know why I liked it, and why I sometimes ended up in severe pain and plasters.

needle tips

Knitting with inappropriate tips for the job in hand, that’s why. And I’ve some beloved wooden needles that have got a bit rough; I didn’t want to take sandpaper to them, and now I’ve found a solution. An emery board. Thanks, Margaret Radcliffe!

(And I’m assured that the crochet book is equally useful. But I’m still not a convert.)

Incidentally, the reason why so many knitting books emanate from the States is quite simple: the sheer size of the market makes them economic to produce. Just thought I’d add that after several people said to me ‘why do so many of these books have to be American?’. Economics and the book trade. Agh, I’m having a flashback!


16 thoughts on “Book reviews: an assortment of goodies

  1. Elaine spinningsheepfeathers

    Yes, Kate, we do have a lot of books printed over here. However, being an equal opportunity knit/spin/weave person, I order lots of books from the UK as well. Why, today Ms. Mail lady brought me The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. I love the books that Kate Davies recommends as there is so much history involved so I order those too. Then there are the Japanese Knitting Pattern books which are quite yummy but charts only. So you can see that we order books from other countries too.

    Please try the elastic wraps on your forearms. You might see a great improvement and be able to Knit Again!!

    1. kate Post author

      I hope you enjoy – indeed, you’ve probably already enjoyed – The Shepherd’s Life. I couldn’t put it down, having been very keen to read it as soon as I knew it was being written. I gather the US edition has more pics, not sure why that should be.

      I’ve not had a stab at the Japanese books, though I’ve had a look. I love the patterns, but they generally seem to be designed for people with less, er, boobage.

      1. Elaine spinningsheepfeathers

        Just get the Japanese STITCH pattern books and then you can write you own pattern or make a lovely throw. Their stitch patterns are really cool. I, too, think the actual patterns are for 10 year old girls!!
        I haven’t even opened the new book. Will try it tonight so I don’t know anything about pictures. The historical books that come from the museums are a definite favorite of mine.
        Do you follow Kate Davies? All her patterns and books are 50% off today only on Ravelry shop. Check it out!!

        1. kate Post author

          Ah, I didn’t know they did stitch books too – well worth investigating!

          I do follow Kate, and thanks for the tip off, there’s a pattern I’ve had my eye on!

        2. Elaine spinningsheepfeathers

          I have now read 85 pages of The Shepherd’s Life. Very nostalgic so far and there are only a very few pictures in the whole book. Those Herdy sheep are really pretty!!

    1. kate Post author

      Indeed she does – loads, well about 25 or so, in The Handknitter’s Handbook. But I must admit (maybe I’ve not just got a Montse Stanley kind of mind) that I find her instructions a little difficult to follow, and the very 1980s diagrams impossible. That might be just me, though; this book does have more.

      (PS: I know the Montse Stanley is O/P, but it’s easy to find (just looked for curiosity, and Amazon are offering more than thirty at 0.01p, and if anyone hasn’t got the it, it’s well worth a penny of anyone’s money, whatever. Mine has a scary cover with MS knitting while wearing a gigantic dark blue sweater randomly embroidered with what appears to be i-cord in a paler blue).

  2. grackleandsun

    Very nice recommendations. I’ve always wanted to find a book (or two) that very clearly explained WHY a certain increase or decrease should (or should not) be used. With pictures. It’s this kind of knowledge, this kind of technical skill, that gives real freedom through understanding in our craft.

    1. kate Post author

      Doesn’t it, though? Purely coincidentally I was walking behind someone in Porthmadog yesterday who was wearing a hand knit with raglan sleeves, and I found myself staring at the decreases (how sad is that?). They all slanted the same way!

  3. DKnits

    I’m a book collector too….Thankfully, I’m limited by the size of my tiny appartment.
    This book though sounds as a must-have! Thank you for the review!

    1. kate Post author

      It never stopped me – I was in a studio flat for a while which was mostly bookcase. Insulation. Bit like wool.


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