15 January 2013

Review: Knit Step by Step by Vikki Haffenden and Frederica Patmore

I'm not a big fan of new year's resolutions. It seems a bit odd to decide one arbitrary date is the universal time to fix everything in your life. Not even to fix everything but to promise that by the next year you'll have completed at least one major lifestyle change. Things you couldn't manage to do the previous twelve months will somehow magically become possible once the clock strikes midnight and the calendar page turns. I'm pretty sure no one in the history of this tradition has ever actually kept their resolutions. On the years when I have made them I don't even remember them by the end of January.

Trying to achieve unrealistic goals on a schedule has zero interest for me. I do, however, like to try new things and take on new challenges. So when DK Canada got in touch with me about reviewing books for their 2013 "Start Something New" theme I was immediately on board. Starting something new should be a year-round, lifelong theme, really, but instead of celebrating the new year by making pointless promises, why not celebrate by trying something you've always wanted to do? I'd much rather hear about someone learning to bake or do yoga or knit rather than listening to them lament that they never did manage to lose twenty pounds or balance their chequebook or quit smoking. And it's way more fun for the participant as well.

I've started my new year by learning how to crochet (see my previous post) but when it comes to crafts I'm a multitasker, always with a few projects on the go. My entree into the world of yarn was as a knitter so I decided to start my reviews with Knit Step by Step. I haven't actually done any knitting in a while (after undergoing wrist surgery I ended up engrossed in other endeavours) so this book seemed an ideal re-introduction. Just glancing through it I was immediately inspired. The author describes Knit Step by Step as "a comprehensive guide to a wealth of knitting skills," and that does seem to be an accurate description. The topics covered include materials, tools, techniques (so many techniques!) and design and decorative work. Not bad.

One thing that has ruined many otherwise-good knitting books is a paucity of clear photos or illustrations. Luckily DK books are never lacking in this department and this one is no exception. Every page has multiple colour photos with clear images of how things are supposed to look. That alone makes this a book worth cracking open, particularly for beginner knitters.

The writing itself is on the dry side (and the type size is frequently annoyingly small--or maybe I just need glasses in my advanced years). I doubt anyone other than Dumbledore reads knitting patterns for fun but I do generally like to see a little more personality in my reading material (especially since my preference is to read books cover to cover). Still if you want a straightforward manual Knit Step by Step will suit your needs. Although it's impressive in its comprehensiveness, I was surprised to see some obvious information missing. For example, despite entries on yarns I'd never heard of (milk-protein yarn, anyone?) there was no mention of bamboo, a fibre that's pretty common these days. I'm sure oversights like this are rare but they clearly do occur, so be prepared for the occasional gap. On the other hand there are more casting-on methods described and illustrated than I ever could have imagined existed. In any case, I'd say the writing in a knitting book is secondary to the photos and, as already mentioned, they alone make this book worthwhile.

So, how good are the instructions? Well, using only the book, I tried a number of techniques that were new to me, including:

Spiral I-Cord: Because I'm out of practice with knitting I found the needles felt alien in my hands and were awkward and frustrating to use (especially after the simplicity of a crochet hook), so working this cord was probably harder than it should have been. But the instructions were clear and making a spiral I-cord should be no problem for anyone who can handle basic knitting and purling. Mind you, my I-cord wasn't nearly as neat and tidy as the one in the book's photo, but I don't know if that was due to my technique, the yarn I was using, or the size of the needles.

Knit-On Cast-On: Delightfully straightforward instructions had me mastering this cast-on method immediately. It's the simple things that bring you the most joy in life :)

Picot Chain: Much less joy on this one. The instructions seem simple enough and my chain kept starting off well. But something got lost in the translation and despite several attempts I could not get anything remotely like the chain in the photo. Was this due to a failing on my part or could the instructions have been phrased better? I can't say for sure but since the steps are seemingly so simple, I'm blaming the instructions this time. Mistakes are common in even the best knitting patterns/instructions, though, which is why corrections are often made available on book and magazine websites (since I couldn't find a corrections page on DK's site you may have to  go searching forums for help if you run into trouble).

Mobius Loop: This one was fun, especially since it involves doing something you're usually supposed to be careful not to do (twisting the yarn). I had no problem figuring out the technique--my biggest issue was finding the right length of circular needles.

Because I'm already in the middle of other projects and didn't want to get too stuck into anything new, I didn't attempt any of the bigger projects in Knit Step by Step (like learning the Fair Isle technique, which seems to require at least one other pair of hands). Although, as mentioned, there are tons of techniques in the book, there are only a few actual projects, and they all seem pretty basic (striped scarf, baby booties, raglan sweater...) While I would say the techniques portion of the book would be valuable to any knitter, the projects are mainly going to be of interest only to beginners. But I'm definitely planning on going back when my project pile gets a little lower and taking my time with everything the book has to offer--and I recommend any knitters or potential knitters out there pick up this book and do the same. And if knitting isn't your thing, no worries--it's a new year (or day, week, month)--try something (anything) new (you can get some ideas by clicking on the button below, or keep an eye out for my future reviews for inspiration). Have fun!

Knit Step by Step by Vikki Haffenden and Frederica Patmore. Published by DK.

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