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If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that while I’ve been crocheting continuously for the last 27 years or so, I only decided to pick up knitting again in the last year. I was, frankly, scared of knitting. As a kid, my grandmother introduced me to both crochet and knitting, but everything I knit turned into an enormous trapezoid. After a while, I lost interest (who knew that I could have been on the forefront of trends in geometric patterns?). With each passing year and the occasional half-hearted (and failed) attempts to learn to knit, the entire craft started looming in the background as this frightening thing.
About a year ago, for various reasons, I decided to pick up the needles again. Originally, I planned to go take a class somewhere, but two friends shared horror stories of bad, overpriced classes in the area. My good pal, OB, offered to show me how to knit when we next met up. I knew our schedules wouldn’t let us get together for a while, so I impatiently decided to order Nici McNally‘s The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Knitting, and the rest is history! Today I present my list of must-have beginner knitting books (and video). Since my current knitting prowess is entirely due to books and videos, I feel pretty confident that these particular resources will be almost as good as an in-person knitting teacher :). If you are ready to take the knitting plunge, here is a great shopping list.
The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Knitting(DVD) by Nici McNally is really great. This is not a poorly lit YouTube video on DVD with background noise. This is a professionally shot DVD with excellent production values. Nici is a warm and energetic teacher, and you pretty much feel like she is in the room with you the whole time. The video includes narrative pieces, where Nici faces the audience and explains the concepts, and the type of over-the-shoulder/detailed hand shots which make you feel as though you are watching your own hands (if you were that good!). The best technical feature of the DVD is that it automatically pauses after a new concept is taught and there is an option for replaying or moving to the next chapter. The chapters include:
- Cast on
- Knit & Purl (English & Continental)
- Bind Off
- Add Yarn (which also demonstrates simple color changes)
- Increases & Decreases
- How to Fix Mistakes! (my favorite!)
The DVD includes 7 simple scarf patterns printed inside, and a “secret code” to get access to more patterns on Nici’s website. I give this DVD 5 out of 5 stars as a beginner knitting resource.
Now that I knew the basics, my confidence was improved, and I was ready to start knitting during my commute. Realistically, I still had virtually no idea what I was doing though! So I picked up Knitting VISUAL Quick Tips by Sharon Turner. This great little book is portable and includes a solid index and many photographs (at least one on each page). Whenever I was far away from my Complete Photo Guide to Knitting but needed a reminder, I would turn to Knitting VISUAL Quick Tips. The chapters include:
- Knitting Necessities (needles, accessories, yarn, etc.)
- Casting On (5 methods)
- Knitting, Purling, and Slipping Stitches (English and Continental, joining yarn)
- Binding Off Stitches (knitwise, purlwise, in pattern, in knitted cord, and 3-needle bind off)
- Correcting Mistakes (twisted stitch, incomplete stitch, dropped stitches of various kinds, unraveling)
- Reading Written Instructions (pattern basics, gauge, sizing, charts)
- Stitch Patterns and Maneuvers (simple patterns, selvages, bobbles, back of loop, cables)
- Knitting in the Round (circulars and double pointed needles, translating instructions from flat to circular, tips for working in the round)
- Color Knitting (horizontal stripes, Fair Isle, slip stitch, intarsia)
- Finishing Techniques (seaming, blocking, assembly)
- Finishing Details (primarily clothing details)
- Decorative Details (pompoms, tassels, flowers, edgings, etc.)
Due to its small size, this book doesn’t quite stand alone for a beginner, but it is remarkably detailed. If you are more experienced, this could probably suffice as your main “go to” knitting technique book. The book is filled with photographs but short on descriptions, so it is more of a visual reminder of your next steps. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars as a portable resource for the slightly-more than-a-beginner through intermediate knitter.
After I had the basic stitches down, I really wanted to explore cables. They were still a bit of a mystery to me, so I decided to check out The Very Easy Guide to Cable Knitting by Lynne Watterson. This book is set up using a conversational “lesson” format. Although it relies on the use of illustrations, rather than photos, to demonstrate techniques, I found it easy to follow along with. The book starts with knitting basics, so theoretically, a complete beginner could rely on this book to teach him/her knitting as well. (I wouldn’t recommend it though – I find that a lot of people have difficulty learning from illustrations.) Then there are three chapters on cables: Mock cables, Cable panels, and Cable patterns. Each chapter includes several projects that are progressively more difficult. There are also several detailed lessons in the final chapter on finishing techniques. The photographs of the cables and the projects are quite lovely and the book is a real pleasure to look through. Although I am not much interested in making the projects, I refer to the book as a stitch guide for cables all the time. I have one minor complaint (or perhaps it is a suggestion?). The book talks you through everything, and then suddenly uses various cable abbreviations without explanation. After a bit of searching, I did find that all of the abbreviations are listed in the back and clearly explained there. It just interrupted the flow of the “lesson” when I was a total cable newbie. Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars as a cable book in general and 5 out of 5 stars as a newbie’s cable book.
It seems that sweaters and socks are all part of the “being a knitter” package. My favorite beginner friendly books to indoctrinate you into the sweater and sock culture, respectively, are The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns by Ann Budd and Toe-Up 2-at-a-Time Socks by Melissa Morgan-Oakes. I gave a detailed overview of Ann Budd’s book in this post, and would only add that it provides a lot of background detail that would benefit a beginner to sweater making, whether you choose to follow one of the patterns or design your own sweater using the “formulas.” I would give it 5 out of 5 stars as a beginner design book and a beginner sweater book.
While I personally do not understand the fascination with sock knitting, Melissa Morgan-Oakes has come the closest to inspiring within me the motivation to make socks. First of all, there are no double pointed needles, and just looking at the configurations of those things makes me want to run screaming from the room. Second, the book is jam packed with pictures and the woman is an entertaining writer. I was literally sucked in by her introduction and found myself reading through half the book in one sitting. The step-by-step photographs are incredible and would absolutely walk any beginner through the process of making socks using her method. I actually did get pretty far into a pair of her sample socks while chaperoning a bus trip with 30+ teenagers – if that doesn’t tell you that the method is clear and easy to follow, I don’t know what will! I give this book 5 out of 5 stars, for doing its very best to convert me into a sock knitter, and at the very least, providing me with the tools for making my own pair of socks on circular needles.
What are your favorite beginner knitting books?