You know a book is a classic when you find it in the collections of two amazing women. I came across this book in my grandmother’s collection after she died, and I took it home with me when we cleaned up her apartment. Two years later, when I moved in with MC, I found another copy in the books he kept to the side after his mother died. (I ended up giving my grandmother’s copy to one of my best friends.)
This book is a great resource because it includes information on so many different needlecrafts, but also because it goes beyond the basics in a way that most contemporary books don’t. There is definitely an assumption that the readers of this book will need these crafts to make garments and home decor items for their families, and as a result, the writers attempt to share the skills needed for designing and finishing great custom items.
The book starts off with a section on embroidery, a craft I love the look of but lack the patience for actually doing.
There are quite a few great embroidery samplers shown, followed by detailed illustrations for making loads of stitches.
I haven’t spent much time looking through the next two sections, Needlepoint and Applique.
The Patchwork section has a lot of beautiful and inspiring pictures, but I’ve mostly avoided it. (As a fairly lazy quilter, I’m partial to newer books with detailed strip piecing instructions.)
The Quilting chapter mostly focuses on hand quilting, but there are some tips for machine quilters, too.
The Knitting chapter is one of my favorites. Some of the highlights include tips for getting neat selvages…
illustrated and written instructions for different types of double increases and decreases…
and the above-mentioned tips for neckline shaping.
There are also some great patterns, like this one for a classic Aran sweater…
and this one for a lovely evening set.
And, naturally, I love the crochet section, too. Like the knitting chapter, it includes a stitch guide…
and sections on quite a few specialized techniques including woven crochet…
and broomstick lace.
And also like the knitting section, there is plenty of information about shaping crochet garments.
After the crochet section, I tend to lose interest since I don’t do any lacework, macrame, or rug-making. But I do like that there are sections on all of these crafts, because you never know when I might pick one of them up!
Status: Out of print, but available online, generally for reasonable prices.
Condition: Very Good.
Some of my longtime readers may remember this book from my first ever posted list of craft goals. I had great plans of reading it cover to cover, but never actually finished.
I found this wonderful book back in 2011 while visiting The Strand with two of my best friends. We used to meet monthly for a craft circle for almost 4 years, but changes in our various apartments made that impossible in about 2009. Since then, we try to get together for dinner or a movie about every 6 weeks. We randomly decided to pop into the Strand after seeing a movie, and I found this amazing book. I immediately snatched it up, which was a bit upsetting for one of my friends, since she wanted one, too. (Not to worry, we ordered her one online for her birthday.)
This book is a great snapshot into the early ’70s, just a few years before I was born.
It’s over 500 pages long, printed on a newsprint-type paper in a few colors, and displayed in a sturdy three ring binder. The retail price was $6.98. You could also order the binder for $2.49 or each chapter for 39 cents. (According to the consumer price index calculator I used, these prices are equivalent to 2013 U.S. buying power of $38.83, $13.85, and $2.17, respectively.)
This book was written at a crossroads between traditional and contemporary expectations about gender. It is clearly addressed to women, who are assumed to have both children and husbands. But, at the same time, the authors understand the women may be working and may not have had as much sewing time as in the past. There’s also an acknowledgement that these women readers may have missed out on some of the background knowledge – so it isn’t like reading a 1880s book where you are advised to do things in “the usual way.” Instead, everything is explained in case you missed out on the important foundational sewing information that all women “should” have.
As someone who comes from a strong line of seamstresses yet seems to have missed out on that foundational knowledge about sewing myself, my favorite parts are the Shapes of Fashion sections, which illustrate and identify different clothing styles.
My next favorite parts are the various fitting guides. I know that, in today’s times, a lot of people don’t follow the fitting guidelines from the past, but I still find them really helpful.
In particular, the first chapter, Do Wonders with Your Wardrobe, has a series of comparative illustrations that demonstrate how different features (line, colors, detail, etc.) can emphasize certain physical characteristics.
There is similar information in the Sew for Him! chapter as well.
I really love the illustrations in this book, although it isn’t clear who has drawn what. (The title page lists three artists – Francis H. Schwartz, Patricia Cullen, and William H. Silvey – as well as George W. Harrington for cover design.)
This isn’t a pattern book, but an encyclopedia of sewing with a fashion and fitting primer.
There is information about fabrics…
Some of the information holds up for today…
and some of it is dated.
Some of my favorite sections are those about sewing for men and children.
There are these great sizing/fitting charts inserted throughout the book, too.
Overall, this is probably one of my favorite vintage needlecrafts books. Even though it is specifically about sewing, there is a lot of interesting information about fashion, styling, and fit that can be applied to wearables in other crafts, too.
Plus, now I know what a trumpet sleeve looks like, and how to use all the latest (through 1972) fabrics.
Publication date: 1983 reprint of a 1979 publication.
Status: Out of print, but available online (sometimes, for exorbitant prices) Update: Thanks to PlanetJune for letting me know that Crochet Workshop will be republished by Dover next year. You can pre-order it on Amazon here.
I first learned about this delightful book from Crochetbug. (You can learn more about James Walters in this post on Crochet Concupiscence.) Unfortunately, the book’s condition is such that it is difficult to enjoy. You see, it reeks of smoke. One day, I hope to air it out enough for me to actually want to read through it, but until then, I am limited to brief moments of picking it up until the smell is unbearable, and then washing my hands profusely.
I did take some time to photograph it so I could share some of it with you.
You can almost immediately feel the sense of whimsy, creativity, and joy that Walters has to offer.
The book includes all kinds of information that you would rarely see in a crochet book today. As a freeform pioneer, Walters shows you how to create your own projects, rather than rely solely on patterns.
There are many great illustrations, and I can’t tell if these are by Walters or someone else. Here is one showing the progression of various spiral crochet pieces
These are part of a section that explains how to construct motifs of different kinds.
There are examples of several freeform garments included in the book…
as well as explorations of specialized techniques, like hairpin lace.
Most of the projects are displayed artfully, rather than functionally.
I really wish I could bear to read through this book, because I am sure I would learn a lot and be completely inspired.
Hopefully, one day it will come back into print (or be available as an ebook) and I will have the chance to read it cover to cover. Until then, does anyone have any tips for removing foul odors from books?
Source: Found in my mom’s collection when she moved.
Publication date: 1968.
Status: Out of print and expensive online.
Condition: This booklet has a fair amount of wear and tear.
This interesting booklet came into my collection when my mom moved recently. She found it in with her books but doesn’t remember how she originally picked it up. I would guess that it may have been a gift to her as a teen, but maybe she just picked it up as a vintage book later.
This is one of those “teach yourself to knit” guides that are usually found in the big box stores. According to internet gossip, Columbia Minerva yarn company has been out of business since the ’80s and may have been the parent company of Caron.
Two things stand out for me in this book (beside the vintage hair styles and fashions). Apparently the Columbia Minerva “way” was to avoid pattern abbreviations.
And the other thing (you may have already noticed it) is the use of “talking babies” for comic relief throughout the booklet.
My sense is that the intended audience was young, married mothers, and the book was supposed to include all the beginner projects a hip young mom in the late ’60s would want to knit…
…such as fashionable bonnets…
…matching children’s outfits…
…a pastel vest for your hubby…
… and awesome bonnet and mitten sets for your younger, teenage sisters.
Do you have a favorite “how to knit” book or booklet?
Source: Inherited from my grandmother’s collection.
Publication date: 1983 Book Club Edition.
Status: Out of print and widely available online.
Condition: The inside is in great shape but the dust jacket has seen better days.
This is one of my favorites in my vintage collection. (I’ve previously reviewed it here.) I was predisposed to love it because it belonged to my grandmother, but it also has incredibly clear illustrations, an extensive stitch guide, and a positive, creative attitude about crochet!
The author, Mildred Graves Ryan, is clearly a pioneer (see bio above). I couldn’t find anything recent about her online, but I did find this racy article about her testimony against using metric measurements. And Marta Cone is obviously a master illustrator because normally, I can’t learn anything from crochet illustrations (unless they are in multiple colors).
The book starts with A Beginning for the Right-Handed, which goes through all of the basics, and is followed with Tips for the Left-Handed, which teaches the same information for lefties. The next chapters, Materials to Choose, Tools to Use, and How to Interpret the Directions, help you prepare to crochet on your own. After that, there’s advice on Choosing the Right Project, which includes a lot of information about fitting and finding a style that works for your body. The next chapter, Vary the Basic Techniques, explores different ways to insert your hook as well as dimensional stitches like puffs and bobbles. There is then a sizable stitch guide, Experiment with Stitch Patterns.
The book next explores specialty techniques in Styles and Types of Crochet. Reading this section is what taught me broomstick lace. (It was only later, after I had the basics down, that I checked out the StitchDiva videos.)
This book really covers all aspects of crochet, including most of the specialty techniques that are now coming back into fashion.
There’s even a section on Tunisian crochet which includes 11 stitch patterns.
The next chapters, Importance of Fit and Decorative Details, dive into all of the elements that really make your finished projects look fabulous, like checking gauge, blocking, construction techniques, finishing, and edges. The final chapter, Crocheting for Everyone, is filled with project patterns, and is naturally the chapter that looks the most dated.
Sometimes, even when the projects seem classic, like this men’s cardigan, the photo styling shows the age quite a bit.
The book is primarily illustrated with some black and white photos. There is a color insert highlighting some of the project patterns.
As I mentioned, Ms. Graves Ryan has a refreshing attitude about crochet and its capabilities that is very contemporary.
But my favorite part of the book is the handwritten index card from my grandmother.
Apparently, leaving handwritten patterns in books is something passed down through generations in my family. Now that I can knit, I should really try to find out what this index card makes!
Publication date: 2000 US reprint of a 1991 Australian publication.
Status: Available online ($22 at Lacis, or $80 on Amazon).
Craft: Tunisian Crochet.
I reviewed this book before, but I felt it needed another look as a vintage book. It is delightfully quirky, in a self-published prior to 2005 kind of way.
The book’s subtitle is “Everything you wanted to know about this cross between knitting and crochet which has been given such common names as Afghan Crochet, Scotch Knitting, Fool’s Knitting and Shepherd’s Knitting.” And it definitely covers a lot of ground.
For example, Rebecca shares some of her favorite vintage crochet ads.
She also includes cute stick figure drawings to explain different concepts.
She shares a sizable stitch guide.
Most of the book is in black and white, but you do get to marvel at the color pictures in a few sections.
I suspect Rebecca is a cat lover…
With the revitalized interest in Tunisian crochet in the past several years, this book may not seem as critical. But I applaud Rebecca Jones for putting together this book when she did, and for sharing her love of Tunisian crochet and her sense of whimsy with all of us!
Condition: Very good with protective library-type plastic cover.
The Crochet Sweater Book is the first true crochet fashion design primer that I’m aware of in the modern era. (Notice I qualified that with “that I’m aware of.” Those of you with fantastic vintage collections, please feel free to jump in with suggestions to correct me.) Written by the extremely talented Sylvia Cosh (with, according to the inside but not the cover, James Walters), this book basically translates runway fashions onto your hook. (Ravelry members can see 12 of the designs from the book here.)
In her introduction, Cosh describes crochet as “one of the easiest and most versatile forms of fabric making” and reminds us that it’s “surprisingly easy, and very satisfying, to create different textural effects, unusual color combinations, original stitch patterns or an indvidual garment shape.”
This book highlights Cosh’s favorites from her collection of “hand-dyed crochet sweaters and cardigans…exported to Europe, the United States, and Japan” and shares the patterns in “yarns readily available in the shops.” In addition to her shop fashions, she includes
a range of complimentary, but rather different, designs, to ensure greater variety. However, one of my aims in preparing this book was to offer inspiration and to encourage experimentation… I hope you will use my patterns as a starting point for individual interpretation and eventually for creating your own crochet designs.
A woman after my own heart!
The book begins with a section on Crochet Design, where Cosh describes some of her inspiration from nature and shares how she uses crochet stitches to interpret these themes. She also mentions her preference for “[l]arge batwing sweaters” that “seldom date.” Um, I’m not totally sure I agree with that assessment, but it is good to know what her preferences are! Cosh also explains that her garments are also predominantly made in the round to eliminate the dreaded seaming issue.
The next section, Before You Begin, reviews materials, measurements, and working in the round, and refers you to other section of the book for reference on colors, charts, pattern abbreviations, and techniques. She spends a full page on gauge, and includes a detailed insert on making a gauge swatch.
The next several sections focus on yarn and color section. Selecting Yarn has some great pictures of different weights, types of yarn, and colors. Yarn Texture shows swatches of double crochet and bobbles/dimensional stitches in a variety of textured yarns and explains different fibers and yarn textures. In Selecting Color, Cosh enables all of us stash horders by providing tips for “Building Up a Yarn Collection.” In Sources of Inspiration, Cosh shares pictures of yarn (in balls and wrapped) next to various inspirations including shells, pottery, flowers, mushrooms, and beads. It is a really interesting way to look at yarn colors and textures! For Understanding Color, Cosh provides a basic overview of color theory.
The next chapter, Simple Beginnings, shares four simple patterns, including the Basic Sweater with two variations, Simple Stripes and Color Blocks, and Silver Linings, with a turtleneck and bobbled center panel. Many of the sweaters have a simple shape so the patterns are a page or two at most (including pictures!).
The Bobbles and Diamonds chapter is where Cosh starts exploring her wild textures and colors. The five patterns in this chapter combine yarn and color with stitch texture to create bold projects. My favorites are Hydrangeas, a vest with bobbled floral motifs, and Crunchy Creams, which looks like a totally radical ‘80s fashion fantasy come to life.
In the next chapter, Circles and Stripes, Cosh plays with a Catherine Wheel pattern (the “circle”) as well as stripes. Her Midnight Circles and Stone Circles cardigans and Balloons child sweater use the same stitch pattern with different sleeves and colors for completely different looks. In her Gilded Pinks cardigan, Cosh shares tips for combining many colors for a stashbuster project while avoiding “a rag-bag look.”
The Geometrics chapter is where Cosh uses color blocking, highly contrasting stripes, and charted color changes to create exaggerated color effects.
The Chevrons chapter makes use of ripple or chevron motifs, often with added texture from post stitches.
The final chapter, Celtic Cables, makes use of bold cabled diamonds with encased bobbles.
In the back of the book, Cosh has a Crochet Techniques section with illustrated instructions and/or descriptions for basic crochet stitches, increasing and decreasing, working in the round, joining and working with multiple colors, and finishing. She also has a small gallery of textured stitch swatches.
Throughout the book, you get a sense of Cosh’s warmth and creativity, and you can tell that she is a passionate freeformer. You have a feeling that even if you follow the pattern exactly, you will have a uniquely individual creation each time. I enjoy that feeling of freedom and whimsy that she shares in her writing – it doesn’t seem that you can do anything “wrong” with your crochet when reading this book.
My one gripe about this book is the subtitle. There are exactly 31 designs, and, as I mentioned, several are variations on other designs. Yes, technically over 30 but really right on the line. But this is a relatively minor complaint for a book with so much going for it. The Crochet Sweater Book has great, stylized photography that shows the details of each design. The patterns are frequently charted in addition to the abbreviations. Cosh shares design tips throughout and the layout is easy to follow and attractive to view. And, it’s a hardcover so it lays flat and you can crochet while reading.
Confession time: Way back when, I bought this book online for a few bucks. When it arrived, my inner-teenager had a fashion attack. (Parents/teachers, you know what I mean. You’re trying to show an important image or film from the past, and all the kids can talk about is how stupid everyone’s hair looked back in the day.) I looked through the pictures and many of them screamed ‘80s to me. I decided I would never use this book and ended up selling it to someone else online. Years later, I learned about Cosh and discovered she was a crochet genius so I probably needed to give this book a second chance. I ended up searching for it again and finally brought it back into my collection.
I’m telling you this story because if you were overwhelmed by bright colors or over-sized sweaters in the ‘80s, too, you might have this gut reaction. I urge you to work your way through the book anyway, because what you will find is exactly what Cosh promises in the introduction, a starting point for your own creativity to flourish, aided by her expertise as a designer and teacher. If you can get your hands on a copy, I strongly recommend that you do.
Source: I’m not exactly sure when and how this book came into my collection.
Publication date: 1981
Status: Reprinted by Dover Books in 2012 and widely available.
Condition: Very good.
I’ve previously reviewed this booklet in my granny square pattern book roundup. This is an interesting pattern booklet that recreates popular quilting motifs in crochet. If, like me, you love quilt designs, this booklet will probably call out to you.
The booklet is mostly black and white, with color images of all the motifs inside the front and back covers.
Where the book really shows its age is in the construction of the motifs. All of the motifs are worked flat in rows, and instead of joining colors at different points, almost every color change is worked as a separate piece which is later join.
For example, this Evening Star motif has 13 pieces for each square. I love the motifs, but I would want to reverse engineer them and figure out a way to crochet them with fewer pieces and more use of colorwork techniques.
In addition to the 23 block patterns, the booklet includes instructions for 5 patterns. Besides the obvious (a Log Cabin blanket), there are 4 garment projects. I’m particularly partial to the Log Cabin Pullover (top right). Something about the way this piece is put together and the way the photo styled with the beret is really calling to me. It looks like a fun pullover to wear over a long john shirt in the winter. Perhaps I’ll be motivated to make one with some of my scraps before winter…
Needlecrafts, handmade creativity, and other good stuff