Book Review

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The Knitting Answer Book
by Margaret Radcliffe

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Whenever I see a product that claims to solve every problem I'll ever face and answer every question I'll ever ask, I immediately think, "Oh yeah?" Then I look into it for myself. Lofty marketing claims make me weary.

Which is why the presence of those exact claims on the cover of The Knitting Answer Book prompted me to hunt high and low for a hole, any hole, in the book's content. This is not a new book—it's actually been out since 2005. It has been extremely successful, constantly at the top of the Amazon knitting books list. By the time I purchased a copy a few months ago, the book was already in its sixth printing.

But could the book's author Margaret Radcliffe really have anticipated my every question?

The Steek Test
Whenever I want to see how far a knitting reference book goes, I look up steeks. A standard technique in stranded colorwork knitting, steeks involve the addition of extra stitches so that you can knit your colorwork pattern in the round. To turn this knitted tube into a piece of clothing, you take sharp scissors and cut (gasp!) the fabric along the steeks, seaming the ends and then picking up and knitting sleeves or adding any trim you'd like.

Because steeks involve the actual cutting of fabric, which terrifies many knitters throughout the land, they are generally considered an advanced technique and therefore often excluded from the simpler "how-to" reference books.

Finding "steeks" in this book is not just a matter of just opening up the book and leafing to the letter S. The content is organized into 13 high-level categories: casting on, the basics, binding off, tools, yarn, reading patterns, pattern stitches, circular knitting, color, shaping, fitting, finishing, and embellishments. Steeks could fit under circular knitting, color, or even finishing. What to do?

This book's index is your fast friend for any direct searches. Often given short shrift in other books, the index here was given a generous 13 pages—and every single one is vital to your finding what you need.

Sure enough, Margaret had added steeks. Everything is presented in question/answer format. In the case of steeks, the question was, "I've been told that I need to work 'steeks' when I do stranded knitting. What are these and why would I use them?"

There are no diagrams or photos, just a text explanation of exactly what a steek is, how to do it, and why it can be helpful in your knitting. (Among other things, it keeps you from having to wrangle colorwork on purl rows, which is a major plus.) There is a cross-reference to "cutting your knitting," so I wandered there next. But the context was vastly different, explaining how to cut armhole fabric to narrow the shoulders on a sweater. Still, strike one for steeks!

Searching for Spit
From here I proceeded to my second test: spit splicing. An ancient and rudimentary way of joining yarn, spit splicing involves untwisting the strands you want to join, pulling away one ply on each strand, twisting the remaining plies together, and then—now don't be squeamish—moistening the plies with saliva and rubbing them together vigorously.

We're talking discreet quantities of saliva, not giant gobs—but the "ick" factor has prompted many books to avoid any mention of the word "spit." Sure enough, while Margaret provided three separate page references (yarn, lace, and finishing) and a complete explanation of how to splice yarns together, she simply notes, "Wet this section of the yarn." No spit here, but good info on splicing.

What about bleeding colors? They're there, under "Color/running." More basic issues are here too: reading yarn label symbols, picking up dropped stitches, stringing beads, slipping stitches, creating an I-cord, you name it. I soon ran through my mental list of knitting questions and problems and ended up doing what I always do with good reference books—wandering.

A Wonderful Wander
As good as this book is for those urgent questions, it's even better when you simply want to discover things you didn't even know you wanted to learn. Like how to add a buttonhole after the fact, how to work a yarn-over at the beginning of a row, or what the average circumference of a man's head is (22 inches).

This book holds a lot of knowledge. The publisher, Storey, chose a very small page size for the book, giving it the hefty solidity of a Bible. I don't know if it could stop a bullet and I won't be testing it myself, but you get the idea.

It sits comfortably, all 400 pages, in your knitting bag. After a while my cover stopped lying flat, so I kept the book closed with a rubber band. A knitted I-cord would do the trick nicely too.

Answers to All Questions?
So where does this leave us? Does the book really contain the answers to every knitting question you'll ever have? I can't say, since most of us are still on that journey and discovering new questions every day. Only time will tell, but this book is a great guide for the journey.

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