11 Books of 2011
Craft publishing is a buyer's market right now. Name your interest and there's likely a book to meet it—whether you're into creating stylish accessories out of duct tape or making felted finger puppets out of your cat's fur. Our bookshelves and, increasingly, our e-readers are full to overflowing, with more books coming out each season.
Despite the glut of good ideas on glossy pages, a handful of knitting titles stood out from the rest this year. In no certain order, allow me to present my list of notable titles for 2011.Charts Made Simple: Understanding Knitting Charts Visually
JC Briar shepherded us into the New Year with this small but indispensable ode to charts. Agreed, charts aren't the sexiest subject in the knitting world. But if you're afraid of them, which many knitters are, a whole world of creative freedom will be lost to you. Know how to read a chart, fix one that's not right, and create one that works for you, and the world is your oyster.
This book is like everything JC does: concise, efficient, flawless, and infinitely helpful. If charts really aren't going away—and they aren't—then this book is the best $17.95 you'll ever spend.200 Fair Isle Motifs
Fair Isle knitting relies heavily on charts. Even though true Fair Isle only involves the use of two strands of color per row, what you do with those strands, how you alternate the colors and frequency of each color, can create an extraordinarily rich landscape of color.
This was the year for pushing the colorwork barrier, which might have helped prepare the ground for this book. But something in Mucklestone's work makes Fair Isle so refreshingly new and appealing. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is magic in her color choices, in the yarns she uses for the samples, and in the lush, vivid photographs of those samples. Whatever it is, this book makes Fair Isle irresistibly tempting.Knit Swirl! Uniquely Flattering, One Piece, One Seam Swirl Jackets
Another source of seemingly irresistible temptation was Sandra McIver's one-sweater wonder, Knit Swirl! The entire book—a gorgeous, glossy tome—is dedicated to just one sweater. But what a sweater.
The Swirl has been advertised as fitting and flattering every body type, and I've only met one person for whom the Swirl was, in fact, a flop. Since the book came out in May of this year, I've been playing a game of "spot the Swirl" wherever I go. The most adorable version, a teeny tiny one, was worn by a baby.Little Red in the City
While the Swirl sweater is based on the notion of one particular shape scaling to fit every body type, Ysolda Teague's Little Red in the City was written to free knitters from the rigid sizing of other people's patterns. It's based on the premise that every pattern, no matter how perfect, is going to need a little tweaking somewhere in order to fit you perfectly.
Ysolda shows you how to adjust, adapt, and downright overhaul patterns to better suit your own figure. It's a celebration of the full project lifecycle, from fiber, twist, and ply to swatching, measuring, modifying, knitting, and—above all—wearing with pride and pleasure.Finishing School: A Master Class for Knitters
No matter how technically stunning a garment may be, if our finishing was sloppy or timid, the beauty is lost.
Deborah Newton knows the art and science of good finishing, and this year she shared both in her masterful Finishing School. Read the book from cover to cover, immerse yourself in the ideas, practice with each of the workshops, and you'll never suffer from sloppy seams again.Knit One Knit All
It's hard to believe there was a time when knitting book publishers would've turned down a book about a single stitch, but that's exactly what happened many years ago when Elizabeth Zimmermann first proposed a book on garter stitch. Finally, 2011 saw her long-desired garter-stitch opus come to fruition at the able hands of her grandson Cully.
Aided by her notes, sketches, and swatches, he assembled 38 patterns—all distinctly EZ in style—and published them in Knit One Knit All. If knitting were music, this would be EZ's improvisational riff on a theme of garter.All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin
More improvisational riffs—these on a broader theme of knitting and life in general—came from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee in her much-awaited All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin. Stephanie speaks to the universal condition of knitters—the frustration we feel when hearing someone say, "I'd love to knit but I'm too busy;" our struggle with gauge, "the problem child of mathematics;" or the Dear John letter we wish we could write to that failed project. She always has the clever comeback, the smart statistic, the response we wish we'd come up with ourselves.
But as much as she is a knitter—and goodness knows, Stephanie does knit—Stephanie is an even finer writer. This marks her seventh book of essays, and her pen is as sharp as ever, her mind in perfect form.Knit Local
Not quite in perfect form but headed in that direction is the domestic yarn market. I seek out and swatch these yarns every week, and I'm not alone. This year Tanis Gray published her own tribute to U.S. yarn companies, Knit Local. The book features brief profiles of some of the best-known U.S. yarn companies, from Brown Sheep to Beaverslide Dry Goods, Green Mountain Spinnery, Kollage, Solitude Wool, and Kraemer Yarns. The profiles are organized geographically, and each is accompanied by an original pattern.
Not all of the companies profiled are end-to-end U.S. operations. Several source their fibers from overseas, and others source many of their yarns from overseas mills as well. Never mind—this book is not marketed as a muckraking tell-all of the domestic yarn scene. It is a friendly and enthusiastic introduction to some fine yarn companies doing good work right here at home.My Grandmother's Knitting
This year also saw the publication of a book that thumbs its nose at the "not your grandmother's knitting" cliche that's been trotted out in endless press releases, instead celebrating the generational aspects of knitting.
Called My Grandmother's Knitting, Larissa Brown's book traces the creative genes of today's best-known designers, from Meg Swansen and Pam Allen to Jared Flood and Ysolda Teague. Read the stories and you'll smile at all the beloved relatives who figured so prominently in our lives, be they grandmas or grandpas, aunts, mothers, or fathers.Ultimate Mittens
As generational as the act of knitting is, the items we knit are even more so. One of the most beautiful examples of this would have to be the mitten. Trace its evolution over the centuries and you'll witness the very evolution of home life, domestic roles, and the influence of family on how we clothe ourselves.
Robin Hansen has long been what I'd call a "hand-covering historian," tracing techniques and styles that have emerged in North America back to their earlier immigrant roots. She's written several books over the years, including my previous favorite, fittingly called Favorite Mittens. But this September she quietly slipped out a stunning new collection called Ultimate Mittens. Some of the patterns have appeared before, and yes, the text on page 90 is reprinted verbatim on pages 91 and 92. But I'm happy to look beyond this because the stories Robin tells are deeply researched and compelling, and the patterns varied and charming yet always utilitarian.Sock Knitting Master Class
Feet also saw their share of wooly adornment this year. In July, Ann Budd released Sock Knitting Master Class, an artful sequel to her 2007 classic for beginners, Getting Started Knitting Socks. It features thoughtfully curated toe-up and top-down designs from Budd as well as the likes of Nancy Bush, Deborah Newton, Eunny Jang, and Anna Zilboorg.
This was also the year I published my third book, The Knitter's Book of Socks, which was just named one of the best fiber craft books of 2011. Knowing that we were both working on sock books at the same time, Ann Budd and I decided to work together—I got to write yarn introductions for the patterns in her book, and she contributed a pattern to my book.
I like to think that between the two books you'll be well-equipped for anything the sock-knitting world might throw your way.
That's my list. What's yours?