It’s true that most questions can be answered by Google these days, but even a digital native like me recognizes the value in hard copy books for reference. Sometimes it’s just nicer to have a quick reference book sitting beside you on the sofa, ready to flip through when you need a clarification of a lace knit stitch for the scarf you’re working on. And if you’re headed to the lake at any point, you might be off the digital grid and need to take a bound edition with you for reference of the work you hope to do in between dips in the water and cocktails on the dock.
It’s nice to have a little library of one’s own for offline reference. There are some books in my own library that are not, I would dare say, for everyone (i.e. the shiny black vinyl-covered tome entitled Domiknitrix — to be honest, I’m not even sure that book is for me). I’ve chosen three that I would recommend for those of you who share my interest in the relevant crafts.
Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook by Debbie Stoller (Workman, 2003) [Buy]
A decade ago, knitting was hitting the mainstream as a hip handwork activity. A new generation were discovering the simple pleasures of yarn and repetitive stitch patterns and Debbie Stoller was there to support them with her Stitch ‘n Bitch book. Stoller, who up to this point was known best as founder and editor-in-chief of BUST magazine, created an easygoing but pretty comprehensive beginner’s guide to the craft of knitting. Her casual, breezy writing style belies her deep knowledge about all aspects of knitting — tension, yarn types, guage, and stitches.
The book is filled with easy to follow diagrams and illustrations and I confess that I still find myself turning to it for its Kitchener stitch directions (the stitch that seamlessly closes up the toes of socks). Ten years later, many (but not all) of the patterns in the book are dated in style, but the instructional meat of Stitch ‘n Bitch is ageless.
The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs in Multiple Sizes and Gauges by Ann Budd (Interweave, 2002) [Buy]
This book is super, super cool. Ann Budd provides patterns for eight basic garments that knitters like to make (mittens, gloves, hats, tams, scarves, socks, vests and sweaters) in their simplest and most scalable form. For each item, she provides charts that allow you to plug in the size of the garment you want to make (children and adult sizes included) along with the gauge you’re working at (no skipping the swatching if you want to use this book!) and presto, you’re set to knit the sweater or sock of your dreams. She also includes instructions for “making it personal” — choosing a crew or a v-neck, a picot bind-off for your sock or a hemmed edge for your hat. This book provides the structure of your knitted garments so you can apply your imagination with stitch patterns and yarn choice.
The Complete Encyclopedia of Stitchery by Mildred Graves Ryan (Guild America Books, 1979) [Buy]
The lengthy subtitle for this book reads: “More than 1,400 illustrations and 1,000 entries: Bargello, Crewel, Crocheting, Embroidering, Knitting, Macramé, Needlepoint, Rugmaking, Sewing, Tatting.” You’d think it would be a mammoth volume, but my year 2000 reprint is an efficient, compact paperback that’s ready and waiting when I have a point of clarification about triple crochet or want some inspiration for classical embroidery stitches. The simple, clear illustrations remind me of Debbie Stoller’s book, though of course Graves Ryan has a writing style is much less colloquial but still straight-forward and easy to understand.
This book is out of print, but you can find used copies easily online or, like I did, on a used book sale table. As you probably know, used book stores and sales are treasure troves for great craft reference books at can’t-be-beat prices. Many crafters I know swear by their vintage craft guides put out by the likes of McCall’s and Reader’s Digest.
Cover to Cover: Creative Techniques for Making Beautiful Books, Journals & Albums by Shereen LaPlantz (Lark Crafts, 1998) [Buy]
Laura Dyck, a Winnipeg bookmaker mentions this book on her blog (The Prairie Peasant) as a good reference. Other reader reviews give it high marks for highly accessible, ultra-detailed instructions and comprehensive coverage of bookmaking techniques.
Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts: An A-to-Z Guide with Detailed Instructions and Endless Inspiration by Martha Stewart (Potter Craft, 2009) [Buy]
Holly Procktor, a Toronto-based Winnipegger, says she likes Martha Stewart’s for “good basics.” And no wonder — this book covers the gamut of crafts from block printing to calligraphy to glass etching to quilling.
In this day and age of YouTube tutorials, what books do you, reader, recommend that your fellow crafters add to their libraries? Do you own a particularly inspiring pottery book or an especially useful quilting title? Let us know in the comments, or tweet @MBCraftCouncil.