Nineteenth century needlework books are my catnip, my delight, and on occasion the reason my accountant raps me across the knuckles with her calculator. I love the meaty typefaces, the prim demeanor (“First, you had better set twenty stitches upon each of four pins…”), and the emphatic boldness of the engraved illustrations.
I also, on a more practical level, love to dig up techniques and ideas that have over time disappeared from the knitter’s landscape. This might be a practical notion like padding the brims of babies’ hats with carded wool; or it might be a general approach, like mixing crochet and knitting together in the same book or even in the same project.
For a long time now, knitting and crochet have been held in the United States to be Non-Kissing Cousins. They are separated, in many minds, by an imaginary and absurd border wall that preserves Textile Purity. Should you engage in both crafts with equal fluency, you may well become an object of curiosity and comment at guild meetings. Some blame this on outmoded social stereotypes (encapsulated in the old maxim, “Employers knit, servants crochet,”); but whatever the reason, it’s patently ridiculous.
As one who prefers the nineteenth-century point of view–use knitting when your purpose is best served by knitting, use crochet when it is best served by crochet–I am delighted to see crochet’s profile rising in the knitting community. Clever designers and excellent teachers are knocking down the silly stereotypes: that crochet is inherently ugly, that it does not drape, that it cannot be stylish, that it is less versatile than knitting, and so forth.
If you love to play with yarn, why not play with yarn any way you possibly can?
Tuttle Publishing continues their noble campaign to bring Japanese craft titles to English-speaking audiences with Michiyo’s Japanese Knitting: Patterns for Sweaters, Scarves, and More. It’s a sneaky title. The cover project, Pullover G, is knitted, yes; but the collection is a sweet, fun mix of knitting and…crochet. In Japan, you see, crochet and knitting never stopped kissing.
The looks are for the woman (there are no men’s patterns) who gets fluttery at the sight of chipped china and worn paint. Details lean to quiet romance: little bits of faux fur, basket weave textures, color motifs drawn from cold climates (Shetland, Iceland, Scandinavia) worked in muted shades.
The fit throughout is relaxed, even oversized. Cuddly. Cardigan C and Cardigan F (the patterns are all identified by letter) slouch agreeably and make a handy comparison of the effects that crochet (C) and knitting (F) achieve in similar silhouettes. Vest J (which borders on becoming a cloak) may be an eye-opener for knitters who have always believed a crocheted garment cannot be graceful.
Translator (and needlework authority) Gale Roehm, who worked with Tuttle on the smash hit English edition of Hitomi Shida’s The Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible (see my full review here), has rendered the instructions with characteristic clarity; and those who have never experienced the joy of working from Japanese-style patterns–charted, with concise explanations and standardized symbols–should consider this as a point of entry.
I note that an unusually large number of the projects in this collection have dual identities. Cardigan F, mentioned above, can also be worn as a poncho. Pattern P is a tunic or a stole. L is a bolero or a scarf. Your personal level of sartorial boldness must decide whether this is more value for your money, or rather too reminiscent of Little Edie Beale.
Fresh from Interweave, we have Sandra Eng’s Crochet Kaleidoscope: Shifting Shapes and Shades Across 100 Motifs. The release is timely. Eng’s book focuses on the sort of motif that has driven the surge of interest in crochet: quickly made, wildly varied, infinitely variable.
Lately my dull gray mood has me longing for color, and this book was a kiss on the eyes. The one hundred motifs are divided, as expected, by shape: circle, square, hexagon, triangles and miscellanea. The instructions are clear, and offered as both text and charts. I made two without encountering errors, which bodes well.
But the author’s emphasis is less on construction than on color. She presents a neat little tour of color theory in the first section; then offers inspiration for mixing up your own combinations throughout. Alternate colors for many motifs are listed (and shown) alongside the instructions. Eng doesn’t just tell you to experiment, she shows you what you might try. It’s helpful.
If you’re in the mood to choose colors but follow a full pattern, there are five: a rug, a shawl, a pillow, a blanket, and a table runner. These are dynamite. Crochet is supremely good at evoking a sort of twilit bohemian garden party world–as in the Mod Flower Shawl and Zinnia Table Runner. And it can also knock you out with boldness–as in both iterations of the Solstice Pillow, which I think I have to make right now.
You may be reading this and longing to join in, but wondering how to learn which end of the hook is the business end. If so, among the many beginner’s books a longtime favorite is Edie Eckman’s The Crochet Answer Book (Storey Publishing).
Mind you, this is not only a beginner’s book. As the title says, this is the book with the answers in it. Yet it fits into a project bag, and can be there for you when you reach a point of crisis (I did, you will) and need to get yourself past it (I did, you will).
The technical illustrations are excellent, and Eckman’s explanations and advice have been honed through years of teaching grateful students (including, as it happens, me).
I could prattle on for ten thousand words about other crochet books newly arrived on the scene; but I’ll stop here so you can go give these a try. Look for notes on more crochet titles in the coming months.
Resistance is futile. You will be joined with a slip stitch into a ring.
Japanese Knitting: Patterns for Sweaters, Scarves, and More by Michiyo (Tuttle Publishing)
The Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible by Hitomi Shida (Tuttle Publishing)
Crochet Kaleidoscope: Shifting Shapes and Shades Across 100 Motifs by Sandra Eng (Interweave Press)
The Crochet Answer Book by Edie Eckman (Storey Publishing)