When the weather turns cold and the nights get long, I feel the urge to rummage through my stockpile of yarn, patterns, and knitting needles until I find just the right project to suit my mood. Although I have known how to knit for decades, and have quite a few how-to books, three recently published volumes have done wonders to help me improve my skills.
Cast On Bind Off
Before you can start knitting, the first step is to put yarn on a set of needles, a process known as casting on. While a lot of people who know how to knit know only one way to cast on, and some know two or three, the choice is much more varied. Different situations call for different cast-on techniques, and using the right one has a huge impact on your finished garment.
Speaking of finish, the final step in knitting is to cast off, otherwise known as binding off. Sometimes you need a firm bind off to keep your piece from stretching out of shape. Other times you need a stretchy edge.
So how do you figure out which technique to use when? Not to worry!
Knitting instructor Leslie Ann Bestor has written a wonderful little volume called Cast On Bind Off describing in step-by-step detail, illustrated with color photographs, 33 ways to cast on and 21 ways to bind off. To help you figure out which to use when, cast ons are organized into nine categories according to their function: all-purpose, ribbing with moderate stretch, ribbing with lots of stretch, end-of-row, super stretch, decorative, temporary and hems, toe-up socks, and center-start circular. Similarly, bind offs are organized into five functional categories: all-purpose, lace, decorative, stretchy ribbed, and specific use.
With this dynamic little book in hand, never again will you be left scratching your head when a knitting pattern vaguely instructs you to cast on a certain number of knitting stitches, and later to bind them off. Based on whatever it is you are knitting Cast On Bind Off will help you choose the most suitable starting and ending techniques.
Once you get your stitches cast on, unless you are knitting a rectangular scarf, you will eventually come to a place where you need to increase the number of stitches on your needles to make the piece wider, or decrease stitches to make it narrower.
At times you may want your increases and decreases to make a decorative statement, while at other times you may prefer them to be nearly invisible. In her book Increase Decrease, Judith Durant details 36 different ways to add stitches to a row of knitting, and 43 ways to eliminate stitches.
The increases are organized in four categories: neutral increases that lean neither left nor right, but appear vertical; increases that slant to either the right or left, and may be paired to create a mirror image; multiple stitch increases that serve a decorative, as well as functional, purpose; and centered double increases to form a shape such as a triangle or to decoratively shape a raglan sleeve.
Decreases are organized into three categories: single decreases remove one stitch at a time and slant either right or left; double decreases remove two stitches at a time and can either slant or not; multiple stitch decreases are used to create such decorative effects as bobbles and lace.
One chapter shows how to knit by combining increases and decreases for such dramatic effects as bobbles, pleats, cables, textures, and lace. Another chapter describes how to artfully shape textured patterns, lace patterns, and multi-color patterns.
Most knitting patterns that call for increases and decreases fail to specify how to accomplish those feats, either invisibly or as a knitting design element. Increase Decrease offers step-by-step detail and color photographs showing you how to skillfully perform such maneuvers as shaping comfortable sleeves, fashioning attractive necklines, and properly forming hats.
The Knitting Answer Book
The third volume in this trio of indispensable knitting references is The Knitting Answer Book by designer Margaret Radcliffe, which offers — as the subtitle indicates — “solutions to every problem you’ll ever face; answers to every question you’ll ever ask.”
This book is in question-answer format, with brief and to-the-point questions organized in a logical sequence: casting on, knitting basics, binding off, needles and other tools, yarn, reading project patterns, pattern stitches, circular knitting, color, shaping, fitting, finishing, embellishments. The result is a handy how-to-knit reference for knitters of all skill levels.
As a long-time knitter, I was surprised to find answers to questions I never thought to ask. The section on knitting needles, for instance, explains why different needles have different types of points, and lists the advantages and disadvantages of the various materials needles are made from — metal, wood, plastic and nylon, casein, and cellulose acetate — to help you choose the best knitting needles for your particular project.
Another handy feature is a yarn-weight table comparing traditional weight descriptions (fingering, light worsted, roving, etc.) to the new standards (numbers 1 through 6), with scale-size drawings of yarn in each category. This table is invaluable for determining the weight of unlabeled yarn left-overs.
When a project is finished, weaving in loose ends is never much fun. This book shows two options for dealing with loose ends as you knit: weave them in or splice them together.
As well as being full of answers to questions that puzzle every knitter at one time or another, The Knitting Answer Book clearly explains most of the terminology you’re likely to encounter in your patterns. It also includes a key for deciphering common knitting abbreviations.
These three compact volumes on how to knit — Cast On Bind Off, Increase Decrease, and The Knitting Answer Book — are indispensable tools that should find a permanent place in every knitter’s yarn basket.
Have you read these books or do you have other favorites? Let us know in the comments below.