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Beginning Knitting Book: Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

30 March 2012
Knitting Rules!

Want to really understand your knitting? This is the book you're looking for.

This is the first of an occasional series of book reviews aimed especially at the beginning knitter.

You all may remember that I’ve been thinking a lot about how to introduce people to the world of knitting. I’ve done this for years as a knitting teacher, but haven’t really slowed down to think about what I say and why, until now. So now you all are hostages to my musings, unless you want to scroll down and check out a baby sweater.

As someone who learned to knit long before it was a craze, I’m eminently sympathetic to those who like to learn on their own, perhaps through the Internet and books. It’s all right to be an introvert knitter, I say. It’s not that I don’t enjoy other knitters, because I really do – but there are times when I need a little space, and I often like to figure out a new technique on my own rather than in a group.

All of which leads me to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s book Knitting Rules! Like her blog Yarn Harlot, it offers sympathy and inspiration for the obsessed knitter. Hers was among the first knitting blogs, and her combination of honesty and humor has made her one of the most famous knitters around.

But that’s not why I’m suggesting this particular book. Here’s why: if you’re a beginning or intermediate knitter, it’s all to easy to get attached to patterns and not necessarily feel brave enough to improvise a pattern. Knitting Rules! includes “recipes” to knit hats, shawls, and even socks in any gauge and for any size. It’s hard to come by this kind of information in an understandable format when you’re a beginning knitter – and I think it’s essential.

Wisconsin Winter Socks

Wisconsin Winter Socks: The unassuming booklet that changed my life.

There are several stories about how I learned to knit (and I’m planning to share them with you guys someday). This is because I knew I liked knitting, but somehow it didn’t stick for a while. The point when it finally did wasn’t when I found the perfect pattern; it was when someone gave me a book that told me it was all right to change a pattern to please myself. The first time this happened, weirdly, was with a tiny booklet called Wisconsin Winter Socks. The sock pattern in the book is easy to follow, and it’s illustrated with cute little sketches, which I always enjoy. But the best part of the booklet is the part where the author encourages you to customize your socks with stripes or other patterns. Between that and stitch patterns I found in other books,  I was able to make all kinds of purty socks – mostly because the Winter Socks authors had given me “permission” to play around with knitting.

Knitting classes are usually centered around a pattern, and it’s understandable why they are. The teacher needs to be able to plan different phases of the class and prepare for questions that will come up. Meanwhile, students need to know what they’re going to get out of the class, and a pattern both manages those expectations and helps them be fulfilled. But when I work with intermediate students one-on-one, I like to talk them through designing something simple on their own. Like any other craft, knitting is creative, and knitters deserve to be able to design what they want to make rather than be limited to other knitters’ imaginations.

But I digress. What Stephanie Pearl-McPhee does in this particular book is introduce the idea of designing in such a way that it won’t intimidate beginning knitters. The “recipes” are interspersed with her usual stories about unmanageable yarn stashes, disastrous knitting projects, and explaining knitting to the non-knitter. She also gives tips on knitting that will be helpful to the new knitter: explanations of how gauge works, what different kinds of yarn look and feel like, and (my personal favorite) how to figure out what a mystery yarn is made of. Most of the information in here won’t be new to advanced knitters, but it will be invaluable to the new knitter.

So, if you’re thinking of spending the weekend teaching yourself to knit, scare up a copy of this readable classic and dive on in.

Tulips Cardigan

The Tulips Cardigan: Well, yes, I do still have to weave in the ends.

For those of you who have been waiting for the baby sweater: here it is. Made from a pattern that Pearl-McPhee made famous several years ago, this Tulips Cardigan was fun to make and is even more fun to show off. I’ve made several of these for friends over the years, and I’m so cheesily happy to have made one for our little sprog. [Although I haven’t yet woven in the ends…oh dear.]

So: What books would you recommend to a beginning knitter? Which ones helped you when you were a beginner?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 30 March 2012 3:10 pm

    Knitting Rules is a book I still go back to all the time, mostly for the sock recipe. I think her explanations are great and acknowledging fear is half the battle to making it go away. I have a bunch of friends that learned to knit from the first Stitch n Bitch book, but by the time I picked it up I was beyond its level.

  2. 30 March 2012 3:14 pm

    Stupid wordpress ate my comment. Grr.

    In any case, what I said that got erased was: I go back to this book all the time for the recipes, mostly for hats and socks. The way she acknowledges the fear and confusion a knew knitter feels goes halfway to conquering it, IMO.

    I know a lot of knitters who learned from the first Stitch n Bitch book, but I was beyond it by the time I ever picked it up so to me it just seemed patronizing. Odd how that works.

  3. Carolyn permalink
    30 March 2012 8:39 pm

    I love Knitting Rules. I still laugh out loud because I’ve done exactly the same thing. For me though, mistakes are “design features”. This shows how far I’ve come from the days when I would have frogged it and started over until it was perfect.

    I love the Tulip Cardigan! It is one of my favorite patterns.

  4. Robin permalink
    1 April 2012 10:15 am

    lost my first comment midway so here’s a second go… i didn’t use books when i first learned to knit 40+ years ago. i followed paterns in knitting magazines or improvised (aka “faking it”). When i did run into SPM’s “Knitting Rules”, it made me laugh, which is always a good sign. Plus I finally got a gret basic sock pattern I understood. I alos love EZ’s “Knitting Without Tears”. What great voices these women have/had to the beginning & not so beginning knitter.

  5. 1 April 2012 11:04 pm

    I love Pearl-McPhee’s books and have read them all. Knitting Rules is a great tool, though I only discovered it after I’d been knitting for a while. Speaking of SPM, I met her at an event I helped organize last week! Details on my blog, but suffice it to say I was beyond stoked.

    My grandmother taught me initially when I was 9 or 10, so that got me going. But years later trying to step up to more advanced stuff (and remember how to bind off on my own…) I heavily relied on the clear directions and images in Vogue Knitting’s Knit.101 and Domiknitrix. Now that I’ve mastered the basics I use EZ a lot in addition to Knitting Tips and Trade Secrets (Taunton Press) and Stitch n’ Bitch: Superstar Knitting

  6. Mippy permalink
    14 April 2012 3:46 am

    Thank you for reviewing these and sharing! I am a veeery beginner knitter and appreciate it! 😀

    • Kathleen permalink*
      20 April 2012 9:58 am

      Welcome to the club, Mippy!

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